The Nov. 6, 1926 issue of The New Yorker was actually two issues, one for the newsstands and subscribers and the other a rare parody issue privately published and presented to founding editor Harold Ross on his 34th birthday.
The parody issue’s cover featured a silhouette of Ross (drawn by Rea Irvin, as “Penaninsky”) in the pose of dandy Eustace Tilley, looking at spider bearing a strong resemblance to Alexander Woollcott, an American critic and commentator for The New Yorker who first met Ross overseas when the two worked on the fledgling Stars and Stripes newspaper.
Ralph Barton’s contribution to the parody issue…
…and an unsigned contribution that took a poke at Ross’s efforts to create efficient procedures at the magazine’s office:
In the other Nov. 6 issue, “The Talk of the Town” editors commented on the death of the famed magician Harry Houdini:
“Talk” also noted a new book called Elmer Gantry was being penned by Sinclair Lewis:
The book was a biting satire of the hypocrisy of fanatical preachers during the 1920s. It created a public furor when it was published in 1927. Another “Talk” item mocked the taste of wealthy New Yorkers for the latest exotic gadgets…
…but the same issue was also filled with the usual advertisements appealing to those very same desires of the “Smart” set. Here’s a couple of gems, so to speak…
Although architectural criticism was practiced by a rare few in 1926 (and even fewer today), it was prominent in the pages of The New Yorker. Lewis Mumford famously served as the magazine’s critic from the 1930s to the 1950s, and longtime critic Paul Goldberger took over the magazine’s “Sky Line” column from the mid-90s to 2011.
In 1926 George S. Chappell served the magazine as architecture critic under the pseudonym “T-Square.” A rare combination of architect, parodist, and journalist, he was perhaps best known for his travel series parody published under the pseudonym “Walter E. Traprock.”
In the Oct. 16, 1926 issue, Chappell took critical aim at the “cheap architecture” sprouting amidst the clamor of a rapidly changing landscape…
…and referred to the fenestration (the arrangement of windows and doors) of the Murray Hill Building as “atrocious.”
Chappell then set his sights on “another disappointment,” the Delmonico Building, which he said possessed “the grace of an overgrown grain elevator…”
He then moves on to the landmark French Building with its “dreary factory windows”…
So what did Chappell prefer? Read on…
Despite Chappell’s oft disapproving gaze, in the end he (along with other editors and writers at The New Yorker) could not help but be caught up in the thrill of one of the city’s grandest building booms…
Other items of note in the Oct. 16 issue, this ad promoting the first-ever “New Yorker book,” a collection of “Profiles” by Waldo Frank, who wrote under the pen name “Search-light”…
And finally this picturesque ad for Marmon automobiles. The company was defunct by 1933.
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).
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).
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:
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.
But in typical fashion, Waldo was less than dazzled, finding the rain an apt metaphor for a spectacle mostly unseen by those in attendance:
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):
Other items of note in the issue included this examination of country vs. city life by cartoonist Barbara Shermund…
…and this cartoon by Al Frueh commenting on the challenges of Manhattan’s rapidly changing cityscape:
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:
The Sept. 25 issue also featured an update from Paris correspondent Janet Flanner…
…who commented on the large number of American tourists crowding the city just as the locals were fleeing for their long, late summer holidays:
She offered some numbers to back up her observations:
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.
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…
…who distained the life of a sports hero…
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.
* * *
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:
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.”
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…
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: