Issue 195, Winter 2010
What great good luck for our nebulous and as yet unnamed Paris Review when Tom Guinzburg, all unsuspecting of the role he was to play, turned up in Paris in the spring of 1952, shortly after Bill Styron made his appearance. The president-to-be of The Viking Press, the eminent house founded by his father, Harold Guinzburg, Tom had served as managing editor of the Yale Daily News under Wm. Buckley (whose sister Jane was the main reason Tom had come to Paris) and as a senior-year roommate of the undersigned, who could confidently recommend his character, intelligence, and humor—a man, in short, whose sociability could be counted on (though not, it must be said, invariably; in one of his rare “surls,” he turned so dark of visage as to win the sobriquet “Black Tom”). With Bill and George, too, “Guinzo,” aka “Tombo,” was to become a lifelong friend. Board president from 2003 to 2006, he remained ever loyal to The Paris Review, which he served well for more than fifty years.
When Tom Guinzburg became president of The Viking Press in 1961, its editors and other staff were, of course, people his father had hired. But Tom rapidly put his own personal stamp on Viking. No books were signed up that he didn’t personally approve, no advances against earnings offered that he didn’t authorize, no publicity plans and marketing arrangements plotted without his knowledge. And he made the often humdrum procedures quite dashing, being dashing himself.
His big corner office had a rather opulent, slightly louche air that suited this big handsome man with his well-cut suits, boldly striped shirts, huge hands, and dazzling, rare smile. On a windowsill sat an enormous horned Viking helmet. A dartboard on one wall, to which he’d pin photos of agents and book reviewers who’d irritated him, was positioned so that he could take aim right from his desk.
Tom cherished his Paris Review friends, of course, and at Viking he never lost a taste for publishing vanguard literature. Sometimes he celebrated his writers with parties in their honor given at his apartment; the best of them had a kind of showbiz-deluxe air. Also, as many well-born people do, he had an enthusiasm for crooks and scoundrels, so he liked it when Viking writers put such characters in his way. Then the parties could be really ace.
I remember him with gratitude as a boss with a genuine gift for publishing books with flair, as a shy, unusual kind of friend, as a very decent fellow.
Early spring 1953, Rome. Anticipation: Bill Styron’s friend “Tombo,” aka Tom Guinzburg, a colleague from The Paris Review who had been absent during our Christmas jaunt to France, was arriving. Bill and I, courting again, were happy to greet him.
Tall and athletic, with a flashy smile, was my cliché first assessment. His good humor, the teasing and joking on our walks, our treks down to dinner in Trastevere, and our drives in Bill’s new little Austin beyond the Appian Way to sightsee endeared Tom to us. But for me, Sundays with Tom were the best: We’d sit on the grassy Janiculum hilltop and do the week’s crossword puzzle, bells pealing, the Vatican awakening far below.
One Sunday I told him that, come May, I was going to marry Bill. He strongly urged me not to. I didn’t want to know why, never asked.
Tom is front and center in old photos from our Campidoglio wedding, along with Peter Matthiessen, John Marquand, the Irwin Shaws, the Robert Whites, and my brother and his wife.
By the time we were all settled back in the States, where we had fine reunion weekends in Connecticut, marriage celebrations in New York, and more, Tom had joined his dad’s Viking Press. I noted how much this sensitive friend enjoyed his work, maybe even more than he did sports, the Review, and helping to educate indigent students. His daughter Kate (my wonderful goddaughter) told me he felt Viking was his family, and that the day he stepped down as president, everyone in the office got drunk and cried.
Big man, big heart. T. G.