Flapper Fitness

Lois Long stepped off her fashion beat to check out a new fitness salon on East 49th Street that used a combination of spa treatments, exercise and body shaming to get women into shape.

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September 24, 1927 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Operated by a “Miss Marjorie Dork,” the salon offered a comprehensive and “rather sweeping program of making a new and perfect woman of you.” Long observed…

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BEFORE ANTIBIOTICS…Hollywood film star Dorothy Sebastian undergoing treatment for bronchial congestion with a sun-ray lamp at MGM studios, circa 1930. (Observer)

…and what gym would be complete without large placards shaming you for gaining weight or growing old?…

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…or an array of newfangled electric gadgets one could use to melt away those extra pounds…

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ON THE BOARDWALK…Treadmill technology has advanced since the 1920s. It’s hard to believe anyone actually worked out in Mary Janes, but there it is. (Daily Mail)

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Another One Bites the Dust

The New Yorker bid farewell to yet another familiar landmark, the old Van Buren Place at No. 21 West 14th Street. Four stories high and five bays wide, the 1845 mansion was considered the height of early Victorian taste.

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According to the blog Daytonian in Manhattan, in the 19th century the Van Buren estate had a large garden that extended through the block to 15th St., and in the rear included a conservatory, a stable, arbors, dove cotes “and remnants of the farm life—chicken coops and a cow or two.”

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REMNANT OF THE PAST…The old Van Buren Place (center) with its garden to the left. (Museum of the City of New York)

The August 7, 1927 issue of The New York Times reported that the mansion, erected “when all that section north of Washington Square was occupied principally by estates and truck farms, has finally succumbed to the march of improvements and will be demolished to make way for a theatre and office building.” The New Yorker managed to get one last look via “a hole in the fence”…

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I don’t know if either a theatre or office building was ever erected on the site, but this is what stands there today:

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GREAT WALL…The Van Buren estate site as it appears today. (daytoninmanhattan)

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Chill Out With Sanka

Santa decaffeinated coffee was first marketed in the U.S. in 1923, but was only sold at two Sanka coffee houses in New York. The company made a big retail push in 1927, including sponsored broadcasts under various titles including the Sanka After-Dinner Hour on WEAF radio in New York. At least until the 1980s if you wanted a decaffeinated coffee you simply ordered a “Sanka.” According to a Wikipedia entry, the bright orange color of the Sanka can was so easily identifiable to consumers that even today a restaurant’s decaf coffee pot might sport a bright orange handle–the direct result of the public’s association of the color orange with Sanka, no matter which brand of coffee is actually served.

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Our cartoon from the Sept. 24 issue comes from Alan Dunn, who explored the topic of the birds and bees among the posh set…

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Next Time: Wits of the Round Table…

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Mode de Vie

We cross the pond for the May 14, 1927 issue, for a look at all things French. As I’ve previously noted, New Yorker readers of the 1920s had a decidedly Francophile bent when it came to food, fashion and general joie de vivre.

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May 14, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

In fact, readers were so enamored with France that the country merited its own New Yorker correspondent, Janet Flanner, who wrote under the nom de plume “Genêt.”

In the May 14 issue Flanner casually mused about the racing season at Longchamps, which attracted the likes of Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt (nee Anne Harriman), who was well-known in France for her philanthropic work during World War I, including her founding of an ambulance service and a hospital at Neuilly. Vanderbilt received the class of the Legion of Honor in 1919 in recognition of her war work, and in 1931 she was made an officer of the legion.

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BLUE BLOODS…Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt (left) with Mrs. Robert Bacon (nee Martha Waldron Cowdin), circa 1915-1920. Bacon served as chairman of the American Ambulance Committee. (Library of Congress)

In “Talk of the Town,” the editors suggested that readers go to Madison Square Garden and check out the world’s largest canvas painting, Panthéon de la Guerre,   more for the spectacle than for any artistic merit:

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Section of Panthéon de la Guerre showing allies of World War I, now in Memory Hall, Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri. (theworldwar.com) Click to enlarge

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Panthéon de la Guerre was painted during World War I as a circular panorama — 402 feet in circumference and 45 feet high — displayed in Paris in a specially built building next to the Hôtel des Invalides. It was visited by an estimated 8 million people between 1918 and 1927.

