Car Talk: 1926

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Jan. 23, 1926 cover by James Daugherty (aka Jimmie-the-Ink)

As if covering the nightclub scene and the fashion set wasn’t enough, Lois (“Lipstick”) Long found the time to attend the National Automobile Show at the Grand Central Palace and offer her insights and criticisms on the latest in automotive design.

The show featured more than 500 new models, bigger and more powerful cars mounted on new-fangled balloon tires. There were also cheaper cars available–GM introduced the Pontiac line to appeal to the mass market, and other manufacturers lowered their prices in an effort to lure customers. Visitors packed the show despite the fact that the city streets were already hopelessly clogged with traffic and navigating them was difficult and often perilous. Al Frueh offered his take on the traffic situation with a little doodle in “The Talk of the Town” section (featured above).

Lois Long gave readers her usual straightforward assessment of the show (her Danish pastry metaphor in the first paragraph is spot on). Note her list of American car companies, many of which are long gone:

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No doubt Lois Long walked by this Packard special sport phaeton, prominently displayed at the 26th National Automobile show. (Wayne State University)
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The 26th National Automobile Show was at the Grand Central Palace, which occupied the block of Lexington Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets. It was razed in 1963. A 44-story office tower, 245 Park Avenue, took its place. (New York Times)
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A Cleveland auto manufacturer, Chandler, took advantage of the moment by placing this ad in the Jan. 23 issue of The New Yorker.
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ZOOM ZOOM…A blue-and-white 1926 convertible Chandler. The company folded in 1929. (Steve Brown, Flickr)

***

“The Talk of Town” editors were bemused over the news that artist Maxfield Parrish had received “a check in six figures” following his first-ever exhibition. It was reported that Parrish received $80,000 (roughly equivalent to $1 million today) for a single painting, which the editors suggested made him “the highest paid artist living.” They also wondered “if he gets amusement out of being the highest paid painter,” since Parrish was known for wanting to be left alone, and until recently was “not well off” because no one “could persuade him to the sell the pictures with which he lined his house.”

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A 1926 Edison MAZDA calendar featuring artwork by Maxfield Parrish. (icollector.com)

In a previous issue (Dec. 12, 1925), New Yorker art critic Murdock Pemberton wrote a dismissive critique of the young Parrish’s work and noted that the artist was largely glorified in American advertising and not in serious art circles. This was followed by another “Talk” item in which the editors sneered at the trade calendar market that fed the popularity of artists like Parrish:

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Another “Painter of Light”…I add this for comparison. Thomas Kinkade made a lot of money off the calendar trade until he died in 2012.

And to close, this message (illustrated by Peter Arno) from Miltiades Egyptian cigarettes. Apparently they empower you to call your non-smoking friend “fatso.”

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Next Time: Cuban Idyll

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Ben Hur Bric-à-brac

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Jan. 9, 1925 cover by Hans Stengel.

MGM spent nearly $5 million (about $70 million today) to make the silent epic Ben-Hur, filming the movie on location in Egypt, Italy and the United States. The New Yorker’s film critic Theodore Shane was not impressed.

Shane wrote that $4,999,999.95 had been spent “on massive effects and the remaining $.05 on drama.”

He noted, however, that the original story, an 1880 novel by Lew Wallace (who was a Union general in the Civil War, among other things), was pretty lacking in drama to begin with, just a “piece of bric-à-brac romance (that was) nothing more than a super Rover Boys story touched up with a Biblical background.” Here’s Shane’s entire review of the film, which was released by MGM on December 30, 1925:

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A Nickel’s Worth of Drama…Ramon Novarro (left) and Francis X. Bushman mix it up in Ben-Hur (1925) (Virtual History)

This was actually the second Ben Hur film. The first was made in 1907, a 15-minute silent costing $500 (and it really was made on the cheap; the producers stole some shots of a mock chariot race at a fireworks show at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and then added some interior shots to complete the picture).

For the 1925 Ben Hur, filming on location proved difficult from the start. Italy’s new leader, Benito Mussolini, was in an anti-American mood when production began, and labor disputes often delayed filming. By all accounts, conditions were miserable. Kevin Hagopian, in an essay for the New York State Writers Institute, observed “The worst agonies were reserved for the film’s climax, the chariot race. Legendary second unit director B. Reeves Eason’s nickname “Breezy” was certainly not earned by his work on the Ben-Hur set, for his merciless pace cost the lives of over a hundred horses. As (actor Francis X.) Bushman said sadly, “If it limped, they shot it.” A stunt man was killed in a chariot crash, and Navarro himself only narrowly escaped death.”

The troubled Italian set was eventually torn down and a new one built in Culver City, California. The crowd scenes and master shots for the race were done in a single day, with forty-two cameras covering the action.

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The famed chariot race was shot with 42 cameras (Bridgeman Images)

In “Profiles” Esther Carples looked at the life of Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was widely considered one of the great pianists of his day, and as a composer represented the last vestiges of Romanticism in Russian classical music. Carples painted a portrait of a brooding genius, a man with aristocratic bearing who lived in lonely exile from his native Russia.

