Here But Not Here: A Love Story

Overview

New Yorker writer Lillian Ross tells a love story of the passionate life she shared for forty years with William Shawn, The New Yorker's famous editor. Shawn was married, yet Ross and Shawn created a home together a dozen blocks south of the Shawns' apartment, raised a child, and lived with discretion. Their lives intertwined from the 1950s until Shawn's death, in 1992. Ross describes now they met and the intense connection between them; how Shawn worked with some of the best writers of the period; how, to escape...
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Overview

New Yorker writer Lillian Ross tells a love story of the passionate life she shared for forty years with William Shawn, The New Yorker's famous editor. Shawn was married, yet Ross and Shawn created a home together a dozen blocks south of the Shawns' apartment, raised a child, and lived with discretion. Their lives intertwined from the 1950s until Shawn's death, in 1992. Ross describes now they met and the intense connection between them; how Shawn worked with some of the best writers of the period; how, to escape their developing liaison, Ross moved to Hollywood, and there wrote the famous pieces that became Picture, the classic story of the making of a movie - John Huston's The Red Badge of Courdge - only to return to New York and to the relationship.
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Editorial Reviews

David Michaelis
Here But Not Here depends heavily on selectivity. Miss Ross' love of her own work is stressed to the point of sterness, as are the unchanging joys of the love she and Shawn found in each other, as is their sex life, which, according to Miss Ross, never deteriorated. Meanwhile, shopworn words like fidelity and unfaithful and adultery and mistress are omitted.

Instead, Miss Ross is clear and straightforward as she describes the feelings created by the complicated arrangements governing the private lives of what in the end amounted to 11 people. She cuts straight to the bone, remembering sadness and pain and pity and rage and guilt and disappointment, and she takes honest inventory of her own anger and explosions when, in the early days of their liason, Shawn would leave her to check in a few blocks north. Ultimately, though, Shawn made theirs the love story -- [his wife] Cecille, writes Miss Ross, was in truth outside of us -- and although it is strange that Mrs. Shawn never divorced her husband but instead went along with the arrangements necessary for his life with Miss Ross, it is not surprising. New York Observer

Howard Kissel
Here But Not here -- the title is an incantation Shawn often uttered -- does not undermine the saintly image Shawn retains. His giving spirit becomes all the more remarkable when we see that he devoted himself as wholeheartedly to making a rich life with Ross as he did his work and that he did both without abandoning his family, especially the two growing boys, the playwright/ actor Wallace Shawn and the composer Alan. . .

What is touching about the portrait is the sense Ross conveys of two people utterly respectful of each others gifts and needs, two artists with a rare talent for self-effacement, creating a beautiful life together in the midst of deep pressure and stress. It is a love story Henry James might have enjoyed.

New York Daily News

Milena Damjanov
"A successful autobiography can make you feel as if you've stumbled upon an unlocked diary. Lillian Ross's short, page-turning story of her unconventional love affair with William Shawn, famed editor of The New Yorker, is such a tale. .

"Although some might squirm at the details of this odd relationship (Shawn had a private phone line that only Ross used installed near his bed), its honesty and surprising romanticism are not only fascinating but appealing. You are glad Ross had the courage to reveal her hidden life. . .

Although the people who knew the couple were aware of their liason, it was never made legitimate. With this book, Ross announces it to the world, revealing a truly moving love story. All moralizing be damned -- at least until you've finished the book.

