Knox Burger was my first agent. I was twenty-five when I first met him, holding down the only actual "job" I ever had, as a fairly inept press agent for United Artists, where I had succeeded another amateur flak named Jonathan Demme. I had written a novella called Tex X, about a hip black sheriff in the Old West. It was the first piece of fiction I had ever written, and had no idea what to do with it when another press agent--Jimmy O'Neill-- told me I should send it to his pal Knox Burger, a book editor who had just started a literary agency in a basement office in Greenwich Village.
Knox had discovered Vonnegut, he had mentored John D. MacDonald and Malcolm Braly--it all sounded terribly romantic to me and, like I said, I was twenty-five. So I sent the story to Knox, who thought it had promise and told me to come down to visit him, which I did about as soon as I hung up the phone. It was love at first sight--his office below street level on Washington Square, the "Knox Burger Associates" sign hanging on the iron gate (visible in Annie Hall), his cane, his gorgeous, wry wife/confidante Kitty, his roar of a laugh, that sense that he could have played either Jackson Pollack or Omar Bradley--it was all pretty intoxicating.
He was what every writer wanted; someone to hide behind, someone to give encouragement and also to get you off your ass and write. And he was still a fabulous editor. By the time you turned something in, it was done.
Six month after I walked into his office, he sold that novella. It became Blazing Saddles and utterly transformed my life. In his first couple of years in business, he also sold The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Gorky Park, but he never left that basement on Washington Square. No reason to.
Knox died on October 4 at the age of eighty-seven, after battling jaw cancer for years. To say there will never be another like him is almost beside the point. Thank God there was one to begin with.