Lillian Ross, Acclaimed Reporter for The New Yorker, Dies at 99

She soon began writing her own Talk of the Town pieces for the magazine and went on to become a staff writer. Her profile of Hemingway on a stopover in New York — it appeared in May 1950 — elevated her into the ranks of the magazine’s most admired stylists, among them Joseph Mitchell and John Hersey.

In a later, much longer article, published in installments, she described John Huston’s anguished effort to make a great film of “The Red Badge of Courage,” Stephen Crane’s classic novel of the Civil War. When that article was ultimately reprinted as a book entitled “Picture” (1952), Newsweek called it “the best book on Hollywood ever published.”

On assignment Ms. Ross asked very few questions and never used tape recorders but filled many notebooks.


Ms Ross described her 50-year love affair with the New Yorker editor William Shawn in this 1998 memoir.

“You try not to get in the way of the person you’re trying to show,” she wrote of her technique. “You are trying to follow along the person you’re interviewing, to respond to him instead of coming along with a lot of prepared questions, you just get him going. Just don’t bother him. And listen. It’s just a question of listening.”

Here, for example, is how she depicted Louis B. Mayer, the Hollywood mogul, who opposed Huston’s idea of turning “The Red Badge of Courage” into a film (though she violated one of her cardinal rules by inserting herself into the passage):

“He pounded a commanding fist on his desk and looked at me. ‘Let me tell you something!’ he said. ‘Prizes! Awards! Ribbons! We had two pictures here. An Andy Hardy picture, with little Mickey Rooney, and “Ninotchka,” with Greta Garbo. “Ninotchka” got the prizes. Blue ribbons! Purple ribbons! Nine bells and seven stars! Which picture made the money? “Andy Hardy” made the money. Why? Because it won praise from the heart. No ribbons!’ ”

Ms. Ross’s work was often cited as a precursor of the New Journalism of the 1960s, in which nonfictional material was presented in forms drawn from imaginative literature.

Her 1960 article “The Yellow Bus,” for example, had the feel of a New Yorker short story. Exquisitely detailed and warmly sympathetic, it told of a senior-class trip — of “eight hundred and forty miles in thirty-nine and a half hours” — to New York by 18 wide-eyed students from…

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