The painting was acquired by American businessmen in 1927 and exported to New York, where it was displayed at Madison Square Garden. Some changes were made to the painting for the benefit of an American audience, including the addition of an African-American soldier. The work later toured the U.S — from 1932 to 1940 it went to Washington DC, Chicago, Cleveland, and San Francisco. It was then acquired by restaurant entrepreneur William Haussner for $3,400.

In 1956 Haussner donated the work to Leroy MacMorris to be adapted for display at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. MacMorris drastically reduced the size of the work and modified it to emphasize America’s contribution to WWI: Only 7 percent of the original work was retained, and large French sections were left out. MacMorris likened it to “whittling down a novel to Reader’s Digest condensation.” And he didn’t stop there. He also modified some figures to represent post-WWI figures such as Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

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A BIT OF THIS, A DASH OF THAT…Figure of Victory from the Temple to Glory cut to fit above a doorway at Memory Hall, Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri, with the staircase of heroes to either side. Compare to original below:
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(trenchartcollection.com)

To reduce and reconfigure the painting, MacMorris first photographed it in detail, then cut out the figures in the photos and used them like puzzle pieces to work out his new condensed version, which was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1959.

As for the unused portions, what MacMorris did not use he threw away, sending several of the larger excised passages back to Haussner for display in his Baltimore restaurant. MacMorris also gave pieces to the art students who helped him reconfigure the painting and to a number of prominent Kansas Citians.

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Fragment from Panthéon de la Guerre depicting a British nursing sister. (theworldwar.org)

The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City recently held an exhibition on the painting and its recovered fragments.

 * * *

In her fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue,” Lois Long advised readers on where to shop in Paris. I’m not certain, but I believe she invented the pen name “Parisite” to write this particular column, which featured recommendations for many stores and bargains in the City of Light (Long had indeed visited Paris before writing the column). A brief excerpt from the beginning of the column:

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And now for the advertisements, all from the May 14 issue, featuring various French themes, such as this one for Krasny makeup that evokes the glamour of Paris and the intrigue of Russian women…

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…or exotic perfumes for only the most exclusive set…

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…or the chic look of Revillon Freres spring coats and wraps…

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…or fake vermouth…this odd little illustration in the back pages for non-alcoholic vermouth, served by a dutiful French maid to what appears to be a giant. You have to feel sorry for the writers of such ads during Prohibition, trying so hard to make this sad libation appealing to thirsty New Yorkers…

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…but there were those lucky few who could actually travel to France and drink the real stuff, you could get a really swell send-off with a “Bon Voyage Basket” from L. Bamberger & Co…

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…and while you were in France (at least for the men), Peter Arno could show you how to give the glad eye to the mesdemoiselles…

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Next Time: Shock of the New…

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Those Restless Natives

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 and Ernest 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.

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May 7, 1927 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

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.

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(Wikipedia)

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 Chang often 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.”

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I’D BE WARY OF THOSE GUYS TOO…Image from the filming of Chang. (criticsroundup.com)
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JUST PASSING THROUGH…Elephants stampede a village in the film’s finale. (image capture from film)

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:

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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…”

chang-2And 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 at 420 Lexington Avenue, the multi-tiered edifice impressing the “Talk of the Town” editors with the latest technology, including push-button elevators: 

The Graybar Building (history.graybar.com)

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PERMANENT INFESTATION…The Graybar’s rain canopy cables include anti-rat devices (cones) decorated with rats. If you look carefully, the rosettes anchoring the cables are also decorated with rat heads. (deadprogrammer.com)

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Next Time…Mode de Vie…

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World of Tomorrow

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.

