There are a good number of places to read about the beginnings of The New Yorker by people who were there at the beginning. Jane Grant’s Ross, The New Yorker And Me is one (Ms. Grant was married to Harold Ross during the birth of the magazine), and then there’s Corey Ford’s The Time Of Laughter (mentioned here not long ago).
The Vicious Circle by Margaret Case Harriman (published in 1951 by Rinehart)) is another gem. Ms. Harriman’s middle name might look familiar to anyone who’s read Frank Case’s Tales Of A Wayward Inn, published in 1938. Mr. Case (Ms. Harriman’s father) owned the Algonquin Hotel during the time the Roundtable played its part helping spawn The New Yorker.
The fabulous cover is by the late great (non-New Yorker artist) Al Hirschfeld. Back in 2015 Stephen Nadler’s Attempted Bloggery posted illustrations from the book (see them here). I used the cover for my own purposes here on the Spill some time back to head the Posted Notes section:
If you have The Vicious Circle in hand and want to head right into the New Yorker material, go to The Birth Of The New Yorker on page 171. One of my favorite paragraphs concerns this description of the magazine’s founder and first editor, Harold Ross, at the art meeting:
Ross’s searchlight gaze is equally busy on the drawings that go into the magazine. At art meetings he will stare gloomily at a drawing and mutter, “Who’s talking?” This means the picture will go back to the artist to have the speaker’s mouth opened wider. Or he will twist his long body around to peer at the perspective of another cartoon from every angle, and then inquire plaintively, “Where am I supposed to be?” No detail of The New Yorker is too minute to escape his deep attention, and any flaw personally afflicts him, because his standard is perfection. As Russell Maloney once wrote of him, “perfection, in the mind of Harold Ross, is not a goal or an ideal, but something that belongs to him, like his watch or his hat.“
It’s Oscar Day!
Follow Liza Donnelly on Twitter @Lizadonnelly as she draws live on the Red Carpet.
Here’s a photo of her taken yesterday as she checked-out red carpet preparations (and of course drew the preparations) for tonight’s big show.
It being The New Yorker’s 90th anniversary, how fitting that the cover has been revealed for Thomas Vinciguerra’s Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and The Golden Age of The New Yorker.
Quite a crew gathered for a book party at the Algonquin Hotel in 1938: seated, left to right, Fritz Foord (who ran Foord’s Sanitarium in Kerhonkson, NY*), Wolcott Gibbs, Frank Case (owner of The Algonquin Hotel) and Dorothy Parker; standing, Alan Campbell (Ms. Parker’s husband), St. Clair McKelway, Russell Maloney and James Thurber.
*according to a Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney, Thurber heard that “O.Henry had used Foord’s as a drying-out place, and later psychically exhausted colleagues would periodically turn themselves in there, too.”
(W.W. Norton & Co. will publish Mr. Vinciguerra’s book in November of this year).
Theholidayseason reminds me of the Algonquin Hotel, and once reminded I only have to look across my desk to the snowglobe pictured above. It was given to me years ago by friends who stayed at the hotel for a day or two.
I threw together the little scene above for Ink Spillers. The snowglobe sits atop Margaret Case Harriman’s Vicious Circle: The Story of The Algonquin Roundtable (Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1951. Illustrated by the late great Al Hirschfeld). Behind the globe is Frank Case’s Tales Of A Wayward Inn (Garden City Publishing, Inc., 1941. With seven illustrations, including one by James Thurber and another by Covarrubias ). My thanks to Jack Ziegler for adding Wayward Inn to our collection many moons ago. The Empire State Building and Chrysler Building are Times Square souvenirs. I found the tin Yellow Cab someplace years ago. There’s a sign on the trunk: “Always Be Careful Crossing Streets” — excellent advice then and now.
The mention of the Algonquin brings to mind a flood some of the biggest and brightestnames associated with the earliest and earlier years of The New Yorker: Harold Ross, Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Benchley, E.B. White, and Thurber, who made the place his second home when he wasn’t at his “great good place” in Connecticut. It was in the Algonquin lobby that Thurber and another of the magazine’s giants, Peter Arno, met for the last time just before Thurber’s death. And of course it was where William Shawn went for his cereal and orange juice lunch every week day during his long tenure as editor.
For those wanting much more on the Algonguin and its part in The New Yorker’s story, there are the books in the photo (Frank Case owned the Algonguin), as well as Thomas Kunkel’s terrific biography of Harold Ross, Genius in Disguise (Random House, 1995). There are plenty of other books with tales of the Algonquin — too many to mention at the moment. I will however note a few more books that go right to the heart of the matter:
Wit’s End: Days and Nights of the Algonquin Round Table by James R. Gaines (Booksurge Publishing, 2007)
The Algonquin Wits Edited by Robert E. Drennan (The Citadel Press, 1985)
The Lost Algonquin Round Table Edited by Nat Benchley and Kevin C. Fitzpatrick (iUniverse, Inc., 2009)