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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Babe Comes Home

After months of reporting on polo, golf, tennis and yacht races, the New Yorker finally mentioned baseball–sort of–reviewing a movie featuring Babe Ruth and penning a brief piece about Lou Gehrig in “The Talk of the Town.”

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August 6, 1927 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

But the magazine still made no mention of the incredible season that was shaping up for the legendary 1927 New York Yankees, or the feats of its feared  “Murderer’s Row” lineup. Although widely considered to be the best baseball team in the history of major league baseball, the New Yorker up to this point had given more ink to the game of ping pong. But we’ll take what we can get, namely Babe Ruth’s acting performance in Babe Comes Home…

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BETTER STICK TO BASEBALL…Lobby card for the 1927 film, Babe Comes Home, featuring Anna Q. Nilsson and The Bambino himself. (posterscancollections.com)

…and over in “The Talk of the Town” section the editors looked at another Yankee slugger, Lou Gehrig, who besides his hitting ability was Ruth’s opposite…

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MOM & APPLE PIE…Lou Gehrig and his mother, Christina, in 1927. (baseballfever.com)

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With the hullabaloo over Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, more Americans were becoming interested in flying as an actual travel option, although in August 1927 New York City had only one established passenger line:

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HUMBLE BEGINNINGS…On April 15, 1927, Colonial Air Transport (a predecessor of American Airlines) began passenger service between Boston and New York City. (Boston Globe)
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SORRY, NO WI-FI…National Air Transport, a predecessor of United Airlines and a prime mail carrier, brought the Travelair 5000 to their minimal fleet in 1927 to add passenger revenue to its Midwestern and Western hops that linked Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno and San Francisco. (traveler.com)

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The August  6 issue also featured this strange little review in “Talk” about the popularity (or fad) of attending Chinese theater. Note how the writer described it as an exotic curiosity, as though the Chinese actors were as unknowable as Martians. I suppose it didn’t occur to the writer that you could actually speak to these performers, and have them explain the meanings of the various rituals.

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OFF-BROADWAY…Actor Ma Shi-tsang posing with a riding crop in a 1920s publicity photo. Chinese theater actors performed in U.S. cities with large Chinese populations, including San Francisco and New York. (cdlib.org)

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And to close, a couple of cartoons from the issue by Barbara Shermund that illustrated two very different aspects of New York society:

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Next Time: An Office Romance…

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The Sporting Life

One of the strangest things about the fall 1926 issues of The New Yorker is the almost complete absence of baseball coverage, even though the 1926 Yankees had turned things around from an abysmal 1925 season and found themselves in the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

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November 20, 1926 cover by Andre De Schaub.

The Yankee’s star Babe Ruth had recovered his health from the previous season and played exceptional all-around baseball in 1926, even setting a World Series record of three homers in the fourth game. According to (now disputed) newspaper reports at the time, Ruth had promised a sickly boy named Johnny Sylvester that he would hit a home run for him in Game 4. The papers reported that after Ruth’s three-homers, the boy’s condition miraculously improved.

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SNUBBED…Babe Ruth knocked in three homers during Game 4 of the exciting 1926 World Series, an event completely ignored by the football-crazed New Yorker. (Bronx Banter)

The Yankees would lose the series in seven games (it would be the first of the Cardinals’ 11 WS championships), but nevertheless the season represented a dramatic turnaround for the team.

But The New Yorker was obsessed with college football, mostly Ivy League contests and the exploits of Knute Rockne and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

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Johan Bull provided lively illustrations for Tunis’s columns.

Sportswriter John Tunis cranked out lengthy accounts of football games, including the Princeton-Yale contest covered in the Nov. 20, 1926 issue.

The same issue also included an article by Herbert Reed, who wrote about Notre Dame’s victory over Army at Yankee Stadium and proclaimed the Fighting Irish to be the greatest team in the country.

The New Yorker caught the Notre Dame bug the previous season. When attendance dropped at Yankee Stadium due to an ailing Babe Ruth and his team’s losing record, college football took center stage at the stadium that fall, with the fiercely competitive Notre Dame–Army game the marquee match-up (the rivals would continue their annual meeting at Yankee Stadium until 1947).

The “other” game–professional football–was still in its infancy, and the editors of “The Talk of Town” made it clear that the college atmosphere was more to their liking. It is interesting that even today when fans compare college to pro football, the same observations are made:

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STAR ATTRACTION…After playing his first professional season with the Chicago Bears, in 1926 Red Grange joined the short-lived New York Yankees professional football team. (ourgame.mlb)

As for other sports, The New Yorker also offered extensive coverage of tennis, golf, and polo in its issues. And there would also be rowing, boat and auto racing, and steeplechase events such as National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. An advertisement promoting that event appeared on the inside back cover:

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The editors of “Talk of the Town” continued their sad refrain on the city’s changing landscape, the wrecking ball this visiting Gramercy Park:

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The Stanford White house referred to in “The Talk of the Town.”
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The Dining Room ceiling in the Stanford White House came from a 16th century chapel in Florence.
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Gramercy Park Hotel on the site today. (All 3 photos: Daytonian in Manhattan)

And to close, this terrific advertisment for the Greenwich Village Inn, illustrated by Hans Flato:

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Next Time: Holiday Shopping…

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A Castle in Air

Withering under a July heat wave, The New Yorker editors turned their thoughts to the cooling breezes that could be found blowing across the penthouse garden of real estate developer Robert M. Catts.