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Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1921. (Library of Congress)

In 1921, Rachmaninoff bought a house on 33 Riverside Drive in New York City, where he lived until 1925. There he consciously recreated the atmosphere of Ivanovka (his beloved Russian summer house) entertaining Russian guests, employing Russian servants, and observing old Russian customs.

*****

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Jan. 16, 1926 cover by S.W. Reynolds.

Let’s move on to the next issue, Jan. 16, 1926. “The Talk of the Town” noted another loss of a Fifth Avenue landmark with the Savoy Hotel was falling to the wrecking ball.

The Savoy, built in 1891-92, was slated to be replaced by The Savoy Plaza Hotel, which itself would be demolished in 1965-66 (amid significant public outcry and protest) to make way for the eastern headquarters building of General Motors.

It was observed that the new year would see a boon in construction of huge new buildings along the Avenue, and buildings only five years old (such as Heckscher Building) would be dwarfed by the new towers.

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Another One Bites The Dust…The Savoy Hotel (stuffnobodycaresabout.com)

The New Yorker continued to have fun with actress Gloria Swanson’s pretensions to royalty (she was married to the Marquis de La Coudraye at the time). This time it came from the pen of Jimmie the Ink (James Daugherty), part of his series of drawings that coupled famous people of the day in comic situations:

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To close, two ads from the Jan. 16 issue, this one appealing to Anglophilic, aristocratic aspirations of certain readers…

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And this one from Elizabeth Arden, who will become a mainstay in the magazine with these ads featuring women with ghostly stares, usually with their heads wrapped tightly to combat sagging skin. Thanks to Hollywood, it was the age of the close-up, so wrinkles and blemishes be gone!

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Next Time: Lois Long Talks Cars

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Fun in the Sun

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Cover of Jan. 2, 1926 issue by Rea Irvin.

As we begin a new year of The New Yorker, it strikes me how little things have changed in 90 years, at least when it comes to human nature–wars and rumors of wars, celebrity gossip, the latest fads in music and fashion, fights over politics and religion. It’s all still with us. And yet, a person from 2015 would be seem like an extraterrestrial in 1926.

January 1926 was still a year and a half away from Lindbergh’s Atlantic flight. Today we think so little of jumping on a plane that soars seven miles above the earth and whisks us anywhere in a matter of hours. In fact we mostly gripe about it. I like comedian Louis C.K.’s response to a man’s complaint about a runway delay: “What happened then, did you fly through the air like a bird, incredibly? Did you soar into the clouds, impossibly?…You’re sitting in a chair in the sky. You’re like a Greek myth right now.”

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The Fokker F7. If you could even afford to fly in the mid-1920s, this is your ride. Buckle up! (Top, aviation history.com; bottom, dutchaviation.nl)

People in 1926 lived very differently (for better or worse), with far fewer distractions. No TV, only sporadic music on mono-tinny radios (or from mostly scratchy, hand-cranked records). Electric lights, but only if you lived in a city or town. The metropolis was noisy, but there was also silence. No cellphones or earphones, no CNN or ESPN blaring from every vertical surface. Your health? Forget it. Going to the dentist, regardless of your station in life, was a chamber of horrors. Ditto the doctor. Ever look at an antique doctor’s bag? Just some brown bottles, weird clamps and a saw. Penicillin wouldn’t be discovered until 1928, and for some reason lots of people died back then of peritonitis. It would claim both Rudolph Valentino and Harry Houdini in 1926. Finally, if you lived in 1926 you probably thought The War to End All Wars was just that. Only a few of the very sage saw the annihilation yet to come.

Anyway…

I titled this edition “Fun in the Sun” because the Jan. 2 issue opens with back-to-back ads enticing freezing New Yorkers to go south for the winter:

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These were boom years for places like Miami Beach, formerly a quiet backwater but fast becoming a popular vacation getaway for New Yorkers and other Northeasterners. During the 1920s many wealthy industrialists from the north and Midwest also built their winter homes there.

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Japanese tea garden at the Flamingo Hotel in 1923 – Miami Beach (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)
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Bathers on Miami Beach in 1925 (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

In other items, the “Reporter at Large” Morris Markey commented on the death of Frank Munsey, American newspaper and magazine publisher. Munsey had a reputation for extreme frugality and was widely disliked by employees who blamed him for their “shoddy recompense.” Munsey is credited with the idea of using new high-speed printing presses to print cheap, ragged pulp magazines, especially for working-class readers. Magazines such as Munsey and Argosy were filled with various genres of action and adventure fiction.

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Munsey’s Magazine January 1925 (philsp.com)

Morris Markey wrote that Munsey would fire people on a whim for reasons that included being left-handed, too old, too young, or too fat. During his ownership of the New York Sun, Munsey gave “a peremptory order that all fat men, being inefficient and probably lazy, be expelled from the Sun staff.” Markey was no fan of Munsey as is clear in this excerpt:

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Theodore Shane continued to be disappointed with films coming out of Hollywood. He described Norma Shearer’s latest picture His Secretary as “poor.”

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A stenographer, and a vamp! Norma Shearer in His Secretary, 1925 (silent beauties)

The film was about a humble stenographer who suddenly transforms into a ravishing sex symbol, a “Cinderella theme” that Shane believed had been thoroughly worn out by the actress. He was also underwhelmed by the return to the screen of William S. Hart, once a big star of the early silents.

