Friday, January 13th, 2012

The Far More Perilous Perils of Penelope!

Assigned to profile Graham Greene, Penelope Gilliatt, briefly full-time since Pauline Kael left for an ill-fated stint as a Hollywood producer, turned in a draft that a young fact-checker named Peter Canby flagged for lifting material from previously published work. (Canby now oversees the storied fact-checking department.) Brushing the warnings aside, William Shawn published Gilliatt's piece, which is when Michael Mewshaw realized she'd pilfered more than 800 words of his own Greene profile from The Nation. As he recounted in his 2003 memoir Do I Owe You Something? Mewshaw complained to Shawn, who blamed the plagiarism on Gilliatt's alcohol problem and said public excoriation would drive her to the brink. Mewshaw took Shawn's offer of $2,000 and a private letter of apology, but the news got out to the New York Times that May, leaving Shawn in an embarrassing position—and vulnerable to Kael's successful demand for full-time status.

Yesteryear's scandals just seem so much more juicy! Also I should point out that $2000 in 1979 is about $5300 today.

18 Comments / Post A Comment

Matt (#26)

Peen-a-lope. What a beautiful name.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Adjusted for Inflation: How Much Does a New Yorker Hush Bribe Cost Today?

BadUncle (#153)

Scandals? Who remembers scandals from an era that will always belong to one ideal and one man: Mr. Charles Nelson Reilly.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@BadUncle Paul Lynde would like to have a word with you. (That word is hyuk.)

BadUncle (#153)

@dntsqzthchrmn We barely survived the network cold war between these two game show giants.

zidaane (#373)

@dntsqzthchrmn Team Paul Lynde.

@BadUncle Who's Charles Nelson Reilly? I'm drawing a blank.

BadUncle (#153)

@Bus Driver Stu Benedict I weep for you. He was the koo-koo-kookiest. Also – unlike Paul Lynde – he was a master of his craft, who could be called on at a moment's notice by the Tonight Show to fill in for guest cancellations. Paul Lynde – who will long be remembered for his excellent work on the Hollywood Squares with Rosemary and Jack Klugman, as well as Bewitched – was simply not up to the challenge of prolonged exposure to the public eye. So, Charles Nelson Reilly was like Gamara (a friend to children), while Paul Lynde was a tragic Godzilla, doomed to radioactive self-destruction.

@BadUncle I was going to try and come up with a clever reply, but instead I'll just leave you with this.

jolie (#16)

Oh man, never met a fact-checking scandal I didn't love….

keisertroll (#1,117)

Bendy Elbows Bloody Bendy Elbows

laurel (#4,035)

@keisertroll Sharp elbows beat bendy elbows.

skahammer (#587)

Former Mewshaw student here. While I'd never heard this anecdote before, it's precisely in keeping with the man's wryly sardonic manner in class and on the tennis court. (Dude loves tennis.)

William Shawn really comes out of this looking very strangely wonderful indeed. And by "wonderful" I mean flawed in an analogue human sort of way.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@My Number Is My Address This Paris Review interview with John McPhee is a nice source for weird William Shawn anecdotes. One favorite: refusing to let McPhee do a piece in Alaska because he didn't like cold places, and he didn't want to read about someplace cold in his own magazine.

SeanP (#4,058)

But should the New Yorker be a plagiarism vigilante?

BadUncle (#153)

So, Arthur Brisbane, are you out there breathing a sigh of relief?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

“I tried to point out that it seemed an inordinate amount of time and effort to expend on a thousand-word review to be read by a few thousand film addicts and forgotten almost at once.”

And a happy Valentine's Day to you, sir.

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