This Thing Called Baseball

In the early years of the New Yorker, baseball as a sport was almost entirely ignored by the magazine, which otherwise gave exhaustive coverage to polo, yacht racing, tennis, and golf. There were also articles on badminton, rowing, and even auto racing, and college football received a lot of enthusiastic ink. But none for baseball. With the Sept. 22, 1928 issue I think I finally understand why.

Sept. 22, 1928 issue by Adolph K. Kronengold.

It has to do with the New Yorker’s parochial view of the world, so aptly illustrated by Saul Steinberg on the magazine’s March 29, 1976 cover, in which anything beyond the Hudson was essentially terra incognita:

A lot of New York Yankee fans came from “out there,” according to James Thurber in a “Talk of the Town” segment titled “Peanuts and Crackerjack.” Thurber wrote of his experience at a pennant race game between the Yankees and the Philadelphia A’s. The game of baseball was described as something for the out-of-towners who were “a bit mad,” a mass spectacle in which the game itself was of minor importance. In short, it wasn’t cool to be a Yankees fan if you counted yourself among Manhattan’s smart set:

This “Talk” item was written when the Yankees were on the verge of winning their second consecutive World Series championship over the favored St. Louis Cardinals. The 1928 team featured the famed “Murderer’s Row” lineup with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In all, nine players from the ’28 team would be elected to the Hall of Fame, a major league record. But as of the Sept. 22 issue neither the 1927 or ’28 Yankees merited a line in the New Yorker’s sports pages.

ONE FOR THE OUT-OF TOWNERS…The Yankees’ Earle Combs leads off with base hit against the Philadelphia A’s in a key AL pennant race game on Sept. 9, 1928. A record crowd of 85,265 attended the game, won by the Yankees, who gained half-game lead over the A’s with the victory. (baseballhistorycomesalive.com)

Thurber wrote that one could learn much about those in attendance at the game by the way they received Yankee star Babe Ruth:

Thurber proved his point about out-of-towners by noting the origin of license plates in the “army of parked cars” outside of the stadium. He also noted the appearance in the game of an ancient Ty Cobb, who hit a weak fly ball while a few old-time fans looked on in reverence:

A GAME WAS PLAYED, TOO…Babe Ruth celebrated the Yankees 1928 World Series win by dressing as a cowboy and riding the hood of a car. To the left is fellow slugger Lou Gehrig. (sbnation.com)
WHERE YOU COULD READ ALL ABOUT IT…The Oct. 10, 1928 edition of the Daily News splashed its front page with photographs of the Yankee’s triumphant title win. (NY Daily News)

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An Eye-dropping Art Collector

The Sept. 22 issue A.H. Shaw profiled “De Medici in Merion” Dr. Albert Barnes, who made his fortune by developing in 1901 (with German chemist Hermann Hille) a silver nitrate-based antiseptic marketed as Argyrol. In the days before antibiotics, Argyrol was used to treat eye infections and prevent newborn infant blindness caused by gonorrhea. The profile featured this rather fearsome illustration by Hugo Gellert:

The lengthy piece detailed Barnes’ coming of age, and how his promotion of Argyrol helped bankroll his famed art collection. A brief excerpt:

IT FUELED A FORTUNE…Invented in 1901, Argyrol eye drops would finance one of the world’s greatest private art collections. Although was no longer marketed in U.S. after 1996, it is still available today, as seen at right in this Vietnamese product. (todocoleccion / ydvn.net)
HMMM, THAT LOOKS FAMILIAR…Henri Matisse views his 1917 painting The Music Lesson during a 1933 visit to the Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion Township, near Philadelphia. (The Morgan Library & Museum)
HE LIKED DOGS, TOO…Dr. Albert Barnes and his dog Fidèle with Matisse’s Red Madras Headdress, in 1942. (Barnes Foundation Archives)

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A One-eyed Monster Comes to Life

It’s always interesting to note the mentions of emerging technology in the early New Yorker, including this bit in Howard Brubaker’s column “Of All Things” about the successful broadcast of a “radio-television play.” Brubaker mused about what this new invention might called:

The first television broadcast in July 1928 was not exactly must-see TV. For two hours a day, General Electric’s experimental station W2XB broadcast the image of a 13-inch paper mache Felix the Cat, simply rotating on a turntable.

