Why We Go To Cabarets

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Nov. 28, 1925 cover art by H.O. Hofman.

If you are looking for a watershed moment in the history of The New Yorker, this is one of them. The issue of Nov. 28, 1925, featured an article written by 22-year-old Ellin Mackay titled “Why We Go To Cabarets: A Post-Debutante Explains.”

Mackay was the daughter of a Catholic multi-millionaire, Clarence McKay, who was threatening to disinherit his daughter because of her romance with Jewish songwriter Irving Berlin. Mackay’s essay explained why modern women were abandoning the forced social matchmaking of débutante balls in favor of the more egalitarian (and fun-loving) night club scene:

At last, tired of fruitless struggles to remember half familiar faces, tired of vainly try to avoid unwelcome dances, tired of crowds, we go to a cabaret. We go to cabarets because of the very fastidiousness that Our Elders find so admirable a quality. We have privacy in a cabaret…What does it matter if an unsavory Irish politician is carrying on a dull and noisy flirtation with the little blonde at the table behind us? We don’t have to listen; we are with people whose conversation we find amusing. What does it matter if the flapper and her fattish boy friend are wriggling beside us as we dance? We like our partner and the flapper likes hers, and we don’t bother each other.

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MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER…Irving Berlin and Ellen Mackay Berlin return from their Atlantic City honeymoon. They were married on Jan. 4, 1926, in New York Municipal Court, a union that lasted 62 years. (NY DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE / GETTY)

Mackay’s piece provided a huge boost to The New Yorker’s circulation, which had dipped below a death-rattle low of 3,000 in August 1925 before it rebounded a bit with new and more aggressive advertising and marketing strategies.

The “Debutante” article was featured on the front page of the New York Times, and was also covered on the front pages of other New York newspapers and even in papers across the country. By the end of the year circulation of The New Yorker neared 30,000.

TIME magazine later observed that with the Mackay piece, The New Yorker “suddenly found that it had succeeded in storming the penthouses of High Society.  Its success opened the eyes of Editor Ross to the importance of the Manhattan socialite, to the fact that Broadway gossip sounds dull on Park Avenue.”

In The New Yorker’s 90th anniversary issue (Feb. 23, 2015), Ian Frazier wrote about the “débutante to the rescue in the Harold Ross era…”

Sometime during the magazine’s early months, Alice Duer Miller gave him (Ross) Ellin Mackay’s “Cabarets” essay. Jane Grant recalled that Ross kept it at the bottom of the pile of manuscripts he brought home, procrastinating because he liked Ellin and expected he would have to reject it, as he often did with others. Grant urged him to run the piece. “It will make wonderful publicity,” she said. Alexander Woollcott, the Times drama critic, with whom the Rosses shared a house…also championed Ellin’s piece. Woollcott knew her through Berlin, whose worshipful biography he had written.

Frazier writes, “In 1,076 words, the “Cabarets” essay had hit precisely the sophisticated young night-club-going, speakeasy-patronizing, up-and-coming, unimpressed-by-their-elders readership Ross was aiming for. The grateful editor gave Ellin Mackay a lifetime subscription to the magazine.” You can read Frazier’s entire article about Mackay and Berlin here.

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Mackay and Berlin pose for Cecil Beaton in the June 1930 Vanity Fair. (LIVEJOURNAL)

Mackay, who would publish several novels, would marry Berlin on Jan. 4, 1926. The marriage would last until her death in 1988 at age 85. Berlin would die the following year at age 101.

Here is Mackay’s full article:

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*  *  *

Even as one grand house after another fell to the wrecking ball along “Millionaires Row,” it was hard to believe that the Vanderbilt Mansion between 57th & 58th Streets would also succumb to the commercial interests transforming Fifth Avenue seemingly overnight.

“The Talk of the Town” noted that the doomed mansion, once the largest private home in New York City, was being descended upon by all manner of curiosity seekers:

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According to writer Adrian Dannatt, the 130-room, full-scale Renaissance-style château was “originally built to accommodate an entire regal court, a small army, huntsmen and ladies in-waiting, but it was given over instead to a family of eight.”

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A photo of the 58th Street side of the house, taken shortly before the house was sold for $7.1 million, demolished and replaced by the Bergdorf Goodman store. (newyorksocialdiary.com)

This grand pile was designed by George B. Post in 1882, with interior design by John LaFarge and Augustus Saint-Gaudens among others. Post, along with Richard Morris Hunt, substantially expanded the house in 1893. Demolished in 1926, Bergdorf Goodman Department Store now occupies the site.

