N.Y.’s Meredith lit agency finds buyer in industry vet

The embattled Scott Meredith Literary Agency, still recoiling from the devastating departure of its three top rainmaking agents several months ago, was purchased Wednesday by Arthur M. Klebanoff, a 20-year vet of the city’s literary scene.

Klebanoff purchased the Meredith agency, among the largest agencies in the city, for an undisclosed sum. Although he currently is associated with the Intl. Management Group agency, Klebanoff is also known as a co-founder of the prestigious Morton L. Janklow Associates.

No one connected with the acquisition would divulge a price, but previously published reports indicate that Helen Meredith, who co-founded the agency with her late husband, was asking $ 4.8 million. Daily Variety was unable to reach Klebanoff.

The sale, sources say, may be unique in its scope for an industry where agencies rarely change hands.

Speculation about the fate of the Meredith agency has been hot in lit circles since Scott Meredith died in February. An attempted acquisition by three agents within the company — Jack Scovil, Ted Chichak and Russell Galen — was aborted less than three months ago when the agents left the agency.

The departure capped often resentful negotiations between the agents and Helen Meredith, with the agents charging that she was attempting to assert long-dormant control over the business.

“We had been told by (Scott Meredith) that the agency would be ours,” Galen said. Once negotiations for the company began, however, it became apparent that “Mrs. Meredith was not going to cede us total control,” he added.

The three agents left the company to form the Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency. According to Galen, “a majority” of their old clients have either switched to the new agency or will when their current contracts expire. How all of this affected the purchase price or other elements of the acquisition is unclear.

“My first thought when I heard about this,” Galen said, “is that thanks to the break-up, which was catastrophic to the company, (Meredith) is either finally willing to give up her power or she’s found a guy who is willing to share the power.” Galen said he doubts Klebanoff would opt for the latter.

The spokesman for Klebanoff and Meredith said that the co-founder might serve as a consultant but “the company will clearly be in Arthur’s hands.”

The Merediths founded the business in 1946, and although they worked together , sources say Helen took a considerably less active role in later years. In the statement released by a spokesman yesterday, Helen Meredith said she had “found in Arthur Klebanoff the person to lead the agency into the future.”

Klebanoff co-founded the Janklow agency, leaving after six years to work independently. Eight years later he joined the Intl. Management Group, where his clients now include cookbook author Sheila Lukins (half of the former Silver Palate team), astrologer Linda Goodman and Mill Pond Press, a leading art publisher.

The Meredith agency is considered one of the most important in New York, in terms of both size and history: The agency has more than 2,000 active titles, while Scott Meredith is often credited with pioneering the practice of auctioning books to publishers.

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