Try to preserve an author’s style if he is an author and has a style.
Wolcott Gibbs, 1937
Wolcott Gibbs was an American author, newspaperman, critic, and all-around dashing wit during the height of wittery (c. 1926), and is most famous for his work at The New Yorker.
Named after his grandfather, the eminent Harvard chemist, Wolcott was born in 1902 on Fire Island to a well-to-do family. The cousin of writer Edna Ferber, his own literary aspirations led him to Columbia University, where he received a degree in English. He then took on a job at The New Yorker (then called The New York Magazine) in 1925 as an editorial assistant, and became a full staff writer in 1927.
From 1927 until his death, Gibbs served primarily as a humorist and parodist for the magazine - something akin to the role of Calvin Trillin or James Thurber. He delighted audiences with playful language and an acerbic wit, which he honed as a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table.
His most famous work came in 1938, with his parody of the then-white hot TIME Magazine. TIME had recently profiled The New Yorker and found it wanting, and in retaliation, Gibbs released an article entitled "Time .. Fortune .. Life .. Luce" (a reference to Henry Luce, TIME's founder.) In it, he skewered many of the aspects of TIME that have since become commonplace in newsmagazines - the blurby throwaway nature of their reporting on world events, a slight obsession with celebrity and fame, and in particular what he called the "Timestyle", a way of writing (since muted) that encouraged artfulness and lyricism - often at the expense of straightforwardness and readability. Gibbs summed it up in a famous line:
Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind.
In 1950, Gibbs, a longtime theatrical critic, wrote the play Season in the Sun, a mix of Shakespearean comedy of errors and Gibbs's own memories of life on Fire Island. It ran for 367 showings before closing in late 1951. Gibbs died in 1958 at his home on Fire Island. He was 56.
His son, Wolcott Gibbs, Jr., also wrote for The New Yorker and served as its executive editor during parts of the 1970s and 80s.
Upon his death, More in Sorrow, a collection of his most famous essays (including the TIME article, a biography on Alexander Woolcott, a tribute to friend and fellow Round Tabler Robert Benchley, and reports on Thomas Dewey, World War II, and the death and rebirth of Broadway), was published by Holt Publishing.
Today Gibbs has languished in obscurity, overshadowed by other luminaries from the era, including fellow New Yorker writers Thurber, Dorothy Parker, John Cheever, and E.B. White, and others such as H. L. Mencken and Will Rogers. Still, his writings are a delight, and his appreciation for a slightly more literary wit gives his work a particularly precocious touch for those who enjoy it.