[ModLib] Interesting Letter re: ML

John Peterson jpetersonlhi at frontier.com
Tue Dec 18 18:19:38 EST 2012

I thought I’d share an interesting passage from the book “Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker’s Harold Ross” (ML-2000), which I bought yesterday in a used book store:  The letter is from Harold Ross, longtime editor of the New Yorker, to E. B. White, and is from Spring, 1939.

“Dear White:

...When you are in town Bennett Cerf of Random House and the Modern Library wants to see you.  I spent much of last evening with Cerf and he has a plan for putting you in the Modern Library, which, it seems, needs light stuff.  It has no light stuff and apparently has no hopes of any unless they take you or Huckleberry Finn, when the copyright expires next year, or both.  Cerf doesn’t think your last book would make a Modern Library volume.  He speaks of some kind of omnibus volume.  I told him to write you about it, but no, he wants to see you and me to tell you so.  Publishers always seem peculiar to me in their approaches.  So I tell you so.  I think it’s a good idea all around, a damn good idea.  The Modern Library has a big sale all over and inclusion of you in it would be important recognition of some sort.  I don’t know whether they pay a royalty, lump sum, or what, but think it’s catch-as-catch-can in arrangements.   Mostly their authors are dead and the copyright expired so the question doesn’t come up much.  I will undertake to get you together with Cerf when you come, if you want.  Of all the publishers I know, I think I’d rather talk to him.  A quite nice and sane fellow.    Ross.”

(Several months after this letter was written, Harold Ross was the one who introduced Bennett Cerf to “Ginger’s [Rogers] goddamn kid cousin,” Phyllis Fraser, who became Cerf’s wife).

While Cerf evidently chose Mark Twain for ML (1940), According to Scot’s website, E.B. White is included in several ML humor anthologies.  

John Peterson   
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