The Russians Are Coming

Compared to Hollywood, cinema as an art form in the 1920s was more advanced in Europe, where filmmakers took a more mature, nuanced approach to movies; they focused less on money and more on exploring difficult social and historical issues. Trench warfare, genocide and famine have a way of doing that to you.

June 9, 1928 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

The contrast between the European avant-garde and Hollywood’s Tinseltown was not lost on the New Yorker’s film critics, who consistently lambasted American cinema while applauding nearly everything coming out of Europe, and especially the films produced by German and Russian directors. The critic “O.C.” used the Russians latest American release, The End of St. Petersburg, to drive home the point. He also chided those who dismissed the film as propaganda, a stance much in line with leftist intellectuals of the day who found inspiration in the Russian Revolution (and sometimes they looked the other way when things didn’t go so well in the Soviet experiment—1928 marked the beginning of the Soviet Union’s first Five-Year Plan. By 1934 it was estimated that almost 15 million people died from forced collectivization and famine).

The End of St. Petersburg was blatant propaganda, to be sure, but to this day it has been widely praised for its cinematic innovations. The story itself was fairly straightforward: A peasant goes to St. Petersburg looking for work, gets arrested for his involvement in a labor union and is subsequently sent to fight in the trenches of World War I. His experiences in the war solidify his commitment to revolution and the overthrow of the capitalist overlords. The New Yorker review:

OPPRESSORS & OPPRESSED…The shareholders of a steel mill (top) demand longer hours from workers who already suffer from hellish conditions at the factory in The End of St. Petersburg. (Stills from the film, available on YouTube)

The New Yorker reviewer suggested that a story used primarily to influence an audience—propaganda—was not necessarily a bad thing:

The horrors of trench warfare were graphically depicted in The End of St. Petersburg. (stills from film)

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Back in the New World, most of the talk in cinematic circles revolved around the excitement of “talking pictures.”

FORERUNNER…The Vitaphone system was the most successful of early attempts at sound movies. It synchronized a large recorded disc (seen at lower right) with the film. The Jazz Singer, often heralded as the movie that marked the commercial ascendance of sound films, used Vitaphone technology. (Audio Engineering Society)
BETTER YET…Sound movies took off with the invention of a soundtrack that could be printed directly onto the film. Filmmakers either used Variable Area (left) or Variable Density (center) mono optical soundtracks located between the film’s picture frame and sprocket holes. The tracks could be read by a newly developed photocell (a light source also known as Aeo-light) that could be modulated by audio signals and was used to expose the soundtrack in sound cameras such as the one at right. (Images 1 & 2, Audio Engineering Society/ Image 3, Wikipedia)

It seems that Fox Movietone newsreels really got things going with sound and whetted the audience appetites for more:

TELLING US A THING OR TWO…Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw’s first visit to America, recorded for posterity in this 1928 Fox Movietone Newsreel. (still from film)

*  *  *

Then There Was The Other Playwright…

Mae West, to be exact. My guess is her approach to the craft was a bit different than G.B. Shaw’s, and we can gather as much from these excerpts from the June 9 “Talk of the Town.” The piece discusses West’s rise to fame as the creator and star of the scandalous play Sex, and her unorthodox approach to rehearsals.

DEMURE SHE’S NOT…Mae West in 1928’s Diamond Lil. (doctormacro.com)

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Although many today would identify D.H. Lawrence as one of great English novelists of the 20th century, eighty years ago the New Yorker book critic Dorothy Parker described him as “very near to being first rate.”

ALMOST FIRST RATE? D.H. Lawrence with wife Frieda Weekley in Chapala, Mexico in 1923. (tanvirdhaka.blogspot.com)

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Blind Justice

The makers of Old Gold cigarettes claimed to have scientific proof on their side with a series of ads in the New Yorker featuring endorsements by the rich and famous. This ad ran in the June 9 issue:

In the same issue was this cartoon by Al Frueh that took a poke at Old Gold’s marketing strategy…

…and Peter Arno offered this unique take on human vanity…

Talking pictures continued to be a theme in the June 16, 1928, issue of the New Yorker.