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Opened in 1928, the Bergdorf Goodman store occupies the Vanderbilt site today. (Wikipedia)

According to Benjamin Waldman, writing for untappedcities.com, a few remnants from the mansion weren’t reduced to dust, including a pair of monumental gates relocated to Central Park and two of six bas-relief sculptures by Karl Bitter that were relocated to the lobby of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel. Apparently the other four disappeared without a trace.

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REMNANT…Caryatid-flanked fireplace designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, topped with a LaFarge mosaic, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Metropolitan Museum)

A fireplace designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, topped with a John LaFarge mosaic, was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is displayed in the courtyard of the museum’s American Wing.

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EPIC…In 1923 Cecil. B. DeMille built the largest set in movie history near Guadalupe, California, for his silent epic, The Ten Commandments. (Santa Barbara Historical Museum)

“Profiles” looked at the life and work of movie director Cecil B. De Mille. R. E. Sherwood wrote that De Mille was the “archetype of the motion picture director—a composite photograph of all the Olympian gods who have descended from Mount Hollywood to dominate the earth.”

Harry Este Dounce (“Touchstone”) reviewed John Dos Passos’ new novel, Manhattan Transfer, and noted that Dos Passos’ version of Manhattan was “not the hypothetical typical New Yorker reader’s, but as far as this department knows, it is very much like the real, complete thing—which is to say, like a hell of chaotic futility.”

In “Sports of the Week,” football continued to dominate the column, with a report on Harvard and Yale battling to a 0-0 tie.

With this issue, “Motion Pictures” was moved from the “Critique” section and given its own page under the Johan Bull-illustrated heading “The Current Cinema.” Theodore Shane wrote that he found Laurence Stalling’s The Big Parade “utterly satisfying,” but he was less impressed with the much-hyped Stella Dallas, which he viewed as a contrived weeper designed to draw lovers of such fare to the box office.

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BOO HOO…Belle Bennett and Lois Moran in Stella Dallas, 1925 (Yam Mag)

Near the back of the magazine the editors printed an exhaustive list of prices on the bootleg liquor market. The prices are quite astonishing, given that $50 in 1925 would be the equivalent of roughly $675 today, based on inflation. Of course that number could vary depending on all sorts of other economic and historic factors, but nevertheless fascinating reading if you are into that sort of thing:

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At the conclusion of “The Talk of the Town,” the editors offered this qualifying note regarding their liquor market list:

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Next Time: Courtin’ and Sparkin’…

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Party Time With Gentleman Jimmy

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Nov. 21, 1925 cover by Stanley W. Reynolds.

Mayor Jimmy Walker wasn’t known for being cerebral. But as the voters’ choice to lead the City of New York, he could not have been more well-suited (pun intended) to the zeitgeist of the final, dizzying, roaring years of The Jazz Age.

Walker was a flamboyant man-about-town, a clothes horse who was no stranger to speakeasies or the backroom politics of Tammany Hall.

As Jonathan Mahler wrote in New York magazine (April 1, 2012), Gentleman Jimmy “perfectly embodied that moment of indulgence: the public servant who favored short workdays and long afternoons at Yankee Stadium, who was loath to miss a big prizefight or Broadway premiere, who left his wife and Greenwich Village apartment for a chorus girl and a suite at the Ritz-Carlton.”

Not that there weren’t some concerns. “The Talk of the Town” offered this early observation of the incoming mayor:

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New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker during a visit to Boston. (voxart)

Mahler quoted a columnist from Walker’s time, who noted that “No man could hold life so carelessly without falling down a manhole before he is done.” And Walker would fall to scandal by 1932. But we will get to that. For now, it’s party time in Gotham.

The New Yorker continued to have fun with President Calvin Coolidge, publishing this cartoon by Izzy Klein that took a poke at Coolidge’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, in which Coolidge spoke at length about the nation’s abundance:

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Talk also reported the latest bootleg prices in “The Liquor Market…”

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“Profiles” examined the life of New York Times owner Adolph Ochs. The writer Elmer Davis observed that “More than any other newspaper owner, he is his paper, and his paper is himself…”

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Detail from a lantern slide depicting Basil Sydney as Hamlet and Charles Waldron as Claudius in the Booth Theatre’s 1925 production of Hamlet in “modern dress.” (Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton)

In “The Theatre,” critic Herman J. Mankiewicz addressed criticisms of the Booth Theatre’s new approach to Hamlet, which was presented “in modern dress.” Mankiewicz wrote that the departure from traditional Elizabethan costumes had brought the play “into the open,” and that Basil Sydney was a “splendid” Hamlet.

