Beloved Aunt Helen

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Dec. 12, 1925 cover by Rea Irvin

Last time we looked at one of The New Yorker’s most prolific artists, Peter Arno. Equally prolific was Helen E. Hokinson, who preceded Arno at the magazine by several months as one of the magazine’s first regular artists.

Hokinson’s signature cartoons of often plump society women engaged in their various activities–clubs, shopping, dining out and gardening–were hugely influential in giving The New Yorker a distinct look and style.

In all she contributed 68 covers to the magazine and more than 1,800 cartoons (including the one that heads this blog entry). So strong was Hokinson’s identity with the magazine, a number of her cartoons were published after her death in 1949.

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Helen Hokinson (pbase.com)

New Yorker artist Richard Merkin later wrote (The New Yorker, Feb. 14, 1994) that Hokinson was “something of a stay-at-home, preferring the rewards and routines of her work and of an apartment near Gramercy Park and a cottage in Connecticut.” He observed that it was a “dismal irony” when this homebody died in a plane crash en route to a speaking engagement in Washington, D.C.

But let us remember the joys she brought to so many through her work. Merkin wrote that Hokinson was “a beloved aunt among the family of New Yorker artists…(she) created a type that will forever bear her name–the Hokinson Woman.” Here is Hokinson’s contribution to the Dec. 12, 1925 issue:

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The reluctant debutante Ellin Mackay was back for the Dec. 12 issue with a follow-up piece, “The Declining Function: A Post-Debutante Rejoices.” It would be her final word on the topic. As I reported earlier, Mackay went on to marry famed songwriter Irving Berlin, but would continue writing, most notably a number of short stories for the Saturday Evening Post and other publications.

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FREE AT LAST…Newlyweds Ellin Mackay and Irving Berlin on their honeymoon in Atlantic City. They were married on Jan. 4, 1926. (www.kuaike.co)

In this her second and final New Yorker piece, Mackay drove the final nail into her past debutante life, writing that balls and other society events were “no longer a recognition of any kind of distinction.” She concluded:

People are bored, at least for a while, with being sheep; they are weary of filling their hours of ease with tiresome duties; they have learned to go where they want to go, not where they want to be seen.

* * *

“The Talk of the Town “ reported on George Gershwin’s latest work of “ambitious jazz,” his Concerto in F, which premiered at Carnegie Hall with Walter Damrosch conducting.

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George Gershwin on the cover of the July 20, 1925, issue of Time magazine. (Time.com)

It was noted that Gershwin’s new work had the “beat of the Charleston stirring it.” Later in the “Critique” section, the work was applauded as an “advance on Rhapsody in Blue” and “sharply effective.”

“Profiles” featured Tex Rickard, proprietor of the new Madison Square Garden. The profile’s writer, W. O. McGeehan, suggested that Rickard had assumed the mantle of P. T. Barnum, and although he had given up his saloon-dealing days (promoting gambling and boxing) and now feigned “respectability and elegance,” his primary talent remained in rounding up the gullible masses for popular entertainments:

He will promote anything that will gather a sufficient number of Rubes for profit or for prestige…Behind his guileless exterior, there is a deep guile that is half benevolent and half Satanic…

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Tex Rickard (Library of Congress)

The following year (1926) Rickard would be awarded an NHL franchise to compete with the (now defunct) New York Americans hockey team. Rickard’s team would immediately be nicknamed ‘Tex’s Rangers,” a moniker that remains to this day.

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Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak (1922) is regarded as the most popular art print of the 20th century, based on number of prints made: one for every four American homes. The original sold in 2010 for $5.2 million. (artsycraftsy.com)

In “Art,” Murdock Pemberton wrote a dismissive critique of the young Maxfield Parrish’s work, which was on display at Scott & Fowles gallery. It was Parrish’s first exhibition. Pemberton took pains to point out that although the work had technical merit, it was by an artist largely glorified in American advertising and not in serious art circles:

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The Dec. 12 issue was filled with Christmas advertisements, including this one that suggests even “sophisticated” readers of the magazine had a taste for kitsch:

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Included in the back pages was an extensive list of “Christmas Shopping Suggestions” compiled by Lois Long (who noted that the list was “not compiled for the benefit of the Old Lady from Dubuque”), while in “Tables for Two” she confessed something akin to horror that she had not yet visited Harlem in the fall season. Among her observations:

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And in the spirit of the season, the “Old Lady from Dubuque” made an appearance in the magazine courtesy of cartoonist Ralph Barton:

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Next Time: Social Errors…

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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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