Dorothy Parker Goes to the Movies

Dorothy Parker turned her jaded eye to the latest big thing — talking pictures — and in the Sept. 1, 1928 issue she joined her New Yorker colleagues in a collective yawn at the technology that was dramatically transforming cinema.

Sept. 1, 1928 cover by Helen Hokinson.

In a feature titled “Out of the Silence,” Parker mused about the changes facing former silent stars…

…and seemed unconvinced that the talking pictures, at least to date, were any real improvement over the silents, including a performance by her Algonquin Round Table pal and New Yorker colleague Robert Benchley, who seemed but a talking simulacrum:

HIS SCREEN VERSION…Robert Benchley delivers his comedy sketch The Treasurer’s Report in a short 1928 Movietone film. Benchley portrayed a nervous assistant treasurer struggling to present an organization’s yearly report. (YouTube screen shot)

Parker attended a matinee at a jam-packed Warner Theatre, where folks paid a dollar apiece for standing room only to witness a series of shorts and a feature-length film, all presented with sound:


One of the shorts featured a performance by female impersonator George Francis Peduzzi, known professionally as Karyl Norman, “The Creole Fashion Plate,” followed by a performance from violinist Albert Spaulding:

WHAT A DRAG…Dorothy Parker was underwhelmed by Karyl Norman’s performance in a Vitaphone short. He is pictured here in a 1924 publicity photo, dressed as “The Creole Fashion Plate.” (queermusicheritage.com)

What Parker was subjecting herself to was the Vitaphone Varieties, described by North Carolina Museum of Art film curator Laura Boyes as “the last gasps of vaudeville.”

Boyes writes that many vaudevillians stepped off the stage to immortalize their acts on film in the early days of the talkies. They were produced in Brooklyn between 1927 and 1929 using the Vitaphone method (large recorded discs synchronized with the film) “at a time when the major studios hoped that the talkies were just a passing fad.” She notes that “talkies would eventually put this style of theater completely out of business, and Vitaphone shorts literally became the place where Vaudeville went to die. Many of the people in these short films were obscure at the time, and they are doubly obscure now.”

As for the main feature, The Terror, the only terror Parker felt was the fear of being bored to death:

SOUND AND FURY, SIGNIFYING NOTHING…Dorothy Parker found The Terror to be unexciting, its sound effects a “racket.” But for the record, it was the first all-talking horror film. (IMDB)

Parker concluded that “talking pictures are marvels of invention,” but “a bad show is a bad show, synchronize it how you will.”

Coming of Age in Samoa

Social critic and humorist Baird Leonard took the honors as book reviewer for the Sept. 1 issue, offering a brief, humorous endorsement of Margaret Mead’s landmark Coming of Age in Samoa, in which the famed anthropologist explored the link between culture and psychosexual development among the island’s adolescents. Leonard found much to like about the book, and particularly Mead’s observations on the separation of youth from adult activities in Samoan culture (it would enhance his bridge-playing enjoyment):

GOING NATIVE…Margaret Mead sitting between two Samoan girls, ca. 1926. (Library of Congress).

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Writer Cameron Rogers profiled American sculptor Paul Manship, who was an important contributor to Art Deco style, and is perhaps best known for his iconic Prometheus sculpture at Rockefeller Center in New York. Rogers made these closing observations about Manship, noting that the artist’s success netted him about $60,000 a year — close to $850,000 today (These days, someone like showman/artist Jeff Koons, who makes giant shiny balloon animal sculptures, among other things, has a net worth of at least $100 million).

PROMETHEUS, gilded cast bronze by Paul Manship, 1934, at Rockefeller Center. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

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From Our Advertisers

I find it interesting when one magazine advertises in another, especially when an older magazine like the Outlook (founded in 1893) advertises in an upstart like the New Yorker. But then again, the publishers of the Outlook were looking to breathe new life into their stodgy journal, and what better way than to announce that their “conservative girl” was now a modern, grown-up woman with a new Jazz Age look and an attitude to match. And it was no coincidence that they hired the New Yorker’s Rea Irvin to illustrate their point.

