Saturday, December 1, 2018

James Thurber: Dear Harold

It seems an unforgivable lapse, but History for Sale somehow has just sold on eBay a two-page typed letter, signed, from literary and cartooning giant James Thurber without realizing the recipient is Harold Ross, the New Yorker's famous founding editor. The letter, dated January 20th (alas, there is no year), opens with "Dear Harold"—I had always assumed Thurber would just call him Ross. Thurber quotes a Mrs. Robert Sterling who refers to him as H. W. Ross. The letter reads, in part:

"Dear Harold,  
     This is a brief but moving bread-and-butter, rum-brandy-and-champagne letter, to begin with. I told you on the phone how much fun we had at your all-night party, but you probably forgot to tell Ariane, so you can show her this letter. It seems sad that we won't be able to keep you up till four o'clock for another year, but it will give us something to look forward to.
     I also mentioned on the phone how two friends of mine, Mr. and Mrs. Aristide Mian, of Nyack, discovered old Henri Mouquin living up there...
     If you want to have one of the boys interview Mouquin, at least for a Talk story, it could easily be arranged through Mrs. Mian...
     A few weeks ago, one Mrs. Robert Sterling, of Boulder, Colorado, wrote me a fan letter which was one of the most interesting I have gotten. She described herself as an old lady, but her mind is young and acute enough to have detected that I used the same device in 'The Catbird Seat' that I had used in the fable about the Unicorn. Nobody else but me had found this out. It really doesn't make any difference, however, or at least no more than the similarity between Hemingway and Ambrose Bierce which I read about in a piece called 'Is Hemingway the Lost Ambrose Bierce?' It was written by a man named H. W. Ross in some ponderous literary review or other. Fellow is a scholar...
     In case you didn't get the allusion, you are the last word in intellectual sophistication. I had always kind of thought it was Woollcott."

Ariane is Ross's third wife, Ariane Allen, whom he married in late 1940 when he was 48 and she was 25 (according to Kunkel). That would date this letter to 1941 or later, but probably not much later than the mid-1940s. 

"Talk" here refers to "The Talk of the Town" section of the magazine and Woollcott, of course, is critic Alexander Woollcott. 

Along the way, mention is also made of Gus Lobrano, the New Yorker's fiction editor. Henri Mouquin, may have been the owner of Mouquin's, in its day a well-known Manhattan speakeasy and restaurant, but he could not be the Henri Mouquin who died in 1933. (A. J. Liebling was to reminisce about the cafe in the December 8, 1956 issue of the magazine.)

The letter, priced uncommonly reasonably at $480, ended up going for even less when a Best Offer was accepted. One hopes the new owner realized the importance of this item; the seller obviously didn't.
James Thurber
TLS, January 20, 194?, page 1

James Thurber
TLS, January 20, 194?, page 2

James Thurber
eBay Listing Ended October 29, 2018

The wedding announcement of Harold Ross and Ariane Allen from the Times is not available in digital form.

The New York Times
November 11, 1940, page 21

Note:  I am unfamiliar with Harold Ross's "Is Hemingway the Lost Ambrose Bierce?" To what exactly is James Thurber referring?

I would like to hear from anyone who can pinpoint the year of this letter better than I can.

The letter was typed by Helen Thurber. 

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