For all of TheNew Yorker’s attention to the Scopes Monkey Trial, the August 1, 1925 issue had little to say about the trial’s outcome.
The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes was decidedin the Criminal Court of Tennessee on July 21, 1925, with Scopes found guilty and fined $100 (equivalent to $1,345 in 2015), but the verdict was overturned on a technicality.
“The Talk of the Town” offered this brief observation under its weekly wrap-up column: “Mr. Scopes, found guilty, goes home to Paducah, Kentucky…”
And then this item toward the end of “Talk,” announcing the death of the Scopes Trial defense attorney (and one of the magazine’s favorite punching bags) William Jennings Bryan:
“The Graphic Section” offered this cynical twist on the trial’s outcome:
In a related item under “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker wrote, “Representative Upshaw of Georgia will introduce an anti-evolution bill in Congress. Upshaw is never happy unless the Ship of State is making twenty thou-shalt-nots an hour.”
Brubaker also quipped, “Tennessee is not the only State where there is arrested mental development, but it is the only one so far where it has been fined.”
Back to “The Talk of the Town,” the design for a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt was approved, to be erected as part of the east façade of the Museum of Natural History. It was noted that the design featured Ionic columns that Roosevelt “would have detested in favor of a “native expression of the arts…”
“Talk” continued: “One recalls that Colonel Roosevelt wrote the American Institute of Architects deprecating the use of the lions which doze at the entrance to the Public Library, and advocating the placing there of bisons instead…The memorial to the man who insisted thus on American art, rather than imitation of foreign models, is to be a severely classic as the facade of –let us say—the First National Bank of Dubuque, Iowa.”
“Profiles” featured Walter L. Clark, a “genius who made art into business.” The movie reviews included Theodore Shane’s fumings on prudishness of American censors (Will Hays in particular) especially when compared to more liberal European productions by directors such as Ernst Lubitsch:
In books, the magazine continued its admiration for the jottings of A.A. Milne:
As for night life, The New Yorker lamented (“When Nights Are Bold) that the rooftop garden at the Biltmore “was the only bower worthy of the name left in town where quiet or startling simplicity reigns”:
And speaking of society pursuits, Philip Pratt offered this parody on falconry, while Hans Stengel took aim at the starving artists:
And we end with a detail of summertime images (by Helen Hokinson) from the center spread of the August 1 issue:
The “King of Greenwich Village Bohemians,” Maxwell “Bogie” Bodenheim, was a leading (and notorious) American poet and novelist when “The Talk of the Town” (July 25, 1925) reported on the controversy surrounding his latest novel, Replenishing Jessica, sometimes referred to as one of the infamous “lost” bohemian novels of the 1920s.
Although few consider the book to be great literature (or by today’s standards, scandalous), Replenishing Jessica’s frank portrayal of a woman’s many sexual liaisons was enough to draw the ire of censors.
Bodenheim’s publisher, Horace Liverwright, even found himself the subject of a grand jury investigation, which had declared the book obscene, although he was never prosecuted (Liverwright’s defense attorney was none other than Arthur Hayes, who would also serve on Clarence Darrow’s defense team in the Scopes Monkey Trial).
The New Yorker reported that Bodenheim was “present under a $2,500 bond” following publication of Replenishing Jessica, and called him “one of our few sincerely colorful literati.” It was also suggested that Bodenheim suffered from a “the same persecution complex which tortured Lafcadio Hearn; in his mind, editors meet to plot means to keep him out of print” (Hearn was a late 19th century writer known for his stories based on Japanese legends).
“Talk” described Bodenheim as “ragged and unkempt,”
his pipe “a burnt corn-cob, wedged in his broken front teeth…Eccentric, erratic, is Mr. Bodenheim, careless of the world’s criticism outside of his work, but there is an air of sincerity about him, cynical sincerity, a brittle sparkle to his conversation, that fascination of exotic, social lawlessness.
There is an interesting New Yorker connection to Bodenheim, who met writer Ben Hecht in Chicago in 1912 and with him co-founded the short-lived Chicago Literary Times, which featured such poets and writers as Carl Sanburg, Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson.
After his success as a leading American author in the 1920s and 1930s, Bodenheim became a panhandler and was arrested and hospitalized a number of times for vagrancy and drunkenness. In an article for The Chiseler, critic John Strausbaugh wrote that Bodenheim had “a real talent for scandal, easy enough to generate during Greenwich Village’s prolonged drunken orgy in the Prohibition years.”
In 1952 the 60-year-old Bodenheim married his third wife, Ruth Fagin, who was 28 years his junior. Strausbaugh takes it from there:
In 1953, Ruth took up with a violent, mentally unstable dishwasher named Harold Weinberg. One night in the winter of 1954 the three of them wound up in Weinberg’s room off the Bowery. Bodenheim roused himself from a drunken stupor to see Ruth and Weinberg having sex. He attacked Weinberg, who pulled out a .22 and shot him through the heart. Then Weinberg stabbed Ruth in the chest. The last photos of Bodenheim show him and Ruth lying dead in the squalid room.
Weinberg confessed to the double homicide, was judged insane and sent to a mental institution.
Now on a happier note…
This issue was also replete with various equine diversions. A feature titled “Au Gallop!” looked at groups of New Yorkers who plied the bridal paths of Central Park.
In “Profiles,” Jack Frost wrote admiringly about Harry Payne Whitney (accompanied by an heroic pen-and-ink portrait by Johan Bull). Whitney was a wealthy American businessman, thoroughbred horse breeder, and according to Frost, a “restless impatient force” who “concentrates on success.”
