“The Very Golden Apple” was the title of an essay by E. A. Tosbell in the Sept. 3, 1927 issue that examined the transformation of the Miss America pageant–just seven years old–into a big money concern.
Tosbell opened with the lament that Miss Los Angeles, Adrienne Dore, should have won the 1925 contest save for a lapse in table manners…
Tosbell offered us a taste of what contestants could expect upon their arrival in Atlantic City…
Norma Smallwood from Tulsa, Oklahoma was crowned Miss America 1926, the first Native American to capture the title. Smallwood was highly criticized in the press for her business savvy as she went on to earn $100,000 through personal appearance fees and product endorsements. Tosbell noted:
In 1927 Smallwood would again draw criticism when she requested $600 from the pageant for her appearance in crowning the new winner, Lois Delander. Delander was a high school student who won her local contest in Joliet, Illinois by reciting Bible verses. Unlike her predecessors, Delander turned down lucrative offers in show business and returned home to continue her school studies.
In the case of a 1922 Miss America contestant, Georgia Hale, you didn’t have to win the pageant to make it to the Big Time. Hale was chosen by Charlie Chaplin to be his “leading lady” in 1925’s The Gold Rush, and in the following year she would play Myrtle Wilson in the first filmed version of The Great Gatsby. A savvy businesswoman, Hale would become wealthy through real estate investments in Southern California.
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The September 3 “Talk of the Town” offered some insights into the dressing habits (and tardiness) of New York’s dandified mayor, Jimmy Walker, who was preparing for an overseas journey. Excerpts:
The New Yorker continued its commentary on the changing city skyline as urban residences continued their skyward climb, including the oddly named Oliver Cromwell apartment hotel:
An advertisement in the same issue touted the Cromwell’s serene, park-like setting:
There were numerous advertisements like these in the New Yorker. Another promoted the Beverly’s sky-high “wind-swept terraces…”
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On to the Sept. 10, 1927 issue, and a couple of cartoons that aptly represented the spirit of Roaring Twenties…
…Johan Bull offered a glimpse of the new rich in the realm of culture…
…while Carl Rose captured the spirit of investors during the waning days of the red hot 1920s stock market…
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.
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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…
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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…
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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…
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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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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:
In 1927 silent film star Charlie Chaplin was working on his latest film, The Circus, when his second wife, Lita Grey, filed for divorce, accusing her husband of infidelity, abuse, and of harbouring “perverted sexual desires.” Life imitated art, and Charlie’s own life became a circus.
The New Yorker’s Ralph Barton, who contributed countless illustrations for the magazine, wrote about Chaplin’s latest travails in a column titled “Picking on Charlie Chaplin.”
The “2” Barton mentioned were teenaged actress Lita Grey and her mother, Lillian Parker.
In 1924 the 35-year-old Charlie Chaplin married the 16-year-old Lita Grey in a discreet ceremony in Mexico — because Grey was pregnant, Chaplin could have been charged with statutory rape under California law (it was Chaplin’s second marriage, and his second to a teenaged actress). Chaplin and Grey had two sons from their brief union–Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr., was born in 1925, followed by Sydney Earl Chaplin in 1926.
The divorce made headline news as Chaplin was reported to be in a state of nervous breakdown. Filming for The Circus was suspended for ten months while he dealt with the mess:
Chaplin’s lawyers agreed to a cash settlement of $600,000 – the largest awarded by American courts at that time (Roughly equivalent to more than $8 million today). Groups formed across America calling for his films to be banned (no doubt the same groups that had earlier protested his marriage to a pregnant, teenaged minor). Barton mused that the protests might cause Chaplin to abandon America for the more permissive atmosphere in Europe:
The Circus was released in January 1928 to positive reviews, and during the first-ever Academy Awards Chaplin received a special trophy “For versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus. Despite the film’s success, he rarely spoke of it again. For Charlie, it was a time best forgotten.
