Wolcott Gibbs

Wolcott Gibbs

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Wolcott Gibbs was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Copy editing
Copy editing is the work that an editor does to improve the formatting, style, and accuracy of text. Unlike general editing, copy editing might not involve changing the substance of the text. Copy refers to written or typewritten text for typesetting, printing, or publication...

, humorist, theatre critic, playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

 and author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

 of short stories
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

, who worked for The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

 magazine from 1927 until his death. He is best remembered for his 1936 parody of Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

 magazine, which skewered the magazine's inverted narrative structure. Gibbs wrote, "Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind"; he concluded the piece, "Where it all will end, knows God!" He also wrote a comedy, Season in the Sun, which ran on Broadway for 10 months in 1950–51 and was based on a series of stories that originally appeared in The New Yorker.

He was a good friend and frequent editor of John O'Hara
John O'Hara
John Henry O'Hara was an American writer. He initially became known for his short stories and later became a best-selling novelist whose works include Appointment in Samarra and BUtterfield 8. He was particularly known for an uncannily accurate ear for dialogue...

, who named his fictional town of "Gibbsville, Pa." for him.


Although not a regular member of the Algonquin Round Table
Algonquin Round Table
The Algonquin Round Table was a celebrated group of New York City writers, critics, actors and wits. Gathering initially as part of a practical joke, members of "The Vicious Circle", as they dubbed themselves, met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 until roughly 1929...

, Gibbs was closely associated with many of its leading names, inheriting the job of theatre critic at The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

 from Robert Benchley
Robert Benchley
Robert Charles Benchley was an American humorist best known for his work as a newspaper columnist and film actor...

 in 1938. Because his years at the magazine largely overlapped with those of the better-known Alexander Woollcott
Alexander Woollcott
Alexander Humphreys Woollcott was an American critic and commentator for The New Yorker magazine and a member of the Algonquin Round Table....

, many people have confused them or assumed they were related. In fact, Gibbs was a cousin of Alice Duer Miller
Alice Duer Miller
Alice Duer Miller was an American writer and poet.-Biography:Alice Duer was born in New York City on July 28, 1874 into a wealthy family. She was the daughter of James Gore King Duer and Elizabeth Wilson Meads. Elizabeth was the daughter of Orlando Meads of Albany, New York...

 – yet another member of the Algonquin set – but he was not a relative of Woollcott's. On numerous occasions, in print and in person, Gibbs expressed an intense dislike for Woollcott as both an author and as a person. In a letter to James Thurber
James Thurber
James Grover Thurber was an American author, cartoonist and celebrated wit. Thurber was best known for his cartoons and short stories published in The New Yorker magazine.-Life:...

, in fact, Gibbs wrote that he thought Woollcott was "one of the most dreadful writers who ever existed." Thomas Kunkel asserts in his biography of New Yorker founder Harold Ross
Harold Ross
Harold Wallace Ross was an American journalist and founder of The New Yorker magazine, which he edited from the magazine's inception in 1925 to his death....

, "Genius in Disguise," that a Gibbs authored profile of Alexander Woollcott sparked the disassociation of Woollcott and the magazine.

Personal life

Gibbs was born to Angelica Singleton (née
Married and maiden names
A married name is the family name adopted by a person upon marriage. When a person assumes the family name of her spouse, the new name replaces the maiden name....

 Duer) and Lucius Tuckerman Gibbs. He was the great-nephew of the chemist Oliver Wolcott Gibbs
Oliver Wolcott Gibbs
For the writer, see Wolcott Gibbs.Oliver Wolcott Gibbs was an American chemist. He is known for performing the first electrogravimetric analyses, namely the reductions of copper and nickel ions to their respective metals.- Biography:Oliver Wolcott Gibbs was born in New York City in 1822 to...

 with whom he shared a first name. Gibbs, however, disdained the "Oliver" and never used it. Gibbs was married three times, on the last occasion to Elinor Mead Sherwin of the Sherwin-Williams paint family. An alcoholic and heavy smoker, he died on Fire Island of a heart attack while reading proofs of his upcoming book, More In Sorrow. His son, Wolcott Gibbs, Jr., known as "Tony," has written extensively about yachting and was an editor at The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

 for several years in the 1980s.

Gibbs was a direct descendant of U.S. President Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States . Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President and the tenth Secretary of State, under Andrew Jackson ....


On October 11, 2011, Bloomsbury USA released the anthology "Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs of The New Yorker" (ISBN 978-1-60819-550-3), with a foreword by P.J. O'Rourke.


Profile of TIME
Time is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....

 editor Henry Luce
Henry Luce
Henry Robinson Luce was an influential American publisher. He launched and closely supervised a stable of magazines that transformed journalism and the reading habits of upscale Americans...

, written in a parody of TIMEs style.
Reviews John van Druten's "Make Way for Lucia"; "Oh, Mr. Middlebrook!" at the John Golden Theatre
John Golden Theatre
The John Golden Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 252 West 45th Street in midtown-Manhattan. Designed in a Moorish style along with the adjacent Royale Theatre by architect Herbert J. Krapp for Irwin Chanin, it opened as the Theatre Masque on February 24 1927 with the play Puppets of Passion...

