RALPH INGERSOLL: A Biography by Roy Hoopes


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Soggy treatment of a live wire. Ingersoll (1900-85) had a busy, if often frustrating, career in journalism, love, and war; but this shuffling, prolix account doesn't really know what to make of it. Hoopes, a veteran journalist himself, begins with what is supposed to be a dramatic encounter at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in 1937 between Henry Luce of Time, Inc., and Ingersoll, then his general manager and the publisher of Time. Luce turned thumbs down on Ingersoll's attempt to reform (liberalize) the magazine, but offered him $1,000,000 in Time, Inc. stock if he would stay another five years. Ingersoll hedged, ultimately rejected the offer, and left in 1939 to set about founding the short-lived, but interesting newspaper PM. And the drama? Hoopes spends a few more pages explaining the background tension (Ingersoll resented Clare Boothe Luce's influence on her husband, and she hated him in return), and then trudges on with the story. If there was a climactic point--or even a striking pattern--in Ingersoll's life, it's not evident here. Hoopes does provide all sorts of information about Ingersoll's adventures as a mining engineer in Arizona and Mexico; his nonstop writing, drinking, and womanizing in New York during the late '20s and '30s; his work at The New Yorker (at one point he replaced Harold Ross and ran the whole show); his nervous breakdown; his years in the Luce empire; his spirited, controversial editorship of PM (194042); his brilliant success as an intelligence officer in WW II; and his books (good reportage, bad fiction), marriages, and divorces since then. Tall, virile, magnetic, Ingersoll spent much of his youth feuding with his frosty, imperious father and much of his old age feuding with his ambitious, money-minded son, Ralph II. All this might have made an engrossing story, but in Hoopes' uninspired chronicle it simply doesn't.

Pub Date: June 27th, 1985
Publisher: Atheneum