An Editor Who Made Tom Wolfe Go ‘Varoom! Varoom!’

Byron Dobell was 89.

Sometimes, it’s how an editor does not insert themselves into a writer’s copy that is most notable.


Byron Dobell, a veteran editor who worked at Esquire, New York magazine, Time-Life Books and several other companies, passed away Jan. 21 at the age of 89. The New York Times obituary leads with the story of how Tom Wolfe, in the late stages of summer in 1963, ran into some writer’s block after exhaustively researching a piece for Esquire about Southern California car customizers. Dobell told him to simply jot down his notes and send them in:

Under the salutation “Dear Byron,” Mr. Wolfe began typing out his notes overnight, in a mounting frenzy as inspiration grabbed hold. “I wrapped up the memorandum about 6:15 a.m., and by this time it was 49 pages long,” he wrote. “I took it over to Esquire as soon as they opened up, about 9:30 a.m. About 4 p.m. I got a call from Byron Dobell. He told me they were striking out the ‘Dear Byron’ at the top of the memorandum and running the rest of it in the magazine.”

The essay, published in November 1963, is now considered a milestone in the evolution of the New Journalism.

Later in life, Dobell found success as a portrait artist, with his work exhibited nearly a dozen times. RIP.

Previously on FishbowlNY:
Gay Talese Still Not Sure Frank Sinatra Read That Esquire Piece

Image courtesy: Esquire