Wednesday, January 27, 2010 1/27/10 - the new yorker magazine

In today's excerpt - from questionable beginnings in
1922, a time as fertile for new magazines as the
recent past has been for new websites, The New
Yorker magazine went on to cause the demise of
the more established Vanity Fair, and to
become one of the most influential magazines in the

"In 1922, Harold Ross began had developed a plan
for a new magazine focused on the New York scene, a
magazine to be slanted toward sophisticates and to
carry the legend Not for the little old lady from
Dubuque. He talked about the idea so
unceasingly, holding people tightly by the arm to keep
them from escaping, that he soon came to be
regarded as even more tedious than untidy, which
was saying a lot. His friends also thought the
magazine didn't have a chance in the world,
particularly with Ross as its founder and editor. 'If I
had any thoughts about him then,' [playwright] George
Kaufman told James Thurber long afterward, 'they
were to the effect that he didn't belong in the Army or in
civilian life either. He carried a dummy of the
magazine for two years, everywhere, and I'm afraid he
was rather a bore with it.'

"Kaufman and the others were almost right; the
magazine would probably never have gotten started if
the playwright had not himself, though unintentionally,
done something which brought it about. He invited
Ross to a poker game at his apartment one evening
and seated him next to Raoul Fleischmann, a very
pleasant and very rich young man who was heir to a
baking and yeast fortune. As it turned out,
Fleischmann was fascinated by the odd-looking man
seated next to him, and by the things he was saying.
When the card game was over, he invited Ross to
meet him again and discuss the matter further. And
after a number of additional meetings and
discussions, he agreed to bankroll the new

"The first issue of The New Yorker was dated
February 21, 1925, and appeared on the newsstands
on the 19th. It was terrible. Its stories and articles
were dull, and its cartoons and humor pieces were
unfunny. The early issues were also as sloppy as the
magazine's editor. A poem was run in one issue and
then accidentally run again a few issues later. By
August, the magazine, which had started with a press
run of 15,000 copies, was selling only 2700 copies
per issue, and Frank Crowninshield, editor of the fat
and successful Vanity Fair, looked over an early
New Yorker and said complacently, 'Well, I don't think
we have much to worry about with this thing.'

"The magazine almost ceased to struggle months
before it reached its August low. It was doing so badly
three months after it started that Fleischmann,
watching his money pour away at a rate fast enough to
alarm even a man of his resources, called a luncheon
meeting on May 19 and told the glum group facing him
that he was pulling out. Ross tried to convince him to
hang on, but Fleischmann was adamant, and the
lunch broke up with the magazine under death notice.
It was saved by a chance encounter at a friend's
festivities. Frank Adams's was being remarried that
night, and, at the wedding party, Ross seized hold of
Fleischmann and began to plead with him again to
support the magazine a while longer. In what Thurber
later described as 'that atmosphere of hope,
beginning, and champagne,' Fleischmann finally
agreed, and this time held on until the magazine
became so successful that it began to bring him more
money than his family's yeast and baking. ... In ten
years, it had put Frank Crowninshield and his
Vanity Fair out of business."

Scott Meredith, George Kaufman and His
Friends, Doubleday, Copyright 1974 by Playboy,
pp. 283-289.


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