Fifty Years Of Joe Gould’s Secret

0817gould.gifAlthough we’re big fans of the current David Remnick/Sy Hersh/Malcolm Gladwell incarnation of the New Yorker, it’s the mag’s storied history that gets us.

Like Joe Gould’s Secret. Written by genius New Yorker scribe Joseph Mitchell, it told the tale of a Greenwich Village eccentric named Joe Gould who clucked like a sea gull and was writing a 1000+ page book called An Oral History of Our Time.

Only the book never existed outside of Gould’s head. It made for a great story (and a so so Stanley Tucci film), but noone ever got to read Oral History.

On the 50th anniversary of Gould’s death in a Long Island mental hospital, the TimesSewall Chan penned a tribute to Mitchell (and Gould) for City Room:

Mitchell wrote that he realized the truth after introducing Gould to several publishers that had expressed interest in publishing excerpts of the work. (Gould had claimed that he had been rejected by 14 publishers and had hidden the manuscript for safekeeping during the war.) Mitchell confronted Gould with the truth, and Gould only replied, “It’s not a question of laziness.” Mitchell returned to his office at The New Yorker:

My anger began to die down, and I began to feel depressed. I had been duped by Gould – I didn’t think there was much doubt about that – and so had countless others through the years. He had let me up the garden path, just as he had led countless others up the garden path. However, I had thought about the matter only a short while before I came to the conclusion that he hadn’t been talking about the Oral History all those years and making large statements about its length and its bulk and its importance to posterity and comparing it to such works as “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” only in order to dupe people like me but also to dupe himself.


— Neal Ungerleider