In his “Of All Things Column,” Howard Brubaker suggested that sound movies would spell the end of careers for some silent stars:

Although some actors struggled with the transition to sound, the reasons why some major stars faded with the advent of “talkies” are far more nuanced. In many cases, some stars packed it in because their careers had already peaked during the silent era, and both studios and audiences were looking for some fresh faces.

HAS BEENS?…It is a common assumption that sound motion pictures killed the careers of many silent stars, including big names like John Gilbert (left) and Clara Bow. The reality is far more nuanced. (Wikipedia/NY Post)

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Niven Busch, Jr. continued to explore the illicit bar scene in his recurring feature “Speakeasy Nights.” I include this excerpt because it described a rather clever facade devised by the owner of the “J.P. Speakeasy.”

WORK/LIFE BALANCE…What might appear to be a typical business office might conceal an even more lucrative business in the back rooms. (Musée McCord/americanhistoryusa.com)
Busch observed an interesting protocol for admittance into the speakeasy, including a typewritten message devised to throw off any would-be Prohibition officers:

From Our Advertisers…

This ad leaves a bad taste in your mouth no matter how you look at. Nothing like coating your mouth with Milk of Magnesia before lighting up that first fag of the day…

…and here we have another ad for Flit insecticide, courtesy of Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel.

And finally, a look at a Roaring Twenties wedding reception, courtesy cartoonist Garrett Price:

Next Time: Down to Coney Island…

After Hours

Broadway shows were a popular nightlife diversion for New York’s upper middle-class, but plays and musicals were only part of an evening’s entertainment. The city’s “after theatre” clubs beckoned those who enjoyed an evening of dance with the Astaires or a light comedy with Lunt and Fontanne, but believed the night was still young.

May 5, 1928 cover by Leonard Dove.

And who better to chronicle the late night revelry than Lois Long, who through her “Tables For Two” column (signed “Lipstick”) was a leading voice of after hours Manhattan and a nightly presence in its various clubs and speakeasies. Longtime New Yorker writer Brendan Gill (Here at the New Yorker) observed that Long, who joined the New Yorker in 1925, “had plunged at once, joyously, into a New York that seemed always at play — a city of speakeasies, night clubs, tea dances, football weekends, and steamers sailing at midnight.”

In May 1928 Long had been married for about nine months to colleague and cartoonist Peter Arno, who was also a regular fixture of the nightclub scene. But in Long’s column for May 5, 1928, one can detect a bit of weariness setting in, the 27-year-old sensing the next generation didn’t know how to have a good time.

And it didn’t help that the younger people were dancing to “canned music,” what with the spread of broadcast radio and improvements in phonograph records…

LIPSTICK WAS A FAN of the Paul Specht Orchestra, seen here in 1928. (YouTube)
BUT NOT A FAN of those darn kids who preferred records to live music, and didn’t know how to party at the clubs. (Pinterest)

For those on the wilder side, Lois Long recommended a number of after-hours entertainments, including Texas Guinan’s latest all-night club, Salon Royal, and its snake-charming hootch dancer.

WHOOPEE was the order of the day at Texas Guinan’s Salon Royal on West 58th Street, now refurbished as the 6 Columbus Hotel. Guinan was well known to New Yorker writers and editors and was a frequent guest of the numerous parties hosted by Harold Ross and Jane Grant in their Hell’s Kitchen brownstone. (texasguinan.blogspot)
A FAVORITE HAUNT…A bartender at the 21 Club speakeasy in New York, as photographed by Margaret Bourke-White circa 1930. The 21 was Lois Long’s favorite watering hole. (Getty)

Because so many New Yorker readers were both theatre and after-theatre-goers, the magazine included some of the after-dinner destinations in its “Goings On About Town” section. Excerpts follow.

