Monday, September 29, 2008

Pageant & Helene Pleasants

Sunday's Times Book Review ran a threadbare article fulsomely praising the copyeditor Helene Pleasants--who was the chief copyeditor at Pageant magazine at one time, and I worked under her.

The author of the article trashes Pageant--unjustifiably. It was a lively magazine, edited by Howard Cohn, and it ran many fine pieces by fine writers. For Pageant I wrote an article finally identifying who Falconetti was--the actress who starred in The Passion of Joan of Arc. I wrote another piece, Why Blondes Really Have More Fun, giving sensible reasons why blondes seem more attractive to men. (Eg, their blonde hair narrows the iris, so people see fewer imperfections.)

Later, after consulting some issues of Pageant, I'll give other examples of good articles. James Conniff, Arthur Whitman, and Sam Blum were regular contributors--they were leading freelance writers.

As for Pleasants, she made my life a nightmare. Why didn't I make this change, or that change? She expected me to edit exactly as she would have. And she had a Procrustean bed of changes--"trivial" doesn't do them justice. "More than" instead of "over." She never added a lively, colorful word; never made a lumpy article more sprightly.

Once, to get her out of my hair, I offered to check-mark every single word in any ms I edited--indicating that I had checked the spelling.

She challenged me on one word.

I brought the enormous dictionary to her desk and showed her the word. DON'T YOU SEE IT? I shouted at her. I am normally a timid, Milquetoasty person, but I had had it. A vein throbbed in my head--I felt it as I shouted at her. DON'T YOU SEE IT?

She finally began treating me with respect.

Mark Twain once had a ms edited by a professional copyeditor. He rejected all of her changes. He called her a schoolmarm.

If Helene Pleasants had edited Mark Twain, he would have come out sounding like a chemistry textbook.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home