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September 15, 1959 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1959-09-15

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The Versatility of Harold Ross

By SELMA SAWAYA
THE YEARS WITH ROSS: by
James Thurber, Atlantic Month-
ly Press, 1959, 310 pages, $5.
H AROLD W. ROSS was a man
who was virtually unable to
talk without a steady stream of
profanity, yet who could, in the
next breath, send his listener away
with a "God bless you" worthy of
a clergy man in its sincerity.
This was one of the contradic-
tions in the character of the man
who, for 26 years, was the editor
of that most cosmopolitan of all
magazines, the New Yorker. The
many facets-oftentimes conflict-
ing-of Ross' personality are dis-
played as a "friend of the family"
might have seen them in James
Thurber's book, The Years with
Ross.
Thurber himself puts Ross'
characteristics in a nutshell: "He
was a visionary and a practicalist,
imperfect at both; a dreamer and
a hard worker, a genius and a
plodder, obstinate and reasonable,
cosmopolitan and provincial, wide-
eyed and world-weary."
BORN November 6, 1892, in As-
pen, Colorado, Ross emigrated
from a matriarchal home - his
father remained a dim figure in
the background of Ross' life-into
the field of journalism, became
editor of the Stars and Stripes at
the age of 25, and had worked for
seven different newspapers before
that time.
In 1919, at the age of 27, he
reached New York, and then
worked for several magazines (in-
cluding Judge and the American
Legion Weekly), at the same time
becoming more and more involved
with the plans for his "new kind
of weekly," to be called the New
Yorker.
He carried a dummy of the
magazine around with him for two
years, looking for a publisher, be-
fore he and Raoul Fleischmann
formed the F-R Publishing Com-
pany, The magazine was born at
last in 1925,

a less -small - town - newspaper, Nasl
Jamles Thurber "Describes more careful and less confused Day
style, SI
Former New Yorker Editor THESE FIRST years of careless- Yor/
ness and confusion were un- Johr
doubtedly responsible for Ross' once
THURBER himself first met Ross was incongrous, in view of his later devotion to precision, order O'H
in 1927, when the author was perpetual pessimism-a pessimism I w
working as a reporter for the "New not unwarranted at times, and and system, and his unceasing are
York Evening Post?" The New which probably grew by leaps and search for Instant Perfection. He
Yorker has published a few of bounds during the first two years always lived in hope of getting TH
Thurber's small pieces, and Ross of its publication, out a magazine each week with-
invited him to visit the magazine's out a single mistake, and insti- Ros
offices when he had a chance. TN 1925, THE New Yorker was, tuted a checking department, allv
At their first meeting, Thurber in Thurber's words, "the out- modeled after that of the Saturday man
explained that he wanted to write standing flop" of the year, a year Evening Post, which checked every
for the New Yorker, which brought which produced such memorable fact, name and date. mat
a typical Ross response: "Writers successes as The Great Gatsby, His penchant for accuracy led of
are a dime a dozen, Thurber. What "Garrick Gaieties," An American him to overdo it sometimes, as in Ame
I want is an editor, . . . Do you Tragedy, "The Poor Nut," and Ar- the case of a book review by Robert the
know English?" rowsmith. While all these ven- Coates, who said that Faulkner the
Thus began Thurber's career tures were rolling along making sometimes seemed to write about Astr
with the New Yorker, and the nar- money, the New Yorker kept go- the woodland of Weir instead of by
rative proper tin this recounting of Ong downhill: from its original the American South. Whereupon nun
his years with Ross. Until the time February press run of 15,000 copies, checkers ransacked postal guides,d
of the editor's death in 1951, Thur- circulation fell to 2,700 copies in maps, and other sources looking T
ber was one of Ross' closest friends August, for the Weir that existed only in disti
and a fellow member in The Move- During this time, Ross' writers the imagination of Edgar Allan bad
ment that was the New Yorker. were hardly "a dime a dozen." Poe. cati
Many of them were in Hollywood ness
THE BOOK is as much about or in Paris then, and the ones he A LIST of the writers who ac- wha
Thurber as it is about Ross, knew in New York were more crued to the magazine afer thos
partially because so much of the amused by his troubles with the its first few years of infancy and shsu
history of the magazine involves magazine than inclined to help. who stayed with it once they were mag
the two men almost equally, and And when they did help, it was on reads like an honor roll of Eng.
also partially because Thurber often with tongue in cheek, and in American authors: Dorothy Park- ophe
seems, at times, to find himself a left-handed manner. er, Bob Benchley, Alexander Spet
as interesting a personality as thIn spite of all the difficulties, Woollcott, Ring Lardner, Marc gent
Ross This is in no way detrimental he magazine weathered the years Connelly, Arthur Kober, George body
to the book, for it gives it the off- of prosperity and settled down to Kaufman, S. J. Perelman, Ogden also
hand flavor of personal reminis -tion
cences-"I remember when . . ." sear
When in Ross' presence, you
caught only a glimpse of the man IN
-he was incapable of sitting still, lit
or even standing still, for more lack
than a moment at a time. His face a lit
was equally mobile, his hands con- exce
stantly in motion, lending empha-. Vol. VI, No. 1 Tuesday, September 15, 1959 teria
sis to his directives -- even in asn
casual conversation, he was rest- Versatility of Harold Ross of
less, full of the energy and vitality By Selma Sowoyo Page Two whi
which never left him, Research Vital to the Natiorvol
Ross' dreams of the "Instant
Perfection" were, of course, never By Ralph Langer Page Three *H
realized, but in his curiously per- Lady Chatterly & Censorship thot
verse way, he never stopped hop- By Gordon Mumma Page Five hec
ing for it or looking for it. His The Spark of Canada's Growth stuf
search for this unattainable ideal S.. r. phol

