Synopses & Reviews
From its birth in 1925 to the present day, has been the country's most prestigious, entertaining, and informative general-interest periodical. In Cast of Characters, Thomas Vinciguerra revisits the early years of that creative cauldron. At the heart of the narrative is the largely forgotten life of Wolcott Gibbs, the magazine's theater critic and all-around wit, author of an infamous 1936 parody of Time magazine. Around him swirled a legendary roster of names, E. B. and Katharine White, James Thurber, Charles Addams, Peter Arno, and John O'Hara among them. Their stories--along with those of equally colorful but overlooked figures like managing editor St. Clair McKelway, head fact-checker Frederick Packard, and the flamboyant film reviewer John Mosher--are told here. Drawing on extensive interviews, multiple manuscript collections, and myriad secondary sources, may be the most revealing book yet about the unique personalities who built what founding editor Harold Ross called not a magazine but a "movement."
"I wanted to bestow an encomium on but the Bible beat me to it. 'There were giants in the earth in those days...mighty men which were of old, men (and, as Thomas Vinciguerra points out, women) of renown.' Vinciguerra takes us back to those days and lets us visit with the giants and see them at work, home, and play. It's a beautiful book and a sad book, as the flood of time and modernity rises before the can walk in pairs to the ark." P.J. O'Rourke
"It's a beautiful book and a sad book, as the flood of time and modernity rises before the Cast of Characters can walk in pairs to the ark." P.J. O'Rourke
"Irresistible...a banquet of information about the good writing and bad manners of the eccentric crew who made a myth both of themselves and of the journal they made famous. Vinciguerra writes a sharp, crisp sentence, and tells his story with brio." John Lahr, author of Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
"Reading Thomas Vinciguerra's is like being at a tantalizing gossip session about the star writers and supporting players of in its formative years. The book is entertaining, often surprising, and deeply interesting. Vinciguerra is an avid chronicler and a fair one." Mary Norris, New York Times best-selling author of Between You and Me
"To lovers of , Tom Vinciguerra's marvelous is a must-have. It's as close as you'll ever get to going behind the scenes with Wolcott Gibbs, James Thurber, E. B. and Katharine White, and their colleagues as they helped Harold Ross create this influential publication. Gibbs's role in particular is a revelation." Thomas Kunkel, author of Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker
"Too many of the books about the Algonquin Round Table and magazine are little more than laundry lists of well-worn anecdotes. Thomas Vinciguerra gives us along with the bon mots and, in so doing, evokes the bright, brilliant, long-ago Manhattan that all newcomers have dreamed of finding." Tim Page, author of Dawn Powell: A Biography and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism
"Writing this scrupulous is almost never this completely entertaining. brings White, Thurber, and Gibbs--and the American culture of letters during an unexampled heyday--to brilliant life." Daniel Menaker, author of My Mistake: A Memoir
"Compulsively readable, laugh-out-loud funny. With talent, tireless research, and the necessary obsession, Tom Vinciguerra has managed to breathe fresh life into a famous and glittering cast of characters.... The history of is richer for it." Linda H. Davis, author of Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life
The professional and personal lives of the pioneers of an enduring magazine.
From its birth in 1925 to the early days of the Cold War, The New Yorker slowly but surely took hold as the country s most prestigious, entertaining, and informative general-interest periodical. In Cast of Characters, Thomas Vinciguerra paints a portrait of the magazine s cadre of charming, wisecracking, driven, troubled, brilliant writers and editors.
He introduces us to Wolcott Gibbs, theater critic, all-around wit, and author of an infamous 1936 parody of Time magazine. We meet the demanding and eccentric founding editor Harold Ross, who would routinely tell his underlings, "I'm firing you because you are not a genius," and who once mailed a pair of his underwear to Walter Winchell, who had accused him of preferring to go bare-bottomed under his slacks. Joining the cast are the mercurial, blind James Thurber, a brilliant cartoonist and wildly inventive fabulist, and the enigmatic E. B. White an incomparable prose stylist and Ross's favorite son who married The New Yorker's formidable fiction editor, Katharine Angell. Then there is the dashing St. Clair McKelway, who was married five times and claimed to have no fewer than twelve personalities, but was nonetheless a superb reporter and managing editor alike. Many of these characters became legends in their own right, but Vinciguerra also shows how, as a group, The New Yorker s inner circle brought forth a profound transformation in how life was perceived, interpreted, written about, and published in America.
Cast of Characters may be the most revealing and entertaining book yet about the unique personalities who built what Ross called not a magazine but a "movement."
About the Author
Thomas Vinciguerra is a founding editor of The Week magazine and a regular contributor to the New York Times. He is the editor of Conversations with Elie Wiesel and Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs from The New Yorker. He lives on Long Island.