The writer Michael Arlen was back in pages of The New Yorker on the occasion of his second visit to the U.S. The magazine also heralded his first visit in March 1925, when he was liberally feted by various literary hangers-on and assorted socialites.
This time around Arlen was the guest of Charles Dillingham, “being at the moment deeply engaged in his host’s forthcoming presentation of Mr. Cyril Maude in “The Charming People.” And, between times, casting watchful eyes on “The Green Hat,” whose New York premiere next week comes just in the nick of time to save many of Mr. Arlen’s admirers from collapses fomented by anguished anticipation.”
With Arlen’s return, and with new works by the “youngster” Noel Coward (he was 26), ‘The Talk of the Town” noted that the fall theater season “will have a distinctly British flavor.”
“Talk” called Coward “the rage of the London dramatic season,” in anticipation of his upcoming New York presentations:
Babe Ruth also returned to “Talk” with another tale of mischief:
It was also reported that Charlie Chaplin was still playing the melancholy, holed up in his room at the Ritz with his telephone disconnected:
French tennis star Rene Lacoste was the subject in “Profiles.” John Tunis wrote, “The French are supposed to be a volatile people. Rene Lacoste us about as volatile as Swiss cheese. His is the most perfect self-control imaginable; both on the court and off, his is the demeanor of a real champion…he will go a very long way.”
“Moving Pictures” announced the arrival of the German film Siegfried at the Century Theatre. An advertisement in the magazine proclaimed that a “Symphonic Orchestra of 60 musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Co. render a special score compiled with Wagner’s Immortal Music…”
In my last post I wrote about Raoul Fleischmann’s investment in The New Yorker, and how his initial $25,000 led to subsequent infusions of hundreds of thousands of dollars. No doubt in an effort to recoup some of his investment, he started placing these full-page ads in the magazine that promoted health benefits of consuming his company’s product: yeast.
Before we jump into the autumn issues of 1925, I want to briefly look back at The New Yorker’s first summer, when the magazine limped along week to week but managed to survive thanks to a fortuitous meeting between Harold Ross and Raoul Fleischmann during a bridge game.
According to Thomas Kunkel’s book, Genius in Disguise, Fleischmann was the wealthy scion of a New York yeast and baking family, and a frequent guest of the Algonquin Round Table. He hated the baking business, so when Ross pitched the idea of investing in his new magazine, Fleischmann obliged with $25,000. Ross and his wife, Jane Grant, together put up the other $25,000 (which included some IOU’s), but after the magazine was launched and struggled during its first months, Fleischmann was further obliged to pour in many hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the magazine afloat (and in spite teasing from his friends that he might as well dump the money in the river).
The magazine was actually killed as early as May 8, when Fleischmann called Ross and other magazine directors together after Ross lost a large amount of money in a poker game (money he’d plan to invest in the magazine).
Fortunately, the following day was fellow Round Tabler Franklin P. Adams’ wedding, and in the convivial atmosphere Ross and Fleishmann agreed to give the magazine another go.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the magazine struggled mightily through the summer, with thin issues featuring in-house promotional ads that claimed the most prime advertising spots (including inside front and back covers).
However, the house ads were clever and fun to read, as Kunkel explains:
To help camouflage the dearth of advertising, Ross asked (New Yorker humor writer) Corey Ford to come up with some promotional, or “house” ads. Ford’s response was the “Making of the Magazine” series, which not only represented some of the cleverest writing in the 1925 New Yorker but went a long way toward establishing the magazine’s droll, self-deprecating tone… Each article was accompanied by a Johann Bull illustration featuring the ubiquitous (Eustace) Tilley, who was based on the Rea Irvin dandy (who was featured on the magazine’s first cover). Ford had simply made up the moniker (“’Tilley’ was the name of a maiden aunt,” he explained, “and I chose ‘Eustace’ because it sounded euphonious”), and soon it came to be identified with Irvin’s monocled figure. Tilley began turning up by name in Talk items and Ross listed him in the telephone directory.
More than 20 of these house ads were featured through the end of 1925. What follows are the first ads in the series from issues dated August 8, 15, 22, 29.
In a previous post I briefly looked at the Algonquin Round Table–writers, critics, artists, some of them New Yorker contributors–who had been exchanging witticisms over lunch at the Algonquin Hotel since 1919.
Like so many things connected to The New Yorker, Alexander Woollcott was at the center of the famed table’s origin story. According to Wikipedia, the group that would become the Round Table began meeting as the result of a practical joke carried out by theatrical press agent John Peter Toohey, who was annoyed at Woollcott (a New York Times drama critic) for refusing to plug one of his clients (Eugene O’Neill) in his column. Toohey organized a luncheon supposedly to welcome Woollcott back from World War I, where he had been a correspondent for Stars and Stripes (and where Woollcott first met Harold Ross and Jane Grant). Instead Toohey used the occasion to poke fun at Woollcott on a number of fronts, including his long-winded war stories. Woollcott’s enjoyment of the joke and the success of the event prompted Toohey to suggest that the group meet every day at the Algonquin for lunch.
