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 infamous child murderers Leopold and Loeb.
An article in The Outlook, where Spahr had previously served as an associate editor, said he had suffered a nervous breakdown after taking the Current Literature job and that he "threw himself with characteristic ardor into his new enterprise, working night and day without rest." He had apparently gone to Europe to recover.
The Outlook characterized Spahr as "a man of singular purity of motive and life, and of a very affectionate and lovable personality."
Spahr, who held a Ph.D. from Columbia University, also did pioneering work on income inequality in the U.S., noting as early as 1896 that the top 1 percent of Americans received more income than the bottom 50 percent.
"In the popular imagination, a
magazine editor is an immensely dignified and extremely learned old gentleman,
who sits all day in a comfortable office, reading the standard poets from
leather-bound and very choice editions, and who between stanzas leisurely sorts
over a pile of manuscripts, most of which he returns with his own hands, while
a very few he selects and prints." — John Bakeless, in his book,
"Magazine Making," 1931.
"Whatever you do in life, keep in an ambition-arousing atmosphere. Keep close to those who are dead-in-earnest, who are ambitious to do something and be somebody in the world. Keep close to those who are doing big things along the line of your own aspirations." — Orison Swett Marden, founder and editor of Success Magazine, writing in his subsequent magazine, The New Success, 1921.
On this day (August 27) in 1980 Douglas Kenney, co-founder and first editor of the National Lampoon, died after falling off a cliff in Hawaii. Kenney, who was also a co-writer of the movie "Animal House" and producer of "Caddyshack," was believed to be 33.
"Have something to say, say it, stop talking." — George Horace Lorimer, longtime editor of The Saturday Evening Post, quoted in the book "Thoughts That Inspire," 1905. The Post, incidentally, is currently undergoing an interesting attempt at rejuvenation, under its new editorial director, Steven Slon.
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's memoir, "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.
Leaping to one's death is an unfortunate tradition in the magazine business. Other prominent editors who apparently died in that manner include Laird Shield Goldsborough of Time magazine and Parker Lloyd-Smith of Fortune. Doug Kenney of The National Lampoon fell off a cliff in Hawaii.
Interesting obituary earlier this week for Rose Benas Lustig, who recently died at age 97. Lustig was described as the editor of "the first consumer in-flight monthly," called Airlanes Magazine. Airlanes, which seems to have started up in 1936, was apparently published in New York and made available aboard the planes of several different airlines. As far as I know, the first in-flight published by a single airline was Pan Am's Clipper Magazine, begun in 1956.
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."
"A young man whose talent cannot find any recognition from editors or publishers in this day of lively competition seems hardly worth encouraging. In our scribbling age, what is publicly most needed seems to me to be some kind of machinery for suppressing literary production rather than stimulating it." — The psychologist William James, brother of the writer Henry, quoted in The Independent magazine, 1910.