Tens of thousands of commuters daily cross the George Washington Bridge, but in the din of modern commuting few give nary a thought to a span that was once considered a modern marvel.
Twice as long as any previous suspension bridge when it opened in 1931, the George Washington Bridge’s main span of 3,500 feet (1,100 m) would be the world’s longest until it was surpassed by San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in 1937. The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” (entry most likely by E.B. White) checked on the bridge’s progress for the May 3 issue:
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A Cabin in the Sky
Other signs of modern life were being seen in Midtown, where an “Aircraft Salon” hosted by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce was taking place at Madison Square Garden.
Nicholas Trott was on hand to take in the exhibits, noting that advances in aviation included the use of metal bodies (instead of fortified cloth) and greater attention to interior decoration:
Trott noted that designs of passenger compartments, still in their infancy, suggested something between automobile and nautical motifs:
Trott also commented on the debate surrounding metal vs. fabric in the construction of airplanes. Before 1930 most planes were constructed of wood covered with fabric (which were much lighter than metal craft). Although as early as 1920 the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics declared metal to be superior to wood, only five percent of aircraft in 1930 were of all-metal construction.
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Road to Nowhere
The New Yorker’s enthusiasm for modern marvels did not extend to the West Side Highway, a project that would extend from the late 1920s to the early 1950s. Here is E.B. White’s take on the opening of the highway’s first section:
White’s observations were somewhat prescient — constructed in tight confines, the road’s on-ramps proved too narrow and the turns too tight for use by large trucks. The roadway also lacked proper maintenance, and just two decades after it was completed a section of the highway collapsed under the weight of an asphalt-laden truck. The roadway was demolished between 1977 and 1989. Read more here about the West Side Highway’s surprising history at the Museum of the City of New York.
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For Pet Lovers
Our latest installment of James Thurber’s “Our Pet Department” column…
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The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, Janet Flanner, using the pen name “Hippolyta,” contributed this profile of François Coty (1874-1934), a French perfumer and businessman. Flanner’s profile (the introduction included below) described Coty’s rags-to-riches rise in the perfume industry, and touched on his life as a sometime journalist and politician.
What doesn’t come across in the profile is Coty’s extreme right-wing stance on politics and his virulent anti-Semitism, which was often expressed in his newspaper, Figaro. Three years after Flanner’s profile Coty would co-found Solidarité Française, a fascist, paramilitary organization, and a year after that he would be dead of an aneurysm.
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From Our Advertisers
The New Yorker’s bottom line reaped benefits from the big aviation show at Madison Square Garden…
…and even if you weren’t selling airplanes or flying lessons, you could still get in on the action…
…also from the fashion world, this colorful entry from Onyx Hosiery…
…and this weird ad from Saks, advertising shoes and a party dress but dominated by a caricature of designer Joseph Hergesheimer…
…on to our cartoons…Helen Hokinson paid a visit to the aviation show…
…on the domestic front, Garrett Price examined the challenges of home decor…
…Al Frueh offered an ironic twist on a room with a view…
…Peter Arno once again found humor in the partying life…
In his 2006 book, Flapper, Joshua Zeitz refers to the New Yorker’sLois Long as the epitome of the 1920s flapper, an “absolutely a wild woman” who wrote about Jazz Age nightlife “with a wicked sort of sexual sense of humor.”
This Vassar-educated daughter of a Congregational minister began her New Yorker career in the summer of 1925, at age 23. She took over Charles Baskerville’s rather dry column, “When Nights are Bold,” renamed it “Tables for Two,” and using the pen name “Lipstick” plunged into the nightlife scene with considerable brio.