An illustrated feature by Ralph Barton in the August 29, 1925 issue (titled “The Enquiring Reporter”) thumbs its nose at critics of the Round Table who accused its members of “logrolling” (exchanging favorable plugs of one another’s works). Barton’s feature spoofs the man-on-the-street interviews that were popular in the 1920s. The persons chosen “at random” are none other than members of the Algonquin Round Table who take turns denying that any logrolling takes place at the famed gathering:
In fact, there was quite a bit of logrolling taking place in this “Vicious Circle.” As Thomas Kunkel writes in Genius in Disguise, in addition to New Yorker contributors, the Algonquin Round Table variously included representatives of the New York Times, the New York Tribune, Vanity Fair, Harpers Bazaar and Life.
“The wits cross-pollinated feverishly. Shrugging off charges of logrolling, they quoted one another in their columns, reviewed one another’s shows, publicized one another’s books. To be fair many of the glowing notices were deserved—and in any case not all the notices were glowing.”
Kunkel also observes, “By far the most powerful transmitter of Round Table wit was (Franklin) Adams (known to most as F.P.A.), whose column in the Tribune (and later the World), “The Conning Tower,” was scoured by tens of thousands of New Yorkers for its dollops of quippery and clever verse. Young writers conspired to break into the column, and the appearance of even a four-line snippet was regarded as a triumph…the Round Table supplied F.P.A. with a freshet of material, and he wasn’t bashful about using it. A particularly good line from Parker or Kaufman or Benchley might turn up in “The Conning Tower” within hours of its utterance.”
In other happenings, “The Talk of the Town” noted that the last meal served at Delmonico’s–which was fated for the wrecking ball–was less a cause for mourning and more one of scorn for the bad taste of the site’s owners:
Among other items, O.H.P. Garrett penned a “Profile” about flamboyant mayoral candidate Jimmie Walker that seemed to anticipate the raucous career that would follow after his election.
Garrett observed that “his life is constructed of minutes and seconds. He can be clocked with a stop watch,” and that Walker’s main concerns seemed to be Sunday baseball, boxing and the repeal of movie censorship.
Lois Long seemed a bit bored with the week’s diversions in her column, “When Nights Are Bold,” but did welcome the reappearance of Texas Guinan after yet another club was threatened with padlocks by the Prohibition Authority:
On the advertising front, the back inside cover and back cover were graced with paid advertising. As with most ads in The New Yorker, the target audience had some money to spend on travel:
And we end with these weekend scenes from the magazine’s center spread, drawn by Helen Hokinson:
The critic Gilbert W. Gabriel was more than a bit appalled by the spectacle at the old Olympic Theatre, where a tired and “degenerated” cast of burlesque performers took turns shaking their ancient haunches in the direction of the former Julliard student.
Gilbert’s article in the August 22, 1925 New Yorker, “They Call It Burlesque,” described the performance at the Olympic on East Fourteenth Street as “on its last legs.” The once “honest animalistic, gorgeously orgiastic burlesque show of ten or twenty years ago” had “degenerated in decency,” he wrote.
As the performers wiggled up and down the runways, Gilbert noted:
The audience was an equally sad lot:
There is some relief expressed when two comedians appeared, but they offer an unimaginative routine:
And then back to the dancers:
And still more…
Happier news over in “The Talk of the Town,” where jazz was getting some respect: “Jazz, successor to the outcast ragtime, each day is becoming acceptable. It is the young brother of the musical family, irresponsible and at time highly irritating, but, nevertheless, acknowledged.”
It was reported that even famed violinist Jascha Heifetz “dabbled” in jazz as an amusement, and writers of jazz were “no longer those products of East Side dives,” but rather included the likes of Buddy de Sylva, lyrist to Al Jolson, and George Gershwin, “high priest of jazz,” who was besieged by symphony conductors for his “Symphony in Blue” (better known today as Rhapsody In Blue).
“Talk” continued its lament of the changing face of Fifth Avenue:
And the Waldorf Astoria was being remodeled in order to add shops on the ground floor along with “125 bathrooms,” giving the famed hotel “a bath for almost every room.” In just four years the old Waldorf would be torn down and replaced by the Empire State Building.
“Talk” also noted the planting of Ginkgo trees in the city:
Although prized today for their beauty and hardiness, not all New Yorkers are in love with the strong odor of its fruit. In the June 30, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, Lauren Collins examined the activities of the “Anti-Ginkgo Tolerance Group” in her article“Smelly Trees.”
