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Tom Wolfe Issue

In response to:

Parajournalism II: Wolfe and The New Yorker from the February 3, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

Oh dear—what would our lives be like without the increasingly hilarious sight of Dwight Macdonald simultaneously trying to fix someone’s wagon while tooting his own horn? However, in the interest of accurate journalism, a cause to which he has devoted such reams of rhetoric, I feel I must correct the impression he is at great pains to leave with your readers that the anecdote of Shawn trudging through a snowstorm at three in the morning to pull an over-due manuscript out of a typewriter must be mythical because it is “out of character.” In fact the incident did take place. I know because I was there when it happened and have since told the story many times. What puzzles me is that Mr. Macdonald also knows it actually happened as I have told it to him as well.

Elaine Dundy

New York City

Dwight Macdonald replies:

Precisely because I did remember Miss Dundy’s telling me this story—for once, I thought, some kind of provenance for a Tom Wolfe anecdote—I was careful to describe it not as untrue or “mythical” but as merely “out of character” as it indeed was in Wolfe’s telling. I don’t recall, in her version, those three inches of smarmy apologies, in direct quotes, nor the clacketty-clicking galoshes (the actual Shawn, I’m told, wears rubbers, but galoshes are what Wolfe’s “Shawn” should and therefore did wear) nor the dramatic ripping the half-born manuscript out of the typewriter by Pecksniff-Caligari-Shawn (which, to be tedious, seems to me wildly out of character). As I recall Miss Dundy’s anecdote, it was a modest little germ of fact, a preliminary screen “treatment” from which Cecil B. DeWolfe developed a pulsating drama of editorial rape, the pathetic writer “falling back in his wooden chair [he can’t afford aluminum or even steel] like a burnt-out cigarette filter”—cf. Mary Miles Minter in Ashes of Desire—as Rod La Roque, alias William Shawn, “smiles and rolls up his eyes from under his forehead” (from over his forehead would have been memorable) and, while his “booty buckles clackle,” makes off with the foreclosed mortgage, the editorial booty, the booty-buckle booty that is. Who says a bad newspaper has to be dull?

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