The Greatest Stories Never Told

Some of the most delicious unpublished journalism gets passed around like a secret handshake

Style contains literary horseplay galore. "Chapter E for Eros," ascribed to McGrath, inevitably draws attention, as Sophie bares her obsessive affection for "[The] fire of my life, fire of my loins. My boss, my boychik. Will-i-am." (As in Shawn, who had by then been replaced as editor by Robert Gottlieb.)

He was no epicurean. He had the dignity of an Episcopalian and the heat of someone who slept, nude, on the equator. He was smarter than the whole Ervin committee put together, and he knew more words for snow than even the Eskimos.

The copy editor's erotic fantasy knows no bounds.

Sophiegimbel felt herself losing consciousness and she felt or imagined she felt herself and the editor spooned together like a pair of commas, her nipples hardened like the dots of a colon, and there out of the mist loomed a giant exclamation point—an eighteen point screamer— ... Sophie could no longer help herself and yes she cried yes and then E-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!

One New Yorker writer wrote an acidulous mock obituary of a colleague's dog. After telling me about it, he asked me not to mention details in this story—feelings were still too raw. The late Veronica Geng penned a drop-dead parody of The New Yorker's "forward schedule," listing stories for future issues, and posted it on her door. "It was not seen as a good thing for Veronica to have done," says her former colleague Ian Frazier.

Frazier posted his own samizdat in his office: a rejected cartoon that he submitted in the late 1970s, lampooning the "I Heart New York" campaign, then at its apogee under Mayor Ed Koch. "I did a cartoon of a Cossack chasing a Hasidic Jew and wearing a T-shirt that read 'I Heart a Pogrom,'" Frazier recalls. "It was too horrible to publish."

Several of Frazier's cartoons were published in the humorist George Meyer's short-lived magazine Army Man: America's Only Magazine. For a time in the 1980s Meyer, who later became a writer for The Simpsons, was the Random House of American samizdat. A never produced film script he wrote for David Letterman had, David Owen wrote in The New Yorker, "a second life, in the Simpsons rewrite room, where for several years the show's writers would guiltily consult it whenever they were stuck for a joke." While circulating that script Meyer typed up the first issue of Army Man, eight pages long, which he laid out on his bed and printed in editions of 200. "For years, it circulated in samizdat on college campuses," wrote Owen, who told me that his profile of Meyer itself circulated in samizdat for five years, until a new editor came across it. The New Yorker's editor at the time, Tina Brown, commissioned the piece but never ran it. "She thought The Simpsons was passé," Owen said.

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Alex Beam is a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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