08/09/05 - harold ross

In today's excerpt - renowned author James Thurber writes about Harold Ross, creator and first editor of the New Yorker, and discusses to the crucial and highly involved role that Ross played in Thurber's writing

"Having a manuscript under Ross's scrutiny was like putting your car in the hands of a skilled mechanic, not an automotive engineer with a bachelor of science degree, but a guy who knows what makes a motor go, and sputter, and wheeze, and sometimes come to a dead stop; a man with an ear for the faintest body squeak as well as the loudest engine rattle. When you first gazed, appalled, upon an uncorrected proof of one of your stories or articles, each margin had a thicket of queries and complaints—one writer got a hundred and forty-four on one profile. It was as though you beheld the works of your car spread all over the garage floor, and the job of getting the thing together again and making it work seemed impossible. Then you realized that Ross was trying to make your Model T or old Stutz Bearcat into a Cadillac or Roll-Royce. He was at work with the tools of his unflagging perfectionism, and, after an exchange of growls or snarls, you set to work to join him in his enterprise. ...

"The blurs and imperfections his scout's eye always caught drew from his pencil such designations as unclear, repetition, cliché, ellipsis and now and then, blunter words. He knew when you had tired and were writing carelessly, and when you were 'just monkeying around here' or going out on a limb, or writing fancy, or showing off. His 'Who he?' became famous not only in the office but outside, and ten years ago was the title of a piece on Ross written by Henry Pringle. Joe Liebling once had 'Who he?' painted on the door of his office, to the bewilderment of strangers who wondered what kind of business Liebling could be in. Sometimes this query put a careful finger on someone who had not been clearly identified, and at other times it showed up the gaps in Ross's knowledge of historical, contemporary, or literary figures. (He once said that only two names were familiar to every reader in the civilized world: Houdini and Sherlock Holmes

"I remember that Ross once told me, after reading a casual of mine, 'You must have dropped about eight lines out of this in your final rewrite.' The thing ran smoothly enough, it seemed to me when I reread it in his office, but I went back and checked my next to last draft. Ross had been wrong. I had dropped only seven lines."


James Thurber


The Years With Ross


Perennial Classics


Copyright 1957, 1958, 1959 by James Turber 2 Copyright 2001 Rosemary A. Thruber


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