Rubberneckers

The May 5 “Talk of the Town” commented on the challenges film crews faced when they shot on location in the city, in this case the production of Harold Lloyd’s latest comedy, Speedy:

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION…Silent film star Harold Lloyd (leaning on car at right) and his crew draw a crowd under Queensboro Bridge during the filming of Speedy. (silentlocations.wordpress.com)
BABE IN THE CITY…Harold Lloyd takes baseball legend Babe Ruth for a wild spin in 1928’s Speedy. (YouTube)

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Before Mommie Dearest

The actress Joan Crawford is best known today as the subject of the 1981 biopic, Mommie Dearest, which portrayed Crawford as an insecure, abusive parent to her adopted daughter Christina (the film was based on a 1978 memoir and exposé of the same name written by Christina Crawford).

But in the 1920s and 30s the former dancer and chorus girl was better known for her sex appeal, attractive to men for her looks and to women for the roles in which she portrayed hard-working women who find both romance and success.

PRETTY PICTURE…Ramon Novarro and Joan Crawford in Across to Singapore, 1928. (Silent Hollywood)

The New Yorker took notice of Crawford in its review of Across to Singapore, the critic O.C. noting that Crawford “gets prettier in every picture”…

Another film released later in 1928, Our Dancing Daughters, would make Crawford a star and a symbol of the liberated, 1920s flapper. Even the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald would observe that “Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see in smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living.”

Another actress with a talent for living was 34-year-old Mae West, who was appearing on Broadway in Diamond Lil. Already a 21-year veteran of the stage (she began performing in vaudeville in 1907 at age 14), West was known for writing and performing in risqué plays beginning in 1926, when she appeared in Sex, which was panned by conservative critics but enjoyed hot ticket sales.

Subsequent plays aroused controversy and kept her name in the newspapers, but her play Diamond Lil would become the Broadway hit that would cement her image as a sex symbol, one she would maintain until her death at age 87 in 1980. In the May 5 issue artist Miguel Covarrubias offered his vision of the Queen of the Bowery:

THEATRE CARD for the Broadway production of Diamond Lil at the Royale Theatre. (maewest.blogspot.com)
STILL AT IT 50 YEARS LATER…The 86-year-old Mae West in her last film, 1978’s Sextette. In a 1979 review, New York Times film critic Vincent Canby called the film “a disorienting freak show in which Mae West, now 87 years old, does a frail imitation of the personality that wasn’t all that interesting 45 years ago. The movie, which opens today at the Victoria and other theaters, is a poetic, terrifying reminder of how a virtually disembodied ego can survive total physical decay and loss of common sense. (filmcomment.com)

From Our Advertisers

It’s interesting to see how 1920s advertisers made even the most mundane gadgets appear to be vital to one’s survival. The ad for the “Sesamee” auto switch lock is a case in point, appealing to upscale female readers of the New Yorker with this odd scenario in which the gadget enables the driver to avoid the awkward and potentially hazardous situation depicted below, although it hard to see what the actual threat might be from a dandy in a tie and waistcoat. Perhaps death from boredom.

Our cartoon is courtesy of Mary Petty,  who would become a renowned illustrator for the New Yorker, best remembered for a series of covers featuring her gentle satirization of the upper class Peabody family.

Next Time: Dog’s Best Friend…

 

Conventional Follies of ’28

U.S. presidential elections have long provided fodder for the nation’s humorists, and the 1928 contest between Herbert Hoover and Al Smith was no exception.

March 31, 1928 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

In the March 31, 1928 issue of the New Yorker writer Frank Sullivan and cartoonist Al Frueh took particular delight in skewering the party nominating conventions. As Sullivan observed:

Regarding item No. 3, Sullivan was referring to Minnesota’s famed Mayo Clinic, and the related pride that was doubtless associated with the removal of an appendix from the wife of Al Smith, four-term governor of New York and nominee to lead the Democratic ticket.

The candidates could not have been more different. The first Catholic to be nominated for president, Al Smith was a crowd-loving, charismatic personality, a Tammany Hall politician and a committed “wet” who opposed Prohibition. He attracted strong support from Catholics, women, drinkers and those who were tired of the crime and corruption associated with dry America.