Susan Jacoby
What raises Ross' memoir far above the level of titillating gossip is its depiction -- the the more powerful because it seems largely unintentional -- of the consequences of a complicated man's refusal to seek love and warmth as a unified whole instead of in fragments. Newsday
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Appearing almost simultaneously with Ved Mehta's Mr. Shawn's New Yorker (Forecasts, April 6), Ross's memoir of William Shawn, who was her lover from 1952 until his death in 1992, shows us, with mixed results, the private side of the talented, self-effacing New Yorker editor. Like Mehta's book, this one flirts with hagiography, but here we see Shawn away from his deskand outside the marriage that he maintained throughout his and Ross's affair. The author depicts him as a passionate lover, a devoted, unofficial father to her adopted son and a deeply ambivalent editor who called his vocation a "big mistake," his professional life "the ultimate cell." Unfortunately, New Yorker writer Ross (Takes) fails to bring these personaeromancer, father, literary midwifeinto focus, and she continually stresses the bliss of the relationship rather than its (probably more interesting) complications. Despite the book's title, Shawn's persistent complaint that he waswhether at home or at the magazine"here but not here," seems never to cast a shadow on his time with Ross, which she describes in almost impossibly sunny terms. When she mentions her guilt about the affair, she is quick to bury it in a rsum of personal and professional triumphs, achieved in company with luminaries as varied as A.J. Liebling, Charlie Chaplin and Robin Williams. Ross succeeds best in giving us a glimpse of Shawn's private, romantic idealsof both his work and his affair with her ("Our time together defied death," he told her). Some readers will balk at Ross's repeating these cris de coeur for public consumption; the rest will probably wish for a less romanticized account of this love story. Photos. (June)
Library Journal
New Yorker writer Ross on her intimate relationship with the magazine's famed editor, William Shawn.
Library Journal
Ross, a longtime New Yorker writer, has written a unique, behind-the-scenes memoir detailing her life and her relationship with William Shawn. For half a century, while he was the respected editor of The New Yorker, Shawn felt trapped and nonexistent. Apparently, in his professional life he mourned his own unrealized talent, and in his personal life he felt like an outsider who was "there but not there." When he met Ross, he recognized her as his soulmate. Unable to cause his wife pain by divorcing her, Shawn maintained an intimate, 40-year relationship with Ross by living both with his wife and at an apartment blocks away with Ross and their child. Ross candidly discusses their bond, Shawn's unusual personality, the many celebrities she met, and her own experiences as a New Yorker staff writer and author. Recommended for academic and public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/98.]--Ilse Heidmann, Southwest Texas State Univ., San Marcos
Kirkus Reviews
An informative if scattershot account by Ross (Takes,1983, etc.) of her 40-year romance with New Yorker editor William Shawn. Ross, who joined the staff of the New Yorker in 1945, makes no apologies for her lengthy affair with the long-married Shawn, though she goes to great (and circular) lengths to explain and excuse it. "I couldn't reconcile myself to being a þmistress.þ I didn't feel like one," she writes. "Bill told me I was his þwife.þ " The entire affair was conducted with the full knowledge of Shawn's real wife, Cecille: He and Ross kept an apartment about 12 blocks from where Mrs. Shawn and their children lived. Ross is vague and sparing with the logistics, yet apparently Shawn would usually sleep at home (where he kept a private phone in the bedroom "with a number he gave solely to me"), while taking his meals and spending most evenings with Ross (their apartmentþs previous tenant had been Marlene Dietrich). Ross notes "the familiar misery in his face" after doing time en famille; although he þlonged for the earthiest and wildest kinds of sexual adventures,þ evidently he "never became inured to his guilt." Thereþs a dated and doltish innocence in her presentation of this material, a tendency to dote goggle-eyed on Shawn that belies her true wit; Ross, after all, is well known as a tough-minded and persevering writer/reporter. Some passages are nearly incomprehensible, with few or no transitions to prepare or conclude them. Ross, who left the New Yorker with Shawn in 1987, returned in 1993, and compares Tina Brownþs regime favorably with that of her flame. Of historical interest are her recollections of J.D. Salinger andShawn's publication of "Zooey" over the objections of his own fiction editors. Both too quirky and too chatty; Ross is at her best when sticking to writers, writing, and Shawn's editing. (b&w photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375501197
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/19/1998
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Read an Excerpt

We were drawn to each other from the first by all the elusive forces that people have been trying to pin down from the beginning of time. When, by the early 1950s, we were committed to each other--never to change--we tried once or twice to pin them down for ourselves, but as both of us were constitutionally resistant to theorizing, we gave up, merging with each other instead in our physical joy and pleasure, and in laughter.
Our communication over our joint work may have been one point of departure for what happened. But it was only one. When Bill took it further, his undisguised emotional expression of what he found in me was initially terrifying. I felt: Not me, for God's sake! I want to keep my mind on my writing! I was probably as far as it's possible to be from embodying the femme fatale. And with Bill Shawn's wife and children belying "there but not there"--even though to him this contradiction was a statement of fact, and he made it seem so to me--there were complications stemming from the fact. It would not be an acceptable fact to my family or to a court of law or to the pope. The complications were too much for me to handle. I tried to run away from it, and I took off for California. I remained there, away from him, for about a year and a half. But that simply didn't work. The odds may have been against our being together, but my attempt at not being together turned out to be doomed.

