cover image Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker's Harold Ross

Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker's Harold Ross

Harold Wallace Ross. Modern Library, $26.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50397-9

Harold Ross (1892-1951) was the founding editor and guiding spirit of the New Yorker, and this sampling of his voluminous correspondence offers a breezy romp through a quarter-century of the magazine's history. Included are letters to E.B. White, James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Saul Steinberg and many other talents whom Ross discovered and nurtured. Though restless, chain-smoking, Colorado-born Ross, an immigrant miner's son, could be awkward in public discourse, his letters reveal an articulate, keen intellect possessed by a tough, pragmatic, embattled editor who is everywhere at once--prodding writers to create, assuaging big egos, sparring with business partner Raoul Fleischmann. By turns serious, whimsical, gossipy, pointed and irascible, these letters demolish the notion that Ross was a bumpkin whose brainchild magazine succeeded in spite of him. The recipients of these missives comprise an astonishing who's who: Nabokov, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Rebecca West, John O'Hara, Ernst Lubitsch, Richard Rodgers, Moss Hart, J. Edgar Hoover, Nehru, Henry Luce, Ian Fleming and Harry Truman, to name a few. While much is ephemera or shop talk, Ross biographer Kunkel has skillfully linked the letters with commentaries to trace the New Yorker's evolution from shaky startup to carefree oasis during the Depression to committed world journal in WW II to cosmopolitan liberal forum during the Cold War. There are a smattering of autobiographical letters, which shed light, for example, on Ross's divorce from first wife Jane Grant (""I'm married to this magazine,"" he confesses). Reading these letters is like eavesdropping on a beehive of creative activity. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.