Two years later she would marry cartoonist Peter Arno, and in 1929 would give birth to a daughter, Patricia. During this time the almost weekly “Tables” column would appear infrequently as Long turned her attentions to her family and her fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue.” But as I’ve noted before, Long, along with many of her New Yorker colleagues, had grown weary of the Roaring Twenties many months before they were over. She would put an end to the “Tables” column in June 1930; the good times, as Long noted in her Feb. 8 column, had lost their “verve”…
…Long found Don Dickerman’s latest themed restaurant, the Daffydil, to be a mildly amusing distraction…
…and she also looked to Harlem for some nighttime diversions, but the ex-flapper just wasn’t up for a rowdy scene…
…ten years later, in the New Yorker’s fifteenth anniversary issue (Feb. 17, 1940), the 38-year-old Long would look back to the Roaring Twenties in the column “That Was New York,” reprising her signature “Lipstick” as she recalled the days when “Harlem was a thrill” and “we smiled when we went dancing in 1925 even though there wasn’t a candid camera within miles. In those days people frequently laughed out loud in public.” She concluded the piece with this observation:
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Rise of the Débutantes
New York’s débutantes and the New Yorker had something of a symbiotic relationship during the magazine’s early days, beginning with a piece written by 22-year-old Ellin Mackay for the Nov. 28, 1925 issue that served as a manifesto of sorts for a new kind of débutante. Mackay’s essay explained why modern women were abandoning the forced social matchmaking of débutante balls in favor of the more egalitarian (and fun) night club scene.
Mackay’s piece provided a huge boost to the New Yorker’s circulation, the magazine barely staying afloat at the time. Nevertheless, its writers couldn’t resist taking occasional shots at the seemingly frivolous existence of debs, including E.B. White, who called out a one Katrinka Suydam in his “Notes and Comment” column for Jan. 4, 1930:
Perhaps White came across Suydam’s name in the Sept. 7, 1929 New York Times:
What he probably didn’t expect was a reply from Suydam herself, an act that seemed to impress the magazine’s editors, who printed the proud débutante’s letter in full on page 32:
Suydam would go on to marry Frederick Roelker later that June. Note in this excerpted wedding write-up how the couples’ European and colonial pedigrees were carefully detailed in the first paragraphs, distinguishing their union from couplings enjoyed by the unwashed masses…
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In 1930 hemlines plummeted along with the stock market. E.B. White, in “Notes,” welcomed the return of “mystery” to women’s fashions:
Frederick Lewis Allen, on the other hand, was having difficulty understanding the modern woman, circa 1930, based on what he was seeing in the display windows along Fifth Avenue. Excerpts:
Allen noted that the “snooty” mannequins on display along Fifth Avenue represented a certain type who wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bus…
Whether or not he liked the Altman girls, the 39-year-old Allen felt like an “old fogey” in the presence of these “no nonsense” women:
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Get A Room
Marion Sturges Jones pondered the life of another kind of modern woman, namely that of Virginia Woolf, who had recently published the extended essay A Room of One’s Own. Jones discovered that finding such a room was easier said than done…
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The Way You Really Look
Franklin P. Adams penned a profile of the legendary songwriter and stage producer Jerome Kern, who created dozens of Broadway musicals and Hollywood films and wrote a substantial chunk of the American songbook (more than 700 songs) with such hits as “Ol’ Man River”, “A Fine Romance”, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, and “The Way You Look Tonight.” Peter Arno provided this less-than-flattering caricature of the man…
…and this is how Kern actually looked, circa 1930…
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At the Talkies
Speaking of showbiz, New Yorker film critic John Mosher offered high praise for William Powell’s latest film, Street of Chance. Although Powell is often linked professionally to actress Myrna Loy thanks to their six Thin Man films (1934 – 1947), from 1930 to 1932 he also appeared with Kay Francis in six films, including Street of Chance. Both Powell and Francis would become major stars of the 1930s, and between 1930 and 1936 Francis would be the number one female star at Warner Brothers and the highest-paid American film actress. Francis was no stranger to wild living — she was a longtime friend of Lois Long’s (see above) and also shared an apartment with her at 381 Park Avenue before Long married Peter Arno. Mosher’s review:
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From Our Advertisers
We have an advertisement from the aforementioned County Fair, one of the themed restaurants operated by Greenwich village artist and personality Don Dickerman, who illustrated his own ads…
…I’m not sure who drew this Arno-esque illustration below for the Holmes Electric Protective Company, but I can tell you that the name Holmes was synonymous with home security in 1930…in 1857 Edwin Holmes bought a patent for an electric burglar alarm (invented in 1853 by Augustus Pope) and went on to successfully commercialize and popularize the electromagnetic burglar alarm. Holmes is also credited with creating the first large-scale alarm network in the United States…
…but I do know that Abe Birnbaum contributed this drawing (in “Talk of the Town”) of the beloved Colony restaurant owner Eugene Cavallero…
…on to our comics, we have this full-pager from Al Frueh…
…another full-pager from Rea Irvin…
…this terrific party scene courtesy Garrett Price…
The Hammerstein name looms large in the history of both stage and screen, an extended family of theater impresarios and composers descended from the German-born Oscar Hammerstein I (1846 – 1919).
