Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

Despite The New Yorker’s taste for the finer things–polo, opera, classical music–its editors couldn’t resist the pull of popular culture as both spectacle and fodder for mockery of the hoi polloi.

848d031119e0d470956ce963e6e7fb62
Oct. 9, 1926 cover by Julien deMiskey.

And so we have the Oct. 9, 1926 issue with a review of the much-anticipated Broadway play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was based on a surprise bestselling novel by Anita Loos (and illustrated by The New Yorker’s own Ralph Barton). Despite garnering lukewarm reviews from critics, the public loved the adventures of gold-digging flapper Lorelei Lee.

GentlemenPreferBlondes
First edition of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos, illustrated by Ralph Barton (Wikipedia)
tumblr_l7eu7x4QVv1qcl8ymo1_500
Edward Steichen portrait of Anita Loos, 1926. The New Yorker would feature a lengthy, admiring “Profile” of Loos in its Nov. 6, 1926 issue.(Minneapolis Institute of Art)

According to Wikipedia, the book was one of several famous novels published in 1925 to chronicle the Jazz Age, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (which ironically didn’t do so well) and Carl Van Vechten’s Firecrackers. Loos was inspired to write the book after watching a sexy blonde “turn intellectual H. L. Mencken into a lovestruck schoolboy.” Mencken, a close friend of Loos, actually enjoyed the work and saw to it that it was published.

nypl.digitalcollections.ab6c9cc0-81c6-da79-e040-e00a1806702e.001.w
Gold-digging flapper Lorelei Lee (June Walker, second from left), Henry Spofford (Frank Morgan, second from right), and the rest of the cast tussle in the stage production Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Times Square Theatre, 1926. Another “blonde,” Marilyn Monroe, would famously portray Lorelei Lee in the 1953 Howard Hawks film. (New York Public Library)

Ralph Barton contributed this drawing of June Walker for the magazine’s review:

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.26.56 AM

And a bit of the review itself…

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.28.33 AM

In other items, Lois Long paid a visit to Texas Guinan’s 300 Club on 54th Street, which apparently was still the place to go for a roaring good time:

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.30.16 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.30.33 AM

texasguinanpolice
JUST HAVING A LITTLE FUN…According to the blog Ephemeral New York, Texas Guinan’s 300 Club at 151 West 54th Street hosted the likes of John Barrymore, George Gershwin, and Clara Bow. The club was targeted by prohibition officials, who were constantly padlocking the door and arresting Texas. Guinan’s clever rejoinder to the officials: The 300 Club’s patrons brought liquor with them, and because the place was so small, the showgirls were forced to dance close to customers. (Ephemeral New York)

The magazine’s comics continued to mine the humor of rich old men out on the town with their young flapper mistresses. The one below was a center spread illustration by Wallace Morgan with the caption: “Poor little girl–to think you’ve never had anyone to protect you.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.21.32 AM

Finally, a look back at one of my earlier blog posts (Cuban Idyll) that featured Americans in Havana. I recently traveled there and visited some of the old haunts, including the famed Sloppy Joe’s:

IMG_1549
(Photo by David Ochsner)

Next Time: The Changing Skyline…

c37832e544c79a83494d91ea68c0329b

 

Fight Night in Philly

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).
652f917918402a71eb86f6671c9f228a
Oct. 2, 1926 – Issue # 85 – Cover by Constantin Alajalov. (Once again, note the ongoing comic reference to androgyny in 20’s fashion)
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).
Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.30.40 PM
An estimated 135,000 fans packed Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia for the Dempsey-Tunney bout. (NYTimes)
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:
Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.28.32 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.28.39 PM
MediaStream.ashx
VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS…a rain-soaked throng at the Dempsey-Tunney fight in Philadelphia. (City of Philadelphia)
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.
Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.13.08 PM
Coverage of Tunney’s victory by unanimous decision took up three-quarters of the front page of The New York Times, and also filled most of pages 2 through 7. (The New York Times)
But in typical fashion, Waldo was less than dazzled, finding the rain an apt metaphor for a spectacle mostly unseen by those in attendance:
Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.27.50 PM
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):
Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.16.52 PM
Other items of note in the issue included this examination of country vs. city life by cartoonist Barbara Shermund…
Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.21.56 PM
…and this cartoon by Al Frueh commenting on the challenges of Manhattan’s rapidly changing cityscape:
Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.18.53 PM
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:
Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.02.32 PM
The Sept. 25 issue also featured an update from Paris correspondent Janet Flanner…
d9f3d5507a7bade4fc28276d12a63260
Sept. 25, 1926 – Issue # 84 – Cover by Constantin Alajalov.
…who commented on the large number of American tourists crowding the city just as the locals were fleeing for their long, late summer holidays:
Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.07.13 PM
She offered some numbers to back up her observations:
Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.07.43 PM
3333095832_f6a6fd78cb_o
Janet “Genêt” Flanner (right) and longtime companion Solita Solano (center) in Paris in the 1920s. Solano was a well-known writer and drama critic for the New York Tribune.