OUTLOOK magazine was first published as The Christian Union in 1870, changing its name to Outlook in 1893 when it shifted its focus from religious subjects to social and political issues. The magazine folded in 1935. (Pinterest)

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Our cartoon is by Peter Arno, who continued to explore the lighter moments of New York night life…

Next Time: Mussolini’s Romance Novel…

 

A Familiar Ring

Ring Lardner is one of those 20th century American writers everyone has heard of but few have actually read. This is perhaps because he is often pigeonholed as a sportswriter rather than being remembered as a gifted satirist whose crisp writing style—often peppered with slang—influenced a generation of writers including Ernest Hemingway, who covered sports for his high school newspaper under the pseudonym “Ring Lardner.”

July 7, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Lardner would contribute nearly two dozen pieces to the New Yorker beginning with this ditty in the April 18, 1925 issue—

—and ending with “Odd’s Bodkins,” published posthumously in the Oct. 7, 1933 issue (Lardner died at age 48 of a heart ailment on Sept. 25, 1933). In his satirical “Profiles” piece for the July 7, 1928 issue, Lardner had some fun with editor and playwright Beatrice Kaufman, who like Lardner existed within the orbit of the famed Algonquin Round Table but was not a regular member (however Beatrice’s husband, playwright and director George S. Kaufman, was a charter member).

The entire piece, including an illustration by Peter Arno, is below (click image to enlarge the text):

Ring Lardner in undated photo, possibly mid 1920s (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
KAUFMAN CHUMS…Comedian Julius Tannen (left) frolics with Beatrice Kaufman and George S. Kaufman in Atlantic City in the 1920s; writer/critic Alexander Woollcott (left), artist Neysa McMein, actor Alfred Lunt, Beatrice Kaufman and comedian Harpo Marx hanging out in the 1920s. (spartacus-educational.com)

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One New Yorker writer who does stand the test of time is E.B. White, known to earlier generations for his many humorous contributions to the New Yorker and to later generations for his co-authorship of the English language reference The Elements of Style, and for his beloved children’s books including Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web (Charlotte’s Web was often voted as the top children’s novel in a survey of School Library Journal readers, and most recently in 2012—the 60th anniversary of its publication). In the July 7, 1928 issue the nature-loving White offered these tongue-in-cheek plant care instructions, arranged atop a cartoon by Alan Dunn:

Another cartoon in the July 7 issue by Garrett Price offered another perspective on an advertising come-on:

No doubt Price was referencing ads such as this one below by the American Tobacco Company in which actress and dancer Gilda Gray—who in the 1920s popularized a dance called the “shimmy”—announced her preference for pipe smokers:

And we close with this cartoon by Al Frueh, who demonstrated how fashion had freed the woman of the Roaring Twenties:

Interested in the history of New Yorker cartoons and cartoonists? Then I recommend you check out cartoonist Michael Maslin’s Inkspill website for news on cartoonists and events. Another great site is Stephen Nadler’s Attempted Bloggery, which explores original art, auctions, obscurities and other angles of New Yorker cartoons and cartoonists.

A couple of my favorite Maslin cartoons (among many):

Next Time: 100 Percent Talker…

Wits of the Round Table

Two big voices from the famed Algonquin Round Table were prominently featured in the Oct. 1 and Oct. 8, 1927 issues of the New Yorker–journalist and champion of the underdog Heywood Broun wrote his own “Profile” under the title, “The Rabbit That Bit the Bulldog,” and Dorothy Parker served up biting satire in “Arrangement in Black and White,” a clever exposé of racism among the fashionably “open-minded” upper classes.

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October 1, 1927 cover by Gardner Rea.