It was Oscar’s son, Arthur Hammerstein (1872 – 1955), who would bring the nostalgic musical Sweet Adeline to the Broadway stage, with music by Jerome Kern. Arthur’s nephew, Reginald Hammerstein, directed, and Reginald’s brother, Oscar Hammerstein II, provided the lyrics (and would later collaborate on such Broadway hits as Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music). Sweet Adeline opened on Sept. 3, 1929 at Arthur’s Hammerstein Theatre (known today as Ed Sullivan Theater), and the New Yorker’sRobert Benchley was on hand for opening night…
The title of the musical was a pun on the famous barbershop quartet song first published in 1903 — a time that seemed quaint to Jazz Agers. To get a sense of how rapidly American society had changed in the 1920s, in the paragraph above, Benchley referred to the musical’s setting (1898) as “old-time.” I’m not sure we would refer to 1987 as “old-time,” but who knows? Benchley continued…
As for the performances by Helen Morgan (who more or less invented the torch singer’s boozy, draped-over-the-piano style), Benchley noted that her personality was “almost oppressively lush at times”…
A note regarding Helen Morgan: She began her career singing in Chicago speakeasies before moving to New York in the mid-1920s, where she continued to sing in nightclubs (including one attached to her name, Chez Morgan) while also performing on Broadway. Morgan became a heavy drinker, and was often drunk during performances (hence Benchley’s comment regarding her “lush personality”). Cirrhosis of the liver would claim Morgan’s life in 1941. The same disease would claim Benchley four years later.
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While we are the topic of Broadway, the Sept. 14 “Talk of the Town” featured a brief profile of John Murray Anderson, (1886 – 1954) who was celebrating the success of his own Broadway musical revue Almanac…
In this excerpt, “Talk” recounted how Anderson finally hit it big in 1919 with his Greenwich Village Follies. It noted that he had a “genius”…
…and a bit more about Anderson…
In Michael Maslin’s terrific book, Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist,Maslin notes that Arno “was whisked onto the Manhattan theater scene by Murray Anderson, whose twenty-nine scene Almanac opened to excellent reviews at the two-year-old Erlanger Theater, just off Times Square.” Maslin cites the famed New York columnist O.O. McIntyre, who wrote “Arno was one of several ‘conspirators’ responsible for Broadway backdrops whose ‘exaggerated whimsicalities…in black and white…when unfolded usually get what Variety calls a belly laugh.'”