WET VS. WET BLANKET…The staid, “dry” Republican candidate Herbert Hoover (left) easily defeated the charismatic “wet” Democratic candidate Al Smith (right) in the 1928 U.S. Presidential Election.

Hoover, on the other hand, was deliberately dull and humorless, as stiff as his heavily starched collars and committed to keeping the country dry. But the economy under fellow Republican Calvin Coolidge was booming, and it didn’t hurt that many Protestants believed the Catholic Church would dictate Al Smith’s policies if he were elected. Sullivan had some fun with this perceived religious prejudice:

In light of the recent 2016 elections and the prominence of “Islamophobia” in the political rhetoric, Sullivan’s joke regarding the role of “Mohammedans” in the 1928 election is noteworthy:

Illustrations by Al Frueh, both top and bottom, aptly captured the picture Sullivan painted of the nominating process:

Al Smith would lose in a landslide. Journalists at the time attributed his defeat to the three P’s: Prohibition, Prejudice and Prosperity. Rural voters, who favored Hoover, also had a bigger say than their urban brethren: Republicans would benefit from a failure to reapportion Congress and the electoral college following the 1920 census, which had registered a 15 percent increase in the urban population. After the election, Smith became the president of Empire State Inc., the corporation that would build the the Empire State Building in 1930-31.

In his piece Sullivan also took at parting shot at President Coolidge…

…as did cartoonist J. Price in the same issue…

For reference, the image that inspired Price:

BIG CHIEF… Coolidge donned a headdress while being named an honorary Sioux chief (“Leading Eagle”) in Deadwood, South Dakota in the summer of 1927. (AP)

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New Yorker Monotypes

Another humorist who regularly contributed to the New Yorker was Baird Leonard, who beginning with the second issue of the magazine (Feb. 28, 1925) wrote a series titled “Metropolitan Monotypes.” Over five years and 36 installments Leonard wrote free-verse characterizations of various New York “types,” from debutantes to aesthetes to “The Anglomaniac” as described below in this installment from March 31, 1928:

As I’ve noted before, Anglophilia oozed from the New Yorker ads, particularly those directed at the male reader (France was a common lure in ads for women). Every issue from the 1920s is rife with examples, but sticking to the March 31 issue we find this ad employing the British slang for cigarettes to market a silly, dog-shaped cigarette case to fashionable women:

In the same issue this ad from Macy’s appealed to participants of a famous cultural event for the posh set—the annual Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue. A tradition dating back to the 1870s, in its first decades the “parade” was a display of wealth and beauty, as the well-to-do strolled from church to church to check out various floral displays.

The parade has changed considerably over the years, with high fashion given over to camp as the event has become far more democratic…

THEIR EASTER BEST…A couple strolling in New York’s 1922 Easter Parade. (Bettmann/Corbis)
WHAT A DIFFERENCE 90 YEARS MAKES…The Easter Parade in 2012. (nycxplorer.com)

In 1928, the poor and middle classes were merely observers of the passing parade, perhaps hoping to learn something about the latest fashions. The April 14 “Talk of the Town” suggested as much:

And finally, our cartoon comes courtesy of Leonard Dove, who explores the lighter side of boxing…

Next Time: We Americans…

Amen Aimee

It what would become a longstanding tradition, the New Yorker marked its third anniversary by featuring the original cover illustration (by Rea Irvin) from Issue No. 1. The New Yorker was a very different magazine by its third year, fat with advertising and its editorial content bolstered by such talents as Peter Arno, E.B. White and Dorothy Parker.

Feb. 25, 1928 cover by Rea Irvin.

Parker livened up the magazine’s books section, mincing few words as she took on writers both great and not so great.

In the latter category was Aimee Semple McPherson, a 1920s forerunner of today’s glitzy televangelists. In her column “Reading and Writing,” Parker took aim at McPherson — “Our Lady of the Loud-speaker” — who had just published a book titled In the Service of the King.