Among other things, The New Yorker credited Whitney with the creation of international-level polo competition in America and considered him the country’s best hope to win the Westchester Cup from England (Whitney was on the 1909, 1911 and 1913 winning American teams). Frost wrote that thanks to Whitney, “we have Homeric contests at Meadow Brook, as blood-stirring as the most epic battles of a Griffith film…”
There was no coverage of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, but cartoonist Al Frueh provided this reminder:
“Of All Things” noted that the population of New York City stood at 6,103,384, the 384 representing “those who have never had ferry-boats named after them” (The current population of the city is about 8.5 million).
The column also offered this quip about the difference between France and England: “Another difference between the two countries is that England is working on the isolation of germs while France is still concerned with the isolation of Germany.”
The “Critique” section urged readers to see select Broadway shows before the new fall season. Recommended plays included What Price Glory, They Knew What They Wanted, Desire Under the Elms, Is Zat So?, the Ziegfeld Follies, Artists and Models, Lady Be Good and Rose-Marie.
The “Music’ section praised a new talent, Abram Chasins. “This young man is going to be something. In fifty years you may pat your granddaughter’s hair (if she has any) and tell her that you saw it in THE NEW YORKER first.” Chasins would have a long career as a pianist and composer, and later as a broadcaster and radio executive. He is perhaps best known for his Three Chinese Pieces composition.
The “Moving Pictures” section looked at Lightnin (“all our sentimental friends will find it a charming American epic”), and Rugged Water, starring Wallace Beery, who played a cowardly coast guard captain. Wrote the reviewer: “(Beery) does not seem to know what it is about and funks badly indeed. As for the rest of the picture, a good performance is given by the ocean.”
In reviewing the dog superstar Rin Tin Tin’s latest movie, Tracked in Snow Country, Theodore Shane (who signed his column “TS”) mused that “It is questionable as to what a dog would say were he able to appraise the virtue that he defends on the screen. Would he find that gold mine worth fighting for or that gal’s innocence worth saving or that villain’s throat worth chawing?…He is a handsome animal to look on and appealing in every foot of the film he plays, but we wish that all that beauty would get cynical for a change.”
Susan Orlean wrote a terrific article about Rin Tin Tin in the August 29, 2011 issue of The New Yorker titled “The Dog Star: Rin Tin Tin and the making of Warner Bros.” She also published a book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend that same year. Highly recommended.
In her column “When Nights Are Bold,” Lois Long offered readers cool escapes from the summer heat at various themed entertainment venues:
While advertisers continued to shill exclusive getaways for “carefully selected clientele”…
At this point the magazine itself seems to be hanging on by a thread. There is scant advertising in this thin issue (24 pages plus cover). The full-page ads on both the inside front and back covers are in-house ads promoting subscriptions to The New Yorker:
And here are two 1/6 page ads featured in the sports section, one from a Detroit hotel no less:
In a final note, I feature a rare non-NYC item. After falling into decay over several decades, the Book Cadillac Hotel (advertised above) was restored in 2008 and reopened as a Westin hotel:
“The Talk of the Town” welcomed midsummer by noting the changes in the “new Summer Social Register…A long, slow swing of the same pendulum-like power which shifts the vogue in night clubs and restaurants is the migration to inland resorts…The Hamptons have fallen off, Newport has weakened and of the coasts only New England, boasting ‘the prestige of the Summer White House,’ has held its own.”
It was thought that perhaps financial pressures on waterfront acreage “had added zeros to the 400” and “The fragments of our battered conservatives turn and twist uneasily, seeking readjustment, new barriers (translation: old money responds to the invasion of new money).
This siege on the sanctity of “the 400” – a reference to the number limited to Mrs. John Jacob Astor’s social circle – included the appearance of “scanty” bathing suits on Southampton beaches:
Corroborative evidence of the storming of the conservative fortresses by Undesirables comes with Southampton’s latest protest against scanty bathing costumes, “usually worn by strangers.”
Just what these costumes were or were not, the Southampton Bathing Corporation did not say, but they ruled that stockings and cape must be worn “while walking down to the water.” This ordinance to apply “especially at week-ends and during tennis week.
Beginning with this issue, the “When Nights Are Bold” feature was passed from Charles Baskerville (pen name “Top Hat”) to the newly hired Lois Long (pen name “Lipstick”). In her first column for The New Yorker, Long suggested that for those “who can get out of town at will,” the Arrowhead Inn “up Riverdale way” and high on a bluff above the Hudson, was a popular destination for dining and dancing, even if the dancing crowd left something to be desired:
Another recommended Hudson River location was the Claremont (but alas, no dancing!), while for those staying in the city, Long recommended the Embassy Club at 695 Fifth Avenue.
According to Here At The New Yorker by Brendan Gill, Long chronicled nightly escapades of drinking, dining, and dancing for The New Yorker, and because her readers did not know who she was, she often jested in her columns about being a “short squat maiden of forty” or a “kindly, old, bearded gentleman.” However, in the announcement of her marriage to The New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, she revealed her true identity.
Harold Ross hired Long in the summer of 1925 as part of a group of “saviors” he hoped would help boost his struggling magazine. The group included Arno, Katharine Angell, managing editor Ralph Ingersoll, and cartoonist Helen Hokinson.
Although she was a favorite of Ross’s, the two couldn’t be more different, as historian Joshua Zeitz explains in Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern (2006), Long knew just how to embarrass the girl-shy editor, and loved to do it:
(Ross) was a staid and proper Midwesterner, and she was absolutely a wild woman. She would come into the office at four in the morning, usually inebriated, still in an evening dress and she would, having forgotten the key to her cubicle, she would normally prop herself up on a chair and try to, you know, in stocking feet, jump over the cubicle usually in a dress that was too immodest for Harold Ross’ liking. She was in every sense of the word, both in public and private, the embodiment of the 1920s flapper. And her readers really loved her.