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And now, an advertisement from the July 23 issue urging readers to buy the 1920s equivalent of “Smart Water” endorsed by the Sun King himself…
…and a cartoon by Reginald Marsh, portraying a distinctly American view of the grandeur of Niagara Falls…
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On to July 30, 1927 issue, in which the New Yorker once again takes a poke at our 30th President…
…and his latest adventures in the wilds of South Dakota’s Black Hills:
Safely back in the environs of the big city, the New Yorker continued to take stock of summer sports such as tennis, polo, and the yacht races at Larchmont (but still no mention of the legendary ’27 Yankees). This illustration of the races (unsigned, but I guess it is Reginald Marsh) graced a double-spread below “The Talk of the Town”…
…and if you were attending the races, or wanted to look stylish on your yacht (or if you just wanted to dress this way to appear that you owned one), you could check out the selections at B. Altman’s…
…looking smart was everywhere in the issue, from multiple ads for fall furs, to this come-on from Buick, which suggests that even though it is no Cadillac, and certainly not a Rolls, its smartness will prevail “on any boulevard”…
The Buick ad is somewhat revolutionary for an early automobile ad in that it doesn’t actually show the product advertised.
As for those not among the smart set, and not enjoying the races at Larchmont, there were other summer diversions, as rendered here by J.H. Fyfe:
The evolution of filmmaking in the 1920s included the development of “docudramas.” Nanook of the North (1922), which captured the struggles of an Inuit hunter and his family, was received with great acclaim. A few years later Grass (1925),directed by Merian C. Cooper andErnest B. Schoedsack, followed a tribe in Iran as they guided herds to greener pastures. So when Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness opened at the Rivoli, the New Yorker was there (May 7, 1927) to share in the adventure.
Chang, also directed by Cooper and Schoedsack, told the story of a poor farmer and his family (native, nonprofessional actors) in Issan — now northeastern Thailand — and their constant struggle for survival in the jungle. Cooper and Schoedsack attempted to depict real life but often re-staged events. The danger, however, was real to all involved, as was the slaughter of animals in the film.
According to Ray Young, writing for Viennale, the website for the Vienna International Film Festival (which is screening a retrospective of Chang this fall) Cooper and Schoedsack “open with scenes of domestic bliss and, offsetting title card warnings of the dangers of the jungle, a bucolic Eden ripe for development. But the tone soon shifts as tigers and leopards attack, and the picture evolves into a succession of episodes concerning their survival.”
The perils in Changoften feel rigged, notes Young, “most conspicuously in places where animals appear to have been killed simply for the beneﬁt of the camera. By most accounts, Schoedsack did most of the ﬁlming while Cooper covered him with a riﬂe.”
Chang was nominated for the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first Academy Awards in 1929. It was the only year when that award was presented (It lost to F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans).
However appalled as we are today by the film’s exploitation of humans and animals alike, we have to remember those were different times, even for the usually discerning eye of the New Yorker:
In 1927 most people had a very limited view of the non-Western world, which was perceived as both savage and exotic, populated by child-like “natives” who in this case “lent their facial expressions and habits to the affair most successfully…”
And so in 1927 we also encounter cartoons like this one by Alan Dunn that at once dismiss out-of-town conventioneers (here: an Elks Club) as a bunch of ignorant racists, yet the early New Yorker’s own depictions of blacks was usually limited to Mammies and simple-minded minstrels.
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The massive Graybar Building made its debut at420 Lexington Avenue, the multi-tiered edifice impressing the “Talk of the Town” editors with the latest technology, including push-button elevators:
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The following advertisement needs some explanation: The 1867 Tenement House Act imposed constraints on height and lot coverage that large apartment buildings routinely violated.
According to an article in the Observer by Stephen Jacob Smith (April 30, 2013), “Some developers got out of these requirements by building co-operative buildings, without rental units, but others wanted to retain the revenue and control that came with rentals, while at the same time building larger structures than the tenement laws allowed. And thus was born the ‘apartment hotel.'”
