Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of the New Yorker
"Magazines are about eighty-five percent luck", Harold Ross told George Jean Nathan. "I was about the luckiest son of a bitch alive when I started The New Yorker". Ross was certainly lucky back in 1925, but he was smart, too. When such unknown young talents as E. B. White, James Thurber, Janet Flanner, Helen Hokinson, Wolcott Gibbs, and Peter Arno turned up on his doorstep, he knew exactly what to do with them. So was born what many people consider the most urbane and groundbreaking magazine in history. Thomas Kunkel has written the first comprehensive biography of Harold W. Ross, the high school dropout and Colorado miner's son who somehow blew out of the West to become a seminal figure in American journalism and letters, and a man whose story is as improbable as it is entertaining. The author follows Ross from his trainhopping start as an itinerant newspaperman to his editorship of The Stars and Stripes, to his role in the formation of the Algonquin Round Table, to his audacious and near-disastrous launch of The New Yorker. For nearly twenty-seven years Ross ran the magazine with a firm hand and a sensitivity that his gruff exterior belied. Whether sharpshooting a short story, lecturing Henry Luce, dining with the Duke of Windsor, or playing stud poker with one-armed railroad men in Reno, Nevada, he revealed an irrepressible spirit, an insatiable curiosity, and a bristling intellect - qualities that, not coincidentally, characterized The New Yorker. Ross demanded excellence, venerated talent, and shepherded his contributors with a curmudgeonly pose and an infectious sense of humor. "l am not God", he once informed E. B. White. "The realization of this came slowly and hard some yearsago, but l have swallowed it by now. l am merely an angel in the Lord's vineyard". Through the years many have wondered how this unlikely character could ever have conceived such a sophisticated enterprise as The New Yorker. But after reading this rich, enchanting, impeccably researched biography, readers will understand why no one but Ross could have done it.