Will Wonders Never Cease?

The early New Yorker was known for its fashionably blasé tone, but its writers were often giddy when it came to reporting on technological advances.

April 14, 1928 cover by Sue Williams.

Such was the case with transatlantic telephone service, which before 1927 was the stuff of fantasy. By 1928, the New Yorker marveled at this service by suggesting in “Talk of the Town” that the invention had become matter-of-fact:

The New Yorker correctly prophesied that the telephone’s primary use would be for mundane communications—not much different from how we use smartphones today for selfies, texting and chitchat.

WHAT HO! New York Mayor Jimmy Walker visits with London’s Lord Mayor in a 1927 transatlantic telephone call. The calls were made possible through radio transmission from station to station across the ocean. (NY TIMES)

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Even the first “unofficial” transatlantic conversation, between two unknown American and British engineers, was a fairly routine conversation about the weather and distances between various cities. At one point, however, the American makes this prophetic remark: “Distance doesn’t mean anything anymore. We are on the verge of a very high- speed world….people will use up their lives in a much shorter time, they won’t have to live so long.”

In the same issue, writer Morris Markey gushed about his tour of a radio broadcast facility…

ON  THE AIR WITH MR NEW YORK…A photo of WNYC’s transmitter room on the 25th floor of New York City’s Municipal Building. At left is the founder of the station, Grover A. Whalen, on the phone prior to the station’s opening night ceremonies on July 8, 1924. Whalen described himself as “Mr. New York,” often serving as the city’s official and unofficial greeter of politicians, royalty and celebrities. He served as police commissioner in the 1920s, and later as president of the 1939 World’s Fair. (WNYC)
IN REAL TIME…A live radio play being broadcast at NBC studios in New York. (Wikiwand)

Awed by this technical marvel, Markey described how the station could broadcast its show across the country…

More Evidence Lindy Was Made of Wood

The New Yorker’s reporting on Charles Lindbergh continued with this item in “Talk of the Town” that described a young woman’s dream to fly with the famous pilot. And fly was all she did…

SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP…Charles Lindbergh at home in his cockpit, circa late 1920s. (fbi.gov)

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From the World of Advertising…

Lux Soap continued its string of advertisements in the New Yorker featuring Broadway stars of the day. Among them was actress Mary Ellis…

Mary Ellis was an American star of stage, radio, television, film and opera, best known for her roles in musical theatre. She appeared at the Metropolitan Opera beginning in 1918, later appearing opposite famed tenor Enrico Caruso. On Broadway she was known for creating the title role in Rose-Marie.

Born in 1897, she died in 2003 at the age of 105. She had the distinction of being the last surviving star to perform in a Puccini opera (while Puccini was alive) and the last star to perform opposite Caruso.

SEASONED PERFORMER…1934 E.R. Richie photograph of actress Mary Ellis. (eBay)

Lux soap wasn’t the only company exploiting celebrities for sales. Cigarette companies also sought endorsements from prominent women to exploit the new and rapidly growing market of female smokers. This ad below from the April 14 issue featured Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, a Swiss-born American socialite best known as the mother of fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt and grandmother of CNN journalist Anderson Cooper:

SHE ALSO SHILLED FOR COLD CREAM…Edward Steichen photograph of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt for a Pond’s Cold Cream testimonial campaign, 1925. (library.duke.edu)

In a famous custody battle in 1934, Vanderbilt lost custody of her daughter to her sister-in-law Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and the court also removed Vanderbilt as administrator of her daughter’s trust fund, her only means of support. From the 1940s until her death at age 60 in 1965 she lived with her identical twin sister, Thelma, also known as the Viscountess Furness.

In another portrait of the upper classes, Barbara Shermund takes a peek into the drawing room of a less than cerebral hostess…

Next Time: The Last Dance…

 

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…

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

On the Air

As much as they affected a refined disinterest in the latest fads, The New Yorker editors were nevertheless impressed by the many electronic innovations in the 1920s consumer market. Although electricity in cities had been around for awhile, inventions to exploit this new resource would come into their own in the Jazz Age with the advent of mass-produced electrical appliances (refrigerators, toasters etc.).

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Sept. 18, 1926 cover by Stanley W. Reynolds

So when the 1926 Radio World’s Fair opened at Madison Square Garden, the magazine was there to report on its many marvels in the Sept. 18 issue:

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IF ONLY THEY HAD SPOTIFY…Teens tuning in, mid 1920s.

Although New York’s radio fair was doubtless the largest (akin to today’s annual Consumer Electronics Show), similar fairs were held in other major cities where broadcast radio was taking hold.

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Promotional image for Edison Radio from the 1926 New York Radio World’s Fair. (artdecoblog.com)

…and for comparison, an image from the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:

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(CES)

To give you an idea of some of the stranger innovations in the world of 1920s radio, here is an image scanned from the Oct. 16, 1926 issue of Radio World magazine demonstrating the wonders of a wearable cage antenna, which I believe was intended for use by the wearer for making wireless broadcasts…

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…and a detail of an advertisement from the same issue depicting a typical household radio for the time:

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Before tuning in for the first time, the radio’s owner needed to string a 100-foot outside aerial. Until 1927, when owners could plug their radios into electric sockets, radios required two types of batteries—a storage battery that required recharging every two weeks and a set of dry-cell batteries that needed to be replaced about every three weeks.

If all this looks crude, remember that in September 1926 broadcast radio was less than six years old. But it was big year for radio, with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) establishing a network of stations that distributed daily programs. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) would establish a rival network in 1928.

In other items, the magazine offered a lengthy profile on tennis legend Bill Tilden, and later in the sports section described his Davis Cup defeat to Frenchman René Lacoste.

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Tennis rivals Bill Tilden and René Lacoste meet in Philadelphia, 1927. (greensleevestoaground.)
Tilden is often considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time. However, The New Yorker “Profile” described him as a reluctant star with artistic ambitions…
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…who distained the life of a sports hero…
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Samuel Merwin, referred to above, was a playwright and novelist.
Tilden was the world’s number one player for six years (1920-1925). He won 14 Major singles titles including ten Grand Slams. He also won a record seven US Open titles.
There is a sad footnote to Tilden’s career, however. Twenty years after The New Yorker profile, Tilden would be arrested for soliciting sex from an underage male, an offense he would arrested for again three years later, in 1949. He was subsequently shunned by the tennis and Hollywood world, although his old friend Charlie Chaplin allowed Tilden to use his private court for lessons, which helped him financially as he dealt with legal and financial problems.
* * *
The magazine editors continued to watch the rapidly changing skyline of the city, as beloved old buildings were demolished to make way for new skyscrapers. This time it was the old Park Avenue Hotel:
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The editors of “Talk of the Town” fondly recalled the time when the hotel, with its spacious courtyard of flowers and fountains, attracted “almost every dinner party of consequence in New York.”
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This photo of the old Park Avenue Hotel was taken in 1890, only two years after Fourth Avenue was renamed Park Avenue. Constructed in 1877, the hotel was originally called Stewart’s Hotel for Working Women, designed to provide safe housing for the influx of single working women pouring into New York City. The name didn’t last long: the hotel was opened in April 1878, closed in May and reopened in June as the Park Avenue Hotel. It was razed in 1927. (Ephemeral New York)

The same site today:

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(Ephemeral New York)

The nearby Murray Hill Hotel mentioned in the article would last another 20 years, falling to the wrecking ball in 1947:

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The Murray Hill Hotel, built in 1884, would outlive the Park Avenue Hotel by 20 years, falling to a wrecking ball in 1947. (Library of Congress)
 Next Time: Fight Night in Philly…
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