Excerpt of Bandbox by Thomas Mallon
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Cuddles Houlihan got clipped by the vodka bottle as it exited the pneumatic tube.
The cry of pain that filled the office came not from Cuddles, whose head still lay asleep on his desk, but from the tube. Its ultimate source was the office of Joe Harris, the editor-in-chief. At this late, sozzled hour, Harris had mistakenly fed the interoffice mail chute not the translucent canister containing his angry communication to Cuddles, but the still-half-full, six-dollar quart of hooch he was regularly supplied with by the countess in the fact-checking department.
Harris glowered for several seconds at the undispatched canister, before giving in to the impulse to open it up and look once more at what had enraged him in the first place: a photograph of Leopold and Loeb, smiling, each with an arm around the other, perched on the edge of an upper bunk in the Joliet State Prison, both of them avidly regarding the latest issue of Bandbox. The thrill killers held it open with their free hands, like a box of candy they were sharing on a back-porch swing.
Would make a great ad, said the inked message on the back of the photograph, whose bold penmanship Harris recognized as belonging to Jimmy Gordon, up until eight months ago his best senior editor here at Bandbox. "I think of you as a bastard son," he'd once told Jimmy in a burst of bibulous sentiment. Now, as editor-in-chief of Cutaway, the younger man was his head-to-head, hand-to-throat, competition. If Harris didn't think of something, this picture of those two murderous fairies reading Bandboxthe magazine that had made goddamn Jimmy Gordon, and remade Jehoshaphat Harriswould be plastered to the side of every double-decker bus crawling up Fifth Avenue.
Rummaging his bottom drawer for another quart of vodka, Harrisa great curator of his own life storymanaged to consider, yet again, with prideful amazement, how only five years had passed since Hiram Oldcastle, the publisher, had said, "You want it? It's yours," giving him the Bandbox job as if it were the keys to a jalopy. "An overpriced rag for overaged pansies," Oldcastle had called the dying men's fashion book, which had somehow never evolved out of the tintyped, stiff-collared days of McKinley. Harris would be the magazine's last chance before Oldcastle killed the sclerotic monthly and concentrated on his more robust publications, like Pinafore, for the "young miss"edited by Harris's girlfriend, Betty Divineand the shelter book, Manse.
"Give me six months," Harris had said.
"Take a year," Oldcastle had replied, sounding almost guilty about the eagerness with which the new editor wanted to take charge.
It took Harris one business quarter to bring Bandbox to life, to hit upon a formula that lured young men and advertisers back to a magazine no one had paid attention to for years. He kept the fashioneven made it fashionablethen butched up the rest of the production, adding a slew of stylish articles about all the sports, politics, crime, money, and movies that went into the current age's cocktail. Newsstand buyers and subscribers were now deciding they craved the camel-hair coat on page 46 just as much as they needed to sleep with the screen siren or buy the radio stock described a few pages away. The table of contents might sometimes seem a tasteless whipsaw"New Hope for the Shell-Shocked" sitting right above "Look Terrific for Under Two Hundred"but the magazine's turnaround had been so successful that by the spring of last year, Condé Nast decided he could not leave a whole new field to his usually more downmarket competitor, Oldcastle. Last March he had announced the start-up of Cutaway, exactly the sort of clothes-and-journalism book Harris had concocted; and on April 30, he had named Jimmy Gordon its editor.
Jimmy Gordon: who had brought in most of Harris's expensive new writers; who had three bad story ideas for every good one, but so many of each that, with Harris as a filter, every issue of Bandbox still abounded with first-rate stuff. Jimmy Gordon, who was now stealing not only Harris's formula but every keister not nailed down to the swivel chairs here on the fourteenth floor of the Graybar Building. He'd pried away three of his old writers, a photographer, and two production assistants, and had even made a run at Mrs. Zimmerman, the receptionist. But the real prize for Jimmy was Harris's readers and advertisers, whom he would surely keep wooing away if he managed, with stunts like this Leopold and Loeb picture, to undo the makeover of Bandbox. Things could turn around so quicklyhadn't Harris himself proved it?that the older editor would be left with a shrunken subscriber base consisting chiefly of the perfumed boys you saw gazing at each other across the tables of the Jewel cafeteria.
Excerpted from Bandbox by Thomas Mallon Copyright© 2004 by Thomas Mallon. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.