Harold Ross: The Editor Who Loved Facts

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 1.09.18 PMRoss was tall, rangy, and rawboned . . . . More important than his physiognomy was his verbal finickiness, a trait that struck some people, even the punctilious Edmund Wilson, as “annoying or comic.” He insisted on direct prose leavened not by adjectives or figures of speech but by the strength of simple structure and composition. “Ross had an unquenchable thirst for clarity,” said E.J. Kahn, Jr., “and to slake it one simply had to learn to write better.”

That was because Ross was a reporter to his core. By the time he was twenty-five, he was the veteran of a fistful of newspapers . . . . Though a perfectly respectable practitioner of his trade, Ross was a “tramp”—a working stiff who went from town to town as the jobs became available. If his prose was no better than workmanlike, it had the virtue of being accurate and straightforward and concerned with facts above all.

“I have never been sure just what Ross really thought about the facts. All I know is that he loves them,” said his successor as editor of The New Yorker, William Shawn. “Facts steadied him and comforted him. Facts also amused him. They didn’t need to be funny facts—just facts.”

—From the book Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and the Golden Age of the New Yorker, by Thomas Vinciguerra.

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