Fight Night in Philly

We skip ahead to the Oct. 2, 1926 issue to look at one of the big events of that year–the Dempsey-Tunney heavyweight prize fight (I’m not skipping issues…Sept. 25 appears later in this blog).
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Oct. 2, 1926 – Issue # 85 – Cover by Constantin Alajalov. (Once again, note the ongoing comic reference to androgyny in 20’s fashion)
Heavyweight boxing was a big part of the American sports scene in the 1920s, and two giants of the sport, Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, dominated the headlines in the late 1920s thanks to much-heralded bouts in Philadelphia in 1926 and a rematch in Chicago the following year (which would include the famous “long count” incident).
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An estimated 135,000 fans packed Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia for the Dempsey-Tunney bout. (Hutton/Getty/NYTimes)
The New Yorker joined in on the hoopla, publishing a lengthy account of the match by Waldo Frank (aka “Search-light”), who trained his jaded eye on the whole affair:
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VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS…a rain-soaked throng at the Dempsey-Tunney fight in Philadelphia. (City of Philadelphia)
According to the New York Times, the crowd included such notables as Charlie Chaplin, cowboy movie star Tom Mix and the English Channel swimmer Gertrude Ederle.
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Coverage of Tunney’s victory by unanimous decision took up three-quarters of the front page of The New York Times, and also filled most of pages 2 through 7. (The New York Times)
But in typical fashion, Waldo was less than dazzled, finding the rain an apt metaphor for a spectacle mostly unseen by those in attendance:
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Never one to wallow in tragedy, the magazine made a brief (and oddly droll) reference in “The Talk of the Town” to a hurricane that hit Miami and its environs (it killed 372 people and injured more than 6,000):
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Other items of note in the issue included this examination of country vs. city life by cartoonist Barbara Shermund…
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…and this cartoon by Al Frueh commenting on the challenges of Manhattan’s rapidly changing cityscape:
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The changing city was also on the mind of Reginald Marsh in this illustration he contributed to the Sept. 25, 1926 issue of the magazine:
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The Sept. 25 issue also featured an update from Paris correspondent Janet Flanner…
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Sept. 25, 1926 – Issue # 84 – Cover by Constantin Alajalov.
…who commented on the large number of American tourists crowding the city just as the locals were fleeing for their long, late summer holidays:
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She offered some numbers to back up her observations:
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Janet “Genêt” Flanner (right) and longtime companion Solita Solano (center) in Paris in the 1920s. Solano was a well-known writer and drama critic for the New York Tribune.

And finally, a cartoon by Rea Irvin exploring the trials of the idle rich:

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 Next Time: Do Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?
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On the Air

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.).

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Sept. 18, 1926 cover by Stanley W. Reynolds

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:

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IF ONLY THEY HAD SPOTIFY…Teens tuning in, mid 1920s.

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.

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Promotional image for Edison Radio from the 1926 New York Radio World’s Fair. (artdecoblog.com)

…and for comparison, an image from the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:

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(CES)

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…

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…and a detail of an advertisement from the same issue depicting a typical household radio for the time:

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Before tuning in for the first time, the radio’s owner needed to string a 100-foot outside aerial. Until 1927, when owners could plug their radios into electric sockets, radios required two types of batteries—a storage battery that required recharging every two weeks and a set of dry-cell batteries that needed to be replaced about every three weeks.

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.

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Tennis rivals Bill Tilden and René Lacoste meet in Philadelphia, 1927. (greensleevestoaground.)
Tilden is often considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time. However, The New Yorker “Profile” described him as a reluctant star with artistic ambitions…
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…who distained the life of a sports hero…
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Samuel Merwin, referred to above, was a playwright and novelist.
Tilden was the world’s number one player for six years (1920-1925). He won 14 Major singles titles including ten Grand Slams. He also won a record seven US Open titles.
There is a sad footnote to Tilden’s career, however. Twenty years after The New Yorker profile, Tilden would be arrested for soliciting sex from an underage male, an offense he would arrested for again three years later, in 1949. He was subsequently shunned by the tennis and Hollywood world, although his old friend Charlie Chaplin allowed Tilden to use his private court for lessons, which helped him financially as he dealt with legal and financial problems.
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The magazine editors continued to watch the rapidly changing skyline of the city, as beloved old buildings were demolished to make way for new skyscrapers. This time it was the old Park Avenue Hotel:
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The editors of “Talk of the Town” fondly recalled the time when the hotel, with its spacious courtyard of flowers and fountains, attracted “almost every dinner party of consequence in New York.”
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This photo of the old Park Avenue Hotel was taken in 1890, only two years after Fourth Avenue was renamed Park Avenue. Constructed in 1877, the hotel was originally called Stewart’s Hotel for Working Women, designed to provide safe housing for the influx of single working women pouring into New York City. The name didn’t last long: the hotel was opened in April 1878, closed in May and reopened in June as the Park Avenue Hotel. It was razed in 1927. (Ephemeral New York)

The same site today:

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(Ephemeral New York)

The nearby Murray Hill Hotel mentioned in the article would last another 20 years, falling to the wrecking ball in 1947:

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The Murray Hill Hotel, built in 1884, would outlive the Park Avenue Hotel by 20 years, falling to a wrecking ball in 1947. (Library of Congress)
 Next Time: Fight Night in Philly…
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Battleship Potemkin

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.

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Sept. 11, 1926 cover by Eugene Gise.

