Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
August 8, 1963, Vol. VIII, No. 42
‘In’ and ‘Out’ With Mensch Magazine
By Jules Feiffer
The rumors began several weeks ago, Mensch, the Magazine for Insiders was about to devote an issue to the literary scene — “the quality-lit scene,” as one Menschman put it — and its staff was racing about town interviewing authors, agents, publishers, and party girls, some composite of which, in Mensch’s view, added up to the American literary Establishment. The aim, it seemed, was to finally compile a definitive list of who was “in” and who was “out” — something like a hip food and drug act. “Inness” and “outness” had begun with mensch as a fey joke some years earlier. But once given a foot in the door, fey jokes have a tendency to take over. And so with Mensch. Issue by issue it grew fey jokier, until from cover to closing ad it was nothing but a single, awfully pleased with itself fey joke. One laughed thinly, while feeling uncomfortable.
And now, following on the heels of “Who’s In-and-Out with the Kennedys,” an amusing compendium for the month of May, Mensch was ready to give it to the writers. Star compiler L. Rusty Kilgallen went to work on the list; star reporter Gay Journalese went to work on the parties. A novelist friend told me of an interview he had with Kilgallen at about that time:
“As I entered the office Kil got up from his desk and calmly spreadeagled himself on the floor. ‘Please, try not to look at the chart,’ he said. A giant, splashilly colored chart lay beneath him: his right arm rested on yellow; his left arm on red; his head on purple; his stomach on green; his right leg, grey; his left, orange; his two shoes rested in brackish pools of brown. ‘Under me is our list of writers who are “in.” It’s top secret. Help yourself to a drink. I’m afraid I can’t move.’ I poured myself a tumbler of in-brand scotch and asked how it was going.
“‘Very slow, very slow,’ said Kil. ‘Lists are a dangerous business. It’s amazing how many people you can offend.’ His look of deep concern was marred by a broad grin. ‘You see, we have a ten-week deadline, so a writer who is “in” now may not be “in” by the time we hit the stands. Now, of course, our saying he is “in” will make him “in” again, but that’s hardly playing the game as it should be played. No sir, one “out” name on our “in” list can hurt every other “in” name. It’s a hell of a responsibility.”
“I poured him a drink, resting the paper cup on the floor within sipping distance. He shlurped a mouthful of scotch and continued: ‘And that’s not the toughest of our problems. For instance, how do you figure a writer to be “in” or “out” in the first place?’
“‘By the quality of his work?’ I suggested.
“A hip grin spread over Kil’s face. ‘Don’t put me on, this is serious. No, the only way too tell is by who gets invited to what parties. But every writer goes to some parties, so before you can begin to find out the “in” writers, you have to find out the “in” parties!’
“‘The ones Earl Wilson doesn’t go to?’
“‘Earl Wilson, never. Leonard Lyons, sometimes. There’s really no foolproof way of spotting an “in” party. They’re no more interesting than “out” parties, just more tense. The best way of describing the atmosphere at an “in” party is to try to remember the way it was at the parties you went to before everybody got married. They’re a form of polite murder.’
“‘So you went to these parties and took inventory?’
“Kill nodded sadly. ‘And then the word got around about what we were doing. Writers began to call or drop in’ — I shifted in my seat nervously — ‘writers trying to find out if they made the list, having their agents call, their publishers — or, even worse, pretending they couldn’t care less. Herman Rich called me yesterday from Haiti, no less — Haiti, just to say he didn’t want to be on any “in” list. It’d hurt his sales. I said to him, “You don’t have to worry, Mr. Rich,” He said to me, “I’m crying all the way to the bank.”
“‘But the whole thing about the list is not who sells well in Cleveland or Denver or whatever the hell the names of those places are, but who counts. If Orville Prescott likes him, we don’t want him. Let him cry all the way to the bank. Let them all cry.
“‘You see, we’ve got to be terribly careful. The essential thing to remember about these lists is that they dare not be about anything. The list, itself, is what is important. Once you try to build it into a comment it loses impact. Anyhow, who can comment definitively these days? The danger of slipping up, of getting caught in a mistake, is too strong. So it’s not what writers write about that makes them “in,” nor even that they’re good, necessarily. What makes them “in” is that they are “in.” It’s very Zen, but don’t tell anyone I said so. Zen is out.’
“‘I thought Zen was still in,’ I said, surprised.
“‘Definitely not. Didn’t you see our “In and Out Religions” issue? We dumped Zen.’ He looked at me slyly. ‘And in this issue we dump Salinger!’
“As I got up to to leave I asked, ‘What about those people who’ll complain that this whole business is pretty schoolboyish?”
“Kil grinned up from the floor. ‘Let them. We’ll cry all the way to the bank.'”
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]