; Jean Kerr
Jean Kerr
Jean Kerr was an American author and playwright born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and best known for her humorous bestseller, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and the plays King of Hearts and Mary, Mary...

's "Jenny Kissed Me" at the Hudson Theatre
Hudson Theatre
The Hudson Theatre is a former Broadway theater located at 141 West 44th Street, in midtown Manhattan, New York. Today the Hudson functions as a conference center and television studio. It is owned by Millennium & Copthorne Hotels.-History:...

Reviews Jean Giraudoux
Jean Giraudoux
Hippolyte Jean Giraudoux was a French novelist, essayist, diplomat and playwright. He is considered among the most important French dramatists of the period between World War I and World War II. His work is noted for its stylistic elegance and poetic fantasy...

's "The Madwoman of Chaillot
The Madwoman of Chaillot
The Madwoman of Chaillot is a play, a poetic satire, by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux, written in 1943 and first performed in 1945, after his death. The play has two acts and follows the convention of the classical unities...

" at the Belasco Theatre
Belasco Theatre
The Belasco Theatre is a legitimate Broadway theatre located at 111 West 44th Street in midtown-Manhattan.-History:Designed by architect George Keister for impresario David Belasco, the interior featured Tiffany lighting and ceiling panels, rich woodwork and expansive murals by American artist...

; Cole Porter
Cole Porter
Cole Albert Porter was an American composer and songwriter. Born to a wealthy family in Indiana, he defied the wishes of his domineering grandfather and took up music as a profession. Classically trained, he was drawn towards musical theatre...

's "Kiss Me, Kate" at the New Century Theatre
New Century Theatre
The New Century Theatre was a legitimate Broadway theatre located at 932 Seventh Avenue at West 58th Street in midtown Manhattan.The house, which seated 1700, was designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp for the Shuberts, who originally named it Jolson's 59th Street Theatre after Al Jolson, who...

; Sacha Guitry
Sacha Guitry
Alexandre-Pierre Georges Guitry was a French stage actor, film actor, director, screenwriter, and playwright of the Boulevard theatre.- Biography :...

's "Don't Listen, Ladies" at the Booth Theatre
Booth Theatre
The Booth Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 222 West 45th Street in midtown-Manhattan, New York City.Architect Henry B. Herts designed the Booth and its companion Shubert Theatre as a back-to-back pair sharing a Venetian Renaissance-style façade...

Reviews Rosemary Casey's "The Velvet Glove"; Sarett and Herbert Rudley
Herbert Rudley
Herbert Rudley, , was a prolific character actor who appeared on stage, in films and on television.Rudley was born in 1910 in Philadelphia, and attended Temple University. He left Temple after winning a scholarship to Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre.He began appearing on stage in 1926...

's "How Long Till Summer?"; Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith was an Irish writer, poet and physician known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield , his pastoral poem The Deserted Village , and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man and She Stoops to Conquer...

's "She Stoops to Conquer
She Stoops to Conquer
She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy by the Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, son of an Anglo-Irish vicar, first performed in London in 1773. The play is a great favourite for study by English literature and theatre classes in Britain and the United States. It is one of the few plays from the 18th...

Reviews T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

's "The Cocktail Party
The Cocktail Party
The Cocktail Party is a play by T. S. Eliot. Elements of the play are based on Alcestis, by the Ancient Greek playwright Euripides. The play was the most popular of Eliot's seven plays in his lifetime, although his 1935 play, Murder in the Cathedral, is better remembered today.The Cocktail Party...

Reviews The Theatre Guild
Theatre Guild
The Theatre Guild is a theatrical society founded in New York City in 1918 by Lawrence Langner, Philip Moeller, Helen Westley and Theresa Helburn. Langner's wife, Armina Marshall, then served as a co-director. It evolved out of the work of the Washington Square Players.Its original purpose was to...

's production of "As You Like It
As You Like It
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the folio of 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility...

" at the Cort Theatre
Cort Theatre
The Cort Theatre is a legitimate Broadway theatre located at 138 West 48th Street in the Theatre District of midtown Manhattan in New York City...

; Samuel A. Taylor
Samuel A. Taylor
Samuel A. Taylor was an American playwright and screenwriter.Born Samuel Albert Tanenbaum, in a Jewish family, in Chicago, Illinois, Taylor made his Broadway debut as author of the play The Happy Time in 1950. He wrote the play Sabrina Fair in 1953 and co-wrote its film adaptation the following year...

's "The Happy Time" at the Plymouth Theatre
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 236 West 45th Street in midtown-Manhattan named for Gerald Schoenfeld....

; William Berney and Howard Richardson
Howard Richardson (playwright)
Howard Dixon Richardson was an American playwright, best known for the 1945 play Dark of the Moon.Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Richardson graduated in 1938 from the University of North Carolina and then traveled through Europe , returning to the University of North Carolina in 1940 for his...

's "Design for a Stained Glass Window" at the Mansfield Theatre
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
The Brooks Atkinson Theatre is a Broadway theater located at 256 West 47th Street in Manhattan.Designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp, it was constructed as the Mansfield Theatre by the Chanin brothers in 1926. After 1933, the theatre fell into relative disuse until 1945, when Michael Myerberg...