The much-anticipated German expressionist film, Metropolis, opened at Manhattan’s Rialto Theatre. Although considered today to be a classic of the silent era, the March 12, 1927 New Yorker found the film to be overlong and preachy despite its fantastic setting and complex special effects.
Set in a futuristic dystopia in which the wealthy ruling classes lived high above the toiling masses, the film followed the attempts of a wealthy son of the city’s ruler and a poor working woman named Mary to overcome the city’s gaping class divisions.
An excerpt from the New Yorker review:
Considered one of the most expensive movies of all time, Metropolis cost $5 million to film in 1925 (roughly about $70 million today).
* * *
The famous 1920s evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson had been holding a series of revival meetings in New York, which were often (and derisively) noted by the New Yorker editors. In the previous issue “Talk of the Town” observed:
And in the March 12 issue they offered this parting note in “Of All Things”….
A pioneer in the use of modern media, McPherson was in New York on a “vindication tour,” taking advantage of the publicity from her alleged kidnapping a year earlier that led to investigations that she had staged her disappearance to bolster her flagging ministry.
In other diversions, bicycle racing had come to Madison Square Garden, as noted in “Talk of the Town” with an illustration by Reginald Marsh:
Advertisements in this issue included this announcement for the opening of the Park Central Hotel, still a grand landmark on 7th Avenue…
…and this ad from Nestle touting the latest method for achieving success in the latest hair style…
The New Yorker celebrated its 2nd anniversary by once again using the Rea Irvin cover from its first issue, which depicted a dandified character–soon to be dubbed “Eustace Tilley”–that would become a mascot of sorts for the magazine.
For more than 90 years it has been a tradition to feature the original cover every year on the issue closest to the anniversary date of February 21, although on several occasions a newly drawn variation has been substituted, including several “alternative” covers for last year’s 90th anniversary issue. This one in particular, by Carter Goodrich, is appropriate for our times:
The magazine included this embellishment on the opening page of “The Talk of the Town” (also repeated from the previous year)…
…and the editors opened with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek boast of the young magazine’s improving fortunes:
The boasts about advertising were legitimate. Apparently the people at Rolls Royce felt that the magazine was worth a full-page, weekly advertisement. Note the third paragraph of the ad, third to to the last line: How many car makers today, or any at time for that matter, would tout that their car “meets every traveling situation blandly?”
While on the topic of ads, this one from the back pages caught my eye:
Most of us have heard of vaudeville teams like the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy, but there were many others who drew big audiences but are mostly forgotten today, including the trio of Clayton, Jackson and Durante.
Of the three, Jimmy Durante would go on to the greatest fame. Known for his gravelly voice, clever wordplay and his prominent nose (which he dubbed “the Schnozzola”), Durante would find great success in radio, film, and in early television. The singer, pianist and comedian would appear on many variety shows in the 1950s and 60s. Although he died in 1980, today he is still known to audiences young and old alike thanks to his appearance as the narrator in the animated Frosty the Snowman (1969), which is still broadcast every year during the Christmas season and is distributed through countless tapes and DVDs.
* * * * *
On to more advertising, and less savory topic. Beginning in the 1920s, Lysol was advertised for use in feminine hygiene as a guard against “odors,” a term that was widely understood as a euphemism for contraception. According to Andrea Tone (Devices and Desires) by 1940 it had become the most popular birth control method in the country. Unfortunately for many women, Lysol contained cresol (derived from coal tar) which could cause severe inflammation and even death:
Also popular (and a lot less harmful) in the 1920s was sheet music featuring the latest songs. So sidle up to the piano with your guy or gal and belt out one of these favorites:
And to close, a cartoon by the famed Peter Arno, who was well-acquained with New York nightlife:
Ernest Hemingway wrote his lone New Yorker piece for the Feb. 5, 1927 issue. Titled “My Own Life,” it was a short parody of the 3-volume My Life and Loves by Irish writer Frank Harris.
Writing for The Hemingway Review (Fall 2001), Francis Bosha notes in “The Harold Ross Files” that Hemingway’s sole contribution to the New Yorker is striking given that the magazine was such a major influence on fiction in the 20th century.