And in the following issue of the New Yorker (Sept. 21), Peter Arno contributed this drawing for the theater review section (it doesn’t look like an Arno, but then again his style at this time seemed to fluctuate almost weekly)…
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No stranger to Broadway herself, the young actress Joan Crawford was making a name for herself in Hollywood and garnering consistently positive reviews from the New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher, who found that the 25-year-old actress— who portrayed a fun-loving flapper in Modern Maidens — could shine even in the midst of an average screenplay:
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Silence is Golden
Cultural critic Gilbert Seldes contributed a casual titled “In a Loud Voice With the Tongues of Angels,” joining the chorus of voices at the New Yorker skeptical of (but resigned to) the advent of sound motion pictures. Excerpts:
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“The Talk of the Town” reported on the fuss created by the German passenger liner Bremen after it completed its maiden voyage to New York. It set a new world record in the process — four days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes later —and captured the westbound “Blue Riband” from the famed Mauretania with an average speed of 27.83 knots (the Blue Riband was an unofficial honor bestowed on the fastest passenger liners crossing the Atlantic)…
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Up In Smoke
Another “Talk” item explored the decline of cigar and pipe smokers thanks to the rise of cigarette advertising (and women smokers) in the 1920s…
…as an aside, it appeared golfer Walter Egan was still a pipe smoker, as this illustration by Johan Bull for the issue’s “Tee and Green” column attested…
…”Talk” laid the blame (or the credit) on Lucky Strike’s successful ad campaigns that that particularly made a “big impression” on women…
…and to begin our advertising section, a Lucky Strike ad from the same issue:
…the Liggett & Myers tobacco company, on the other hand, promoted their Fatima brand as a higher quality, and slightly more expensive, alternative…
…in this ad for The Shelton Looms we find the elongated style popular in fashion ads of the era…the illustration is by LeBrun, but also evokes the style of Carl “Eric” Erickson, known for his Camel ad illustrations of the same period…
…and now a couple of ads from the back pages: the ad at left promoted a “country style” supper club near Washington Square. I haven’t found a record (yet) for the County Fair, but I believe it was one of the themed restaurants Don Dickerman operated around Greenwich Village before the Depression (Dickerman, an illustrator, also provided the art for the ad)…the ad on the right—for Odorono deodorant— appeared regularly in the back pages of the New Yorker, illustrated by the magazine’s own Julian De Miskey. The ads featured vignettes of unfortunate young women whose B.O. was so bad that it caused all potential suitors to flee…
…on to our cartoons, Al Frueh (artist of the first two cartoons in the New Yorker’s first issue)…contributed another of his familiar multi-panel “silent” cartoons…
…I like the modern feel of this cartoon by William Crawford Galbraith…
…and we close with a couple of cartoons under the moonlight, by Bruce Bairnsfather…
A defining moment for Art Deco design in America occurred at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art during a 1929 exhibition that showcased everything from household furnishings to garden design.
Before we delve into the Met’s exhibition, The Architect and the Industrial Arts, a quick note about the New Yorker’sTheodore Haupt-illustrated cover, which referenced the annual Six-Day Cycling Race that was taking place at the Madison Square Garden Velodrome. The event, which began at the old Madison Square Garden in 1891 and lasted until 1950, featured a beer garden (after Prohibition) in the center of the oval and drew such celebrities as Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck and Peggy Joyce. It was said that Crosby even paid the hospital bills of riders who fell during the race.
The March 9 issue was lively with another contribution from Groucho Marx (“Press Agents I Have Known”) and an Alexander Woollcott-penned profile of playwright and screenwriter Charles Gordon MacArthur (husband of stage actress Helen Hayes and father of James “Book ’em Danno” MacArthur).
But as the blog title suggests, it was also filled with articles and ads that told of a city embracing all things new and modern, including a piece by architecture critic George S. Chappell on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s eleventh Exhibition of Contemporary American Design, titled The Architect and the Industrial Arts. It was curated by the Met’s Richard F. Bach, who organized 15 annual exhibitions of contemporary industrial art at the museum between 1917 and 1940.
The 1929 exhibition of Art Deco works was the biggest yet, inspired by the Art Moderne movement in Europe and particularly the 1925 Paris Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels). The Met exhibition, wrote Chappell, “should not be missed”…
Chappell found the exhibit to be “stimulating,” although he hoped designers in the future would “curb cleverness” and focus more on fundamentals:
Writing in the February 1929 Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curator Richard S. Bach posed bold questions for this new age: “What is the tempo of our day? What are the dominant elements of our culture, our activities, our thinking? Is this a speed age or are we sedate? Have we time to be dignified and stately about frills or are we air-minded? Do we wait for months, as once all did, for the silkworm to complete his labors before beginning to make thread from his cocoon…or (do we) make a few bales of vegetable silk out of chemically treated wood fiber between breakfast and lunch as a regular chore of a business week-day? And is this the mechanistic millennium which shrivels the soul and makes mockery of imagination, or are these fabulous industries, these automatic instruments of production, the means of bringing within range of vision the real potentialities of our crowded lives and of interpreting our aspirations and achievements?
