The Eyes of Lois Long

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Oct. 3 cover by Barbara Shermund.

At an age when most students are barely out of college (23), Lois Long was emerging as one of The New Yorker’s most prolific contributors and a prominent voice of Roaring Twenties New York.

The Oct. 3, 1925 issue not only saw her continuing coverage of night life in “Tables for Two” (which she signed under the pen name “Lipstick”), but also the introduction of her column, “Fifth Avenue” (which she signed L.L.), that would further define her voice at the magazine for years to come.

And The New Yorker wasn’t even her first professional stint as a writer.

Beginning in 1922, Long wrote for both Vanity Fair and Vogue before she caught the eye of New Yorker editor Harold Ross, who hired her to take over the “When Nights Are Bold” column from Charles Baskerville. She later made it her own by changing the name to “Tables for Two.”

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Long in the 1920s. Photo from Andrea Long Bush. (Long’s grandchild)

With the Oct. 3 issue she doubled her workload as both an observer of night life and the fashion scene.

According to Judith Yaross Lee’s Defining New Yorker Humor, the “Fifth Avenue” column took a very different tack from the magazine’s original “Where to Shop” listings that were merely classified ads.

Yaross writes that Long’s first “Fifth Avenue” column relied on “the conceit of her friend Jerry, ‘boarding school roommate, perennial flapper, and graceful idler’ (evidently the department’s target reader)…”

The column would soon be renamed “On and Off the Avenue,” and Long would officially assume the title of fashion editor in 1927.

Her obituary in The New York Times (p. 36, July 31, 1974) quoted New Yorker editor William Shawn, who declared that “Lois Long invented fashion criticism,” and that Long “was the first American fashion critic to approach fashion as an art and to criticize women’s clothes with independence, intelligence, humor and literary style.” The article noted that her task was particularly challenging since The New Yorker did not publish photographs “and more than other writers she had to turn to words alone to describe clothes in detail.”

You can read Long’s first “Fifth Avenue” column, featuring her friend, “Jerry,” here in its entirety:

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In the same issue, just three pages back, in “Tables for Two,” Long shared these insights on the opening of the Club Mirador:

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And she pulled no punches in this erratum item that appeared below this Johan Bull illustration:

Screenshot 2015-07-06 16.59.52And in “The Talk of the Town,” Bull provided this illustration depicting the flare-up of Tong Wars among New York’s Chinese immigrant population. The main consequence of murderous assault seems to be a patron’s ruined shirt:

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“Profiles” featured Reinald Werrenrath, “A New Yorker Who Sings.” Described by writer Clare Peeler as someone who “looks New York,” the baritone opera singer also recorded popular songs and was a regular on early radio broadcasts.

In “Critique” George S. Kaufman’s The Butter and Egg Man received a positive review by Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote that the play was “not for the artistically inclined,” but adds:

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Gregory Kelly as Peter Jones in The Butter and Egg Man (1925). The Broadway play was a resounding success. Sadly, the beloved Kelly would die of a heart attack in 1927 (at age 36) while on tour with the play. (Museum of the City of New York)

By the way, the queen of New York nightlife, “Texas” Guinan, has been attributed as the source of the term “Butter and Egg Man” to generally describe generous souls (according to a “Talk” item in the Oct. 31 issue). At the movies, Theodore Shane found little to amuse as he panned The Tower of Lies (“colorless and loose-jointed”). Rather than capturing a Scandanavian setting, Shane wrote that the film “reeks of the studio scenario shops and the pleasant fields of Long Island.”

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BIG BROTHER OF LITTLE TRAMP Sydney Chaplin performed in 37 films, including The Man on the Box (1925) with actress Alice Calhoun (above). He was Charlie Chaplin’s older brother and business manager. (Ohio State University)

He also took Sydney Chaplin’s attempts at humor to task in the film, The Man on the Box, including his tired “male dressing up as a woman” gag.

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“Talk” also commented on changing face of New York City, including plans for a new Ziegfeld theatre as part of a “regeneration” of Columbus Circle:

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According to performingartsarchive.com, Florenz Ziegfeld took over Columbus Circle’s Cosmopolitan theatre in 1925 and updated the interior. The building originally opened in 1903 as the Majestic (where the first musical stage version of The Wizard of Oz and the play Pygmallian debuted). It was briefly a burlesque house in the early 1920s (Minksy’s Park Music Hall) until William Randolph Hearst acquired it as a main venue for his Cosmopolitan Pictures company.

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Postcard image of Columbus Circle, circa 1925. The Cosmopolitan is at far lower right. (NYC Architecture)

Under Ziegfeld, the Cosmopolitan returned to “legitimate” theater, but in 1926 he gave it up to focus on the construction of his self-named theatre at Sixth Avenue and 54th Street. The Cosmopolitan (renamed the International in 1944) would continue to serve both as a venue for movies and live performances until 1949, when it was acquired by NBC as a television studio for the TV program Your Show of Shows, featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. NBC left the International in 1954, and not long afterwards, the former theatre, along with most of its neighbors on Columbus Circle, was razed to make way for the New York Convention Center.

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The long-gone Majestic, later Cosmopolitan theatre on Columbus Circle. (performingartsarchive.com)

Also from this issue, Al Frueh’s take on a “Busy Business Man’s Day:”

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Hans Stengel delivered “Sermons on Sin”…

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And lest we doubt the snob appeal of our fledgling magazine, check out this advertisement from the Mayfair House assuring that tenants will be kept a safe distance from the proles.

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And to close, a back page ad for the Restaurant Crillon, featuring the unmistakable graphic innovation of Winold Reiss:

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Next time: A Letter From Genêt…

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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.

2 thoughts on “The Eyes of Lois Long”

  1. I was reading all the V-MAILS my mother sent to my father in Europe during WWII, and kept reading that she and her sister Muriel would meet for dinner once a week at the Crillon. She lived at the time in Tudor City. So it was that I found your New Yorker blog. What a delight! Of course the advert for the Crillon is gorgeous, and it was indeed right near Tudor City, but your project as a whole looks fascinating. I shall be following your posts with great interest.

    Like

  2. Thank you rubyjan! I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it. Reading history through the lens of the New Yorker is indeed a thrilling exercise.

    Like

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