Mode de Vie

We cross the pond for the May 14, 1927 issue, for a look at all things French. As I’ve previously noted, New Yorker readers of the 1920s had a decidedly Francophile bent when it came to food, fashion and general joie de vivre.

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May 14, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

In fact, readers were so enamored with France that the country merited its own New Yorker correspondent, Janet Flanner, who wrote under the nom de plume “Genêt.”

In the May 14 issue Flanner casually mused about the racing season at Longchamps, which attracted the likes of Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt (nee Anne Harriman), who was well-known in France for her philanthropic work during World War I, including her founding of an ambulance service and a hospital at Neuilly. Vanderbilt received the class of the Legion of Honor in 1919 in recognition of her war work, and in 1931 she was made an officer of the legion.

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BLUE BLOODS…Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt (left) with Mrs. Robert Bacon (nee Martha Waldron Cowdin), circa 1915-1920. Bacon served as chairman of the American Ambulance Committee. (Library of Congress)

In “Talk of the Town,” the editors suggested that readers go to Madison Square Garden and check out the world’s largest canvas painting, Panthéon de la Guerre,   more for the spectacle than for any artistic merit:

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Section of Panthéon de la Guerre showing allies of World War I, now in Memory Hall, Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri. (theworldwar.com) Click to enlarge

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Panthéon de la Guerre was painted during World War I as a circular panorama — 402 feet in circumference and 45 feet high — displayed in Paris in a specially built building next to the Hôtel des Invalides. It was visited by an estimated 8 million people between 1918 and 1927.

The painting was acquired by American businessmen in 1927 and exported to New York, where it was displayed at Madison Square Garden. Some changes were made to the painting for the benefit of an American audience, including the addition of an African-American soldier. The work later toured the U.S — from 1932 to 1940 it went to Washington DC, Chicago, Cleveland, and San Francisco. It was then acquired by restaurant entrepreneur William Haussner for $3,400.

In 1956 Haussner donated the work to Leroy MacMorris to be adapted for display at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. MacMorris drastically reduced the size of the work and modified it to emphasize America’s contribution to WWI: Only 7 percent of the original work was retained, and large French sections were left out. MacMorris likened it to “whittling down a novel to Reader’s Digest condensation.” And he didn’t stop there. He also modified some figures to represent post-WWI figures such as Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

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A BIT OF THIS, A DASH OF THAT…Figure of Victory from the Temple to Glory cut to fit above a doorway at Memory Hall, Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri, with the staircase of heroes to either side. Compare to original below:
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(trenchartcollection.com)

To reduce and reconfigure the painting, MacMorris first photographed it in detail, then cut out the figures in the photos and used them like puzzle pieces to work out his new condensed version, which was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1959.

As for the unused portions, what MacMorris did not use he threw away, sending several of the larger excised passages back to Haussner for display in his Baltimore restaurant. MacMorris also gave pieces to the art students who helped him reconfigure the painting and to a number of prominent Kansas Citians.

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Fragment from Panthéon de la Guerre depicting a British nursing sister. (theworldwar.org)

The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City recently held an exhibition on the painting and its recovered fragments.

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In her fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue,” Lois Long advised readers on where to shop in Paris. I’m not certain, but I believe she invented the pen name “Parisite” to write this particular column, which featured recommendations for many stores and bargains in the City of Light (Long had indeed visited Paris before writing the column). A brief excerpt from the beginning of the column:

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And now for the advertisements, all from the May 14 issue, featuring various French themes, such as this one for Krasny makeup that evokes the glamour of Paris and the intrigue of Russian women…

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…or exotic perfumes for only the most exclusive set…

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…or the chic look of Revillon Freres spring coats and wraps…

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…or fake vermouth…this odd little illustration in the back pages for non-alcoholic vermouth, served by a dutiful French maid to what appears to be a giant. You have to feel sorry for the writers of such ads during Prohibition, trying so hard to make this sad libation appealing to thirsty New Yorkers…

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…but there were those lucky few who could actually travel to France and drink the real stuff, you could get a really swell send-off with a “Bon Voyage Basket” from L. Bamberger & Co…

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…and while you were in France (at least for the men), Peter Arno could show you how to give the glad eye to the mesdemoiselles…

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Next Time: Shock of the New…

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Those Restless Natives

The evolution of filmmaking in the 1920s included the development of “docudramas.” Nanook of the North (1922), which captured the struggles of an Inuit hunter and his family, was received with great acclaim. A few years later Grass (1925), directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, followed a tribe in Iran as they guided herds to greener pastures. So when Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness opened at the Rivoli, the New Yorker was there (May 7, 1927) to share in the adventure.

