To Bob, or Not to Bob

Perhaps no other hairstyle has a stronger link to a historical period than the “bob cut,” associated not only with the flapper lifestyle in the 1920s but with women in general who wished to signal their independence from old cultural norms that defined femininity.

March 10, 1928 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Women in Western cultures typically wore their hair long, but in the early years of the 20th century a few women of prominence began to flout convention and wear their hair in a bobbed style, including French actress Polaire, who began wearing her hair short in the 1890s; English socialite Lady Diana Cooper, who wore her hair short as a child and continued to do so as an adult; and dancer Irene Castle, who unveiled her “Castle Bob” to Americans in 1915. By 1920 the style was all the rage.

EARLY TRENDSETTERS…From left, Lady Diana Cooper in the mid 1920s; dancer Irene Castle with her pet monkey, Rastus, in 1915; and French actress Polaire in 1910. (Cooper & Polaire photos from Library of Congress; Castle photo courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society)
AMERICAN BOBS…Perhaps the most famous bob belonged to 1920s silent film star Louise Brooks (at right, wearing the “King Tut” bob, circa 1925), who was considered the very definition of a Roaring Twenties flapper. At left, another version of the bob as worn by Anita Loos, circa 1930. Loos was a screenwriter and author who achieved great fame in the 1920s with her blockbuster comic novel Gentleman Prefer Blondes. (fashion1930s.tumblr.com / Smithsonian)

Another famous bobbed flapper of the 1920s was the New Yorker‘s own Lois Long, who wrote under the pseudonym “Lipstick” for her nightlife column “Tables For Two,” but signed her fashion column (“On and Off the Avenue”) with a simple “L.L.” Long was also a regular unsigned contributor to “The Talk of the Town,” and is credited as one the New Yorker’s early writers who gave the magazine its “voice.”

In the March 10, 1928 issue Long wrote in “On and Off the Avenue” about the challenges in maintaining her bobbed hairstyle:

LIFESTYLE CHANGES…Lois Long helped define the flapper lifestyle of the Jazz Age in her writing for the New Yorker. Long’s own bob evolved during the decade, from the straight boyish cut at right, circa 1925, to a “shingle style” bob at left in 1929, where she is pictured with her husband, New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, and their newborn daughter, Patricia. (Patricia Arno / Wikipedia)

Many women in the 1920s preferred to have a permanent wave treatment applied to their bob, which usually involved the application of high heat via a complex array of wires and hot rollers. In the March 10 issue, this ad promoted an alternative “cool method”…

…and in the March 17, 1928 issue of the New Yorker, the Ace Comb company made a pitch to improve its market share by touting their hard rubber combs as ideal for the “ragged bob”…

…and for some further context on all things bobbed, following are some images gleaned from glamourdaze.com, including a page from a 1920s movie magazine featuring Paramount’s bobbed stars; a 1920s salon advertisement promoting bobs for all ages; and finally, a helpful reference card from the American Hairdresser, circa 1924…

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A New Plot for Billy Haines

William “Billy” Haines was a number one male box office draw in the 1920s, and throughout the decade was typecast in a number of comic roles as a conceited baseball player (Slide, Kelly, Slide), conceited cadet (West Point), conceited football star (Brown of Harvard), conceited golfer (Spring Fever), and conceited polo player (The Smart Set). It was that last picture that left the New Yorker wanting Haines to consider taking a different approach in his next picture:

Haines would eventually escape being typecast as a wisecracking, arrogant leading man, not by choosing different roles but by quitting acting altogether in 1935. The head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, had demanded Haines deny his gay lifestyle (which he had lived quite openly despite the times) and marry a woman for appearances. Haines went on to become a successful interior designer, with clients ranging from Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson to Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

TYPECAST…Billy Haines (left), Eleanor Boardman and Ben Lyon in Wine of Youth, 1924. (whenwewerecool.tumblr.com)
FAN FICTION…Movie fan magazines until mid-century were tools of the major studios with portrayals of the “real lives” of stars that were nearly as fictional as their film roles. Billy Haines (upper left) was one of the Hollywood “bachelors” featured in this article from an unidentified fan magazine. (Unknown/Pinterest)

In our featured cartoon from March 10, 1928, Helen Hokinson spies on her famous spinsters passing the time with a Ouija board:

Next Time: Broadway’s Soap Stars…

 

 

Good Vibrations

A decidedly new sound reverberated in the ears of New Yorkers who attended a Feb. 1928 performance of the New York Philharmonic that featured guest artist Leon Theremin, a Russian inventor who played music by moving his hands through the air, or more accurately, a magnetic field.

