Sunday, January 27, 2019

Charles Addams: Here at The New Yorker Dust Jacket

A current eBay listing for the dust jacket—and only the dust jacket—to Brendan Gill's Here at The New Yorker (1975) provides a full if somewhat glare-laden image of the excellent wraparound cover illustration by Charles Addams. Thirty-six of the individuals who contributed preeminently to the magazine's success during its storied first half-century are framed in the arcades of an hermitage while the New Yorker's mascot Eustace Tilley walks by and surveys them through his monocle. Who are these monastic individuals abiding serenely in their cells yet united in their literary and artistic cause?
Charles Addams
Dust jacket to Here at The New Yorker (New York:  Random House, 1975) by Brendan Gill

Well, I'm glad you asked. I have added my own photo of the key to these figures on the front and back covers. Naturally, founding editor Harold Ross has a position of prominence on the front cover as does his successor William Shawn.
Photo by docnad
This legendary grouping has a few evident quirks as befits a magazine staff which had many. First of all, among the thirty-six figures in the monastery there are only two women, Dorothy Parker and Katharine White, a number equal, oddly, to the number of inconspicuously-placed "unidentified wretches." Furthermore, there are only six artists—Peter Arno, James Thurber, Charles Addams, Saul Steinberg, George Price, and Whitney Darrow, Jr.—as  compared to twenty-nine writers and editors, among whom I will again include Thurber who was, if possible, an even greater figure in the writer's camp than in the cartoonist's. (Yes, E. B. White contributed one naive cover to the magazine, but aside from this curiosity his output was very non-naive words and words alone. James Geraghty was the magazine's art editor and could be counted, if one chose, on the artistic side of the equation, but he was not himself an artist.)

The inclusion of the first and second "unidentified wretch" in the lineup is a mystery. Is there some inside joke here? Isn't there a better use for these two spaces? The omission of Rea Irvin is surely inexcusable. He created the dandy Eustace Tilley who appeared on the very first cover, designed the masthead and many of the section headings, and served as the magazine's founding art supervisor. His profound influence on the New Yorker's look persists to this day. Addams includes his mascot on the cover, but not him.

If we were to be able to include Irvin, there would still be a "second unidentified wretch" to account for. Who should fill his space? This is far from an easy question. There was never any shortage of talent at the New Yorker. It seems obvious that among the artists William Steig surely deserves a place in the pantheon. But what of Otto Soglow and Gluyas Williams? What of Helen E. Hokinson and Barbara Shermund?

Among writers, John Cheever, John McPhee, and Janet Flanner immediately spring to mind. The are each certainly worthy of enshrinement on the monastery arcade. So the strange conceit of having a first and second "unidentified wretch" as placeholders when so many could justifiably be included defies explanation, unless it is to avoid having to make a difficult decision.

There are more worthwhile photos from the eBay seller. It's one hell of a nice dust jacket, and in this case you can judge the (missing) book by its cover.

Note:  In 2017 Michael Maslin wrote about this cover on Ink Spill here.

At press time, the dust jacket is still available for purchase here.


Quick Links to the Attempted Bloggery Archives:

No comments:

Post a Comment