THE DAYS BEFORE VIAGRA ADS…A 13-inch Felix the Cat figure (top) was used to test an early television broadcast from General Electric’s experimental station W2XB in Schenectady, N.Y. Rotating on a record player turntable, the Felix figure was broadcast using a mechanical scanning disk, and was received as a 2-inch high image (below left) on an electronic kinescope. At bottom right, a 1928 television from General Electric that received alternating sound and picture. (NBC / Imgur / tvhistory.tv)

Then on September 11, 1928, W2XB (with WGY radio providing audio) broadcast a 40-minute one-act melodrama, The Queen’s Messenger. Northern State University’s Larry Wild writes that because TV screens were so small, only an actor’s face or hands could be shown. “The play had only two characters. A female Russian spy and a British Diplomatic Courier. Four actors were used. Two for the character’s faces, and two for their hands.”

The Queen’s Messenger was the first television drama, received by 3-inch televisions (most likely similar to the General Electric Octagon TV set pictured at left) that were set up in various places in the New York City area. At right, actors on the set of The Queen’s Messenger. The crude, flickering image marked the beginning of a revolution. (General Electric)

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From Our Advertisers

Advertisers were always looking for clever angles to capture the attention of the New Yorker’s upscale readers, including the use of subtle and not-so-subtle racist cues to get their points across. Two examples from the Sept. 22 issue have the makers of Oshkosh trunks helpfully pointing out that their product is not intended for African “natives”…

…or the folks from Longchamps restaurants, who depict the joyless life of a blubber-eating Eskimo as an appropriate juxtaposition to the succulent delicacies awaiting readers at their five New York locations:

We might associate rumble seats with the carefree joys of the Roaring Twenties, but in reality passengers in these jump seats received little protection from the elements (or flying gravel), and the ride was no doubt jarring atop the rear axle. No wonder you needed a special coat:

Our cartoons for Sept. 22 include this whimsy from Gardner Rea

…and this cartoon by Al Frueh, which depicts the deserted surroundings of the Flatiron Building on Yom Kippur. Robert Mankoff, who served as the New Yorker’s cartoon editor from 1997 to 2017, observed in the Cartoon Desk (Sept. 26, 2012) that “the rapid growth of Jewish-owned businesses in New York made the cartoon relevant in a way that it’s not today. Through modern, politically correct eyes, the cartoon may seem anti-Semitic, but I don’t see it that way. It just depicts the reality of those times, exaggerated for comic effect.”

Next Time: The Tastemakers…

 

(Another) Fight of the Century

It seems that each generation has its “Fight of the Century,” a phenomenon that emerges from the alchemy of mass marketing, a lust for blood sport, and the madness of crowds. Gene Tunney — a boxer who also wanted to be a public intellectual — was party to at least two of these spectacles in the 1920s.

August 4, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Tunney is most famous for his fights against Jack Dempsey—in some ways they were the Ali–Frazier of their day. Tunney took the heavyweight title from Dempsey in 1926, and again defeated Dempsey in the controversial “long count” rematch one year later, on Sept. 22, 1927. That match was a huge spectacle, staged at Chicago’s Soldier Field in front of 105,000 spectators.

Boxing promoter Tex Rickard saw dollar signs when a scrappy New Zealander named Tom Heeney challenged the champ to a match. Heeney had won the Australian heavyweight title in 1922, and after arriving in the U.S. in 1926 found enough success in the ring to be ranked fourth among the world’s heavyweight boxers.

