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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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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