The Oct. 15, 1927 issue featured the premiere of the film The Jazz Singer. Although the New Yorker found the story a bit dull, it also recognized that the film’s use of sound marked a significant turning point in the short history of cinema.
The Jazz Singer was not the first film to employ sound, but as the New Yorker review pointed out, it was the first to effectively use synchronized sound (the industry standard Vitaphone technique) in a way that improved the motion picture.
The film featured only two minutes worth of sound dialogue, so most of the spoken lines were still presented on intertitle cards commonly used in silent films. But it was Al Jolson’s recorded voice, belting out popular tunes including “Toot, Toot, Tootsie,” that really wowed audiences. At the end of the film Jolson himself appeared on stage before an audience “clapping and bellowing with joy”…
It is interesting that as early as 1927, and even with the relatively crude sound of Vitaphone, the New Yorker was already predicting the advent of a new kind of star (and the decline of the stage actor)…
As for the movie itself, well, there was Jolson, beloved by many. Perhaps it’s the sound quality, or the 89 years of changing tastes, but I cannot for life of me understand what audiences (or the New Yorker) saw that was so appealing about Al Jolson as a performer.
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The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” offered some curious observations about the new ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow.
Morrow has been widely hailed as a brilliant ambassador with a keen intellect. The New Yorker, however, offered some additional perspective on the man:
Flight of Fancy
In the wake of Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight, the New Yorker (and the rest of the country) continued its fascination with air travel, which at this point was confined to military and commercial pilots, stunt flyers and the well-to-do.
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RIP Isadora Duncan
The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, Janet Flanner, wrote of the funeral of famed modern dancer Isadora Duncan in her column, “Letter from Paris.” Duncan was killed in a freak accident on the night of Sept. 14, 1927 when her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels of the car in which she was riding, breaking her neck.
Other items of note from the Oct. 15 issue, E.B. White contributed this ditty…
…and Corey Ford, who gave the fictional Eustace Tilley his persona, wrote of Tilley’s feat crossing Broadway in a parody of adventure stories popular at the time. An excerpt:
And finally, Peter Arno explored childhood angst among the smart set:
“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 New Yorker’s founder and editor, Harold Ross, did not approve of office romances. He had a magazine to run after all, and didn’t want any distractions from Cupid’s arrow.
But then again, it seemed inevitable that Lois Long and Peter Arno–two of the magazine’s most lively personalities and important early contributors–would end up together. Arno cut a dashing figure as one the New Yorker’s most celebrated cartoonists. He often drew upon the same subject matter as Long, who covered the nightclub and speakeasy scene in her column, “Tables for Two” and in the process defined the lifestyle of the liberated flapper. Long is also credited with inventing the field of fashion writing and criticism with her other New Yorker column, “On and Off the Avenue.”
In Vanity Fair, Ben Schwartz (“The Double Life of Peter Arno,” April 5, 2016) wrote that Arno and Long “personified what people thought The New Yorker was, which was very fortunate…(Long was) tall, lanky, a Vassar grad with bobbed hair and a wicked sense of humor, a minister’s daughter to Arno’s judge’s son, and she matched him as a hell-raiser.” It was actually their raucous affair that set Ross on a “permanent scowl” regarding office romances.
Schwartz quotes Arno’s and Long’s daughter, Patricia (Pat) Arno, about her parents’ wild relationship: “There were lots of calls to (gossip columnist Walter) Winchell or some other columnist about nightclub fights…with my mother calling and saying, ‘Oh, please don’t print that about us,’ trying to keep their names out of the papers.”
Schwartz suggests that Arno drew on personal experience when in 1930 he published Peter Arno’s Hullabaloo, a “collection of cartoons that included a set of racy drawings featuring a dashing couple much like himself and Long. In one, a nude woman, in bed, yells at her sleeping lover: ‘Wake up, you mutt! We’re getting married to-day.'”
Long and Arno were married by her father, the Rev. Dr. William J. Long, at her parents’ home in Stamford, Conn., on August 13, 1927. Their daughter, Patricia, was born September 18, 1929.
According to Schwartz, Arno’s first three books sold well (Whoops Dearie! 1927, Parade 1929, and Hullabaloo 1930) “allowing the young family to move into an East Side penthouse. Their social circle included New Yorker staffers, the magazine’s owner, Raoul Fleischmann, publishers Condé Nast and Henry Luce, Kay Francis (Broadway actress, future Hollywood star and Long’s former roommate), and some of the city’s financial powers. ‘Once my mother was having trouble with her Plymouth,’ says Pat Arno, “and Walter Chrysler took off his evening coat, rolled up his sleeves, and fixed it himself.'”
Less than two years after the birth of their daughter, Arno and Long would get a divorce in Reno on June 30, 1931. Arno later married debutante Mary Livingston Lansing in August 1935; they divorced in July 1939. After his divorce from Lansing, Arno moved to a farm near Harrison, New York, where he lived in seclusion, drawing for the New Yorker and enjoying music, guns, and sports cars. He died of emphysema on February 22, 1968 at the age of 64.
In 1938 Long would marry Donaldson Thorburn, a newspaper and advertising man. After his death in 1952 she would marry Harold Fox, head of an investment brokerage firm. Long’s colleague at the New Yorker, Brendan Gill, described Fox as “a proper Pennsylvanian named Harold A. Fox.” They lived in an 1807 Pennsylvania-Dutch farmhouse, where Long delighted in the woods, farms and wildlife as well as in her two grandchildren—Andrea Long Bush and Katharine Kittredge Bush. In 1960 she wrote to her alma mater, Vassar College, that the “hectic fifteen years or so after graduation, when I thought I had New York City by the tail and was swinging it around my head, seem very far away. Thank God. I like things this way.” Long would continue working as a columnist for the New Yorker until the death of Harold Fox, in 1968. She died in 1974 at age 72.
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The big news in the Aug. 13, 1927 edition (the same date as the Long-Arno wedding) was President Calvin Coolidge’s brief, ambiguous announcement that he would not run for president. Almost everyone assumed he would run for a second term, given the booming economy in the age of “Coolidge Prosperity.”
Coolidge was summering in Black Hills when he gave his secretary, Everett Sanders, a piece of paper that read, “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” Sanders then scheduled a midday press conference for August 2, 1927. At 11:30 a.m., Coolidge cut out strips of paper with this statement–I do not choose to run—and at the conference handed each reporter one of the strips. Coolidge offered no further information, and only remarked, “There will be nothing more from this office today.” This led to considerable debate among the press as to intentions of the president. The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” mused…
…Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column offered this wry observation…
…while humorist Robert Benchley (writing under the pseudonym “Guy Fawkes”) in his “The Press in Review” column continued the New Yorker’s stinging attack on the media for its continued attempts to sensationalize events or impart personality traits on colorless newsmakers:
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.
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:
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.
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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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.
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:
The case also rekindled memories of other notorious trials:
The governor did appoint a commission to review the case, but the final decision was in his hands…
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:
…and keeping with the golf theme, this comic panel by Julian de Miskey…
…and finally, a little fun with Barbara Shermund and her comment on social mores of the day:
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.
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”:
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…
…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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In the following week’s issue, June 11, 1927, there was a bit more to say about Lindy’s future economic prospects…
…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”…
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:
The profile included this terrific portrait of Hagen by Miguel Covarrubias:
We end with this great full-page cartoon, beautifully rendered in Conté crayonby Reginald Marsh…