Money, or the shortage thereof, appears to be the main reason why Hemingway was not a regular contributor. Although the young magazine was doing well, Bosha writes that it was not yet ready to compete financially with more established mass market magazines. Indeed, Hemingway’s “My Own Life” landed in the New Yorker because it had already been rejected by both Scribner’s magazine and The New Republic.
If you read the piece you can see why it was rejected. The famed fiction writer, hot off the success of The Sun Also Rises, was not a great parodist. An excerpt:
And so on. Hemingway wisely stuck with serious fiction, which might explain his fleeting association with the New Yorker, which in its first years was bent toward humor in the Punch vein and not toward serious writing.
Nevertheless, the New Yorker’s founding editor, Harold Ross, maintained a friendship and a regular correspondence with Hemingway during the writer’s years in Cuba in the 1940s. On several occasions Ross invited Hemingway to submit something to the magazine, but nothing came of it. It didn’t help that Hemingway publicly stated in 1942 that he “was out of business as a writer,” and was suffering from depression, weight gain, and bouts of heavy drinking.
The Great Ziegfeld Finally Opens His New Theatre
“The Talk of the Town” reported the premiere of Florenz Ziegfeld’s new art deco theatre was “one of the big mob scenes of the season,” attracting celebrities and celebrity-gawkers alike:
The opening drew the likes of Charlie Chaplin and polar explorer Roald Amundsen, who perhaps found a line of chorus girls a welcome sight after years of trekking through frozen landscapes.
Among the attractions of the new theatre was what was claimed to be the largest oil painting in the world:
Sadly, despite public protests, the theatre was razed in 1966, bulldozed into rubble. The Burlington House stands on the site today:
But we will end on a happier note, a cartoon by Barbara Shermund:
The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” editors were always in search of something to amuse, and in the Jan. 29, 1927 issue they found it in one Maurine Watkins, who wrote the Broadway hit musical Chicago (yes, THAT one) while still enrolled in her drama class at Yale:
Watkins transformed a brief career as a Chicago Tribune crime reporter into her Broadway success, thanks to her fondness for writing about murderers:
Chicago opened on Broadway in late December 1926 at the Sam Harris Theatre, where it ran for 172 performances. Watkins wrote the play as “homework” for her Yale drama class:
It didn’t take long for Hollywood to come calling, with Cecil B. DeMille producing a silent film version (directed by Frank Urson) in 1927.
Watkins would go on to write about 20 plays, moving on to Hollywood to write screenplays including the 1936 comedy Libeled Lady. She left Hollywood in the 1940s to be close to her parents in Florida. A lifelong Christian, Watkins spent much of her fortune funding the study of Greek and the Bible at some 20 universities, including Princeton. Following her death in 1969, her estate sold the rights to Chicago to famed choreographer and director Bob Fosse. Fosse would go on to develop Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville in 1975, which was revived in 1997 and turned into an Academy Award-winning film in 2002.
* * *
Winter doldrums had set into city, which was digging out of the latest snowstorm and leaving the“Talk” editors pining for spring.
So it was unwelcome news that the green lawns along Cottage Row were to become the latest casualties of the booming city:
According to the excellent blog Daytonian in Manhattan, around 1848 William Rhinelander filled the 7th Avenue block between 12th and 13th Streets with eleven three-story homes above “English basements.” The simple residences were intended for middle-class families and sat more than twenty feet back from the street, providing grassy lawns and garden space. During summer weather each floor had a deep veranda that provided shade and caught cooling breezes.
As it turned out, the green lawns won a brief reprieve: By the time developers got around to building an apartment on the site, the Depression hit and left Cottage Row standing for another ten years. It was demolished in 1937, replaced not by an apartment building but rather by a gas station and used car lot, which were replaced in 1964 by the Joseph Curran Building (now the Lenox Hill Healthplex):
* * *
The winter drear was further compounded by the sooty smog that lingered over the city, fed by so many coal-fired furnaces. The “Talk” editors noted:
To read more about “soft coal days,” see my previous post, “A Fine Mess.”
