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LETTERS FROM THE EDITOR by Thomas Kunkel

LETTERS FROM THE EDITOR

The New Yorker's Harold Ross

By Thomas Kunkel

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-50397-8
Publisher: Modern Library

A pungent supersized bouquet of letters that—in the apt words of Ross biographer Kunkel (Genius in Disguise, 1994)—brings

the New Yorker’s inimitable founding editor, "loudly, reprovingly alive."

Even before he started the magazine in 1925, Ross had led an eventful life as tramp reporter, laborer on the Panama Canal,

correspondent on the Leo Frank case, and de facto editor of the military weekly Stars and Stripes. But once he launched the New

Yorker, it rapidly consumed his life. Asking his first wife Jane Grant for a divorce, Ross writes, "I am a monstrous person

incapable of intimate association." On the evidence here, though, Ross’s true genius (although he dated Ginger Rogers and

Beatrice Lillie and married twice more) was for the sorts of relationships that not only nurtured such New Yorker stalwarts as

E.B. White, James Thurber, and Peter Arno, but also paternally sheltered them from the interference of philistine publisher Raoul

Fleischmann and the advertising department. Ross lays down rules for more effective cartoons, struggles to put contributions on

a more predictable schedule, and constantly hectors acquaintances and luminaries from Nunnally Johnson to Ernest Hemingway

to write for him. Though he takes time out to bankroll Dave Chasen’s famous Hollywood restaurant and pray that Humphrey

Bogart’s baby won’t look like him, he declines to attend a reception for Gertrude Stein: "Nuts to Gertrude Stein. If you want to

play backgammon tonight, telephone me." Kunkel unobtrusively identifies only those correspondents and peripheral figures most

likely to need introduction, and he supplies headnotes setting the stage for many incidents—though he never does explain whether

Ross’s protest over his eviction from his apartment for entertaining overnight guests prevented him from being tossed into the

street.

Even though Kunkel’s biography and Ben Yagoda’s About Town have skimmed the cream from these letters, there’s still

plenty to enlighten and satisfy anyone with the remotest interest in writing, editing, or absorbing reading. (Author tour)