The Rabbit That Bit the Bulldog

Hiding under the signature “R.A.”, Heywood Broun was merciless as his own profiler, describing himself as a coward, hypochondriac, and a slob (there is truth to the latter, however, as friends often likened him to “an unmade bed”).

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Broun cut his teeth in journalism as a sportswriter and war correspondent. In 1921 he went to work for the New York World, where he penned his popular syndicated column “It Seems to Me.” Broun’s New Yorker “Profile” was written after he was fired from the World following a disagreement with his editor over his critical commentary on the sentencing of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. Broun would move on to The Nation, where he would write a regular column, “It Seems to Heywood Broun,” that would offer criticism on a number of topics including his former employer, the World.

Original caption: Matthew Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, photographed working at his desk. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
IN HIS ELEMENT…Heywood Broun at work, circa 1930. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

The New Yorker profile included this caricature by Peter Arno…

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…a portrayal Broun claimed was inaccurate due to his “habitual stoop,” among other faults…

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…and he mused about his future with the Nation, and how that august publication would square with his various foibles…

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…and as for his personal appearance and habits, Broun weighed in thusly…

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Broun married social activist Ruth Hale in 1917. A son born the following year, Heywood Hale Broun, would have a long and successful career as an author, sportswriter, commentator and actor.

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The Long Count

Oddly, the New Yorker had little to say about the famous Chicago rematch between heavyweight boxers Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey, which Tunney won after the controversial “long count.” The fight took place under new rules that gave a fallen fighter 10 seconds to rise to his feet, but the count would not begin until his opponent moved to a neutral corner.

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DAZED AND CONFUSED…Referee Dave Barry motions Jack Dempsey to a neutral corner before he begins his count. Tunney got back up and went on to win the fight. (Chicago Tribune archive photo)

Although Tunney dominated the fight, Dempsey unleashed a flurry in the seventh round that knocked Tunney to the canvas–it was the first time in Tunney’s career that he’d been knocked down. Instead of going immediately to a neutral corner, Dempsey just stood and observed his opponent for several seconds until finally retreating. Those extra seconds proved just enough time to allow Tunney to return to his feet and eventually win the bout. To one observer quoted in “The Talk of Town,” those extra seconds really dragged…

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From the Ad Department

We feature this advertisement for Faultless Nobelt Pajamas. Apparently these special PJs had some sort of newfangled rubber elastic band…

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…an this cartoon from the Oct. 1 issue featured Helen Hokinson’s ditsy, plump society women at New York’s Fashion Week…

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Dorothy Takes On the Snobs

In the Oct. 8 issue, our other Round Table wit, Dorothy Parker, took aim at the less savory aspects of society women in her short fiction piece, “Arrangement in Black and White.”

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October 8, 1927 cover by Rea Irvin.

Parker began her piece by introducing us to a woman who enters a party wearing a wreath of “pink velvet poppies” in her golden hair. In short order she asks the party’s host to “pretty please” introduce her to the party’s guest of honor, an African American singer named Walter Williams.

The woman with the pink velvet poppies goes on to tell her host that she came to the party alone because her husband, Burton, preferred not to socialize with “colored people”–but she however was “simply crazy” about some of them. “They’re just like children–just as easy-going, and always singing and laughing and everything.” Before she met the singer she observed to the host:

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The woman with the pink velvet poppies meets the singer Walter Williams, as illustrated by Peter Arno.

Then the woman with the pink velvet poppies meets Walter Williams:

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She continues to patronize the guest of honor, then notices a stage actress at the party:

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Finally, the host guides the woman with the pink velvet poppies away from Walter Williams…

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BITING WIT…Dorothy Parker in the 1920s.

We will see more of Dorothy Parker in issues to come as she continues to take aim at the hollow, pretentious, hypocritical, self-absorbed snobs of the Jazz Age and beyond.