“Talk” also offered a brief glimpse into the latest adventures of Pola Negri, noting in its “This Week” section that the actress had paid “$57,000 customs dues in seized jewels…”
In other items, artist Helen Hokinson provided illustrations for an article on the horse races at Saratoga…
…John Tunis examined the life of tennis star Elizabeth “Bunny” Ryan in “Profiles” … and E.B. White and Alice Duer Miller offered their thoughts on why they liked New York:
“Moving Pictures” featured a lengthy review of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. Theodore Shane (“T.S.”) wrote that the film’s opening night at the Strand attracted such celebrities as Will Rogers and Constance Bennett.
Shane observed that this “dramatic comedy” was a “serviceable picture,” but perhaps Chaplin was getting “too metaphysical about his pathos” and could have used some old-fashioned pie-in-the-face slapstick.
As an example, in a scene in a typical Klondike town, Shane wrote that “one might be given to expect wonders of Gold Rush burlesque with the old Chaplin at the receiving end of the Klondike equivalent of a custard. But one is doomed to disappointment, for Chaplin has seen fit to turn on his onion juices in a Pierrot’s endeavor to draw your tears…We cannot help but recall with a tinge of sadness, the old days when custard was young.”
Shane went on to give short but favorable reviews to Rex Reach’s Winds of Chance (at the Piccadilly Theatre), the film’s chief props consisting of “string ties, wooden saloons, ½ dozen cold-blooded murders and the tenderfoot who conquers everything…Shane also noted that the “spiritual features” of Tom Mix in The Lucky Horseshoe (at the Rialto) lent themselves delightfully to “a lovely and sensitive drama of moyen age and modern machinations in the Fairbanks style.”
In “Books,” Harry Este Dounce (“Touchstone”) suggested readers take a look at Carl Van Vechten’s Firecrackers as a good introduction to the writer’s unique style, while J.D. Bereford’s The Monkey Puzzle was deemed only “partly good” but worth reading.
In her regular nightlife review (“When Nights Are Young”), Lois Long (“Lipstick”) playfully sparred with her New Yorker colleague, theater critic Herman J. Mankiewicz:
Long was referencing this Mankiewicz review in a previous issue (Aug. 8):
And it all started when Long offered this observation in her July 25 “When Nights Bold” column:
I hope you are fully sated. As a palate cleanser, I offer yet another droll observation of the world of old money by Gardner Rea:
Ralph Barton’s “The Graphic Section” in the August 15, 1925 edition of The New Yorker gave readers their first whiff of one of the sensational scandals of the Roaring Twenties. Barton reported that wealthy, middle-aged bachelor Edward Browning (then 51 years old) wanted to “adopt” a “sixteen-year-old cutie for his very own.”
What Barton referenced in his comic illustration foreshadowed the “Peaches” scandal that would occur the following year.
According to an April 1, 2012 article by Dan Lee in New York Magazine (titled with the subhead, “She was 16, he was 52, what could go wrong?”), Browning was well known in New York City “as perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the city’s eligible bachelors…worth what would now be an estimated $300 million.”
Lee writes that Browning was already a tabloid fixture at age 40 when he married his first wife, Adele, a considerably younger file clerk. They adopted two daughters, Marjorie and “little Dorothy Sunshine,” Browning’s favorite. When Adele left him for a “28-year-old playboy dentist,” they split the girls between them. Browning, of course, chose “Sunshine,” and vowed never to marry again. Lee takes it from there:
In what the tabloids quickly helped morph into a Willy Wonka–style lottery, Daddy set about finding a sister for Sunshine: After personally reviewing 12,000 applications and interviewing scores of would-be daughters, he chose Mary Louise Spas of Queens, who, despite being 16 and therefore two years older than the cutoff, bore a charming gold tooth and stole his heart. A My Fair Lady transformation ensued, rapturously reported by the press, which continued trolling Spas’s past, ultimately uncovering revealing swimsuit photos that led to school records that led to the disclosure that Mary was actually 21 and not poor. Daddy moved to have the adoption annulled. Mary responded with a tabloid tell-all and lawsuit, alleging Daddy was a pervert.
According to Lee, Browning then turned his attention to charity, “especially for a local chapter of the Phi Lambda Tau social sorority for high-school girls, of which he was the main benefactor.” Lee continues:
The sorority’s primary function was throwing dances across Manhattan for girls in scanty flapper dress, where Daddy, with his long, sagging face and steep W-collared dress shirts, smoked cigars and held court. And so it went that one night, inside the ballroom of the Hotel McAlpin on 34th and Broadway, Browning’s life intersected with Frances Heenan’s, whom the press would describe as a “chubby,” strawberry-blonde high-school dropout with “piano legs” but an inexplicably “magnetic” smile who worked as a shop clerk and lived with her single mother in Washington Heights. He likened her to peaches and cream, securing her lifelong nickname. Thirty-seven days later to thwart a child-protective-services investigation, they were married.