READY FOR MY CLOSEUP…Although she was an evangelical preacher, Aimee Temple McPherson was also considered one of the most glamorous women in 1920s America. (Foursquare Church)

McPherson was a Pentecostal-style preacher who practiced “speaking in tongues” and faith healing in her services, which drew huge crowds at revival events between 1919 and 1922. She took to the radio in the early 1920s and in 1923 she based her ministry in Los Angeles at her newly completed Angelus Temple, which served as the center of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

McPherson’s book detailed her conversion and her various hardships, including her mysterious “kidnapping” in 1926. Parker was having none of it:

Parker was referring to events beginning on May 18, 1926, when the evangelist went to Venice Beach for a swim and went missing. Some thought she had drown, others claimed they saw a “sea monster” in the area. McPherson reemerged in June on the Mexico-Arizona border, claiming she had been kidnapped and held captive by three strangers.

Numerous allegations of illicit love affairs targeted McPherson during her years of fame, so some were inclined to believe she went missing in order to engage in a love affair with her sound engineer.

Upon her return to Los Angeles she was greeted by a huge crowd (est. 30,000 to 50,000) that paraded her back to the Angelus Temple. However many others in the city found McPherson’s homecoming gaudy and annoying. A grand jury was subsequently convened to determine if evidence of a kidnapping could be found, but the court soon turned its focus to McPherson herself to determine if she had faked the kidnapping. Parker thought the condition of the preacher’s shoes, after a long trek through the desert, were evidence enough of a sham:

THE MEGACHURCH IS BORN…Angelus Temple, completed in 1923, is the center of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel founded by McPherson. It is still in active use. (Loyola Marymount University)
SPECTACLE…Aimee Semple McPherson surrounded by massed choirs at Angelus Temple for a musical requiem in 1929. (Los Angeles Public Library/Herald Examiner)
Aimee Semple McPherson (second from left) joins tambourine players in a service at Angelus Temple. McPherson produced weekly dramas, often major spectacles, illustrating various religious themes. (Los Angeles Public Library/Herald Examiner)

McPherson, who was married three times and twice divorced, died in September 1944 from an apparent overdose of sleeping pills. She was 53. Her son Rolf took over the ministry after her death. Today McPherson’s Foursquare Church has a worldwide membership of about 8 million. It is still based in Los Angeles.

But How Do I Look?

The Feb. 25 issue profiled the young Jascha Heifetz, a Russian-born violin prodigy who seemed more interested in how he looked than in how he performed. An excerpt:

SARTORIAL PERFECTION…Detail of a 1928 photo of 27-year-old Jascha Heifetz, taken by Edward Steichen. (Getty)

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Speaking of fashion, one of the world’s greatest fashion designers, Paul Poiret, was seeing hard times in the late 1920s with his designs losing popularity in his native France and his formidable fashion empire on the brink of collapse. But Francophile New Yorkers, always hungry for French fashion, greeted Poiret with open arms when he arrived in the city in the fall of 1927.

It is something of a surprise, however, to find this advertisement in the Feb. 25 issue in which Poiret endorses Rayon, a man-made substitute for silk. We don’t usually associate synthetics with haute couture, but then again maybe Poiret just needed the money. Better living through chemistry, as they say…

(click to enlarge)

Also in the issue was a sad, Prohibition-era advertisement that extolled the virtues of an oxymoronic “non-alcoholic vermouth”…

And finally from the Feb. 25 issue, a cartoon by Carl Rose…

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One-eyed Monster

In the March 3 issue “The Talk of the Town” discovered the miracle of television during a visit to the Bell Telephone laboratories.

March 3, 1928 cover by Peter Arno.

Lab researchers demonstrated a “receiving grid” with a tiny screen that displayed images broadcast across the expanse of an auditorium:

WE’LL CALL IT THE BOOB TUBE…Engineer and inventor Ernst Alexanderson (right) and the TV projector he used for early public demonstrations of television, circa 1928. (edisontechcenter.org)

Another glimpse into the future in the March 3 issue came courtesy illustrator Al Frueh, who offered this fanciful look at the skyscraper of tomorrow:

(click to enlarge)

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“Profile” featured the first installment of a four-part article (by Niven Busch Jr.) on a man who put America on wheels and into traffic jams. Excerpts:

Profile illustration by Al Frueh.