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The old cowboy isn’t done yet, durn it! (silenthollywood.com)

I have written several entries about the changing face of Fifth Avenue (the old mansions being destroyed, that is). Here is Robert Benchley’s take on the subject:

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To close, an illustrated feature by Helen Hokinson, once again showing us how a college student of the 1920s looks (to my eyes anyway) as ancient and remote as a mastodon:

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Next time: Ben Hur Bric-à-brac

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The Last Laugh

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Dec. 26, 1925 cover by S.W. Reynolds

We close out The New Yorker’s first year with the magazine on firmer footing and many of its mainstay writers and artists firmly in place.

The Dec. 26, 1925 issue was the usual hodgepodge, but some writers did give a nod to the end of the year, including film critic Theodore Shane, who offered his list of the best ten moving pictures of 1925.

Shane’s favorite film by far was The Last Laugh, (the German title was Der letzte Mann, or The Last Man) a 1924 German film directed by F.W. Murnau and starring Emil Jannings (who would later win the first Academy Award for Best Actor in 1929). Shane referred to it as “the greatest picture ever made.” Released in the U.S. in 1925, the film was about a proud doorman who loses his job and tries to hide the fact from his friends and family. Shane usually reserved his highest praise for German cinema in his columns.

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Scene from The Last Laugh (1924) starring Emil Jannings.

Shane’s complete list of the ten best movies of 1925:

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For the worst films of the year, Shane suggested a tie between Drusilla With a Million, Lord Jim, Joanna, the Million Dollar Girl or Stella Dallas.

The New Yorker also commented on the murder of the irrepressible boxer Louis Mbarick Fall, popularly known as “Battling Siki.”

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“Battling Siki” in his heyday. (Wikipedia)

Born in Senegal, he was a light heavyweight boxer from 1912–1925, and briefly reigned as a light heavyweight champion. Known for his heavy drinking and carousing, on the night of Dec. 15, 1925, he was found dead near his 42nd Street apartment. He had been shot twice in the back at close range. He was 28.

In his column, “A Reporter at Large,” Morris Markey offered this observation on Battling Siki’s passing:

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The cartoonist I. Klein, on the other hand, contributed this strange stand-alone illustration for “The Talk of the Town” section:

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Also in “Talk” was this brief item about the United Fruit Company:

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United Fruit would be no laughing matter three years later with the Banana Massacre, which would claim the lives of an unknown number of workers who were striking for better working conditions in Columbia.

Art critic Murdock Pemberton offered a glowing review of an exhibit at the Montross Galleries by frequent New Yorker contributor Peggy Bacon:

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Peggy Bacon, The Whitney Studio Club, 1925. (Whitney Museum of American Art)
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Peggy Bacon (Smithsonian)

“Profiles” looked at Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr, “The Fifth Avenue Maverick.” William Boardman Knox wrote that the young Vanderbilt “is as alien to his blood as a marmoset to a gorilla.”

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In the “The Theatre,” critic Herman J. Mankiewicz pulled no punches when he declared Gilbert Seldes’ play The Wise Crackers “the worst play of the season” (Seldes was himself a noted critic and sometime New Yorker contributor):

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What’s more, the play was about a group of literate New Yorkers who gather to exchange witty barbs and sarcastically comment on the doings of the day. In other words, it was inspired by the Algonquin Round Table, which famously included Mankiewicz as a member.

Another Round Table notable was Robert Benchley, who contributed this piece for the last issue of the year:

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Lois Long offered her regrets for ever bringing up the subject of “The Charleston:”

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And just a few pages over, lessons were advertised for…The Charleston!

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And to close, here’s a little fun with hotel inspectors, courtesy of Al Frueh:

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Next Time: Fun in the sun in the New Year, 1926

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Social Errors

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Dec. 19, 1925 cover by Julian de Miskey

In my previous post, I hinted that “social errors” would be the topic of this entry, and in a sense that title describes the stance New Yorker editors were taking toward the continued demolition and remodeling of old city landmarks.

“The Talk of the Town” reported that two more Fifth Avenue mansions on “Millionaries Row” were soon to be demolished: the Brokaw and Yerkes mansions (the photo at the top of this entry depicts workmen taking a sledgehammer to a chimney atop the Brokaw house–not in 1925, but in 1965–more on that later).

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The Isaac Brokaw mansion at 79th and 5th Avenue, completed in 1890. Behind the mansion are the twin residences of two Brokaw sons, Howard and Irving. Daughter Elvira would also erect a residence next door. Although the Dec. 19, 1925 edition of The New Yorker lamented the imminent destruction of the house, it would actually stand another 40 years. (Library of Congress)
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The Yerkes Mansion, erected in 1896, would not be so fortunate…it would fall to the wrecking ball in 1926. (Collection of Charles T. Yerkes)

In his excellent blog site, Dayton in Manhattan, Tom Miller writes that the Isaac Brokaw mansion first faced the wrecking ball after Isaac’s eldest son, George, moved out in 1925. George “intensely disliked the house” because of its size and maintenance costs, and petitioned the courts to allow him to mortgage the property for $800,000 and use the money to demolish the mansion and erect a modern apartment house.