And finally, a cartoon by Rea Irvin exploring the trials of the idle rich:

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 4.01.32 PM
 Next Time: Do Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?
848d031119e0d470956ce963e6e7fb62

Battleship Potemkin

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.

c294d1a8fc43b2b1097b9686637a1c6f
Sept. 11, 1926 cover by Eugene Gise.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.05.10 AM

The magazine’s film critic “OC” also expressed his concerns regarding censors:

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.11.37 AM

the-battleship-potemkin-2
IT’S NOT WHAT’S FOR DINNER…Sailors examine maggot-infested meat in the film Battleship Potemkin. (themoviesnob)

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.

OB-LS523_potemk_G_20110110122410
Mutineers revel in a scene from Battleship Potemkin. (Wall Street Journal)
94572-004-3C44F252
A still from a classic scene in Battleship Potemkin that depicts Odessa citizens being massacred by Cossacks on the city’s famous Potemkin Stairs. The image of the unattended baby carriage tumbling down the staircase has been re-created in many films, including Brian De Palma’s 1987 The Untouchables. (Film 4)

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:

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.02.09 AM

Rudolph_Valentino_funeral_2_1926
FUN AT THE FUNERAL…Valentino’s first funeral in New York (the second was in Beverly Hills) drew a huge crowd of in what was described as a “carnival setting”. More than 100,000 fans filed past his open casket at the Frank E. Campbell funeral home. Windows were smashed as fans tried to get in and an all-day riot erupted on August 24. Over 100 mounted officers and NYPD’s Police Reserve were deployed to restore order. A phalanx of officers would line the streets for the remainder of the viewing. Some media reports claimed the body on display was a wax dummy, and not “The Sheik” himself. (Wikipedia)
Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 10.36.41 AM
SWEETHEARTS? Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri met in early 1926 at a costume party thrown by Marion Davies. Negri claimed she was engaged to be married to the actor at the time of his death.
Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 10.35.37 AM
EVER THE DIVA…Pola Negri’s grief-stricken performance at Valentino’s New York funeral was considered by most to be over-the-top, even for a famous diva. Supported by a secretary and press agent (photo above), Pola declared to reporters that she and Valentino were secretly engaged to be married. She posed in dramatic fashion for the reporters and then threw herself, weeping and fainting, on Valentino’s open casket. (flickchick1953)

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:

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.09.38 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.09.46 AM

harpo-marx
Vaudeville star Harpo Marx in 1926. The first Marx Brothers movie was still three years away. (Wikipedia)

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…

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.01.12 AM

…and this ad from Park Central Motors, depicting a child who’s all too aware of her standing in society…

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.08.13 AM

Next Time: On the Airwaves…

9d9134fa5d5971983bdff56839082757

 

Come Fly With Me

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.

60050ce935d82b28520c52109cd715ce
Sept. 4, 1926 cover by Rea Irvin.