Pumping Iron Into the Sky
The architecture firm Starrett & van Vleck saw the “real potentialities of our crowded lives” when they designed a new Art Deco skyscraper to house the Downtown Athletic Club. Writing in Lost City News, Mary Hohlt cites the architect Rem Koolhaas, who sees the Downtown Athletic Club as “the ideal of a hyper-reality in the burgeoning urban form of hyper-density and congestion.” The Club is “the everything-at-your-fingertips self-improvement incubator for men…It is a place for men to indulge on self-improvement; to better themselves in a place only the constructed, hyper-reality of Manhattan can provide.”
Hohlt writes that Koolhaas sees the Downtown Athletic Club as a sterile place: “Towering in the sky, the Club removes men from the rest of the world and allows them a kind of aesthetic improvement that cannot be passed on.” E.B. White took a less jaded view in this “Talk of the Town” segment:
Another New Yorker who saw the “real potentialities of our crowded lives” was insurance salesman Milton A. Kent, who in 1928-29 erected a brick and terra-cotta Art Deco tower that could park 1,000 cars using an automatic elevator system.
Once again E.B. White was on hand to render this observation for “Talk”…
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Death of a Can-Can Dancer
The sad death of Louise Weber, aka La Goulue, was announced in Janet Flanner’s “Letter from Paris” column. Weber was a can-can dancer at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and a model for some of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s most famous cabaret paintings. Flanner wrote of La Goulue’s rise to fame…
…and her sad downfall into a life of poverty among the rag-pickers:
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From Our Advertisers
An advertisement on page 45 for Mohawk carpets featured two Cockney charwomen admiring the new carpets at the General Motors headquarters:
A corresponding note: Shreve & Lamb’s 1927 General Motors Building was the hub of Columbus Circle’s Automobile Row. A hideous 2012 remodel, which clad the entire structure in reflective glass, has rendered the former landmark unrecognizable:
Getting back to all things “moderne,” these facing ads on pages 8-9 offered some new looks for spring…
…and in the cartoons, a tongue-in-cheek vision of a modern high-rise by Al Frueh, prompted by the news that Florenz Ziegfeld planned to build a 44-story building in his native Chicago. Thanks to the market crash later in the year, it was never realized.
In drawings sprinkled across pages 24-25, Helen Hokinson examined various approaches to tax season, including these two examples…
…and finally, Peter Arno caught a theatre performer with his pants down…
Our sense of what is old and what it is new becomes skewed during periods of rapid change, and such was the case in 1920s New York when large swaths of the old city were swept away and replaced by massive towers that seemingly rose overnight. Places like the Hippodrome Theatre, a 1905 Beaux-Arts confection barely 24 years old, seemed positively ancient in those heady times.
For the most part the New Yorker was enthusiastic about the changing skyline, as its namesake was claiming the crown as America’s premier city; but occasionally a melancholy note would be struck when a familiar institution appeared in decline or fated for the wrecking ball. In the Feb. 9, 1929 “Talk of the Town,” E.B. White wistfully recalled the old days of the Hippodrome, once the largest theatre in the world and the pride of turn-of-the-century New York:
The Hippodrome held such a place in the heart of the New Yorker that the magazine offered further reminiscences in the Feb. 16 issue, this time penned by managing editor Harold Ross:
For demonstrations of diving and “mermaid spectacles,” the Hippodrome stage featured an eight-foot high steel tank in four sections, with a front of plate glass. Manned diving bells were also used to raise and lower “mermaids” during performances.
Ross wrote about the Hippodrome’s “diving girls,” who would dive into a tank of water from a height of 90 feet, sometimes at a serious cost to their health:
Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was a big draw at the Hippodrome, and helped popularize the sport of synchronised swimming after her 1907 performance of the first water ballet in theatre’s giant plate glass tank. In that same year she shocked Bostonians by appearing on a local beach in a “daring” one‐piece bathing suit (shown above), and was arrested for indecency. This was at a time when a woman’s standard bathing apparel consisted of a blouse, skirt, stockings and swimming shoes.