Writing in his column, “Sports of the Week,” in the July 21, 1928 issue of the New Yorker, Niven Busch Jr. assessed Heeney as a formidable opponent:

NO PALOOKAS HERE…Tom Heeny (left), and Gene Tunney in the late 1920s. (boxrec.com / Alchetron)

This cartoon by Leonard Dove, also in the July 21 issue, joined in the fun…

As for the actual fight at Yankee Stadium on July 26, 1928, Tunney won by a TKO in the 11th round. Perhaps the boxer from Down Under wasn’t in such great shape after all, or so surmised Niven Busch Jr in the August 4 issue:

New Yorker illustrator Johan Bull offered this perspective in artwork that accompanied Busch’s article…

 

Tunney’s winning purse was $525,000 (about $7.3 million today) and Heeney’s was $100,000 ($1.4 million), modest when compared to the recent debacle in Las Vegas that pitted professional boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. against mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor. Mayweather earned a disclosed purse of $100 million while Conor McGregor brought home $30 million.

Heeney would remain in the U.S. and fight a few more bouts before retiring to Florida, where he ran a bar and fished with his friend, Ernest Hemingway. Tunney, on the other hand, announced his retirement from boxing just five days after the fight. It was time to finally devote himself to a life of the mind. Norman Klein, writing in the Aug. 4 “Talk of Town,” offered a glimpse into that new life:

BRAIN OVER BRAWN…Boxing champ Gene Tunney, left, and writer George Bernard Shaw on a 1929 vacation to Brioni. (Associated Press)

Still not getting enough of The Champ, “Talk” also related this story about Lucky Strike cigarettes, and how that company’s publicists tried unsuccessfully to persuade Tunney to endorse their product:

However the promoter of the Tunney–Heeney fight, Tex Rickard, had no problem taking money from the American Tobacco Company:

THEN I’LL TAKE THE MONEY…The promoter of the Tunney – Heeney fight, Tex Rickard, had no problem endorsing Lucky Strikes in this 1928 advertisement. Rickard would die the following year at age 59, from an appendectomy of all things. (eBay)

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Tunney Was More Exciting

In the “Talk of the Town” the New Yorker cast a jaded eye toward the Ninth Olympic Games in Amsterdam:

Poster from the 1928 games. (www.olympic.org)

And perhaps even less exciting than the Olympics was the magazine’s “Profile” subject, Andrew W. Mellon, referred to in the title as “Croesus in Politics.” Mellon was no Gene Tunney, but he did ensure his immortal fame through his philanthropy, still expressed today by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Below are the concluding lines of the profile, written by Homer Joseph Dodge:

The article featured this terrific caricature by illustrator Abe Birnbaum…

Planned Obsolescence

The magazine’s “Motors” column touted Chrysler’s new “peaked” radiators, which no doubt caused many insecure Chrysler owners to consider junking their non-peaked models of yesteryear:

This ad in the same issue screamed “new, new, new” for what appeared to be mostly the same old, same old…

Our comic comes courtesy Al Frueh, who looks in on the workings of a printing press at a celebrity tabloid:

Next Time: Shadows of the South Seas…

Beyond 96th Street

The New Yorker stepped out of its Manhattan offices at 25 West 45th Street and headed north to see what lay beyond 96th Street and Park Avenue, to “a land on to which realtors may not push.”

July 21, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey; July 28, 1928 cover by Helen E. Hokinson.

In the early to mid 20th century, 96th street represented a real dividing line across Park Avenue, separating Manhattan from the “frontier” to the north. Although developers have since breached this line (particularly beginning in the 1980s), back in 1928 it truly marked an end of sorts to Park Avenue—even the paving ran out by 102nd Street. The July 28, 1928 “Talk of the Town” observed:

FRONTIER NO MORE…Aerial view of Park Avenue from 96th Street (the X at bottom left) all the way past 132nd Street, where Park Avenue joins Harlem River Drive. The ‘X’ at the upper right hand corner marks the former location of Gus Hill’s Minstrels (mentioned in the article) at 129th and Park Avenue. (Google Maps) Click on image to enlarge

Beyond 96th a vast pushcart market was discovered to be operating under the elevated railroad tracks, while further on toward the Harlem River there were factories, coal yards, and a shuttered theatre:

