Will Wonders Never Cease?

The early New Yorker was known for its fashionably blasé tone, but its writers were often giddy when it came to reporting on technological advances.

April 14, 1928 cover by Sue Williams.

Such was the case with transatlantic telephone service, which before 1927 was the stuff of fantasy. By 1928, the New Yorker marveled at this service by suggesting in “Talk of the Town” that the invention had become matter-of-fact:

The New Yorker correctly prophesied that the telephone’s primary use would be for mundane communications—not much different from how we use smartphones today for selfies, texting and chitchat.

WHAT HO! New York Mayor Jimmy Walker visits with London’s Lord Mayor in a 1927 transatlantic telephone call. The calls were made possible through radio transmission from station to station across the ocean. (NY TIMES)

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Even the first “unofficial” transatlantic conversation, between two unknown American and British engineers, was a fairly routine conversation about the weather and distances between various cities. At one point, however, the American makes this prophetic remark: “Distance doesn’t mean anything anymore. We are on the verge of a very high- speed world….people will use up their lives in a much shorter time, they won’t have to live so long.”

In the same issue, writer Morris Markey gushed about his tour of a radio broadcast facility…

ON  THE AIR WITH MR NEW YORK…A photo of WNYC’s transmitter room on the 25th floor of New York City’s Municipal Building. At left is the founder of the station, Grover A. Whalen, on the phone prior to the station’s opening night ceremonies on July 8, 1924. Whalen described himself as “Mr. New York,” often serving as the city’s official and unofficial greeter of politicians, royalty and celebrities. He served as police commissioner in the 1920s, and later as president of the 1939 World’s Fair. (WNYC)
IN REAL TIME…A live radio play being broadcast at NBC studios in New York. (Wikiwand)

Awed by this technical marvel, Markey described how the station could broadcast its show across the country…

More Evidence Lindy Was Made of Wood

The New Yorker’s reporting on Charles Lindbergh continued with this item in “Talk of the Town” that described a young woman’s dream to fly with the famous pilot. And fly was all she did…

SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP…Charles Lindbergh at home in his cockpit, circa late 1920s. (fbi.gov)

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From the World of Advertising…

Lux Soap continued its string of advertisements in the New Yorker featuring Broadway stars of the day. Among them was actress Mary Ellis…

Mary Ellis was an American star of stage, radio, television, film and opera, best known for her roles in musical theatre. She appeared at the Metropolitan Opera beginning in 1918, later appearing opposite famed tenor Enrico Caruso. On Broadway she was known for creating the title role in Rose-Marie.

Born in 1897, she died in 2003 at the age of 105. She had the distinction of being the last surviving star to perform in a Puccini opera (while Puccini was alive) and the last star to perform opposite Caruso.

SEASONED PERFORMER…1934 E.R. Richie photograph of actress Mary Ellis. (eBay)

Lux soap wasn’t the only company exploiting celebrities for sales. Cigarette companies also sought endorsements from prominent women to exploit the new and rapidly growing market of female smokers. This ad below from the April 14 issue featured Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, a Swiss-born American socialite best known as the mother of fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt and grandmother of CNN journalist Anderson Cooper:

SHE ALSO SHILLED FOR COLD CREAM…Edward Steichen photograph of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt for a Pond’s Cold Cream testimonial campaign, 1925. (library.duke.edu)

In a famous custody battle in 1934, Vanderbilt lost custody of her daughter to her sister-in-law Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and the court also removed Vanderbilt as administrator of her daughter’s trust fund, her only means of support. From the 1940s until her death at age 60 in 1965 she lived with her identical twin sister, Thelma, also known as the Viscountess Furness.

In another portrait of the upper classes, Barbara Shermund takes a peek into the drawing room of a less than cerebral hostess…

Next Time: The Last Dance…

 

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Those of us who still remember cigarette ads on television will recognize the tagline that heads this blog–“You’ve come a long way, baby,” was the jingle for Virginia Slims–which in 1968 was a new, thin cigarette from Phillip Morris marketed specifically to women.

