Black Bottom & Other Scandals

The Roaring Twenties were all about fads and crazes, ranging from flagpole sitting to dances such as “The Shimmy,” “The Charleston,” or “The Black Bottom.” These dances were appropriated from Black culture, with many New Yorkers getting their first exposure in places such as Harlem’s famed Cotton Club.

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June 26, 1926 cover by Julian de Miskey.

The June 26, 1926 issue of The New Yorker was all abuzz over the Broadway debut of George White’s eighth annual Scandals. The Scandals were a long-running string of Broadway revues that ran from 1919-1939. Modelled after the Ziegfeld Follies, the Scandals launched the careers of many entertainers, including W.C. Fields, the Three Stooges, Rudy Vallée and Louise Brooks. Composer George Gershwin’s early work also appeared in the earliest editions of the show.

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Actress Louise Brooks got her start in the Scandals and later the Ziegfeld Follies. Here she portrays the “Duchess of Sidebottom” in George White’s Scandals of 1924. By 1925 Brooks would have a movie contract with Paramount, and go on to become a popular star of the late silent era and gain fame as the iconic symbol of the flapper. (flickr)

Like Flo Ziegfeld, George White must have been a master at marketing, since tickets for the Scandals opening sold for $55, which today would be the equivalent of about $725:

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The editors of “The Talk of the Town” were a bit skeptical of all the hype:

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The 1926 Scandals show featured “The Black Bottom,” danced by Ziegfeld Follies star Ann Pennington and Tom Patricola. In this dance-crazed era, “The Black Bottom” became a national phenomenon and even surpassed “The Charleston” in popularity.

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Tom Patricola & Ann Pennington dance “The Black Bottom” in 1926 as Scandals producer George White looks on (Wikipedia)
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Ann Pennington “teaching” Felix the Cat how to dance “The Black Bottom.” Image scan from Photoplay magazine spread, January 1927.

“The Black Bottom” was popularized in New York by the 1924 Harlem stage show show Dinaah. Although the dance moves originated in New Orleans in the early 20th century, Jelly Roll Morton gave it a name when he wrote Black Bottom Stomp in 1925, referring to Detroit’s Black Bottom district.

In typical fashion, The New Yorker was less than impressed with the spectacle. In his theatre review column, Charles Brackett made this observation:

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On to other things, “The Talk of the Town” also featured this curious note about George Custer’s widow, reminding us that 1926 was a very long time ago. Here are excerpts:

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Elizabeth Bacon Custer in 1876, the year of the Battle at Little Bighorn (Nebraska State Historical Society)

The New Yorker editors continued to remark on the changing face of Fifth Avenue…

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…and on the progress of the city’s infrastructure improvements, as in this excerpt from a humorous piece by the Robert Benchley:

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New York Governor Al Smith and New Jersey Governor A. Harry Moore shake hands at the state border inside the Holland Tunnel in 1926. (NY Daily News)

Next Time: Wild & Woolly…

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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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