Skip navigation

Saturday May 30, 2009

LARRY HEISEY, 78 / BUSINESSMAN, PHILANTHROPIST

Marketer found original ways to sell Harlequin romances

Larry Heisey, the marketing whiz who found a huge and dedicated global audience for Harlequin romances, died of complications from Parkinson's disease in Toronto on Thursday, the day before his 79th birthday.

William Lawrence Heisey, who was born in Toronto on May 29, 1930, went to Lawrence Park Collegiate and Trinity College at the University of Toronto, graduating with a B.A. in 1952.

He then attended Harvard Business School, where he earned an MBA in 1954.

He honed his marketing theories selling soap and other products at Procter & Gamble for more than a decade and then moved into radio as an executive vice-president of sales at Standard Broadcasting in 1967.

Four years later he was appointed president of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., a publisher of romantic fiction, in which the heroine invariably finds the man of her dreams after a teary and tempestuous courtship.

Harlequin, which had been founded in Winnipeg in 1949 as a paperback reprint publisher of popular crime fiction, bought Mills and Boon, a British publisher of romance fiction, the same year that Mr. Heisey joined the firm.

His inspiration was to pull Harlequin novels out of traditional bookstores and display them on racks in drugstores and supermarkets, thereby enticing a vast new female audience who simply wanted a good read along with their groceries or their cough remedies.

Under Mr. Heisey's watch, Harlequin developed a book club, a series of different fictional lines - with escalating amounts of eroticism - and relentlessly marketed its wares abroad.

The Toronto Star, which appointed Mr. Heisey to its board of directors in 1980, acquired a major interest in Harlequin in 1975.

A member of the Order of Canada and a supporter of the arts, especially The National Ballet, Mr. Heisey, who was 78, is survived by his two children, three grandchildren, his brother Alan, and his extended family.

A private family funeral is planned.

Back to top