And finally, a cartoon by Rea Irvin exploring the trials of the idle rich:
As much as they affected a refined disinterest in the latest fads, The New Yorker editors were nevertheless impressed by the many electronic innovations in the 1920s consumer market. Although electricity in cities had been around for awhile, inventions to exploit this new resource would come into their own in the Jazz Age with the advent of mass-produced electrical appliances (refrigerators, toasters etc.).
So when the 1926 Radio World’s Fair opened at Madison Square Garden, the magazine was there to report on its many marvels in the Sept. 18 issue:
Although New York’s radio fair was doubtless the largest (akin to today’s annual Consumer Electronics Show), similar fairs were held in other major cities where broadcast radio was taking hold.
…and for comparison, an image from the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:
To give you an idea of some of the stranger innovations in the world of 1920s radio, here is an image scanned from the Oct. 16, 1926 issue of Radio World magazine demonstrating the wonders of a wearable cage antenna, which I believe was intended for use by the wearer for making wireless broadcasts…
…and a detail of an advertisement from the same issue depicting a typical household radio for the time:
If all this looks crude, remember that in September 1926 broadcast radio was less than six years old. But it was big year for radio, with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) establishing a network of stations that distributed daily programs. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) would establish a rival network in 1928.
In other items, the magazine offered a lengthy profile on tennis legend Bill Tilden, and later in the sports section described his Davis Cup defeat to Frenchman René Lacoste.
The same site today:
The nearby Murray Hill Hotel mentioned in the article would last another 20 years, falling to the wrecking ball in 1947:
American cinema did little to excite the writers or critics of The New Yorker, who considered European films, and particularly German ones, to be far superior to the glitzy and sentimental fare produced in Hollywood.
So when it was announced that Russian/Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein would be releasing Battleship Potemkin in New York City, the magazine’s editors in “The Talk of the Town” expressed both anticipation for the masterpiece as well as worries that American censors would slice the film to bits or even ban it outright.
The magazine’s film critic “OC” also expressed his concerns regarding censors:
The film was based on an historical event–a mutiny on the battleship Potemkin that occurred after the crew was served rotten meat for dinner. The sailors rebelled, seized the ship, and then attempted to ignite a revolution in their home port of Odessa, which in turn led to a massacre of citizens by Cossack soldiers on the city’s famed Potemkin Stairs.
The film would ultimately be released in December of 1926. Perhaps more on that in a later post.
The Sept. 11, 1926 issue also noted the passing of famed silent film star Rudolph Valentino, who died at age 31 of peritonitis and other complications. The “Talk” editors suggested that if anything, it was good for newspaper sales:
On the lighter side, The New Yorker men’s fashion columnist “Bowler” (I have not been able to identify the person behind this pseudonym) offered this observation of a new style suggested by Harpo Marx:
And to close, a couple of advertisements from the Sept. 11 issue…the first is a McCreery & Company ad illustrated by Gluyas Williams. These would become a series, featuring a milquetoast husband facing the daunting task of shopping for his wife, among other challenges…
…and this ad from Park Central Motors, depicting a child who’s all too aware of her standing in society…
Next Time: On the Airwaves…
Since most of us complain about the sad state of air travel these days, it’s nice to get a little historical perspective on this mode of transportation.
Ninety years ago the editors of The New Yorker were enamored with passenger air service, even though it was only available to those who were wealthy and had the stomach to actually fly in one of these things:
In the “Talk of the Town” section, The New Yorker editors marveled at the regular air taxi service available to Manhattanites:
The “huge” Yorktown referred to above might look crude to a traveler in 2016, but this was advanced stuff considering the Wright Brothers had made their first flight less than 23 years earlier. Planes like the Yorktown looked less like aircraft we know today and more like a trolley car with wings attached. And that window in the front wasn’t for the pilot. He sat up top in the open air:
But then again, the interiors of these planes were no picnic, either:
Other items from the Sept. 4, 1926 “Talk” section included a bit about the former president and then Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft, and his rather ordinary life in Murray Bay. An excerpt:
At the movies, The New Yorker gave a lukewarm review of the much-ballyhooed film Beau Geste:
And although Gloria Swanson was one of the biggest stars in the Silent Era, The New Yorker was never a big fan of her films:
And finally, this advertisement from Houbigant, featuring a drawing of an elegant woman with an impossibly long neck. I wouldn’t want her sitting in front of me at the movies…
Another ad (from the Sept. 11 issue) also depicted this giraffe-like neckline:
It’s the dog days of summer, and the editors of The New Yorker are seeking various distractions to take their minds off of the broiling late season heat.
In the Aug. 21, 1926 issue (bearing an appropriate cover image by H.O. Hofman of bathers taking a refreshing dip), “The Talk of the Town” suggested that it was a good time for even the natives to take a boat tour of their beloved island:
In the following Aug. 28 issue, the “Talk” editors ducked out of the sun to visit the American Museum of Natural History.
There they found curators busy reorganizing displays of dinosaurs and various stuffed beasts of the wild:
The magazine also profiled New York City native Gertrude Ederle, who became the first woman to swim across the English Channel in August of 1926.
Even Janet Flanner, the magazine’s Paris correspondent, commented on the event, noting Europe’s jealous reaction to an American’s seizing of the record:
Ederle would return home to a ticker tape parade along the Canyon of Heroes in the Financial District, and would also be feted by 5,000 people who turned out on West 65th Street for a block party in her honor.
According to the excellent blog Ephemeral New York, Ederle received offers from Hollywood and Broadway and was deluged by marriage proposals. But she returned to a quiet life, moving to Queens and working as a swimming instructor for deaf children–Ederle’s hearing was seriously damaged in the water of the Channel, but otherwise swimming must have been good for her health. She died at age 98 in 2003.
Keeping with the summertime theme, the magazine covered the Gold Cup Regatta, complete with illustrations by Johan Bull:
Lois Long took her “On and Off the Avenue” column to Paris, where she cast a jaded eye at the behavior of American buyers of French fashion:
And finally, from the advertising department, this strange ad from Ovington’s, which seemed to be more concerned with promoting racial stereotypes than in selling its dinnerware:
Next Time: Come Fly With Me…
It was 1926 and another marvel of science–talking pictures–was unveiled to audiences at Broadway’s Warners’ Theatre. It was here that the Warner Brothers launched their ‘Vitaphone’ talkies including The Jazz Singer, which would premiere the following year.
The Vitaphone soundtrack was not printed on the film itself, but rather recorded separately on phonograph record, the sound synchronized by physically coupling the record turntable to the film projection motor.
Don Juan was the first feature-length film to use the Vitaphone system, which was not a continuous soundtrack but rather a sprinkling of sound shorts (the musical score, performed by the New York Philharmonic, and various sound effects) throughout the film. No spoken dialogue was recorded.
Produced at a cost of $789,963 (the largest budget of any Warner film up to that point), the film was critically acclaimed and a box-office success. However, and predictably, The New Yorker was not so impressed with Vitaphone…
…or the acting of John Barrymore…
I have to agree with the critic, identified only as O.C., after viewing this TCM clip of the film on YouTube. Lacking a voice, silent actors had to exaggerate emotions onscreen, but Barrymore here is every bit the ham. This screen grab from the clip says it all:
The object of his gaze, Adriana della Varnese (played here by a young Mary Astor), reacts rather dramatically to his advances…can’t say I blame her…(however, the 44-year-old Barrymore and the 20-year-old Astor were having an affair at the time…)
…and this not-too-subtle message from a swanky shop on Fifth Avenue:
Next Time: Time for a Facelift…