“Talk” also reported that Mrs. (Julia Lydig) Hoyt had “very nearly arrived,” and was capitalizing on her stage career through endorsements for cold creams and articles on social etiquette. “The motion picture industry and stage know her and now she is a designer at highest salary ever paid to an American.”
Prohibition continued to dampen the spirits (pun intended) of New Yorkers, particularly during the summer season. The editors noted that of 36 random summer reminiscences submitted to the magazine, eighteen were “direct references to alcoholic concoctions and all but a few theatrical recollections directly suggested indulgence. Then the editors offered their own wistful recollections:
Of course we remember “The Doctor’s cocktails” mixed by the “Commissioner” at the Astor…the highball sign at Forty-second and Broadway…the “Old Virginia Mountain” between the acts under the smile of Old King Cole…the Sunday afternoon absinthe drips at the Lafayette…Champagne at the Claremont on a June night…the Manhattan bar at cocktail time…the Ancient and Honorables in the Buckingham bar….the Navy in mufti at Shanley’s…the horseshoe bar at the Waldorf…the blue dawn of the West Forties…
Of course…but why bring that up again? It’s merely driving us down the street to that place that gave us the card last week and the rumor has just reached us that they are back serving Scotch in teacups, accompanied by a large earthenware teapot filled with soda.
Also lamented was the loss of renown restaurant Delmonico’s, which had been closed for some time (due mostly to alcohol sales lost to Prohibition; its famous rival across the street, Sherry’s, closed in 1919 for the same reason) but was now yielding to the wrecking ball: “Possibly, Delmonico’s might have been saved as a tradition, but finances and the changes of Fifth Avenue’s complexion forbade…Now we are to see yet another skyscraper, this one on the site where once they dined; where once they danced; across the street from old Sherry’s, long since a bank; orchestraed only by adding machines.”
“The Talk of the Town” concluded with a price list for various bootleg spirits, a feature that would continue through the Prohibition:
Fresh off his dismantling of those clod-kickers in Chicago, Ben Hecht continued his dyspeptic tirade on the America that lay beyond Gotham, specifically attacking its love of the “Pollyanna twaddle flow” of entertainment from Hollywood:
Ralph Barton, on the other hand, offered of a view of the entire earth, from the vantage point of a Martian observer:
In “Profiles,” Waldo Frank (writing under the pen-name “Searchlight”) looked askance at the life and work of writer Sinclair Lewis.
Frank offered these observations: “Once upon a time, America created a man-child in her own image…
There’s a strange thing about America. She is passionately in love with herself, and is ashamed of herself…Here was a dilemma, Could not her self be served up to America in such a way that she could love herself—and save her shame? Sinclair Lewis, true American son, was elect to solve it.”
And for those rising young men who did not wish to mix with the unwashed during the summer social season, membership to the Allerton Club Residences was recommended in this back page advertisement:
And yes, the Scopes Monkey Trial is still on the minds of the editors:
And finally, to close out with a beach theme, a two-page illustration from “The Talk of the Town” section, an early work by illustrator Peggy Bacon:
In its 21st issue (July 11, 1925) The New Yorker was back to taking swipes at William Jennings Bryan and the backward ways of Tennesseans as the Scopes “Monkey Trial” drew near.
A four-page feature penned by Marquis James (the longest article to appear in The New Yorker since Issue #1), primarily focused on the trial’s setting—Dayton, Tennessee—and the habits and tastes of its countrified citizens:
Prosecutor and famed orator William Jennings Bryan had not yet arrived in Dayton, but the townsfolk were plenty enamored of the other star in their midst, attorney for the defense Clarence Darrow. James reported that the agnostic Darrow mixed surprisingly well with the locals:
James concluded his piece with a description of the carnival atmosphere that gripped the tiny, formerly unknown town that was now the focus of the entire country:
An illustration by Al Frueh that preceded James’s article makes hay of the “carnival atmosphere,” likening it to a modern-day version of the Inquisition:
“The Talk of the Town” did its usual breezy wrap up of “The Week” (including the announcement of the birth of Charlie Chaplin’s son (by Lita Grey), and offered a somber note about the dampening effects of Prohibition on the restaurant trade. It also noted that David Belasco had marked 50 years in the theater business (though his influence was waning), and “Texas” Guinan personally opened the door of her nightclub to opera great Mary Garden after a bit of a misunderstanding:
“Profiles” looked at Clinton Peters, “The Daddy of Sunday Painters,” while “Moving Pictures” cheered Edmond Rostand’s “masterpiece,” Cyrano de Bergerac, starring French actor Pierre Magnier in a “magnificently well—seasoned interpretation.”
The film was also “in color,” actually a cross between two-color technicolor and hand-coloring, sometimes using only one process or the other, sometimes both. According to IMDB:
Parts of the film were hand colored using the Pathécolor stencil process, in which groundstone glass is cut with a pantograph in the shape of an object to conform with what is on the 35mm print. A machine then passes a dye-soaked strip of velvet over the film with the glass stencil on top and the film is colored. Cutting the stencils (a stencil for every different color) was a very long and tedious process which delayed the release of the film by almost two years. The color style/scheme of the movie was to imitate the tone, color and feel of 17th Century Renaissance paintings.
In the review of another film, Paths to Paradise, the critic (TS) wrote that “Mr. Raymond Griffith establishes himself as a genuine comedian of the rank of Menjou and Chaplin.”
The “Sports” section of these early issues of The New Yorker covered mostly polo, tennis, golf and yacht races and regattas, which I will explore more in future posts.
In the section “When Nights Are Bold,” Charles Baskerville (signing as “Top Hat”) reviewed the tango dance performance by Fay Marbe at the Beaux Arts Restaurant: “She is easy on the eyes; and after her performance we were all patting her on the back, because it’s one of the most beautiful ones we have ever beheld.”
