The First Academy Award for Best Picture went to Wings, a romantic action-war picture directed by William Wellman and featuring Paramount’s biggest star at the time, the “It Girl” Clara Bow and the young Gary Cooper in a role that would launch his Hollywood career.
The film was shot on location at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas, on a budget of $2 million (about $27 million today). About 300 pilots were involved in filming realistic (and dangerous) air-combat sequences using both mounted and hand-held cameras.
* * *
We leave the skies for the trenches in another World War I film–Barbed Wire–that was entertaining New Yorkers in 1927…
The Duncan Sisters were back, this time on the silver screen in an adaptation of their Broadway hit play, Topsy and Eva. Yes, one of the sisters performed in blackface, which was acceptable to white audiences of the time (including New Yorker critics). You can read more about this duo in my recent blog entry, Fifteen Minutes is Quite Enough.
Meanwhile, Paris correspondent Janet Flanner was noting some modern influences in the city thanks to the influence of the German Bauhaus…
* * *
From the “they couldn’t see it coming” department, this item in “Talk of the Town” caught my eye. We have since learned that carbon emissions are indeed taking a toll on human life…
…and a couple of cartoons from this issue, this one courtesy of Barbara Shermund…
…and this from an unidentified cartoonist (Dussey?) that gives us a glimpse of the world to come thanks to merger of technology and tedious, proud parents…
* * *
And to end on a “Wings” theme, the following week’s issue…
…offered this advertisment from L. Bamberger & Co. that gave us a tongue-in-cheek glance at the future of aviation…
After months of reporting on polo, golf, tennis and yacht races, the New Yorker finally mentioned baseball–sort of–reviewing a movie featuring Babe Ruth and penning a brief piece about Lou Gehrig in “The Talk of the Town.”
But the magazine still made no mention of the incredible season that was shaping up for the legendary 1927 New York Yankees, or the feats of its feared “Murderer’s Row” lineup. Although widely considered to be the best baseball team in the history of major league baseball, the New Yorker up to this point had given more ink to the game of ping pong. But we’ll take what we can get, namely Babe Ruth’s acting performance in Babe Comes Home…
…and over in “The Talk of the Town” section the editors looked at another Yankee slugger, Lou Gehrig, who besides his hitting ability was Ruth’s opposite…
* * *
With the hullabaloo over Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, more Americans were becoming interested in flying as an actual travel option, although in August 1927 New York City had only one established passenger line:
* * *
The August 6 issue also featured this strange little review in “Talk” about the popularity (or fad) of attending Chinese theater. Note how the writer described it as an exotic curiosity, as though the Chinese actors were as unknowable as Martians. I suppose it didn’t occur to the writer that you could actually speak to these performers, and have them explain the meanings of the various rituals.
And to close, a couple of cartoons from the issue by Barbara Shermund that illustrated two very different aspects of New York society:
The July 1927 issues of the New Yorker were filled with news of yacht races, polo matches and golf tournaments as the city settled into the heart of the summer. The artist for the July 9 cover, Julian de Miskey, was in the summertime mood with this lively portrayal of Jazz Age bathers:
Although Julian de Miskey was was one of the most prolific of the first wave of New Yorker artists, his work seems to be little known or appreciated. But even 40 years after his death in 1976, his influence is still felt in the magazine, particularly in the spot illustrations and overall decorative style that grace the pages of “The Talk of the Town.”
Here is a sampling of de Miskey’s spot illustrations for “Talk” in the July 9 and July 16, 1927 issues…
…and here are examples of spot illustrations for some recent (Aug-Sept. 2016) New Yorker “Talk” sections, as rendered by Antony Huchette:
De Miskey did it all–spots, cartoons, and anywhere from 62 to 100 covers (varying numbers are reported).
A member of the Woodstock Art Association, de Miskey was well known in the New York art circles of his day, rubbing elbows in the Whitney Studio Club in Manhattan with artists including Edward Hopper, Guy Pene du Bois, Mabel Dwight and Leon Kroll. De Miskey also illustrated and designed covers for a number of books, studied sculpture and created stage sets and costume design.
The June 9 issue also featured this cartoon by de Miskey:
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President Calvin Coolidge fled the bugs and heat of Washington, D.C. for cooler climes in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The New Yorker regularly mocked Coolidge’s dispatches from the Dakotas, including this item in “Of All Things”…
The magazine’s July 16 issue added this observation in “Talk of the Town”…
Closer to home, one cartoon offers an urban sophisticate’s take on nature:
For those who couldn’t flee the city, respite was sought in Central Park, as illustrated by Constantin Alajalov for “Talk of the Town…”
Summer themes continued with the July 16 issue, which featured a cover by Helen Hokinson depicting one of her favorite subjects–the plump society woman:
From 1918 to 1966, thousands of New Yorkers attended summer open-air concerts at Lewisohn Stadium, an amphitheater and athletic facility on the campus of the City College of New York. For many years Willem Van Hoogstraten conducted the nightly concerts, including the summer of 1927 when George Gershwin played his Rhapsody in Blue to adoring crowds.
