Lillian Ross, the longtime New Yorker staff writer, died yesterday, the New York Times reported. She was 99.
Ross started work at the New Yorker in 1945, originally writing short articles, then Talk of the Town pieces and finally profiles and other pieces. Among her best known articles were a 1950 profile of Ernest Hemingway during a visit by the author in New York City; John Huston's trials making a film based on The Red Badge of Courage (a series that was published as a book called Picture); and profiles of Francis Coppola, Robin Williams, Adlai Stevenson and Tommy Lee Jones, among many others.
The Times wrote that Ross "preached unobtrusive reporting and practiced what she preached." Ross explained her approach this way: "Your attention at all times should be on your subject, not on you. Do not call attention to yourself." She also wrote, "The act of a pro is to make it look easy. Fred Astaire doesn't grunt when he dances to let you know how hard it is. If you're good at it, you leave no fingerprints."
Irving Wallace described Ross as "the mistress of selective listening and viewing, of capturing the one moment that entirely illumines the scene, of fastening on the one quote that Tells All." The Times added that 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."
Besides Picture, Ross's books included collections of her New Yorker work such as Reporting Back: Notes on Journalism and Reporting Always: Writings from the New Yorker, published by Scribner two years ago.
But her most famous book is Here but Not Here: My Life with William Shawn and the New Yorker, a 1998 memoir detailing her 50-year romance with the longtime New Yorker editor who was married to someone else. The memoir appeared after the intensely private Shawn's death, but his widow was still alive, and many people involved at the New Yorker were offended by this most personal kind of reporting. Ross wrote, for example, about his daily visits to her apartment, which he would leave to spend the night with his wife and children 11 blocks away.
Ross was unperturbed by the criticism, saying about negative reviewers in one interview, "They want to make Bill into my victim, but he wasn't that at all. They say I was disloyal. He wouldn't think so; he liked being shown as he was--a tender, romantic, passionate lover, one who adored jazz and theater and fun, liked driving fast cars, was mad about good food."