Robert Gottlieb

On this date in 1931, Robert Adams Gottlieb, writer and editor at Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker, was born in New York City to Charles and Martha Gottlieb. Growing up, he “was your basic, garden-variety, ambitious, upwardly mobile, hard-working Jewish boy from Brooklyn,” Gottlieb later wrote. His parents were “confirmed atheists” and religion played no part in his upbringing.

He enrolled at Columbia University as an English major, read voraciously (favorites: Henry James and Proust) and co-edited the school’s literary magazine. He graduated in 1952, the year he married Muriel Higgins when she was pregnant with their son and then studied abroad at Cambridge University before joining Simon & Schuster as an editorial assistant in 1955. Two years later he started editing the unknown Joseph Heller‘s manuscript that became the blockbuster titled Catch-22. (He thinks Heller’s Something Happened [1974] is his finest novel, “indeed, one of the finest novels of his time.”)

Gottlieb’s talent and nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic landed him the top editor position at S&S, where he stayed until moving to Alfred A. Knopf in 1968 as editor-in-chief. In 1969, four years after his divorce, he married Maria Tucci, an actress whose father, novelist Niccolò Tucci, was one of his writers. They had two children. In 1987 he succeeded William Shawn as editor of The New Yorker, where Gottlieb was succeeded in 1992 by Tina Brown. He then returned to Knopf as editor-ex officio.

Gottlieb also edited novels by John Cheever, Doris Lessing, Chaim Potok, Charles Portis, Salman Rushdie, John Gardner, Len Deighton, John le Carré, Ray Bradbury, Elia Kazan, Michael Crichton and Toni Morrison. He edited nonfiction books by Bill Clinton, Janet Malcolm, Katharine Graham, Nora Ephron, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Tuchman, Jessica Mitford, Robert Caro, Antonia Fraser, Lauren Bacall, Liv Ullman, singer Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Bruno Bettelheim and many others.

He served as the dance critic for The New York Observer starting in 1999 and iwas the author of biographies of George Balanchine, Sarah Bernhardt and the family of Charles Dickens (who had 10 children). For many years he was associated with the New York City Ballet and published books by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Margot Fonteyn. His autobiography Avid Reader: A Life was published in 2016. He died at age 92 in a New York City hospital. (D. 2023)

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