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.

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The magazine’s film critic “OC” also expressed his concerns regarding censors:

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IT’S NOT WHAT’S FOR DINNER…Sailors examine maggot-infested meat in the film Battleship Potemkin. (themoviesnob)

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.

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Mutineers revel in a scene from Battleship Potemkin. (Wall Street Journal)
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A still from a classic scene in Battleship Potemkin that depicts Odessa citizens being massacred by Cossacks on the city’s famous Potemkin Stairs. The image of the unattended baby carriage tumbling down the staircase has been re-created in many films, including Brian De Palma’s 1987 The Untouchables. (Film 4)

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:

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FUN AT THE FUNERAL…Valentino’s first funeral in New York (the second was in Beverly Hills) drew a huge crowd of in what was described as a “carnival setting”. More than 100,000 fans filed past his open casket at the Frank E. Campbell funeral home. Windows were smashed as fans tried to get in and an all-day riot erupted on August 24. Over 100 mounted officers and NYPD’s Police Reserve were deployed to restore order. A phalanx of officers would line the streets for the remainder of the viewing. Some media reports claimed the body on display was a wax dummy, and not “The Sheik” himself. (Wikipedia)
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SWEETHEARTS? Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri met in early 1926 at a costume party thrown by Marion Davies. Negri claimed she was engaged to be married to the actor at the time of his death.
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EVER THE DIVA…Pola Negri’s grief-stricken performance at Valentino’s New York funeral was considered by most to be over-the-top, even for a famous diva. Supported by a secretary and press agent (photo above), Pola declared to reporters that she and Valentino were secretly engaged to be married. She posed in dramatic fashion for the reporters and then threw herself, weeping and fainting, on Valentino’s open casket. (flickchick1953)

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:

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Vaudeville star Harpo Marx in 1926. The first Marx Brothers movie was still three years away. (Wikipedia)

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…

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…and this ad from Park Central Motors, depicting a child who’s all too aware of her standing in society…

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Next Time: On the Airwaves…

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Come Fly With Me

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.

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Sept. 4, 1926 cover by Rea Irvin.

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:

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The May 8, 1925 christening of the Sikorsky “Yorktown.” The “huge” plane is referred to in the Sept. 4, 1926 “Talk of the Town.” (Library of Congress)

In the “Talk of the Town” section, The New Yorker editors marveled at the regular air taxi service available to Manhattanites:

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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:

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Side view of the Sikorsky “Yorktown.” Note the pilot seated aft of the wings. (flickr)

But then again, the interiors of these planes were no picnic, either:

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Interior of a Farman Goliath, which would have been similar to the Sikorsky, if not a little nicer. (Historic Wings)
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Another photo of a 1920s passenger flight. As in the preceding photo, note the wicker chairs. And no leg room. These fellows appear to awaiting the showing of an early in-flight movie. At least movies were silent then, because with giant piston engines flanking the cabin you weren’t going hear anything anyway. (Paleofuture)

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:

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Ex-President, Supreme Court Justice and avid golfer William Howard Taft follows through on the links in this undated photo (jmarkpowell.com)

At the movies, The New Yorker gave a lukewarm review of the much-ballyhooed film Beau Geste:

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AT LEAST SHE HAD A NICE COMPLEXION…Mary Brian (dubbed “The Sweetest Girl in Pictures”) with Neil Hamilton in Beau Geste, 1926 (classiccinemaimages)

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:

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Gloria Swanson in Fine Manners, 1926 (IMDB)

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…

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Another ad (from the Sept. 11 issue) also depicted this giraffe-like neckline:

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.12.30 AMNext Time…Battleship Potemkin…

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Time for a Facelift

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.

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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:

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Aerial view of Battery Park Wharf in the early 1920s (buzzfeed)

In the following Aug. 28 issue, the “Talk” editors ducked out of the sun to visit the American Museum of Natural History.

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Aug. 28, 1926 cover by H.O. Hofman.

There they found curators busy reorganizing displays of dinosaurs and various stuffed beasts of the wild:

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AMNH staff joining head to body of female elephant in Indian Elephant Group, 1926. (AMNH Digital Special Collections)
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The end result of the 1926 reorganization of displays at the AMNH–children viewing Brontosaurus exhibit in 1927. (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

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.

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Ederle, as rendered by Peter Arno for the “Profile.”

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:

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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.

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WHAT FOLKS DID BEFORE TELEVISION…Block party celebrates Ederle as “Queen of the Waves.” (Ephemeral New York)

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:

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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:

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Coco Chanel’s “Little Black Dress” debuted in 1926. (homeecologist.com)

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:

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Next Time: Come Fly With Me…

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Talking Pictures

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.

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Aug. 14, 1926 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

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.

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A Vitaphone projection setup at a 1926 demonstration. Engineer E. B. Craft is holding a soundtrack disc. The turntable, on a massive tripod base, is at lower center. (University of San Diego History Department)

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.

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First-nighters pose outside Warners’ Theatre before the premiere of Don Juan, August 6, 1926 (US National Archives)

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…

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…or the acting of John Barrymore…

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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:

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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…)

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A couple of interesting ads in the Aug. 14, 1926 issue, including this one featuring a couple of sneaky gents who’ve found a solution to life in dry America…Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 1.11.20 PM

…and this not-too-subtle message from a swanky shop on Fifth Avenue:

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Next Time: Time for a Facelift…

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