Oscar Dystel, paperbacks pioneer, dies at 101

Oscar Dystel, president of Bantam Books, is shown Oscar Dystel, president of Bantam Books, is shown on Aug.19,1971. Photo Credit: The New York Times / Neal Boenzi

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Oscar Dystel, a leader of the paperbacks market who transformed Bantam Books into a prolific powerhouse that released bestselling editions of "The Catcher in the Rye," "Jaws," "Ragtime" and many others, died Wednesday at age 101.

He died at his home in Rye, New York, said his daughter, literary agent Jane Dystel.

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Millions of people who loved to find quick reads for the airport or beach could thank Dystel, who had been a magazine editor when he was hired in 1954 to take over the then-struggling Bantam imprint. Alert to the growing appeal of cheap and portable books, Dystel soon presided over popular paperbacks of Leon Uris' "Battle Cry" and John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," and made Bantam the dominant publisher of mass-market paperbacks.

In the 1960s and '70s, Bantam released hundreds of books a year, from Peter Benchley's "Jaws" to a million-selling edition of the Warren Commission's report on President John F. Kennedy's assassination. When Dystel left, Bantam accounted for about 15 percent of mass-market sales.

Dystel was born in New York. He attended New York University and Harvard Business School.

After graduation, he was an editor at Look, Coronet and other magazines. During World War II, he worked for the Office of War Information, helping to oversee the dropping of leaflets over southern France.

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Dystel was a consultant for the New American Library and E.P. Dutton and for Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, co-founded by his daughter. He also became active with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society after his son, John Dystel, was diagnosed with the disease. His son died in 2003, the year his wife, Marion Deitler Dystel, also died.

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