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May 7, 1927 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Chang, also directed by Cooper and Schoedsack, told the story of a poor farmer and his family (native, nonprofessional actors) in Issan — now northeastern Thailand — and their constant struggle for survival in the jungle. Cooper and Schoedsack attempted to depict real life but often re-staged events. The danger, however, was real to all involved, as was the slaughter of animals in the film.

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According to Ray Young, writing for Viennale, the website for the Vienna International Film Festival (which is screening a retrospective of Chang this fall) Cooper and Schoedsack “open with scenes of domestic bliss and, offsetting title card warnings of the dangers of the jungle, a bucolic Eden ripe for development. But the tone soon shifts as tigers and leopards attack, and the picture evolves into a succession of episodes concerning their survival.”

The perils in Chang often feel rigged, notes Young, “most conspicuously in places where animals appear to have been killed simply for the benefit of the camera. By most accounts, Schoedsack did most of the filming while Cooper covered him with a rifle.”

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I’D BE WARY OF THOSE GUYS TOO…Image from the filming of Chang. (criticsroundup.com)
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JUST PASSING THROUGH…Elephants stampede a village in the film’s finale.

Chang was nominated for the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first Academy Awards in 1929. It was the only year when that award was presented (It lost to F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans).

However appalled as we are today by the film’s exploitation of humans and animals alike, we have to remember those were different times, even for the usually discerning eye of the New Yorker:

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In 1927 most people had a very limited view of the non-Western world, which was perceived as both savage and exotic, populated by child-like “natives” who in this case “lent their facial expressions and habits to the affair most successfully…”

chang-2And so in 1927 we also encounter cartoons like this one by Alan Dunn that at once dismiss out-of-town conventioneers (here: an Elks Club) as a bunch of ignorant racists, yet the early New Yorker’s own depictions of blacks was usually limited to Mammies and simple-minded minstrels.

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The massive Graybar Building made its debut at 420 Lexington Avenue, the multi-tiered edifice impressing the “Talk of the Town” editors with the latest technology, including push-button elevators: 

The Graybar Building (history.graybar.com)

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PERMANENT INFESTATION…The Graybar’s rain canopy cables include anti-rat devices (cones) decorated with rats. If you look carefully, the rosettes anchoring the cables are also decorated with rat heads.

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The following advertisement needs some explanation: The 1867 Tenement House Act imposed constraints on height and lot coverage that large apartment buildings routinely violated.

According to an article in the Observer by Stephen Jacob Smith (April 30, 2013), “Some developers got out of these requirements by building co-operative buildings, without rental units, but others wanted to retain the revenue and control that came with rentals, while at the same time building larger structures than the tenement laws allowed. And thus was born the ‘apartment hotel.'”

The New York Times’s columnist Christopher Gray wrote (Oct. 4, 1992) that Apartment Hotels were a “widespread fiction of the period,” and “tenants in fact usually set up full kitchens in the serving pantries.” Smith adds that “one of the reasons apartment hotels were allowed to be built more densely than their fully residential counterparts was that there would be no cooking—a fire hazard in those days—in the units.” An so the ad:

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Smith writes that by calling their buildings ‘apartment-hotels,’ builders could claim that as hotels they were outside of the rules of tenement legislation. He notes that “some of Manhattan’s most illustrious buildings were constructed using this legal sleight of hand,” including the Sherry-Netherland on Park Avenue.

The famous scaffolding fire at the Sherry-Netherland, which I featured in my last post, no doubt prompted developers to run the following ad in hopes that people would soon forget about the giant roman candle that burned bright near Central Park on the evening of April 12, 1927.

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If you are ever in New York, check out the Sherry Netherland. It is a beautiful building.

And finally, this ad from the makers of Wildroot hair care products. I love the flapper artwork by John Held Jr., and even better the words “CRUDE-OIL SHAMPOO” displayed prominently as a selling point.

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Next Time…Mode de Vie…

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Unfit to Print

The journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht wrote the “Reporter at Large” column for the early New Yorker, and for the April 30, 1927 issue took aim at the shoddy coverage of the Ruth Snyder murder trial at the Long Island City Courthouse.