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March 12, 1927 cover by Carl Rose.

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.

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The city of tomorrow as portrayed in the opening scenes of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The New Yorker encouraged readers to see the film mostly for the special effects, but lamented its “Teutonic heaviness” and uninspired acting. (archhistdaily)

An excerpt from the New Yorker review:

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The working masses toil in the dank world beneath the city in Metropolis. (myfilmviews.com)
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Brigette Helm’s duo portrayal of the noble Mary and her robotic double (here being created through cinematic magic) in Metropolis was praised by the New Yorker, which otherwise found the film’s acting subpar. (cinemagraphe.com)

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:

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And in the March 12 issue they offered this parting note in “Of All Things”….

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Aimee Semple McPherson (left) leading a service at her Angelus Temple in Los Angeles in the 1920s.

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:

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click to enlarge

Advertisements in this issue included this announcement for the opening of the Park Central Hotel, still a grand landmark on 7th Avenue…

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…and this ad from Nestle touting the latest method for achieving success in the latest hair style…

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Next Time: Nothing Like the Roxy…

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Spring Fever

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.

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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:

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At least New Yorkers had plenty of activities to take their minds off of the weather, including two important balls:

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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.

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LOOK AT ME…Margaret Thaw dressed as a “White Sultana” for the 1928 Beaux Arts Ball held at the Astor Hotel. The theme was “The French Occupation of Northern Africa — 1847.” A doyenne of international high society perennially named to best-dressed lists, Margaret and her husband, Lawrence Copley Thaw, were world-famous explorers of Africa and Asia and correspondents for National Geographic magazine. (New York Times)

Contrary to the ad pictured below, fashion plate Margaret Thaw was doubtless smarter than her ankles…

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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:

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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):

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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:

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The offerings of the stage and screen were also prominent in the back pages:

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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:

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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.

Next Time: Papa Pens a Parody…

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Upstairs, Downstairs

As the New Yorker was a magazine of the city’s new money smart set, it poked fun at their faddish tastes and patronizing attitudes while at the same time feeding their Anglophilia and WASPish sense of superiority.

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January 22, 1927 cover by Andre De Schaub.

The magazine’s pages were filled with ads for English-style clothes, French perfumes and expensive cars. And in the Jan. 22 issue there were many ads for the motorboats that had displaced the automobile show at Grand Central Palace:

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It is important to note that this ad is an appeal to new money; old money would have found this motorized vessel quite vulgar.

As it were, the new money needed some guidance if they hoped to live a lifestyle of ease and sophistication. And thus the issue’s “On and Off the Avenue” column, guest-written by Gretta Palmer (Lois Long took the week off), offered advice on how to hire and clothe the help:

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Perhaps you wanted a proper English butler. Lida Seely had your man:

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Or a Scotch maid, or choose from a selection of “any color or race”…

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In case you found that last sentence a bit callous, Gretta reassured:

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The issue also featured a cartoon by Rea Irvin (displayed full-page, sideways in the original magazine) that would be offensive to 21st century sensibilities. The cartoon depicted the “lower orders” aping the lifestyle of the upper classes. Note that of all the racial and ethnic types shown here–“Orientals,” Eastern Europeans and the Irish–only blacks remain in the servant class.

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As I noted in a previous post, “Race Matters,” the New Yorker of the 1920s was decidedly mainstream in engaging in casual bigotry common in those days, including treating blacks as racial “others.” There is, perhaps, a subtle jab here by Irvin at the pretensions of the uppers, but he’s not around anymore to clarify this.

The issue also featured the first of a series of articles (“Profiles”) on the 87-year-old John D. Rockefeller. A brief excerpt, with illustration by Cyrus Baldridge:

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Rockefeller

The writer’s prediction wasn’t too far off: John D. Rockefeller would live another ten years, and die at age 97 in 1937. His grandson, David Rockefeller, apparently inherited both his money and his genes: he recently celebrated his 101st birthday.