February 4, 1928 cover by Gardner Rea.

Theremin’s eponymous instrument had neither keys nor strings, but rather two metal antennas attached to an electronic oscillator. Music was produced by moving one’s hands between the antennas, which sensed the relative position of the players hands—one antenna controlled for pitch while the other adjusted the instrument’s volume. The sound produced is best described as “otherworldly.” The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town,” found Theremin’s performance intriguing, but of even greater interest was the great Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff—who was in attendance—and his reaction to the strange instrument:

HMMMM…At left, Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1921, as photographed by Kubey Rembrandt. At right, Leon Theremin plays his eponymous instrument at a demonstration concert in Paris on December 8, 1927. (Wikimedia)

The New Yorker’s voyeuristic account of Rachmaninoff continued, with the great man now becoming more engaged in the performance…

The Theremin would grow in popularity, however more as a novelty than a serious instrument:

ON THE AIR…Alexandra Stepanoff playing the Theremin on NBC Radio in 1930. A Russian immigrant to the U.S., the former concert singer was Theremin’s first student in the United States. (Wikimedia)
VIRTUOSO…The Russian-born Clara (Reisenberg) Rockmore holds a unique place in music history as the virtuoso performer of the Theremin. Leon Theremin built a custom version of his instrument for Clara, which added greater range and sensitivity. Clara would sometimes perform concerts with her sister, accomplished pianist Nadia Reisenberg. Photo circa 1930. (YouTube)

Theremin would be granted a U.S. patent for the instrument in 1928, which was marketed and distributed in the U.S. by RCA during the 1930’s in either DIY kit form or as a finished instrument:

(120years.net)

Interest in the instrument as a novelty continued into the 40’s and 50’s in the DIY market…

(120years.net)

Robert Moog, pioneer of modern electronic music and inventor of the Moog synthesizer, made and sold a transistorized version of the Theremin in the 1950s.

The Theremin would become best known to mass culture through its use in producing “eerie” sound effects in 1940s and 50s films, including Bernard Herrmann’s use of the instrument for the soundtrack to the 1951 sci-fi thriller, The Day The Earth Stood Still. And nearly everyone on the planet has heard the Theremin-inspired sound of the Beach Boy’s song Good Vibrations, created by an electro-Theremin that was developed in the late 1950s to mimic the sound of the original Theremin.

As for Leon Theremin himself, he would also gain notoriety as the inventor of The Thing, a listening device most famously used by the Soviets to bug the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The device was hidden behind a wood carving of the U.S. Great Seal, which in 1945 was presented by Soviet schoolchildren to the U.S. ambassador, who subsequently hung it in his office.

GOTCHA…American Ambassador to the UN Henry Cabot Lodge displays The Thing before the UN Security Council in 1960. At right, the device which was hidden behind the seal. The Americans discovered the bug in 1952, but didn’t reveal its existence until 1960 in the wake of the U-2 spy plane incident. The Soviet Union had convened the meeting of the United Nations Security Council to accuse the Americans of spying with the U2; in response Cabot displayed The Thing as proof spying between the two countries was a mutual endeavor. (crytomuseum.com/Wikimedia)

The reasons why Theremin developed The Thing for the KGB are a mystery. When he suddenly disappeared from New York in 1938 it was rumored that he had been kidnapped and possibly executed by the KGB. What we do know is that Soviet spooks put him to work in a secret laboratory in the Gulag camp system, where he developed The Thing.

In 1991, filmmaker Steven Martin brought Leon Theremin back to New York to film a documentary about his life. Theremin gave one last performance in 1993, and died that year at age 97.

Wild Kingdom

The New Yorker’s review of the hit film Simba showed a very different approach to the natural world 89 years ago, when the wilds of Africa were exploited purely for adventure and thrills rather than for any real understanding of natural systems and the animals and humans that inhabited them. Martin and Osa Johnson were celebrated for their filmed exploits in the wilds, including Simba; they touted their movie—shot in Kenya—as being made under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History, although much of the film was staged or edited in ways to maximize the thrills.

The New Yorker found the film to be “darn good fun”…

Despite its flaws, the film does offer us a glimpse of Africa when wildlife hadn’t been hunted to near extinction, although the Johnsons didn’t hesitate to gun down animals left and right in the course of their movie-making.

