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Straus, Roger, Jr.


STRAUS, ROGER, JR. (1917–2004), U.S. publisher. Roger Williams Straus, Jr., was born in New York City, the son of two prominent German Jewish families. His father was a member of the R.H. *Straus family that owned Macy's department store, and his mother was Gladys Guggenheim of the mining company. His father was the president of the American Mining and Smelting Company and worked for his father-in-law, David Guggenheim, a copper mine owner and a philanthropist. Straus's paternal grandfather was Oscar S. Straus, U.S. ambassador to Turkey and secretary of commerce in President Theodore Roosevelt's administration. An indifferent student, young Straus left the boarding school St. George's because he felt uncomfortable there as a Jew, went to Hamilton College and left, and later graduated from the school of journalism at the University of Missouri. The next year he married a childhood friend, Dorothea Liebmann, granddaughter of the founder of the Rheingold brewery. With the security of two trust funds, Straus became a reporter for the White Plains Daily Reporter. During World War ii he served in the U.S. Navy, doing public relations work and writing speeches. He rose to the rank of lieutenant.

Following the war, Straus and John Farrar founded a publishing company with additional funds from James Van Alen (who later invented the tiebreak in tennis). Van Alen's parents, though, did not want their son's name to appear as a partner because Straus was a Jew. Although the company achieved success with Gayelord Hauser's Look Younger, Live Longer, a nutritional manual, in 1950, Straus realized he did not have the capital to compete with more commercial publishers, so he decided to become a literary house, stressing quality writers. Straus went abroad and signed Carlo *Levi and Alberto *Moravia, which attracted Edmund Wilson, Shirley Jackson, and Marguerite Yourcenar. It acquired other companies and their well-known writers, including Marguerite Duras and Francois Mauriac. In 1964 the firm became Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and Robert Giroux brought more distinguished authors, including T.S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor, and Bernard *Malamud. New editors brought in Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Philip *Roth, Arthur *Miller, Maurice Sendak, and William *Steig. Over the years his authors received the most important literary prizes. The Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Awards were won by Joseph Brodsky, Robert Lowell, John McPhee, Czeslaw Milosz, Isaac Bashevis *Singer, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Scott *Turow, and Susan *Sontag.

In 1994 when he recognized that his house could no longer compete financially as an independent in a world of conglomerates, he sold Farrar, Straus to one of the foreign media companies he so scorned, Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, in Stuttgart, Germany, although, as he insisted in the wake of the deal, which reportedly brought him more than $30 million, the arrangement was such that for all practical purposes he remained in charge and the house remained virtually independent.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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