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October 29, 1927 cover by Julian de Miskey.

The campaign launched by the Leo Burnett Agency sought to make Virginia Slims an “aspirational” brand for the liberated woman of the Swinging 60s…

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These ads from 1968 announced a new cigarette for the liberated woman. (flashbak.com)

Forty years earlier, the folks at Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company also thought they could trade on the image of the Jazz Age’s liberated woman with this famous ad from 1926:

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(History News Network)

Although the woman in the ad was not smoking, a taboo had been broken by merely suggesting she might be a smoker. The New Yorker first explored this topic in their July 24, 1926 issue, with this item in “The Talk of the Town”…

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In the Oct. 29, 1927 issue they returned to the topic in the “Talk” column, now that advertisers had gone a step further and actually depicted women with lighted cigarettes between their fingers:

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BRAZEN…Ads from 1927 depicting women smoking Old Gold and Marlboro cigarettes.

The Oct. 29, 1927, New Yorker itself featured ads with women smokers, including this installment in a series for Old Gold by cartoonist Clare Briggs…

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…and this ad for the the tipless Smokador ashtray, which was featured in many issues of the New Yorker

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What Flattery Will Get You

In addition to women smokers, the New Yorker was also agog about a visit to the city by the great French fashion designer Paul Poiret, who upon his arrival proclaimed American women to be the best-dressed in the world:

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THE LIBERATOR…Paul Poiret on a stroll with models, circa 1930. Poiret led a fashion renaissance that introduced free-flowing dresses and “harem pants.” He is often credited with liberating women from the corset. (trendmano.blog.hu)

Perhaps Poiret’s flattery of American women could be attributed to the fact that his designs had lost popularity in France after World War I, and his fashion empire was on the brink of collapse. (Indeed, his fashion house would close in 1929). However today he is recognized as the first great modernist in fashion design, often compared to Picasso in terms of the contributions he made to his field.

The New Yorker took advantage of his visit to the city by featuring him in a lengthy profile in the Oct. 29 issue, written by Paris correspondent Janet Flanner under the pseudonym “Hippolyta.” Despite Poiret’s diminished presence in France, Flanner nevertheless understood his enormous contribution to modern fashion design. She concluded her profile with this observation:

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Something Fishy

The New Yorker appealed to young, upscale urban dwellers, so it was no wonder that Harper’s Bazar advertised in the magazine, including this ad in the Oct. 29, 1927 issue that announced the debut in its pages of the English artist known as “Fish”…

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Anne Harriet Fish (1890-1964) was famed for her witty depictions of high society in Condé Nast’s Vanity Fair and The Tatler, where she began work in 1914. A rival “smart set” magazine, Harper’s Bazar, was eager to boast that it had finally “landed” the Fish.

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A February 1916 Vanity Fair cover by A. H. Fish. (Condé Nast)

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Broadway Ballet

The Oct. 29 “Talk of the Town” noted that Albertina Rasch and her ballet dancers were making quite a splash on Broadway. Her success in staging dances for Flo Ziegfeld’s “Follies” and George White’s “Scandals” would lead to a career in Hollywood, where she would be instrumental in elevating the role of dance director to what we now call a choreographer. Among her many firsts, she is credited with helping to establish Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” as a popular standard by incorporating it into a dance in the 1935 film Jubilee.

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The Albertina Rasch Dancers in costume for Rio Rita (1927). (songbook1.wordpress.com)

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Where Were You Last Year?

Writing under the pseudonym “Constant Reader,” Dorothy Parker penned a vigorous defense of Ernest Hemingway’s short fiction in the “Books” section of the Oct. 29 issue. Specifically she took issue with critics who continued to rave about Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, but mostly ignored a collection of short stories he had previously published under the title In Our Time.

