Duvall Hecht, whose life in LA led to Books on Tape, dies at 91
Duvall Hecht was somewhere between his job in the bank in Los Angeles and his home in Newport Beach when he realized he had heard the same song for the third or fourth time. On the news channels, the daily report had become obsolete and repetitive. The ads were numbing and endless.
It was, he told The Times years later, the “deadliest two hours” of his day, a harrowing ride devoid of any intellectual stimulation.
In a flurry of entrepreneurial magic, he sold his 1965 Porsche, hired a college theater coach, and created what would become volume #1 of the Books on Tape catalog, a tape recording of George’s football tale. Plimpton, “Paper Lion”.
“It never seemed like a crazy idea to me,” he said in 2001, shortly after selling his startup to Random House for around $20 million.
A man of varied interests, Hecht died Feb. 10 at his Costa Mesa home, his wife Ann Marie Rousseau said. He was 91 years old.
Long before becoming a pioneer in the world of audiobooks, Hecht was a rower. Good. He competed in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki and four years later won gold in Melbourne.
In 1965, still passionate about the sport, he persuaded Dan Aldrich – UC Irvine’s first chancellor – to make rowing one of the five founding sports of the university. For decades, he stuck with the program as a mentor, fundraiser and coach. He also coached at UCLA and Menlo College.
Born in Los Angeles on April 23, 1930, Duvall attended Beverly Hills High School and then Stanford University, where he hoped to make the football team. But at 6ft 1in and 185lbs he was deemed too light and a trainer suggested he try rowing instead. He then became an Olympian.
While in the Marines, he became a fighter pilot and, after his discharge, a Pan Am pilot, which he found a bit better than being a bus driver, his wife said. woman.
When he landed a job as an investment banker in downtown Los Angeles, he looked for alternatives to radio. For a while, he set up a reel tape recorder in the passenger seat and listened to books that had been recorded for blind people. When the tapes first arrived on the scene, he looked to these as a possibility, but could only find motivational tapes.
After recording “Paper Lion”, he began placing ads in newspapers across the country and within five years sales were approaching $2 million and he had tens of thousands of customers for his audiobooks.
There were things to learn, though. It could take years to get the rights from publishers and early recordings were sometimes stuffy and hard to listen to. He started hiring actors to do the readings.
“You can’t ‘advertise’ a book,” he told The Times in 1983. “You have to read it emotionally, but you don’t want to dramatize it.”
Customers rented book cassettes for 30 days and since Hecht did not charge a deposit, they were on an honor system to return them. For the most part, he said, customers held up their end of the bargain and mailed the tapes back.
There was also a volume factor. A taped reading of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” lasted 70 hours and consisted of 47 90-minute tapes, more than enough to fill a glove box.
After selling the company, he said he was disappointed when Random House halved its 6,000-book catalog, often ditching classics in favor of bestsellers and new releases.
“I think if I had known they were going to do this, I might not have sold the business to them,” he joked.
Although he was a pilot, Olympian, banker and entrepreneur, Hecht suddenly found himself unemployable after selling books on tape and pursuing a new career as a long-haul truck driver, a dream he had had since he was 16. His wife said she sometimes accompanied him on his trips across the country and marveled at how much he enjoyed the road.
“And on those trips, of course, we were listening to books on tape.”
Hecht is survived by his wife and daughter Oriana Rousseau, and three children from his first marriage to Sigrid M. Hecht; Katrin Bandhauer, Justin Hecht and Claus Hecht; and grandchildren Lorien Bandhauer, Walter Bandhauer and Emma Lawlor.