Tuesday October 11th, 2011

“When a columnist begins to take himself too seriously he is in grave danger.”

Each day this week, the blog will feature two letters. The one below was written by Harold Ross, the founder and editor of The New Yorker, to Orson Welles on Jan. 31, 1945. A selection of Ross’ correspondence was published as Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker’s Harold Ross:

Dear Orson:

I was astonished at your column in yesterday’s Post, in which you say The New Yorker sneers at you. You were brimful of prunes when you wrote that. Our piece was straightforward and sympathetic, and there wasn’t a sneer in it, and it contained not one unfriendly or unkindly word. I read it carefully before it was published and I have just read it again. Several other people of sound judgment have read it, too, and they concur in my opinion.

Every once in a while such a thing as this comes up: someone misses the point of what we say about him and assumes that he is being spoofed. Almost invariably, this happens to people whose powers of discernment are blunted, either temporarily or permanently, by hypersensitivity or a sense of insecurity, or both. I don’t know which of these states afflicted you the day before yesterday, but one or the other did, and as an old acquaintance and admirer, and one who earnestly has your welfare at heart, I advise you to beware of columning if it is going to continue to throw you off balance to this extent. Columning is a deadly occupation, leading frequently and successively to overzealousness, super-seriousmindedness, monomania, hysteria, and sometimes madness. When a columnist begins to take himself too seriously he is in grave danger. Look around. Look at what happened to Broun, Pegler, Winchell, and several others. Look at the states they got themselves in. But it took them years, whereas you got the heebee-jeebees in eight or ten days. If this condition continues, or recurs frequently, I urge that you wage your attack upon fascism, in which I sincerely wish you well, with some other weapon than the syndicated column. . . .

Sincerely yours,