His brother, Howard, blocked the move. Three years later, the court ruled that the house could not be sold nor razed without the mutual agreement of all the Brokaw siblings, so George moved back in.

George died seven years later of a heart attack. His wife, Frances Ford Seymour would marry Henry Fonda a year later and have two children, Jane and Peter (George was married twice, the first time to Clare Boothe, who would later become Clare Boothe Luce).

The mansion was then occupied as offices for the Institute of Radio Engineers. When it was announced in 1965 that the mansion (and the adjacent mansions of the Brokaw children) were to be demolished to make way for a high-rise apartment building, there was an outcry from members of the city’s nascent Landmarks Preservation Commission, still stinging from the destruction of Penn Station. Miller writes that demolition workers were paid overtime to begin immediate destruction of the mansions in order to preclude the possibility of a court order to stop the work.

The Yerkes mansion, on the other hand, disappeared rather unceremoniously. According to Miller, a neighbor, Thomas Fortune Ryan, bought the house in 1925 and tore it down in order to enlarge his flower garden. In 1937 an apartment building was erected on the site. I recommend that you check out Miller’s entertaining and informative posts on both the Brokaw and Yerkes mansions.

The Dec. 19 issue also featured a column by Gilbert Seldes titled “Complaint.” Seldes bemoaned the remodeling of “sober, decent” brownstones at Fiftieth Street and beyond (Beekman Place) into overly ornamented facades favored by the Babbitt set:

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A remodeled brownstone at No. 41 E. 67th Street. Note the original brownstone next door. (Museum of the City of New York)

With the much-publicized signing of famed halfback Red Grange to the Chicago Bears (a $100,000 annual contract), the professionalization of football and the money attached to it were frequent topics in the magazine. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” noted:

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And in this illustration by Johan Bull, Grange is depicted carrying a large money bag at New York’s annual Christmas Bazaar:

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“Profiles” looked at the life of pianist and composer Leo Ornstein, noted for performing and composing avant-garde works. Ornstein would have a long career, completing his eighth and final piano sonata at the age of 97. He died in 2002 at age 108.

The Marx Brothers’s broadway musical The Cocoanuts wowed audiences (and New Yorker theatre critic Herman J. Mankiewicz) at the Lyric Theatre:

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In her Paris Letter, Janet Flanner announced the deaths of “two great servers of the French palate”—Emile Pruinier (famed for his Portuguese oysters) and Mother Soret of Lyons, who “died with a knife in her hand” and whose death was “solemnly listed in Comoedia as that of an artist.”

And to stay in the spirit of the holidays, this Christmas advertisement from the back cover:

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Next Time: We Ring Out the Year…

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Beloved Aunt Helen

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Dec. 12, 1925 cover by Rea Irvin

Last time we looked at one of The New Yorker’s most prolific artists, Peter Arno. Equally prolific was Helen E. Hokinson, who preceded Arno at the magazine by several months as one of the magazine’s first regular artists.

Hokinson’s signature cartoons of often plump society women engaged in their various activities–clubs, shopping, dining out and gardening–were hugely influential in giving The New Yorker a distinct look and style.

In all she contributed 68 covers to the magazine and more than 1,800 cartoons (including the one that heads this blog entry). So strong was Hokinson’s identity with the magazine, a number of her cartoons were published after her death in 1949.

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Helen Hokinson (pbase.com)

New Yorker artist Richard Merkin later wrote (The New Yorker, Feb. 14, 1994) that Hokinson was “something of a stay-at-home, preferring the rewards and routines of her work and of an apartment near Gramercy Park and a cottage in Connecticut.” He observed that it was a “dismal irony” when this homebody died in a plane crash en route to a speaking engagement in Washington, D.C.

But let us remember the joys she brought to so many through her work. Merkin wrote that Hokinson was “a beloved aunt among the family of New Yorker artists…(she) created a type that will forever bear her name–the Hokinson Woman.” Here is Hokinson’s contribution to the Dec. 12, 1925 issue:

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The reluctant debutante Ellin Mackay was back for the Dec. 12 issue with a follow-up piece, “The Declining Function: A Post-Debutante Rejoices.” It would be her final word on the topic. As I reported earlier, Mackay went on to marry famed songwriter Irving Berlin, but would continue writing, most notably a number of short stories for the Saturday Evening Post and other publications.

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FREE AT LAST…Newlyweds Ellin Mackay and Irving Berlin on their honeymoon in Atlantic City. They were married on Jan. 4, 1926. (www.kuaike.co)

In this her second and final New Yorker piece, Mackay drove the final nail into her past debutante life, writing that balls and other society events were “no longer a recognition of any kind of distinction.” She concluded:

People are bored, at least for a while, with being sheep; they are weary of filling their hours of ease with tiresome duties; they have learned to go where they want to go, not where they want to be seen.

* * *

“The Talk of the Town “ reported on George Gershwin’s latest work of “ambitious jazz,” his Concerto in F, which premiered at Carnegie Hall with Walter Damrosch conducting.

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George Gershwin on the cover of the July 20, 1925, issue of Time magazine. (Time.com)

It was noted that Gershwin’s new work had the “beat of the Charleston stirring it.” Later in the “Critique” section, the work was applauded as an “advance on Rhapsody in Blue” and “sharply effective.”

