Lighter Than Air

The New Yorker was launched as a sophisticated, funny, urbane weekly, so it’s always interesting to see how the magazine will respond to a national tragedy.

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Sept. 12, 1925 cover by Rea Irvin, depicting plutocrats on a Merry-Go-Round.

For example, the Sept. 12, 1925 “Talk of the Town” featured a brief item titled “Zachary Lansdowne.” It opens with a paragraph describing the lieutenant commander’s demeanor and character:

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Then it becomes apparent that this is a eulogy of sorts, since Lansdowne was the pilot of the American dirigible S.S. Shenandoah:

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Built in 1922, the S.S. Shenandoah was the first of four U.S. Navy airships. On Sept. 2, 1925, it departed on a promotional flight that would include flyovers of 40 cities and visits to state fairs. While passing through thunderstorms over Ohio on the morning of September 3, the Shenandoah was caught in a violent updraft that carried it beyond the pressure limits of its helium gas bags. It was torn apart in the turbulence and crashed in several pieces. Fourteen of Shenandoah‍ ’ s crew, including Commander Lansdowne, were killed. Amazingly, there were 29 survivors who succeeded in riding three sections of the airship to earth.

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Wreck of the Shenandoah. The front section rests in a field near Caldwell, Ohio. (Wikipedia)

After a lean summer, advertising in The New Yorker picked up dramatically, with the opening spread for the Sept. 12 issue featuring full-page ads by The Roosevelt Hotel and the French fashion house Paul Poiret:

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This infusion of advertising was largely the result of a big promotional push orchestrated by John Hanrahan, considered one of the most gifted writers of publisher promotions. The magazine’s major (and really only) investor, Raoul Fleischmann, brought Hanrahan on board to address the magazine’s dearth of advertising, a move that was much to the dislike of the acerbic Harold Ross.

The trials of starting a new magazine were not lost on Ross, as was evidenced in this Newsbreak on page 13:

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But Ross knew that the ad push helped the bottom line, and he did his part to draw new talent to the magazine and improve its overall quality.

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Ingersoll in the 1940s (baseball-fever.com)

New talent included Ralph Ingersoll, who joined the magazine as managing editor in the summer of 1925. Ingersoll went to work giving the magazine a “voice,” especially in the rather weak and unfocused “Talk of the Town” section.

After suffering Ross-induced burnout in 1930, Ingersoll would go on to serve as a managing editor of Time-Life Publications, and would later found the short-lived, left-wing daily newspaper, PM.

That summer Ross also brought on Katharine Angell (later Katharine White) as a part-time reader of manuscripts, but almost immediately she became a full-time employee and was soon involved in every aspect of the magazine.

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Katherine Angell (Wikipedia)

She is often credited with the magazine’s maturity and its sophisticated taste and style. It was through Angell that Ross would meet and hire both E.B. White (who would later marry Angell) and James Thurber.

In the “Profiles’ Section, Murdock Pemberton took a look at the challenges facing Richard Bach in his attempts to promote the arts to business-minded New Yorkers. Bach was an “Associate in Industrial Arts” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, merchandise based on art museum collections is a ubiquitous practice, but in 1925 Bach’s job was viewed as somewhat distasteful:

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Morris Markey (“In The News”) tried to make sense of the continued enforcement of Prohibition, and seemed to conclude that it originated in Puritan resentment in the Midwest, and would continue to be enforced according to regional customs and strictures:

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And true to form, New Yorker film critic Theodore Shane panned a movie that today is considered a classic of the silent era:

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UM, AWKWARD…Theodore Shane called Phantom of the Opera “Grand Guignol in imitation of Poe with a generous smear of Laemmle hokum”…in this scene, Erik, The Phantom (Lon Chaney) woos Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin) (Wikipedia)

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With this issue Lois Long retired “When Nights Are Bold” (a column on local nightlife she inherited from Charles Baskerville) and introduced us to a renamed column, “Tables For Two.” She opened with a description of a police raid on a on old barroom where she had been apparently enjoying a nice beefsteak. She then abandoned the “slums” for the Plaza Hotel, where she spied none other than Charlie Chaplin and Adolph Menjou:

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Ads return to the back cover, an indication that things are picking up:

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The poster above was created by American illustrator Rose O’Neill, who is best known as the creator of the popular Kewpie comic characters in 1909. The wildly popular Kewpies were later produced as dolls, and became one of the first mass-marketed toys in America. Raised in rural Nebraska, O’Neill was active in the women’s suffrage movement and at one point was the highest-paid female illustrator in the world.

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Rose O’Neill in 1907, and her famous creation (Wikipedia)

On the back cover, we are treated to some more great illustrations by artist Einar Nerman in this ad from Doubleday:

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And a whimsey from Julian de Miskey:

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Next time: Signs of Autumn…

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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.

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