Unlike some of the unfortunate Hippodrome divers who later lost their eyesight due to cranial pressure from high dives, Kellerman went on to a long and active life (she died in 1975, at age 88). Known throughout the world as Australia’s “Million Dollar Mermaid” (and portrayed by Esther Williams in a 1952 movie by the same name), Kellerman appeared in more than a dozen films between 1909 and 1924. She also launched her own line of swimwear and wrote several books on swimming, beauty and fitness.
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City of Lights
While E.B. White got misty-eyed about the old Hippodrome in the Feb. 9 issue, his fellow New Yorker writer and friend James Thurber was thrilling on the new skyscrapers lighting the city’s skyline:
Thurber noted that “100,000 candlepower” would light the golden crown of the New York Central Building, the tallest structure in the Grand Central complex. Over at the new Chanin Building, a whopping 25 million candle-power would be trained on its art deco crown.
Advertisers in the New Yorker reflected the mood of this new city of skyscraper canyons. From the Feb. 16 issue:
Ralph Ingersoll and Thurber also wrote in the Feb. 16 “Talk” about plans for “Rockefeller City…”
…and as we know, this was to become the famed Rockefeller Center, a complex of 19 buildings covering 22 acres between 48th and 51st streets. Led by by John D. Rockefeller Jr., the complex was conceived as an urban renewal project to revitalize Midtown (hard to imagine today). The land was originally envisioned as a site for a new Metropolitan Opera house, but when financing fell through the land’s owner, Columbia University, leased it to Rockefeller. Of the anticipated effect of the project, Ingersoll and Thurber wrote:
And for the record, the Feb. 9 issue featured another name that would shape the future of the city—J. Pierpont Morgan was the subject of a lengthy two-part profile penned by John K. Winkler.
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Shouts & Murmurs
The Feb. 16 marks a significant date on the New Yorker calendar—the first appearance of Alexander Woollcott’s famed “Shouts & Murmurs” column:
Writing in the “Double Take” section in the July 18, 2012 issue of the New Yorker, Jon Michaud notes that “Shouts & Murmurs” was Woollcott’s personal column, appearing weekly in the magazine for five years. Perhaps no person other Harold Ross himself could be more associated with the earliest origins of the magazine — Woollcott was a colleague of Ross’s at Stars and Stripes during the First World War, and introduced Ross to his first wife, Jane Grant, who was also a considerable influence on the early magazine.
Michaud writes that Woollcott used the column “to opine on, lampoon, and attack the culture and society of the day. In his distinct and at times excessive style, he reviewed books, wrote spoofs, distributed gossip, and generally rankled as many people as he could.” Woollcott ended the column in December 1934, but it was revived in 1992 as a regular venue for many notable humorists, and continues to this day.
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Up In Smoke
Jumping back to the Feb. 9 “Talk of the Town,” we have this complaint from the magazine regarding celebrity cigarette endorsements. Although the magazine derived a lot of revenue from cigarette ads, Harold Ross insisted on a strict separation between editorial and advertising, allowing his writers free reign to bite the hands that fed them, if they so wished:
Here’s the offending ad, which was featured in the Feb. 23 issue:
In the Feb. 9 issue, Groucho Marx couldn’t resist getting in on the endorsement action…
…nor could Ross’s old friend George Gershwin, who touted the health benefits of Lucky Strikes in the Feb. 16 issue…
In other ads from the Feb. 16 issue, we find that for all of the technological advances in the 1920s, a decent car heater still eluded automakers. Hence…
…on the other hand, we also have this very up-to-date product—the forerunner of today’s rolling airplane luggage…
…and if you happened to be flying south, you might have first checked in with Helena Rubinstein to make sure you had the right “face fashions”…
And finally our cartoons, all from the Feb. 9 issue. This first is a six-panel series by Al Frueh that originally ran diagonally, top to bottom, across a two-page spread. It took a shot at the self-promoting police commissioner, Grover Whalen, who was not a friend to the New Yorker due to his ham-fisted approach to Prohibition enforcement…
…and Leonard Dove took a shot at some posh folks outside of their urban element…
…and finally, Alan Dunn examined the wages of beauty…
In the early years of the New Yorker, baseball as a sport was almost entirely ignored by the magazine, which otherwise gave exhaustive coverage to polo, yacht racing, tennis, and golf. There were also articles on badminton, rowing, and even auto racing, and college football received a lot of enthusiastic ink. But none for baseball. With the Sept. 22, 1928 issue I think I finally understand why.