As was well known, Bill Shawn spent years in working harmony with scores and scores of renowned writers, artists, editors, publishers, agents, and colleagues. Many people looked to him almost worshipfully to help them realize and express their talent. The greatest beneficiaries ofBill's attention were the writers. For at least fifty years, he worked closely with some of the most sensitive, perceptive, talented, and sophisticated writers anywhere in the world. He lunched with them and sat with them for hours going over their manuscripts. He was their friend; he tried to be what he called "a giver of compassion and understanding." They accepted the compassion and understanding--and they gloried in his creative and material help. They knew him in a certain way. "I write for you," his authors would say to him. They all said the same words: "I write for you." He would look embarrassed when they said it to him. If someone he didn't think was a wonderful writer said it to him, he would look doubly embarrassed. All writers gratefully took what he gave them. He didn't reveal to them what this effort cost him. "They do not question my peculiarities" is how he put it.

Some of the writers who did not question his "peculiarities" loved Bill for his total dedication to their writing. He tried to keep his dedication unspoiled by his sharp awareness--in the case of a few--of intolerable egotism, of ruthless opportunism, of special pleading, of greed, of descent into mediocrity. "They are unfortunate," he would say thoughtfully. Although he kept his sharpness and his skepticism under total control, he usually sensed the truth of everybody around him.

By his own choice, and whatever the toll to himself, including life itself, he tuned in to the deepest wishes of others and tried to give them what they wanted. "Unpleasant" was his strongest word for what he felt about the character of the few who repelled him. He was usually able to reject writing that was unacceptable for one reason or another, but once in a while, in order to protect the feelings of a writer, he would buy a piece, pay the writer, and hold the work in the "bank" for years. He bought and published work of a couple of writers he felt personally sorry for. His rationalization in these instances was always one that essentially satisfied him. It was on a plane that I did not fully grasp until I had lived with him for many years. It went something like this: "Every human being is as valuable as every other human being, and it is important to me not to hurt this person." To Bill Shawn, every life was sacred. I would occasionally question him about the subject, about what seemed to be the issue of "honesty." He was never perturbed. He would always preface his answer by saying "It's very complicated, but in the deepest way . . ."

Although Bill would devote days and nights to helping his writers and artists with personal problems of every imaginable kind, he never encouraged people to get into his own personal life. His oldest friends somehow knew he had marked a line beyond which he did not wish them to step. He was on a first-name basis with a few longtime friends in his office, but he had difficulty in addressing most people by their first names. Their addressing him as "Mr. Shawn" was fine with him. His manner was the same with everybody--genuinely democratic and respectful. His courtesy to all visitors--escorting them out of his office and to the elevator--became legendary. He would see anybody, including all job seekers, who wrote asking for an appointment. Away from the office, he usually kept to the same mode. To everybody on his staff he was courteous, considerate, and tolerant. He never raised his voice. He almost never permitted himself to reveal rage. He kept his distance from other people by keeping the concentration on them. All of his writers experienced his intense and immediately sympathetic attention to them. Everyone noticed his unmistakable intelligence, and everyone soaked up his unmistakable affection.
When Bill and I became a couple, his way of distancing himself from other people turned out to be a useful framework for us. People left us alone. From the beginning to the end of our years together, we usually had no need to be with anyone else. Neither he nor I needed to talk to other people about our life together. People in the office were our friends, some closer than others, but mostly Bill and I wanted to be alone with each other. We never tired of this self-imposed isolation; we liked it that way. Occasionally, we might have dinner at a restaurant with another couple, or go with others to the theatre or to listen to jazz. But neither of us seemed to need a "social life." In fact, we couldn't understand why other couples needed a regular pattern of "doing things" in groups. Bill and I seemed perpetually interested only in being with each other.

