William Shawn, 85, a gentle perfectionist who was credited with upholding and enhancing the lofty and literate traditions of the New Yorker as the magazine's editor for 35 years, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan.

The cause of death was not known immediately, but sources at the magazine said he had been ill in recent months.

A reflective, reclusive and even eccentric figure whose work was his life, Mr. Shawn published many articles that had great influence, including material supporting the environmental movement and opposing the Vietnam War.

Among the authors whose work he introduced to the magazine's pages were James Baldwin, Rachel Carson, John Updike and Woody Allen.

Although staff members described him as a beloved leader, and peers viewed him as legendary, he was little known to the public before his departure from the magazine in 1987 caused a stir in the publishing world and received widespread media attention.

Named editor in 1952, after the death of Harold Ross, the 67-year-old weekly magazine's first editor, Mr. Shawn took an intense interest in every phase of preparing the text and drawings that helped make the New Yorker one of the nation's best-known publications.

Described as a man who regularly labored past midnight as the magazine's weekly deadline neared, he involved himself in many of the tasks that would go to subordinates on publications with larger staffs: He recruited writers, assigned articles and was renowned for scrutinizing every word in every issue.

Tina Brown, current editor of the New Yorker, called Mr. Shawn "probably the greatest magazine editor who ever lived."

Mr. Shawn "was responsible for everything," said a New Yorker staff member who did not want to be named. "He did everything,"

He had a hand in the line-by-line editing of many articles; he approved the cartoons for which the magazine was famed; and he approved the covers and other drawings, including the sketches at the ends of columns that filled out the magazine's glossy pages.

The abrupt manner of his replacement in 1987 appeared to represent a break with the magazine's genteel traditions, and it threw the staff and much of the publishing world into turmoil.

Despite the loyalty of its readers, the New Yorker was said to be showing signs of stagnation and stodginess when it was bought in 1985 by the Newhouse media conglomerate. Circulation appeared steady at about 500,000, but advertising pages had fallen sharply.

Two years later, Mr. Shawn, then 79, was reported to be expecting to name his successor as a prelude to retirement.

But the magazine's new owner, S.I. Newhouse, announced that the job would go to book editor Robert Gottlieb. Mr. Shawn told the staff that he had been "totally taken aback" by the appointment.

News accounts described an uproar on the magazine's staff. More than 150 contributors and staff members protested Gottlieb's appointment, asking him in a letter to decline the offer.

Mr. Shawn departed on Feb. 13, 1987, after telling his staff in a written message that they had "built something quite wonderful together."

After leaving the New Yorker, Mr. Shawn joined the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publishing firm as an editor. Gottlieb was replaced this year by Brown.

Mr. Shawn was born in Chicago on Aug. 31, 1907. His parents were Benjamin and Anna Bransky Chon.

After attending the University of Michigan from 1925 to 1927, he became a reporter for the Las Vegas Optic, in Las Vegas before joining the International Illustrated News as Midwest editor in 1929.

He joined the New Yorker in 1933 as a reporter for the Talk of the Town section and became associate editor in 1935 and managing editor in 1939.

A formal and serious man, who was generally addressed as "Mr. Shawn," he was recognized for bringing an increased earnestness to the New Yorker even before he succeeded Ross, and was said to have told writers: "If you can't be funny, be interesting."

In his valedictory message to the staff, he wrote, "We have done our work with honesty and love." What mattered most, he said, was that "you and I . . . have tried constantly to find and say what is true."

Survivors include his wife, Cecille, whom he married in 1928, and three children, Wallace, Allen and Mary.


Program Analyst

James C. Bassford, 88, a program analyst who retired in 1965 after 30 years with the Department of the Navy, died of cardiac arrest Dec. 8 at the Carriage Hill nursing home in Silver Spring. He lived in Silver Spring.

Mr. Bassford was born near Frederick in Doubs, Md. He graduated from Frederick Boys High School and George Washington University, where he also did graduate work in economics.

He served in the Navy during World War II and continued in the Navy Reserves until 1964, retiring as a lieutenant commander.

After he retired from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Mr. Bassford was a real estate agent, selling homes for the Silver Spring offices of Lewis and Silverman and Disalvatore Realty.

He was an Elk and a member of Delta Phi Epsilon, a foreign affairs honorary society; Theta Delta Chi, a social fraternity; and St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Silver Spring.

Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Beverly Bassford, and three children, Lucille C. Greenwell, Pamela A. Washabaugh and James E. Bassford, all of Silver Spring; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.