NEAR THE END OF THE LINE…The Gus Hill’s Minstrels building at the corner at East 129th and Park Avenue, facing the elevated train tracks. There was an auto garage at the lower floor. The “Minstrels” were long gone by the time the photo was taken, in 1935, by renowned photographer Berenice Abbott. (Museum of the City of New York)
ONLY A GHOST…The former site of Gus Hill’s Minstrels, at the corner at East 129th and Park Avenue, now occupied by a filling station. (Google Maps)
SOARING…The Park Avenue elevated railroad tracks in Harlem east of 96th Street created vast covered spaces frequented by pushcart vendors. (nyc-architecture)
UP THE RIVER…A houseboat colony near a coal yard at 208th Street by the Harlem River, 1933. (myinwood.net)

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Sport of Lords and Ladies

The New Yorker’s sportswriter John Tunis paid a visit to the 1928 Wimbledon tennis tournament, where he took in a scene that included several celebrities:

FACES IN THE CROWD at the 1928 Wimbledon included clockwise, from top left, the tournament’s singles champions Helen Wills Moody and René LaCoste; and spectators such as actress Tallulah Bankhead and Lady Diana Duff Cooper. (Wills Moody image from 1928 courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London; circa 1930 Bankhead image, Alchetron; Lady Diana image dated 1931, (UK National Portrait Gallery); and LaCoste photo taken after he won the men’s singles title at the 1928 Wimbledon, bltimes.com)

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From Our Advertisers

The July 28 issue included yet another Dr. Seuss-illustrated ad for Flit insecticide. No doubt Seuss would later regret such an illustration, as later in life he strongly opposed racism and supported environmental causes. He would publish his first children’s book—And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street—in 1937.

Also from the July 28 issue, a detail from a two-page illustration of baseball fans at the Polo Grounds by Constantin Alajalov, which appeared in “The Talk of the Town” section:

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From Our Advertisers, Part II:

Jumping back an issue, to July 21, 1928, we find tennis great (and sometime film actor) Big Bill Tilden hawking the toasted pleasures of Lucky Strike cigarettes on the magazine’s back cover:

As I’ve noted before, many New Yorker ads appealed to the Anglophilic pretensions of its striving readershship. This one below from Saks is a particularly egregious example…

…other social strivers could look to the example of these society matrons who picked up some spare cash shilling for Old Gold cigarettes…

I close with a couple of cartoons from the July 21 issue by Barbara Shermund and Peter Arno:

Next Time: (Another) Fight of the Century…

Dog’s Best Friend

The “Profile” for the May 12, 1928 issue was unusual in that its subject was not a titan of industry, or a prominent politician, or noted artist, musician or literary figure, but rather a dog—an extraordinary animal named Egon who would be lost to history were it not for Alexander Woollcott writing about this particular German Shepherd and his exploits on the French Riviera.

May 12, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

I should be clear that the dog featured at the top of this entry is not Egon, but a famous contemporary named Rin Tin Tin. It is said Egon could have enjoyed similar fame on the silver screen (Hollywood was looking for an animal to replace the aging canine superstar), but Egon’s owner, Benjamin Finney, had no interest in the limelight. So I couldn’t find any images of Egon save for this drawing that accompanied Woollcott’s essay:

Writing for the Huffington Post, Anne Margaret Daniel calls Egon Finney the “Jazz Age celebrity no one has noticed since his lifetime, but who is surely as interesting as many of his human contemporaries — and far more interesting than many of them.”

Woollcott would agree with that statement, given the opening paragraphs of his piece on Egon:

When Egon and Finney lived in Antibes in 1927 and 1928, Egon would give diving exhibitions off the rocks below the Hotel du Cap. According to Daniel, the dog also “availed himself of his owner’s surfboard, and water skis — possibly the first pair ever on the Riviera.” Egon was aided in his efforts by none other than the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who lived on the Riviera from 1925 to 1930.

