Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Gene Tunney was not your typical boxer. Holder of the heavyweight title from 1926 to 1928, he defeated his rival Jack Dempsey in 1926 and again in 1927 in the famous “Long Count Fight.” But Tunney was no Palooka—he preferred to be known as a cultured gentleman, and made a number of friends in the literary world including George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway and Thornton Wilder.

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January 14, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

So when given the opportunity to say a few words, Tunney made the most of it, including at a dinner hosted by boxing and hockey promoter Tex Rickard to honor champions in various sports. The New Yorker’s E.B. White was there tell us about it:

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FETED FOR FEATS…World champion athletes are shown here from top row, left to right; Babe Ruth (baseball), Gene Tunney (boxing), Johnny Weissmuller (swimming), Bill Cook (hockey). On the bottom row is from left to right, Bill Tilden (tennis), Bobby Jones (golf), Fred Spencer and Charlie Winters (six-day bicycle race).

While Tunney was doubtless composing his thoughts at the banquet table, baseball legend Babe Ruth was wishing he could be someplace else…

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…like hanging out with his old buddy Jack Dempsey…

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BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS…Babe Ruth having breakfast with his friend, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, at Ruth’s residence at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City, 1927. Dempsey reigned as the champ from 1919 until 1926, when he was defeated by Gene Tunney. (captainsblog.info)

Instead, the Babe would have to listen to a surprise speech by Tunney, who sought to prove to those in attendance that he had brains to match his brawn. No doubt to the relief of many in attendance, New York City’s flamboyant mayor, Jimmy Walker, was able to return the proceedings to party mode.

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THAT’LL DO, GENE, THAT’LL DO…Newly crowned heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney (center) meets with New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker (right) at City Hall, September 1926. (josportsinc.com)

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The New Yorker writers found little to like about Hollywood, but Charlie Chaplin could always be counted on to knock out a humorous film. At least most of the time. Here is what “The Talk of the Town” had to say about his latest, The Circus:

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LIGHTEN UP, CHARLIE…Merna Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin and Harry Crocker in The Clown (1928). (alamy)

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Give ‘Em Dirty Laundry

In these days of clickbait and other news designed to attract our prurient interest, we can look back 89 years a see that the tabloids were doing much of the same, particularly in Bernarr Macfadden’s New York Graphic, which was making the most of the final days of death row inmates Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray…

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TSK, TSK…Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (left), received a tidy sum to write about convicted murderer Ruth Snyder for the New York Evening Graphic. (Wikipedia/Murderpedia)

Former lovers Snyder and Gray were sentenced to death in 1927 for the premeditated murder of Snyder’s husband (they went to the electric chair at Sing Sing prison on Jan. 12, 1928). Newspapers across the country sensationalized their trial, but the Graphic went the extra step by paying large sums to celebrity correspondents, including evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, to write about the sordid case. Sister Aimee used her Graphic column to encourage young men to “want a wife like mother — not a Red Hot cutie.” Semple herself would later be accused of an affair, but then what else is new in the business of casting stones?

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FAKE NEWS…Before the National Enquirer and Weekly World News came along, Benarr Mcfadden’s Evening Graphic was the tabloid of choice among the less discerning. This issue from March 17, 1927, depicted silent actor Rudolph Valentino meeting the famed tenor Enrico Caruso in heaven. The Graphic was famous for these “Composographs,” — images cut and pasted together using the heads or faces of current celebrities and glued onto staged images created by employees in Macfadden’s studio. (bernarrmacfadden.com)

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Even His Skivvies?

We can also look back 89 years and see that people were just as celebrity-crazed then as they are now. Charles Lindbergh could barely keep the clothes on his back while being pursued by adoring mobs, according to “Talk of the Town”…

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KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY BVDS

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Kindred Spirits

Dorothy Parker wrote a vigorous, even impassioned defense of the late dancer Isadora Duncan in her column, “Reading and Writing.” Parker reviewed Duncan’s posthumously published autobiography, My Life, which she found “interesting and proudly moving” even if the book itself was “abominably written,” filled with passages of “idiotic naïveté” and “horrendously flowery verbiage.” In this “mess of prose” Parker also found passion, suffering and glamour—three words that Parker could have used to describe her own life.

Parker elaborated on the word “glamour,” which she thought had been cheapened in her day to something merely glittery and all surface. True glamour, wrote Parker, was that of Isadora Duncan, coming from her “great, torn, bewildered, foolhardy soul.” Parker concluded with this plea:

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REAL GLAMOUR…Isadora Duncan in an undated photo. (bustle.com)

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New Kid on the Block

Yet another high-rise dwelling was available to Jazz Age New Yorkers—One Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. One Fifth Avenue was an apartment with the word “hotel” attached to justify its 27-story height. To meet zoning requirements, the apartments had “pantries” instead of kitchens. But then again, your “servant” would fetch your dinner anyway…

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GOING UP…The art deco landmark One Fifth Avenue signaled a dramatic change from the four-story mansions that once occupied the site.  (New York Public Library)

Historical note: One Fifth Avenue marked a dramatic change in the character of Washington Square, one of the most prestigious residential neighborhoods of early New York City. A previous occupant of the One Fifth Avenue site was the brownstone mansion of William Butler Duncan. In addition to One Fifth Avenue, the residences at 3, 5, and 7 Fifth Avenue were also demolished to make way for the new art deco “apartment hotel.”

