Born in Chicago on October 13, 1926, Stein is the son of Louis Stein and Zelda Zam Stein. The family moved to New York in 1930. In 1941, while living in the Bronx, Sol Stein wrote his first book, "Magic Maestro Please", followed shortly by "Patriotic Magic". He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he served on the Magpie literary magazine with Richard Avedon and James Baldwin. He graduated in 1942 and enrolled at CCNY, which then provided a free education.
Between the time of Stein’s enlistment in the Army Air Corps in 1944 and being called to active duty on March 1, 1945, Stein had completed nearly three years of infantry ROTC at CCNY. After qualifying for pilot and bombardier training, a backlog of pilots caused Stein to voluntarily transfer to the infantry. Overseas, he served as an Information & Education officer in the Headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division (United States) in Germany as Commandant of Division Schools, located in three cities, Regensburg, Ansbach, and Triesdorf. On 5 November 1946 Stein was cited by Lt. General Geoffrey Keyes for having organized and commanded the best occupational training schools in the Third Army Area in the American Zone of Germany.
Upon returning from Europe in 1946, Stein completed work for his degree at CCNY and simultaneously with his graduation in 1948 was employed at the college as a lecturer in social studies. While teaching, he took his Master’s degree in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in 1949 and was accepted for the famed doctoral seminar conducted jointly by Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun, both of whose writings Stein was to later to edit.
Script writer for the Voice of America
From 1951 to 1953 Stein was employed by the Voice of America, eventually as senior editor of the Ideological Advisory Staff of the Voice of America. He wrote daily scripts that were translated into 46 languages and broadcast to two million people risking their lives listening behind the Iron Curtain. It was at the Voice that Stein’s association with Bertram Wolfe began; Stein was instrumental in causing the re-publication of Wolfe’s masterpiece, Three Who Made a Revolution, which had been allowed to go out of print. The book subsequently sold half a million copies in a few years and was adopted in almost all Soviet Studies programs in the U.S. and elsewhere.
In 1953 Stein, a centrist, was appointed Executive Director of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, an organization of 300 leading American intellectuals of left and right working together in support of civil liberties and battling Senator Joseph McCarthy in the U.S. and Soviet propaganda and influence among intellectuals in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. It was in this period that the eventual publisher supervised the writing and publication of McCarthy and the Communists, which made The New York Times Bestseller List for 13 weeks and was credited with contributing to the unseating of Senator McCarthy.
In 1952 Stein was granted a leave of absence from the Voice of America to accept back-to-back fellowships at Yaddo, an artists’ colony, and the MacDowell Colony. At MacDowell, Stein completed his first play, Napoleon, under the watchful eye of Thornton Wilder, a fellow at the same time. The verse drama was produced the following year by the New Dramatists organization at the ANTA Theater in New York and was chosen by the Dramatists Alliance as “the best full length play of 1953”.
Stein completed a second play, A Shadow of My Enemy, originally intended as an adaptation of Whittaker Chambers' best-selling memoir, Witness (1952), but, when denied rights, based on public record and published in 1957. The play, whose synopsis runs "A senior editor of Time magazine accuses his closest friend of being a Communist", was originally commissioned by the Theater Guild and subsequently produced on Broadway by Roger Stevens, Alfred deLiagre Jr., and Hume Cronyn. The cast starred Ed Begley and Gene Raymond.
In the early 1950s, Stein and Elia Kazan formed a friendship that was cemented in 1955 when Stein served as the production observer from first reading to opening night of the Tennessee Williams play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama that year. Stein’s play A Shadow of My Enemy was produced in 1957 by Roger Stevens, Alfred deLiagre, Jr. and Hume Cronyn at the National Theater in Washington and the ANTA theatre on Broadway in New York starring Ed Begley and Gene Raymond. In 1957 Stein was one of 10 founding members of the Playwrights Group at the Actors Studio in New York with William Inge, Tennessee Williams, Lorraine Hansberry, and others.
From 1957-1959 Stein served for two and a half years as Managing Editor of the Executive Membership Division of the Research Institute of America.
Editor and publisher
In 1953 Stein edited and supervised the publication of McCarthy and the Communists by James Rorty and Moshe Decter for the Beacon Press in Boston. Melvin Arnold, director of the Beacon Press appointed Stein as General Editor of Beacon’s Contemporary Affairs Series in the book size trade paperback format developed by Stein. Working as a freelance contractor, Stein’s first list for Beacon included Three Who Made a Revolution by Bertram Wolfe, Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, The Century of Total War by Raymond Aron, An End to Innocence by Leslie Fiedler, The Need for Roots by Simone Weil, The Hero in History by Sidney Hook, Social Darwinism in American Thought by Richard Hofstadter, and The Invisible Writing by Arthur Koestler.
Sol Stein edited the classic work Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, selected as #19 of the “100 best nonfiction books of the 20th century”; Elia Kazan’s America America; and Lionel Trilling’s Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture. He was also responsible for the continued publication of Bertram D. Wolfe’s The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera and George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, selected as #42 of the 100 best nonfiction books of the 20th century.
Stein and Day
In 1962 Stein founded the New York-based publishing firm Stein and Day with his then-wife, Patricia Day. Stein was both publisher and editor-in-chief of the firm. The publishing house’s first book was Elia Kazan’s America America, which sold three million copies in hardback, paperback, and book club editions. The success of many of Stein and Day’s books was attributable in part to the amount of publicity work that Stein and Day did for each book. Stein worked with Kazan daily for five months on Kazan’s s first novel The Arrangement, which was #1 on The New York Times bestseller list for 37 consecutive weeks.