* * *
Elsewhere in the magazine, the New Yorker featured this ditty by P.G. Wodehouse:
Columnist Lois Long (“Tables for Two”) was contemplating dance lessons to learn the “Black Bottom,” the dance craze that supplanted “The Charleston” in 1926.
Apparently the dance called for special shoes, per this advertisement from the same issue:
Up to now I’ve been posting images of often lavish ads featured mostly in the first sections of the magazine and on the front and back inside covers, but there were other, less expensive (and less artful) ads sprinkled in the back pages of the magazine, a tradition that continues to this day:
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.
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:
Advertisements in the New Yorker ranged from snobbish appeals to Francophiles…
…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.
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.
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.
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:
Baseball might have been down and out, but actress Pola Negri still maintained her place in the spotlight with her latest film, Hotel Imperial.
It’s 1927 and the New Yorker is almost two years old. After a shaky start the magazine found its voice (and a lot of advertising revenue) and moved forward with a solid stable of contributors that would give the magazine a style that persists to this day.
Before I dive in, let’s get a snapshot of the country in 1927, courtesy of Bill Bryson’s excellent book, One Summer: America, 1927.
Bryson describes America as “staggeringly well-off in 1927,” with homes (especially in urban areas) shining with sleek appliances—refrigerators, radios, telephones, electric fans and razors—“that would not become standard in other countries for a generation or more.”
He writes that “of the nation’s 26.8 million households, 11 million had a phonograph, 10 million had a car, 17.5 million had a phone…42 percent of all that was produced in the world was produced in the United States.” Bryson also notes that in 1927 the U.S. made 80 percent of the world’s movies and 85 percent of the world’s cars, and that the state of Kansas alone had more cars than France.
It was also the year Babe Ruth would hit a record 60 home runs, and Charles Lindbergh would fly the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic.
* * *
The Jan. 1 issue featured a profile of world-famous dancer Isadora Duncan, who was living in sad decline in Paris. Particularly acclaimed in Europe for her free dance style, the California-born Duncan also gained notoriety (mostly in puritanical America) for her flouting of traditional mores and morality. Today, she is mostly known for the freak accident that killed her. More on that below.
The profile, written by Paris correspondent Janet “Gênet” Flanner under the pen name “Hippolyta,” noted that Duncan was “the last of the trilogy of great female personalities our century produced. Two of them, Duse and Bernhardt, have gone to their elaborate national tombs. Only Isadora Duncan, the youngest, the American, remains wandering the European earth.”
Little did Flanner know that Duncan would also be dead before the year was over. Here is how the Wikipedia entry on Duncan describes her death:
On the night of September 14, 1927 in Nice, France, Duncan was a passenger in an Amilcar automobile owned by Benoît Falchetto, a French-Italian mechanic. She wore a long, flowing, hand-painted silk scarf, a gift from her friend Mary Desti, the mother of American film director Preston Sturges. Desti, who saw Duncan off, had asked Duncan to wear a cape in the open-air vehicle because of the cold weather, but Duncan would only agree to wear the scarf.
As they departed, Duncan reportedly said to Desti and some companions, “Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!” (“Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!”); but according to American novelist Glenway Wescott, Desti later told him that Duncan’s actual last words were, “Je vais à l’amour” (“I am off to love”). Desti considered this embarrassing, as it suggested that she and Falchetto were going to her hotel for a tryst.
Her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and rear axle, hurling her from the open car and breaking her neck. Desti said she called out to warn Duncan about the shawl almost immediately after the car left.
Referring to Duncan’s demise, the writer Gertrude Stein remarked: “Affectations can be dangerous.”
The death of artist Claude Monet prompted the editors of the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” to speculate on the true origins of the “Impressionist” movement of the late 19th century.
