The very next piece, Mark Singer's "Secrets of the Magus," is a prime example of what The New Yorker does best. In Ricky Jay, "perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive," Singer has hit on a quirky, eccentric, and fascinating subject--one that offers plenty of scope for writer and reader alike to dip into an arcane and little-known world of magicians, mountebanks, card handlers, and confidence men. Alva Johnston achieves similar success in "The Education of a Prince," his 1932 Profile of con man Harry F. Gerguson, who spent years masquerading as the lost Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitry Obolensky Romanoff:
The Prince had a glittering career in New York, Boston, Newport, on Long Island, in high-caste settlements along the Hudson, and among the aristocracies of a dozen American cities. Twice he swept over Hollywood in a confetti shower of bad checks. He was repeatedly exposed, but exposure does not embarrass him greatly. He is widely admired today, not for his title but for his own sake. He has convinced a fairly large public that a good imposter is preferable to the average prince.Of course The New Yorker covered plenty of household names, as well, and Life Stories contains sketches of such celebrities as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Johnny Carson, Richard Pryor and Marlon Brando. The arts are well represented by pieces on Ernest Hemingway, Anatole Broyard, and David Salle, and even the contributors are stellar, including such well-known scribes as Henry Louis Gates Jr., Truman Capote, and John McPhee.
But where is that famous Profile of the sea by Rachel Carson, you ask? Pauline Kael's piece on Cary Grant or Janet Malcolm's controversial study of psychoanalyst Aaron Green? In his introduction Remnick acknowledges the many great Profiles that did not make it into this volume, explaining that he decided to publish pieces only in full. "I wanted the reader to get the real thing--no excerpts, no snippets," he writes. "As a result the reader will have to go elsewhere for a range of long or multipart Profiles." What's here is choice, though, and die-hard New Yorker aficionados who turn to the Profiles even before perusing the cartoons won't be disappointed by what they find. All in all, Life Stories makes a fine 75th anniversary bouquet for the magazine's many devoted readers. --Alix Wilber