In “Books,” reviewer Harry Este Dounce recommended Ford Madox Ford’s No More Parades (“a fine display of virtuoso writing”) and Arthur Schnitzler’s Fraulein Else (“a scintillant little firework”).

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Lilyan Tashman, left, and Pauline Starke in Robert Z. Leonard’s Bright Lights, 1925 (Tumblr)

In “Motion Pictures,” Theodore Shane panned the movie Lord Jim (based on the Joseph Conrad novel), but he enjoyed the “simple hokum tale” of Bright Lights and the “restrained” performance of Pauline Starke, “a perfect miniature Gloria Swanson.”

In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long despaired of finding a decent “swank dinner” on a rainy autumn evening, and finally headed to a Viennese restaurant (Frau Greta’s) for some German comfort food. The rain turned to torrents as she then headed out for some nightlife:

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Long concluded her “Tables” column with this peevish note on “grammar:”

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In her other column, “On And Off The Avenue,” Long wrote about the increasing popularity of New Yorkers traveling to Florida for the winter, and in anticipation of the Christmas holiday, offered this advice on what not to give as gifts:

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In her report from Paris, Janet Flanner commented on the popularity of Josephine Baker at the Champs Elysees Theater:

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Josephine Baker and Joe Alex in their opening night performance of “La Revue Negre” at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris, 1925 (Tumblr)

Flanner also commented on the growing appreciation of paintings by Henri Rousseau, who just a decade or so earlier was considered something of a joke among art circles:

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Henri Rousseau’s The Football Players, 1908. Today even Rosseau’s lesser-known works are valued in the millions (Wikimedia)

And finally, Julian de Miskey’s take on The Big Game:

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Next Time: A Debutante’s Diatribe…

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Gloria Swanson, Close Up

Silent film star (and sometime French “noble”) Gloria Swanson was back in the States after a summer sojourn at her Paris residence.

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Nov. 14, 1925 cover by Joseph Fannel.

“The Talk of the Town” reported that she had arrived on the steamer Paris, with the great Polish pianist and statesman Jan Paderewski in tow…

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Johan Bull’s take on Swanson’s grand arrival with Paderewski, who was much decorated as both a statesman and artist:

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The New Yorker made light of the fact that Swanson assumed a rather regal bearing not only as a famous film star but also as the new wife of French aristocrat Henri, Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye, her third husband. In his column, “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker added this swipe at the Swanson’s pretensions to royalty:

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Although a marquis and member of the famous Hennessy Cognac family, Henri was not wealthy and worked for a living. He met Swanson when he was hired to be her assistant and interpreter during the filming of Madame Sans-Gêne (1925) in France. The match of a Hollywood star with European nobility made the marriage a global sensation.

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MON CHÉRI…Photo taken around the time of the wedding of Marquis Henri de la Falaise and Gloria Swanson, January 1925 (indypendent-thinking.tumblr.com)

The marriage ended in divorce in 1930. According to Wikipedia, (citing two books on the subject), Swanson had an affair with Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. for several years during her marriage to Henri:

Henri became a film executive representing Pathé (USA) in France through Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who was running the studio. Many now assume he was given the position, which kept him in France for ten months a year, to simply keep him (Henri) out of the way…(Kennedy) became her business partner and their relationship was an open secret in Hollywood. He took over all of her personal and business affairs and was supposed to make her millions. Unfortunately, Kennedy left her after the disastrous “Queen Kelly” and her finances were in worse shape than when he came into her life.

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GOOD OLD DAYS…Life beneath the Sixth Avenue El (Wikipedia)

In another Talk item, the Sixth Avenue Elevated rail line continued to serve as a “blot” upon the city of New York:

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According to a Wikipedia, the old Sixth Avenue El (constructed during the 1870s) was notoriously noisy, made buildings shake, and bombarded pedestrians underneath with dropping ash, oil, and cinders. Eventually, a coalition of commercial establishments and building owners would stage a successful campaign to have the El removed because it was hurting business and property values. It would be razed in 1939 and replaced by the underground IND Sixth Avenue Line.

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SPOIL SPORTS…Buckner’s agents padlock New York’s El Fey Club in 1925 before a gathering crowd.