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The July 31, 1926 cover by Victor Bobritsky offered its own commentary on the heat wave that gripped the city.
The State Capitol Building, Lincoln, With people in street clothes asleep on the lawn during hot days of the 1930's, Picture July 25, 1936
In case you were wondering, city folk (especially apartment dwellers) actually did sleep on the ground in the days before air conditioning. This photo was taken on July 25, 1936, on the lawn of the Nebraska State Capitol Building in Lincoln (Nebraska State Historical Society).

Catts erected the 20-story Park-Lexington office building at 247 Park Avenue in 1922, topping the building with his own penthouse apartment. Located near Grand Central Station, the building was innovative in the way it was built directly over underground railroad tracks leading into the station. The editors of The New Yorker, however, were more impressed by what was on top:

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The “Chinese Library” in the apartment of Robert M. Catts atop the Park-Lexington Building. (halfpuddinghalfsauce.blogspot.com)
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Penthouse apartment of Robert M. Catts atop the Park-Lexington Building. (halfpuddinghalfsauce.blogspot.com)

It was the rooftop garden, however, that sent the editors into a swoon:

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Before World War II the apartment would have other notable tenants who would succeed Catts, including the violinist Jascha Heifitz. The apartment, and the building beneath it, were demolished in 1963 along with the adjoining Grand Central Palace building, which was replaced in 1967 with 245 Park Avenue:

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In other news, Arthur Robinson wrote a somewhat sympathetic profile of Babe Ruth, observing that Ruth’s “thousand and one failings are more than offset by his sheer likableness.”

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Illustration for the “Profile” by Johan Bull.

Curiously, the Yankees were having a better year in 1926, but there was scant mention of baseball in the pages of The New Yorker, the magazine preferring to cover classier sports such as golf, polo, tennis and horse racing. Another sport of interest was yacht racing, with Eric Hatch covering the races at Larchmont augmented by Johan Bull’s illustrations:

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The magazine continued to have fun with the androgynous fashion trends of the Roaring Twenties. This appears to be an early Barbara Shermund cartoon:

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Next Time: The Lights of Broadway…

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The Dramatic Season

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Sept. 5, 1925, cover by James Daugherty.

The writer Michael Arlen was back in pages of The New Yorker on the occasion of his second visit to the U.S. The magazine also heralded his first visit in March 1925, when he was liberally feted by various literary hangers-on and assorted socialites.

This time around Arlen was the guest of Charles Dillingham, “being at the moment deeply engaged in his host’s forthcoming presentation of Mr. Cyril Maude in “The Charming People.” And, between times, casting watchful eyes on “The Green Hat,” whose New York premiere next week comes just in the nick of time to save many of Mr. Arlen’s admirers from collapses fomented by anguished anticipation.”

With Arlen’s return, and with new works by the “youngster” Noel Coward (he was 26), ‘The Talk of the Town” noted that the fall theater season “will have a distinctly British flavor.”

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The young Noel Coward. (Victoria & Albert Museum)

“Talk” called Coward “the rage of the London dramatic season,” in anticipation of his upcoming New York presentations:

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Babe Ruth also returned to “Talk” with another tale of mischief:

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It was also reported that Charlie Chaplin was still playing the melancholy, holed up in his room at the Ritz with his telephone disconnected:

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French tennis star Rene Lacoste was the subject in “Profiles.” John Tunis wrote, “The French are supposed to be a volatile people. Rene Lacoste us about as volatile as Swiss cheese. His is the most perfect self-control imaginable; both on the court and off, his is the demeanor of a real champion…he will go a very long way.”

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Rene Lacoste was one of “The Four Musketeers” with Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, and Henri Cochet, French tennis stars who dominated the game in the 1920s and early 1930s. He won seven Grand Slam singles titles at the French, American, and British championships, and was the World’s No. 1 player for both 1926 and 1927. Today he is still known worldwide as the creator of the Lacoste tennis shirt, which he introduced in 1929. (Biography.com)

“Moving Pictures” announced the arrival of the German film Siegfried at the Century Theatre. An advertisement in the magazine proclaimed that a “Symphonic Orchestra of 60 musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Co. render a special score compiled with Wagner’s Immortal Music…”

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Still from 1924’s Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (UFA)

In my last post I wrote about Raoul Fleischmann’s investment in The New Yorker, and how his initial $25,000 led to subsequent infusions of hundreds of thousands of dollars. No doubt in an effort to recoup some of his investment, he started placing these full-page ads in the magazine that promoted health benefits of consuming his company’s product: yeast.

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Next time: Issue #30: A Magazine’s Merry Ride

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