DOG LOVERS…Alexander Woolcott, left, and Egon owner Benjamin Finney (boweryboyshistory.com/Sewanee University of the South)
HE TAUGHT A DOG TO WATER SKI, TOO…F. Scott Fitzgerald, wife Zelda and son Scottie in Antibes in 1926. Fitzgerald lived on the Riviera from 1925 to 1930, writing much of The Great Gatsby there. His last-completed novel, Tender Is The Night, was set on the Riviera. (NY Times)

According to Daniel, Finney recalled that Egon’s physical design “made it difficult for him to get started (on the surfboard), but his friend Scott Fitzgerald was expert at giving him a hand… Firmly balanced, tail streaming in the wind, he was a noble sight — and he knew it.”

Because the dog outshone his owner, Woollcott headlined his profile, “The Owner of Ben Finney.” Egon died in 1934, and those very words are carved on his headstone, located in America’s first pet cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Someone He Could Finally Relate To…

Charles Lindbergh was famously shy and crowd averse, so when the famed aviator met with the serious-minded boxing champ Gene Tunney, he found something of a kindred spirit. Writing for the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town,” Peter Vischer was there for all of the action:

NOWHERE TO HIDE…This item in the El Paso Evening Post (Feb. 29, 1928) was precisely the sort of thing both Gene Tunney and Charles Lindbergh detested. (Evening Post)

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From Our Advertisers…

Beginning in 1924 the Southern Pacific’s Golden State Limited trains added modern and luxurious 3-compartment, 2-drawing room observation cars to their Pullman fleet. This advertisement in the May 12, 1928 New Yorker enticed affluent readers to take the 2,762 mile, 70-hour journey from Chicago to Los Angeles:

NOT THE WORST FOR WEAR…The Russian actress, singer and dancer Olga Baclanova exits the Golden State Limited in Los Angeles in July 1929 after a long journey from New York. Billed as “The Russian Tigress” who often portrayed an exotic blonde temptress, she is best known for her roles as Duchess Josiana in the silent The Man Who Laughs and as a circus trapeze artist in Tod Browning’s 1932 cult horror movie Freaks. (olgabaclanova.com)

As the fashion advertisements turned to summer, the May 12 issue featured no less than three separate ads for straw boaters…

Today’s ubiquitous polo shirt was an entirely new look for the summer of 1928. The shirt was designed by France’s seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion René Lacoste, who understandably found traditional “tennis whites” (starched, long-sleeved white button-up shirts with neckties) both cumbersome and uncomfortable. Lacoste first wore the polo at the 1926 U.S. Open, and in 1927 he placed the famous crocodile emblem on the left breast of his shirts. It didn’t take long for many imitators to hit the market. This ad from Wallach Brothers offered one version for $6, although I can’t imagine wool was the best material for this shirt (Lacoste used cotton in his).

No doubt B. Altman had June brides in mind for this advertisement featuring a deco bride of impossible proportions:

And our cartoon is once again from Peter Arno, who explored the not so subtle racism of the upper classes:

Next Time: Man About Town…

Wits of the Round Table

Two big voices from the famed Algonquin Round Table were prominently featured in the Oct. 1 and Oct. 8, 1927 issues of the New Yorker–journalist and champion of the underdog Heywood Broun wrote his own “Profile” under the title, “The Rabbit That Bit the Bulldog,” and Dorothy Parker served up biting satire in “Arrangement in Black and White,” a clever exposé of racism among the fashionably “open-minded” upper classes.

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October 1, 1927 cover by Gardner Rea.

The Rabbit That Bit the Bulldog

Hiding under the signature “R.A.”, Heywood Broun was merciless as his own profiler, describing himself as a coward, hypochondriac, and a slob (there is truth to the latter, however, as friends often likened him to “an unmade bed”).

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Broun cut his teeth in journalism as a sportswriter and war correspondent. In 1921 he went to work for the New York World, where he penned his popular syndicated column “It Seems to Me.” Broun’s New Yorker “Profile” was written after he was fired from the World following a disagreement with his editor over his critical commentary on the sentencing of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. Broun would move on to The Nation, where he would write a regular column, “It Seems to Heywood Broun,” that would offer criticism on a number of topics including his former employer, the World.