The New Yorker also featured a lengthy interview with Emory Buckner (conducted by Morris Markey), in which the New York District Attorney discussed his approach to Prohibition enforcement, including the padlocking of restaurants and clubs found to be serving alcohol. In a surprisingly frank interview, Buckner said his zealous crusade had nothing to do with moral conviction:

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Buckner also admitted that the government wasn’t making a serious effort to enforce Prohibition (e.g. low salaries for agents), and if it wasn’t going to make the effort then the law should be repealed. Markey concluded his article with words of surprising admiration for a man who had been so thoroughly excoriated in previous issues of The New Yorker.

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In other items, theatre critic Herman J. Mankiewicz stepped out of the “Critique” section to write about his experience travelling by train to a football game. He found the whole spectacle (especially the coonskin coat-clad fans) wanting.

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No doubt Mankiewicz’s fellow travellers were clad in something similar to this. The ad appeared in the same issue as Mankiewicz’s article.

Waldo Frank contributed a profile of the popular poet Carl Sandburg, whom he described as moving “through the Machine of our world” with “a peasant’s mind.” Frank used the term not necessarily as a criticism but as a way to describe Sandburg’s Midwestern simplicity. However, a drawing by James House Jr. that accompanied the article depicted Sandburg not as a man of letters, but more like some dim-witted forebear of Homer Simpson:

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The actor Leslie Howard contributed another humorous piece to The New Yorker titled “Such is Fame,” accompanied by this Julian de Miskey illustration:

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Theodore Shane reported in “Motion Pictures” that Rudolph Valentino appeared in person at the opening of his new film, The Eagle. Known for his aversion to public appearances, Valentino handled the occasion with a silent flourish:

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Vilma Bánky and Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle.

At the end of his column Shane included this exchange with novelist and playwright Edna Ferber, who was also one of the regular wits at the Algonquin Round Table:

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In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long wrote about the opening of the Nineteenth Hole Club at the Roosevelt Hotel, and noted that the putting greens on either side of the dance floor offered “additional uplift” to short skirts worn by some female patrons:

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She closed her column with this observation and a “warning” about “Lipstick” imposters:

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This was a familiar jest by Lois Long in her “Tables for Two” column–describing herself as short and squat–since most readers did not know her true identity or appearance, which was quite the opposite.

In Long’s other column, “On And Off The Avenue,” she offered this advice to women who were fashion-conscious but also thrifty:

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Next Time: Getting The Holiday Spirit…

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Euthenics: It’s Not What You Think

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Nov 7, 1925 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

A brief item in “The Talk of the Town” for Nov. 7, 1925, mentioned the groundbreaking for a new building at Vassar (Lois Long’s alma mater) dedicated to the study of something called “Euthenics.” The term was used by Ellen H. Swallow Richards (Vassar, Class of 1870), based on the Greek Euthenia, which described a good state of the body, including prosperity, good fortune and abundance.

After Richards died in 1911, the idea was taken up by another Vassarite Julia Lathrop (’80) who teamed up with fellow alumnae Minnie Cumnock Blodgett (’84) to create a program of Euthenics at Vassar, against the protestations of some faculty who found this new field of interdisciplinary study suspect. It didn’t help that some even confused it with the racist “eugenics” movement.

At a time when many academic disciplines were moving in the direction of specialization, students in euthenics could study horticulture, food chemistry, sociology, statistics, education, child study (Lathrop would serve as the first chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau), economics, economic geography, physiology, hygiene, public health, psychology, domestic architecture and furniture. The New Yorker had this to say about the new area of study:

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The “daisy chains” referred to above are one of the oldest traditions at Vassar. Every year, the senior class chooses sophomore women who demonstrate superior leadership and class spirit to carry a 150-foot chain of daisies and laurel at Commencement.

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Carrying the “Daisy Chain” at Vassar, 1925 (Vassar College)

The New Yorker was also anticipating the upcoming Automobile Salon at the Commodore Hotel, including the news that autos would break from sober black and navy into a palette of colors:Screenshot 2015-07-20 09.35.10Screenshot 2015-07-20 09.35.19

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1925 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost (conceptcarz.com)

“Profiles” featured Gen. John J. Pershing, while “Sports of the Week” featured the Oct. 31 “Cornell-Columbia battle” at the Polo Grounds (Cornell prevailed 17-14). That same day in New Haven, Yale humbled Army 28-7.

