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.

She suggested we talk again with T. I called him and he’s not mad at us anymore. He’s working on a novel and another project. I suggested if he wants to write a magazine piece he call you. He may. He said he’d be down at the beach after school lets out and “everything’s up in the air right now.” If you don’t hear from him, give him a call for old time’s sake.

M thinks we should use D on some society type stories—maybe something in the hunt country. I used D a few times at the weekly, with good effect, but you have to pick your spots very carefully. He can be brilliant and breathtakingly careless in the same sentence, which drove me nuts. But if he’s hungry enough he might give us something terrific.

M thinks we should talk with O about a story. The last time I spoke with O the message came through loud and clear that he wanted the next step to be magazine-to-agent (to see what kind of money was on the line, I suppose). He may have been offended that I, a flunky, was calling rather than the big cheese. I think one of us should drop him a note. If he was short with me, I’d tell him to go fuck himself, which might affect his view of you.

M suggested again R on the arts. I’m glad M mentioned R. We all have our favorites—you have your J, I have my R. But just because our hearts beat fast when we look at them doesn’t have to mean that they can’t write a good story. I’d bet R could do a wonderfully wicked profile of H and his empire. She probably didn’t get back to you because she’s very, very shy. If I’d been ten years younger when I first set eyes on her I would have killed at her cue, delivered an empire greater than the crown’s. Her clips are attached. Here’s to you, R, wherever you are, and goddamn your boyfriend’s eyes.
Looking back: Yes, the magazine’s top editors back then were almost all male, as were the mastheads of most newspapers and magazines. And, yes, there was some of this kind of male editor-to-editor talk back then, but as the magazine got bigger and better in the 1980s, with more women in top jobs, the macho stuff pretty much went away. The women on the staff weren’t shy about telling the men to knock it off and by the mid-80s the men no longer could smoke in the office and weren’t likely to write this kind of note.

Also keep in mind that this editor-to-editor note was written on a typewriter and handed to the recipient. In the pre-digital age, such communications were safely considered private and writers were less cautious because they assumed the communication never would be read by anyone other than the recipient.

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