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PASSINGS: Walter Zacharius, John Gruber

Walter Zacharius, publisher who promoted 'Candy' and romance novels, dies at 87; John Gruber, founding member of pioneering gay rights group, dies at 82

March 04, 2011
  • In addition to helping move romance novels from drugstores to superstores to the Internet, publisher Walter Zacharius in the 1960s released an unauthorized version of the erotic classic "Candy."
In addition to helping move romance novels from drugstores to superstores… (Kimberly Butler )

Walter Zacharius

Publisher promoted romance novels

Walter Zacharius, 87, a publisher and iconoclast who released an unauthorized version of the erotic classic "Candy" and had the savvy and sales talk to help romance novels make the transition from drugstores to superstores to the Internet, died of cancer Wednesday at his Manhattan apartment.

Zacharius was the founder and chief executive of Kensington Publishing Corp., a leading publisher of romance fiction and among the last independent publishers of mass market paperbacks. He retired in 2005 but continued to visit the office frequently.

Among the authors published by Kensington are Beverly Barton, Lori Foster and Brenda Jackson.

A native of Brooklyn, Zacharius broke into publishing in the 1950s, when romance and mass market paperbacks were mostly limited to drugstores, candy stores and supermarkets.

Literary agent Richard Curtis credited Zacharius as among the publishers who helped bring romance novels to bookstores and also enabled their transition to the digital medium, where the genre has been highly popular. Over the years, Kensington added imprints for Spanish-language and African American titles.

Before founding Kensington in 1974, Zacharius headed Lancer Press, which in the mid-1960s was among several publishing "Candy," co-written by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg and originally released in 1958 under the pseudonym Maxwell Kenton.The send-up of pornographic fiction, banned in Paris, had no copyright in the U.S., so anyone could publish it.

John Gruber

Founding member of gay rights group

John Gruber, 82, the last surviving founding member of the Mattachine Society, a pioneering gay rights organization, died Monday at a hospital in Santa Clara, Calif. He had been in poor health after a stroke and breaking his hip, according to Nicholas Pisca, a longtime friend.

In 1951, Gruber was an ex-Marine attending Occidental College in Los Angeles when he attended a meeting organized by activist and former Communist Party member Harry Hay. The group coalesced into the Mattachine Society, a name "suggested by Gruber after Hay had talked about 'mattachines,' mysterious medieval figures in masks whom Hay speculated might have been homosexuals," historian John D'Emilio wrote in his book "Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970" (1998).

The society grew into a national organization, with major objectives including fighting anti-gay discrimination and developing a community of gay men and lesbians. Although more radical groups would emerge in its wake, it was radical for the repressive 1950s, when homosexuals were routinely harassed and entrapped by law enforcement.

"All of us had known a whole lifetime of not talking, of repression. Just the freedom to open up … really, that's what it was all about," Gruber told D'Emilio. "We had found a sense of belonging, of camaraderie, of openness in an atmosphere of tension and distrust…. It was a brand new idea."

Born James Finley Gruber Jr. in Des Moines, on Aug. 21, 1928, he moved to Los Angeles in 1936 with his family, which included three older sisters. He served in World War II and was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1949.

After earning a bachelor's degree in English from Occidental, he became a writer and taught high school and college in Northern California, where he moved in 1960. He was featured in a 2002 documentary, "Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay," directed by Eric Slade.

— Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports

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