A.J. Liebling

By: Luc Sante
October 18, 2013

A. J. Liebling Sitting at Desk

A.J. LIEBLING (1904–63) was a free-range journalist for the New Yorker from 1935 until his death. He got his reportorial education at the Providence Journal and the New York World and his sensibility from the Manhattan of his childhood and a year in France as a student. His prose style he pulled out of books and the yammer at the cigar store and thin air. He wrote about street life at first, sharing the beat with his friend Joseph Mitchell, and then he expanded to boxing and horse racing and saloons — and food. Brilliantly, the New Yorker sent him to cover the European theater in World War Two, and the unathletic Liebling rose to the challenge heroically, following the troops on the ground from the North African campaign to the liberation of Paris. All of his interests infiltrated his assignments; he found chiselers, promoters, and fourflushers wherever he went — as well as great food and exhilarating turns of phrase uttered by preoccupied citizens. His 1961 account of Earl Long’s career as governor of the Crescent State, The Earl of Louisiana, is his crowning achievement: a dark comedy of banana-republic local politics featuring advanced histrionics and virtuoso cartoon oratory. Liebling was one of history’s great noticers, and he had an ear like they make maybe once a century. And he was funnier than hell.

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HUMORISTS at HILOBROW: Michael O’Donoghue | Jemaine Clement | Andy Kaufman | Danny Kaye | George Ade | Jimmy Durante | Jack Benny | Aziz Ansari | Don Rickles | Godfrey Cambridge | Eric Idle | David Cross | Stewart Lee | Samuel Beckett | Jerry Lewis | Joanna Lumley | Jerome K. Jerome | Phil Silvers | Edward Lear | Tony Hancock | George Carlin | Stephen Colbert | Tina Fey | Keith Allen | Russell Brand | Michael Cera | Stan Laurel | Ricky Gervais | Gilda Radner | Larry David | Chris Pontius | Dave Chappelle | Jimmy Finlayson | Paul Reubens | Peter Sellers | Buster Keaton | Flann O’Brien | Lenny Bruce | Sacha Baron Cohen | Steve Coogan | PG Wodehouse | A.J. Liebling | Curly Howard | Fran Lebowitz | Charlie Kaufman | Stephen Merchant | Richard Pryor | James Thurber | Bill Hicks | ALSO: Comedy and the Death of God

HILO HERO ITEMS by LUC SANTE: Dashiell Hammett | Pancho Villa | James M. Cain | Georges Bataille | Félix Fénéon | Émile Henry | A.J. Liebling | Jim Thompson | Joe Hill | Nestor Makhno | Hans Magnus Enzensberger | Captain Beefheart | William Burroughs | Ring Lardner | Lee “Scratch” Perry | Serge Gainsbourg | Kathy Acker | Arthur Cravan | Weegee | Alexander Trocchi | Ronnie Biggs | George Ade | Georges Darien | Zo d’Axa | Petrus Borel | Blaise Cendrars | Alexandre Jacob | Constance Rourke | Damia | J-P Manchette | Jean-Paul Clebert | Pierre Mac Orlan | Comte De Lautreamont | André Breton | Robert Desnos | Arthur Rimbaud |

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Lotte Lenya, Chuck Berry.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Hardboiled (1894-1903) and Partisan (1904-13) Generations.

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HiLo Heroes, Literature

What do you think?

  1. “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.” — A.J. Leibling

  2. Forgot to mention that, living as I do in East Cowpox, USA, I often quote Liebling’s friend the boxing promoter Whitey Bimstein. “I like the country. It’s a great spot,” he said.

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