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He Achieved success in publishing and helped...



He achieved success in publishing and helped struggling writers

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail


Montreal-born publisher and author Fred Kerner liked to tell the story of how he was grilled by the directors of New York’s Hawthorn Books when he worked there as president in the 1960s.

“How many books did you publish last year?” a director asked.

“Fifty-one,” the president replied.

“And how many were bestsellers?”

“Five,” Mr. Kerner said.

“So why,” the director asked, “did you publish the other 46?”

Mr. Kerner, who died Dec. 24 in Richmond Hill, Ont., at the age of 90, was “just an absolute fountain of amazing stories in publishing,” according to long-time friend Larry Muller, former president of publisher Scholastic Canada. As editor-in-chief at mass-market pioneer Fawcett Publications, Kerner published what may still be the fattest paperback ever sold – William L. Shirer’s 1,599-page The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Later in Toronto, he helped turn upstart Harlequin Enterprises into the dominant global force in the lucrative field of romance publishing.

Always youthful-looking and debonair, Kerner was “like the movie stars from the 1940s who were quite capable of the whole gamut,” according to Muller. In addition to his contribution to publishing, Kerner was a successful writer with a keen sense of popular tastes. In the 1960s, he sold two and a half million copies of a three-volume cookbook series beginning with It’s Fun to Fondue, followed by Mad about Fondue and Fabulous Fondues.

In the latter half of his life, Kerner was known to spend as much time helping the careers of other writers as tending to his own. As a driving force behind the Canadian Authors Association, he worked to establish such institutions as the Public Lending Right, which compensates writers for books borrowed from libraries. He was also an active director of the Canadian Writer’s Foundation, a charity that helps to support indigent authors.

“He had tremendous success in his own life but he had infinite time for the people left behind, writers struggling at the grassroots level who hadn’t made it,” Muller said. “I know he did an awful lot of good in a totally private way by finding writers in desperate poverty and very quietly funnelling some funds to them.”

Born to immigrant parents, Kerner grew up in Montreal and attended Sir George Williams College, now Concordia University, where he first entered journalism as a correspondent for the Gazette. He rose to executive positions in the Canadian Press and later at the Associated Press in New York, after which he left journalism to enter publishing.

He experienced anti-Semitism early in his career, but Muller said it never embittered him. “He had felt it in his own bones, but because he was such a positive person it never seemed to leave a mark on him,” Muller said. “And he was open to everything.”

Writers’ Union lawyer Marian Hebb remembers Kerner as a “very astute” participant in the often grinding deliberations of such bodies as the union’s grievance committee. “He was a very gentle, non-confrontational person” widely valued for his experience and the sense of fun he brought to the work, according to Hebb. “If I had to pick one adjective, I would say he was wise.”

Kerner was “an extraordinarily accomplished person” whose greatest achievement was his own character, according to Muller. “Fred was one of those rare combinations of people who accomplished a lot and was also an amazing human being.”

Predeceased by his wife, Sally, Kerner leaves two sons, a daughter and three grandsons.


posted by: Brandy Day (Aphrodite) Updated January 10, 2012 10:56 AM

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