Île-de-France

On June 22, 1927, the legendary French ocean-liner, the Île-de-France, traveled from Le Havre to New York on its maiden voyage, soon to be greeted by the American media and the thousands who would crowd the docks at New York Harbor to see the great ship.

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June 25, 1927 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Among those anticipating the visit was the New Yorker, which offered this account in “The Talk of the Town” for the June 25, 1927 issue:

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PRIDE OF FRANCE…Postcard image of the Île-de-France from 1935. During a post-war refurbishment, the three funnels were replaced with a pair of stockier, more stylish funnels. (Wikipedia)

The Île-de-France was unique in that it was the first ocean-liner to have an interior design that didn’t imitate “shore-style” interiors that resembled rooms in manor houses or grand hotels. The trend-setting ship sported a modern, sleek, art deco look that celebrated the present and the future.

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IN WITH THE NEW…The Main Foyer & Grand Staircase of the Île-de-France,(newyorksocialdiary.com)
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LEAVE YOUR FLIP-FLOPS AT HOME…The first-class dining room in the Île-de-France. (newyorksocialdiary.com)

Note that these photos do not contain images of water slides or all-you-can eat buffets. An ocean voyage, if you could afford it, was an elegant affair. The Île-de-France was especially popular among wealthy Americans who liked its stylish, youthful vibe.

The Île-de-France served as a troop ship during World War II, and in 1956 played a major role in rescuing passengers from the sinking Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket.

Unfortunately, anything that is youthful soon grows old, and as we all know, style is an ephemeral thing. With the advent of transatlantic jet transport, ships like the Île-de-France fell out of favor, and by 1960 the grand ocean liner was reduced to serving as a floating prop for a disaster movie titled The Last Voyage. The filmmakers partially sunk the poor ship, set fires and detonated explosions in the interior, and in a final act of desecration dropped one for the ship’s smoke stacks onto its deck house.

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NOT A BUFFET IN SIGHT…Still from the 1960 movie, The Last Voyage, shot on board the soon-to-be-scrapped Île-de-France. (Screen shot from movie trailer)
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FIERY END…Fires were set in the interior of the Île-de-France during the filming of The Last Voyage. (Screen shot from movie trailer)
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BROUGHT TO ITS KNEES…The Île-de-France (named the SS Clarion in the movie) is partially sunk with its forward funnel collapsed in a still from the film, The Last Voyage.

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The Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray murder trial and sentencing captivated Americans in 1927, but another trial and sentencing in the 1920s would bring worldwide attention and spark mass protests.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born Americans who were convicted of murdering a paymaster and guard during a robbery of a Boston-area shoe company in 1920. Although convicted of murder the following year, many critics of trial believed Sacco and Vanzetti, who held anarchist views, were innocent of the charges, and the case became one of largest causes célèbres in modern history with protests held on their behalf in major cities across the U.S. and around the world.

Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in handcuffs, circa 1920s. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images).
Cause Célèbre…Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti handcuffed together at the Dedham, Massachusetts Superior Court, 1923. (Boston Public Library).

Sentenced to death in April 1927, they would be executed the following August. The New Yorker, predisposed to look down on Boston as something of a backwater, had this to say about the trial in an article by Gerald Day for the “Reporter at Large” column:

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The case also rekindled memories of other notorious trials:

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The governor did appoint a commission to review the case, but the final decision was in his hands…

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And so the only option left for Sacco and Vanzetti was clemency from the governor. More on this in another blog entry.

To close, a few illustrations from some of the magazine’s mainstay artists…this one from Johan Bull used to illustrate an article on the U.S. Open:

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…and keeping with the golf theme, this comic panel by Julian de Miskey…

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…and finally, a little fun with Barbara Shermund and her comment on social mores of the day:

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Next Time: Fifteen Minutes is Quite Enough…

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The Age of Innocence

After studying every page of the first 120 issues of the New Yorker, and after researching the lives of its writers and their subjects, the world as described by the New Yorker — 89 years distant — can seep into one’s imagination, not unlike a world created by a fiction writer, whose characters are very much alive in his or her mind even when the pen is idle. You become accustomed to their voices, their likes and dislikes, and begin to see their world as a contemporary of sorts.

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June 4, 1927 cover by H.O. Hofman

And so I find myself reading a review of Edith Wharton’s “latest” novel, Twilight Sleep, and think not of some author I haven’t read since college, but rather see her work as it was seen at its unveiling, albeit through the eyes of New Yorker book critic Ernest Boyd, who wrote under the pen name “Alceste”:

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NOT DEFEATED BY LIFE…Edith Wharton with her Pekes, circa 1920. (lib guides.com)

Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 for The Age of Innocence, making her first woman to receive the prize. Indeed, Wharton kicked off a great decade for women fiction writers — Willa Cather would win the Pulitzer for One of Ours in 1923, Margaret Wilson for The Able McLaughlins in 1924, Edna Ferber for So Big in 1925, and Julia Peterkin for Scarlet Sister Mary in 1929.

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The June 4 issue offered some follow-up items on Charles Lindbergh, this from “Talk of the Town” regarding Lindbergh’s potential to claim perhaps more than the $25,000 Orteig Prize (about $350,000 today) for being the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic — endorsements, book and movie deals, offers to serve on company boards, and so on…

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…and from Howard Brubakers “Of All Things” column, we learn that the aviation hero doesn’t like to be called “Lucky”…

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Baseball was still inexplicably shut out from the pages of the New Yorker, even as the Yankees (and Babe Ruth) were having one of their best-ever seasons. Instead, the June 4 issue covered horse racing (pgs. 63-65), rowing (pgs. 66-68), and lawn games (pgs. 69-72).

Among the “lawn games” reviewed, the New Yorker had this to say about the revival of ping-pong and the “spirited matches played between the sexes”…

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circa 1925: Hollywood film star, Dorothy Sebastian (1903 - 1957) (right) about to start a game of table tennis with fellow actress, Joan Crawford (1904 - 1977). The umpire is actor, Eddie Nugent (1904 - 1995). (Photo by Margaret Chute)
GAME ON…Hollywood film star Dorothy Sebastian (left) squares off with fellow actress Joan Crawford in a game of ping pong in 1925. The umpire is actor Eddie Nugent. Photo by Margaret Chute. (playingpingpong.tumblr.com)

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June 11, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

In the following week’s issue, June 11, 1927, there was a bit more to say about Lindy’s future economic prospects…

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…and there is this item about New York Mayor Jimmy Walker. Given his love of late-night parties, speakeasies and chorus girls, it was no wonder that the New Yorker’s editors found him an attractive subject for “Talk of the Town”…

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Jimmy Walker and Betty Compton after their wedding in Cannes, 1933. (www.isle-of-wight-fhs.co.uk)

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Of course Walker’s aloofness would have consequences later when scandal and corruption would knock him and his cronies from office.

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The issue also included a profile of golfer Walter Hagen, written by Niven Busch Jr. In his “Portrait of a Dutchman,” Busch begins:

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The profile included this terrific portrait of Hagen by Miguel Covarrubias:

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We end with this great full-page cartoon, beautifully rendered in Conté crayon by Reginald Marsh…

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Next Time: Coney Island, 1927…

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