Eleanor Friede, 87, Is Dead; Edited 1970 Fable ‘Seagull’
July 25, 2008
Eleanor Friede, the book editor who sent “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” on its nonstop flight to publishing glory in 1970, died on July 14 at her home in Charlottesville, Va. She was 87.
Her death was confirmed by her stepdaughter, Kennedy Friede Golden.
In 1969, while working as an editor at Macmillan, Ms. Friede agreed to look at a much-rejected, very short tale by Richard Bach, a retired Air Force pilot and aviation writer. The fable, about a seagull named Jonathan who veers from his flock to seek freedom and flying perfection, charmed her.
“I think it has a chance of growing into a long-lasting standard book for readers of all ages,” Ms. Friede wrote in a memo to senior editors.
It was a good hunch. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” for which Mr. Bach received a $2,000 advance, became one of the biggest successes in publishing history, selling more than 3 million copies in hardcover.
Eleanor Kask was born in Rochester, N.Y., and grew up in Valley Stream on Long Island, where she haunted the town’s public library. Just weeks after graduating cum laude from Hofstra University, she got a job at World Publishing and began working her way up the ladder in publicity and marketing.
She married Donald Friede, an editor at World, in 1951. He died in 1965.
In 1968, when she was marketing director at Macmillan, Jeremiah Kaplan, the company’s president, coaxed her into moving to the editorial side. A keen amateur flier, she published aviation books, and, by serendipity, found her way to Mr. Bach.
In 1974 Ms. Friede was offered her own imprint at Delacorte Press, where she continued to publish flying books as well as works by writers like Françoise Sagan, Jorge Amado and Hugh Downs. In the early 1980s, after Doubleday acquired Delacorte, she started Eleanor Friede Books, a literary agency.
Inevitably, the soaring seagull hovered over her career right to the end, but Ms. Friede did not seem to mind. “You know, I really am very fond of the little creature,” she told The New York Times in 1981. “I have done and am doing other things. It’s really O.K. to be the seagull lady.”