And finally, an analogy that would take on new meaning after the market crash…

Next Time: To Bob, Or Not to Bob…

 

 

 

 

Speakeasy Nights

Before screenwriter Niven Busch headed to Hollywood in 1931, he cut his teeth as writer for the New Yorker, contributing a series of profiles (later compiled in Twenty-one Americans) as well as an intermittent series from May 1927 to Feb. 1930 on New York’s Prohibition-era speakeasies.

February 18, 1928 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

Always careful to shield the identity of speakeasy owners and patrons, Busch described the often less-than-glamorous digs of New York’s illegal watering holes. In a speakeasy called “The No Trump” (referring to card-playing, and not a future president), two Irish brothers took turns mixing drinks “on a kitchen table in a cubbyhole” while Busch sat in a darkened bar and listened in on a conversation coming from the adjoining “bridge room”…

This illustration by Reginald Marsh accompanied Nevin Busch’s article.

LAST CALL…Images taken by photographer Margaret Bourke-White for Life magazine during the last days of Prohibition. (Time.com)
WHO GOES THERE?…The familiar slot in the door came in handy for speakeasy owners wishing to screen clients before allowing entry into their illegal lairs. (Chicago Tribune)
BETTER SWILL…The Marlborough House, an East Side speakeasy for socialites during Prohibition, 1933. Photo by Margaret Bourke-White for Fortune. (Time.com)

Busch also described his visit to the “Circus Speakeasy,” operated by a man who “travelled for 21 years with the Ringling Circus”…

A young Nevin Busch, circa 1930. (enetpress.com)
Busch and the third of his five wives, the actress Teresa Wright, in the 1940s. (danielmartineckhart.com)

In his later years as a producer and screenwriter in Hollywood, Busch would script movies ranging from The Man With Two Faces (1934) starring Edward G. Robinson, to The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), with Lana Turner.

All Aboard

One of the prominent voices of the unsigned “Talk of the Town,” humorist E.B. White was also a regular contributor of short pieces in the New Yorker, such as the following which described a mistaken encounter on an overnight train:

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Another way to calm the jitters

If you couldn’t legally (or illegally) buy Johnny Walker Scotch whisky in 1928, you had to settle for their brand of “vacuumed-cleaned, extremely mild” cigarettes, which were apparently sold as late as the 1950s…

And to get a taste of what was showing at the local cinemas, I’ve included this page-and-third spread of movie and theatre ads from the back pages. Note the film Sunrise featured prominently at the top left-hand corner.

Starring George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, and Margaret Livingston, this 1927 silent romantic drama, directed by F.W. Murnau, used the new Fox Movietone sound-on-film system, making it one of the first feature films with a synchronized musical score and sound effects soundtrack. Sunrise (full title: The Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans) won the Academy Award in the category “Unique and Artistic Picture” at the 1st Academy Awards in 1929, and Gaynor won the first Academy Award for “Best Actress in a Leading Role.” Sunrise is considered one of the greatest films of the silent era and even today is widely considered a masterpiece.

AWARD-WINNING SMILES…George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor in 1927’s acclaimed The Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. (The Red List)

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And finally, more hijinks from the moneyed classes, courtesy of Peter Arno:

Next Time: Amen Aimee…

The Perfect Gift for 1927

We close out 1927 by looking at the final December issues, which grew fat with Christmas advertising catering to the tastes of New York’s smart set.

dec-10
December 10, 1927 cover by Gardner Rea.

