The Vicious Circle

Screenshot 2015-05-08 15.49.29
June 27, 1925, cover by Julian de Miskey (New Yorker digital archive)

With a lull in the news from the Scopes Trial, the June 27, 1925 is another hodgepodge of seemingly random bits. Perhaps this is a good time to look at  some of the magazine’s early artists, editors and writers.

The masthead of the very first issue listed these founding Advisory Editors: Ralph Barton, Marc Connelly, Rea Irvin, George S. Kaufman, Alice Doerr Miller, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott. Not listed was founding editor Harold Ross.

The list remained the same for the June 27 issue, minus Ralph Barton. His story is rather sad.

In his day, Barton was well known for his celebrity caricatures, the most famous being his group drawings. He was also a regular early contributor to The New Yorker of brief theater reviews that were accompanied by a large illustration:

Screenshot 2015-05-11 10.47.29
(New Yorker digital archive)

Despite his short stint as a New Yorker advisory editor, the Kansas City native contributed often to the magazine during its first years. Barton also contributed drawings to such publications as Collier’s, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar.

180px-Ralph_Barton_1926
Ralph Barton in 1926 (Wikipedia)

Although his work earned him an impressive income, Barton was a manic-depressive with four failed marriages. In May 1931 he shot himself through the right temple in his East Midtown penthouse. He was only 39.

According to Wikipedia, Barton wrote in a suicide note that he had irrevocably “lost the only woman I ever loved” (the actress Carlotta Monterey, who divorced Barton in 1926 and married playwright Eugene O’Neill in 1929), and that he feared his worsening manic-depression was approaching insanity.

Portrait_of_Eugene_O'Neill_and_Carlotta_Monterey_O'Neill
Carl Van Vechten photograph of Carlotta Monterey and Eugene O’Neill, 1933 (Library of Congress)

Following his death, Barton’s artistic reputation quickly dropped from sight, due not only to his demise but also to the waning of the Jazz Age subjects he drew with such verve:

RalphBartonExtract
A 1921 Vanity Fair Hollywood caricature by Ralph Barton. (Wikipedia)

A 1928 letter from Harold Ross to Barton (posted on The American Reader website) seems to be an attempt by Ross to cheer up the artist:

Wednesday 27 June 1928

Dear Ralph,

I was on the brink of writing you when your letter came—this morning—telling me about your latest predicament. I knew, of course, that you had reached some conclusion as this. You are a creative soul and therefore a restless soul; therefore, a damn fool. I would leave this to any fair-minded banker. I wish I were a banker. I also wish I were Henry Ford or anybody who can accept the church, the government, conventions, and all those things.

I also had house trouble. I am thinking of burning the damn thing down. The insurance would net a tidy bit of cash and would enable me to get a room somewhere and fit up what I really ought to have. I am not competent to manage more space than this. I would be if I were a fairy. Fairies are the happiest people there are. All editors ought to be fairies. I fuss around with commas, semi-colons, dictionaries, and wordings, and it drives me crazy. I am too virile. I ought to be building subways. I was thinking of going to the North Pole with the Byrd expedition but that would take a year or two and I can spare, at most, only two months. It probably would be a bore anyhow. All life is a bore if you think at all…

As ever,

Ross

Others listed on The New Yorker masthead were associated with legendary Algonquin Round Table, including the playwrights Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman and writers Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott–all charter members. The writer Alice Duer Miller was also an occasional guest of this “Vicious Circle,” as they called themselves. From roughly 1919 to 1929, they met every day for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel.

Algonquin_Hotel_in_Murray_Hill
The Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street (towntopics.com)

Other regular Round Table members included Harold Ross, Franklin Pierce Adams, (best known for his newspaper column, “The Conning Tower”), New Yorker humorist Robert Benchley, husband-wife writers Heywood Broun and Ruth Hale, broadway producer Brock Pemberton, playwright Robert Sherwood and broadway publicist John Peter Toohey.

Those who moved in and out of the circle included feminist writer Jane Grant (who with her first husband Harold Ross co-founded The New Yorker), vaudeville comedian and later film star Harpo Marx, actresses Peggy Wood, Tallulah Bankhead, Lynn Fontanne and Margolo Gillmore, actor and director Alfred Lunt, playwrights Edna Ferber and David Ogden Stewart, humorist Frank Sullivan, writers Margaret Leech and Frank Crowninshield, illustrator Neysa McMein, playwright Beatrice Kaufman (George’s wife) and composer Deems Taylor.

It is important to make note of these various players in the “Vicious Circle,” since they figure prominently both as contributors and subjects in the early issues of The New Yorker.

table
Famed Al Hirschfeld illustration from 1962 of the Algonquin Round Table includes (counterclockwise, from far left) Dorothy Parker, Robert Sherwood, George S. Kaufman, Edna Ferber, Franklin P. Adams, Marc Connelly, Heywood Broun, Alexander Woollcott, and Robert Benchley. Rounding out the back row are, from left, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Frank Crowninshield and hotel manager Frank Case. (Al Hirschfeld Foundation)

A prominent name on The New Yorker’s masthead absent from the Round Table is graphic artist Rea Irvin, creator of the magazine’s distinctive look and its mascot, Eustace Tilley.

Original_New_Yorker_cover
Rea Irvin’s Eustace Tilley on Issue #1 (New Yorker Digital Archive)

Irvin signed on as an advisory editor with the assumption that the magazine would fold after a few issues. Little did he realize that his illustrations, department headings, caricatures, and cartoons would grace the pages of The New Yorker for many years; that he would go on to illustrate 169 covers between 1925 and 1958; and that his distinctive typeface and mascot would continue to serve the magazine to this very day (Irvin died in 1972 at age 90).

Not to give the June 27 issue short shrift, “The Talk of the Town” reported Roald Amundsen had returned from his North Pole flight; “Profiles” looked at the life of theatrical producer Morris Gest; and “Books” offered a brief and somewhat mixed review of D.H. Lawrence’s new book, St. Mawr.

nazimova-nerman-caricature
In The New Yorker’s “Critique” section, a terrific caricature of Russian-American actress Alla Nazimova, by Swedish artist Einar Nerman (New Yorker Digital Archive)

In “The Theatre,” W.C. Fields continued to impress in his performances with the Ziegfeld Follies. The New Yorker noted that Fields was becoming a “talking comedian” comparatively late in life, and that after 26 years “as a straight and comic juggler,” he has become “ever so many people’s favorite comedian.” Under “Moving Pictures” it was also observed that D. W. Griffith’s Sally of the Sawdust was going to “put W.C. Fields across as a big screen comedian. Wait and see!”

image
Sideshow “Professor” Eustace McGargle (W.C. Fields) and his ward, Sally (Carole Dempster, who was director D.W. Griffith’s real-life lover and protégée) are circus carnies in Sally of the Sawdust (1925). The movie was based on Fields’ stage hit Poppy, and featured stage legend Alfred Lunt in a rare film role. (Film Forum)

The June 27 issue offered yet another full page cartoon, this time by Gardner Rea, taking aim at the droll antics of the moneyed classes:

Screenshot 2015-05-11 10.46.19
(New Yorker Digital Archive)

And finally, we are shown the answer to the mystery drawing by Covarrubias–ahem–an advertisement for a photography studio:

Screenshot 2015-05-11 10.58.43
(New Yorker Digital Archive)

 

Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

2 thoughts on “The Vicious Circle”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s