A year ago for my birthday, my friend, Jessica Allen, gave me a hardcopy of Lillian Ross’s Reporting Always, a collection of some of Lillian’s most memorable writings from The New Yorker where she was on staff during the tenure of both founding editor Harold Ross and current editor David Remnick. Lillian Ross died last week at the age of 99 and I spent the weekend re-reading Reporting Always and some of the beautiful obituaries published in her honour.
She is a legend in journalism, respected not only for her integrity but also for her innovation. Lillian Ross helped shape literary journalism. And, for our purposes, she was one of the pioneers of what we now know to be the “celebrity profile”. One of her most famous pieces was her profile on Ernest Hemingway, a friend of hers, who said later that parts of it horrified him, because “the image of Hemingway that Ross crafted never dissipated: the coarseness of his conversation, his drinking and his bullying contributed to the sharp decline of his reputation”. And still, he acknowledged that it was her “right” to write and observe. Even he couldn’t challenge her observations.
The best reporters observe in the moment, but in their account of the present, somehow they’re also able to give us a sense of what the future might be. This is particularly true of Lillian’s Talk of the Town pieces, one of the most famous being The Sh-tkickers Of Madison Avenue in 1995. First of all, the story is HILARIOUS. But you can also see clearly who they might be now, these girls who became women, and how they would shape the current culture: Manhattan Power Moms and mommy bloggers, right?
Click here for a selection of some of Lillian Ross’s most memorable essays.
Yours in gossip,