And now for the funnies: On the inside front cover, the musings of English cartoonist W. Heath Robinson, best known for his drawings of ridiculously complicated machines for achieving simple objectives:
And finally, this three-act performance by staff artist Johan Bull. In her book Defining New Yorker Humor, Judith Yaross Lee writes that Bull was a Norwegian immigrant who started out as a caricaturist for the sports department, but was pressed into greater service for his ability to mimic Rea Irvin’s style:
The New Yorker rarely missed an opportunity to take potshots at rival cities such as Philadelphia or Boston, but Chicago was a special target in the magazine’s crosshairs as a notorious Midwestern backwater. The July 4, 1925 issue included a feature titled “Go Chicago,” in which Ben Hecht parodies the city’s pretensions and acts of boosterism. Among Hecht’s observations:
There is no city north of the Mason and Dixon line as active in the cultivation of witch-burning morality, as terrified by ideas, as Rotary Club ridden as Chicago.
I include below the entire piece for the full effect of Ben’s acid-tipped pen:
A note on Ben Hecht: According to IMDB, he is considered one of Hollywood’s and Broadway’s greatest writers. He won an Oscar for best original story for Underworld (1927) at the first Academy Awards in 1929 and had a hand in the writing of many classic plays and films, including the play The Front Page and the film Notorious. Although he received no credit, Hecht was paid $10,000 by David O. Selznick to perform a “fast doctoring” on the script for Gone With The Wind.
The New Yorker celebrated its first Fourth of July with a busy, two-color cover depicting Coney Island’s famous Luna Park:
One wonders if the cover art was part of an arrangement for advertising revenue, given that this ad appeared on the back cover of the same issue:
The inside front cover of the issue featured a full-page ad for the Paramount film, Beggar on Horseback, complete with joke reviews from the “Old Lady in Dubuque” and others including the film’s two writers, Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman, who were also advisory editors of The New Yorker:
“Talk of the Town” commented on how modern artists such as Henri Matisse, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth and Constantin Brancusi were influencing contemporary fashion: “To-day sees the dress houses and even the Fifth Avenue department stores displaying “Cubist fashions”—scarves patterned like composite photographs of all the abstruse countenances in Euclid’s book of open curves, gowns that are marked with subtle diagrams on the variation of the triangle…sports blouses done in bands of gradated color and roundish forms which proclaim their nepotal relation to Cezanne…”
“Profiles” featured George Creel, an investigative journalist and politician who headed President Woodrow Wilson’s propaganda arm, the Committee on Public Information, during World War I. The profile’s author, Harvey O’Higgins, wrote that “The Incredible Mr. Creel” was often unpopular with the press as a war-time propagandist, but Creel himself was not a censor but rather a good-humored, honest man with “the ideals of an adolescent.”
In the “Of All Things” section, Howard Brubaker wryly observed: “Now that Dorothy Perkins has been sentenced to three years in prison we hope that ladies will think twice before killing gentlemen unless they are actually annoying.”
At the time, Perkins was the youngest woman ever charged with murder in New York. She was just 15 when she met 35-year-old Mickey Connors, described by blogger Mark Gribben in The Malefactor’s Register as a “truck driver and spouse-abusing divorced felon.”
Gribben writes that “Connors and Dorothy apparently met in June 1924 when he wed the mother of one of Dorothy’s girlfriends. After that marriage, Connors moved away from Greenwich Village, but kept in contact with Dorothy on the sly.”
According to Gribben, on Valentine’s Day 1925, a rival suitor for Dorothy, 26-year-old Tommy Templeton (who served with Dorothy’s father, Rudolph, in World War I), attended a birthday party for Rudolph at his Greenwich Village house. During the party, the drunken Rudolph apparently asked Dorothy, “Why do you want a bum like Connors when you can have a nice fellow like Tommy?” At some point Dorothy went to her room to fetch a .22-caliber revolver she had stolen from an aunt in Connecticut.
What ensued was related by the family minister, Rev. Truman A. Kilborne, in testimony to the court. Rev. Kilborne said the family told him that when Rudolph attempted to take the revolver from his daughter, she resisted and in the struggle the revolver went off. Templeton, who was standing nearby, was shot through the heart.
During her trial, Dorothy claimed that her standoffish treatment of Tommy (and being seen with Conners) was an attempt to make “(Tommy) jealous by flirting with someone else.”
On June 17, 1925, the jury rejected the state’s case that the shooting was murder and convicted Dorothy of manslaughter.
Contrary to The New Yorker account, Dorothy was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in the women’s prison at Auburn, but ended up serving just four years of the sentence, during which time she was trained as a stenographer. She was released in January 1929 for good behavior. Mickey Connors served a few months in the Tombs prison for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The issue also included this wonderful two-page illustrated feature by Ralph Barton, a subject in my previous blog post, The Vicious Circle. Barton was very familiar with French life and customs. According to Wikipedia, in 1915 Puck magazine “sent Barton to France to sketch scenes of World War I. It was then that Barton developed a great love of all things French, and throughout his life he would return to Paris to live for periods of time. In 1927 the French government awarded Barton the Legion of Honour.”
And finally, a cartoon from the issue that takes aim at New York City Mayor John F. Hylan. From the very first issue of The New Yorker (Feb. 21, 1925), the mayor (comically referred to as “Jonef Hylan”) was a frequent target:
The next great figure in the early legends of New York is that of Jonef Hylan. Hylan, in all probability, was not a real person; but it is impossible to understand New York without giving careful study to the Hylan myth. In many respects, it resembles the Sun Myth of other great civilizations; for his head was as a head of flame, and he rose early each morning from beyond the East River, bringing light into all the dark places and heat into the sessions of the Board of Estimate. The populace called their Sun God “Red Mike”; but in the frenzy of their devotions, they simply yelled “Ra! Ra!
