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.