The New York Times’s columnist Christopher Gray wrote (Oct. 4, 1992) that Apartment Hotels were a “widespread fiction of the period,” and “tenants in fact usually set up full kitchens in the serving pantries.” Smith adds that “one of the reasons apartment hotels were allowed to be built more densely than their fully residential counterparts was that there would be no cooking—a fire hazard in those days—in the units.” An so the ad:
Smith writes that by calling their buildings ‘apartment-hotels,’ builders could claim that as hotels they were outside of the rules of tenement legislation. He notes that “some of Manhattan’s most illustrious buildings were constructed using this legal sleight of hand,” including the Sherry-Netherland on Park Avenue.
The famous scaffolding fire at the Sherry-Netherland, which I featured in my last post, no doubt prompted developers to run the following ad in hopes that people would soon forget about the giant roman candle that burned bright near Central Park on the evening of April 12, 1927.
If you are ever in New York, check out the Sherry Netherland. It is a beautiful building.
And finally, this ad from the makers of Wildroot hair care products. I love the flapper artwork by John Held Jr., and even better the words “CRUDE-OIL SHAMPOO” displayed prominently as a selling point.
The journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht wrote the “Reporter at Large” column for the early New Yorker, and for the April 30, 1927 issue took aim at the shoddy coverage of the Ruth Snyder murder trial at the Long Island City Courthouse.
Hecht was appalled by the media’s use of celebrity “experts” to cover the trial, which only served to sensationalize and trivialize the proceedings:
The Ruth Snyder trial dominated headlines in 1927. A housewife from Queens, Snyder began an affair in 1925 with Henry Judd Gray, a married corset salesman. After she persuaded her husband, Albert Snyder, to purchase life insurance, she enlisted Gray’s help to murder her husband. On March 20, 1927 the couple garrotted Albert Snyder (after bludgeoning him with a sash weight) and then staged the murder scene to look like a burglary.
The trial was covered by such figures as former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Peggy Hopkins Joyce, the radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, movie director D. W. Griffith, author Damon Runyon, popular philosopher Will Durant, and James M. Cain, a crime reporter who went on to write Double Indemnity, which was later made into a major Hollywood movie. Hecht (who would go on to co-write a hugely successful play about newspaper reporters, The Front Page) would have none of this celebrity circus. Some excerpts:
Ruth Snyder would not be acquitted (or live to write reviews), but instead would go to Sing Sing’s electric chair on Jan. 12, 1928. The 32-year-old Snyder would go to the chair first, followed shortly thereafter by her former lover and accomplice, 35-year-old Henry Judd Gray. The pair had sealed each other’s fate: During the trial, Snyder and Gray had turned on each other, contending the other was responsible for killing Albert Snyder.
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On to a lighter topic…The Sherry-Netherland Hotel has graced the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 59th Street since 1927, and when it was built it was the tallest apartment-hotel in New York City.
The building was nearing completion when around 8 pm on April 12, 1927, fire broke out on wood plank scaffolding surrounding the top floors. Firefighters responded only to find they lacked water pressure to fight the blaze.
According to the New York Times (“The Night a Hotel Turned Into a Torch,” Nov. 15, 2012), the fire was watched by hundreds of thousands, and “the windows of the Plaza Hotel across the street were ‘black with people’; every front room was engaged, either by news organizations or for spontaneous parties to watch the fire.”
Planks tumbled to the street for hours, and The Times said one “sailed in a crazy parabola” and crashed against the Savoy-Plaza, also nearly finished; occasionally minor collapses of the scaffolding turned the picturesque top into a “lofty Roman candle.” The crowds on the street could feel the heat on their faces, and the roar and crackle of the fire could be heard for blocks around. The fire burned itself out around midnight.
Oddly, the New Yorker had little to say about the fire, mentioning it only in passing in this “Talk of the Town” item:
An interesting side note…at the time of the Sherry-Netherland’s construction, the nearby Vanderbilt mansion was being demolished. Carved limestone panels from the mansion’s porte-cochere as well as ornamental frieze roundels were salvaged and installed in the Sherry-Netherland’s lobby.
Hollywood movies continued to disappoint New Yorker critics, including Cecil B. DeMille’s silent epic The King of Kings.
