The Years with Ross

The Years with Ross

by James Thurber

Paperback(1ST PERENN)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060959715
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/26/2000
Series: Perennial Classics Series
Edition description: 1ST PERENN
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,264,201
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.76(d)

About the Author

James Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1894. Famous for his humorous writings and illustrations, he was a staff member of The New Yorker for more than thirty years. He died in 1961.

Read an Excerpt

A Dime a Dozen

Harold Ross died December 6, 1951, exactly one month after his fifty-ninth birthday. In November of the following year the New Yorker entertained the editors of Punch and some of its outstanding artists and writers. I was in Bermuda and missed the party, but weeks later met Rowland Emett for lunch at the Algonquin. "I'm sorry you didn't get to meet Ross," I began as we sat down. "Oh, but I did," he said. "He was all over the place, Nobody talked about anybody else."

Ross is still all over the place for many of us, vitally stalking the corridors of our lives, disturbed and disturbing, fretting, stimulating, more evident in death than the living presence of ordinary men. A photograph of him, full face, almost alive with a sense of contained restlessness, hangs on a wall outside his old office. I am sure he had just said to the photographer, "I haven't got time for this." That's what he said, impatiently, to anyone-doctor, lawyer, tax man-who interrupted, even momentarily, the stream of his dedicated energy. Unless a meeting, conference, or consultation touched somehow upon the working of his magazine, he began mentally pacing.

I first met Harold Ross in February, 1927, when his weekly was just two years old. He was thirty-four and I was thirty-two. The New Yorker had printed a few small pieces of mine, and a brief note from Ross had asked me to stop in and see him some day when my job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post chanced to take me uptown. Since I was getting only forty dollars a week and wanted to work for the New Yorker, I showed up at his office the next day. Our meeting wasto become for me the first of a thousand vibrant memories of this exhilarating and exasperating man.

You caught only glimpses of Ross, even if you spent a long evening with him. He was always in mid-flight, or on the edge of his chair, alighting or about to take off. He won't sit still in anybody's mind long enough for a full-length portrait, After six years of thinking about it, I realized that to do justice to Harold Ross I must write about him the way he talked and lived-leaping from peak to peak. What follows here is a monologue montage of that first day and of half a dozen swift and similar sessions. He was standing behind his desk, scowling at a manuscript tying on it, as if it were about to lash out at him. I had caught glimpses of him at the theater and at the Algonquin and, like everybody else, was familiar with the mobile face that constantly changed expression, the carrying voice, the eloquent large-fingered hands that were never in repose, but kept darting this way and that to emphasize his points or running through the thatch of hair that stood straight up until Ina Claire said she would like to take her shoes off and walk through it. That got into the gossip columns and Ross promptly had his barber flatten down the pompadour.

He wanted, first of all, to know how old I was, and when I told him it set him off on a lecture. "Men don't mature in this country, Thurber," he said. "They're children. I was editor of the Stars and Stripes when I was twenty-five. Most men in their twenties don't know their way around yet. I think it's the goddam system of women schoolteachers." He went to the window behind his desk and stared disconsolately down into the street,coins in one of his pants pockets. I learned later that he made a point of keeping four or five dollars' worth of change in his pocket because he had once got stuck in a taxi, to his vast irritation, with nothing smaller than a ten-dollar bill. The driver couldn't change it and had to park and go into the store for coins and bills, and Ross didn't have time for that.