“Profiles” featured Tex Rickard, proprietor of the new Madison Square Garden. The profile’s writer, W. O. McGeehan, suggested that Rickard had assumed the mantle of P. T. Barnum, and although he had given up his saloon-dealing days (promoting gambling and boxing) and now feigned “respectability and elegance,” his primary talent remained in rounding up the gullible masses for popular entertainments:

He will promote anything that will gather a sufficient number of Rubes for profit or for prestige…Behind his guileless exterior, there is a deep guile that is half benevolent and half Satanic…

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Tex Rickard (Library of Congress)

The following year (1926) Rickard would be awarded an NHL franchise to compete with the (now defunct) New York Americans hockey team. Rickard’s team would immediately be nicknamed ‘Tex’s Rangers,” a moniker that remains to this day.

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Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak (1922) is regarded as the most popular art print of the 20th century, based on number of prints made: one for every four American homes. The original sold in 2010 for $5.2 million. (artsycraftsy.com)

In “Art,” Murdock Pemberton wrote a dismissive critique of the young Maxfield Parrish’s work, which was on display at Scott & Fowles gallery. It was Parrish’s first exhibition. Pemberton took pains to point out that although the work had technical merit, it was by an artist largely glorified in American advertising and not in serious art circles:

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The Dec. 12 issue was filled with Christmas advertisements, including this one that suggests even “sophisticated” readers of the magazine had a taste for kitsch:

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Included in the back pages was an extensive list of “Christmas Shopping Suggestions” compiled by Lois Long (who noted that the list was “not compiled for the benefit of the Old Lady from Dubuque”), while in “Tables for Two” she confessed something akin to horror that she had not yet visited Harlem in the fall season. Among her observations:

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And in the spirit of the season, the “Old Lady from Dubuque” made an appearance in the magazine courtesy of cartoonist Ralph Barton:

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Next Time: Social Errors…

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Euthenics: It’s Not What You Think

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Nov 7, 1925 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

A brief item in “The Talk of the Town” for Nov. 7, 1925, mentioned the groundbreaking for a new building at Vassar (Lois Long’s alma mater) dedicated to the study of something called “Euthenics.” The term was used by Ellen H. Swallow Richards (Vassar, Class of 1870), based on the Greek Euthenia, which described a good state of the body, including prosperity, good fortune and abundance.

After Richards died in 1911, the idea was taken up by another Vassarite Julia Lathrop (’80) who teamed up with fellow alumnae Minnie Cumnock Blodgett (’84) to create a program of Euthenics at Vassar, against the protestations of some faculty who found this new field of interdisciplinary study suspect. It didn’t help that some even confused it with the racist “eugenics” movement.

At a time when many academic disciplines were moving in the direction of specialization, students in euthenics could study horticulture, food chemistry, sociology, statistics, education, child study (Lathrop would serve as the first chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau), economics, economic geography, physiology, hygiene, public health, psychology, domestic architecture and furniture. The New Yorker had this to say about the new area of study:

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The “daisy chains” referred to above are one of the oldest traditions at Vassar. Every year, the senior class chooses sophomore women who demonstrate superior leadership and class spirit to carry a 150-foot chain of daisies and laurel at Commencement.

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Carrying the “Daisy Chain” at Vassar, 1925 (Vassar College)

The New Yorker was also anticipating the upcoming Automobile Salon at the Commodore Hotel, including the news that autos would break from sober black and navy into a palette of colors:Screenshot 2015-07-20 09.35.10Screenshot 2015-07-20 09.35.19

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1925 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost (conceptcarz.com)

“Profiles” featured Gen. John J. Pershing, while “Sports of the Week” featured the Oct. 31 “Cornell-Columbia battle” at the Polo Grounds (Cornell prevailed 17-14). That same day in New Haven, Yale humbled Army 28-7.

In her fashion column “Fifth Avenue,” Lois Long paid a visit to designer Paul Frankl’s store, where she admired his collection of “four-dimensional furniture, including his “skyscraper” bookcases:

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Paul Frankl “skyscraper” bookcase, ca. 1927. Fashioned from maple and trimmed with Bakelite (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

In her “Tables For Two” column, Long’s previous criticism of Sardi’s (lack of celebrity sightings) received this reply:

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Main Dining Room of the old Sardi’s, 234-36 West 44th St. New York. (Museum of the City of New York)

In her latest dispatch from Paris, Janet Flanner wrote that Philadelphia movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum was making a haul of Rodin sculptures. The French found it interesting but not alarming:

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Mastbaum would die the following year and donate his Rodin collection to the city of Philadelphia. It is the largest collection of Rodin’s works outside Paris. Flanner also offered this tidbit on a new, scandalous book by Texan Gertrude Beasley:

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In a 2000 article for Texas Monthly (“A Woman of Independent Means”), Don Graham wrote that “no other book in Texas literature is quite like Gertrude Beasley’s little-known memoir, My First Thirty Years. For one thing, it was published in Paris in 1925 by the avant-garde press Contact Editions (it was banned in Britain and America), which included among its authors Ernest Hemingway.” He wrote that Beasley’s book established itself “as a provocative and highly subversive text: She recounts her birth as the violent outcome of marital rape by her father…Things go downhill from there…” You can read more about Beasley, and her “disappearance,” in this Texas Observer article.