With a lull in the news from the Scopes Trial, the June 27, 1925 is another hodgepodge of seemingly random bits. Perhaps this is a good time to look at some of the magazine’s early artists, editors and writers.
The masthead of the very first issue listed these founding Advisory Editors: Ralph Barton, Marc Connelly, Rea Irvin, George S. Kaufman, Alice Doerr Miller, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott. Not listed was founding editor Harold Ross.
The list remained the same for the June 27 issue, minus Ralph Barton. His story is rather sad.
In his day, Barton was well known for his celebrity caricatures, the most famous being his group drawings. He was also a regular early contributor to The New Yorker of brief theater reviews that were accompanied by a large illustration:
Despite his short stint as a New Yorker advisory editor, the Kansas City native contributed often to the magazine during its first years. Barton also contributed drawings to such publications as Collier’s, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar.
Although his work earned him an impressive income, Barton was a manic-depressive with four failed marriages. In May 1931 he shot himself through the right temple in his East Midtown penthouse. He was only 39.
According to Wikipedia, Barton wrote in a suicide note that he had irrevocably “lost the only woman I ever loved” (the actress Carlotta Monterey, who divorced Barton in 1926 and married playwright Eugene O’Neill in 1929), and that he feared his worsening manic-depression was approaching insanity.
Following his death, Barton’s artistic reputation quickly dropped from sight, due not only to his demise but also to the waning of the Jazz Age subjects he drew with such verve:
A 1928 letter from Harold Ross to Barton (posted on The American Reader website) seems to be an attempt by Ross to cheer up the artist:
Wednesday 27 June 1928
I was on the brink of writing you when your letter came—this morning—telling me about your latest predicament. I knew, of course, that you had reached some conclusion as this. You are a creative soul and therefore a restless soul; therefore, a damn fool. I would leave this to any fair-minded banker. I wish I were a banker. I also wish I were Henry Ford or anybody who can accept the church, the government, conventions, and all those things.
I also had house trouble. I am thinking of burning the damn thing down. The insurance would net a tidy bit of cash and would enable me to get a room somewhere and fit up what I really ought to have. I am not competent to manage more space than this. I would be if I were a fairy. Fairies are the happiest people there are. All editors ought to be fairies. I fuss around with commas, semi-colons, dictionaries, and wordings, and it drives me crazy. I am too virile. I ought to be building subways. I was thinking of going to the North Pole with the Byrd expedition but that would take a year or two and I can spare, at most, only two months. It probably would be a bore anyhow. All life is a bore if you think at all…
Others listed on The New Yorker masthead were associated with legendary Algonquin Round Table, including the playwrights Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman and writers Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott–all charter members. The writer Alice Duer Miller was also an occasional guest of this “Vicious Circle,” as they called themselves. From roughly 1919 to 1929, they met every day for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel.
Other regular Round Table members included Harold Ross, Franklin Pierce Adams, (best known for his newspaper column, “The Conning Tower”), New Yorker humorist Robert Benchley, husband-wife writers Heywood Broun and Ruth Hale, broadway producer Brock Pemberton, playwright Robert Sherwood and broadway publicist John Peter Toohey.
Those who moved in and out of the circle included feminist writer Jane Grant (who with her first husband Harold Ross co-founded The New Yorker), vaudeville comedian and later film star Harpo Marx, actresses Peggy Wood, Tallulah Bankhead, Lynn Fontanne and Margolo Gillmore, actor and director Alfred Lunt, playwrights Edna Ferber and David Ogden Stewart, humorist Frank Sullivan, writers Margaret Leech and Frank Crowninshield, illustrator Neysa McMein, playwright Beatrice Kaufman (George’s wife) and composer Deems Taylor.
It is important to make note of these various players in the “Vicious Circle,” since they figure prominently both as contributors and subjects in the early issues of The New Yorker.
A prominent name on The New Yorker’s masthead absent from the Round Table is graphic artist Rea Irvin, creator of the magazine’s distinctive look and its mascot, Eustace Tilley.
Irvin signed on as an advisory editor with the assumption that the magazine would fold after a few issues. Little did he realize that his illustrations, department headings, caricatures, and cartoons would grace the pages of The New Yorker for many years; that he would go on to illustrate 169 covers between 1925 and 1958; and that his distinctive typeface and mascot would continue to serve the magazine to this very day (Irvin died in 1972 at age 90).
Not to give the June 27 issue short shrift, “The Talk of the Town” reported Roald Amundsen had returned from his North Pole flight; “Profiles” looked at the life of theatrical producer Morris Gest; and “Books” offered a brief and somewhat mixed review of D.H. Lawrence’s new book, St. Mawr.
In “The Theatre,” W.C. Fields continued to impress in his performances with the Ziegfeld Follies. The New Yorker noted that Fields was becoming a “talking comedian” comparatively late in life, and that after 26 years “as a straight and comic juggler,” he has become “ever so many people’s favorite comedian.” Under “Moving Pictures” it was also observed that D. W. Griffith’s Sally of the Sawdust was going to “put W.C. Fields across as a big screen comedian. Wait and see!”
The June 27 issue offered yet another full page cartoon, this time by Gardner Rea, taking aim at the droll antics of the moneyed classes:
And finally, we are shown the answer to the mystery drawing by Covarrubias–ahem–an advertisement for a photography studio:
Anticipation of the upcoming Scopes “Monkey Trial” continued to fill the pages of The New Yorker. In the June 20, 1925 issue, “The Talk of the Town” led with an account (titled “Martyr de Jour”) of trial defendant John T. Scopes’ visit to New York City.