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HE’S PRETTY GOOD…Ernest Hemingway in 1927, shortly after publication of his novel The Sun Also Rises. At right, Dorothy Parker in the 1920s. (NY Daily News/Bookriot)

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And finally, Barbara Shermund explored the intersection of high culture and flapper culture in this cartoon…

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Next Time: Death Avenue Days…

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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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Île-de-France

On June 22, 1927, the legendary French ocean-liner, the Île-de-France, traveled from Le Havre to New York on its maiden voyage, soon to be greeted by the American media and the thousands who would crowd the docks at New York Harbor to see the great ship.

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June 25, 1927 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Among those anticipating the visit was the New Yorker, which offered this account in “The Talk of the Town” for the June 25, 1927 issue:

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PRIDE OF FRANCE…Postcard image of the Île-de-France from 1935. During a post-war refurbishment, the three funnels were replaced with a pair of stockier, more stylish funnels. (Wikipedia)

The Île-de-France was unique in that it was the first ocean-liner to have an interior design that didn’t imitate “shore-style” interiors that resembled rooms in manor houses or grand hotels. The trend-setting ship sported a modern, sleek, art deco look that celebrated the present and the future.

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IN WITH THE NEW…The Main Foyer & Grand Staircase of the Île-de-France,(newyorksocialdiary.com)
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LEAVE YOUR FLIP-FLOPS AT HOME…The first-class dining room in the Île-de-France. (newyorksocialdiary.com)

Note that these photos do not contain images of water slides or all-you-can eat buffets. An ocean voyage, if you could afford it, was an elegant affair. The Île-de-France was especially popular among wealthy Americans who liked its stylish, youthful vibe.

The Île-de-France served as a troop ship during World War II, and in 1956 played a major role in rescuing passengers from the sinking Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket.

Unfortunately, anything that is youthful soon grows old, and as we all know, style is an ephemeral thing. With the advent of transatlantic jet transport, ships like the Île-de-France fell out of favor, and by 1960 the grand ocean liner was reduced to serving as a floating prop for a disaster movie titled The Last Voyage. The filmmakers partially sunk the poor ship, set fires and detonated explosions in the interior, and in a final act of desecration dropped one for the ship’s smoke stacks onto its deck house.

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NOT A BUFFET IN SIGHT…Still from the 1960 movie, The Last Voyage, shot on board the soon-to-be-scrapped Île-de-France. (Screen shot from movie trailer)
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FIERY END…Fires were set in the interior of the Île-de-France during the filming of The Last Voyage. (Screen shot from movie trailer)
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BROUGHT TO ITS KNEES…The Île-de-France (named the SS Clarion in the movie) is partially sunk with its forward funnel collapsed in a still from the film, The Last Voyage.

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The Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray murder trial and sentencing captivated Americans in 1927, but another trial and sentencing in the 1920s would bring worldwide attention and spark mass protests.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born Americans who were convicted of murdering a paymaster and guard during a robbery of a Boston-area shoe company in 1920. Although convicted of murder the following year, many critics of trial believed Sacco and Vanzetti, who held anarchist views, were innocent of the charges, and the case became one of largest causes célèbres in modern history with protests held on their behalf in major cities across the U.S. and around the world.

Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in handcuffs, circa 1920s. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images).
Cause Célèbre…Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti handcuffed together at the Dedham, Massachusetts Superior Court, 1923. (Boston Public Library).

Sentenced to death in April 1927, they would be executed the following August. The New Yorker, predisposed to look down on Boston as something of a backwater, had this to say about the trial in an article by Gerald Day for the “Reporter at Large” column:

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The case also rekindled memories of other notorious trials:

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The governor did appoint a commission to review the case, but the final decision was in his hands…

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And so the only option left for Sacco and Vanzetti was clemency from the governor. More on this in another blog entry.

To close, a few illustrations from some of the magazine’s mainstay artists…this one from Johan Bull used to illustrate an article on the U.S. Open:

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…and keeping with the golf theme, this comic panel by Julian de Miskey…

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…and finally, a little fun with Barbara Shermund and her comment on social mores of the day:

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Next Time: Fifteen Minutes is Quite Enough…

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