According to a 2011 review from Wild Film History, “in stark contrast to the conservation-themed wildlife films of today, the Johnsons approached their subjects armed with both camera and rifle, with the production including provoked behaviour, staged confrontations and animals shot to death on film. Relying heavily on cutting in kills from professional marksmen, numerous hunting scenes culminate in a heart-stopping sequence where, with the use of clever editing, the adventurous Mrs Johnson appears to bring down a charging rhinoceros with one well-aimed shot.

NO DAVID ATTENBOROUGH…The Johnsons pose with local tribesman who appeared in Simba. (Corbis)
FUN WITH NATURE…Osa Johnson saddles up a hapless zebra. (Daily Mail)
BALI HAI…Osa shares a smoke with a local during one of the Johnsons’ filming excursions in the South Pacific. (Getty Images)

From the Advertising Department

There were three automobile ads in the Feb. 4 issue, all from long-gone companies—Pierce-Arrow, Hudson-Essex, and Nash, which featured this endorsement by the brother-sister dancing duo Fred and Adele Astaire:

This ad for Dynamique showcased the art deco stylings of its furniture line…

And finally, a Peter Arno cartoon of an upper class faux pas

Next Time: Literary Rotarians…

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Gene Tunney was not your typical boxer. Holder of the heavyweight title from 1926 to 1928, he defeated his rival Jack Dempsey in 1926 and again in 1927 in the famous “Long Count Fight.” But Tunney was no Palooka—he preferred to be known as a cultured gentleman, and made a number of friends in the literary world including George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway and Thornton Wilder.

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January 14, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

So when given the opportunity to say a few words, Tunney made the most of it, including at a dinner hosted by boxing and hockey promoter Tex Rickard to honor champions in various sports. The New Yorker’s E.B. White was there tell us about it:

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FETED FOR FEATS…World champion athletes are shown here from top row, left to right; Babe Ruth (baseball), Gene Tunney (boxing), Johnny Weissmuller (swimming), Bill Cook (hockey). On the bottom row is from left to right, Bill Tilden (tennis), Bobby Jones (golf), Fred Spencer and Charlie Winters (six-day bicycle race).

While Tunney was doubtless composing his thoughts at the banquet table, baseball legend Babe Ruth was wishing he could be someplace else…

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…like hanging out with his old buddy Jack Dempsey…

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BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS…Babe Ruth having breakfast with his friend, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, at Ruth’s residence at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City, 1927. Dempsey reigned as the champ from 1919 until 1926, when he was defeated by Gene Tunney. (captainsblog.info)

Instead, the Babe would have to listen to a surprise speech by Tunney, who sought to prove to those in attendance that he had brains to match his brawn. No doubt to the relief of many in attendance, New York City’s flamboyant mayor, Jimmy Walker, was able to return the proceedings to party mode.

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THAT’LL DO, GENE, THAT’LL DO…Newly crowned heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney (center) meets with New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker (right) at City Hall, September 1926. (josportsinc.com)

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The New Yorker writers found little to like about Hollywood, but Charlie Chaplin could always be counted on to knock out a humorous film. At least most of the time. Here is what “The Talk of the Town” had to say about his latest, The Circus:

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LIGHTEN UP, CHARLIE…Merna Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin and Harry Crocker in The Clown (1928). (alamy)

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Give ‘Em Dirty Laundry

In these days of clickbait and other news designed to attract our prurient interest, we can look back 89 years a see that the tabloids were doing much of the same, particularly in Bernarr Macfadden’s New York Graphic, which was making the most of the final days of death row inmates Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray…

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TSK, TSK…Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (left), received a tidy sum to write about convicted murderer Ruth Snyder for the New York Evening Graphic. (Wikipedia/Murderpedia)

Former lovers Snyder and Gray were sentenced to death in 1927 for the premeditated murder of Snyder’s husband (they went to the electric chair at Sing Sing prison on Jan. 12, 1928). Newspapers across the country sensationalized their trial, but the Graphic went the extra step by paying large sums to celebrity correspondents, including evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, to write about the sordid case. Sister Aimee used her Graphic column to encourage young men to “want a wife like mother — not a Red Hot cutie.” Semple herself would later be accused of an affair, but then what else is new in the business of casting stones?

