Larry Sloan dies at 89; co-founder of ‘Mad Libs’ publisher
Nonsense was big business for Larry Sloan, who co-founded a Los Angeles publishing company in the 1960s to print books that were blueprints for silliness.
The series of word-game books, “Mad Libs,” became absurdly popular and marked its 50th anniversary in 2008. More than 110 million of the slim paperbacks have reportedly been sold.
Sloan, the last survivor of the trio of founders of Price Stern Sloan publishing, died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a brief illness, said his daughter, Claudia Sloan. He was 89.
He was looking for a career that was more “distinguished” than being a Hollywood press agent, Sloan told Publishers Weekly in 1973, when he was by contacted by two men who had come up with the idea for “Mad Libs” — TV writer Leonard Stern and television personality Roger Price.
“In the early ‘60s, Larry Sloan, a dear friend from high school who ... had always been a grammarian par excellence, joined us as a partner and CEO,” Stern wrote in an official “Mad Libs” history, “and we became the publishing company Price Stern Sloan.”
Sloan “eventually became the business man behind ‘Mad Libs,’ ” Stern told the Washington Post in 1994.
Working from offices on La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood, Sloan directed the editing of manuscripts that often emphasized humor. As of 1973, the company had 150 titles — mainly original softcovers that sold for a dollar — and expected to gross about $1.6 million that year.
“The VIP Desk Diary” was one of Sloan’s successful early titles, which his daughter said he thought up after asking himself, “What would somebody’s desk diary look like if they were the richest man in the world?” The book included wacky comments in his hard-to-read handwriting that riffed on pop culture. He also personally edited a series of “World’s Worst” joke books.
Of the books he published, “How to Be a Jewish Mother” (1965) was a favorite. It came about after humor writer Dan Greenburg said: “I have to go and meet my shrink. I really should be doing a book about Jewish mothers because that’s why I’m going to a shrink,” Sloan recalled in 1989 in Forbes magazine.
In the late 1970s, Sloan discovered a hand-made “Wee Sing” book that led to the firm’s popular line of “Wee Sing” books, audiotapes and videos for children, his daughter said.
After selling Price Stern Sloan in 1993 to what is now the Penguin Group, Sloan and Stern co-founded Tallfellow Press, a Beverly Hills-based company that publishes many business titles. Until recently, Sloan worked at the firm, which is run by his daughter.
He was born Lloyd Lawrence Sloan in 1922 in New York City to a lawyer and his wife, who later started a clothing business.
When his only sibling, Grenna, moved west to pursue acting, Sloan and his parents followed. He attended UCLA but left to join the Army during World War II and was stationed in the U.S. He also studied Chinese at Stanford University.
Upon returning to Los Angeles after the war, he was soon writing what his family called a “name-dropping, table-hopping column” for the Hollywood Citizen News and reporting for Hollywood magazines. As a press agent, he represented Carol Channing and Mae West, Stern once recalled.
During the decades Sloan lived in Malibu, he “never walked on the sand or went in the ocean,” his daughter said, but could be counted on “to pull out a joke.”
The twice-divorced Sloan is survived by Eleanor, his wife of 39 years; Claudia, his daughter from a previous marriage; four other children, Bonnie Smigel-Dern; Liz Fallert, Amy Harrison and Scott Harrison; and six grandchildren.
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