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…

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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 of a multi-part article on a man who put Americans 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.

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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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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.”

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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…

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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…

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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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The Roosevelt Hotel after its completion in 1924 (Museum of the City of New York)
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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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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

Despite The New Yorker’s taste for the finer things–polo, opera, classical music–its editors couldn’t resist the pull of popular culture as both spectacle and fodder for mockery of the hoi polloi.

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Oct. 9, 1926 cover by Julien deMiskey.

And so we have the Oct. 9, 1926 issue with a review of the much-anticipated Broadway play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was based on a surprise bestselling novel by Anita Loos (and illustrated by The New Yorker’s own Ralph Barton). Despite garnering lukewarm reviews from critics, the public loved the adventures of gold-digging flapper Lorelei Lee.

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First edition of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos, illustrated by Ralph Barton (Wikipedia)
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Edward Steichen portrait of Anita Loos, 1926. The New Yorker would feature a lengthy, admiring “Profile” of Loos in its Nov. 6, 1926 issue.(Minneapolis Institute of Art)

According to Wikipedia, the book was one of several famous novels published in 1925 to chronicle the Jazz Age, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (which ironically didn’t do so well) and Carl Van Vechten’s Firecrackers. Loos was inspired to write the book after watching a sexy blonde “turn intellectual H. L. Mencken into a lovestruck schoolboy.” Mencken, a close friend of Loos, actually enjoyed the work and saw to it that it was published.

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Gold-digging flapper Lorelei Lee (June Walker, second from left), Henry Spofford (Frank Morgan, second from right), and the rest of the cast tussle in the stage production Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Times Square Theatre, 1926. Another “blonde,” Marilyn Monroe, would famously portray Lorelei Lee in the 1953 Howard Hawks film. (New York Public Library)

Ralph Barton contributed this drawing of June Walker for the magazine’s review:

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And a bit of the review itself…

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In other items, Lois Long paid a visit to Texas Guinan’s 300 Club on 54th Street, which apparently was still the place to go for a roaring good time:

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JUST HAVING A LITTLE FUN…According to the blog Ephemeral New York, Texas Guinan’s 300 Club at 151 West 54th Street hosted the likes of John Barrymore, George Gershwin, and Clara Bow. The club was targeted by prohibition officials, who were constantly padlocking the door and arresting Texas. Guinan’s clever rejoinder to the officials: The 300 Club’s patrons brought liquor with them, and because the place was so small, the showgirls were forced to dance close to customers. (Ephemeral New York)

The magazine’s comics continued to mine the humor of rich old men out on the town with their young flapper mistresses. The one below was a center spread illustration by Wallace Morgan with the caption: “Poor little girl–to think you’ve never had anyone to protect you.”

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Finally, a look back at one of my earlier blog posts (Cuban Idyll) that featured Sloppy Joe’s bar in Havana. I recently traveled to Havana, and I am happy to report that the famous bar has been faithfully restored and business appears to be booming.

29 Dec 1931, Havana, Cuba --- 12/29/31-Havana, Cuba: Sloppy Joe, Jr., just four years of age and having two years behind the bar, is celebrating his graduation from apprenticeship by mixing his real champagne cocktail behind his father's world-famed bar. Sloppy Joe Jr., is quite proficient at mixing the more common varieties. Here, customers toast the little guy. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Sloppy Joe, Jr., just four years of age and having two years behind the bar, is celebrating his graduation from apprenticeship in 1931 by mixing his first real champagne cocktail behind his father’s world-famed bar. (Bettmann/CORBIS)
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The same bar today…(Photo by David Ochsner)

Next Time: The Changing Skyline…

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