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FAKE NEWS…Before the National Enquirer and Weekly World News came along, Benarr Mcfadden’s Evening Graphic was the tabloid of choice among the less discerning. This issue from March 17, 1927, depicted silent actor Rudolph Valentino meeting the famed tenor Enrico Caruso in heaven. The Graphic was famous for these “Composographs,” — images cut and pasted together using the heads or faces of current celebrities and glued onto staged images created by employees in Macfadden’s studio. (bernarrmacfadden.com)

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Even His Skivvies?

We can also look back 89 years and see that people were just as celebrity-crazed then as they are now. Charles Lindbergh could barely keep the clothes on his back while being pursued by adoring mobs, according to “Talk of the Town”…

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KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY BVDS

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Kindred Spirits

Dorothy Parker wrote a vigorous, even impassioned defense of the late dancer Isadora Duncan in her column, “Reading and Writing.” Parker reviewed Duncan’s posthumously published autobiography, My Life, which she found “interesting and proudly moving” even if the book itself was “abominably written,” filled with passages of “idiotic naïveté” and “horrendously flowery verbiage.” In this “mess of prose” Parker also found passion, suffering and glamour—three words that Parker could have used to describe her own life.

Parker elaborated on the word “glamour,” which she thought had been cheapened in her day to something merely glittery and all surface. True glamour, wrote Parker, was that of Isadora Duncan, coming from her “great, torn, bewildered, foolhardy soul.” Parker concluded with this plea:

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REAL GLAMOUR…Isadora Duncan in an undated photo. (bustle.com)

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New Kid on the Block

Yet another high-rise dwelling was available to Jazz Age New Yorkers—One Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. One Fifth Avenue was an apartment with the word “hotel” attached to justify its 27-story height. To meet zoning requirements, the apartments had “pantries” instead of kitchens. But then again, your “servant” would fetch your dinner anyway…

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GOING UP…The art deco landmark One Fifth Avenue signaled a dramatic change from the four-story mansions that once occupied the site.  (New York Public Library)

Historical note: One Fifth Avenue marked a dramatic change in the character of Washington Square, one of the most prestigious residential neighborhoods of early New York City. A previous occupant of the One Fifth Avenue site was the brownstone mansion of William Butler Duncan. In addition to One Fifth Avenue, the residences at 3, 5, and 7 Fifth Avenue were also demolished to make way for the new art deco “apartment hotel.”

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DUST TO DUST…The William Butler Duncan residence at One Fifth Avenue. (daytoninmanhattan)

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To close, a two-page spread by Helen Hokison exploring one woman’s challenge with the “flapper bob” (sorry about the crease in the scan–that is how it is reproduced in the online archive). Click the image to enlarge.

 

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And a bit of fun on the streetcar, courtesy of cartoonist Leonard Dove…

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Next Time: Machine Age Bromance…

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The Perfect Gift for 1927

We close out 1927 by looking at the final December issues, which grew fat with Christmas advertising catering to the tastes of New York’s smart set.

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December 10, 1927 cover by Gardner Rea.

Before we jump to the ads, let’s look in on Lois Long, who in the Dec. 10 issue continued her lamentations regarding the quality of New York’s Prohibition-era night life and reminded readers that her job was far from a “soft snap”…

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The problem, as diagnosed by Long, was that there were not enough talented entertainers to fill the needs of an overabundance of nightclubs…

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LOIS THOUGHT BOBBIE ARNST WAS PRETTY SWELL when she appeared at Helen Morgan’s nightclub. A noted broadway singer and dancer, Arnst is pictured above in a publicity photo from the 1929 film Rhythms in Blue. (picking.com)
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ON THE OTHER HAND…Evelyn Nesbit’s tearoom (and later speakeasy) couldn’t survive on notoriety alone. In the early 20th century Nesbit’s face was everywhere—from advertisements to calendars—but in 1906 her fame took a nasty turn when her jealous husband, Harry Thaw, shot and killed suspected lover and famed architect Stanford White at Madison Square Garden’s rooftop theatre. At left, Nesbit in 1900. At right, Nesbit in her tea room on West 52nd Street, near Broadway, circa 1922. (Library of Congress / restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com)

Long also railed against the white appropriation of Harlem entertainment, which she felt was draining the place of its soulfulness. In particular she called out writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten, who among white writers was the most prominent in intellectualizing the “Harlem Renaissance”…