The firm relocated from Manhattan to Briarcliff Manor, New York in 1975, and published about 100 books each year until the company was compelled to close its doors, the background of which was the subject of Stein’s nonfiction book, A Feast for Lawyers. The New York Times said, “He has produced an appalling, Dickensian portrait of the entire system...ought to be read not only by executives facing Chapter 11 but by all entrepreneurs and indeed by anyone who fantasizes about running his own company." Stein’s book was honored by The American Bankruptcy Association at its annual convention in Washington, D.C. Columbia University now hosts the Stein and Day Archives, which chronicles the firm’s 27 years of existence. Stein and Day was the originating publisher of works by Leslie Fiedler, David Frost, Jack Higgins, Dylan Thomas, Budd Schulberg, Claude Brown, Bertram Wolfe, Mary Cheever, Harry Lorayne, Barbara Howar, Elaine Morgan, Wanda Landowska, Marilyn Monroe, Oliver Lange, and F. Lee Bailey, among others. Stein and Day was also the American publisher of J. B. Priestley, Eric Partridge, Anthony Sampson, Maxim Gorky, Che Guevara, L. P. Hartley, and George Bernard Shaw.
Book banning controversy
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Stein's book The Magician was the subject of a 1981 controversy initiated by Christian groups involving high school libraries and literature classes, the most notable of which was in the small city of Montello, Wisconsin. Members of the Montello School board, in their association with Christian right groups and, some allege, anti-Semitic right-wing hate groups, rallied to have the book banned not only at their high school but at schools throughout the country. The head of the English Department (Jo Ann Schwitz) and the school administration opposed the book banning and launched a campaign for public support. In the end, the school board members responsible for the book banning proposal were not only overruled but removed from the school board. Stein later sent every resident of the town of 1100 a copy of the book. The controversy attracted national media attention and was for a time regarded as a marquee victory for free speech advocates.
- Honorary Life Member, International Brotherhood of Magicians, Ring 26, 1947.
- Honorary Phi Beta Kappa, College of the City of New York, tc
- Distinguished Instructor Award, University of California at Irvine, 1992
The Husband, Coward-McCann, 1969, Pocket Books, 1970. British Commonwealth: Michael Joseph, Mayflower. Translated into German, Spanish, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Dutch.
The Magician, Delacorte, 1971, Dell, 1972. Selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club. British Commonwealth: Michael Joseph, Mayflower. Translated into French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Russian. Film rights to Twentieth-Century Fox. Screenplay by Sol Stein.
Living Room, Arbor House, 1974, Bantam, 1975. The Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club. British Commonwealth: The Bodley Head, New English Library. Translated into French, German (2 editions), Italian, Japanese.
The Childkeeper, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975, Dell, 1976. British Commonwealth: Collins, Fontana. Translated into German, Spanish. German-language TV motion picture released
Other People, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, Dell, 1981. British Commonwealth: Collins, Fontana. French, German, Italian (3 editions), Greek.
The Resort, Morrow, 1981, Dell, 1982. British Commonwealth: Collins, Fontana. Translated into Russian. Motion picture rights optioned (twice).
The Touch of Treason, Marek/St. Martin's Press, 1985, Berkley, 1986. British Commonwealth: Macmillan. Translated into German, Greek, Swedish, Norwegian.
A Deniable Man, McGraw-Hill, April, 1989. Translated into German.
The Best Revenge, Random House, 1991.
A Feast for Lawyers, hardcover, M. Evans, 1989, paperback 1992. Trade paperback, Beard Books, 1999.
Stein on Writing, St. Martin’s Press, 1995 hardback, 2000 paperback; British Commonwealth under the title Solutions for Writers, Souvenir Press. German edition, Zweitausendeins.
How to Grow a Novel, St. Martin’s Press, 1999, British Commonwealth under the title Solutions for Novelists, Souvenir Press, 2000, in German, Zweitausendeins 2000.
Plays and screenplays
Napoleon (previously titled The Illegitimist), produced New York and California, 1953, winner of Dramatists Alliance Prize, “best full-length play of 1953”
The Magician, screenplay, 20th Century Fox
- Lester, Julius. "Afterglow; BALDWIN Early Novels and Stories By James Baldwin Edited by Toni Morrison; The Library of America; Volume I: 970 pp., $35; Volume II: 870 pp., $35", Los Angeles Times, February 15, 1998. Accessed September 15, 2009. "He attended New York's prestigious DeWitt Clinton High, where his classmates included writers Emile Capouya and Sol Stein and photographer Richard Avedon. He graduated in 1942 and, upon the death of his stepfather a year later, moved to Greenwich Village."
- “Audience Mail: Letters from VOA Listeners, Readers, & Viewers” The Voice of America. Accessed 13 September 2007. http://voanews.com/audiencemail/listeners.cfm
- New York Times Editorial Board, The. “They Speak for Freedom.” The New York Times, 25 March 1955. Retrieved from http://nytimes.com on 13 September 2007
- MacDowell Colony, The. “Index.” The MacDowell Colony. Retrieved from http://www.macdowellcolony.org/writers.html on 13 September 2007.
- "Sol Stein Papers, 1943-2004". Columbia University. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
- "A Shadow of My Enemy". Dramatists Play Service. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
- Baldwin, James. “Preface to the 1984 Edition”, Notes from a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press. 1984. p. ix.
- "The Times Diary." The New York Times. 12 March 1969.
- Bender, Dean. "A House Built on Bestsellers." Business Magazine. Published by the Gannett Westchester Newspapers. 30 September 1979.
- "The Times Diary." The New York Times, 12 March 1969.
- Wilner, Paul. "Tale of a Publisher's Move to the Country." The New York Times. 11 February 1979.
- Gaeber, Lauren. “News and Noteworthy”, The New York Times, 25 March 1955. Retrieved from http://nytimes.com on 13 September 2007.