(From the Foreword) Joseph Mitchell worked as a reporter and feature writer for The World, The Herald Tribune, and The World-Telegram from 1929 to 1938, when he joined The New Yorker. Those years defined him, he always referred to himself as “a reporter” and called The New Yorker “the paper.” This book is a selection of Mitchell’s feature stories and articles from The Herald Tribune and The World-Telegram. It contains most of Mitchell’s original stories from the first edition, it also includes a number of stories from the same period that have not been available since he first wrote them. Mitchell covered Brooklyn, the West Side of Manhattan, and Harlem. As a feature writer for The World Telegram he roamed through Staten Island, the Bronx, and Queens, especially the waterfronts and riversides.
Mitchell interviewed fan dancers, street evangelists, voodoo conjurers, not to mention a lady boxer who also happened to be a countess. Mitchell haunted parts of the city now vanished: the fish market, burlesque houses, tenement neighborhoods, and storefront churches. Whether he wrote about a singing first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers or a nudist who does a reverse striptease, Mitchell brilliantly illuminated the humanity in the oddest New Yorkers.
My review: Mitchell’s writing is straightforward and honest, but not plain or boring. This is a fascinating selection of articles. Besides interviews he gives us a look at the inside of the newspaper business in the early 30’s for instance:
“When I got out of the subway at Sheridan Square I would get a Herald Tribune to see what the rewrite man had done with the stories I had telephoned in hours earlier.”
“Crime, especially murder, was difficult to cover on The Herald Tribune because we were under orders to avoid the use of the word “blood” in a story. One of the owners did not like that word.”
On the subject of copyreaders:
“They will cut the word “belly” out of your copy and write in the nauseating word “tummy”. Pimp referred to as “a representative of the vice ring.” “raped” … always comes out “criminally attacked.”
“There is no fury which can equal the black fury which bubbles up in a reporter when he sees his name signed to a story which has been castrated by a copyreader or one of the officials on the city desk.”
I probably should not have tried to read this book all at once, I should have broken it up with other reading, as it is I will have to read a book a day to catch up, but I do not regret reading My Ears Are Bent, it was fascinating.