A Holiday for the Jet Set

by longformphilly

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Michael Callahan | Vanity Fair | May 2013

The writer E. B. White was particularly hot and bothered. He had reason to be.

There was a heat wave going on in August 1948 as White walked into his room at the Algonquin Hotel—“halfway down an air shaft,” as he would later describe it—across the street from where he had toiled for The New Yorker 20 years earlier. For four straight days, the mercury in Manhattan would breach 100 degrees.

There wasn’t time to be fussy about all of that; White had a job to do. A magazine editor named Ted Patrick had written, gently inquiring if the venerated writer, now firmly ensconced as a country squire in seafaring North Brooklin, Maine, would entertain returning to some of his old haunts in Gotham to write an essay about the unyielding mystique of New York. Patrick tried to sell him on the fact it might be fun. “Writing is never ‘fun,’ ” White relayed in reply.

The assignment paid well—$3,000, a princely sum in those days. (The rent on a comfortable three-bedroom Manhattan apartment was roughly $200 a month.) White had a well-known aversion to travel but took the job anyway. The magazine in question happened to employ his 27-year-old stepson, Roger Angell, then just planting the roots of his own publishing career, one that would eventually land him at The New Yorker, as his mother, Katharine, and stepfather had been. “I think he did it for me, rather than for the money, thinking it would help me,” Angell says now. “Which it did.”

Writer bio: Michael Callahan, a native of Northeast Philadelphia and graduate of Temple University, served as executive editor of Philadelphia Magazine for three years before leaving for Vanity Fair, where he serves as a contributing editor.

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