I told him that I wanted to write, and he snarled, "Writers are a dime a dozen, Thurber. What I want is an editor. I can't find editors. Nobody grows up. Do you know English?" I said I thought I knew English, and this started him off on a subject with which I was to become intensely familiar. "Everybody thinks he knows English," he said, "but nobody does. I think it's because of the goddam women schoolteachers." He turned away from the window and glared at me as if I were on the witness stand and he were the prosecuting attorney. "I want to make a business office out of this place, like any other business office," he said. "I'm surrounded by women and children. We have no manpower or ingenuity. I never know where anybody is, and I can't find out. Nobody tells me anything. They sit out there at their desks, getting me deeper and deeper into God knows what. Nobody has any self-discipline, nobody gets anything done. Nobody knows how to delegate anything. What I need is a man who can sit at a central desk and make this place operate like a business office, keep track of things, find out where people are. I am, by God, going to keep sex out of this office-sex is an incident. You've got to hold the artist's hands.Artists never go anywhere, they don't know anybody, they're antisocial."

Ross was never conscious of his dramatic gestures, or of his natural gift of theatrical speech.

Table of Contents

Foreword to the Perennial Classics Edition ix
Foreword xxiii
A Dime a Dozen
3(15)
The First Years
18(18)
Every Tuesday Afternoon
36(26)
Mencken and Nathan and Ross
62(14)
The Talk of the Town
76(24)
Miracle Men
100(21)
More Miracle Men
121(15)
Onward and Upward and Outward
136(19)
"Sex Is an Incident"
155(16)
Who Was Harold, What Was He?
171(9)
Up Popped the Devil
180(14)
The Dough and the System
194(18)
The Secret Life of Harold Winney
212(11)
Writers, Artists, Poets, and Such
223(19)
Dishonest Abe and the Grand Marshal
242(17)
The Last Years
259

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Years with Ross 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
michaelm42071 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Thurber¿s association with Ross began over a year after Ross had started the magazine, which he edited from 1925 to 1951, the year he died. Thurber had been working as a reporter in Ohio, trying to write a novel in France, also working as a reporter there and then in New York. He sent pieces to The New Yorker starting in June, 1926, eventually placing one. He went to the magazine office in February, 1927 and first met E. B. White, with whom he had common acquaintances, and White took him in to meet Ross. Later Thurber explains that Elwyn Brooks White was called Andy because anyone at Cornell with the last name White got called Andy in memory of the first Cornell president, Andrew White.Ross hired Thurber as an administrative editor¿he was always looking for someone to "straighten things out" at the magazine¿and it was a while before Thurber could convince him he was a writer. Ross changed his status on the magazine, but he never asked Thurber¿s advice about a practical matter again.Thurber described the Tuesday afternoon art meetings, where Ross would question everything and anything about a drawing. Thurber notes the importance of Rea Irvin, who did the first cover (¿Eustace Tilley¿ was the name the staff chose for him) and who was responsible for the magazine¿s look, its initial cartoon selections, and its typeface, which he designed. Peter Arno (whose real name was Curtis Arnoux Peters), Gluyas Williams (the illustrator of Benchley¿s books), Rube Goldberg, and Helen Hoskison were some of the early artists.There was also a Talk of the Town meeting each week; in the beginning, it was Thurber, Ross, White, Ralph Ingersoll, and Katharine Angell, not yet divorced from Roger Angell¿s father and married to White. Later Peter De Vries, Russell Maloney, Wolcott Gibbs, William Shawn (who took over after Ross¿s death), and others were involved.Ross was a friend of H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, [who were co-founders of the magazine but immediately left to edit Smart Set and The American Mercury]. Raoul Fleischmann was the main bankroller of the magazine. The magazine had many regular writers in the early days, including Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, S.J. Perlman, Edmund Wilson, and Sally Benson. Thurber believes Ross was a great editor, though he gives ample room to his prejudices¿about any whiff of sex in the magazine, for instance¿and his ignorance on many topics. Ross was always looking for a miracle man to organize the magazine, and he drove a series of people crazy after hiring them for this job. Wiser people¿Hobart Weekes, Wolcott Gibbs, Clifton Fadiman¿turned down the Big Job. Eventually, there was a team, including Ik Shulman and St. Clair McKelway, who did the Big Job among them without going crazy. Thurber tells the story of the early years of the magazine from an insider's point of view and with a lot of humor.