The “Talk” author wrote admiringly of Scopes, if not also with a degree of condescension, noting that the Tennessee schoolteacher was “introduced in circles with which, hitherto, he had been acquainted only through his love for books and periodicals…He was fêted and lionized, this back-country school-teacher, a shrewd, slow-speaking, slow-moving individual such as novelists have misrepresented as being typical of our agricultural regions. He was lionized socially, that is. Although, of course, there was that rather distressful incident of entertainment when Mr. Scopes and Dr. George W. Rappleyea, his devoted friend, attended the “Follies” by invitation of the late press agent for the American Civil Liberties Union, and found, on arrival that while guests they were expected to pay for their own tickets.”
Scopes and Rappleyea were in town to find scientists who would be willing to testify in Scopes’ legal case. “Talk” noted that despite its humble description of the teacher, Scopes was no meek country boy; indeed he had complained to the press that his importance had been minimized by all the attention paid to the prosecuting and defending attorneys, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.
For the record, George Rappleyea was a metallurgical engineer and manager of the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company in Dayton, Tennessee, which was the site of Scopes Trial. It was Rappleyea who convinced a group of Dayton businessmen to sponsor a test case of the Butler Act (which prohibited the teaching of evolution in state schools) and also convinced Scopes to serve as defendant.
The trial would attract many public figures, including E. Haldeman-Julius, who was coincidentally featured in the issue’s “Profiles” section.
Haldeman-Julius was a socialist reformer and creator of a series of small, staple-bound booklets known as “Little Blue Books,” which featured various writings on social issues and abridged reprints of classic literature.
If a book sold less than 10,000 copies in one year, Haldeman-Julius would remove it from his line. But first he would try out a lurid title for the book, and sometimes the tactic would revive sales. For example, The Tallow Ball by Guy de Maupassant sold 15,000 copies one year, but nearly 55,000 the next year after the title was changed to A French Prostitute’s Sacrifice.
The writer of the profile, Alexander Woollcott, noted that 75 million Little Blue Books had been published to date (according to Haldeman-Julius), and one might conclude that the famous socialist pamphleteer had “sold out to Mammon” because of the wealth generated from the sales, but Woollcott concluded that Haldeman-Julius and his wife, Marcet, were accomplished authors themselves (including their 1921 novel Dust) and even a socialist crusader would feel pride at the sight of a workman on a subway train, settling back with “his Little Blue Book.”
The “Critique” section offered this observation about a new show at the Colonial, featuring Johnny Hudgins (Hudgins was featured in my April 8 blog, Knickerbocker Junction:
There was also an item about Don Q, Son of Zorro, a film starring Douglas Fairbanks that made its debut at Broadway’s Globe Theatre. The review noted that the movie is full of Fairbanks acrobatics, and “Doug does everything except play the saxophone.”
It was noted, however, that the best performance of the picture was by Warner Oland, who played a dimwitted archduke. The Swedish actor Oland would gain fame for playing “oriental” characters, most notably Dr. Fu Manchu in the late 20s and early 30s, and the detective Charlie Chan in more than a dozen movies in the 1930s. He also played the role of “The Cantor” in 1927’s The Jazz Singer, one of the first of the “talkies.”
“When Nights Are Bold” featured, among other items, this bit about the growing popularity of an open-air restaurant in Central Park called “The Casino”:
The Museum of the City of New York blog notes that the Central Park Casino began in 1864 as the Ladies’ Refreshment Salon. About 20 years later the salon “morphed into a far pricier destination, called The Casino, and was open to both sexes. The name was used to invoke the Italian translation of “little house” rather than denoting a gambling joint.” Because of its park location and then rare outdoor seating option, it was the place to see and be seen. By the early 1920s it had declined into “a somewhat dumpy night-club,” but when flamboyant mayor Jimmy Walker took office in 1926 he personally revived the Casino (through “a series of somewhat sketchy maneuvers”) and turned it into an exclusive nightclub for high society. The good times quickly ended with the 1929 market crash.
According to centralparkhistory.com, on opening night, June 4, 1929, “a good deal of cynical talk was bandied about among the crowd who watched the socialites arrive. In the fall mayoral campaign Fiorello La Guardia had attacked Walker for leasing the “whoopee joint” in the park to his close friends for a ridiculously low rent — friends who, in turn, obtained some of their financing from gangster Arnold Rothstein (the man who reputedly fixed the 1919 World Series). The stock market crashed that same fall and federal prohibition agents raided the Casino. The elegant playground of the rich had become a symbol of decadence and corruption.” Parks commissioner Robert Moses later replaced the Casino with the Rumsey Playground, which in turn was replaced by the park’s current SummerStage.
Finally we close with some illustrations from the issue. In her book, Defining New Yorker Humor, Judith Yaross Lee writes that the magazine’s “signature caricaturists established the New Yorker’s high sense of humor and gave comic character to the texts…The New Yorker attracted first-rate artists despite its comparatively low rates because photojournalism was restructuring their work, and because art editor Rea Irvin gave it attractive layouts.”
On the inside front cover, this illustration by W. Heath Robinson takes aim at upper-class vanities:
And here are some comic trifles; these were usually found in the center pages, sort of a “joke section” for the smart set. Note the ubiquitous “The Optimist” filler, a tired joke featured repeatedly in the first issues until Katharine (Angell) White came on board later that year and put an end to such nonsense. Also note that the second item is contributed by Julius H. Marx, better known as Groucho (thanks to one of my readers in comments below for catching that!):
A good example here of how another artist, Al Frueh, finds humor in how the professional elites and the moneyed classes overreact to seemingly minor incidents. In just four years this wouldn’t be so funny:
Again we get the mysterious Covarrubias drawing, also featured in my previous post, Bryan’s Planet of the Apes:
And finally, an advertisement for “Herbert” Tareyton cigarettes. Not exactly the most the persuasive tagline:
Leading up to the famous Tennessee “Monkey Trial” of John Scopes, the June 13 issue of The New Yorker continued its jabs at William Jennings Bryan.
