“These straight guys, like Kenny the sheep farmer—George, with a couple of drinks, would try to horse around with them,” says Brackman. “I could name six guys like that. They’d had some alcohol, and it was always this very adolescent kind of locker-room snap-the-towel-at-the-butts kind of horsing around: so unsmooth, so juvenile, so jocky—which George was not in the least.”
In Trow’s last book, My Pilgrim’s Progress, he wrote, “My father had, let us call it, a tendency toward schizophrenia. If all the fragments he claimed made up a Perfect Whole did not make a Perfect Whole in me, then he was going to have to look at some things he did not want to look at.”
“He both desperately needed his father’s love and attention but also despised him in some way,” says Kleinpeter. “I don’t think George ever felt he got his due from his father; he felt that it was just not enough.”
For all of Trow’s fascination with his father’s world, it wasn’t one he could inhabit. “George’s father was kind of a pressroom guy,” says Frazier. “I just remember him coming up to me and saying, ‘So what the hell’s the matter with those Mets!’ and thinking, That’s not what I would’ve expected from Mr. Trow.” Once, Alison Rose asked the elder Trow what he made of his son’s genius: “ ‘Oh,’ he said, shaking his head, ‘I could never get anywhere near it.’ ” George Trow the first and George Trow the second were destined to remain mysterious to one another.
“I knew George’s father as a very nice, funny man,” says Jamaica Kincaid. “I remember us making lunch for his parents in the house in Germantown. George found him difficult; he thought that he had disappointed his dad, probably because he hadn’t married and had children. There was tension about his sexuality.”
Unlike so many others, Kincaid never felt abandoned by her former mentor Trow. “We remained very close friends for a long time, but then, as everybody knows, after Mr. Shawn was fired from The New Yorker he grew estranged from many of us.”
Many friends say that the departure of Shawn was the fundamental trauma of Trow’s adulthood. It was not unusual for Shawn’s writers to be enormously attached to him—he coddled them, made them feel they were engaged in something noble and profound—but Trow had important things in common with his legendary editor besides talent. Like Trow, Shawn had a mentally handicapped member of his immediate family, his autistic daughter, Mary, who has spent the majority of her life in an institution. And like Trow, Shawn had, if not something to hide, then an aspect of otherness that he was not comfortable with. “He seemed to distance himself from people who loudly proclaimed their Jewishness,” writes Shawn’s son Allen in his memoir Wish I Could Be There. William Shawn “seemed to shrink from identifying himself in any open way with a group that had been despised,” and it is little wonder. If a person imagines there is safety and sanctity in the world of traditional literary New York (or any traditional sphere), it simply wouldn’t do to focus too finely on being Jewish or gay.
Perhaps most significant, Shawn and Trow shared a sense of their magazine as a haven, a promontory of moral and intellectual value. Shawn was Trow’s perfect father, supportive, sensitive, seeing the same thing when he looked out at the world. Trow did not leave The New Yorker immediately after Shawn’s dismissal, as some of his colleagues did. He continued to write under editor Robert Gottlieb, whom he thanked extravagantly in the acknowledgments of My Pilgrim’s Progress. It wasn’t until Tina Brown was brought in from Vanity Fair that Trow really gave up. In the same way that the coming of Diana Spencer represented the passing of an old order to Elizabeth in The Queen, the coming of Tina represented that to George Trow. When she enlisted Roseanne Barr to guest-edit an issue, for instance, Trow was aghast: It was the infiltration of the emptiness and inanity of America into his own temple.
Trow saw Brown seeking to steal the tacky glow of fame (buzz!) from celebrities, and, according to DeCourcy McIntosh, Trow believed Brown was also attempting to use him as a liaison to the gilded world of old New York. Trow wrote Brown a furious letter of resignation, likening her to someone selling her soul “to get close to the Hapsburgs—1913.” “He felt she was trying to exploit him,” says McIntosh. “And in terms of the Hapsburg comparison, I think he was saying, ‘Not only are you selling your soul, but your timing is bad. Not only are you immoral, you’re incorrect.’ ”