It has to do with the New Yorker’s parochial view of the world, so aptly illustrated by Saul Steinberg on the magazine’s March 29, 1976 cover, in which anything beyond the Hudson was essentially terra incognita:
A lot of New York Yankee fans came from “out there,” according to James Thurber in a “Talk of the Town” segment titled “Peanuts and Crackerjack.” Thurber wrote of his experience at a pennant race game between the Yankees and the Philadelphia A’s. The game of baseball was described as something for the out-of-towners who were “a bit mad,” a mass spectacle in which the game itself was of minor importance. In short, it wasn’t cool to be a Yankees fan if you counted yourself among Manhattan’s smart set:
This “Talk” item was written when the Yankees were on the verge of winning their second consecutive World Series championship over the favored St. Louis Cardinals. The 1928 team featured the famed “Murderer’s Row” lineup with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In all, nine players from the ’28 team would be elected to the Hall of Fame, a major league record. But as of the Sept. 22 issue neither the 1927 or ’28 Yankees merited a line in the New Yorker’s sports pages.
Thurber wrote that one could learn much about those in attendance at the game by the way they received Yankee star Babe Ruth:
Thurber proved his point about out-of-towners by noting the origin of license plates in the “army of parked cars” outside of the stadium. He also noted the appearance in the game of an ancient Ty Cobb, who hit a weak fly ball while a few old-time fans looked on in reverence:
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An Eye-dropping Art Collector
The Sept. 22 issue A.H. Shaw profiled “De Medici in Merion” Dr. Albert Barnes, who made his fortune by developing in 1901 (with German chemist Hermann Hille) a silver nitrate-based antiseptic marketed as Argyrol. In the days before antibiotics, Argyrol was used to treat eye infections and prevent newborn infant blindness caused by gonorrhea. The profile featured this rather fearsome illustration by Hugo Gellert:
The lengthy piece detailed Barnes’ coming of age, and how his promotion of Argyrol helped bankroll his famed art collection. A brief excerpt:
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A One-eyed Monster Comes to Life
It’s always interesting to note the mentions of emerging technology in the early New Yorker, including this bit in Howard Brubaker’s column “Of All Things” about the successful broadcast of a “radio-television play.” Brubaker mused about what this new invention might called:
The first television broadcast in July 1928 was not exactly must-see TV. For two hours a day, General Electric’s experimental station W2XB broadcast the image of a 13-inch paper mache Felix the Cat, simply rotating on a turntable.
Then on September 11, 1928, W2XB (with WGY radio providing audio) broadcast a 40-minute one-act melodrama, The Queen’s Messenger. Northern State University’s Larry Wild writes that because TV screens were so small, only an actor’s face or hands could be shown. “The play had only two characters. A female Russian spy and a British Diplomatic Courier. Four actors were used. Two for the character’s faces, and two for their hands.”
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From Our Advertisers
Advertisers were always looking for clever angles to capture the attention of the New Yorker’s upscale readers, including the use of subtle and not-so-subtle racist cues to get their points across. Two examples from the Sept. 22 issue have the makers of Oshkosh trunks helpfully pointing out that their product is not intended for African “natives”…
…or the folks from Longchamps restaurants, who depict the joyless life of a blubber-eating Eskimo as an appropriate juxtaposition to the succulent delicacies awaiting readers at their five New York locations:
We might associate rumble seats with the carefree joys of the Roaring Twenties, but in reality passengers in these jump seats received little protection from the elements (or flying gravel), and the ride was no doubt jarring atop the rear axle. No wonder you needed a special coat:
Our cartoons for Sept. 22 include this whimsy from Gardner Rea…
…and this cartoon by Al Frueh, which depicts the deserted surroundings of the Flatiron Building on Yom Kippur. Robert Mankoff, who served as the New Yorker’s cartoon editor from 1997 to 2017, observed in the Cartoon Desk (Sept. 26, 2012) that “the rapid growth of Jewish-owned businesses in New York made the cartoon relevant in a way that it’s not today. Through modern, politically correct eyes, the cartoon may seem anti-Semitic, but I don’t see it that way. It just depicts the reality of those times, exaggerated for comic effect.”