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:

3987535508_ecfa3ffa6a_b
The May 8, 1925 christening of the Sikorsky “Yorktown.” The “huge” plane is referred to in the Sept. 4, 1926 “Talk of the Town.” (Library of Congress)

In the “Talk of the Town” section, The New Yorker editors marveled at the regular air taxi service available to Manhattanites:

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.50.30 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.50.38 AM

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:

5919269221_8df4563424_b
Side view of the Sikorsky “Yorktown.” Note the pilot seated aft of the wings. (flickr)

But then again, the interiors of these planes were no picnic, either:

HighFlight-Goliath4
Interior of a Farman Goliath, which would have been similar to the Sikorsky, if not a little nicer. (Historic Wings)
onzaslyyjim7xrzditoc
Another photo of a 1920s passenger flight. As in the preceding photo, note the wicker chairs. And no leg room. These fellows appear to awaiting the showing of an early in-flight movie. At least movies were silent then, because with giant piston engines flanking the cabin you weren’t going hear anything anyway. (Paleofuture)

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:

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.50.50 AM

1268484_600
Ex-President, Supreme Court Justice and avid golfer William Howard Taft follows through on the links in this undated photo (jmarkpowell.com)

At the movies, The New Yorker gave a lukewarm review of the much-ballyhooed film Beau Geste:

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 12.01.07 PM

Mary-Brian-with-Neil-Hamilton-in-Beau-Geste-1926
AT LEAST SHE HAD A NICE COMPLEXION…Mary Brian (dubbed “The Sweetest Girl in Pictures”) with Neil Hamilton in Beau Geste, 1926 (classiccinemaimages)

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:

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 12.01.20 PM

MV5BMTk2ODkxOTcxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjcxMTU2._V1_SX640_SY720_
Gloria Swanson in Fine Manners, 1926 (IMDB)

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…

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.56.17 AM

Another ad (from the Sept. 11 issue) also depicted this giraffe-like neckline:

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.12.30 AMNext Time…Battleship Potemkin…

c294d1a8fc43b2b1097b9686637a1c6f

 

Talking Pictures

It was 1926 and another marvel of science–talking pictures–was unveiled to audiences at Broadway’s Warners’ Theatre. It was here that the Warner Brothers launched their ‘Vitaphone’ talkies including The Jazz Singer, which would premiere the following year.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 4.34.57 PM
Aug. 14, 1926 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

The Vitaphone soundtrack was not printed on the film itself, but rather recorded separately on phonograph record, the sound synchronized by physically coupling the record turntable to the film projection motor.

VitaphoneDemo
A Vitaphone projection setup at a 1926 demonstration. Engineer E. B. Craft is holding a soundtrack disc. The turntable, on a massive tripod base, is at lower center. (University of San Diego History Department)

Don Juan was the first feature-length film to use the Vitaphone system, which was not a continuous soundtrack but rather a sprinkling of sound shorts (the musical score, performed by the New York Philharmonic, and various sound effects) throughout the film. No spoken dialogue was recorded.

First-nighters_posing_for_the_camera_outside_the_Warners'_Theater_before_the_premiere_of_%22Don_Juan%22_with_John_Barrymore,_-_NARA_-_535750
First-nighters pose outside Warners’ Theatre before the premiere of Don Juan, August 6, 1926 (US National Archives)

Produced at a cost of $789,963 (the largest budget of any Warner film up to that point), the film was critically acclaimed and a box-office success. However, and predictably, The New Yorker was not so impressed with Vitaphone…

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 1.08.42 PM

…or the acting of John Barrymore…

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 1.09.03 PM

I have to agree with the critic, identified only as O.C., after viewing this TCM clip of the film on YouTube. Lacking a voice, silent actors had to exaggerate emotions onscreen, but Barrymore here is every bit the ham. This screen grab from the clip says it all:

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 12.54.50 PM

The object of his gaze, Adriana della Varnese (played here by a young Mary Astor), reacts rather dramatically to his advances…can’t say I blame her…(however, the 44-year-old Barrymore and the 20-year-old Astor were having an affair at the time…)

annex-astor-mary-don-juan_nrfpt_02

A couple of interesting ads in the Aug. 14, 1926 issue, including this one featuring a couple of sneaky gents who’ve found a solution to life in dry America…Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 1.11.20 PM

…and this not-too-subtle message from a swanky shop on Fifth Avenue:

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 1.10.54 PM

Next Time: Time for a Facelift…

db2311e2a9fcb89fc253615846207b55