William Jeanes is a writer. And despite the brevity of the sentence, the truth of it took him all the way to be the editor-in-chief of Car and Driver magazine. To steal a phrase from his new book, “The Road to Pickletown,” he is a writer in full.
That’s not exactly the phrase he used. It was actually “A Dog in Full,” and it’s borrowed from a story in the section called ‘Life in Mississippi’ of his new book. ‘Life in Mississippi’ is the first section of collected columns in his book. Many of the columns are ones he submitted to the Northside Sun, though this one in particular is from the Saturday Evening Post.
The columns are usually brief, and of the 61 something columns the earliest date found is 1980 an article for Playboy titled “The East Africa Safari Rally.” In the section called ‘Commentary’, there are pieces from 2020 on the coronavirus and bad driving.
One of Jeanes’ strengths is his ability to gracefully broach a subject. As he spoke of the merits of writing he said: “I don’t care if you write copy for pinto bean labels, learn to speak and write your native language if you expect to compete in the writing world. That sounds easy but it’s not. English is a terribly difficult language. It’s endlessly complicated, but that’s one of the reasons it’s fun. Most people are not going to succeed as a writer. It’s just not going to happen for one reason or the other, their daddy tells them ‘You’re going to starve to death and I’m not going to fund any of this’, or something comes along and brings money and some form of respect. But if you learn to write, clearly, that will save you.”
It was a long time after his first article in the Bailey Junior High publication The Bailey Bugle that Jeanes had the opportunity to work as the editor in chief of Car and Driver. When he joined Car and Driver in 1972, he was freelance writing.
But before then, he had to grow up.
“I was born in Corinth, and I moved here to start the seventh grade.” Jeanes attended Bailey Junior High School and Central High School, to go on and graduate with a history degree from Millsaps College.
Many moons later, the writer found himself on an assignment for Playboy. It was during his stretch of life as a freelance writer with a New York advertising agency. He contacted a higher up in the company that he knew, and they assigned him to go to Kenya, to cover the East Africa Safari Rally, a legendary race across kenya that started in 1953.
Jeanes’s collections of articles span over 40 years, and touch on a variety of different subjects. But what connects his articles are the sentiments of Mississippian nostalgia, and an overarching good sense of humor.
“People are too serious, but that’s nothing new.”
Before he became the editor-in-chief of Car and Driver, he was working on the business side of J. Walter Thompson, an advertising agency in Detroit. In his own words, he got tired of going to meetings for a living, so he quit. Lucky for him, he had a lot of connections in the writing world.
He was freelancing when the publisher of Car and Driver gave him a ring and offered the job. Jeanes took the job on condition that his wife become the art director of the magazine.
Over the course of his writing career, Jeanes got to visit to all seven continents, and 105 countries. “The Road to Pickletown” isn’t his first book either. Branding Iron was a book he co-wrote with a man named Charlie Hughes, who is credited with bringing the Range Rover to America.
The foreword for “The Road to Pickletown” was written by P.J. O’Rourke, a former editor-in-chief of National Lampoon, and a friend of Jeanes.
Jeanes, who is 83 years old, said the book is a capstone on a long career as a writer.
“Look, I’m 83 years old. And I wrote it for absolute, pure vanity. I did not want to shuffle out of here without leaving a little something behind with my name on it.”