Bryan had agreed to serve as prosecutor in the case against Scopes, who was charged on May 5, 1925, with teaching evolution from a chapter in Civic Biology, a textbook by George William Hunter that among other things described the theory of evolution. For the record, Scopes, who was merely a substitute high school teacher, wasn’t even sure if he’d actually taught evolution in his class, but purposely incriminated himself so the trial would proceed with a defendant. Just in case New Yorker readers needed more evidence that Bryan was an ignorant rube, “Talk of the Town” led off with an item on WJB’s visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Bryan was also the subject of a “Profile” piece by Charles Willis Thompson, who wrote “the Commoner” is “an extensively misunderstood man.”
Thompson observed that Bryan “is variously regarded as a statesman, chump, shrewd politician, bigot, liberal, scholar, knight, orator, reformer, crank and crusader who has fetched up short of his goal because of a chevalier-like hesitancy to sacrifice principle for expediency.”
Here is the piece in its entirety:
The New Yorker was barely afloat as it entered its first summer, but that didn’t dampen its wit as it fished for new subscribers through humorous full page ads regularly featured in the first issues.
The June 13 issue opened with one such ad that appears to be a parody of a Bernarr Macfadden health and fitness promotion (Macfadden was an influential predecessor to the likes of Charles Atlas and Jack Lalanne). The ad was accompanied by a strange drawing that appears to combine McFadden’s body with–for some reason–William Jennings Bryan’s head:
In addition to Mr. Bryan, “Talk of the Town” also offered these observations…Calvin Coolidge’s fondness for his battered felt hat…the modesty of the young golfing star Bobby Jones and his refusal to accept any money beyond barest expenses for an exhibition match at Harvard…an offer by the famed violinist Jascha Heifetz to deliver, upon his return trip from Paris, a Poiret-designed gown for opera singer Cobina Wright for her upcoming Bal Harbor engagement…and a minor money dispute between George Bernard Shaw and the Saturday Evening Post regarding the reprinting of a short story.
“Talk” also made hay about “Male Plumage” on display in the city, noting that the last time novelist Sherwood Anderson was in town (he is referred to as “the illustrious revealer of the Middle Western Subconscious”) he wore socks “of a particularly glowing brown bespread with diamond checks of an exceptionally vivid shade of green,” and he sported both brown and red feathers in his brown velour hat. It was noted, however, that this display was outdone by Rudolph Valentino, whose silk house pajamas (worn while receiving visitors at the Plaza in Paris) were of “the most vivid crimson ever accomplished.”
The New Yorker continued its assault on crooked cab drivers with this cartoon by Miguel Covarrubias:
“Of All Things” (written by Howard Brubaker) noted that “The Queen of Rumania and the King of Swat (Babe Ruth) are both writing for the World, but fortunately for us constant readers, low-born newspaper men are still on the job.” It was also noted that silent film idol Mary Pickford “has fallen among bad characters or good press agents.” I have no idea what this refers to. Pickford was married to film star Douglas Fairbanks at the time, and their Hollywood mansion Pickfair was the center of the celebrity universe. The couple played host to heads of state and other dignitaries as well as notables in literature, the arts, and science (Albert Einstein once paid a call).
German cinema regularly drew favorable reviews in The New Yorker, however Fritz Lang’s Siegfried was called long and arty, “possessing many fine intervals of real beauty…that usually wins the critical adjectives. The average audience will probably be a bit bored at Siegfried’s quest. Tom Mix does this sort of thing with much more verve and snap.”
And if you think the “Cinderella” story has been made and remade too many times, consider that in 1925 The New Yorker already found the theme wearing thin. A review of the The Desert Flower referred to the film as “just another variation of the Cinderella theme.” It told the story of a waif (Colleen Moore) in a railroad construction in camp who falls in love with the son of the railroad’s president. The reviewer wrote that “probably all of this will be popular. It always has been.”
Texas Guinan’s new club proved a be hit, as reported in the feature “When Nights Are Bold.” I last reported on Texas Guinan in my March 18, 2015 post, “A Dry Manhattan,” when prohibition officials put a padlock on her old haunt, the El Fey Club. As we see, things are looking up for the leading lady of New York nightlife:
I am guessing this an attempt to fill ad space and encourage readership. I guess we will find out soon enough:
The issue closes with a satirical piece that appears to poke fun at tenement life, or perhaps at the pretensions of art critics, or both. You be the judge:
The June 6, 1925 “Talk of the Town” was jumble of odds and ends. There were musings on William Randolph Hearst’s indecision over a redesign of his Cosmopolitan magazine (to incorporate the defunct Hearst’s Magazine), and an update on “the Queen of Rumania”…”persuaded by Miss Zoe Beckley to write that series of articles for her newspaper which are appearing currently, in this city, in the World. Her Majesty also received a tidy piece of money for endorsing, under the royal signature, a certain facial cream much favored by young ladies ion the great Middle West, where men are men.”
“Talk” reported that the facial cream company (Ponds) was approaching other notables for endorsements: “Alice Roosevelt, known in some circles as Mrs. Nicholas Longworth, is reported to have succumbed to the lure of the facial cream. The sum mentioned is five thousand dollars. There will be a photograph of Princess Alice and, one hears, a statement of what she owes to the beneficent workings of the cream in question. She will be in good company, for Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt, Mrs. Marshall Field and Lady Diana Duff-Cooper have appeared already, among others.
Also noted was the closing of Joel’s, “perhaps the last of the older order of restaurants, whose hosts were individuals, not corporations.” Frequent patrons were novelist Booth Tarkington and artist George Luks.