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DUST TO DUST…The William Butler Duncan residence at One Fifth Avenue. (daytoninmanhattan)

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To close, a two-page spread by Helen Hokison exploring one woman’s challenge with the “flapper bob” (sorry about the crease in the scan–that is how it is reproduced in the online archive). Click the image to enlarge.

 

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And a bit of fun on the streetcar, courtesy of cartoonist Leonard Dove…

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Next Time: Machine Age Bromance…

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Wits of the Round Table

Two big voices from the famed Algonquin Round Table were prominently featured in the Oct. 1 and Oct. 8, 1927 issues of the New Yorker–journalist and champion of the underdog Heywood Broun wrote his own “Profile” under the title, “The Rabbit That Bit the Bulldog,” and Dorothy Parker served up biting satire in “Arrangement in Black and White,” a clever exposé of racism among the fashionably “open-minded” upper classes.

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October 1, 1927 cover by Gardner Rea.

The Rabbit That Bit the Bulldog

Hiding under the signature “R.A.”, Heywood Broun was merciless as his own profiler, describing himself as a coward, hypochondriac, and a slob (there is truth to the latter, however, as friends often likened him to “an unmade bed”).

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Broun cut his teeth in journalism as a sportswriter and war correspondent. In 1921 he went to work for the New York World, where he penned his popular syndicated column “It Seems to Me.” Broun’s New Yorker “Profile” was written after he was fired from the World following a disagreement with his editor over his critical commentary on the sentencing of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. Broun would move on to The Nation, where he would write a regular column, “It Seems to Heywood Broun,” that would offer criticism on a number of topics including his former employer, the World.

Original caption: Matthew Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, photographed working at his desk. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
IN HIS ELEMENT…Heywood Broun at work, circa 1930. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

The New Yorker profile included this caricature by Peter Arno…

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…a portrayal Broun claimed was inaccurate due to his “habitual stoop,” among other faults…

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…and he mused about his future with the Nation, and how that august publication would square with his various foibles…

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…and as for his personal appearance and habits, Broun weighed in thusly…

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Broun married social activist Ruth Hale in 1917. A son born the following year, Heywood Hale Broun, would have a long and successful career as an author, sportswriter, commentator and actor.

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The Long Count

Oddly, the New Yorker had little to say about the famous Chicago rematch between heavyweight boxers Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey, which Tunney won after the controversial “long count.” The fight took place under new rules that gave a fallen fighter 10 seconds to rise to his feet, but the count would not begin until his opponent moved to a neutral corner.

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DAZED AND CONFUSED…Referee Dave Barry motions Jack Dempsey to a neutral corner before he begins his count. Tunney got back up and went on to win the fight. (Chicago Tribune archive photo)

Although Tunney dominated the fight, Dempsey unleashed a flurry in the seventh round that knocked Tunney to the canvas–it was the first time in Tunney’s career that he’d been knocked down. Instead of going immediately to a neutral corner, Dempsey just stood and observed his opponent for several seconds until finally retreating. Those extra seconds proved just enough time to allow Tunney to return to his feet and eventually win the bout. To one observer quoted in “The Talk of Town,” those extra seconds really dragged…

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From the Ad Department

We feature this advertisement for Faultless Nobelt Pajamas. Apparently these special PJs had some sort of newfangled rubber elastic band…

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…an this cartoon from the Oct. 1 issue featured Helen Hokinson’s ditsy, plump society women at New York’s Fashion Week…

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Dorothy Takes On the Snobs

In the Oct. 8 issue, our other Round Table wit, Dorothy Parker, took aim at the less savory aspects of society women in her short fiction piece, “Arrangement in Black and White.”

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October 8, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

Parker began her piece by introducing us to a woman who enters a party wearing a wreath of “pink velvet poppies” in her golden hair. In short order she asks the party’s host to “pretty please” introduce her to the party’s guest of honor, an African American singer named Walter Williams.

The woman with the pink velvet poppies goes on to tell her host that she came to the party alone because her husband, Burton, preferred not to socialize with “colored people”–but she however was “simply crazy” about some of them. “They’re just like children–just as easy-going, and always singing and laughing and everything.” Before she met the singer she observed to the host:

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The woman with the pink velvet poppies meets the singer Walter Williams, as illustrated by Peter Arno.

Then the woman with the pink velvet poppies meets Walter Williams:

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She continues to patronize the guest of honor, then notices a stage actress at the party:

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Finally, the host guides the woman with the pink velvet poppies away from Walter Williams…

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BITING WIT…Dorothy Parker in the 1920s.