Before we jump to the ads, let’s look in on Lois Long, who in the Dec. 10 issue continued her lamentations regarding the quality of New York’s Prohibition-era night life and reminded readers that her job was far from a “soft snap”…

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The problem, as diagnosed by Long, was that there were not enough talented entertainers to fill the needs of an overabundance of nightclubs…

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vit-94-bobbe-arnst1
LOIS THOUGHT BOBBIE ARNST WAS PRETTY SWELL when she appeared at Helen Morgan’s nightclub. A noted broadway singer and dancer, Arnst is pictured above in a publicity photo from the 1929 film Rhythms in Blue. (picking.com)
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ON THE OTHER HAND…Evelyn Nesbit’s tearoom (and later speakeasy) couldn’t survive on notoriety alone. In the early 20th century Nesbit’s face was everywhere—from advertisements to calendars—but in 1906 her fame took a nasty turn when her jealous husband, Harry Thaw, shot and killed suspected lover and famed architect Stanford White at Madison Square Garden’s rooftop theatre. At left, Nesbit in 1900. At right, Nesbit in her tea room on West 52nd Street, near Broadway, circa 1922. (Library of Congress / restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com)

Long also railed against the white appropriation of Harlem entertainment, which she felt was draining the place of its soulfulness. In particular she called out writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten, who among white writers was the most prominent in intellectualizing the “Harlem Renaissance”…

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What to Buy in ’27

The Dec. 10 and Dec. 17 issues grew fat with holiday advertising, averaging 120+ pages as opposed to the usual 60 or so pages. The advertisements mostly appealed to upscale readers, ranging from this almost Victorian-style ad from the staid Brooks Brothers…

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…to this ad from Rex Cole promoting the latest in modern conveniences…

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And I’ll toss in this comic from the Dec. 10 issue, in which Peter Arno allows us to listen in on an unlikely conversation between a couple of toffs…

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Lois is Also Tired of the Holidays

On to the Dec. 17 issue, in which Lois Long (who had recently married cartoonist Peter Arno, whose work is pictured above) also shared with readers her weariness of Christmas shopping in her column, “On and Off the Avenue.”

dec-17
December 17, 1927 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

The “Parisite” Long referred to in this excerpt was actually Elizabeth Hawes, who occasionally contributed to Long’s column (with cables sent from Paris) regarding the latest in French fashions. More on Hawes another time…

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-12-11-30-pm

As for ads in the Dec. 17 issue, we get this one from Dunhill, maker of fine English cigarettes and accessories: a woman’s compact that resembles a lighter…

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…and the same issue offers this glimpse into the life a spoiled rich kid, home from college for the holidays. The cartoon is by Alan Dunn, one of the most published New Yorker cartoonists (1,906 cartoons from 1926 to 1974)…

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With Christmas advertising over, the magazine’s page length dropped by half from the Dec. 17 to the Dec. 24 issue…

dec-24
December 24, 1927 cover by Andre De Schaub.

…in which we find this holiday-themed illustration by Al Frueh:

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Why We Sing Auld Lang Syne

This advertisement in the Dec. 24 issue invited readers to celebrate the New Year at The Roosevelt Hotel…

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roosevelt-hotel-1924
The Roosevelt Hotel after its completion in 1924 (Museum of the City of New York)
1387211957-0
AULD ACQUAINTANCE…If you want to know why we sing “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve, you can thank Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadian Band, which made the song a staple at his New Year’s performances beginning in 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel. Their performance that night was broadcast on the radio before midnight Eastern time on CBS, then after midnight on NBC radio. (neatorama.com)

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Now Let’s Get Out of Here

With the holidays out of the way, New Yorkers still faced a good three months of winter. That is, unless you were well-heeled enough to head south to Palm Beach.  Considering the abundance of ads promoting travel to southern climes in the Dec. 24 and 31 issues, apparently many of the magazine’s readers possessed the means to do just that…

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And we close this entry, and the year of 1927, with this cover…

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December 31, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

…and another tropical-themed advertisement, courtesy of Russeks…

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…and this cartoon by Mary Petty depicting those who were left behind, still returning their Christmas gifts…

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Next Time: Odious Odes…

jan-7

 

 

Bad Hootch

Despite Prohibition, perhaps a few champagne corks were popped for the January 15, 1927, edition of the New Yorker. This is Issue # 100.

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January 15, 1927–Issue # 100. The cover art by Constantin Alajalov.

