Somewhat True of Good Editors

“The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.”

—Casey Stengel, manager of eight World Series champion baseball teams

The Max Perkins Movie: Better to Read About Perkins Than Watch Him Edit Thomas Wolfe

By Jack Limpert


Jude Law as writer Thomas Wolfe, Colin Firth as editor Max Perkins.

As a longtime fan of A. Scott Berg’s biography of legendary book editor Max Perkins, I had looked forward to the movie version of the editor’s life. The movie, Genius, starring Colin Firth as Perkins, is based on Berg’s book, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, with the screenplay by John Logan.

Perkins had helped F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and many other writers do their best work while staying the model of a smart, hard-working, patient, self-effacing editor. But I came out of the movie thinking that Perkins had gotten lost in a cinematic soap opera starring Jude Law as loud, brilliant author Thomas Wolfe and Nicole Kidman as Wolfe’s jealous girlfriend.

What a Wonderful Way to Describe a Writer

By Jack Limpert


Steve Daley had the gift of carbonation—his writing was effervescent and sparkling.

From Caitlin Flanagan’s review of Tom Wolfe’s book, The Kingdom of Speech, in the New York Times Book Review:

We are dealing with a short book by a big writer on a dull topic, further complicated—as it turns out—by an old man’s willingness to digress (surely the Spanish Civil War could have been left out of all this?), and the result is a qualified success. The scope is far too vast for such brief treatment, and the author’s lifelong commitment to carbonating even the most esoteric subjects leads him to get caught up in so many gossipy side notes—the scientist whose wife and daughter were stricken with volcanic diarrhea during his fieldwork in the Amazon; the class anxiety of a 19th-century visitor to the ­Lin­nean Society—that the reader is left to wonder what, exactly, is Wolfe’s point.

How Editors Once Talked About Writers

By Jack Limpert

From a March 31, 1981, note (with names replaced by the first letter of the first name) sent by a Washingtonian articles editor to the magazine’s editor:

Had lunch today with M. I must say she’s a sweet lady. She’s going up to New York but I’m still hoping that some day we’ll get her here. She hates leaving Washington but sees it as a chance to see what the rest of the world is like.

Where Have All the Journalists With Good B.S. Detectors Gone?

By Jack Limpert

Monday’s post made the case that television and speaker’s fees have hurt journalism—the lure of the two showed a lot of talented print journalists that they could make good money—easy money—talking on TV and as paid speakers on college campuses and at trade association and other business meetings.

British journalist Henry Fairlie described in the Washingtonian the celebrity that comes with TV appearances and speaker’s fees: “Fewer and fewer young journalists are willing to be and to remain just good reporters. . . .The effect on Washington is that, trading in celebrity, the media trade also in the wealth surrounding the celebrity. The very profession that should be the relentless critic of the affluence and cynicism of Washington is now the most ostentatiously affluent and cynical profession in the city.”

How Television and Bernie Swain Changed—Some Would Say Ruined—Washington Journalism

By Jack Limpert

The Washington Post has a nice piece today about Bernie Swain, who 35 years ago left his job as an assistant athletic director at George Washington University to start the Washington Speakers Bureau and is “now cozily ensconced in his home in Nantucket.”

The Post picture caption says, “Over the decades, Bernie Swain’s Washington Speakers Bureau has represented former presidents, Cabinet members, business executives, public figures and sports legends.”

In fact what got Swain started was getting speech appearances for journalists. It began with Steve Bell, an ABC-TV news anchor. Other prominent Washington journalists quickly followed: Hugh Sidey, Carl Rowan, Robert Novak, Rowland Evans, Mark Shields, Jack Germond, Fred Barnes, and many others, most of them print journalists.

Fifteen Years Ago We Weren’t Connected Minute-by-Minute to the Latest News

By Jack Limpert

On September 11, 2001, Brian Lamb, the head of C-SPAN, and I, along with Washingtonian writer Chuck Conconi, were having breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel on DC’s Connecticut Avenue. When we got there at 8:30, another dozen journalists were in the dining room—Al Hunt, Bill Kristol, and others.

About 9:45 Brian, Chuck and I finished our breakfast conversation—lots of good ideas came out of it—and we left the Mayflower dining room, stopping to gossip with some of the other journalists and then heading back to our offices.

Ted Williams Came to Washington, Said a Lot of Bad Words, and We Printed Some of Them

By Jack Limpert

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 10.06.09 AMTed Williams, who many think was  baseball’s greatest hitter, has been so identified with the Boston Red Sox that people sometimes forget he managed the Washington Senators for three years, from 1969 to 1971. Williams played for the Red Sox from 1939 to 1942 and again from 1946 to 1960; during the 1943-45 war years, he was a Marine Corps fighter pilot. In his 19-year major league career, all in Boston, Williams finished with a .344 batting average and 521 home runs. He was an all-star 17 of those years.

Note to the New York Times: Didn’t Oliver Stone Go Down This Conspiracy Path Once Before?

By Jack Limpert

unnamed-2Sunday’s New York Times Magazine cover story was on Oliver Stone, who the cover said “wanted to make a movie about America’s most iconic dissident.” The dissident, Edward Snowden, is shown on the magazine cover in a portrait randomly distorted by computer, and the story, written by Irina Aleksander, is generally admiring of Stone as a movie maker. Snowden is due to be released September 16.

Leon Harris and Some Talk That Wasn’t Off-the-Record

By Jack Limpert

From today’s Washington Post:

Leon Harris, the anchor on WJLA (Channel 7), is leaving after 13 years, the station said Friday.

WJLA, known as ABC7, declined to comment on the reasons for Harris’s departure, which will become effective next month. Harris was unavailable for comment. Late Friday morning, he said that leaving WJLA was “not my choice.” He also wrote that 13 “great” years at WJLA were “not enough, but will have to be.”