And finally, another illustration in the “Talk of the Town” of summer in the city, this a teeming Coney Island beach courtesy of Reginald Marsh…
However, if you wanted to avoid the rabble at the beach, you could fly over them–in style, of course…
Charles Lindbergh was all over the July 2, 1927 issue of the New Yorker, which reported that Lindy was a better a flier than a writer, and as a celebrity the press had to be inventive with a subject who would rather be alone in a cockpit with a ham sandwich than be feted at countless banquets.
“The Talk of the Town” commented on the display at Putnam Publishing of a few manuscript pages penned by Lindbergh himself for his upcoming book, WE.
A draft of the autobiography had already been ghostwritten by New YorkTimes reporter Carlyle MacDonald, but Lindbergh disliked MacDonald’s “false, fawning tone” and completely rewrote the manuscript himself–in longhand–using MacDonald’s manuscript as a template. Those early results were displayed in Putnam’s 45th Street window to whet the appetites of eager readers:
Nonplussed and often annoyed by all of the attention, Lindbergh was less than a colorful subject for the media. Philip Wylie (writing under the pseudonym “Horace Greeley Jr.”) in the New Yorker’s “Press in Review” column observed that reporters, seeking a more conventional image of a sentimental hero, decided to “supply him with emotions” he apparently lacked:
Other reporters resorted to treacly tributes…
…and if the subject himself isn’t very interesting, you can always resort to listing quantities of food and drink as a measure of the spectacle…
And if the reception at the Hotel Commodore wasn’t to your liking, you could go to the new Roxy Theatre and put in a bid for 300 pounds of home-made candy:
* * *
We’ll give Lindy a break and move on to excerpts from Upton Sinclair’s “How to be Obscene,” in which he tweaks the Boston bluenoses:
And then we have this advertisement for the Orthophonic Victrola, promising to bring the clear tones of racism into your home courtesy of the Duncan Sisters:
The Duncan Sisters were a vaudeville duo who created their stage identities in the 1923 musical comedy Topsy and Eva, derived from the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The musical was a big hit.
After a brief foray into movies in the early 1930s, the duo mostly entertained at night clubs and for many years continued to perform their Topsy and Eva routine even though appearing in blackface was considered impolite or offensive by later audiences. One of their final performances was on Liberace’s television show in 1956. The act ended in 1959 when Rosetta died in a car accident.
* * *
And to close, a cartoon from the July 2 issue, courtesy of Julian de Miskey:
After studying every page of the first 120 issues of the New Yorker, and after researching the lives of its writers and their subjects, the world as described by the New Yorker — 89 years distant — can seep into one’s imagination, not unlike a world created by a fiction writer, whose characters are very much alive in his or her mind even when the pen is idle. You become accustomed to their voices, their likes and dislikes, and begin to see their world as a contemporary of sorts.
And so I find myself reading a review of Edith Wharton’s “latest” novel, Twilight Sleep, and think not of some author I haven’t read since college, but rather see her work as it was seen at its unveiling, albeit through the eyes of New Yorker book critic Ernest Boyd, who wrote under the pen name “Alceste”:
Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 for The Age of Innocence, making her first woman to receive the prize. Indeed, Wharton kicked off a great decade for women fiction writers — Willa Cather would win the Pulitzer for One of Ours in 1923, Margaret Wilson for The Able McLaughlins in 1924, Edna Ferber for So Big in 1925, and Julia Peterkin for Scarlet Sister Mary in 1929.
* * *
The June 4 issue offered some follow-up items on Charles Lindbergh, this from “Talk of the Town” regarding Lindbergh’s potential to claim perhaps more than the $25,000 Orteig Prize (about $350,000 today) for being the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic — endorsements, book and movie deals, offers to serve on company boards, and so on…
…and from Howard Brubakers “Of All Things” column, we learn that the aviation hero doesn’t like to be called “Lucky”…
* * *
Baseball was still inexplicably shut out from the pages of the New Yorker, even as the Yankees (and Babe Ruth) were having one of their best-ever seasons. Instead, the June 4 issue covered horse racing (pgs. 63-65), rowing (pgs. 66-68), and lawn games (pgs. 69-72).
