Upstairs, Downstairs

As the New Yorker was a magazine of the city’s new money smart set, it poked fun at their faddish tastes and patronizing attitudes while at the same time feeding their Anglophilia and WASPish sense of superiority.

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January 22, 1927 cover by Andre De Schaub.

The magazine’s pages were filled with ads for English-style clothes, French perfumes and expensive cars. And in the Jan. 22 issue there were many ads for the motorboats that had displaced the automobile show at Grand Central Palace:

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It is important to note that this ad is an appeal to new money; old money would have found this motorized vessel quite vulgar.

As it were, the new money needed some guidance if they hoped to live a lifestyle of ease and sophistication. And thus the issue’s “On and Off the Avenue” column, guest-written by Gretta Palmer (Lois Long took the week off), offered advice on how to hire and clothe the help:

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Perhaps you wanted a proper English butler. Lida Seely had your man:

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A maid answers the phone for her lady, still abed. (Corbis)

Or a Scotch maid, or choose from a selection of “any color or race”…

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In case you found that last sentence a bit callous, Gretta reassured:

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The issue also featured a cartoon by Rea Irvin (displayed full-page, sideways in the original magazine) that would be offensive to 21st century sensibilities. The cartoon depicted the “lower orders” aping the lifestyle of the upper classes. Note that of all the racial and ethnic types shown here–“Orientals,” Eastern Europeans and the Irish–only blacks remain in the servant class.

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As I noted in a previous post, “Race Matters,” the New Yorker of the 1920s was decidedly mainstream in engaging in casual bigotry common in those days, including treating blacks as racial “others.” There is, perhaps, a subtle jab here by Irvin at the pretensions of the uppers, but he’s not around anymore to clarify this.

The issue also featured the first of a series of articles (“Profiles”) on the 87-year-old John D. Rockefeller. A brief excerpt, with illustration by Cyrus Baldridge:

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Rockefeller

The writer’s prediction wasn’t too far off: John D. Rockefeller would live another ten years, and die at age 97 in 1937. His grandson, David Rockefeller, apparently inherited both his money and his genes: he recently celebrated his 101st birthday.

Finally, a cartoon by Peter Arno, famed for his drawings of women, usually scantily clad. Here we see an early example in one of his “Whoops Sisters” panels:

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By comparison, here is a cartoon by Arno 33 years later, from the September 10, 1960 issue of the New Yorker:

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Caption: “Makes you kind of proud to be an American, doesn’t it?”

Next Time: All That Jazz…

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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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