Ross, Lillian (1926—)

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Ross, Lillian (1926—)

American journalist and writer. Born on June 8, 1926, in Syracuse, New York; daughter of Louis Ross and Edna (Rosenson) Ross; children: Erik Jeremy Ross (adopted).

Selected writings:

Picture (1952); Portrait of Hemingway (1961); Reporting (1964); Talk Stories (1966); Here But Not Here: A Love Story (1998).

Lillian Ross wrote for The New Yorker for more than 50 years, beginning in 1945, when she was not yet 20. For most of those years, The New Yorker was in its heyday as the most respected and influential magazine in the country, under the editorship of the legendary William Shawn. Ross became well known for her laudatory portraits of movie stars, famous writers, and other celebrity subjects, including John Huston and Ernest Hemingway. To write a piece, Ross first became friends with her subject, eschewing the traditional notion that a journalist should remain impartial. "I don't want to write about people I don't like," she told R.Z. Sheppard of Time. "If I like them, I like them with my being, and I'm not going to stop liking them after they have become useful to me." Sheppard noted, "She instinctively understood that the best way to become successful and well known was to write about the famous." Ross also claimed to have been one of the first writers to use the techniques of fiction in nonfiction articles, a New Yorker hallmark also associated with her contemporaries A.J. Liebling and Joseph Mitchell (whom she credited with influencing her style) and with such later writers as Tom Wolfe and Susan Sontag .

Ross has written 11 books, but it was her memoir Here But Not Here: A Love Story that created the most waves. The book, published in 1998, details the 40 years she spent working and living with William Shawn, who had been fired from The New Yorker in 1987, died in 1992, and whose reputation amongst the literati was that of something close to a saint. While their longtime affair had not been the most closely guarded of secrets, the book was controversial because Cecille Shawn , his wife of 63 years, was still alive when it was published. "I think it's irrelevant," Ross told R.Z. Sheppard in Time, when asked why she would publish a memoir about an affair with a married man whose wife was still alive. "There were no secrets, really, that were divulged. We never went underground, and he talked with her about what was happening with him and with me immediately."

Ross met Shawn in 1952, when she was 25. He was 45 and had been married for 24 years. As Laura Shapiro reported in Newsweek, "One day in the office the two simply stared at each other, then raced uptown to the Plaza Hotel." Cecille Shawn refused his request for a divorce, so within a few years Shawn was living part of the day in an apartment with Ross ten blocks from the one he lived in the rest of the time with his wife and two sons. In the book, Ross is very candid about her arrangement with Shawn, which Sheppard remarked was "daring even by today's forgiving standards" (although she never explains why he did not simply leave her or leave his wife). Shawn ate his meals with Ross, stopped back at his family's apartment, returned to Ross' place for late-night television, went home to spend the night with his family, and had a private bedside telephone line installed in his room so he could spend time chatting with Ross each night. (His sons were apparently told he was working during all these absences.) After Ross adopted a son in the 1960s, she and Shawn raised him together. Their relationship continued until his death.

Ross quit The New Yorker in protest after Shawn was fired, criticizing those writers who did not. A few years after his death, she returned to write for the magazine under new editor Tina Brown , earning accusations of hypocrisy that seemed to bother her no more than did the later criticisms of her memoir.


Contemporary Authors. Vols. 9–12, 1st rev., vols. 45–48, new rev. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1974.

Newsweek. May 4, 1998, p. 71.

The New York Times. May 7, 1998.

Time. June 1, 1998.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer, Bayville, New York