RARA-AVIS: Woolrich and Story Magazine

From: Richard Moore ( moorich@aol.com)
Date: 05 Oct 2007

A few days ago in discussing Cornell Woolrich's WALZ INTO DARKNESS, I mentioned it was published as a Story Press book and he had published some short stories in the fabled Story, a low pay, high prestige magazine that published early Cheever, Salinger, Mailer and many other literary greats. I also mentioned reading many years ago a memoir by one of the editors of Story that discussed Woolrich's visits to the magazine's editorial offices.

Today nestled in a box of Simenon novels I found THE STORY OF STORY MAGAZINE by Martha Foley, who with her husband Whit Burnett founded the magazine. Her description of Woolrich is striking and worth transcribing for the list:

"Usually writers bringing manuscripts to the office asked for me, either because they thought Whit, being a man, was too important, or because people with a problem often find it easier to talk to a woman than to a man. Cornell Woolrich was one. I had never heard of him. A thin, shaking, hungry-looking man, he asked me, almost imploringly, 'if I send you a story, will you please read it?'

"'Of course,' I told him. 'That's why I'm an editor. To read manuscripts.'

"Reassured, he told me about himself. In 1927, when he was twenty- four years old, he had won first prize--$10,000--in a short story contest held by College Humor, then a large-circulation magazine.
(Writing as I am now about Cornell makes me wish, as I have countless times, that I had kept a journal!) As far as I can remember, he said that there was a long hiatus in his writing after winning the prize, and that when he resumed writing his work was rejected. I remember his telling me of how his father had left his mother, and of how, as a boy, he had spent years with her roaming around the country in search of his father. I have never forgotten his leaning forward to me and saying earnestly, 'A search for a father is a search for God.'

"The story I promised to read, which Cornell sent me, was the wonderful "Goodbye New York," a skin-prickling tale of two people who have committed a crime; desparate to leave the big city, their stratagems to avoid detection, their near-captures and their terror, are told in writing far superior to that of the usual thriller. The praise given the story when it appeared provided Cornell with the renewed impetus he craved. He went on to achieve lifelong publishing success and is best remembered (popularly) for the movie "Rear Window." He wrote many mystery novels and short stories, using both the name Woolrich and William Irish."

Foley wrote this from memory and, not surprisingly, some of the details are incorrect. Woolrich won the $10,000 prize from College Humor for his second novel CHILDREN OF THE RITZ (1927), which also won him a contract as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

I don't have the Nevins bio/bibliography of Woolrich handy (one day I will find it while searching my stacks for something else)but I am reasonably certain that the story "Goodbye New York" came after he returned to writing with sales to the detective pulps.

Richard Moore

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