Among the “lawn games” reviewed, the New Yorker had this to say about the revival of ping-pong and the “spirited matches played between the sexes”…
* * *
In the following week’s issue, June 11, 1927, there was a bit more to say about Lindy’s future economic prospects…
…and there is this item about New York Mayor Jimmy Walker. Given his love of late-night parties, speakeasies and chorus girls, it was no wonder that the New Yorker’s editors found him an attractive subject for “Talk of the Town”…
Of course Walker’s aloofness would have consequences later when scandal and corruption would knock him and his cronies from office.
* * *
The issue also included a profile of golfer Walter Hagen, written by Niven Busch Jr. In his “Portrait of a Dutchman,” Busch begins:
The profile included this terrific portrait of Hagen by Miguel Covarrubias:
We end with this great full-page cartoon, beautifully rendered in Conté crayonby Reginald Marsh…
Charles Lindbergh was “The Flying Fool” no more after flying nonstop across the Atlantic to worldwide acclaim. The New Yorker shared in the enthusiasm, although it tried its best to appear not too impressed by the feat. But as we shall see in subsequent issues, the New Yorker, along with the rest of the media, wouldn’t be able to get enough of the now “Lucky Lindy,” at least until he started spouting fascist sympathies.
But that’s in the future. Here’s what the New Yorker had to say following Lindbergh’s famous flight in “Talk of the Town…”
And from its distant perch the magazine also took some shots at the media hype surrounding Lindbergh, and the usual retinue of money-changers (see title image above)…
So what was the New Yorker saying about the historic moment? Well, for most of us, life goes on…
…and for those who missed it on TV (because it wasn’t invented yet), they could catch a newsreel of Lindbergh at the Roxy, complete with crude sound effects:
* * *
On the other side of the pond, Paris correspondent Janet Flanner wrote about the Paris media’s complete denial or ignorance of the deaths of their own Atlantic flyers, Nungesser and Coli, who were lost at sea in their crossing attempt.
* * *
The New Yorker offered more observations on the Machine-Age Exposition, this time in a column titled “About the House,” by Repard Leirum, which was Muriel Draper spelled backwards. Under this pseudonym Draper served as interior decoration critic for the New Yorker — she was one of the most influential personalities in the American interior decorating in the early 20th century.
About Muriel Draper: Although she wrote on interior design for the New Yorker during the late 1920s, she was more widely known as a “culture desk” writer, and was prominent in promoting the Harlem Renaissance. She became active in left wing politics after a trip to the Soviet Union in 1934, and in 1949 she was investigated by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee and thereafter ceased her political activities.
The Machine-Age Exposition Draper visited had a decidedly socialist flavor with its prominent inclusion of the Soviet Union and its touting of the International Style of architecture. Before it was appropriated by post-war corporate America, the International Style was developed as housing and workspaces for the masses.
A side-note: The Exposition was initiated by Jane Heap, who like Muriel Draper was a follower of the charismatic Russian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff (among Gurdjieff’s other followers were architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the writer P. L. Travers (Mary Poppins) and 1960s counterculture figure Timothy Leary).
Marxists with spiritual yearnings — and especially guild socialists — were attracted to Gurdjieff’s ideas about something he called “The Work,” in which crafts and community life provided ways to cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves and our purpose amidst the activities of daily life.
* * *
And now on to a different kind of Marxism…this odd little item from the “Talk of the Town”…
In 1927 the Marx Brothers were still known as a traveling vaudeville act–their first feature film was still two years away. But thanks to the vaudeville circuit of the day, an astonishing number of people in cities large and small across the country would see them perform. The “Talk” item concludes with this story that references Henry Ford’s well-known anti-semitism:
The Roaring Twenties saw astonishing changes to American life, including a dramatic break from the technologies and habits of the past. Icemen gave way to electric refrigerators, broadcast radio brought entertainment and news into living rooms, and Lindbergh made flying something everyone wanted to try.
Despite the mechanized horrors of World War I, most people were enchanted by the idea of man and machine coming together to make a better world. In the U.S. the machine-age exuberance was expressed largely in capitalist terms, while many European and Soviet intellectuals saw the machine as integral to the progress of socialism. The Machine-Age Exposition in New York City (May 16-28 at 119 West 57th Street) celebrated all facets through a unique event that brought together architecture, engineering, industrial arts and modern art from a number of nations.
The exhibition, initiated by Jane Heap of the literary magazine The Little Review, included exhibits from the U.S., Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union. Artists in the exhibition represented a Who’s Who of modernists and futurists — Alexander Archipenko, Marcel Duchamp, Hugh Ferriss, Man Ray and others who celebrated the aural and visual cacophony of the age as well as the gleaming precision of machines and machine-like buildings.