In “Motion Pictures,” The New Yorker (via critic Theodore Shane) cuts actress Marion Davies a little slack:

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Channelling her inner Pickford: Marion Davies in The Lights of Old Broadway.

And if you doubt the Francophile ambitions of New Yorker readers, here are two ads written almost entirely in French:

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And to end on an amusing note, more perils of Prohibition, courtesy of Rea Irvin:

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Up Next: Party Time!

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The Eyes of Lois Long

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Oct. 3 cover by Barbara Shermund.

At an age when most students are barely out of college (23), Lois Long was emerging as one of The New Yorker’s most prolific contributors and a prominent voice of Roaring Twenties New York.

The Oct. 3, 1925 issue not only saw her continuing coverage of night life in “Tables for Two” (which she signed under the pen name “Lipstick”), but also the introduction of her column, “Fifth Avenue” (which she signed L.L.), that would further define her voice at the magazine for years to come.

And The New Yorker wasn’t even her first professional stint as a writer.

Beginning in 1922, Long wrote for both Vanity Fair and Vogue before she caught the eye of New Yorker editor Harold Ross, who hired her to take over the “When Nights Are Bold” column from Charles Baskerville. She later made it her own by changing the name to “Tables for Two.”

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Long in the 1920s. Photo from Andrea Long Bush. (Long’s grandchild)

With the Oct. 3 issue she doubled her workload as both an observer of night life and the fashion scene.

According to Judith Yaross Lee’s Defining New Yorker Humor, the “Fifth Avenue” column took a very different tack from the magazine’s original “Where to Shop” listings that were merely classified ads.

Yaross writes that Long’s first “Fifth Avenue” column relied on “the conceit of her friend Jerry, ‘boarding school roommate, perennial flapper, and graceful idler’ (evidently the department’s target reader)…”

The column would soon be renamed “On and Off the Avenue,” and Long would officially assume the title of fashion editor in 1927.

Her obituary in The New York Times (p. 36, July 31, 1974) quoted New Yorker editor William Shawn, who declared that “Lois Long invented fashion criticism,” and that Long “was the first American fashion critic to approach fashion as an art and to criticize women’s clothes with independence, intelligence, humor and literary style.” The article noted that her task was particularly challenging since The New Yorker did not publish photographs “and more than other writers she had to turn to words alone to describe clothes in detail.”

You can read Long’s first “Fifth Avenue” column, featuring her friend, “Jerry,” here in its entirety:

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In the same issue, just three pages back, in “Tables for Two,” Long shared these insights on the opening of the Club Mirador:

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And she pulled no punches in this erratum item that appeared below this Johan Bull illustration:

Screenshot 2015-07-06 16.59.52And in “The Talk of the Town,” Bull provided this illustration depicting the flare-up of Tong Wars among New York’s Chinese immigrant population. The main consequence of murderous assault seems to be a patron’s ruined shirt:

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“Profiles” featured Reinald Werrenrath, “A New Yorker Who Sings.” Described by writer Clare Peeler as someone who “looks New York,” the baritone opera singer also recorded popular songs and was a regular on early radio broadcasts.

In “Critique” George S. Kaufman’s The Butter and Egg Man received a positive review by Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote that the play was “not for the artistically inclined,” but adds:

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Gregory Kelly as Peter Jones in The Butter and Egg Man (1925). The Broadway play was a resounding success. Sadly, the beloved Kelly would die of a heart attack in 1927 (at age 36) while on tour with the play. (Museum of the City of New York)

By the way, the queen of New York nightlife, “Texas” Guinan, has been attributed as the source of the term “Butter and Egg Man” to generally describe generous souls (according to a “Talk” item in the Oct. 31 issue). At the movies, Theodore Shane found little to amuse as he panned The Tower of Lies (“colorless and loose-jointed”). Rather than capturing a Scandanavian setting, Shane wrote that the film “reeks of the studio scenario shops and the pleasant fields of Long Island.”

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BIG BROTHER OF LITTLE TRAMP Sydney Chaplin performed in 37 films, including The Man on the Box (1925) with actress Alice Calhoun (above). He was Charlie Chaplin’s older brother and business manager. (Ohio State University)

He also took Sydney Chaplin’s attempts at humor to task in the film, The Man on the Box, including his tired “male dressing up as a woman” gag.

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“Talk” also commented on changing face of New York City, including plans for a new Ziegfeld theatre as part of a “regeneration” of Columbus Circle:

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According to performingartsarchive.com, Florenz Ziegfeld took over Columbus Circle’s Cosmopolitan theatre in 1925 and updated the interior. The building originally opened in 1903 as the Majestic (where the first musical stage version of The Wizard of Oz and the play Pygmallian debuted). It was briefly a burlesque house in the early 1920s (Minksy’s Park Music Hall) until William Randolph Hearst acquired it as a main venue for his Cosmopolitan Pictures company.