In her fashion column “Fifth Avenue,” Lois Long paid a visit to designer Paul Frankl’s store, where she admired his collection of “four-dimensional furniture, including his “skyscraper” bookcases:

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Paul Frankl “skyscraper” bookcase, ca. 1927. Fashioned from maple and trimmed with Bakelite (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

In her “Tables For Two” column, Long’s previous criticism of Sardi’s (lack of celebrity sightings) received this reply:

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Main Dining Room of the old Sardi’s, 234-36 West 44th St. New York. (Museum of the City of New York)

In her latest dispatch from Paris, Janet Flanner wrote that Philadelphia movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum was making a haul of Rodin sculptures. The French found it interesting but not alarming:

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Mastbaum would die the following year and donate his Rodin collection to the city of Philadelphia. It is the largest collection of Rodin’s works outside Paris. Flanner also offered this tidbit on a new, scandalous book by Texan Gertrude Beasley:

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In a 2000 article for Texas Monthly (“A Woman of Independent Means”), Don Graham wrote that “no other book in Texas literature is quite like Gertrude Beasley’s little-known memoir, My First Thirty Years. For one thing, it was published in Paris in 1925 by the avant-garde press Contact Editions (it was banned in Britain and America), which included among its authors Ernest Hemingway.” He wrote that Beasley’s book established itself “as a provocative and highly subversive text: She recounts her birth as the violent outcome of marital rape by her father…Things go downhill from there…” You can read more about Beasley, and her “disappearance,” in this Texas Observer article.

In “Motion Pictures,” The New Yorker (via critic Theodore Shane) cuts actress Marion Davies a little slack:

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Channelling her inner Pickford: Marion Davies in The Lights of Old Broadway.

And if you doubt the Francophile ambitions of New Yorker readers, here are two ads written almost entirely in French:

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And to end on an amusing note, more perils of Prohibition, courtesy of Rea Irvin:

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Up Next: Party Time!

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How Dry I Am

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Oct. 31 cover,  Julian de Miskey.

The woes of Prohibition were acutely felt by the readership of The New Yorker. The magazine responded in kind with its continued criticism of the law’s enforcement and particularly the tactics of Manhattan District Attorney Emory C. Buckner, whose agents continued to padlock restaurants and clubs suspected of selling alcohol.

The New Yorker previously called the padlocking tactic a “promotional stunt” that would ultimately backfire (I wrote about this in a previous blog post last March).

Both the “The Talk of the Town” and “Tables for Two” took aim at Buckner this time around. “Talk” led with this item, accompanied by the art of Johan Bull:

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“Talk” also made a call to action by “men of virtue:”

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Heck with statements. Lois Long just wanted to have some fun, and led her column, “Tables for Two,” with her own attack on Buckner and on the “stupidity” of establishments that were closed by Buckner’s agents (I include art that accompanied the column by Frank McIntosh–at least that is what I think the “FM” stands for; if I am in error, someone please correct me!):

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In a previous column (Oct. 17), Long pondered the popularity of a new dance, the “Charleston.” She closed her Oct. 31 column with “telegrams” from exemplary colleges in answer to the query: “Is the Charleston being done at college dances?”

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“W.J. Henderson wrote a lengthy article about the upcoming opera season at the Metropolitan Opera (it was opening with La Gioconda), and recalled the days after World War I when the once-popular German singers suddenly grew scarce on the American stage.

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The old Metropolitan Opera House at 1411 Broadway. The “Old Met” opened in 1883 and was rebuilt after a fire in 1892. The interior, shown here, was redesigned in 1903. This photo depicts a recital by pianist Josef Hofmann on November 28, 1937. The old Met was torn down in 1967 and replaced by a 40-story office tower. (Wikipedia)
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Site of the old Metropolitan Opera House today.

According to Henderson, this led to a general falling off of quality in the performances, a situation made even worse by the absence of the late, great Enrico Caruso on the Metropolitan’s stage.

In other items, John Tunis wrote about Illinois All-American halfback Red Grange in “Profiles,” calling him “a presentable youth of twenty-two…well-groomed, he would pass anywhere—even in the movies—for a clean type of American manhood.”

Tunis also noted that Grange had been offered a “half a million” to star in movies, and that professional football was ready to offer him a sum “that would cause even the once-mighty Ruth to blanch.” Grange, known as “The Galloping Ghost,” would later join the Chicago Bears and help to legitimize the National Football League (NFL).

