Who was Russell Maloney and What Did Harold Ross Say About Him?


In May of 1935, New Yorker founder and  editor, Harold Ross sent a six word memo to Wolcott Gibbs, at one time the artists so-called hand-holder, i.e., the middleman between the cartoonists and the editors:


“Best ideas lately come from Maloney.”



“Maloney” was Russell Maloney, a Harvard graduate, who peppered the New Yorker with so many impressive cartoon ideas, Harold Ross invited him into the fold. Maloney’s stock rose fast, soon inheriting James Thurber’s position as prime Talk of the Town editor/writer.  He wore many hats, contributing profiles, stories, ideas for cartoons, Talk pieces, etc., etc. – all told, an impressive amount of work in a short period of time at the magazine (he was there for eleven years, retiring at age 35. According to his obit in The New York Times,  Maloney said he retired because he couldn’t keep up the pace).


One of Mahoney’s signed pieces stood out from all his contributions:   “Inflexible Logic” published in the issue of February 3, 1940.  The fiction piece revolved around a theory that six chimpanzees with six typewriters “just pounding away at the typewriter keys, would be bound to copy out all the books ever written by man.”


For at least one of The New Yorker’s cartoonists, Carl Rose (his drawing at the top of this post was based on a Maloney idea) the quality of Maloney’s contributions to the art department were ranked exceptionally high.  From Rose’s 1946 collection, One Dozen Roses: An Album of Words and Pictures:


The two best gagmen in the world, for my money are E.B. White and Russell Maloney…for a couple of years he sold an incredible number of  picture ideas to The New Yorker and has been represented anonymously by most of the regular contributors to the magazine.



Maloney died of a cerebral hemorrhage in September of 1948 at age 38.  Following his retirement from The New Yorker he went on to write for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Life, and The Saturday Review (where he published “Tilley the Toiler”  — a profile of The New Yorker).  At the time of his death he was a radio book critic for CBS.  A collection of some of his New Yorker pieces, It’s Still Maloney, or Ten Years in the Big City,  came out in 1945 ( Sorry about the poor image of the book below  — it appears the cover illustration is by the New Yorker cartoonist, Richard Taylor).












One comment

  1. Brendan Gill tells us that Maloney was ‘sour’ on the New Yorker, considered himself and his contributions under-valued, his work there a failure. Maloney’s self-chosen anthology of New Yorker pieces, ‘It’s Still Maloney’ (1946) has an air of resentment and self-pity about it, forcing one to conclude that his work lingers on that smudgy frontier between ‘good’ and ‘great’.

    Maloney was hardly the only New Yorker staffer to take a swipe at Ross, who he won’t even name in a mocking piece about his time there; calls him ‘Moss’. He also writes his own Foreword, over the signature of ‘J.J. O’Malley’; it’s a pretty good, though not great, parody of the backhanded style of Wolcott Gibbs.

    Maloney’s ‘Talk of the Town’ and ‘Comment’ pieces have that wry New Yorker voice down pat, but Maloney didn’t invent the voice, any more than did Thurber or White or any other practitioner; it was their response to Ross’s direction, something to do with Ross’s vision of a Manhattan sophisticate remarking on the passing scene while lunching at that month’s smart restaurant.

    Maloney was in the end sour on himself; his collection is the accumulation of a disappointed man, and he seems to say ‘Look at this, it’s the best I can do,’ and that, in ironic tones of self-pity. The title, as Gill points out, is a bleak joke; ‘No matter how you slice it, it’s still Maloney.’
    It’s an unfortunate position to take, tainted with inverted vanity, for a man who produced so much sound writing, and if his achievement was not great, in either his own estimation or the judgement of others, it was never less than good, and that alone is enough for even the quietest pride. The New Yorker’s standard was never less than good, and Maloney was among those who helped to keep it up there.

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