McKelway had about ten years of lucidity left. He wrote one more New Yorker fact piece (a long profile of the greatest impostor in New York history) and more than a dozen elegiac reminiscences and lightly fictionalized sketches describing his early life in Washington, New York, and Bangkok. They included two short stories, “First Marriage” and “The Fireflies,” that Shawn described as “among the loveliest the magazine ever published.” The manic or delusional episodes became more frequent; according to Roger Angell, “he would go off his medication because he wanted to experience the highs.” But he carried them off with style. The late New Yorker editor Robert Bingham told Calvin Trillin, who joined the staff in the sixties, of being summoned one Sunday to the Plaza Hotel, where McKelway was making a scene. “Mac had taken a cab to the Plaza, in his pajamas,” Trillin says. “When Bob got there, Mac was being obstreperous. The kindest New York cop you’d ever seen was saying, ‘Mr. McKelway, why don’t you sit down? You’ll be more comfortable.’ And Mac said: ‘Don’t try any of your Gestapo tactics on me!’”

At one point, he started scribbling meaningless words and doodles on the eighteenth-floor walls of the New Yorker offices. He even got some cartoonists to contribute. “Soon there was an area about fifty feet across, full of graffiti,” Trillin says. “I walked in one day and the receptionist told me, ‘You may have a problem getting in your office. They’re painting.’ I said, ‘Didn’t they paint six months ago?’ She said, ‘Don’t you understand? They’re getting rid of Mr. McKelway’s wall without hurting his feelings.’”

Such was The New Yorker. After 1969, McKelway never wrote another word for publication. He died in January 1980, at the DeWitt Nursing Home in Manhattan. He was fortunate to be memorialized by Shawn, his colleague for forty-six years, and the finest New Yorker writer never to have a byline in The New Yorker. His unsigned obituary concluded: “McKelway was a born writer and an inspired writer, and he saw the world in his own way and wrote clearly and beautifully about what he saw. He lived his life in a dream, but it was, on the whole, a benevolent dream. We can be grateful that, through his work, he was able to share it with the rest of us.

Ben Yagoda directs the journalism program at the University of Delaware and is the author of About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made and When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse, which will be published by Broadway Books in February.