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Howard (Real Photograph)

The young actor Leslie Howard, who was appearing on Broadway in Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat, wrote a humorous account of theatre life in “The Intimate Diary of An Opening Night.”

It was one of seven articles on the acting life that Howard (perhaps best known for his role as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind) would write for The New Yorker between 1925 and 1927.

For the record, I include Howard’s first New Yorker article here:

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“Motion Pictures” looked at Buster Keaton’s new film, Go West…

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Cow and Keaton in Go West (1925) (silentology.com)

Theodore Shane wrote that what at first seemed to be a real weeper…

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…turned into a comic romp thanks to the introduction of the “sad-eyed cow…”

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And finally, in keeping with the Prohibition theme, here is a center-spread cartoon by Rea Irvin that seemed to depict the results of consuming too much bootleg booze:

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Next Time: Oh Behave…

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Oh Those French

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Oct. 24 cover by Max Ree.

Apparently even Parisians have fashion lapses from time to time. Janet Flanner (Genêt) reported with some alarm a “curious phenomenon” from Paris in the Oct. 24, 1925 issue of The New Yorker.

It seemed that the otherwise fashionable Parisians were slumming it a bit and had adopted a dowdy look previously associated with residents of the British Isles. (The un-dowdy image at the top of the page is French designer Sonia Delaunay and her matching Citroen in 1925).

Apparently such pedestrian tastes had also caused a shift from formerly fashionable travel destinations on the Atlantic coasts to Mediterranean destinations:

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And to top things off, the French were agog over the latest Charlie Chaplin film, The Gold Rush (another French favorite of American clown-dom, Jerry Lewis, would be born the following year):

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But then there was another new distraction in town, the Autumn Salon:

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Pavel Tchelitchew, self-portrait, 1925 (Flickr)

Pavel Tchelitchew was known as a leader of “mystical surrealist” painting. He left his native Russia in 1920 and lived in Berlin before moving to Paris in 1923. There he became acquainted with Gertrude Stein and Edith Sitwell, the latter with whom he had a long-standing friendship.

The French were also on display in a comic piece by Theodore Shane, who also served as the magazine’s movie critic.

Shane wrote a piece titled “Fra~nce” in a style that suggested he was teaching children about France by dividing words into syllables (it was similar to a piece about Russia (“Rus~sia”) in the Aug. 29 issue, signed “Freudy”) Here’s a sample:

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A full-page ad on the Page 1 announced the “The Midnight Open” event at The 19th Hole Club in the Hotel Roosevelt, with an impressive lineup of golf professionals such as Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen and even “prominent amateurs” including Bobby Jones.

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The Roosevelt Hotel, which opened in 1924 (Expedia)

I was surprised that the annual membership fee was advertised as only $10, which would roughly translate to $135 today—a bargain compared to what it costs today to join even the lowliest golf club.

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“Talk of the Town” welcomed news from Boston that “ladies are to be allowed to smoke in the open” in that city (drawing by Johan Bull):

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In a feature “Our Collegiate Hilltop,” Elmer Davis wrote about the droves of college students who had taken over much of the available housing along Morningside, “a ghetto for the Nordic native-born.” Davis offered this lament about Columbia’s continued creep into the surrounding neighborhoods (with accompanying art by Helen Hokinson:

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“Profiles” examined the life of “A Kind Man,” William Lyon Phelps. That title was not meant as a complement from writer Waldo Frank, but rather it was his “kindness” toward authors that caused him to praise books that were not worthy of praise and made him the personification of the “most American of disasters: the disaster of Good Intentions, when they are not fortified by intellectual hardness, when they are not drained of all sentimental juices.”

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Ethel Barrymore in 1925 as Ophelia in Walter Hampden’s Production of Hamlet. (barrymorefamily.com)

In “The Theatre” Elsie Ferguson and Basil Rathbone were appearing in “The Grand Duchess and the Waiter” at the Lyceum (“an agreeable piece of work”), while Ethel Barrymore “wowed” critic Herman J. Mankiewicz with her performance as Ophelia in a revival of Hamlet at Walter Hampden’s theatre.