After a while, our colleagues got to know about us. They saw us arrive at the office together. They saw us leave together. They saw us together at the theatre, at concerts, on the city's streets, in the park. They saw us going into our house and coming out of our house. If they gossiped about us, we didn't hear it. Most people seemed to honor our privacy.
About himself, Bill spoke to me unhistrionically and quietly, with detachment, and without self-indulgence. "Why am I more ghost than man?" he would ask softly. Over the years, he asked me time and again, "Do you know who I am?" He spoke in his usual gentle tone. At the end of one of our leisurely, time-free Saturday afternoons together, he might say, "Please do not let me forget my own life." And occasionally he might add, "It's someone else's life that I have lived."
He loved gaiety and innocence and joy and sexy women, preferably Europeans, and he longed for the earthiest and wildest kinds of sexual adventures. He was, as I said, romantic. His favorite words were "magical" and "enchanting." He was drawn to all forms of humor, especially writing that made him laugh, and he contributed his astonishing talents to making the work of others more telling in every way, preferably funnier. While he admired erudition, he reveled in comedy, and writing and comic art that made him laugh. He reveled in S. J. Perelman, and he was sent soaring by J. D. Salinger and Ian Frazier and Joe Mitchell and Ed Koren and Roz Chast and William Steig. Drawings by Saul Steinberg or Sempé rendered him almost mute with awe. Eagerly, he sought out old-time vaudeville comics, such as Willie Howard and Smith and Dale. He was at one with Groucho Marx as well as with Buster Keaton. He tried always to watch the English comic Benny Hill on television. He went for classic Jewish joke-telling. Myron Cohen, he would say, had the best dialect of the lot. When we watched Myron Cohen appearing on the Johnny Carson show, Bill's entire body would pulse with delight, especially when Cohen would affect his special heavy-lidded, phony "elegance" in the ethnic accent. In the 1960s, we went repeatedly to see the Beyond the Fringe foursome on Broadway. Bill could be restored by Richard Pryor. I went with him to see Spinal Tap several times. He waited eagerly for theatrical or cinematic glimpses of Walter Matthau and Zero Mostel and Robin Williams in any role. He was both knocked out by and inspired by the subtle, inimitable humor of Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness. He was drawn to show business in general--to all musical comedy, from Busby Berkeley movies to Comden and Green concoctions to anything touched by composers from Cole Porter to Stephen Sondheim. We went half a dozen times to see Laurence Olivier on the stage in The Entertainer, and as many times again to see it with Olivier on the screen.

Bill Shawn's deepest satisfactions, however, were listening to and playing jazz. He responded with every muscle in his body to jazz. He knew and loved classical music, but the music closest to his heart was the popular music that lent itself to jazz improvisation. He had his own way, privately and seriously, of admiring intellectuality. He rejoiced in beautiful art, beautiful writing, and beautiful thinking. He liked Kierkegaard and Proust and Musil, but he worshiped Duke Ellington.

All his life, even as a child, Bill Shawn felt and feared his own death. It was always with him. When he was still in his forties or fifties, he would awaken in surprise that he was still alive. "I'm still here," he would say in the morning, imparting the observation seriously and undramatically. In his later years, he occasionally philosophized about why we want to go on living, despite suffering, despite pain, despite disappointment. By then he was revealing in the way he looked, the way he walked, the way he laughed, that he was doing just that, wanting to live, living. I didn't have to talk about that one with him. It was because of everything he had opened me up to in life that I was able in some measure to make my return in kind.

Although he feared dying, he had often felt suicidal, he told me. Many times when we were reunited, after a night apart, the first thing that he mentioned to me was the "punishment" he had to endure because of the pain he had inflicted on Cecille. He would say that suicide was in his mind. But he fought against it. "I'm trying to hack my way out of this despair," he would say.

Overwhelming all else was Bill's feeling that he did not exist. "Who has declared me null and void?" he would ask me politely. He was a clear and logical thinker. If he did not exist, there was nothing to reveal to people. For years, he kept his agonies and his occasional hopes secret.

This was the man I loved.

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Table of Contents

1. As We Were 3
2. Finding The New Yorker 21
3. Threads of Connection 34
4. In the Meetings 56
5. Linked 89
6. Fixed in Memory 118
7. Partners 133
8. Editor-in-Chief 144
9. Erik 176
10. Collaborators 208
11. In Order to Proceed 223
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