Finally, a couple of advertisements from the April 30 issue. It was spring, and time to hit the links…
…and New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno plugged his new book featuring the Whoops Sisters:
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.
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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.
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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:
Jazz Age New York City was all about the big and grand, and nothing was bigger and grander than the new Roxy Theatre near Times Square.
The nearly 6,000-seat theatre was such big news that the March 19, 1927 edition of the New Yorker heralded its arrival in three separate columns.
The Roxy opened with the silent film The Love of Sunya, produced by and starring Gloria Swanson. The film, naturally, was panned by the magazine. Perhaps the critic’s distaste for the film also prompted a certain aloofness about the theatre itself:
“The Talk of the Town” described the Roxy in similar dispassionate terms, tossing a wet blanket not on the film but rather on the rude, gawking masses who shelled out 11 bucks apiece (equivalent to $150 today) for a seat on opening night:
New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell (pen name “T-Square”) was a bit more generous in his column “The Sky Line.”
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The magazine took an unusual approach to its “Profile” section by featuring an autobiographical profile of poet Elinor Wylie in verse, a portion of which is shown below with an illustration by Peter Arno:
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Morality-themed books got the attention of New Yorker book reviewer Ernest Boyd (pen name “Alceste), who devoted considerable ink to Anthony Comstock: Roundsman of the Lord by Heywood Broun and Margaret Leech (both of Algonquin Round Table fame). Comstock was a United States Postal Inspector and politician known for the “Comstock Law,” which sought to censor materials he considered indecent and obscene. That included birth control information, which led to famous clashes between Comstock and family planning advocate Margaret Sanger.
An advertisement for the book appeared in the back pages of the magazine:
Boyd also reviewed Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, a controversial novel that exposed the hypocrisy of some 1920s evangelical preachers:
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This advertisement began to appear in the pages of the New Yorker for a new restaurant that claimed to replace the beloved Delmonico’s. Despite its status as a New York institution, Delmonico’s had fallen victim to the changing dining habits of Prohibition New York and had closed its doors in 1923:
The restaurant was operated by the Happiness Candy Stores chain, which according to the ad also operated restaurants in two other locations in the city. The restaurants must have been short-lived, as I could find no record of them apart from the ads.
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).
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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…
Piles of snow and slushy streets had many New Yorkers dreaming of spring, including H.O. Hoffman, who illustrated the cover for the Feb. 5, 1927 issue.
Another New Yorker illustrator, Barbara Shermund, offered a different take on the idea in this drawing for the “On and Off the Avenue” column on page 56:
At least New Yorkers had plenty of activities to take their minds off of the weather, including two important balls:
Inspired by the annual springtime costume ball given by the students of the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, American students held an annual ball to raise funds for their Beaux-Arts Institute of Design. The balls featured elaborate costumes and performances that were extensively reported in the city’s society pages.
Contrary to the ad pictured below, fashion plate Margaret Thaw was doubtless smarter than her ankles…
If were investing in fine Onyx Pointex silk stockings, you probably wanted to get your legs “Zipped” in a new method described by fashion correspondent Lois Long:
If Lois Long were around today she would have to note that both men and women are getting “Zipped,” waxing everything including their nether regions.
And these days few of us are washing our hair with bar soap, as depicted in the ad below for Lux soap. Like so many other ads in the early New Yorker, this one makes a strong appeal to Francophile readers; if it’s French then it must be good (note that every paragraph and headline in the ad mentions either France or French at least once):
While we are on the topic of advertisements, here is another installment of ads from the back pages of the magazine. Arthur Murray was a frequent advertiser in the magazine, mostly small ads like this that exploited the latest dance craze:
The offerings of the stage and screen were also prominent in the back pages:
And finally, these strange little ads (run as series) that were designed by photographers Anton Bruehl and Ralph Steiner to promote Weber and Heilbroner suits:
Specializing in elaborately designed and lit tableaux, Bruehl won top advertising awards throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s. He also co-developed the Bruehl-Bourges color process, which gave publisher Condé Nast a monopoly on color magazine reproduction in the early 1930s.