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Postcard image of Columbus Circle, circa 1925. The Cosmopolitan is at far lower right. (NYC Architecture)

Under Ziegfeld, the Cosmopolitan returned to “legitimate” theater, but in 1926 he gave it up to focus on the construction of his self-named theatre at Sixth Avenue and 54th Street. The Cosmopolitan (renamed the International in 1944) would continue to serve both as a venue for movies and live performances until 1949, when it was acquired by NBC as a television studio for the TV program Your Show of Shows, featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. NBC left the International in 1954, and not long afterwards, the former theatre, along with most of its neighbors on Columbus Circle, was razed to make way for the New York Convention Center.

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The long-gone Majestic, later Cosmopolitan theatre on Columbus Circle. (performingartsarchive.com)

Also from this issue, Al Frueh’s take on a “Busy Business Man’s Day:”

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Hans Stengel delivered “Sermons on Sin”…

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And lest we doubt the snob appeal of our fledgling magazine, check out this advertisement from the Mayfair House assuring that tenants will be kept a safe distance from the proles.

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And to close, a back page ad for the Restaurant Crillon, featuring the unmistakable graphic innovation of Winold Reiss:

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Next time: A Letter From Genêt…

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Amateur Beauty

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Cover for Sept. 19 by Max Ree.

It was a busy week for the Sept. 19 issue of The New Yorker. “The Talk of the Town” reported that ‘amateur beauties” at the Atlantic City Beauty Pageant (known today as the Miss America Pageant) were “protesting against the presence of professional sisters in the contest.” Talk then posed this question:

“Is beauty, one wondered, ever amateur? Is it not the most professional of all professional matters? To a man it would seem so. But women may know better. And if there is a distinction—if we are to have amateur and professional beauties—why should not the Atlantic City promoters take a leaf from golf’s book and hold an open championship, wherein the two classes may meet?

Talk concluded:

The winner of last year’s beauty contest, Miss Ruth Malcomson, tells how she won it in a recent issue of Liberty; and from these writings we leap hastily to the conclusion that the very beautiful are also very very simple.

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Ruth Malcomson, Miss America 1924. (Vintage Everyday)

“Talk” was right about Ruth Malcomson, who was just 18 when she won the title. A native of Philadelphia, she defeated 85 fellow contestants including incumbent Mary Campbell, who was seeking her third consecutive crown. At the time the contest was only in its fourth year, and the winner was called “The Golden Mermaid.”

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Malcomson crowned “The Golden Mermaid,” Miss America 1924

Malcomson was among the critics of the “professional” contestants. According to her obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer (May 28, 1988) Malcomson stated in 1925 that “The pageant now has become nothing but a commercial proposition to exploit the beauties who make their living from their good looks. What chance has an ordinary girl, untrained, to win a contest in which girls who have been trained to make the most of their beauty are competing?”

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Ninety-one years later…Miss New York Kira Kazantsev crowned Miss America 2015. (The Blaze)

In her Liberty Magazine interview, she also blasted women’s groups for berating her involvement in the competition.

Malcomson hinted that the women’s groups were exploiting her, not the pageant (yes, there is nothing new under the sun…).

True to her word, Malcomson married an unassuming Carl Schaubel in 1931 and returned to a quiet, simple life in suburban Philadelphia.

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Standing next to the Rickenbacker car she won as Miss America in 1924, Ruth Malcomson playfully spars with World Heavyweight Champion boxer Jack Dempsey. (Vintage Everyday)

In other “Talk” items, the “No Smoking” rule at the public library was challenged, and arguments were made for special smoking rooms that could be reserved for writers. The column also offered comment on the growing popularity of tennis as a professional spectator sport, rather than merely a side activity for a society weekend:

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“Profiles” turned its attention to bodybuilder and publisher Bernarr McFadden (featured in an earlier post in this blog). McFadden was always at the cutting-edge of scandal, whether for the nearly nude photos featured in his Physical Culture Magazine, or for the celebrity scandal and sensational crime reported in his Evening Graphic.

In his essay “Murder As Bad Art,” Waldo Frank pondered America’s high homicide rate, and suggested that murder is an expedient means toward an end for the impatient American. An excerpt, with artwork by Helen Hokinson:

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Willa Cather (Nebraska History)

In “Books,” Harry Este Dounce offered a lengthy, thoughtful and positive review of Willa Cather’s latest novel, The Professor’s House (my favorite by Cather), and likened its tone to an Ibsen play. Cather would continue to receive praise from New Yorker critics throughout the remainder of her career.

In “Sports Of The Week” John Tunis offered extensive coverage of the Davis Cup matches, and noted that American star Bill Tilden was hurt and was “far from the Tilden of old.” There were rumors that Tilden was determined to throw his match with French tennis champion Jean Borotra. Tunis wrote that he had his suspicions, but offered that perhaps Tilden was playing carelessly as he had done before “with other less celebrated opponents.”

And Lois Long offered her frank opinions on two New York hotspots, the 45th Street Yacht Club and the Owl Club at 125 East 45th:

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The Yacht Club building today (erbology.com)

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And another ad courtesy of Raoul Fleischmann, with testimonials from a man and two women who credit Fleischmann yeast with curing them of boils, constipation and “bilous” attacks:

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Well, at least advertising revenue is up, but this ad seems out of place in a magazine like The New Yorker:

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Culkin was a Tammany Hall politician who would serve as county sheriff from 1926 to 1929. He was later indicted for embezzling interest money from the sheriff’s office, part of the whole mess that brought down Mayor Jimmy Walker (we will explore that later, I am sure).

