An Editor Breaks the Rules By Being Sympathetic and Kind

Bob Greene’s story, “When Magazine Editors Broke the Rules,” in the Wall Street Journal:

On top of a box of garbage awaiting pickup on a Florida curb, I spotted a tattered copy of an old novel: John P. Marquand’s “Melville Goodwin, USA” (1951). Seeing it suddenly took me back to one of the most tender love stories, and quietly thoughtful acts of kindness, I’ve ever come across. I once knew the family at the center of it.

Dudley Chamberlain had been a newspaperman in the small Ohio town of Marietta. In 1951 his wife, Julia, was dying of cancer and in intense pain. The Chamberlains spent each day and night together, he sitting at her bedside.

They loved hearing each others’ voices. He would read aloud to her for hours.

One of Mrs. Chamberlain’s favorite magazines was the Ladies’ Home Journal. Its May 1951 issue began a multimonth serialization of Marquand’s forthcoming novel. Her husband read the first installment to her that month, the second in June.

But her health was deteriorating quickly. One day she asked, “Dudley, how long is this story?”

“Seven installments, dear. Seven months.”

“It will take us a long time to finish it, but read on,” Mrs. Chamberlain said to him. “Let’s enjoy it from day to day while we can.”

Mr. Chamberlain had to come up with a way for his wife to finish the story. He didn’t know anyone at the Ladies’ Home Journal office in New York City, but that didn’t stop him from trying, he later recalled: “Desperate, I wrote the Journal explaining our need for haste, and asking a most special dispensation.” Would the editors of the magazine consider sending him advance galley proofs of the remaining installments? He told them why.

Within days, “the whole bale of long galleys arrived by airmail. And a thoughtful note explained that the Journal had not done that before for any reader, but here the editors felt the exception justified.”

Then, as now, such advance material is closely guarded. But from Manhattan to Marietta that complete set of galleys quickly went. By sending the manuscript and trusting that it would remain within the Chamberlain home, the magazine, in a grateful husband’s words, was helping to make happier “the long bleak days of one most worthy person.” He was able to read the whole book to his wife before she died.

Dudley Chamberlain later wrote that it was heartening to “know that such nice people do live, plenty of them, in high places and low—always have lived and always will.” He died a widower in 1965. I hadn’t thought of him for a very long time. But there it was: a beaten-up copy of an old book atop a pile of trash in the winter sun, a reminder of certain enduring truths from long ago and far away.

Mr. Greene’s books include “Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights.”


  1. Very touching story.Kindness maters.

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