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What to Buy in ’27

The Dec. 10 and Dec. 17 issues grew fat with holiday advertising, averaging 120+ pages as opposed to the usual 60 or so pages. The advertisements mostly appealed to upscale readers, ranging from this almost Victorian-style ad from the staid Brooks Brothers…

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…to this ad from Rex Cole promoting the latest in modern conveniences…

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And I’ll toss in this comic from the Dec. 10 issue, in which Peter Arno allows us to listen in on an unlikely conversation between a couple of toffs…

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Lois is Also Tired of the Holidays

On to the Dec. 17 issue, in which Lois Long (who had recently married cartoonist Peter Arno, whose work is pictured above) also shared with readers her weariness of Christmas shopping in her column, “On and Off the Avenue.”

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December 17, 1927 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

The “Parisite” Long referred to in this excerpt was actually Elizabeth Hawes, who occasionally contributed to Long’s column (with cables sent from Paris) regarding the latest in French fashions. More on Hawes another time…

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As for ads in the Dec. 17 issue, we get this one from Dunhill, maker of fine English cigarettes and accessories: a woman’s compact that resembles a lighter…

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…and the same issue offers this glimpse into the life a spoiled rich kid, home from college for the holidays. The cartoon is by Alan Dunn, one of the most published New Yorker cartoonists (1,906 cartoons from 1926 to 1974)…

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With Christmas advertising over, the magazine’s page length dropped by half from the Dec. 17 to the Dec. 24 issue…

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December 24, 1927 cover by Andre De Schaub.

…in which we find this holiday-themed illustration by Al Frueh:

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Why We Sing Auld Lang Syne

This advertisement in the Dec. 24 issue invited readers to celebrate the New Year at The Roosevelt Hotel…

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The Roosevelt Hotel after its completion in 1924 (Museum of the City of New York)
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AULD ACQUAINTANCE…If you want to know why we sing “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve, you can thank Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadian Band, which made the song a staple at his New Year’s performances beginning in 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel. Their performance that night was broadcast on the radio before midnight Eastern time on CBS, then after midnight on NBC radio. (neatorama.com)

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Now Let’s Get Out of Here

With the holidays out of the way, New Yorkers still faced a good three months of winter. That is, unless you were well-heeled enough to head south to Palm Beach.  Considering the abundance of ads promoting travel to southern climes in the Dec. 24 and 31 issues, apparently many of the magazine’s readers possessed the means to do just that…

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And we close this entry, and the year of 1927, with this cover…

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December 31, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

…and another tropical-themed advertisement, courtesy of Russeks…

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…and this cartoon by Mary Petty depicting those who were left behind, still returning their Christmas gifts…

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Next Time: Odious Odes…

jan-7

 

 

Mutt & Jeff

We close out November 1927 by looking at a hugely popular comic strip–Mutt & Jeff–that made cartoonist Harry Conway (Bud) Fisher both famous and wealthy.

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Nov. 19 and Nov. 26, 1927 covers by Rea Irvin.

The editors of the Nov. 26, 1927 issue of the New Yorker thought Fisher interesting enough to feature in a lengthy “Profile,” written by Kelly Coombs. A brief excerpt:

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According to John Adcock’s terrific Yesterday’s Papers blog, by 1916 Bud Fisher was the highest paid cartoonist on earth. The New Yorker suggested his annual income was $300,000 (roughly equivalent to more than $4 million today). In addition to the strips, created by Fisher and a team of ghost illustrators/writers, Mutt & Jeff were featured in vaudeville engagements, theatrical shows, animated cartoons, comic books and toys.

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DIE LAUGHING…Mutt & Jeff themed toys included this joke kit from Mysto Manufacturing. I don’t quite get the joke featured on the cover, depicting Jeff’s casually twisted approach to murdering poor Mutt. (melbirnkrant.com)
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IT’S A LIVING…Harry Conway (Bud) Fisher, drawing a likeness of the character “Jeff” at a Chicago Daily News event in 1915. (Chicago History Museum)

Fisher began his career as a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle and started his strip about “two mismatched tinhorns” in 1907. It went into syndication the following year. Mutt and Jeff, originally titled A. Mutt, is regarded as the first American newspaper cartoon published as a strip of panels, making it the first “comic strip.”

