A careful survey of the market in South America indicated RD might achieve a circulation of 50,000 in two years; in fact, circulation reached one million in one year.
In 1936 when Fortune was preparing a story on RD, DeWitt asked the photographer not to come closer to him than the threshold of his office, insisting, “I’m not important.”
DeWitt liked pranks. At Macalester College he supposedly helped put a cow in a third-floor dorm chapel. Many years later on his way to a Halloween party he sent word he’d been hurt in an auto accident then arrived wearing Mercurochrome-splashed bandages.
Lila was told there was no water on the high bluff overlooking the Hudson that she chose as the site for Boscobel, the 19th century architectural jewel she rescued. She was certain that persistence would solve the problem. In the third drilling they struck water--“the biggest well on the Hudson,” she called it.
DeWitt always liked to stay active. At age 88, he joined a white water canoe trip down the Green and Colorado Rivers.
DeWitt hired patrons of the speakeasy above their basement office in Greenwich Village to help him and Lila wrap and address the 5,000 copies of the first issue.
During the Great Depression, RD circulation grew to two million-plus.
RD sent free subscriptions to prison inmates whose names were suggested by their wardens.
DeWitt did not go to church regularly, smoked, and liked to drink and sit up all night playing poker.
Shortly after RD’s launch, a leading American publisher said no such magazine could, even under optimum conditions, reach a circulation of more than 200,000.
In 1944, RD established an office in Havana, and copies for Cuba and the Caribbean area were printed there.
At age 87, DeWitt got his exercise using a sledge hammer to do road work on the couple's property at High Winds.
In 1998, RD published “This Man Wants You Dead”—about Osama bin Laden.
In May 1941 DeWitt took the $71,040 profit from a recently published RD anthology and divided it up among his 348 employees earning $250 a month or less.
The most widely read article in RD magazine history was “—And Sudden Death” by J.C. Furnas, a grim account of what happens to the human body in an auto accident, published in 1935. Reprint requests continued for 20 years.
Eventually only the Bible exceeded the Digest’s readership. In 1982, RD published a condensed version of the Bible.
DeWitt kept staff guessing on pay. One year Executive Editor Kenneth Payne got a salary of $34,400 and a bonus of $87,600. In a later year he got a salary of $84,500 but no bonus.
The French edition once called on Maurice Chevalier to translate a story by New York columnist Billy Rose, whose Broadwayese defeated their translators. For "It was a cinch bet" Chevalier came up with "C'etait du nougat" (It was candy). And "the iron-stomached citizens who survived Prohibition" became "the hard-cooked ones."
After his sophomore year at Macalester College, DeWitt left for the University of California and signed up as a freshman again because “the first year is more fun.”
The price of the Digest remained constant at the launch price of 25c per copy, $3 per year, for more than 30 years.
In the U.S., RD magazine didn’t accept advertising for 33 years.
In the 1930s, DeWitt bought a four-seater Fairchild monoplane. He used to scare Lila by buzzing High Winds. In 1940 he donated his plane to the Canadian gov't in support of the British war effort.
The first night DeWitt saw Lila after eight years he proposed to her; the second night she accepted.