Heywood Broun (Denver Newspaper Guild)

The New Yorker profile included this caricature by Peter Arno…

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…a portrayal Broun claimed was inaccurate due to his “habitual stoop,” among other faults…

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…and he mused about his future with the Nation, and how that august publication would square with his various foibles…

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…and as for his personal appearance and habits, Broun weighed in thusly…

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Broun married social activist Ruth Hale in 1917. A son born the following year, Heywood Hale Broun, would have a long and successful career as an author, sportswriter, commentator and actor.

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The Long Count

Oddly, the New Yorker had little to say about the famous Chicago rematch between heavyweight boxers Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey, which Tunney won after the controversial “long count.” The fight took place under new rules that gave a fallen fighter 10 seconds to rise to his feet, but the count would not begin until his opponent moved to a neutral corner.

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DAZED AND CONFUSED…Referee Dave Barry motions Jack Dempsey to a neutral corner before he begins his count. Tunney got back up and went on to win the fight. (Chicago Tribune archive photo)

Although Tunney dominated the fight, Dempsey unleashed a flurry in the seventh round that knocked Tunney to the canvas–it was the first time in Tunney’s career that he’d been knocked down. Instead of going immediately to a neutral corner, Dempsey just stood and observed his opponent for several seconds until finally retreating. Those extra seconds proved just enough time to allow Tunney to return to his feet and eventually win the bout. To one observer quoted in “The Talk of Town,” those extra seconds really dragged…

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From the Ad Department

We feature this advertisement for Faultless Nobelt Pajamas. Apparently these special PJs had some sort of newfangled rubber elastic band…

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…an this cartoon from the Oct. 1 issue featured Helen Hokinson’s ditsy, plump society women at New York’s Fashion Week…

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Dorothy Takes On the Snobs

In the Oct. 8 issue, our other Round Table wit, Dorothy Parker, took aim at the less savory aspects of society women in her short fiction piece, “Arrangement in Black and White.”

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October 8, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

Parker began her piece by introducing us to a woman who enters a party wearing a wreath of “pink velvet poppies” in her golden hair. In short order she asks the party’s host to “pretty please” introduce her to the party’s guest of honor, an African American singer named Walter Williams.

The woman with the pink velvet poppies goes on to tell her host that she came to the party alone because her husband, Burton, preferred not to socialize with “colored people”–but she however was “simply crazy” about some of them. “They’re just like children–just as easy-going, and always singing and laughing and everything.” Before she met the singer she observed to the host:

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The woman with the pink velvet poppies meets the singer Walter Williams, as illustrated by Peter Arno.

Then the woman with the pink velvet poppies meets Walter Williams:

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She continues to patronize the guest of honor, then notices a stage actress at the party:

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Finally, the host guides the woman with the pink velvet poppies away from Walter Williams…

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BITING WIT…Dorothy Parker in the 1920s.

We will see more of Dorothy Parker in issues to come as she continues to take aim at the hollow, pretentious, hypocritical, self-absorbed snobs of the Jazz Age and beyond.

Baseball’s Lament

The Oct. 1 and 8 issues covered yacht racing, polo, tennis, golf and college football, but still no baseball. The 1927 New York Yankees would be one of the greatest teams of all time, but as the World Series commenced all we got from the New Yorker was a personality profile of Yankees manager Miller Huggins in the Oct. 8 issue (with a drawing by Reginald Marsh)…screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-1-24-05-pm

…and this advertisement for “Sport Glasses” for those attending the World Series…

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Perhaps the New Yorker had no one on staff who could competently write about baseball. The strangest reference to the game was this article about polo, but for some reason it was illustrated with baseball images. Perhaps the editors felt sheepish about their lack of baseball coverage, and offered these illustrations as a token acknowledgement…

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At any rate, we end with this cartoon by Julien de Miskey, who like his colleagues explored the comic richness of wealthy old men paired with their young mistresses…

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Next Time: The Ephemeral City…

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Babe Comes Home

After months of reporting on polo, golf, tennis and yacht races, the New Yorker finally mentioned baseball–sort of–reviewing a movie featuring Babe Ruth and penning a brief piece about Lou Gehrig in “The Talk of the Town.”

