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Obituaries

Samuel S. Vaughan, 83, publisher at Doubleday, author

Robert Walker/New York Times/1972

SAMUEL S. VAUGHAN

NEW YORK - Samuel S. Vaughan, who rose from the syndication sales department to lead Doubleday & Co., working with writers as diverse as President Dwight D. Eisenhower, William F. Buckley Jr., Bruce Catton, and Fannie Flagg, died last Monday at his home in Tenafly, N.J. He was 83.

The cause was complications of a stroke, said his wife, Jo.

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Mr. Vaughan spent more than 30 years at Doubleday, first in sales and advertising, later in editing and acquisitions, and finally in management, becoming president, publisher, and editor in chief. He left the company in 1986, around the time it was sold to the German conglomerate Bertelsmann AG and ceased to be a family-owned business. He was later an editor and executive at Random House, now also part of Bertelsmann.

Mr. Vaughan was known at Doubleday for a decorous manner and democratic instincts. He worked with Eisenhower on two White House memoirs, “Mandate for Change’’ and “White House Years: Waging Peace, 1956-1961,’’ and a more personal reminiscence, “At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends.’’

He also edited three Civil War books in the 1960s by historian Bruce Catton: “The Coming Fury,’’ “Terrible Swift Sword,’’ and “Never Call Retreat.’’ And it was Mr. Vaughan who persuaded Buckley, a friend, to try his hand at fiction, a suggestion that produced the Blackford Oakes series of spy novels.

Mr. Vaughan edited Wallace Stegner’s novel “Crossing to Safety,’’ as well as the novels “Wheels’’ and “The Moneychangers’’ by the British-Canadian writer Arthur Hailey. He also edited “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe,’’ a 1987 book by Flagg that centered on the tales of an older Southern woman named Ninny Threadgoode. It was made into the popular 1991 movie “Fried Green Tomatoes,’’ with Jessica Tandy as Ninny.

Authors knew Mr. Vaughan as a reader of writers; that is, he knew what each needed from him.

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One of them, the radio personality Jonathan Schwartz, said, “I did a lot of writing in the California desert, and so unsure of myself was I that I’d pick up the phone at any time, without considering that it might be midnight in New York, and I’d say: ‘Can I read you something? It might take a little while.’ ’’

Schwartz, whose story collection “Almost Home’’ and novel “Distant Stations’’ were published by Mr. Vaughan at Doubleday, added: “He always said yes. And then he would edit me over the phone, and I’d go back and apply his suggestions, and I’d see how right he was.’’

Samuel Snell Vaughan was born in Philadelphia. His father, Joseph, was a phone company lineman; his mother, Anna, was a secretary. He attended public schools, served in the US Marine Corps after World War II, and graduated from Penn State. He had developed his interest in publishing there, working on a humor magazine called Froth and a literary magazine called Inkling.

Mr. Vaughan wrote several children’s books, including “Who Ever Heard of Kangaroo Eggs?’’ (1957), “New Shoes’’ (1961), and “The Two-Thirty Bird’’ (1965). He wrote articles about publishing and for a decade or more taught a class at Columbia.

In addition to his wife - the former Josephine LoBiondo, whom he married in 1949 - Mr. Vaughan leaves two sons, Jeffrey and David; two daughters, Leslie and Dana; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

“He was like one of those gentleman professors,’’ Flagg said of Mr. Vaughan in an interview Tuesday. “If it hadn’t been for Sam, I don’t think I would have a career. Nobody wanted to publish ‘Fried Green Tomatoes,’ and a lot of people turned it down. They didn’t think a book about an old lady in a nursing home would be of interest to anyone, but obviously Sam did. I sent him a little bit, and when he called, he said, ‘Ms. Flagg, this is Sam Vaughan, and I would be delighted to publish your book.’ ’’

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