Note how the “Talk” editors lightly regarded the artist’s late period, during which he painted his famous “Water Lilies” series:
The editors also used the occasion to clear up the confusion (in the lay mind) between Édouard Manet and Claude Monet, identifying them not only as two distinct persons but also crediting the former with the founding of the Impressionism technique while giving Claude his due for actually giving it a name:
Another much younger notable of the age, Ernest Hemingway, was the talk of literary society on both sides of the Atlantic with the publication of his latest novel, The Sun Also Rises. According to the New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet “Genêt” Flanner, the novel was creating a buzz in Montparnasse over the origins of the book’s colorful characters:
Keeping in mind that the Christmas shopping season was still in full swing, Frigidaire thought it the perfect time for New Yorker readers to buy a newfangled electric refrigerator:
And we ring out the year with the final issue of 1926:
It was a tough year for New Yorker film critic “OC”, who summed up his disappointment with the movies by offering a Top Ten list that included only two films:
And to close, this cartoon by Helen Hokinson, which in the original magazine filled all of page 14 and therefore had to be printed sideways:
The silent comedy-drama What Price Glory was a popular film during the final weeks of 1926. Directed by Raoul Walsh, it was based on a popular 1924 play by Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings.
The film about World War I Marines who are rivals for the affections of a daughter of the local innkeeper proved to be a rare winner with the New Yorker film critic “OC” (anyone know his/her identity?), in a review published in the magazine’s previous issue (Dec. 4, 1926).
The film also gained fame from the fact that although it was silent, the characters could be seen speaking profanities that were not reflected in the title cards. The studio was flooded with calls and letters from enraged lipreaders, including the deaf and hearing impaired, who found the profanity between Sergeant Quirt and Captain Flagg offensive.
In the Dec. 11 issue, The New Yorker continued its publicity of the film with this drawing in the arts section by Reginald Marsh:
I like the curious little bubble image the artist included in his illustration (above), just in case we aren’t sure what the gentlemen are fighting over.
Other items in the Dec. 11 issue included Morris Markey’s “A Reporter at Large” piece on the newly crowned prizefighter Gene Tunney, who apparently was struggling with fame and wanted to be known for his smarts rather than his fists. Markey wasn’t buying it:
After a number of verbal jabs throughout the piece, Markey included this knockout punch:
One of the strangest things about the fall 1926 issues of The New Yorker is the almost complete absence of baseball coverage, even though the 1926 Yankees had turned things around from an abysmal 1925 season and found themselves in the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Yankee’s star Babe Ruth had recovered his health from the previous season and played exceptional all-around baseball in 1926, even setting a World Series record of three homers in the fourth game. According to (now disputed) newspaper reports at the time, Ruth had promised a sickly boy named Johnny Sylvester that he would hit a home run for him in Game 4. The papers reported that after Ruth’s three-homers, the boy’s condition miraculously improved.
The Yankees would lose the series in seven games (it would be the first of the Cardinals’ 11 WS championships), but nevertheless the season represented a dramatic turnaround for the team.
But The New Yorker was obsessed with college football, mostly Ivy League contests and the exploits of Knute Rockne and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Sportswriter John Tunis cranked out lengthy accounts of football games, including the Princeton-Yale contest covered in the Nov. 20, 1926 issue.
The same issue also included an article by Herbert Reed, who wrote about Notre Dame’s victory over Army at Yankee Stadium and proclaimed the Fighting Irish to be the greatest team in the country.
The New Yorker caught the Notre Dame bug the previous season. When attendance dropped at Yankee Stadium due to an ailing Babe Ruth and his team’s losing record, college football took center stage at the stadium that fall, with the fiercely competitive Notre Dame–Army game the marquee match-up (the rivals would continue their annual meeting at Yankee Stadium until 1947).
The “other” game–professional football–was still in its infancy, and the editors of “The Talk of Town” made it clear that the college atmosphere was more to their liking. It is interesting that even today when fans compare college to pro football, the same observations are made:
As for other sports, The New Yorker also offered extensive coverage of tennis, golf, and polo in its issues. And there would also be rowing, boat and auto racing, and steeplechase events such as National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. An advertisement promoting that event appeared on the inside back cover:
The editors of “Talk of the Town” continued their sad refrain on the city’s changing landscape, the wrecking ball this visiting Gramercy Park:
And to close, this terrific advertisment for the Greenwich Village Inn, illustrated by Hans Flato:
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…