Robert Lescher, a literary agent and steward to the works of a wide array of distinguished 20th-century authors, including Robert Frost, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Alice B. Toklas, died Nov. 28 in New Milford, Conn. He was 83.
His death was confirmed by his wife, Susan.
Lescher epitomized a kind of Old World ideal of author’s agent — courtly, literary and invisible — reflecting both his nature and his wealth of contacts in the book world, where he began his career as an editor and something of a wunderkind. He was named editor in chief at Henry Holt & Co. before he was 25.
At Holt he worked with a stable of stars that included Frost, Toklas and Wolcott Gibbs. His relationship with Toklas, the life companion and confidante of Gertrude Stein, was particularly close: He exchanged ideas and notes with her for five years as he helped her shape “What Is Remembered," her 1963 autobiography. (It was the second of two “autobiographies" with which Toklas was associated, the first being Stein’s deadpan 1933 memoir titled “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas," which was mainly about Stein.)
When Lescher began his literary agency in 1965, his reputation for aesthetic insight and painstaking attentiveness to writers made him highly sought after.
“He was meticulous with writers’ work," Calvin Trillin, one of Lescher’s first clients, said in an interview on Dec. 4. Alluding to Irving (Swifty) Lazar —Lescher’s stylistic opposite in the field — Trillin once dedicated a book to “Robert ‘Slowy’ Lescher."
Other clients included Frances FitzGerald, Benjamin Spock, Paula Fox, Madeleine L’Engle, Andrew Wyeth and Georgia O’Keeffe. Isaac Bashevis Singer, having served as his own agent for many years, hired Lescher in 1972, six years before Singer would receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. When Lescher asked him why he thought he needed an agent, Singer’s reply evinced both the writer’s humor and the agent’s clout.
“You know, in the old days, when I wanted to reach Mr. Straus," Singer said, referring to Roger Straus of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, “I’d call him and he took my call. Now, I call and the secretary says, ‘He’s on the phone with Mr. Solzhenitsyn.’"
Robert Paul Lescher was born on March 31, 1929, in Bellingham, Wash., one of four children of Elias and Daisy Lescher. He grew up in Seattle, where his father was a court stenographer. He graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut after spending his senior year studying literature at the Sorbonne in Paris and was hired by Holt in 1950.
Lescher’s first marriage, to Mary Cantwell, who was an essayist and editorial writer for The New York Times, ended in divorce. Besides his second wife, the former Susan Corridan, his survivors include two daughters, Katherine and Margaret Lescher, from his first marriage, and a daughter, Susannah Lescher, from his second marriage. He is also survived by a granddaughter and two sisters.