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April 30, 1927 cover by Carl Rose.

Hecht was appalled by the media’s use of celebrity “experts” to cover the trial, which only served to sensationalize and trivialize the proceedings:

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Ben Hecht

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The Ruth Snyder trial dominated headlines in 1927. A housewife from Queens, Snyder began an affair in 1925 with Henry Judd Gray, a married corset salesman. After she persuaded her husband, Albert Snyder, to purchase life insurance, she enlisted Gray’s help to murder her husband. On March 20, 1927 the couple garrotted Albert Snyder (after bludgeoning him with a sash weight) and then staged the murder scene to look like a burglary.

The trial was covered by such figures as former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Peggy Hopkins Joyce, the radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, movie director D. W. Griffith, author Damon Runyon, popular philosopher Will Durant, and James M. Cain, a crime reporter who went on to write Double Indemnity, which was later made into a major Hollywood movie. Hecht (who would go on to co-write a hugely successful play about newspaper reporters, The Front Page) would have none of this celebrity circus. Some excerpts:

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Ruth Snyder would not be acquitted (or live to write reviews), but instead would go to Sing Sing’s electric chair on Jan. 12, 1928. The 32-year-old Snyder would go to the chair first, followed shortly thereafter by her former lover and accomplice, 35-year-old Henry Judd Gray. The pair had sealed each other’s fate: During the trial, Snyder and Gray had turned on each other, contending the other was responsible for killing Albert Snyder.

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BUSTED…Ruth Snyder in custody and behind bars at the Queens County Jail. (Getty)
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END OF THE LINE…Mugshots of Ruth Snyder and Henry Judd Gray taken at Sing Sing Prison following their conviction. (Lloyd Sealy Library, CUNY)
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NATIONAL SENSATION…The cover of Jan. 13, 1928, issue of the New York Daily News. Although photographs of the execution were not allowed, photographer Tom Howard took this now-famous photo of Snyder at the moment of her execution with the aid of a miniature camera strapped to his ankle. (newseum.org)

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On to a lighter topic…The Sherry-Netherland Hotel has graced the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 59th Street since 1927, and when it was built it was the tallest apartment-hotel in New York City.

The building was nearing completion when around 8 pm on April 12, 1927, fire broke out on wood plank scaffolding surrounding the top floors. Firefighters responded only to find they lacked water pressure to fight the blaze.

According to the New York Times (“The Night a Hotel Turned Into a Torch,” Nov. 15, 2012), the fire was watched by hundreds of thousands, and “the windows of the Plaza Hotel across the street were ‘black with people’; every front room was engaged, either by news organizations or for spontaneous parties to watch the fire.”

Planks tumbled to the street for hours, and The Times said one “sailed in a crazy parabola” and crashed against the Savoy-Plaza, also nearly finished; occasionally minor collapses of the scaffolding turned the picturesque top into a “lofty Roman candle.” The crowds on the street could feel the heat on their faces, and the roar and crackle of the fire could be heard for blocks around. The fire burned itself out around midnight.

Oddly, the New Yorker had little to say about the fire, mentioning it only in passing in this “Talk of the Town” item:

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HOT TIME IN THE CITY…In 1927 the Sherry-Netherland caught on fire, creating what The New York Times called “the best show of the season.” The newspaper ran this photo (left), retouching it for contrast (NYT). At right, the hotel as it appears today (Wikipedia)

An interesting side note…at the time of the Sherry-Netherland’s construction, the nearby Vanderbilt mansion was being demolished. Carved limestone panels from the mansion’s porte-cochere as well as ornamental frieze roundels were salvaged and installed in the Sherry-Netherland’s lobby.

Hollywood movies continued to disappoint New Yorker critics, including Cecil B. DeMille’s silent epic The King of Kings.

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screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-12-59-22-pmFinally, a couple of advertisements from the April 30 issue. It was spring, and time to hit the links…

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…and New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno plugged his new book featuring the Whoops Sisters:

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Next time: Those Restless Natives…

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The Castle Builder

Publisher William Randolph Hearst was a larger-than-life personality who inspired writer Herman Mankiewicz — an early New Yorker contributor — to pen the screenplay for Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane.

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April 23, 1927 cover by Andre De Schaub.

