The Class of '49

HARPER & ROW is hoping that one of its hot-selling books of the spring will be The Big Time: The Harvard Business School's Most Successful Class and How It Shaped America by Laurence Shames, to be published April 14. Parts of it are being serialized in both Playboy and Esquire, the first time in memory that a nonfiction book has been picked up in both these prime serial markets.

The Harvard Business School class in question is that of 1949, whose graduates include such luminaries as Thomas Murphy, chairman of Capital Cities Communications (swallower of the American Broadcasting Company); Marvin S. Traub, chairman of Bloomingdale's department stores; Charles Peter McColough, chairman of Xerox; James Burke, chairman of Johnson & Johnson, a familiar media figure because of Tylenol's problems; Lester Crown, a leading shareholder and powerful board member of General Dynamics; John Shad, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Harry E. Figgie, who has his very own $700- million conglomerate, Figgie International. This is to name just a few.

The list is all male because women were not admitted to Harvard Business School until the mid-'60s. There were no blacks in the class, but there was an Indian prince who passed his sojourn in Cambridge by renting the top floor of a Boston hotel for two years and walked about Harvard Yard with a servant trailing behind, carrying his master's books.

Why did this class make such a particular splash? "It was lucky in its timing," said Shames in a telephone interview. "To start with, it was the first regular graduating class from Harvard Business School in half a decade. The school had been closed to civilians from 1942 to 1946 and this class entered in 1947. Before World War II, Harvard Business School had been largely a finishing school for rich men's sons, but this class was a new breed. Eighty-six percent were veterans and 78 percent were getting G.I. benefits. These are people who would not have gone to Harvard before the war. They were hungry and scrappy and highly motivated.

"Another tremendous advantage was that they came out of school at the beginning of the greatest time of prosperity and growth that the country has ever known. There had been some recessions after the war and the last major one ended right in June 1949. Basically, the country had a run of prosperity from then until the oil crisis of 1974. By that time, the class of '49 had climbed to the top.

"You also can't underestimate the help that the class got from the Harvard M.B.A. old-boy network. There were 50,000 living MBAs in January 1985. But in 1949, there were only 3,900 MBAs nationwide and 653 had Harvard degrees. That's one in six. The class of '49 was snapped up and people got the kind of challenges they wanted."

How did those 1949 MBA's compare with today's breed? "I guess there will always be politics and manipulation in business. But I was struck by how un-cynical these people were. They were optimistic and idealistic and almost touchingly naive. Believe it or not, they were do-gooders, with a team mentality, going out to serve the common weal. Of course, this was before the unfriendly takeover bid, and the mean, shark kind of stuff you see today. But the class of '49 was somewhat prepared. The key course was called Administrative Practice -- Ad Prac, they called it -- but it was also known as Machiavelli for Beginners. Harry Figgie described it as how to saw the rungs off the other guy's ladder without him knowing it." Return of the Middle Ages

WHEN PUBLISHING publicity people get excited about a title, they begin to let their imaginations run riot. This riot often takes the form of "teasers," bits of printed matter designed to attract the attention of reviewers and booksellers. A prime example of the genre arrived in the mail the other day, a postcard from Ballantine Books, the paperback house. Said the front of the card: "May will be illuminating . . . when the bestselling author of Shike makes his spectacular return!" The other side of the card is filled with a painting of a crowned woman in medieval regalia holding the bridle of a caparisoned horse astride which is a knight ready to joust.

That's all, no author, no book title. The teaser worked, and I called Ballantine to find out what was afoot. The book is the "lead" paperback -- the one that gets the most promotion -- on Ballantine's May list. Its title is All Things Are Lights and its author is Robert Shea, a former editor of Playboy who lives in Glencoe, Illinois. "We think the public is ready for a big historical novel set in the Middle Ages," said Ballantine's publicity director, Sandra Bodner. "The Name of the Rose shows people are interested in the subject."

On the phone from Glencoe, author Shea said he hoped so, too. His previous novel, Shike (pronounced shee-kay), set in 13th- century Japan, has sold a million copies in paperback and has been translated into eight languages. "The ninth will be Greek -- we just made a deal at the Frankfurt Book Fair," said Shea. The title of his new book is based on a quote from the 9th-century philosopher Scotus Erigena -- "All things that are, are light." In the book, the title is used as a password among some of the groups depicted in the novel, such as the troubadours, the Knights Templar and the heretical Cathari sect of southern France.

The novel starts in the year 1244 and takes place in France and Egypt. Among the real historical characters are King Louis IX of France, his mother Blanche of Castille and Baibars, a leader of the Turkish janissaries, and the Mamelukes, who defeat Louis in the Seventh Crusade. The fictional hero is Roland, a troubadour who becomes a member of Louis' army. The love of his life -- how did you know there would be one? -- is Diane, a member of the Cathari sect. Sounds worthy of Sir Walter Scott himself.

Shea was an editor at Playboy for 10 years until 1977. He works at home and tends to follow a 9-to-6 day, sometimes interrupted by household or parenting duties for his 12- year-old son. (His wife, an advertising executive, goes off each day to work in Chicago.) When he began work on All Things Are Lights in 1981, Shea was using an electric typewriter, but he now employs a word processor that he calls "Mr. Chips." "Everybody seems to have cutesy-pie names for their word processors," he says, "but nobody ever had names for their typewriters. That must mean something." Global Changes

THE GLOBE Bookshop, the 25-year- old store at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue, will reopen in May as part of the Waldenbooks chain. Alex Roesell, Globe's founder, said a big hike in rent was a significant factor in his decision to sell the store to Waldenbooks. Roesell will remain with the new operation as a consultant and buyer for government and corporate accounts.

Waldenbooks said it intends to maintain Globe's strong stock of foreign language titles (which amounted to a third of its books), as well as its emphases on current events, history and geography. Waldenbooks also will expand the store's magazine section in both foreign languages and English and will add products such as audio and video tapes and computer software. The videos will include cassettes in foreign language instruction, ballet, opera and foreign films. Remodeling plans call for the construction of a separate entrance for the foreign language section. Now you'll be able to leaf through all those French books without anyone knowing, except those other people leafing through French books. Judy-Lynn Del Rey

PEOPLE IN publishing and aficionados of science fiction are mourning the recent death of Judy-Lynn Del Rey at the age of 43. She suffered a brain hemorrhage in October and had been in a coma since then. She was publisher and editor-in- chief of Del Rey Books, the leading name in the fields of science fiction and fantasy. Her list of authors included Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Anne McCaffrey, Frederik Pohl and Piers Anthony. She was married to Lester del Rey, a noted science fiction author and editor. In the Margin

KEVIN R. HOPKINS, a senior research fellow at the Hudson Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, has won the $2,500 first prize in a literary competition for novels sponsored by Manuscripts, an editorial firm in Dayton, Washington. More than 2,000 novels from around the world were entered. Hopkin's novel, titled Peace, is set in Washington and concerns a U.S.-Soviet confrontation with nuclear overtones. Hopkins is the second straight victor from the Washington area in the twice-yearly competition. The previous winner was Victoria Grossack of Arlington . . . Admirers of the PBS series The Jewel in the Crown know it is based on The Raj Quartet, four novels by the late Paul Scott. His daughter, Sally Scott, is now making her publishing debut in the United States with The Magic Horse, a picture book for children based on a tale from the Arabian Nights. The publisher is Greenwillow, a division of William Morrow.