If you’ve been following the cover credits of the 113 issues I have featured so far, you’ll notice that many of the covers were illustrated by Ilonka Karasz, including the cover of the April 16, 1927 issue featured in this post.
During her long and varied career Karasz would design 186 covers for the New Yorker. A native of Hungary, she moved to the U.S. in 1913 and settled in Greenwich Village, where she quickly rose to become a prominent practitioner of modern design and the decorative arts.
She created paintings, prints and drawings in her early years before moving on to a variety of machine- and hand-made objects rendered in silver and ceramic. She designed furniture strongly influenced by the European De Stijl movement, and was also a pioneer of modern textile design, even developing textiles for use in airplanes and automobiles.
Beginning in the 1940s Karasz would emerge as one of the country’s leading wallpaper artists. Her younger sister, Mariska Karasz, would also become a noted American fashion designer and textile artist.
The range of Ilonka Karasz’s work is astonishing — from homespun images of rural America to the sleek, hard edges of modern design; from textiles and wallpaper to silver sets and large-scale furniture. Now I will get out of the way so you can see for yourself:
New York’s American Museum of National History unveiled its new Hall of Dinosaurs, and it was so impressive that even the New Yorker set aside its usual blasé tone toward popular attractions…
…and found its “Talk of the Town” editors to be quite taken with “sacred bones:”
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The April 2, 1927 issue also found New Yorkers to be agog over “French-style” telephones:
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The April 9, 1927 issue featured the second of Peter Arno’s 99 covers for the New Yorker. His first cover appeared eighteen issues earlier (Nov. 22, 1926) and featured the same gardener, but this time he was inspecting a newly budded leaf rather than the last one to fall:
Note the difference in style between the two covers–the April 9 cover is rendered with more detail, depth and texture. These would be Arno’s only covers with rather sedate subjects. Subsequent covers would have more action and humor, such as this one from 1954, one of my favorites:
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And now for a note about Paul Whiteman. One cannot write about the Jazz Age without mentioning the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. It was Whiteman who in 1924 commissioned George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which premiered with Whiteman’s orchestra (and with George Gershwin himself at the piano).
Even Lois Long, who seemed to be growing bored with New York nightlife, found reason to celebrate Whiteman in this column that appeared alongside the ad:
Whiteman had 28 number one records during the 1920s and dominated sheet music sales. He provided music for six Broadway shows and produced more than 600 recordings. Dubbed “King of Jazz” his style was actually a blending of jazz and symphonic music.
The folks at Victor Talking Machines played on Whiteman’s fame with this advertisement for their latest “Orthophonic” Victrola. Although it was the first consumer phonograph designed specifically to play “electrically” recorded discs and was recognized as a major step forward in sound reproduction, the claim that the machine would reproduce sounds “exactly as you would hear them at the smart supper clubs” seemed a little far-fetched.
And finally, in celebration of spring, Constantin Alajalov illustrated an April day in Central Park, which was featured in a two-page spread in “Talk of the Town.”
The last days of winter on the streets of 1920s Manhattan — remnants of snow and slush mixed with coal soot and car exhaust — were quickly forgotten with the advent of spring. The New Yorker (March 26, 1927) turned its attention to more pleasant diversions including the annual Madison Square Garden flower show…
…and to the people it attracted, rendered in illustrations for “The Talk of the Town” by Alice Harvey…
Backyard gardens and window boxes also welcomed spring, as did a two-part feature that offered helpful advice to amateur urban gardeners. An excerpt:
No doubt the writer saw something akin to what we can see in Frances Benjamin Johnston’s rare color photographs of backyard gardens in the early 1920s Manhattan (all photos courtesy Library of Congress):
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Let’s look at a couple of advertisements from March 26 issue…why fight the crowds on the commuter train? — you could live a life of ease and convenience in the new Tudor City…
…and perhaps you could afford a car almost as prestigious as a Cadillac…introducing the new LaSalle, manufactured by Cadillac but priced lower to “satisfy that other great market”…
For industrial design buffs, the 1927 LaSalle in many ways marked the beginning of modern American automotive styling. The LaSalle line, designed by Harley Earl, would be eliminated in 1940, but Earl’s career as the man in charge of design at General Motors would last into the late 1950s.