It what would become a longstanding tradition, the New Yorker marked its third anniversary by featuring the original cover illustration (by Rea Irvin) from Issue No. 1. The New Yorker was a very different magazine by its third year, fat with advertising and its editorial content bolstered by such talents as Peter Arno, E.B. White and Dorothy Parker.
Parker livened up the magazine’s books section, mincing few words as she took on writers both great and not so great.
In the latter category was Aimee Semple McPherson, a 1920s forerunner of today’s glitzy televangelists. In her column “Reading and Writing,” Parker took aim at McPherson — “Our Lady of the Loud-speaker” — who had just published a book titled In the Service of the King.
McPherson was a Pentecostal-style preacher who practiced “speaking in tongues” and faith healing in her services, which drew huge crowds at revival events between 1919 and 1922. She took to the radio in the early 1920s and in 1923 she based her ministry in Los Angeles at her newly completed Angelus Temple, which served as the center of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.
McPherson’s book detailed her conversion and her various hardships, including her mysterious “kidnapping” in 1926. Parker was having none of it:
Parker was referring to events beginning on May 18, 1926, when the evangelist went to Venice Beach for a swim and went missing. Some thought she had drown, others claimed they saw a “sea monster” in the area. McPherson reemerged in June on the Mexico-Arizona border, claiming she had been kidnapped and held captive by three strangers.
Numerous allegations of illicit love affairs targeted McPherson during her years of fame, so some were inclined to believe she went missing in order to engage in a love affair with her sound engineer.
Upon her return to Los Angeles she was greeted by a huge crowd (est. 30,000 to 50,000) that paraded her back to the Angelus Temple. However many others in the city found McPherson’s homecoming gaudy and annoying. A grand jury was subsequently convened to determine if evidence of a kidnapping could be found, but the court soon turned its focus to McPherson herself to determine if she had faked the kidnapping. Parker thought the condition of the preacher’s shoes, after a long trek through the desert, were evidence enough of a sham:
McPherson, who was married three times and twice divorced, died in September 1944 from an apparent overdose of sleeping pills. She was 53. Her son Rolf took over the ministry after her death. Today McPherson’s Foursquare Church has a worldwide membership of about 8 million. It is still based in Los Angeles.
But How Do I Look?
The Feb. 25 issue profiled the young Jascha Heifetz, a Russian-born violin prodigy who seemed more interested in how he looked than in how he performed. An excerpt:
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Speaking of fashion, one of the world’s greatest fashion designers, Paul Poiret, was seeing hard times in the late 1920s with his designs losing popularity in his native France and his formidable fashion empire on the brink of collapse. But Francophile New Yorkers, always hungry for French fashion, greeted Poiret with open arms when he arrived in the city in the fall of 1927.
It is something of a surprise, however, to find this advertisement in the Feb. 25 issue in which Poiret endorses Rayon, a man-made substitute for silk. We don’t usually associate synthetics with haute couture, but then again maybe Poiret just needed the money. Better living through chemistry, as they say…
Also in the issue was a sad, Prohibition-era advertisement that extolled the virtues of an oxymoronic “non-alcoholic vermouth”…
And finally from the Feb. 25 issue, a cartoon by Carl Rose…
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In the March 3 issue “The Talk of the Town” discovered the miracle of television during a visit to the Bell Telephone laboratories.
Lab researchers demonstrated a “receiving grid” with a tiny screen that displayed images broadcast across the expanse of an auditorium:
Another glimpse into the future in the March 3 issue came courtesy illustrator Al Frueh, who offered this fanciful look at the skyscraper of tomorrow:
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“Profile” featured the first installment of a four-part article (by Niven Busch Jr.) on a man who put America on wheels and into traffic jams. Excerpts:
And finally, an analogy that would take on new meaning after the market crash…