West Village Resident and Top New York Editor
By Robert Heide and John Gilman
We first met Jim Fitzgerald in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel in 1983 through our book agent Lois de LaHaba. Previous to this, the first book we had written was entitled Dime-Store Dream Parade—Popular Culture 1925-1955 an illustrated coffee table book that was published by E. P. Dutton editor Cyril Nelson. The book was published in 1979 on the 50th anniversary of the Wall Street crash, and it examined the creative and colorful, not to mention brighter and happier side of the Great Depression. Following this thrust into Americana, we went on to write a book published by the famed editor Larry Ashmead at Harper & Row entitled Cowboy Collectibles (1982) which was a guide to collecting the toys, comics, souvenir giveaways, and movie memorabilia of America’s great Western heroes including Buffalo Bill, Tom Mix, the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Hopalong Cassidy, Red Ryder and others. We think it was this book that hooked Jim, a handsome, dashing Westerner who hailed from El Paso, into giving us a wonderful two-book deal at Doubleday where he was a senior editor. These two illustrated books, published by Dolphin-Doubleday were Cartoon Collectibles—50 Years of Dime-Store Memorabilia (1983) and Starstruck—The Wonderful World of Movie Memorabilia (1986). The Cartoon book was primarily a study of Walt Disney’s merchandising techniques used to promote movie stars Mickey and Minnie Mouse and barnyard friends Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo and other early Disney characters; Starstruck was a guide to the classic Hollywood films and stars as well as an examination of the great studio movie promotions from artful posters and lobby cards to tie-ins with magazine and book publishers, matchbook covers, and even Dixie Ice-Cream cup lids (the underside of the lid featured a classic portrait of say, Joan Crawford, or Gary Cooper, protected from the sticky ice-cream with waxed paper.)
At Doubleday Jim introduced us to his colleague (whom he often shared her Checker cab with) Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who was then working as an editor there. She invited us guys to a big party for one of the books she had edited, which was at the Egyptian consulate where the hors d’oeuvres were hummingbird’s tongues and the champagne was French. We felt Jacque was the epitome of well-dressed glamour and charm with smarts galore. After that we created two books for Abbeville Press, Box-Office Buckaroos—The Cowboy Hero from the Wild West Show to the Silver Screen (1989) and Popular Art Deco—Depression Era Style and Design (1991). When we caught up with Jim again, he was a senior editor at St. Martin’s Press with a big office in the Flatiron Building. We presented him with our illustrated feature article in the New York Daily News Sunday Magazine called ‘Way Out West in New Jersey’ which completely convinced him that he should publish our guidebook ultimately entitled O’New Jersey—Daytripping, Backroads, Eateries, and Funky Adventures (1992). That book was a regional smash-hit and we delivered ‘updated with additional new material’ editions in 1998 and 2006, each given a newly-designed cover and new promotional pushes from our editor, Jim, who by that time was our regular companion on endless trips to Jersey hotspots like Atlantic City, the Great Swamp, and many of the classic diners we found ‘way out West in New Jersey.’ Also importantly for all three of us, Jim published our guidebook and memoir of Greenwich Village, simply titled Greenwich Village (including the East Village and Soho) a Primo Guide to Easting, Shopping and Making Merry in True Bohemia which came out in 1995. This book featured a photo of all three of Jim’s kids, Zoe, Farrar, and James Jr. posing on Christopher Street with two seven-foot-tall drag queens.
Around this time, Jim hooked us up with a new and prominent agent named Wendy Lipkind who landed us contracts, first at Hyperion (Disney’s new publishing house) and later at Disney Editions for a total of three books, Disneyana—Classic Collectibles 1928-1958, The Mickey Mouse Watch—From the Beginning of Time, and Mickey Mouse, the Evolution, The Legend, The Phenomenon! With Disneyana we went on the Today Show with Katie Couric wearing hats and sweaters from the Disney store, and Bob wearing an original Mickey Mouse watch (viewership, we were told, was forty million.) Jim, who lived at different locations in the Village, one on Christopher Street at Waverly, another on Christopher Street at Washington, and finally in a garden apartment on Waverly Place at Sixth Avenue, taught us everything about book promotion. One of the most successful of the fiction books he published was Generation X by Douglas Copeland, which coined the term for a generation of young people born between 1965 and 1979, about 82 million, now 40 to 54 years old. Another of his successful nonfiction books was Elevator Music by Joseph Lanza, and a slew of books by Michael Wallis who lived in Tulsa and co-authored a book with Wilma Mankiller. Jim was the agent for Wallis’s hugely successful Route 66 and other Western-themed books like the biography of Frank Phillips of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the founder of Phillips 66 Petroleum and Pretty Boy Floyd about the famed 1930’s gangster.
After leaving St. Martin’s Press, Jim founded the James Fitzgerald Agency where he connected writers of biographies of rock stars like David Bowie and Mick Jagger to the best publishers. His favorite cowboy singers were Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, and he was an avid collector of Bob Dylan’s music, and also attended many of Bob’s concerts, amassing Dylan posters and T-shirts. Jim was a world traveler but he mostly loved taking adventurous train trips in antique trains on small railroads out West. Being his authors and friends, and almost as members of his family, we would join him in his Hoboken studio (in a converted leather factory) where we spent countless hours listening to his well told stories while he ran his miniature train set-up or cataloged his immense collection of postcards. Jim loved to put away tumblers of bourbon as he puffed away on cigarettes, one after the other; in 1983 he authored a book, The Joys of Smoking Cigarettes, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston (a later edition of that book was published in 2007 by Harper Entertainment). In the end he succumbed to lung cancer. Earlier he had suffered a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound, and after a period of time he heeded the call of the Wild West, caravanning out to Taos where he bought an adobe ranchero. There Jim lived out his days in the land that he loved, only recently taking the Santa Fe Trail to that New Mexico city where he died on December 28, 2019. As well as ourselves, many others close to him are sadly left behind including two long-time devoted girlfriends whom we knew, Louisa McCune, the editor-in-chief of ArtDesk Magazine in Oklahoma City and Kristina Cordero who lives partly in Peru and partly in New York City, as well as Jim’s sister Suzanne and brother-in-law Michael Wallis out in Tulsa, his brother Scott, his sister-in-law Jan, his daughters and son’s-in-law William and Zoe Cauley and Thomas and Farrar Lannon and his son James—now a Shanghai financier—his nephews Kyle and Eric and his favorite, granddaughter Eulalea Cauley. Memorial services will be held in April in Santa Fe and in Greenwich Village, a rousing party with margaritas aplenty, served with Texas style Tacos and Burritos, will be held to celebrate Jim’s life at his old friend Sherry De Lamarter’s place on Hudson Street, the Cowgirl Bar and Restaurant. Stay tuned for time and date.
All of Robert Heide and John Gilman’s books and plenty of Jim Fitzgerald’s edited or agented books can be found on Amazon.