The wedding took place on June 23, 1926, Peaches’ 16th birthday, but later that year, Peaches would seek a divorce.
The divorce trial in White Plains, New York drew intense coverage by the tabloids including Bernarr McFadden’s notorious New York Graphic, which published “composographs” of the couple, including this one:
The story was featured in newspapers across the country, including reports of Peaches’ testimony regarding her husband’s odd sexual behavior and the fact that he kept an African goose in their bedroom. According to Wikipedia, the phrase “Don’t be a goof,” which Browning allegedly used to insult Peaches, came into national vogue, and later turned up in the lyrics of the song “On Your Toes,” by Rodgers and Hart.
In the end, the judge ruled that Peaches had abandoned her husband without cause, and released Browning from the marriage. She was however awarded a $6,000 “widow’s portion” when Browning died in 1934.
According to Lee, Peaches pursued a successful career in vaudeville, “had an affair with Milton Berle,” would marry and divorce three more times, and would become an alcoholic. On August 23, 1956, her mother heard a crashing sound in the bathroom of their New York City apartment and found Peaches unconscious with a large contusion above her ear. She was dead at 46.
If you want to read more about this strange coupling, Michael Greenburg has written a book, Peaches and Daddy: A Story of the Roaring 20s, the Birth of Tabloid Media, and the Courtship that Captured the Hearts and Imaginations of the American Public.
And so on to the rest of the issue…
“Profiles” featured Theodore Dreiser, whom Waldo “Search-light” Frank dubbed “the martyr of the American Novel” and a “heroic warrior against legions of a commercial and Puritan world.”
“The Talk of the Town” offered this postscript on the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” observing that the small Tennessee town was suffering a bit of hangover (and attendant humiliation) from all of the trial publicity:
“Sports of the Week” covered the annual “Dog Show of the Consolidated Hamptons,” featuring illustrations by Johan Bull:
In her column, “When Nights Are Bold,” Lois Long offered the Montmartre as a venue for summer entertaining:
“Music” featured a brief review of Mayor Hylan’s “free people’s concert,” Aida, at Ebbett’s Field, taking the usual shots at the mayor’s grasping attempts at publicity:
“Moving Pictures” peered between fingers at Tod Browning’s latest picture, The Unholy Three (Yes, that’s the same Tod Browning who would go on to direct Dracula with Bela Lugosi in 1931 and the creepy 1932 cult classic, Freaks):
Next time, more horseplay, and another jab at the mayor:
The dog days of summer were ushered in by the news that “the buyers” had “invaded” the city.
The “buyers” in question were tourists (and no doubt some clothing store merchants) from across the country who had descended upon Gotham in search of the latest fashions that could be bundled off to the hinterlands.
“The Talk of the Town,” speaking through the fictional persona “Van Bibber III,” took a sneering view of this annual migration:
In the first issues of The New Yorker, the “Van Bibber III” signature appeared occasionally at the end of “Talk” or other items.
In her book, Defining New Yorker Humor, Judith Yaross Lee wrote that early readers of The New Yorker would have recognized the Van Bibber III persona “as a joke, a personification of Van Bibber cigarettes, whose ads targeted the devil-may-care, swagger young man about town all dressed up for the opening night. As an insiders view of the urban scene, Van Bibber’s accounts featured casual conversation—that is, talk.”
“Of All Things” offered this update on the activities of illusionist Harry Houdini:
Houdini, charged with disorderly conduct after smashing up an office, replied: They locked the door and I had to fight my way out.” Bang goes another illusion! We thought he could open anything but a car window.
Murdock Pemberton wrote about the life of poet Harry Kemp in “Profiles,” and cartoonist Al Frueh offered this twist on the uses of “hot air:”
And more art from Ralph Barton, this time along with his views on the play Artists and Models and the contrasts between life in New York and Paris:
“Moving Pictures” offered praise for Sally of the Sawdust, featuring W.C. Fields. Theodore Shane wrote that Fields had distinguished himself from other movie comedians through his act as a “snooty sort of superclown.”
The tennis tournament at Seabright featuring Elizabeth Ryan and Helen Wills was the subject of “Sports of the Week,” and in “When Nights Are Bold,” Lois Long continued her look at nighttime entertainment venues to beat the summer heat:
Advertising remained sparse in the pages of The New Yorker, with both inside front and inside back covers devoted to in-house ads promoting the magazine. In addition, the color back cover was also a house ad, featuring a rendering by H. O. Hofman:
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: