But what about the copy boy for Time magazine, living on $50 a week in a run-down Greenwich Village basement apartment?
Turns out the two weren’t all that different. Young and struggling, Thompson penned this classically irreverent cover letter to Jack Scott, the editor of the Vancouver Sun, asking for a job. (Thompson admitted to having been in a “frenzy of drink” when he wrote it.)
Here’s the letter:
TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN
October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City
I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.
Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.
By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.
I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)
Nothing beats having good references.
Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers.
If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references—including the lad I work for now.
The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.
Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.
I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.
If you think you can use me, drop me a line.
If not, good luck anyway.
Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson
Needless to say, Thompson did not get the job. But then it would have been foolish to think he of all people would have followed any of the conventional rules of job-finding etiquette.
What’s really tragic, though, is that Thompson and Scott would probably have gotten along well. Thompson was famous for his crazy, often drug-addled reporting (see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). And Scott was known for throwing his reporters into crazy, stunt-like assignments, like sending the football editor to Taiwan to interview Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Republic of China; or asking the women’s page editor to cover the aftermath of the revolution in Cuba. (Can you imagine what Hunter S. Thompson could have done with either of those assignments?)
When Scott was demoted from his position, he is said to have quipped, “It was a ball while it lasted.”
And if that’s not something distinctly Thompson-like, I don’t know what is.