h, Sally Benson and Clarence
hortly after most of these writ
were accumulated, the New
ker accumulated another -
n O'Hara, about whom Ross
e said: "I'll never print another
ara story I don't understand.
ant to know what his people
doing."
[IS illustrated another - in a
way the most. puzzling - of
s' incongruities, He was not at
what one would call a literate
, yet for 26 years he edited a
azine which laid claim to some
he best writing and writers in
rica, and which published for
first time such stories as "Shoe
Horse and Shoe tie Mare," by
id Peters,and he Lottery,"
hirley Jackson, as well as in
erabe bits and pieces of Og-
Nashery'
hat the same man who could
inguish between a good and a
piece of literature when sub.
ed to his magazine for publi'
on could also ask, in all serious-
whether Moby Dick was the
le or the man, is a perplexing
ught. His literary diet con
d largely of True Detective
azines and Fowler's Modern
ish Usage; the only philo-
er he ever quoted was Herbert
ncer, who had oncesaid, "A
us can do readily what no-
y else can do at all." (This
happened to be Ross' defini-
of a genius, the man he
ched for but never found.)
SPITE of this seeming lack of
terary background, and actual
of real interest in cultivating
erary background, Ross did an
lent job of editing the ma-
al that came to his desk, and,
mentioned before, particularly
ecognizing the good material,
opposed to the bad writing
ch was sent to the magazine in
smes.
b had particular phobias,
ugh, and one of them was what
alled "bathroom and bedroom
.' This phobia related to his
bit about women, in whose
pany he was never comfort.
,with few rare exceptions. Per'
s his extreme discomfort in the
ence of women can be traced
is mother; Thurber relates that
. Ross' influence over her son
is to have extended over most
its life.
HEN HIS MOTHER would visit
him in New York, she would
e with the impression that her
was still a growing young man
needed all the rest he could
and she would reproach him
ie stayed out later than 11
ock at night. However, when
sonce came home at two a.m.
found his mother waiting up
him, he had to think fast to
her he had been elsewhere
n the gay party he actually had
a at. And again at another time,
alled up Thurber's wife to ask
ie had a doily around the house
ch looked as if it had been
le by a man. He had once x-
ned his late hours by telling
mother that he belonged to a
's sewing class that had to
t at night because all the mem-
worked during the day. (Then
iad to find evidence, and was
s looking for a "man-made"
y.) Ross laughed about his
edeceptions, "but . ., there
aced the effect of what must
e been a truly severe Momism."
(Continued n Page 10)
Selma Saways is the as-
sociate personnel director
)f The Daily.

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sy -usan t otzer Page Seven
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MAGAZINE EDITOR-Joan Kaotz
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com
able
hap
pres
to h
Mrs
seen
of h
W1
com
son.
who
get,
if b
o'clc
Ross
and
for
tell
thai
bee
he c
if sl
whit
mad
plait
his
men
mee
bars
he]Y
thus
doil;
little
hav
H.
o

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