New Yorker writer E.B. White shared in the enthusiasm with this bit for “The Talk of the Town…”
The sleek and glass-walled buildings featured at the Exhibition were fantastic images in 1927, when most large-scale buildings were still being rendered in brick and stone in various neoclassical, federal or gothic styles.
Little did visitors to the Exposition realize that the radical Bauhaus style on display would become ubiquitous in the U.S. in the second half of their century, thanks not to some new machine age of peace and harmony but rather because of the annihilation of the Second World War and the mass migration from Europe of architects, artists, scientists and other professionals fleeing Nazi oppression.
It was also a time when it was believed technology was on the verge of conquering nature, and that the invention of air-conditioning and “Vita-Glass” would create indoor environments with all of the health benefits but none of the discomforts of the outdoors:
The invention of sulfa drugs and antibiotics were still a few years away, so health providers were excited about the possibilities of these artificial environments.
* * *
In the “A Reporter at Large” column, Russell Owen wrote about the intrepid flyers who were vying to become the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic. He began the piece with a tribute to French ace pilot Charles Nungesser and his one-eyed wartime buddy François Coli, who disappeared during their May 8 attempt to fly from Paris to New York.
Owen also wrote about those who would soon be taking the same daring leap into “the illimitable terror of space”…
Although Lindbergh had yet to accomplish his feat, he had already been singled out as a loner and a bit of an odd duck:
* * *
Editors of “Talk of the Town” also checked in on famed dancer Isadora Duncan, her eldest daughter Anna, and Isadora’s “amazing dancing family…”
* * *
And finally, an excerpt of a poem contributed by Marion Clinch Calkins–who often wrote humorous rhymes for the New Yorker under the pen name Majollica Wattles. Here she riffs on Horace’s “poetry of pleasure…”
Publisher William Randolph Hearst was a larger-than-life personality who inspired writer Herman Mankiewicz* — an early NewYorker contributor — to pen the screenplay for Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane.
* Stuart Cooke adds this clarification: Herman Mankiewicz did not write the screenplay of Citizen Kane. He contributed to it along with many others. (See Citizen Welles by Frank Brady). However, Welles credited him as the co-writer and at the last minute, graciously put Mankiewicz’s before his in the credits.
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:
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.
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
This time she portrays herself as a bookish spinster…
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):
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:
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.
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)
And finally, the Barnum and Bailey Circus was in town, so we end with this cartoon by Carl Rose:
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:
About a year ago I had this notion that I would read every issue of The New Yorker. I am a bit obsessive-compulsive, a condition I have successfully reined in with the deliberate exception of two pursuits—gardening/landscaping and reading history. This is about the latter.
My New Yorker binge began after I finished reading Antony Beevor’s The Second World War. It got me thinking about the 30 years of madness that reigned in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, and why a continent with such riches in art, architecture, music, philosophy and literature would descend into a period of self-destruction that would lead to the annihilation of 60 million people and the obliteration of entire towns, cities and cultures.
It was in this time frame that an American veteran of the First World War, Harold Ross, would start a magazine that would be known for “gaiety, wit, and satire.” For purposes of this blog, it is through this particular lens—the New Yorker magazine—that I write about 20th century history and chart the course of a publication that, although based safely on the other side of the Atlantic, will begin to find its serious side as the world once again descends into madness.
For background I’ve read some good first-person accounts of the period, including William Shirer’s series on the 20th century (and particularly his writings on Nazi Germany); and Patrick Leigh Fermor’s unfinished trilogy describing his walk across Europe (roughly following the Danube) in the early 1930s that offers a fascinating, ground-level view of a world that would soon vanish.
By reading back issues of the New Yorker I hope to gain some new insights or perspectives on history. A deep reading of the articles and advertisements can have the effect of transporting one back in time, at least in terms of a mindset, although you cannot escape feeling omniscient in your foreknowledge of coming events, such as this advertisement in the May 8, 1937 issue:
When I come across a cheeky account in The New Yorker’s “Of All Things” section about a couple of buffoons named Hitler and Mussolini, I know the terrible truth that awaits my fellow readers. But it’s not all doom and gloom, for along the way you also get to witness the advent of broadcast radio and sound in motion pictures, the evolution of the automobile, the birth of passenger airline service and the transformation of a city that bulldozes the 19th century and replaces it with soaring towers.
So pretend you are a young, social climbing cosmopolitan in mid-1920s New York, and this little magazine comes along written just for you—not stuffy like the old Town & Country or serious in the Atlantic vein—it is for you, a witty young Jazz Age striver living in the greatest city on earth.
(To read another account of my New Yorker project, see my article posted at Not Even Past).