Now, for a couple of cartoons by I. Klein and Johann Bull, featured on facing pages, that illustrate two very different aspects of New York life in the 1920s:

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Next time: Fall fashions!

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Lighter Than Air

The New Yorker was launched as a sophisticated, funny, urbane weekly, so it’s always interesting to see how the magazine will respond to a national tragedy.

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Sept. 12, 1925 cover by Rea Irvin, depicting plutocrats on a Merry-Go-Round.

For example, the Sept. 12, 1925 “Talk of the Town” featured a brief item titled “Zachary Lansdowne.” It opens with a paragraph describing the lieutenant commander’s demeanor and character:

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Then it becomes apparent that this is a eulogy of sorts, since Lansdowne was the pilot of the American dirigible S.S. Shenandoah:

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Built in 1922, the S.S. Shenandoah was the first of four U.S. Navy airships. On Sept. 2, 1925, it departed on a promotional flight that would include flyovers of 40 cities and visits to state fairs. While passing through thunderstorms over Ohio on the morning of September 3, the Shenandoah was caught in a violent updraft that carried it beyond the pressure limits of its helium gas bags. It was torn apart in the turbulence and crashed in several pieces. Fourteen of Shenandoah‍ ’ s crew, including Commander Lansdowne, were killed. Amazingly, there were 29 survivors who succeeded in riding three sections of the airship to earth.

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Wreck of the Shenandoah. The front section rests in a field near Caldwell, Ohio. (Wikipedia)

After a lean summer, advertising in The New Yorker picked up dramatically, with the opening spread for the Sept. 12 issue featuring full-page ads by The Roosevelt Hotel and the French fashion house Paul Poiret:

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This infusion of advertising was largely the result of a big promotional push orchestrated by John Hanrahan, considered one of the most gifted writers of publisher promotions. The magazine’s major (and really only) investor, Raoul Fleischmann, brought Hanrahan on board to address the magazine’s dearth of advertising, a move that was much to the dislike of the acerbic Harold Ross.

The trials of starting a new magazine were not lost on Ross, as was evidenced in this Newsbreak on page 13:

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But Ross knew that the ad push helped the bottom line, and he did his part to draw new talent to the magazine and improve its overall quality.

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Ingersoll in the 1940s (baseball-fever.com)

New talent included Ralph Ingersoll, who joined the magazine as managing editor in the summer of 1925. Ingersoll went to work giving the magazine a “voice,” especially in the rather weak and unfocused “Talk of the Town” section.

After suffering Ross-induced burnout in 1930, Ingersoll would go on to serve as a managing editor of Time-Life Publications, and would later found the short-lived, left-wing daily newspaper, PM.

That summer Ross also brought on Katharine Angell (later Katharine White) as a part-time reader of manuscripts, but almost immediately she became a full-time employee and was soon involved in every aspect of the magazine.

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Katherine Angell (Wikipedia)

She is often credited with the magazine’s maturity and its sophisticated taste and style. It was through Angell that Ross would meet and hire both E.B. White (who would later marry Angell) and James Thurber.

In the “Profiles’ Section, Murdock Pemberton took a look at the challenges facing Richard Bach in his attempts to promote the arts to business-minded New Yorkers. Bach was an “Associate in Industrial Arts” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, merchandise based on art museum collections is a ubiquitous practice, but in 1925 Bach’s job was viewed as somewhat distasteful:

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Morris Markey (“In The News”) tried to make sense of the continued enforcement of Prohibition, and seemed to conclude that it originated in Puritan resentment in the Midwest, and would continue to be enforced according to regional customs and strictures:

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And true to form, New Yorker film critic Theodore Shane panned a movie that today is considered a classic of the silent era:

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UM, AWKWARD…Theodore Shane called Phantom of the Opera “Grand Guignol in imitation of Poe with a generous smear of Laemmle hokum”…in this scene, Erik, The Phantom (Lon Chaney) woos Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin) (Wikipedia)

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With this issue Lois Long retired “When Nights Are Bold” (a column on local nightlife she inherited from Charles Baskerville) and introduced us to a renamed column, “Tables For Two.” She opened with a description of a police raid on a on old barroom where she had been apparently enjoying a nice beefsteak. She then abandoned the “slums” for the Plaza Hotel, where she spied none other than Charlie Chaplin and Adolph Menjou:

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Ads return to the back cover, an indication that things are picking up:

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The poster above was created by American illustrator Rose O’Neill, who is best known as the creator of the popular Kewpie comic characters in 1909. The wildly popular Kewpies were later produced as dolls, and became one of the first mass-marketed toys in America. Raised in rural Nebraska, O’Neill was active in the women’s suffrage movement and at one point was the highest-paid female illustrator in the world.

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Rose O’Neill in 1907, and her famous creation (Wikipedia)

On the back cover, we are treated to some more great illustrations by artist Einar Nerman in this ad from Doubleday:

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And a whimsey from Julian de Miskey:

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Next time: Signs of Autumn…

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