There was obviously a time when American readers thought Mutt & Jeff hilarious, but I don’t quite get its appeal. In this strip from 1926, Jeff gets a pie in the face. The giant question mark was frequently employed by Fisher, as were the dotted eye lines and explanatory arrows like the one in the last panel. No, Jeff didn’t get his brains blown out by Mutt. It is only a pie! Hah Hah!

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Click on image to enlarge

Another visual cliché from comics of yore was the angry wife wielding a rolling pin. Apparently Jeff refers to Mutt’s wife as an “Old Buzzard” and assumes she is already in bed (sorry about the poor quality of the reproduction). Jeff subsequently gets whacked with the rolling pin, and Mutt takes it on the bean with a flatiron. That is quite a feat, throwing a grown man through a window while simultaneously hitting him on the head with a flatiron…

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Click on image to enlarge (Both strips courtesy University of Michigan)

The duo were also featured in more than 300 animated “half-reelers” produced between 1913 and 1926, including Mutt and Jeff: On Strike from 1920. The short film (which can be viewed here) even includes rare footage of Bud Fisher himself, since the story–sort of a film within a film–involves the penniless Mutt and Jeff going on strike after they see a movie featuring Fisher’s lavish home.

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STRIKEBREAKER…Still images from the silent half-reeler, Mutt and Jeff: On Strike. Fisher is shown at home discussing terms over the phone with his striking characters. They lose. (www.filmpreservation.org)

Coombs concluded the New Yorker “Profile” with these observations concerning Fisher’s personal habits:

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Fisher employed a number of assistants on the strip, including  George Herriman (Krazy Kat) and a high-school boy named Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are). When Fisher appeared to lose interest in the strip in the 1930s, assistant Al Smith took over and drew the strip for nearly fifty years (but Smith didn’t sign his own name on the strip until after Fisher’s death in 1954).

In Yesterday’s Papers, Adcock notes that Fisher “was the unlikeliest person you could think of to draw Mutt and Jeff…along with most of his contemporary cartoonist-journalists pals, (he) enjoyed fights, chorus girls, gambling, and saloons. Fisher liked to shoot up hotel rooms with his pistols, one of which was a gift from Pancho Villa, indoors when he was drunk.”

Heads in the Clouds

Thanks to the race to fly across the Atlantic, toy models of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and other planes were in high demand for the Christmas season, according to this item in the Nov. 26, 1927, “Talk of the Town:”

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BUILT TO LAST…A Metalcraft model kit (box, upper image, contents below) from the late 1920s. It was all metal in the days before plastic model kits. (eBay)

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At a Loss For Words

Jumping back to the Nov. 19, 1927 issue, we go from the low art of Bud Fisher to the high art of John Marin featured in “The Art Galleries” section of the New Yorker. Art critic Murdock Pemberton wrote:

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SAVAGE WORK…John Marin, White Horses – Sea Movement off Deer Isle, Maine, 1926. (Whitney Museum of American Art)

But perhaps “high art” is not an accurate description of Marin’s paintings, since Marin himself wasn’t into “highfalutin words” to describe his work…

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HAUNTING BEAUTY…John Marin, Echo Lake Franconia Range White Mountain Country, 1927 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.)

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In the previous week’s issue (Nov. 12) Marmon 8 was advertised as an ideal car for women. Not to be outdone, the folks at Buick shot back with this colorful ad in the Nov. 19 issue of the New Yorker:

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The Nov. 19 issue also featured this strange advertisement from the famed Wanamaker department store. Strange mainly because of the illustration, which features a fashionable woman departing a fanciful aircraft studded with mullioned windows(!) and a staircase that stretches to improbable depths…oh, and in case the reader might miss the snob appeal associated with French furs, the words Paris, Parisian or French are featured ten times…

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And finally, the ubiquitous New Yorker cartoon featuring the humorous mismatch of rich old duffer and ditzy young mistress, courtesy of Julian de Miskey…

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Next Time: More Funny Business…

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The Shape of Things to Come

It is often observed that when we look to the past we can see our the future. More than 90 years ago, Swiss architect Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) wrote an influential book on modern architecture, Vers une Architecture (1923) that helped to radically change our built environment. Translated into English in 1927 under varying titles (Toward an Architecture, or Towards a New Architecture), the book caught the appreciative eye of New Yorker architecture critic George Chappell, who wrote under the pseudonym “T-Square.”

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Nov. 12, 1927 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

Given that most new architecture in Manhattan was adorned in architectural stylings from the past, or gussied up in Jazz Age art deco, Chappell was introducing his readers to something very different, to ideas that would transform their city within two generations.