We will see more of Dorothy Parker in issues to come as she continues to take aim at the hollow, pretentious, hypocritical, self-absorbed snobs of the Jazz Age and beyond.

Baseball’s Lament

The Oct. 1 and 8 issues covered yacht racing, polo, tennis, golf and college football, but still no baseball. The 1927 New York Yankees would be one of the greatest teams of all time, but as the World Series commenced all we got from the New Yorker was a personality profile of Yankees manager Miller Huggins in the Oct. 8 issue (with a drawing by Reginald Marsh)…screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-1-24-05-pm

…and this advertisement for “Sport Glasses” for those attending the World Series…

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Perhaps the New Yorker had no one on staff who could competently write about baseball. The strangest reference to the game was this article about polo, but for some reason it was illustrated with baseball images. Perhaps the editors felt sheepish about their lack of baseball coverage, and offered these illustrations as a token acknowledgement…

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At any rate, we end with this cartoon by Julien de Miskey, who like his colleagues explored the comic richness of wealthy old men paired with their young mistresses…

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Next Time: The Ephemeral City…

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Babe Comes Home

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.”

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August 6, 1927 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

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…

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BETTER STICK TO BASEBALL…Lobby card for the 1927 film, Babe Comes Home, featuring Anna Q. Nilsson and The Bambino himself. (posterscancollections.com)

…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…

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MOM & APPLE PIE…Lou Gehrig and his mother, Christina, in 1927. (baseballfever.com)

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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:

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HUMBLE BEGINNINGS…On April 15, 1927, Colonial Air Transport (a predecessor of American Airlines) began passenger service between Boston and New York City. (Boston Globe)
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SORRY, NO WI-FI…National Air Transport, a predecessor of United Airlines and a prime mail carrier, brought the Travelair 5000 to their minimal fleet in 1927 to add passenger revenue to its Midwestern and Western hops that linked Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno and San Francisco. (traveler.com)

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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.

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OFF-BROADWAY…Actor Ma Shi-tsang posing with a riding crop in a 1920s publicity photo. Chinese theater actors performed in U.S. cities with large Chinese populations, including San Francisco and New York. (cdlib.org)

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And to close, a couple of cartoons from the issue by Barbara Shermund that illustrated two very different aspects of New York society:

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Next Time: An Office Romance…

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Those Jaunty Jalopies

The January 8, 1927 issue of the New Yorker was all over the 27th Annual Motor Show at the Grand Central Palace, both in its lengthy review of the show and the many automobile ads throughout its pages.

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January 8, 1927 (Issue # 99) cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Auto manufacturers discovered early on that cars didn’t need to advance technologically from year to year as long as there were superficial changes–trimmings and such–to dazzle the consumer:

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Artist Helen Hokinson added this touch to the issue devoted to the auto show.
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A 1927 Gardner Model 90 Roadster on display at the 27th Annual New York Motor Show at Grand Central Palace. (gardnermotorcars.com)

Advertisements in the New Yorker ranged from snobbish appeals to Francophiles…

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 3.32.48 PM…to those who might be concerned about safety. Although cars weren’t very fast, they were fast enough to kill, and their plentiful numbers often overwhelmed a city with rudimentary traffic control.

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In his book, One Summer: America, 1927, Bill Bryson writes that New York in 1927 was the most congested city on earth. It contained more cars than the whole country of Germany, while at the same 50,000 horses (and wagons) still clogged the streets. More than a thousand people died in traffic accidents in the city in 1927, four times the number today.

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THE DEATH-O-METER … was a 20-foot sign installed near Grand Army Plaza in 1927. It tallied traffic accidents and fatalities in the borough and reminded motorists to slow down at the traffic circle. (Ephemeral New York)

Traffic control was still in its infancy in the 1920s. Seven ornate bronze towers, 23 feet high, were placed at intersections along Fifth Avenue from 14th to 57th Streets starting in 1922. By 1927 smaller, simpler lights were mounted on street corners and the system of green, yellow and red was generally adopted.

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Bronze traffic signal tower designed by Joseph H. Freedlander at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, 1922. (New York Times)

Keeping with the motorcar theme, the issue also featured a profile (written by Lurton Blassingame) of Walter P. Chrysler, founder of the new car company that bore his name (Chrysler founded his company in June 1925 after acquiring and reorganizing the old Maxwell Motor Company). In just three years a famous New York City landmark bearing his name would pierce the skyline.

I recently noted that the fall 1926 editions of the New Yorker barely mentioned baseball, even though the Yankees made it to the World Series that year. No doubt the Black Sox scandal of 1919 still lingered in the minds of many fans. Morris Markey’s “Reporter at Large” column in the Jan. 8, 1927 issue suggested that the game was still dishonest, thanks in part to its collusion with the newspapers:

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Baseball might have been down and out, but actress Pola Negri still maintained her place in the spotlight with her latest film, Hotel Imperial.

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Actress Pola Negri consults on a script with director Mauritz Stiller (left) on the set of Hotel Imperial. (MOMA)

Next Time: Bad Hootch

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