Earl was a pioneer in auto design, one of the first to use modeling clay to develop forms for cars. He also established an “Art and Color Section at GM,” a radical notion at a time when American automobile manufacturers paid little attention to the appearance of automobile bodies, which were merely engineered for functionality and cost.
Earl also pioneered the idea of planned obsolescence in cars (which he termed “Dynamic Obsolescence”) in which annual model changes were used to induce sales. It was Earl who convinced GM to build a sports car–the Corvette–and it was Earl who also oversaw the introduction of the tail fin — culminating in the 1959 Cadillac — the year he retired from GM.
In the course of just 32 years, Earl’s designs went from this…
Jazz Age New York City was all about the big and grand, and nothing was bigger and grander than the new Roxy Theatre near Times Square.
The nearly 6,000-seat theatre was such big news that the March 19, 1927 edition of the New Yorker heralded its arrival in three separate columns.
The Roxy opened with the silent film The Love of Sunya, produced by and starring Gloria Swanson. The film, naturally, was panned by the magazine. Perhaps the critic’s distaste for the film also prompted a certain aloofness about the theatre itself:
“The Talk of the Town” described the Roxy in similar dispassionate terms, tossing a wet blanket not on the film but rather on the rude, gawking masses who shelled out 11 bucks apiece (equivalent to $150 today) for a seat on opening night:
New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell (pen name “T-Square”) was a bit more generous in his column “The Sky Line.”
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The magazine took an unusual approach to its “Profile” section by featuring an autobiographical profile of poet Elinor Wylie in verse, a portion of which is shown below with an illustration by Peter Arno:
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Morality-themed books got the attention of New Yorker book reviewer Ernest Boyd (pen name “Alceste), who devoted considerable ink to Anthony Comstock: Roundsman of the Lord by Heywood Broun and Margaret Leech (both of Algonquin Round Table fame). Comstock was a United States Postal Inspector and politician known for the “Comstock Law,” which sought to censor materials he considered indecent and obscene. That included birth control information, which led to famous clashes between Comstock and family planning advocate Margaret Sanger.
An advertisement for the book appeared in the back pages of the magazine:
Boyd also reviewed Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, a controversial novel that exposed the hypocrisy of some 1920s evangelical preachers:
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This advertisement began to appear in the pages of the New Yorker for a new restaurant that claimed to replace the beloved Delmonico’s. Despite its status as a New York institution, Delmonico’s had fallen victim to the changing dining habits of Prohibition New York and had closed its doors in 1923:
The restaurant was operated by the Happiness Candy Stores chain, which according to the ad also operated restaurants in two other locations in the city. The restaurants must have been short-lived, as I could find no record of them apart from the ads.
The much-anticipated German expressionist film, Metropolis, opened at Manhattan’s Rialto Theatre. Although considered today to be a classic of the silent era, the March 12, 1927 New Yorker found the film to be overlong and preachy despite its fantastic setting and complex special effects.
Set in a futuristic dystopia in which the wealthy ruling classes lived high above the toiling masses, the film followed the attempts of a wealthy son of the city’s ruler and a poor working woman named Mary to overcome the city’s gaping class divisions.
An excerpt from the New Yorker review:
Considered one of the most expensive movies of all time, Metropolis cost $5 million to film in 1925 (roughly about $70 million today).
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The famous 1920s evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson had been holding a series of revival meetings in New York, which were often (and derisively) noted by the New Yorker editors. In the previous issue “Talk of the Town” observed:
And in the March 12 issue they offered this parting note in “Of All Things”….
A pioneer in the use of modern media, McPherson was in New York on a “vindication tour,” taking advantage of the publicity from her alleged kidnapping a year earlier that led to investigations that she had staged her disappearance to bolster her flagging ministry.
In other diversions, bicycle racing had come to Madison Square Garden, as noted in “Talk of the Town” with an illustration by Reginald Marsh:
Advertisements in this issue included this announcement for the opening of the Park Central Hotel, still a grand landmark on 7th Avenue…
…and this ad from Nestle touting the latest method for achieving success in the latest hair style…