Baseball’s Lament

The Oct. 1 and 8 issues covered yacht racing, polo, tennis, golf and college football, but still no baseball. The 1927 New York Yankees would be one of the greatest teams of all time, but as the World Series commenced all we got from the New Yorker was a personality profile of Yankees manager Miller Huggins in the Oct. 8 issue (with a drawing by Reginald Marsh)…screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-1-24-05-pm

…and this advertisement for “Sport Glasses” for those attending the World Series…

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Perhaps the New Yorker had no one on staff who could competently write about baseball. The strangest reference to the game was this article about polo, but for some reason it was illustrated with baseball images. Perhaps the editors felt sheepish about their lack of baseball coverage, and offered these illustrations as a token acknowledgement…

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At any rate, we end with this cartoon by Julien de Miskey, who like his colleagues explored the comic richness of wealthy old men paired with their young mistresses…

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Next Time: The Ephemeral City…

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Fun With Harold

The Nov. 6, 1926 issue of The New Yorker was actually two issues, one for the newsstands and subscribers and the other a rare parody issue privately published and presented to founding editor Harold Ross on his 34th birthday.

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The cover of the “official” issue (left) for November 6, 1926, was illustrated by William Troy, the parody issue by Rea Irvin.

The parody issue’s cover featured a silhouette of Ross (drawn by Rea Irvin, as “Penaninsky”) in the pose of dandy Eustace Tilley, looking at spider bearing a strong resemblance to Alexander Woollcott, an American critic and commentator for The New Yorker who first met Ross overseas when the two worked on the fledgling Stars and Stripes newspaper.

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Alexander Woollcott and Harold Ross (Britannica; Jane Grant Collection, University of Oregon)

Ralph Barton’s contribution to the parody issue…

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(From About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, By Ben Yagoda)

…and an unsigned contribution that took a poke at Ross’s efforts to create efficient procedures at the magazine’s office:

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Excerpt from Defining New Yorker Humor, by Judith Yaross Lee

In the other Nov. 6 issue, “The Talk of the Town” editors commented on the death of the famed magician Harry Houdini:

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ONE OF HIS FINAL ACTS…Houdini appearing before a Senate committee to expose fake spiritualists in February 1926. (Granger.com)

“Talk” also noted a new book called Elmer Gantry was being penned by Sinclair Lewis:

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The book was a biting satire of the hypocrisy of fanatical preachers during the 1920s. It created a public furor when it was published in 1927. Another “Talk” item mocked the taste of wealthy New Yorkers for the latest exotic gadgets…

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…but the same issue was also filled with the usual advertisements appealing to those very same desires of the “Smart” set. Here’s a couple of gems, so to speak…

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Next Time: The Cotton Club & Other Distractions…

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Life of a Rum Runner

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March 6 cover by S.W. Reynolds

Although they didn’t know it, thirsty New Yorkers still had more than six and half of years of Prohibition to endure, and business was brisk for the rum runners who plied the coastal waters.

The March 6, 1926 issue featured the article “Rum Runners Must Live,” in which writer Emile C. Schnurmacher described the heroic efforts of bootleggers and rum runners in keeping New York’s countless speakeasies (and many home liquor cabinets) well stocked. Some 30,000 speakeasies were opened in New York City alone during the Prohibition era.

Schnurmacher described the risky game of running “overboard stuff:”

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He told of how one rum-running boat, the Sea Bird, made its way through Flushing Bay (to pick up bootleg Scotch) while evading the Coast Guard:

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The boat later successfully delivered the “Scotch” near Yankee Stadium:

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“The Talk of the Town” offered its regular update on bootleg prices. The local “synthetic” gin was reported to be of better quality than the imports, surprising given that synthetics poisoned a good number of folks back then:

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The blog Speakeasy Science notes that during Prohibition, police department chemists, “analyzing the so-called gin in the Brooklyn bar and around the city, reported that much of it was industrial alcohol, re-distilled to try to remove the wood alcohol content. The re-distilling was not notably successful. The poisonous alcohol remained and there was more: the chemists had detected traces of kerosene and mercury, and disinfectants including Lysol and carbolic acid in the beverages.”

