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The Talk of the Town

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Of course, that’s exactly what happened. Brown was a fan of Ross’s Picture, so it made sense that she would want Ross to write about contemporary Hollywood figures like Tommy Lee Jones and Robin Williams, two actors Ross would eventually profile for the magazine. With this end in mind, Brown pursued Ross, even while Shawn was alive. The two women talked, and enough rapport developed that Shawn himself was considering having lunch with Brown -- a move that would have been seen by many as an endorsement of her editorship. But before the lunch could take place -- and how heads would have turned that day at 44! -- Shawn died suddenly.

Ross was one of the 27 writers who contributed testimonials to a splashy tribute Brown ran on Shawn in The New Yorker following his death. Not long afterward, Ross again began contributing to the magazine on a regular basis, eventually producing one of her most memorable pieces, “The Shit Kickers of Madison Avenue,” a “found” story in which she describes a group of teenage girls chatting among themselves in a restaurant one afternoon on Madison Avenue.

“By 1995, Tina and Lillian were so close that when I attended a sit-down dinner at Tina and Harry’s apartment to commemorate the publication of Norman Mailer’s book on Lee Harvey Oswald,” Ian Frazier remembers, “I sat next to Lillian. At one point in the evening, she told me that Shawn had gotten angry at me after he was fired because I signed a contract to work for Gottlieb when I had never signed a contract to work for him. I was bothered by this since Lillian -- and obviously Shawn -- didn’t understand that I had not signed a contract to work for Shawn because I saw no reason to. I trusted him.”

What mystified many friends of Ross’s and Shawn’s was why Ross would go back to work for Newhouse when she had been so vocal in her opposition to almost everything he stood for at the time he bought The New Yorker. But she did. And not only that: After rejoining the magazine, Ross went on record to say that Brown had the “right idea” about The New Yorker, even though almost all of the alterations she was making went against what Shawn would have wanted. “It’s simple,” says one insider. “Lillian goes where the power is. For years, she was attracted to Bill because of his power. It makes sense she would be attracted to Tina. Lillian is a chameleon in that way. There is no core to her.”

It was through this friendship that Brown was able to talk to Ross about writing Here But Not Here, which Brown wanted to excerpt in last fall’s “Love” issue until staff members convinced her that running part of Ross’s book would be in bad taste. Brown acquiesced, but Random House proceeded with its own plans to publish -- despite efforts by some at the publishing house, according to one insider, to at least delay the book in order to protect the feelings of Shawn’s 92-year-old widow.

“It’s shocking Lillian would publish the book now, when there are people who can be harmed, but it does make sense that she would write the book,” says Ian Frazier. “After all, Lillian’s long suit is writing about great men” -- Hemingway, Huston, Charlie Chaplin -- “and now she’s written about Shawn, whom she knew best of all.”


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