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August 6, 1927 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

But the magazine still made no mention of the incredible season that was shaping up for the legendary 1927 New York Yankees, or the feats of its feared  “Murderer’s Row” lineup. Although widely considered to be the best baseball team in the history of major league baseball, the New Yorker up to this point had given more ink to the game of ping pong. But we’ll take what we can get, namely Babe Ruth’s acting performance in Babe Comes Home…

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BETTER STICK TO BASEBALL…Lobby card for the 1927 film, Babe Comes Home, featuring Anna Q. Nilsson and The Bambino himself. (posterscancollections.com)

…and over in “The Talk of the Town” section the editors looked at another Yankee slugger, Lou Gehrig, who besides his hitting ability was Ruth’s opposite…

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MOM & APPLE PIE…Lou Gehrig and his mother, Christina, in 1927. (baseballfever.com)

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With the hullabaloo over Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, more Americans were becoming interested in flying as an actual travel option, although in August 1927 New York City had only one established passenger line:

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HUMBLE BEGINNINGS…On April 15, 1927, Colonial Air Transport (a predecessor of American Airlines) began passenger service between Boston and New York City. (Boston Globe)
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SORRY, NO WI-FI…National Air Transport, a predecessor of United Airlines and a prime mail carrier, brought the Travelair 5000 to their minimal fleet in 1927 to add passenger revenue to its Midwestern and Western hops that linked Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno and San Francisco. (traveler.com)

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The August  6 issue also featured this strange little review in “Talk” about the popularity (or fad) of attending Chinese theater. Note how the writer described it as an exotic curiosity, as though the Chinese actors were as unknowable as Martians. I suppose it didn’t occur to the writer that you could actually speak to these performers, and have them explain the meanings of the various rituals.

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OFF-BROADWAY…Actor Ma Shi-tsang posing with a riding crop in a 1920s publicity photo. Chinese theater actors performed in U.S. cities with large Chinese populations, including San Francisco and New York. (cdlib.org)

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And to close, a couple of cartoons from the issue by Barbara Shermund that illustrated two very different aspects of New York society:

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Next Time: An Office Romance…

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The Age of Innocence

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

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June 4, 1927 cover by H.O. Hofman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 11, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Next Time: Coney Island, 1927…

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The Sporting Life

One of the strangest things about the fall 1926 issues of The New Yorker is the almost complete absence of baseball coverage, even though the 1926 Yankees had turned things around from an abysmal 1925 season and found themselves in the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

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November 20, 1926 cover by Andre De Schaub.

The Yankee’s star Babe Ruth had recovered his health from the previous season and played exceptional all-around baseball in 1926, even setting a World Series record of three homers in the fourth game. According to (now disputed) newspaper reports at the time, Ruth had promised a sickly boy named Johnny Sylvester that he would hit a home run for him in Game 4. The papers reported that after Ruth’s three-homers, the boy’s condition miraculously improved.

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SNUBBED…Babe Ruth knocked in three homers during Game 4 of the exciting 1926 World Series, an event completely ignored by the football-crazed New Yorker. (Bronx Banter)

The Yankees would lose the series in seven games (it would be the first of the Cardinals’ 11 WS championships), but nevertheless the season represented a dramatic turnaround for the team.

But The New Yorker was obsessed with college football, mostly Ivy League contests and the exploits of Knute Rockne and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

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Johan Bull provided lively illustrations for Tunis’s columns.

Sportswriter John Tunis cranked out lengthy accounts of football games, including the Princeton-Yale contest covered in the Nov. 20, 1926 issue.

The same issue also included an article by Herbert Reed, who wrote about Notre Dame’s victory over Army at Yankee Stadium and proclaimed the Fighting Irish to be the greatest team in the country.

