Jose Manuel Lara, who built Planeta, the world’s seventh-largest publishing group and Spain’s biggest media empire, died May 11 of a heart attack. He was 88.
A native of El Pedroso, near Seville, he ran away from seminary by age 15 and after numerous casual jobs, became a dancer in a Madrid company. The Spanish Civil War took him to Barcelona, where he became the youngest captain in Francisco Franco’s military and remained devoted to the future dictator, boasting, “After Franco, I am the most Francoist man in Spain.”
In 1941, he met and married Maria Teresa Bosch; they established a private academy where he taught math and she taught literature. In 1949, they launched Planeta, which took off thanks to Maria Teresa taking a chance on Jose Maria Gironella’s “The Cypresses Believe In God,” which sold millions.
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By the 1960s, most urban Spanish houses had Planeta encyclopedia series; company continues in the field of long-distance learning in addition to its media and other endeavors.
In 1952, Lara launched the Planeta Prize, the Hispanic world’s biggest novel kudo and championed writers, including (21 years later) the “Espejos de Espana” (Mirrors of Spain) non-fiction series, providing a broad view of modern Spain, with memoirs by Francoists and foes.
Colorful and extravagant, he laid the groundwork for Planeta’s future growth, which now includes controlling interest of Antena 3 TV, partnership in DeAPlaneta production-distrib company and many other endeavors.
Beside his wife, he is survived by Maria Teresa Bosch he is survived by their three children, including his son, Jose Manuel Lara Bosch, who previously took the reins of Planeta when his father became ill late last year. Another son died in a car accident in 1995.