Sunday, February 22, 2009

Harold Ross and the New Yorker

If I could go back in time for interesting conversation and intellectual stimulation, my first choice would be Paris at the time when Sylvia Beach's bookstore Shakespeare & Company was the cultural hub of that great city.
Should international travel not be allowed, a reasonable alternative would be New York City during the period of the Algonquin Roundtable. Of course, the tie in with magazines is round table member Harold Ross, his wife, New York Times reporter Jane Grant, Alexander Woolcott and the rest of the group that formed The New Yorker, a magazine that reflected the wit and style of all the Algonquin members.
The principles met while working on the W W I (this brings to mind an interesting side thought- will the present economic downturn eventually be known as D 2 with the one during FDR's time recoined D 1?) newspaper Stars and Stripes and, after the war, cut their magazine editorial teeth on, The Home Sector, which lasted only a year until it was absorbed by American Legion Weekly. Ross then worked briefly for a humor magazine, Judge, before founding his magnum opus, The New Yorker, in February 1925.

The New Yorker broke new ground with its brand of sophisticated humor, commentary and literature and was edited by Ross until his death in 1951. The list of important literary contributions to this magazine is long, but John Hersey's "Hiroshima", published in its entirety in the issue of August 31, 1946 and J.D. Salinger's "Franny" (1955) and "Zooey" (1957) come to mind as the most collectible, though they remain remarkably reasonable in price.

the "Hiroshima" issue

Aside from the first issue, which is scarce and brings about $500, my favorite New Yorker items include the rare prospectus and a very rare parody issue published on November 6, 1926.

The issue's cover features Ross himself, drawn by Rea Irvin as "Penaninsky", parodying the editor as the dandy Eustace Tilley, who was featured on the inaugural issue, looking at "spider" Alexander Woolcott through his monacle while smoking the ever-present cigarette (no coincidence Ross died of lung cancer). I've only had one opportunity to acquire this and bought it on ebay in May 2000 for $611. The issue is full of jokes and cartoons specifically done for Ross' amusement by the New Yorker staff.

Unlike tonight's Oscars, which was long on glitz and short on substance, The New Yorker continues to be a distinctive source of magazine artistry, forty-eight times a year!


Anonymous said...

I honestly do not know what I would do should the New Yorker ever cease in-print publication. Thanks for this enjoyable (and informative) post.

Beth said...

A friend of mine recently purchased a copy of the New Yorker with the Hiroshima article. It is in near-mint condition. Do you know how we can determine its value?

Kelsey said...

I'm an undergrad doing some work about popular culture during the inter-war period, but I can't find what seems to be a definitive list of the "most popular" magazines during that time! I'm interested in America and France. Could you please direct me to a list or something of the sort? Thanks so much for your time. Your blog is a joy to read!