So when the New Yorker featured Hearst in its April 23, 1927 “Profile,” it required five lengthy installments by the writer (and Hearst biographer) John K. Winkler, who began the profile with this observation:

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MAKE NO SMALL PLANS…William Randolph Hearst reviews blueprints with the architect of Hearst Castle, Julia Morgan, in 1926. (Wikipedia)

Winkler detailed Hearst’s plunder of European art and architecture — much of it sitting on a wharf below his “castle” at San Simeon on California’s Central Coast — awaiting architect Julia Morgan’s decision on where it might fit into the fabric of what became one of America’s most famous “homes.” Later in the profile Winkler described Hearst’s purchase of St. Donat’s Castle in Wales, and his acquisition of another castle that he had dismantled and shipped to San Simeon.

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Hearst Castle at San Simeon. (sfgate)
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LEGENDARY PARTIES FOR THE LEGENDS…Hollywood actors pose for a photo at one of the famed Hearst costume parties…(back row) Douglas Montgomery, Leslie Howard, Marion Davies, unidentified man (front row) Bruce Cabot, George K. Arthur, Ramon Navarro & Eileen Perry. (moviemorlocks.com)
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HOST & HOSTESS…Hearst and his mistress, actress Marion Davies, at one of their famous San Simeon costume balls (oldloves.tumblr.com)

The mid-1920s to the mid-1930s were glory days at San Simeon. In his Great Hall Hearst “held court” with movie stars and statesmen who also attended famous costume parties hosted by Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies.

The profile writer, John K. Winkler, would publish two books on Hearst in 1928 and 1955, as well as books on other captains of industry including Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, F.W. Woolworth, J. Pierpont Morgan and the DuPont family.

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The Germany-based Hamburg America Line had been a major player in moving both passengers and freight between Europe and North America since 1847. In 1914, its passenger flagship, the Vaterland, was caught in port at Hoboken, New Jersey at the outbreak of World War I. She was later seized, renamed Leviathan after the declaration of war on Germany in 1917, and served as a U.S. troopship. So it was significant to European travelers (including many New Yorker readers) that the line was out to regain its former glory with the launch of the New York.

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Cover of the passenger list for the New York.
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Photo of the departure of the steamship New York.

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Lois Long chronicled nightly escapades of drinking, dining, and dancing for The New Yorker in her column “Tables for Two,” and she often teased her readers about her true identity. Although in reality she was young (26), attractive and a big partier, she often described herself to readers as a bit of wallflower, or a “short squat maiden of forty.” When her marriage to The New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno was announced in August 1927, her true identity was revealed.

Long seemed to be growing bored with New York nightlife, as evidenced by shorter “Tables” columns (the feature would end in 1930) while her fashion column — On and Off the Avenue — took on more importance. In her “Tables” column for the April 23, 1927 issue, she devoted most of it to yet another playful deception for her readers.

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The artwork that accompanied Lois Long’s “Tables for Two” column often featured this pair of bored nightclub patrons. Lois Long, with stylish bob, shown during her New Yorker days in the 1920s.

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This time she portrays herself as a bookish spinster…

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In other diversions, “Talk of the Town” made this mention of the Orteig Prize, a reward offered to the first aviator to fly non-stop from New York City to Paris or vice versa. Of course we know Charles Lindbergh would capture the prize the following month (and six others would die trying):

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In advertising, the issue featured this promotion for radio station WOR. Broadcast radio was in its infancy in 1927, and this is one of the first ads of its kind to appear in the New Yorker:

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The following advertisement for Balcrank auto bumpers tells you a lot about the bourgeois New Yorker reader it is trying to reach. It suggests the addition of these bumpers to your car will lend an upper class touch people will admire and notice — everyone from the traffic cop in the signal tower to the smart couple who seem to be inches away from having their feet run over.

I love the smug expression worn by the female passenger. Of course the actual old money upper class wouldn’t see this ad — they could care less about bumpers — and would be reading Town & Country, the Social Register, or nothing at all. Funny how the early New Yorker loved to tweak the nose of the upper class, all the while running ads that appealed to a grasping bourgeois desire for status. The bumper ad says it all.

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The issue included this cartoon by Wallace Morgan, set in Central Park. Displayed across a two-page spread, the caption reads: SHE: “Let’s just sit back Wilmot, and pretend we’re living in grandmother’s day.” (click to enlarge)

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And finally, the Barnum and Bailey Circus was in town, so we end with this cartoon by Carl Rose:

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Next Time: Unfit to Print…

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