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A SOBER-MINDED THINKER…Le Corbusier at work in his apartment at 20 Rue Jacob, Paris, in the late 1920s. (Brassai Paris)

In his embrace of technology and mass production, Corbusier maintained that houses should be built in standardized forms that allowed for continuous refinement, designed as “machines for living” with the same precision as automobiles and airplanes…

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In case you doubt the architect’s fervor, here is Corbusier’s manifesto on mass production included in Towards a New Architecture:

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MACHINES FOR LIVING…This two-family structure on the outskirts of Stuttgart, Germany, was designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret in 1927. It was one of the first built manifestations of Corbusier’s Five Points of a New Architecture, a manifesto written in 1926. The house set an important precedent for the emerging International Style associated with Germany’s Bauhaus movement. (noordinaryhomes.com)

In Towards a New Architecture, Corbusier wrote that while architecture was  stifled by custom and lost in the past (“to send architectural students to Rome is to cripple them for life…”), engineers were embracing new technologies and building simple, effective and “honest” structures. Rather than rely on past forms or contemporary trends such as art deco, Corbusier said architecture should fundamentally change how humans interact with buildings.

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ALL DRESSED UP WITH NOWHERE TO GO…A photograph from Towards a New Architecture. Corbusier said contemporary architecture was stifled by custom and lost in the past. (monoskop.org)
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FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION…Examples of “honest” and functional industrial buildings featured in Towards a New Architecture. (monoskop.org)

Corbusier concluded his book with a moral imperative and an ominous choice  for the future: “Architecture or Revolution.”  He asserted that the “great disagreement between the modern state of mind…and the stifling accumulation of age-long detritus” would force modern man to live in an “old and hostile environment” and deny him an “organized family life,” ultimately leading to the destruction of the family.

In less than 10 years the Nazis would chase the “degenerate” Bauhaus out of Europe and into the embrace of American academe. In short order Corporate America would adopt Corbusier’s International Style, if imperfectly, but most Americans would prove resistant to making their homes into “machines for living.”

Corbusier would doubtless be shocked (and disappointed) to know that 100 years hence people would still choose to live in mock Tudors and “Tuscan Villas,” especially in the midst of so much advanced technology.

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HOME SWEET HOME…Villa Savoye near Paris, France. Designed by Le Corbusier in 1928, completed in 1931. Named a World Heritage Site in 2016. (projectoras.com)

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AS HE WAS SAYING…

The new Sherry-Netherland apartment hotel near Central Park was exactly the sort of architecture Corbusier detested. The New Yorker editors in “The Talk of the Town,” however, seemed impressed with its elegant appointments…

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SUMPTUOUS…The foyer of the Sherry-Netherland, restored to its former glory in 2014. (Wikipedia)
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ROOM WITH A VIEW…The Sherry-Netherland penthouse, priced at $35,000 a year in 1927, is now worth more than $100 million.

“Talk” noted that beneath the Sherry-Netherland’s spire the penthouse apartment could be had for $35,000 a year, roughly equivalent to $477,000 today. The building went co-op in the 1950s, and that would have been a good time to buy the penthouse. Today it is valued at more than $100 million.

Poo on Pooh

Dorothy Parker lamented the state of children’s literature in the “Books” section, and expressed her displeasure with A.A. Milne, a former humor writer for Punch who “went quaint” with his Winnie the Pooh stories.

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OLD SOFTIE…A. A. Milne with his son Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear, at Cotchford Farm, their home in Sussex, in 1926. Photo by Howard Coster. (npg.org.uk)

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New Game in Town

Niven Busch Jr. wrote about the growing popularity of professional hockey. Tex Rickard’s two-year-old franchise, the New York Rangers, were a major draw at the new Madison Square Garden (they would win the Stanley Cup in their second year), and even Texans were into the sport–Busch noted that a game between Dallas and Fort Worth teams drew 20,000 spectators.

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ICE MEN…Stanley Cup winners, the 1927-28 New York Rangers. (rangers.ice.nhl.com)

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And finally, from the world of advertising, here is one in a series of classically themed ads for the McCreery department store…

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…and this advertisement for the Marmon 8, an “ideal woman’s car”…
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Next time: Mutt & Jeff…

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Death Avenue Days

Before the elevated tracks were constructed in the early 1930s in Manhattan’s west side warehouse district (home of today’s popular “High Line”), freight trains rumbled through the city–at street level–on “Death Avenue.”

