Former William Morris lit department topper Owen Laster, whose many clients included Judy Blume, Gore Vidal and the estate of Margaret Mitchell, died Wednesday in Manhattan after a brief illness. He was 72.
Laster, who’d served at WMA as head of worldwide literary operations, retired in 2006.
Former colleague Robert Gottlieb said Laster was “to our industry as a literary agent as Maxwell Perkins was to the publishing industry as a publisher and editor.
He took the time for people even though he was the most successful agent of his time,” Gottlieb, who now chairs the rival Trident Media Group, wrote in a posting on the online industry newsletter Publishers Marketplace.
In a career of 40-plus years, Laster’s authors also included Ralph Ellison, Robert Penn Warren and Susan Isaacs. Among his more notable projects were the authorized sequel to Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” Alexandra Ripley’s million-selling “Scarlett” and the posthumous release of Ellison’s “Juneteenth,” the novel Ellison spent decades trying to complete after receiving high acclaim for his debut, “Invisible Man.”
When Laster took on David Benioff’s debut novel “The 25th Hour,” he was unable to interest a large publisher and sold it to Carroll & Graf for $7,500. But he and Benioff made far more as the book was adapted into a Spike Lee film in 2002 and the paperback rights went for $500,000.
Laster, a graduate of Syracuse U., was not married and had no children.