William Chon was born in Chicago on this day (August 31) in 1907. Concerned that his name sounded "too Chinese," he later changed it to William Shawn. As Shawn, he spent more than 50 years at The New Yorker, 35 of them as the magazine's editor. The young Chon also figures in a widely told but apparently apocryphal story involving the famous child murderers Leopold and Loeb.
The ashes of Ray Long, former editor of Cosmopolitan, were scattered at sea on this day (August 30) in 1935. One of the most famous and lavishly paid magazine editors of his day, Long tried and failed to reinvent himself as a screenwriter and scenario editor in Hollywood and shot himself to death at age 57.
"You are a true gentleman—not an editor!" — William James, psychologist, philosopher, and brother of the novelist Henry James, offering a compliment to Bliss Perry, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, 1905, as recounted in Perry's 1935 memoir, "And Gladly Teach" (Houghton Mifflin). Coincidentally, William James died 100 years ago last Thursday (August 26).
It was on this day (August 27) in 1980 that Douglas Kenney, co-founder and first editor of the National Lampoon and later a co-writer of the movie "Animal House" and producer of "Caddyshack," died after falling off a cliff in Hawaii. He was believed to be 33.
"I note what you say about your aspiration to edit a magazine. I am sending you by this mail a six-chambered revolver. Load it and fire every one into your head. You will thank me after you get to Hell..." — H. L. Mencken in a letter to author William Saroyan, quoted in Terry Teachout's 2002 Mencken biography, "The Skeptic."
(On the other hand, H. Allen Smith writes in "Low Man Rides Again"  that Mencken once told him his magazine editing days were "probably the most interesting period of his life." Incidentally, and way off topic, I know, here's Smith's chili recipe.)
It was on this day (August 25) in 1971 that Margaret Case, recently forced out as an editor at Vogue, jumped to her death from her Park Avenue apartment building. In her memoir "D.V.," Vogue's Diana Vreeland recalled that Case had failed to take management's hints that her editorial services were no longer required, so, "One day she was at her desk, which she'd had for forty or fifty years, and some moving men came and said they had to take her desk away. She said, 'But it's my desk. It's got all my things in it.' Well, they took her desk away and dumped everything in it out." Several other books, including Grace Mirabella'smemoir, "In and Out of Vogue," and Eleanor Dwight's Vreeland biography, allude to illness as a possible motive for Case's suicide. She was 79.
"My definition of a good editor is a man I think charming, who sends me large checks, praises my work, my physical beauty, and my sexual prowess, and who has a stranglehold on the publisher and the bank." — John Cheever, in The Paris Review Interviews.
Diana Vreeland, a legendary editor of Vogue, died in New York City on this day (August 22) in 1989. Among other accomplishments, she was reportedly the inspiration for the flamboyant fashion editor in the 1957 movie "Funny Face" and inventor or least popularizer of the word "pizzazz." In her 1984 memoir "D.V.," she remarked that, "I think part of my success as an editor came from never worrying about a fact, a cause, an atmosphere. It was me—projecting to the public."
Tomorrow, Diana Vreeland offers her opinion on meetings ...