Slept her way into “The New Yorker”, but can’t sleep her way into our hearts

Author: Lillian Ross
Article: “Come in, Lassie”
Publisher: The New Yorker, February 21, 1948
Article: “No. 1512: Throw the Little Old Lady Down the Stairs”
Publisher: The New Yorker, May 24, 1952

Lillian Ross is an American journalist who has been a writer at The New Yorker since 1945 and engaged in a relationship with her editor, William Shawn (see Fig.1). In our class discussion of Ross’s journalism we emphasized her lack of scene description, abundance of unnecessary dialogue and details that do not advance the plot, and the ethical dilemma surrounding her plot.


Figure 1: This is a photo of Lillian Ross with her lover, William Shawn, editor of “The New Yorker”.

The ethical dilemma of Ross’s writing involves the fact that she has access to the people that she interviews and implements in her writing from a friendship standpoint. In “Come in, Lassie” she is trying to tell a socially critical story and address the paranoia in 1948 about the people being banned and blacklisted. Thus, she makes the title of this piece, “Come in, Lassie” because Lassie is the only safe character in Hollywood who cannot be accused of being a communist. Where as the first piece introducing the character, Lassie is a political censorship, Ross’s account is an economic censorship.

Along with the fact that she cultivates friendships with the people in her pieces, Ross also writes about herself being a part of the her stories, instead of remaining as a unbiased observer. This type of journalism cannot really be considered investigative, as she is simply referencing scenes and quotations that she personally was a part of. One example of this is in “Come in, Lassie,” in which she writes, “At Wald’s suggestion, I had lunch one day with several members of the ‘Key Largo‘ cast, its director, John Huston, and a publicity representative at Lakeside Golf Club, a favorite buffet-style eating place of stars on the nearby Warner Lot” (38)(see Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Warner Bros is an American producer of film, television, and music entertainment founded in 1923 and headquarters in California.

Figure 2: Warner Bros is an American producer of film, television, and music entertainment founded in 1923 and headquarters in California.

Ross uses italicized words to clearly specify her goals in her article, “Come in, Lassie”. For example, she writes: “At some parties, the bracketed guests break up into sub-groups, each eying the others with rather friendly suspicion and discussing who was or was not a guest at the White House when Roosevelt was President – one of the few criteria people in the film industry have set up for judging whether a person is or is not a Communist – and how to avoid becoming a Communist” (32). Another example is in a quote from a representative of the Motion Picture Association of America who said: “Hollywood is pinching its pennies, buckling down. . . Hollywood is worrying about the box office” (34). This quotation is pertinent to the story as it clearly connects to her goal of showing the changes in Hollywood and rising competition.

Ross tends to overflow the body of her article, “No. 1512: Throw the Little Old Lady Down the Stairs” with quotations and descriptions that do not advance the plot. She fails to filter out information characterizing her four characters that is unnecessary. For example, her details of John Huston‘s actions can be cut down as they do not connect to showing the changes in the industry, rather they create a wordy, overly-detailed style: “Huston sat down on the arm of a chair, fixed a long brown cigarette in one corner of his mouth, took a kitchen match from his trouser pocket and scraped the head of the match into flame with his thumbnail” (32). She indiscriminately covers everything that she observes without filtering out the necessary details to communicate to the reader.

Figure 3: Lassie, played by a dog named Pal, starred in seven MGM films through the 1940's and 50's.

Figure 3: Lassie, played by a dog named Pal, starred in seven MGM films through the 1940’s and 50’s.

Ross also overflows her articles with a multitude of references to productions and figures in Hollywood. In just the first column of the article, “Come in, Lassie,”  Ross manages to reference: the Committee on un-American Activities, Chairman J. Parnell Thomas, “the ten writers,” “the world’s largest drugstore,” the price of a good-looking clock, the income brackets of party guests, a Selznick man named Merve, the producer Sam Wood, and the picture Ivy and its cost and gross (32).

The amount of information might appeal to some, but we found it to be overwhelming and unnecessary. We would’ve settled for just Lassie (see Fig. 3).

About rldose12

My name is Rebecca Doser and I am a sophomore at St. Lawrence University. I am an English Creative Writing major and am involved in various extracurricular activities such as the Women's Volleyball Team, The Hill News, The St. Lawrence Review, the Thelmathesian Society, and the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. I also love Nicholas Sparks and reading in my free time!
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