Technicolor World

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March 13, 1926 cover by H.O. Hoffman.

Although the trade name “Technicolor” conjures up images of mid-century Hollywood, the process was actually invented in 1916 and developed over  subsequent decades.

Early Technicolor was a complicated process, using a prism beam-splitter behind the camera lens to simultaneously expose two consecutive frames of a single strip of black-and-white negative–one behind a red filter, the other behind a green filter. A projectionist had to be highly skilled to keep the film aligned during its showing. The Black Pirate, however, used a later technique that cemented the two prints together, making for a thick film that was prone to bulging and distortion.

When the New Yorker’s Theodore Shane reviewed Douglas Fairbanks’s latest swashbuckler film, The Black Pirate, in the March 13, 1926 issue, it appeared that after ten years of development the Technicolor process had a long way to go:

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DEAR, YOU LOOK A BIT PEAKY…Billy Dove and Douglas Fairbanks rendered in early Technicolor in The Black Pirate. (MovieMail.com)

Art critic Murdock Pemberton wrote about the genius of the young artist Georgia O’Keeffe, whose work was on display at husband Alfred Stieglitz’s new exhibition space, the Intimate Gallery:

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Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Iris, 1926. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

On to the March 20 issue, boldly illustrated by S.W. Reynolds, who contributed a number of deco-themed covers for the magazine:

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For all The New Yorker’s progressive wit and style, you are occasionally reminded that some of its sensibilities were still very much mired in those times. For example, this bit from the issue’s “The Talk of the Town” segment:

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The March 27 issue offered a profile of actress Helen Westley, who was described by writer Waldo Frank (pen name “Search-light”) as “a goddess of our city” whose  “true value and her art (was) her personal life.”

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March 27 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Wesley often played a stern, indomitable character who wore a hawk-like glare, and in her later years portrayed dour dowagers and no-nonsense matrons. Frank wrote that while Wesley was not a particularly good actress, she lived her life with a spirit for adventure and a need to plunge her fine-born, gracious manner into the “frowsy” world of Broadway.

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A Miguel Covarrubias rendering of Helen Wesley for Waldo Frank’s “Profiles” piece.

And a photograph of Helen Wesley, early 1940s.

Helen Wesley wearing hat, 1940s. (Photo by Film Favorites/Getty Images)
Helen Wesley (Film Favorites/Getty)

And to close, Al Frueh’s take on a day in the life of a doorman:

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Next Time: Parisians and Puritans…

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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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