How did Janet Flanner get the first installment of her famous "Letter from Paris" published in The New Yorker (which would run her column fortnightly for fifty years) and how did she get her pen name Genêt? Both answers: Harold Ross. A restless Hoosier educated in Chicago, Flanner had left Manhattan and her husband to travel in Europe with her lover Solito Solano (née Sarah Wilkinson) and from Paris she wrote to Jane Grant, Ross's wife. In 1925 Ross was still struggling to find the top notch writing he wanted for his new magazine, less than a year old, and he decided to publish Flanner's letter without asking her permission and therefore needed a nom de plume, choosing what he mistakenly thought was French for Janet.
Flanner knew virtually every important person in Paris for decades but also wrote about Algeria, Hungary invaded by the Russians, the Sinai War, and dozens of other topics in her signature style. She won a National Book Award in 1966. The center of a far reaching circle of lesbian friends, she was a constant presence at Natalie Barney's salons and in Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein's living room and with the many other prominent lesbians discussed in Paris Was a Woman and, more obliquely, in her own otherwise outstanding memoir Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939. She was equally at home with Gide and Cocteau as she was with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and she never lost her knack for being at the elbow of history: She was on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971 with Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer when they had their famous fracas and rather than ducking she came between them. Although they occasionally had separate affairs, Flanner and Solano remained committed to each other and lived together for fifty years. Solano died in 1975, when she was eighty-seven; Flanner died in 1978, when she was eighty-six. Last fall she was the cover girl for the Hide/Seek catalog.