Ole Christian Risom (1919-2000)
Ole Christian Risom was one of the most influential children’s book publishers of the twentieth century.
Born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, Risom began his publishing career at Bonniers, the Swedish publishing house based in Stockholm. After his brother Jens Risom, the famous designer of Mid-Century Modern furniture, traveled to the United States to market his furniture, Ole followed soon after. Yet, his escape from occupied Denmark was difficult: he traveled through Portugal and was detained for weeks in Trinidad by the British before finally arriving in New York aboard a freighter in 1941.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Risom enlisted in the U.S. Army and was made a U.S. citizen. In November 1942, he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, a small unit of ski troops who trained in mountain warfare at Camp Hale, Colorado. In June 1943 he was transferred to Kiska in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to fight the Japanese forces. He remained in Kiska until February 1944, at which time he was sent to the European Theater of Operations.
Jens Risom again had a hand in his brother Ole’s future, for he had a connection that facilitated Ole’s being chosen for a coveted post with the MFAA at war’s end. Ole Risom was assigned to U.S. Third Army and arrived at the Munich Central Collecting Point in July 1945. As Assistant to the Executive Officer, Monuments Man Lt. J. Hamilton Coulter, Risom handled the administrative duties of the largest collecting point in the U.S. Zone of Occupation. In addition, Risom acted as Coulter’s driver, typist, and German interpreter. Although Coulter’s post was later filled by Monuments Man Lt. Doda Conrad and Lt. J. A. Taylor, Risom and Coulter remained close friends after both had returned to the United States.
In his role at the Munich Central Collecting Point, Risom attended restitution negotiations in the French Zone with Monuments Man Capt. George T. Lacey in 1945, and accompanied Lt. Craig H. Smyth, Director of the collecting point, to Milan, Italy in 1946. Also, Risom worked closely with Agnes von Rechberg, Chief Secretary and Administrative Assistant at the collecting point. In addition to supervising all typing, Agnes was in charge of maintaining personnel records, the preparation of restitution receipts, the issuing of security passes into the collecting point, and corresponding with representatives of foreign nations. The two soon fell in love and married in 1947. After he was discharged, Ole travelled back to his homeland, Denmark, before taking a job in Paris as a reporter in order to gain entrance back into Germany to be near his wife. When Agnes left the collecting point, Monuments Man Capt. Edwin C. Rae, Chief of the MFAA Restitution Branch, said her departure “deprived this organization of one of its best members.”
After the Risoms moved to their new home in the United States, Ole returned to his career in publishing. From 1952 to 1971 he served as Vice President and Art Director for Golden Books Western Press. There, he was responsible for the Little Golden Books series, the much-beloved hallmark of the twentieth-century American childhood. He was also responsible for the book adaptations of popular Disney movies such as Cinderella and The Jungle Book. In 1972, Risom was named Vice President and Associate Publisher of the young reader division at Random House Publishing, where he remained until 1990. At Random House, he explored new formats for children’s books such as Chunky Books, Bathtime Books, and Picturebacks. Risom collaborated with the greatest creative artists of his time including Dr. Seuss, Jim Henson, Charles M. Schultz, the Berenstains (The Berenstain Bears), Marc Brown (Arthur), and Laurent de Brunhoff (Babar). His collaboration with close friend and illustrator Richard Scarry produced The Busy, Busy World of Richard Scarry and I Am a Bunny, which are both still in print today.
After his retirement in 1990, Risom remained a consultant at Random House. He lost his battle with cancer in 2000.