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Fred Hills, Editor of Nabokov and Many Others, Dies at 85

Fred Hills, Editor of Nabokov and Many Others, Dies at 85
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Fred Hills, Editor of Nabokov and Many Others, Dies at 85

Fred Hills, Editor of Nabokov and Many Others, Dies at 85

It was 1958, and Fred Hills, a graduate scholar attempting to earn some further money, was promoting books on the Emporium division retailer in San Francisco. He picked up a duplicate of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” which had simply been revealed in the US, and skim the opening: “Lolita, gentle of my life, fireplace of my loins. My sin, my soul.”

Mr. Hills was so electrified that he paid the complete retail value of $5 for the hardback, the primary he had ever purchased, other than textbooks.

He at all times remembered that first encounter with Nabokov with nice fondness — and with astonishment that in time, he would turn out to be his editor. He labored with the writer on half a dozen books and on the screenplay for “Lolita,” slicing Nabokov’s script, with its working time of 9 hours, down to 2. Within the twilight of Nabokov’s profession, Mr. Hills traveled to Zermatt, Switzerland, and between modifying classes on his final accomplished novel, “Have a look at the Harlequins!” (1974), the 2 went butterfly looking collectively within the foothills of the Matterhorn.

On the finish of his personal profession, after Mr. Hills had been editor in chief at McGraw Hill after which a senior editor at Simon & Schuster for greater than 1 / 4 century, after he had helped start the books of a number of outstanding authors, he remained most awed by Nabokov, whom he referred to as a wonderful stylist.

“Having labored with many different writers,” he instructed the Nabokov On-line Journal in 2019, “I nonetheless imagine that Nabokov was essentially the most dazzling of all of them.”

Mr. Hills died on Nov. 7 at his house in Bronxville, N.Y. He was 85. His spouse, Kathleen Matthews, a author of nonfiction books, mentioned the trigger was problems of prostate most cancers.

Throughout his 4 a long time in publishing, Mr. Hills delivered to market each industrial hits and literary prizewinners and edited greater than 50 New York Instances finest sellers.

His steady of authors encompassed an eclectic assortment from a number of genres — Heinrich Böll and Jane Fonda, Justin Kaplan and William Saroyan, Raymond Carver and James MacGregor Burns, Sumner Redstone and Joan Kennedy, Phil Donahue and David Halberstam.

The alphabetized playing cards in his huge Rolodex confirmed simply how wide-ranging his contacts had been: After Bruce Lee got here Harper Lee.

So diversified was his work that he likened being an editor to being a hermit crab. “We inhabit an writer’s shell for a yr or two, get the texture of that world, after which scuttle alongside to the subsequent one,” he mentioned.

At Simon & Schuster, Mr. Hills was believed to have set a document for an editor by producing 9 Instances hardcover nonfiction finest sellers in a single 12-month interval, from 1990-91. Amongst these titles had been: Daniel Yergin’s “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Cash and Energy,” which gained the Pulitzer Prize; Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld’s “The Greatest Therapy,” a information to treating illnesses of all kinds, and Christopher Andersen’s “Madonna Unauthorized,” a biography of the pop star.

In Mr. Hills’s palms, an writer was secure from the scratching of a pointed pink pencil and as an alternative could be nudged by mild persuasion.

“He understands that optimistic feedback elicit stronger manuscripts than harsh criticism does,” Ann Rule, the true-crime author finest identified for “The Stranger Beside Me” (1980), about serial killer Ted Bundy, wrote of Mr. Hills on his retirement from Simon & Schuster in 2006.

On the identical event, Mr. Yergin praised Mr. Hills’s “inimitable stability between endurance and refined strain” and treasured Mr. Hills’s view of the editor/writer relationship as one among “unindicted co-conspirators.”

Whereas he was appreciated by writers, Mr. Hills was additionally valued by Simon & Schuster administration, and never only for his modifying expertise; he routinely saved the corporate cash on writer advances. (Delicate writers ought to skip the subsequent sentence.)

“He’s legendary,” one supervisor wrote in tribute in asserting Mr. Hills’s retirement, “for his exceptionally canny negotiating.”

Frederic Wheeler Hills Jr., who was born on Nov. 26, 1934, in East Orange, N.J., could have been destined for the literary life at start — he was delivered by William Carlos Williams, the pediatrician-cum-poet. His father, Frederic Wheeler Hills, was an engineer, and his mom, Mildred Chambers (Hood) Hills, was a homemaker.

He gained a scholarship to Columbia School, the place his mentors included the literary critics Mark Van Doren and Lionel Trilling. He earned his bachelor’s diploma in English in 1956, then went west to Stanford, the place he studied with the author Wallace Stegner and earned his grasp’s in English in 1958. After Stanford, he joined the Military and was stationed at Ford Ord, Calif.

His publishing profession started together with his work on faculty textbooks at McGraw Hill, the place he quickly turned editor in chief of the school textbook division. Then two explosive scandals rocked the corporate — the pretend autobiography of the billionaire recluse Howard Hughes by Clifford Irving, and the invention {that a} high editor had taken cash from two authors in violation of McGraw Hill coverage.

Within the ensuing managerial shake up, Mr. Hills was named editor in chief of the corporate’s commerce ebook division, the place he served for seven years. It was there that he edited Nabokov, and the writer’s dying in 1977 turned a turning level for him.

“After Nabokov died, I not felt any nice inclination to hold round McGraw Hill,” he instructed the Nabokov On-line Journal. “All I needed to do was to stroll throughout the road to Simon & Schuster within the halls of Rockefeller Middle and they might pay me extra as a senior editor than I used to be making at McGraw Hill to be editor in chief.”

In addition to, he added, as an editor, he may work one-on-one with authors and be rid of managerial duties. This, he preferred to say, allowed him to have “twice the lunches and half the conferences.” He left McGraw Hill in 1979, and the next yr he married Ms. Matthews, who had been working within the faculty textbook division. A earlier marriage for Mr. Hills had led to divorce.

Along with Ms. Matthews, Mr. Hills is survived by a daughter, Christina Hills Brown, and three sons, Bradford, Gregory and Frederic (Teddy); a brother, Stuart, and a granddaughter.

Mr. Hills was generally motivated by his private pursuits when deciding what books to accumulate. Therefore, he revealed one on crusing, one among his favourite hobbies, and one other on house restore whereas overseeing building of a home on Shelter Island, the place he spent each summer season for 35 years.

And tucked into his bookshelf at house was that first copy of “Lolita” that he had purchased in 1958. Its mud jacket torn and yellowed, he stored it his total life.

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