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November 5, 1927 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Freight trains were introduced to the west side warehouse district in 1846, which was a bad plan from the very start. Block-long trains would run through cross streets and congested traffic, maiming and killing along the way.

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ON YOUR LEFT!…Both diesel and steam locomotives rumbled along Manhattan avenues well into the 20th century. Pictured is a freight train at 11th and 41st Street. Eleventh was known as “Death Avenue.” (Forgotten NY)

According to Friends of the High Line, “an 1892 New York World article referred to the trains as ‘a monster which has menaced them night and day,’ and by 1908 the Bureau of Municipal Research claimed that since 1852, the trains had killed 436 people. A New York Times piece from the same year reported that in the preceding decade there had been almost 200 deaths, mostly of children.”

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MIXED USE…This circa 1920 photo shows the congestion that occurred when freight trains, horse-drawn carts, cars, and pedestrians used the same streets. (Kalmbach Publishing Company)
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SHOWDOWN…Beginning in 1850, the West Side Cowboys rode ahead of oncoming trains to ensure the safety of people on the street, although statistics show that some did not heed the warnings. (Friends of the High Line)

The safety issues on Death Avenue were finally addressed in 1929 when city and state officials reached an agreement with New York Central Railroad to move the rail above street level. New elevated tracks opened in 1934 were novel in the way they bisected city blocks, unloading cargo directly into buildings in the district.

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THIS WORKED BETTER…The elevated tracks served warehouses including one for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), pictured above, which today houses another popular High Line attraction, the Chelsea Market. (Friends of the High Line)
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A New York Central Railroad advertisement touting the benefits of its elevated West Side Line, which today supports a unique and popular urban park–the High Line. (Friends of the High Line)

The elevated West Side Line’s unique design also complements the current use of the tracks–the High Line, one of New York’s most popular tourist draws and a widely successful example of urban reuse and renewal. Today few visitors to the High Line are aware that the peaceful oasis they now enjoy was once a dangerous and chaotic place that was home to the aptly named Death Avenue…

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NOT SO BAD, THIS…Visitors to the High Line enjoy a peaceful oasis above the former “Death Avenue.” (Friends of the High Line)

What prompted my interest in Death Avenue was this illustration by Reginald Marsh in the Nov. 5, 1927 issue of the New Yorker:

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Marsh (1898-1954) joined the New Yorker as one of its first cartoonists, and stayed there for seven years. He was practically born an artist, growing up in an artists’ colony in New Jersey where his father worked as a noted muralist and his mother made watercolors. After graduating from Yale he went to work of the Daily News, where he contributed sketches of vaudeville acts and illustrated a column titled “People We’d Like to Kill but Don’t.”

Described as a “Social Realist” painter, Marsh studied painting at the Art Students League, where the prevailing theme was life among the working poor, the unemployed, and the homeless, especially after the market crash in 1929…

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WHY NOT USE THE “L”?…the title of a 1930 work by Reginald Marsh. (Whitney Museum of Art)
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SELF REFLECTION…Reginald Marsh with one of his self-portrait paintings, circa 1938. (Museum of the City of New York)

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Write What You Know

Among other items in the Nov. 5, 1927 issue was this profile written by Charles Shaw of fellow New Yorker contributor (artist and writer) Ralph Barton. An excerpt, with sketch by Peter Arno…

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By Any Other Name

As it still does today, the New Yorker listed area happenings in the front section of the magazine, and in the early days the magazine included extensive listings of sporting events. The excerpt below offers various diversions from a “hunt race” to “squash tennis.” There were also professional football games featuring such mighty foes as the New York Giants and the Duluth Eskimos…

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Before the age of smart phones, the term “smart” in advertising meant one was on the leading edge of fashion–for aspiring young women this meant all things French–clothes, perfumes, beauty treatments–and for the bride, the all-important trousseaux, or so claimed this advertisement from Franklin Simon & Co. on page five of the Nov. 5 issue…

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Couldn’t afford the latest from Paris? In that case you could turn to the back pages of the same issue, where you would find cheaper ads from places like Kathleen, Inc, which sold knock-offs of the latest in haute couture

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And finally, we return to Reginald Marsh, who contributed this cartoon to the Nov. 5 issue…

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Next Time: The Shape of Things to Come…

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