Friday, August 14, 2015

Beany and His New Recorder... and a literary agent scandal

Beany and His New Recorder by Carol Panter, illustrated by Imero Gobbato (1972, Four Winds Press).

I stumbled across this book online, I believe through another children's lit blog.  I decided I had to have it because I took recorder lessons from the ages of 8-18.  A lot of people don't realize recorder is a classical instrument, not just a kid's practice instrument in music class. Anyway, I ordered a used copy from Amazon and it's a really nice book.

However, what was intriguing to me was what I found in the book.  There was a note written on stationary from Russell and Volkening Literary Agents, signed by "Harriet."  Well, interestingly enough, the book is dedicated to a Harriet Wasserman.  I wondered if it was the same person and who she might be.

A Google search led me to find quite a lot of information about Harriet Wasserman. I found that she was an assistant at Russell and Volkening before going on to start her own literary agency. One of her most famous clients was Saul Bellow, whom she was in love with. She represented Bellow for 25 years, during which time he called her his "coach, manager, and trainer" and a close friend. So she felt betrayed when he switched agents. In 1997 she actually wrote a memoir about the experience called Handsome Is.

Now this is where things get even MORE interesting... she was involved in a huge scandal when she disappeared in 2007 after allegations of not paying clients their royalties.  You can read a whole article about it here.  Some of the clients who sued her were children's authors Walter Dean Myers and Emily Arnold McCully.  (Myers claimed she owed him $120,000, McCully "only" $60,000.) 

Apparently she had suffered several strokes and it was her declining mental state that led to her not paying back her clients.  She was 69 year old in 2007.  I couldn't find anymore information after that year, so it seems she is still missing.

I never thought I would find all this in a cheap used book from Amazon! 

Now, here is the book... I am assuming she was the agent for it.

12/3/2019 Update: I decided to search for Harriet Wasserman again now five years later, and found an obituary. She died on September 24, 2018 at the age of 81.