The New Yorker caught the Notre Dame bug the previous season. When attendance dropped at Yankee Stadium due to an ailing Babe Ruth and his team’s losing record, college football took center stage at the stadium that fall, with the fiercely competitive Notre Dame–Army game the marquee match-up (the rivals would continue their annual meeting at Yankee Stadium until 1947).

The “other” game–professional football–was still in its infancy, and the editors of “The Talk of Town” made it clear that the college atmosphere was more to their liking. It is interesting that even today when fans compare college to pro football, the same observations are made:

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STAR ATTRACTION…After playing his first professional season with the Chicago Bears, in 1926 Red Grange joined the short-lived New York Yankees professional football team. (ourgame.mlb)

As for other sports, The New Yorker also offered extensive coverage of tennis, golf, and polo in its issues. And there would also be rowing, boat and auto racing, and steeplechase events such as National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. An advertisement promoting that event appeared on the inside back cover:

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The editors of “Talk of the Town” continued their sad refrain on the city’s changing landscape, the wrecking ball this visiting Gramercy Park:

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The Stanford White house referred to in “The Talk of the Town.”
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The Dining Room ceiling in the Stanford White House came from a 16th century chapel in Florence.
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Gramercy Park Hotel on the site today. (All 3 photos: Daytonian in Manhattan)

And to close, this terrific advertisment for the Greenwich Village Inn, illustrated by Hans Flato:

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Next Time: Holiday Shopping…

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Fight Night in Philly

We skip ahead to the Oct. 2, 1926 issue to look at one of the big events of that year–the Dempsey-Tunney heavyweight prize fight (I’m not skipping issues…Sept. 25 appears later in this blog).
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Oct. 2, 1926 – Issue # 85 – Cover by Constantin Alajalov. (Once again, note the ongoing comic reference to androgyny in 20’s fashion)
Heavyweight boxing was a big part of the American sports scene in the 1920s, and two giants of the sport, Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, dominated the headlines in the late 1920s thanks to much-heralded bouts in Philadelphia in 1926 and a rematch in Chicago the following year (which would include the famous “long count” incident).
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An estimated 135,000 fans packed Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia for the Dempsey-Tunney bout. (NYTimes)
The New Yorker joined in on the hoopla, publishing a lengthy account of the match by Waldo Frank (aka “Search-light”), who trained his jaded eye on the whole affair:
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VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS…a rain-soaked throng at the Dempsey-Tunney fight in Philadelphia. (City of Philadelphia)
According to the New York Times, the crowd included such notables as Charlie Chaplin, cowboy movie star Tom Mix and the English Channel swimmer Gertrude Ederle.
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Coverage of Tunney’s victory by unanimous decision took up three-quarters of the front page of The New York Times, and also filled most of pages 2 through 7. (The New York Times)
But in typical fashion, Waldo was less than dazzled, finding the rain an apt metaphor for a spectacle mostly unseen by those in attendance:
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Never one to wallow in tragedy, the magazine made a brief (and oddly droll) reference in “The Talk of the Town” to a hurricane that hit Miami and its environs (it killed 372 people and injured more than 6,000):
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Other items of note in the issue included this examination of country vs. city life by cartoonist Barbara Shermund…
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…and this cartoon by Al Frueh commenting on the challenges of Manhattan’s rapidly changing cityscape:
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The changing city was also on the mind of Reginald Marsh in this illustration he contributed to the Sept. 25, 1926 issue of the magazine:
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The Sept. 25 issue also featured an update from Paris correspondent Janet Flanner…
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Sept. 25, 1926 – Issue # 84 – Cover by Constantin Alajalov.
…who commented on the large number of American tourists crowding the city just as the locals were fleeing for their long, late summer holidays:
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She offered some numbers to back up her observations:
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Janet “Genêt” Flanner (right) and longtime companion Solita Solano (center) in Paris in the 1920s. Solano was a well-known writer and drama critic for the New York Tribune.

And finally, a cartoon by Rea Irvin exploring the trials of the idle rich:

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 Next Time: Do Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?
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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.
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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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