Today is the birthday of Harold Ross (November 6, 1892 – December 6, 1951), who started The New Yorker magazine. He had a running feud with Time magazine founder Henry Luce (April 3,1898 – February 28, 1967).
Both magazines attracted fine writers. Time’s list of notable contributors includes film critic James Agee, art critic Robert Hughes, political columnist Joe Klein who wrote the novel Primary Colours based on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, writer Pico Iyer who wrote The Lady and The Monk about his affair with a beautiful young Japanese married woman who later became his wife, Aravind Adiga who won the 2008 Booker Prize for The White Tiger, film critic Richard Corliss and commentator Fareed Zakaria.
The New Yorker’s list of writers and contributors is even more impressive: Malcolm Gladwell, EB White (famous for the writing guide, The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White), James Thurber, John Updike, Pauline Kael, Truman Capote, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Adam Gopnik, Ken Auletta. Last month alone it published the works of Haruki Murakami, Alice Munro and Paul Theroux.
Founded in 1925, two years after Time, The New Yorker struggled initially but now the tables have been turned. Time has not been kind to Time while The New Yorker like New York City continues to thrive.
Here’s what I wrote about the Luce-Ross feud based on a New Yorker article three years ago.
It’s hard to see two such different magazines as rivals. But that’s what they were, recalls Jill Lepore in her highly entertaining Untimely: What was at stake in the spat between Henry Luce and Harold Ross?
Ross, a miner’s son who never finished high school, launched The New Yorker in 1925 as the magazine “not edited for the old lady in Dubuque”.
Luce, a missionary’s China-born son who went to Yale, started Time with his friend, Briton Hadden, in 1923 as a a magazine meant to “appeal to every man and woman in America”.
Luce and Ross hated each other’s guts.
Lepore writes about their rivalry and Time’s style — Timestyle — with equal relish:
Hadden, not Luce, was Time’s first editor. This had been decided in a coin toss. Luce ran the business. The idea was that they’d rotate. They agreed, though, that the magazine had to have a language of its own: Timestyle. “You’re writing for straphangers,” a former professor of theirs advised them. “You’ve got to write staccato.” Hadden marked up a translation of the Iliad, underscoring compound phrases, like “wine-dark sea”. (A “sea as dark as wine” dragged.) No longer did events take place “in the nick of time” but “in time’s nick”. Everything was epic…
Hadden liked to coin words, compounds like “news-magazine”. He imported “tycoon”, “pundit”, and “kudos” into English. He filled a notebook with lists. Famed Phrases: “flabby-chinned”. Forbidden Phrases: “erstwhile” (use “onetime” instead). Unpardonable Offences: failing to print someone’s nickname. He was fond of middle names, of inverted subject and predicate phrases, of occupations as titles: “famed poet William Shakespeare” and “Demagogue Hitler”. (What next? one reader wanted to know. “Onetime evangelist Jesus Christ?”)
Time made fun of The New Yorker’s first issue:
Last week, Manhattanites found the first issue of The New Yorker on their club tables, their hotel stands, their back-alley kiosks; they ruffled its pages, found it to contain one extremely funny original joke.
Ross had his revenge when Luce started Fortune in 1930.
The New Yorker parodied Timestyle in a profile of Luce.
“Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind,” wrote Wolcott Gibbs, a New Yorker editor and writer. He ended his profile with a hilarious send-up of the man and his magazine:
Certainly to be taken with seriousness is Luce at thirty-eight, his fellowman already informed up to his ears, the shadow of his enterprises long across the land, his future plans impossible to imagine, staggering to contemplate. Where it will all end, knows God!
The New Yorker not only made fun of Luce. Ross then personally rubbed salt into his wounds.
Ross sent Luce a proof. That night, they met in Ross’s apartment… “There’s not a single kind word about me in the whole Profile,” Luce said. “That’s what you get for being a baby tycoon,” Ross said. “Goddamn it, Ross, this whole goddamned piece is malicious, and you know it!” Ross paused. “You’ve put your finger on it, Luce. I believe in malice.”
Guess who is having the last laugh?
Ross, I think.
The New Yorker today with writers like Malcolm Gladwell, Ken Auletta and Adam Gopnik and, of course, editor David Remnick is certainly more upmarket than Time ever was or wanted to be. Unfortunately, times are hard in the mass market these days, even for Time.