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HE HAD THE GOOD STUFF…Not all bootleg was poison. Until he was busted in 1923 by government agents, one of the most famous purveyors to wealthy buyers was rum-runner William McCoy. (US Coast Guard)
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In order to destroy evidence, the crew of the rum-runner Linwood set fire to their vessel after being pursued by a patrol boat. (Photo circa 1923, U.S. Coast Guard)

In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long (who imbibed her share of bootleg alcohol) paid a visit to the Algonquin hotel and took some playful swipes at the denizens the famed Round Table:

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IS THAT YOU DOUG? Silent screen star Douglas Fairbanks could relax unmolested in the quiet confines of the Algonquin. (Meredy.com)

At the movies, Theodore Shane took deadly aim at the silent film version of the opera La Bohème:

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A “pop-eyed” John Gilbert and Lillian Gish in the 1926 silent film version of La Bohème.

And finally, Al Frueh’s sympathetic take on the wintertime toils of the rich:

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Next time: A Technicolor World…

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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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Making of a Magazine

Before we jump into the autumn issues of 1925, I want to briefly look back at The New Yorker’s first summer, when the magazine limped along week to week but managed to survive thanks to a fortuitous meeting between Harold Ross and Raoul Fleischmann during a bridge game.

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Harold Ross and Jane Grant in 1926 (University of Oregon Libraries)

According to Thomas Kunkel’s book, Genius in DisguiseFleischmann was the wealthy scion of a New York yeast and baking family, and a frequent guest of the Algonquin Round Table. He hated the baking business, so when Ross pitched the idea of investing in his new magazine, Fleischmann obliged with $25,000. Ross and his wife, Jane Grant, together put up the other $25,000 (which included some IOU’s), but after the magazine was launched and struggled during its first months, Fleischmann was further obliged to pour in many hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the magazine afloat (and in spite teasing from his friends that he might as well dump the money in the river).

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Raoul Herbert Fleischmann with a woman identified as “Bride Mrs. Louis D. Munds” in a United Air Lines photo from Nov 30, 1939. (Oakland Museum of California)

The magazine was actually killed as early as May 8, when Fleischmann called Ross and other magazine directors together after Ross lost a large amount of money in a poker game (money he’d plan to invest in the magazine).

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Cover for July 11, 1925, by Bertrand Zadig. Funds were so scarce that the cover was printed in black and white.

Fortunately, the following day was fellow Round Tabler Franklin P. Adams’ wedding, and in the convivial atmosphere Ross and Fleishmann agreed to give the magazine another go.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the magazine struggled mightily through the summer, with thin issues featuring in-house promotional ads that claimed the most prime advertising spots (including inside front and back covers).

However, the house ads were clever and fun to read, as Kunkel explains:

To help camouflage the dearth of advertising, Ross asked (New Yorker humor writer) Corey Ford to come up with some promotional, or “house” ads. Ford’s response was the “Making of the Magazine” series, which not only represented some of the cleverest writing in the 1925 New Yorker but went a long way toward establishing the magazine’s droll, self-deprecating tone… Each article was accompanied by a Johann Bull illustration featuring the ubiquitous (Eustace) Tilley, who was based on the Rea Irvin dandy (who was featured on the magazine’s first cover). Ford had simply made up the moniker (“’Tilley’ was the name of a maiden aunt,” he explained, “and I chose ‘Eustace’ because it sounded euphonious”), and soon it came to be identified with Irvin’s monocled figure. Tilley began turning up by name in Talk items and Ross listed him in the telephone directory.

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The creator of the name “Eustace Tilley,” humorist Corey Ford was an avid outdoorsman who would go on to write a monthly column for Field & Stream in the 1950s and 60s. (Image from 1952 True magazine)

More than 20 of these house ads were featured through the end of 1925. What follows are the first ads in the series from issues dated August 8, 15, 22, 29.

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