Finally, a cartoon by Peter Arno, famed for his drawings of women, usually scantily clad. Here we see an early example in one of his “Whoops Sisters” panels:

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By comparison, here is a cartoon by Arno 33 years later, from the September 10, 1960 issue of the New Yorker:

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Caption: “Makes you kind of proud to be an American, doesn’t it?”

Next Time: All That Jazz…

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Holiday Shopping

With Christmas fast approaching, The New Yorker was getting into the spirit of holidays, especially with all of the advertising revenue it gained from merchants who targeted its well-heeled readership.

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November 27, 1926 — Peter Arno’s first cover for the New Yorker. He would go to do 98 more.

Lois Long continued to write both of her weekly columns for the magazine–her observations on fashion along with ideas for Christmas shoppers in “On and Off the Avenue” (“Saks’ toy department has some of the loveliest French notepaper for tiny children…”) and her musings on nightlife in “Tables for Two.”

In contrast to her rather light mood expressed in the fashion column, Long was feeling far from jolly in her “Tables” observations of New York’s nightlife:

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As you might recall, in a previous column Long tossed a “ho-hum” in the direction of the famed Cotton Club. Perhaps Prohibition was taking its toll on the hard-partying columnist.

Nevertheless, the holiday spirit was upon with The New Yorker, in the cartoons (this one by Helen Hokinson)…

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…and in various advertisements.

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Note this advertisement (below) from Russeks. The comics in The New Yorker famously poked fun at the comic pairings of rich old men and their young mistresses, but this ad seemed to glorify such a pairing while suggesting that an older man of means must invest in fine furs if he is going to hang on to his trophy wife or mistress, in this case a young woman who appears to be nearly eight feet tall…

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I liked this ad from Nat Lewis for the simple line drawing…
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…but the ads for Elizabeth Arden, which for years featured this “Vienna Youth Mask” image, always creep me out.

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The mask was made of papier-mâché lined with tinfoil. Although not pictured in the ad, it was also fitted to the client’s face. The Vienna Youth Mask used diathermy to warm up the facial tissues and stimulate blood circulation.

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SLEEP TIGHT…The full “Youth Mask”applied to an Elizabeth Arden client in the mid 1930s. (cosmeticsandskin.com)

In a 1930 advertisement, Elizabeth Arden claimed that “The Vienna Youth Mask stimulates the circulation, producing health as Nature herself does, through a constantly renewed blood supply. The amazing value of this treatment lies in the depth to which it penetrates, causing the blood to flow in a rich purifying stream to underlying tissues and muscles…charging them with new youth and vigor. It stirs the circulation as no external friction or massage can possible do.”

I don’t believe this claim was backed up by medical research, but as we all know, Elizabeth Arden made a bundle from these treatments and the various creams and potions that came with it.

Next Time: Race Matters…

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Fun With Harold

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.

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The cover of the “official” issue (left) for November 6, 1926, was illustrated by William Troy, the parody issue by Rea Irvin.

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.

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Alexander Woollcott and Harold Ross (Britannica; Jane Grant Collection, University of Oregon)

Ralph Barton’s contribution to the parody issue…

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(From About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, By Ben Yagoda)

…and an unsigned contribution that took a poke at Ross’s efforts to create efficient procedures at the magazine’s office:

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Excerpt from Defining New Yorker Humor, by Judith Yaross Lee

In the other Nov. 6 issue, “The Talk of the Town” editors commented on the death of the famed magician Harry Houdini:

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ONE OF HIS FINAL ACTS…Houdini appearing before a Senate committee to expose fake spiritualists in February 1926. (Granger.com)

“Talk” also noted a new book called Elmer Gantry was being penned by Sinclair Lewis:

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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…

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…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…

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Next Time: The Cotton Club & Other Distractions…

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