Prohibition was on the minds of the editors of the issue, which featured a highly critical piece by Morris Markey (“A Reporter at Large”) on the hysteria surrounding the government’s attempt to poison supplies of bootleg alcohol. The editors of “The Talk of the Town” also made this observation:

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Before we get more into Markey’s piece, a little background is in order. In an article for Time magazine (Jan. 14, 2015) Lily Rothman writes that for years prior to Prohibition industrial alcohol had been “denatured” by adding toxic or unappetizing chemicals to it. This was done so folks couldn’t escape beverage taxes by drinking commercial-use alcohol instead — but it was still possible to re-purify the liquid so that it could be consumed.

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PARTY POOPER…New Jersey prohibition director Colonel Ira Reeves (right) ensures that a Newark garage owner’s alcohol is for cars only. (Getty)

Rothman cites a Time article from Jan. 10, 1927, which reported that Prohibition forces in the government were introducing a new formula that year for denaturing industrial-grade alcohol that doubled the poisonous content: “4 parts methanol (wood alcohol), 2.25 parts pyridine bases, 0.5 parts benzene to 100 parts ethyl alcohol.” The article noted that “Three ordinary drinks of this may cause blindness.”

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Warning label from the 1920s (vickyloebel.com)

Although some opposed the practice as legalized murder, Rothman cites Seymour M. Lowman, who as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (1927-33) was in charge of Prohibition enforcement. Lowman told citizens that those on the fringes of society who continued to drink were “dying off fast from poison ‘hooch’” and that if the result was a sober America, “a good job will have been done.”

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DRINK AT YOUR OWN RISK…1920s label for bootleg moonshine. (googleuk)

Thousands died from consuming poisoned alcohol. Rothman writes that 33 people died in Manhattan alone in a three-day period in 1928, mostly from drinking wood alcohol.

Markey’s stance in his New Yorker article is somewhat unique, if not cold-hearted. Instead of taking the government to task for the practice, he assured his well-heeled readers that they had nothing to fear as long as they procured their alcohol from reputable bootleggers at top prices. Markey seemed to care not at all for the poor “slum-dwellers” who died from consuming the cheap stuff:

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If anything, Markey’s sympathies seemed to lie with those who had to drink the safe, albeit diluted hootch. He explained how four bottles of bootleg Scotch could be fashioned from a single bottle of the real deal:

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And if you had money, there was no need to fear death from drink…

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…that is, unless you were careless:

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* * *

Helena Huntington Smith wrote a profile on the actor Adolphe Menjou, described by IMDB as Hollywood’s epitome of suave and debonair style: “Known for his knavish, continental charm and sartorial opulence, Menjou, complete with trademark waxy black mustache, evolved into one of Hollywood’s most distinguished of artists and fashion plates, a tailor-made scene-stealer.” Interestingly, Menjou was born in Pittsburgh, and not in France as many a fan assumed (his father, however, was a French émigré).

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Glass lantern advertising slide for Menjou’s 1927 silent film A Gentleman of Paris.

In other items, New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell (aka T-Square) once again set his sights on the city’s changing skyline. He began with the new General Motors building at Columbus Circle:

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He was thrilled by the push-button automation of the building’s elevators:

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The General Motors building, left, as it originally appeared on Columbus Circle. It was designed by Shreve & Lamb, who would soon go on to design the Empire State Building. At right, the building became known as the Newsweek Building. (Drawing by J. W. Golinkin in Towers of Manhattan, 1928, and photo by David W. Dunlap/The New York Times)

If George Chappell thought the General Motors building had some issues in 1927, he should see it today, wrapped in tacky reflecting glass and renamed 3 Columbus Circle:

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WHY? WHY ON EARTH?

Elsewhere, Chappell was agog at Sloan & Robertson’s massive Graybar Building:

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Sloan & Robertson’s Graybar Building at 420 Lexington. (history.graybar.com)

And to close, this ad on the back page for Chesterfield cigarettes, featuring the company’s famous Atlantic City sign. Note the point of pride: There are 13,000 lamps in the sign, but four times that many Chesterfields are smoked every minute…koff…koff…

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Next Time…Upstairs, Downstairs…

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