Tina Brown, editor of the sassy and hugely successful Vanity Fair magazine, seems an unlikely choice to head the staid but venerable New Yorker -- so unlikely that one observer suggested her appointment was a bit like choosing Madonna to direct the New York City Ballet.
Yet Ms. Brown's talent for combining glamour, gossip and good writing in a stylish package is not so far afield from the magazine's traditions. Founder Harold Ross, who edited the 67-year-old magazine until his death in 1951, shaped a periodical that was never boring. He recruited brilliant writers and artists and let them shine. His New Yorker was a product of the Jazz Age, and it showed.
William Shawn, who took over in 1951, gave it a gentler tone. The sassiness of the Jazz Age was hard to sustain in an era trying to come to terms with the Holocaust and the atomic bomb. Mr. Shawn's New Yorker retained its reputation as the country's most respected literary magazine. It was, after all, the place where readers first encountered such influential works as Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," John Hersey's "Hiroshima" and James Baldwin's "The Fire Next Time."