Two Careers Remembered ....
By Denny Hatch
John Stevenson and Bill Houghton led charmed lives.
As president and proprietor of Greystone Press, John Stevenson pioneered the publishing and marketing of the continuity series that dominated the 1960s and '70s. Among them: The Practical Handyman's Encyclopedia, and The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement.
Born in England, Stevenson attended the London School of Economics and, after working as a journalist in Australia, came to this country where he worked for 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles and later as promotions manager of the New York Post and at Doubleday. He started Greystone on a shoestring with one title, The Complete Book of Sewing.
He was a dapper, sophisticated, international bon vivant who summered regularly in France. In the early 1970s when I was working for the Weintz Co., Walter Weintz came steaming into the office after a meeting with Stevenson who had summoned him to New York to discuss creating a direct mail package. Weintz snarled that Stevenson had spent the entire time carrying on two conversations in two languages—on the phone with his Parisian real estate agent negotiating the rental of a villa for the summer at Cap d'Antibes while, between pauses, he was beating down Weintz on his prices. I thought it was amusing as hell.
I would pay a lot of money for one of the old Greystone mailing packages written and designed by the legendary Fred Breismeister who took Frank Johnson's giant bedsheet circular concept and raised it to a high art. The signature cover of a Breismeister brochure was giant copy that read, "TAKE THIS BOOK FREE!" The illustration was a red, fake leather volume being thrust at you in deep perspective and held by a human thumb at the top. For effect, Breismeister always made the book slightly larger than life and the thumb slightly smaller, so the net effect was a HUGE free book.