Morton “Mort” Janklow, a so-called “super agent” whose roster of literary stars included Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Danielle Steele, Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, Ted Turner and Barbara Walters, died Wednesday of heart failure at his home in Water Mill, NY, just days before his 92nd birthday.
His death was announced by publicist Paul Bogaards, speaking on behalf of Janklow’s family and his literary agency, Janklow & Nesbit Associates.
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“Mort was a beacon of positivity and hope in an uncertain world,” Bogaards’ business partner, Lynn Nesbit, said in a statement. “He radiated optimism and his clients, family, and friends were always leaning on and learning from him as a result. He was a bright light in the publishing world, devoted to his writers and passionate about our business. We will all miss him.”
Janklow earned his authors some of the highest advances in publishing history, topping $1 million several times from tight-fisted houses. He began his career as an attorney, shifting into a new role as a literary agent in 1972 when old friend and client William Safire asked him to handle a book deal he was putting together about Richard Nixon.
That book concept was derailed by Nixon’s Watergate scandal and subsequent downfall, but Janklow managed to retain one-third of the $250,000 advance, breaking precedent. Eventually, the book would emerge on Doubleday as Before the Fall.
Janklow shook up publishing and has been credited with waking up the sleepy trade with novel ideas in marketing, subsidiary rights and contract law.
“Mort brought publishing people into the space age,” Simon & Schuster executive Joni Evans told New York magazine in 1987.
Janklow teamed with Nesbit in 1988, creating an agency that was considered the top in the business and an aspirational target for many big-name authors.
Born in New York City in 1930, Janklow attended Syracuse University and later Columbia Law School. After a seven-year stint at a law firm, he formed his own, Janklow & Traum. Among his clients was Safire, himself a former Syracuse student.
Janklow served on numerous advisory boards, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations for over four decades.
He is survived by his wife, Linda LeRoy Janklow, and three children.