Richard Baron, Sixties Publisher of Baldwin, Mailer at The Dial Press, Dies at 98

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Carole and Richard Baron c.2013

“If anyone was the perfect publisher for the 1960s, it was Richard Baron. He was totally fearless, and he backed us in every crazy thing we would do,” E.L. Doctorow, former Editor-in-Chief, The Dial Press.

Richard Warren Baron, the renowned sixties owner and publisher of The Dial Press, where he presided over works by James Baldwin and Norman Mailer, and hired E.L. Doctorow as Editor-in-Chief, died on Sunday, May 9 of natural causes at his home in New York City. He was 98.

His death was announced by Carole Baron, his wife of 45 years, an editor at Alfred A. Knopf.

A World War Two combat veteran and POW, lifelong fighter for social justice, who participated in the March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, and a pilot well into his eighties of his Cessna 182 plane, Baron lived on Shelter Island and in Manhattan.

Wanting to make his mark outside The Royal Paper Company, which was the family business, Baron bought half-ownership of the Dial Press, an independent publishing house, which began in 1923. Under his leadership, Dial’s author roster, and their books, included James Baldwin (“Another Country”), Norman Mailer (“Armies of the Night”), Thomas Berger (“Little Big Man”), Elizabeth Bowen, Leonard Levin, W.R. Burnett, Howard Sackler (“The Great White Hope”), Vance Bourjaily, and historical novelist Frank Yerby.

At Baron’s 90th birthday celebration in 2013, Doctorow toasted Baron with the words, “He was totally fearless and he backed us in every crazy thing we wanted to do.”

In addition to Doctorow, Baron brought on Christopher Lehmann-Haupt as one of his editors. He also developed close working and personal relationships with many of the authors he championed.

Three examples:

While finishing his novel “Another Country,” James Baldwin stayed at Baron’s home in Bedford, New York, writing and playing ping-pong with his publisher’s daughters, who called him “Jimmy.” As his dinner guest at Baron’s country club in neighboring Purchase, the all-white dining members sat in shocked silence—until Mr. Alfred A. Knopf came over to hug Baldwin, and the diners relaxed.

The Baron and Norman Mailer families summer-vacationed together in Provincetown, where publisher and author were fierce sailing competitors.

Baron placed Frank Yerby’s photo on the jacket of his historical novels, defying the conventional wisdom of the times that a Black author photo on popular fiction potentially diminished sales.

In 1969, Baron sold half his interest in Dial to the Dell Publishing Company, later divesting the rest. Dell eventually became part of Doubleday, which dissolved the imprint in 1985.

The Dial Press was revived in 1993 by Carole Baron, then head of Dell, at Bantam Doubleday Dell. At her husband’s suggestion, she appointed the late Susan Kamil to run it. Since then, it has thrived within Penguin Random House’s Random House division as a publisher of award winners and bestsellers, such as the current “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle.

Post-Dial Press, Baron established the Richard W. Baron Publishing Company, whose authors included Thomas Berger, Nat Hentoff, and Julius Lester, whose “Revolutionary Notes” was a major bestseller.

Richard Baron was born on April 4, 1923 to Samuel T. Baron, owner of the Royal Paper Corporation, and Mabel Levy Baron, and grew up on New York’s Upper West Side. After a scuffle with a fellow student at PS 166, he was enrolled in Manlius Military Academy, near Syracuse. Having attended the University of North Carolina, early in World War II he joined the Army Infantry. His armed-forces education and training had him sent to North Africa in 1943 as a lieutenant. He saw combat at Anzio, after which he was wounded. Before he returned to the war in Germany, he and a few other Jewish soldiers changed the H (for Hebrew) on their dogtags to P (Protestant). This saved his life when he was surrounded by SS units, captured and imprisoned in a POW camp for the war’s final four months. Baron recounted his experiences in “Raid,” a book that was published in 1981.

Baron retired from book publishing in 1980, dividing his time between Manhattan and his beloved Shelter Island, where well into his eighties, he sailed his boat and flew his retractable Cessna 182.

Richard Baron is survived by Carole; his children Amy and Tom from his second marriage to Virginia Olsen; children Susan, Wendy and Vicki from marriage to his late first wife Pamela Stearns; three step-children; 17 grandchildren; and great-grandson Asher.

Baron will be buried on Shelter Island in a private ceremony. Memoriam contributions can be made to the Shelter Island Friends of the Library.

April 4, 1923 – May 9, 2021

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Posted: May 10, 2021