JUNE 29 marks the 150th anniversary of the renowned Boston publishing firm of Little, Brown. Owned since 1968 by Time Inc., Little, Brown has been associated over the years with scores of famous writers, among them John Bartlett (of Familiar Quotations fame), Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, Fannie Farmer, Evelyn Waugh, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Anthony Powell, J.D. Salinger, Lillian Hellman, Norman Mailer and Herman Wouk.
Charles C. Little was born in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1799, James Brown in Acton, Mass., in 1800. Both entered the book business in Boston and became good friends. When they established Little, Brown in 1837, it was primarily a bookshop, like most publishing houses of the day. The new firm inherited the premises and stock of an already well-known publishing company called Hilliard & Gray -- Little was William Hilliard's son-in-law.
The new firm continued the Hilliard & Gray tradition of importing the finest books from England and Europe and its shop became a center for the Harvard literati. It also inherited from Hilliard & Gray ongoing publishing projects such as a series of American biographies and the works of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, and became the publisher of the great historians George Bancroft and Francis Parkman. Little and Brown also improved the predecessor firm's strong position in law books, which became a specialty of Charles Little.
In 1859, the company took over the rights to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, which had first appeared in 1855. Bartlett himself, a knowledgeable bookman, joined the firm in 1863, retiring as a senior partner in 1889. Bartlett's is still in print and in its 15th edition.
After Bartlett's retirement, John Murray Brown, James's son, became the senior partner and a dynamo named James McIntyre became editor in chief. He scored a coup by publishing Quo Vadis by a Polish historical novelist called Henryk Sienkiewicz. The story of Nero's Rome, which appeared in 1896, sold 600,000 copies within 18 months of publication, and 1.5 million in an edition published in 1915. Sienkiewicz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905.
The year 1896 also saw the publication of Fannie Merritt Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cook Book. Fannie Farmer was born in Boston in 1857. As a child she was struck with what was probably polio, leaving her with a paralyzed left leg. She graduated from the Boston Cooking School in 1889 and became its principal two years later. Her volume caused a revolution in cookbooks because it employed exact, uniform weights and measures for recipes. It eventually sold 3 million copies in various Little, Brown editions.
The year 1898 saw a major addition to the Little, Brown list when it bought another Boston firm, Roberts Brothers, after the death of its famed editor, Thomas Niles. That purchase added more than 900 titles, including those of Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson. The year 1898 was so successful, in fact, that Little, Brown gave a Christmas bonus to every male employe -- a ton of coal.
In 1909 -- a year after the death of John Murray Brown -- the company moved to new and larger quarters at 34 Beacon Street in Boston, overlooking the Common, where its administrative and some editorial offices are still located. Among the authors bringing prosperity to the firm during these years was the thriller writer E. Phillips Oppenheim, who began publishing with Little, Brown in 1903 and eventually produced 134 novels for the firm. Even though he cranked out two or three novels a year, Oppenheim had a leisurely lifestyle. He spent each afternoon on the golf course and dictated his books to a secretary in the early evenings.
In fact, over the years Little, Brown became a company known for its line of mysteries. Ngaio Marsh, the New Zealand writer, published her first mystery, Death at the Bar, with Little, Brown in 1940 and continued to write for the house for 40 years.
In 1948, Arthur Thornhill Sr. became president of Little, Brown. He brought the company back into medical publishing (it had stopped doing medical books during World War II), where it is today one of the larger publishers, with a list of over 500 titles. Thornhill also brought Little, Brown into college textbooks and expanded its law publishing.
In 1962, Thornhill was succeeded by his son, Arthur Thornhill Jr., who purchased the Winthrop Publishing Co. of Cambridge, Mass., giving Little, Brown a strong presence in the computer science field. He took the chairman's position in early 1985 and Kevin L. Dolan became president of the company.
It has been a distinguished century and a half and, from all signs, there will be many more good years to come. Happy 150th, Little, Brown.
HERE'S THE kind of problem faced by your contemporary professional writer.
Robert Masello, a 34-year-old New York resident, has been turning out copy for some time now on matters of the heart. For five years, he did a column in Mademoiselle magazine called "His" that tried to explain to the magazine's female readers what men thought about questions of love. This led to the publication in 1983 of What Do Men Want From Women? by Ballantine. Masello toured the country to promote the book, and he proved very popular with televison audiences.
But Masello then switched genres, producing a horror novel in the Stephen King mold called The Spirit Wood, just released as a paperback original by Pocket Books. Since novels are more difficult to discuss on televison than works of nonfiction, how could Masello exploit the talk-show contacts he had made?
First, he set himself to gathering information on the phenomenon of horror movies. Then he sent a memo to talk shows on which he had previously appeared. It suggested the shows use clips from various horror movies and allow him to comment on them, particularly on their appeal to teen-agers.
"I had a wonderful study from Indiana University on how boys and girls on dates reacted to horror movies," says Masello. "The boys loved horror movies because they allowed them to act macho and not be fearful. Girls loved the movies because they allowed them to adopt a traditional female role of being weak and needing protection. These roles also affected the rating the couples gave to the movie. The more the girl cowered, the better the boy liked the movie. The more the boy acted fearless, the better the girl liked the movie."
The memo worked, and Masello is currently on the talk-show circuit, working in plugs for The Spirit Wood amid his observations on the horror film. "Dr. Love," he says, "has been transformed into Dr. Doom."
In the Margin
THE CATHOLIC Press Association has named Life in a Jewish Family by Edith Stein as the best spirituality book of 1986. Born Jewish and an assistant to the famed philosopher Edmund Husserl, Stein became a Roman Catholic and a Carmelite nun. She was killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz and was recently beatified by the pope. Publisher of Life in a Jewish Family is the Institute of Carmelite Studies in Washington.
It looks like Dale Brown, a former Air Force captain who lives in Rancho Cordova, Calif., may be establishing himself as the Tom Clancy of the higher altitudes. Paperback rights for Brown's first novel, The Flight of the Old Dog, a techno-thriller in the Clancy mode, has just been sold to Berkley Books for $357,000. The hardback was published by the firm of Donald I. Fine, which has a three-book contract with Brown. His next novel, Silver Tower, is due in the spring of 1988.
There's a new book out on how things work in Maryland. Maryland Government and Politics is written by Laslo V. Boyd, former director of the William Donald Schaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore and currently executive assistant for education in the office of the governor. Among the topics covered are the constitutional system of Maryland, local government and politics in various parts of the state. The book, 192 pages with 30 photographs, costs $14.95. It is put out by Tidewater Publishers, P.O. Box 456, Centreville, Md. 21617 ::