“The Talk of the Town” also featured drawings by Rea Irvin lampooning William Jennings Bryan’s role in the Scopes Trial, but there was no mention of the event in the “Talk” section itself. However, “Of All Things” noted that “Professor Scopes will now sing that popular ballad: ‘The truth I loved in funny Tennessee.’” The next item followed with “It is said that the KKK is a strong element in the Southern anti-evolution fight. One would expect them to fight klanfully for the Jewish tribal legends.”
Another stand-alone, full-page illustration depicted Tennessee as a dark jungle:
“Profiles” featured Deems Taylor, who was dubbed “Versatility Personified” for his work as both a music critic and gifted composer, among other talents. According to Wikipedia, Taylor’s operas were given more performances by the Metropolitan Opera than any other American composer (including his 1927 work The King’s Henchman, with libretto by Edna St. Vincent Millay).
Taylor was well-known to New Yorker editors and writers as a friend of the Algonquin Round Table, and briefly dated Dorothy Parker. He was also friends with composers George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. He later appeared in Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia as the master of ceremonies, and helped select pieces for the film’s musical score.
The New Yorker was seemingly hitting a rough patch as it entered its fifth month. The thin 16th issue (just 24 pages plus cover) reveals the editors still fiddling with the magazine’s format, including an odd new section titled “Critique” that looked variously at happenings in theater, motion pictures, art, music and books—apparently an attempt to consolidate all of these formerly separate sections into one. There was yet another reference to writer Michael Arlen, the magazine characterizing him as an author of light entertainments and thrillers whose best book was These Charming People.
It is noteworthy how much ink the writer Michael Arlen commands in the pages of early New Yorker, considering how little known he is today. And this was at the same time F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was receiving tepid reviews, including a brief one in The New Yorker.
There was much ado at the Junior League Convention in Boston, according to May 30, 1925 New Yorker. The lead item in “The Talk of Town” concerned the delegation from New York that “wished to exercise censorship over Junior Leaguers who move here from other towns—Dubuque, Iowa*, for example—and whose memberships in the League were transferred to them.”
(*Dubuque, Iowa, as you may recall, is where resides the proverbial “old lady”–the antithesis of a New Yorker reader).
The New York delegates pointed out that their league was “committed to accepting into membership between eighty and ninety debutantes each year; moreover, that it was forced to accept as members, also, those young ladies whose ambitions led them to shake the Dubuquian dust from their French heels and take the train to New York.”
To address this situation, the New York delegation proposed that such transfer members should only be accepted on a one-year trail basis. “Talk” noted that “It was not said, of course, that the object of this proposal was to allow local Junior Leaguers to inspect their guests against such provincial failings as might not be corrected in the period of twelve months…”
“Talk” also continued mining the (unintended) humor of President Calvin Coolidge. When a Washington newspaper correspondent (identified as Mr. Sullivan) asked if the president might recognize the arts and letters by inviting some poets to the White House, Coolidge responded, “Who are the leading poets?” Sullivan suggested such luminaries as Edward Arlington Robinson, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edgar Lee Masters and Elinor Wylie. After some consideration, Coolidge replied: “When I was in College, there was a man named Smith—who wrote verse.”
It was reported that the Montmartre supper club had reopened after being closed for a year by Prohibition authorities, and many of the old clientele had returned including Alice and Jimmy O’Gorman “at their usual table with the Storrs and Thelma Morgan Converse, now abroad but that evening fresh from Hollywood and the barber.” Another supper club, the Rendezvous, had also reopened, “although without the erstwhile influence of Gilda Gray’s glamourous shimmy.”
According to Wikipedia, “although the shimmy is said to have been introduced to American audiences by Gray in New York in 1919, the term was widely used before. Some stories said that her shimmy was born one night when she was singing the Star Spangled Banner and forgot some of the lyrics.She covered up her embarrassment by shaking her shoulders and hips. Although the shimmy was already a well-known dance move, Marianna appropriated it as her own: when she was asked about her dancing style, she replied in a heavy Polish accent; “I’m shaking my chemise,” which sounded to the English-speaking audience like shimmy.”
There was also a brief item on the changing fashions of men’s hats:
“Of All Things” offered its first comments on the upcoming Scopes Trial, coverage of which would be a regular feature in upcoming issues. It was noted “If the anti-evolutionists win in Tennessee, anyone wishing to drink at the fountain of truth will have to go to a speakeasy…We are not without a twinge of envy for J.T. Scopes. A young high school teacher who can give a simple lesson in biology and become a great national menace is getting into the hall of fame on an uncomplimentary ticket.”
We also have our first mention of Mussolini, who “has granted women the ballot and the right to serve in war. It is understood, however, that the Italian women will not be used in actual fighting but will be saved for the heavy work.”
“Profiles” featured William Allen White, famed editor and owner of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette. The piece was written by Edna Ferber, who concluded that “Bill White comes perilously close to being the Great American Citizen.”
“Music” featured the review of entire radio broadcast—the first lengthy account of radio featured in the magazine. The reviewer tuned in to WEAF, “a commercial station, renting the air to affluent concerns who provide the amusement or otherwise. At least two of the attractions presented (including singers, a piano duet) on our night of earful waiting were sponsored by business interests and on some nights the whole program may be provided by accounts, Consequently, WEAF is able to inundate its listeners with paid entertainers in place of song pluggers and ambitious choir applicants.”
In “The Theatre,” Man or the Devil by Jerome Kern opened on Broadway featuring Lionel Barrymore and Marion Ballou. The character acting was described as pleasurable, but the play itself was referred to as “nothing much…Two men, you see, exchange souls. However, if you wish you can stuff your ears with cotton and make up a dandy plot for yourself as the action develops.”