Or at least I think she wowed him. Mankiewicz knew and worked with the Barrymore family, and I wonder if his over-the-top style here is a wink to the fact that a 45-year-old Ethel was playing the part of a young virgin. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

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I hate to jump ahead, but in the Nov. 14 issue, “Talk of the Town” offered this humorous anecdote from one of Barrymore’s performances:

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In sporting news, John R. Tunis continued his coverage of rivalry matches staged at Yankee Stadium, this time the fiercely competitive Notre Dame vs Army matchup. Despite Notre Dame’s renown under Knute Rockne, Army was a worthy foe in the 1920s and in this particular matchup the Cadets blanked the Irish 27-0. The matchup between these teams was so popular that it was played at Yankee Stadium until 1947.

And finally, Lois Long sharpened her pencil and offered her thoughts on a dull dinner crowd at Pierre’s:

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A drawing by Peter Arno (who would marry Long in 1927) in another section of the magazine seemed to refer to Long’s lament:

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Long also offered some criticisms of a “new negro revue” that decidedly differed from the mainstream:

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A great illustration by Julian deMiskey of the Bellows exhibition at the Met:

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Next Time: Short-tempered about Temperance…

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Fighting For Respect

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Oct. 17, 1925 cover by Max Ree.

The New Yorker catered to both Anglo- and Francophile readers in its early issues, especially in advertisements, although such pretensions were also satirized in its pages. The fledgling magazine, however, took great pains to show that it was something new, modern and very American.

A case in point is the treatment of artist George Bellows, whose untimely death from appendicitis earlier that year, at the age of 43, was followed by a memorial exhibition of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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George Bellows. (Wikipedia)

Bellows was from Columbus, Ohio, and was a pupil of fellow Midwesterner Robert Henri (Nebraska) at the New York School of Art. There Bellows became closely associated with Henri’s Ashcan School, a group of artists who advocated painting contemporary American society in all its grittiness.

In Bellows The New Yorker saw a fresh voice that gave form to the roiling life of a great city (Joseph Mitchell would later do the same with words for the magazine). The magazine also used the memorial exhibit as an opportunity to chide the Metropolitan Museum and its old-fashioned, Euro-centric tastes in art.

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One of Bellow’s last and perhaps most famous paintings from 1924 depicted the famous 1923 Dempsey-Firpo fight at the Polo Grounds (Wikipedia)

In the previous week’s issue (Oct. 10), “The Talk of the Town” noted that the upcoming memorial exhibition was “not quite the usual thing” for the Met (that is, to accord such recognition to an American artist). The “lanky Midwesterner” Bellows offered something unique:

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The same column noted that Bellows possessed something of a wit:

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In the Oct. 17 issue, art critic Murdock Pemberton offered these pointed observations of the opening of the memorial exhibition:

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Murdock Pemberton (New York Observer)

Murdock Pemberton himself is something of an interesting story. He co-hosted the luncheon that started the Algonquin Round Table, and was art critic at The New Yorker for more than seven years. The dismissal of this gifted and influential writer was probably one of Harold Ross’s biggest screw-ups as editor. You can read more about Pemberton in this Jan. 24, 2012, New Yorker article by Andrea Scott, who wrote that Pemberton “may be the most interesting person you’ve never heard of.”

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Sumner, by Johan Bull

The Oct. 17 issue also included an interview with John Saxton Sumner, who headed the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, a state censorship body empowered to recommend obscenity cases to prosecutors.

Sumner was quoted as saying it “may be impossible to legislate morals into humanity. But we can legislate decent conduct into humanity.” He also offered these insights:

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As I mentioned in my last post, thanks to an ailing Babe Ruth and the slumping Yankees, college football took center stage in “Sports of the Week,” especially with “rivalry” games that drew crowds (and revenue) to Yankee Stadium. John R. Tunis continued his coverage of the sport with an account of a game between the North and the South (Penn State and Georgia Tech) in Yankee Stadium. Georgia Tech prevailed 16-7.

“Profiles” examined the life of Doctor Abraham Arden Brill, an Austrian-born psychiatrist who was the first psychoanalyst to practice in the United States and the first translator of Freud into English. It was no surprise that Brill found America ripe for this new type of therapy.

In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long pondered the popularity of “the Charleston” at smart night clubs:

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A Charleston competition at the Parody Club, New York in 1926. (Hulton Archive/Getty)

And to close, another political ad that seems out of place in The New Yorker:

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There’s something chilling about the ad. Perhaps it’s because the unsmiling faces of Tammany Hall suggest more a rogue’s gallery than a political line-up. As we know, Walker will get elected and go down in scandal in 1932, with McKee then serving as acting mayor for remainder of Walker’s term–just three months.

Next Time: A French Twist.

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