Down to Coney

The New Yorker kicked off the summer season with a trip down to Coney Island. Writing for “The Talk of the Town,” editor Harold Ross took in the various sights and amusements at the famed Steeplechase and Luna parks.

June 23, 1928 cover by Leonard Dove.

Attractions at Steeplechase Park included everything from racing wooden horses to a “human billiard table.” Less jolly diversions included air jets that blew up  women’s skirts and clowns who administered electric shocks to unsuspecting visitors (one more reason to fear them). And there was at least one racist game of skill…

FEAR THE CLOWN…A photo from the 1940s shows a pair of clowns “help” a woman through the entrance to Steeplechase Park’s Insanitarium and Blowhole Theatre. Located in the Pavilion of Fun, visitors were led through Comedy Lane, which featured jets of compressed air intended to lift skirts. Clowns spanked patrons and even zapped them with a cattle prod. (worth point.com)
Clockwise, from upper left: A Steeplechase rider passes in front of the massive Pavilion of Fun; interior of the Pavilion of Fun; young women preparing to be spun around on the Human Billiard Table; scene from the 1928 Harold Lloyd movie Speedy filmed in the Pavilion of Fun (westland.net, CardCow, houseoftoomuchtrouble.tumblr.com, safetylast.tumblr.com) click to enlarge
OUT FOR A SPIN…Harold Lloyd and Ann Christy take a spin on the Pavilion of Fun’s Human Roulette Wheel in the 1928 film Speedy. (spellboundbymovies.com)
TRUMPED…Coney Island’s landmark Pavilion of Fun at Steeplechase Park was demolished in 1966 by developer Fred Trump, father of Donald Trump. The young Donald (19 at the time) was on hand for his father’s “Demolition Party,” which featured scantily clad models who paraded in front of the park and encouraged guests to throw bricks at the stained glass windows of the historic pavilion. Later that night Trump bulldozed the amusement park to the ground, thereby limiting any pending proceedings to declare the property a historic landmark. (Daily Telegraph/Untapped Cities)

Over at Luna Park there were more air holes to blow up women’s skirts and assorted freak shows. More wholesome entertainments included the famed Cyclone rollercoaster, which celebrated its 90th year of operation in 2017.

DREAMLAND…Luna Park at night in the 1920s. At right, the famed Cyclone Roller Coaster, still going strong at 90. (carouselhistory.com, NY Daily News)

 *  *  *

Writing for the June 23 “Talk of the Town,” Murdock Pemberton anticipated the construction of a new theatre to be developed by famed Austrian director/producer Max Reinhardt and designed by Austrian-American architect, illustrator and scenic designer Joseph Urban:

Unfortunately the market crash of 1929 put an end to the project, which would have looked like this had it been constructed:

Joseph Urban’s unbuilt Reinhardt Theatre. The innovative design incorporated the building’s fire escapes into its glimmering facade. (Columbia University)

Urban designed innovative sets for clients ranging from the Metropolitan Opera to the Ziegfeld Follies (he also designed a theatre for Ziegfeld in 1927, see below). Although he is noted as one of the originators of American Art Deco, most of his architectural work in the United States has been demolished.

RARE REMNANT…Little remains of the work of Joseph Urban, one of the originators of American Art Deco. Fortunately the Tishman Auditorium at the New School still stands. (nycarchitecture.com)
ONLY A MEMORY…Most of Jospeh Urban’s American work has been demolished, including his Ziegfield Theatre from 1927. (nyc-architecture.com)
MAR-A-LAGO…Joseph Urban designed the interiors of one of America’s most famous mansions—Mar-a-Lago. Built from 1924 to 1927 by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, it is now owned by Donald Trump and operated as a members-only club. (Wikipedia)

 *  *  *

The New Yorker continued to struggle with the emergence of “talking pictures.” The critic “O.C.” found that the sound dialogue in The Lion and the Mouse did little to improve the picture:

The critic seemed to believe that sound pictures would take some time to catch on. Little did he know that Warner Brothers would announce later that summer (August 1928) that all of its films for the 1928-29 fiscal year would have sound. United Artists would make the same announcement in November 1928. In February 1929 Twentieth-Century Fox would make its final silent movie, and Columbia would release its last silent movie on April 1, 1929.

OH SHUT UP…Theatre card for The Lion and the Mouse. (Wikipedia)

The New Yorker still found happiness at the movies through the likes of actress Colleen Moore, who made a sweet little film called Happiness Ahead. 

Colleen Moore strikes a contemplative pose in Happiness Ahead. (IMDB)

Colleen Moore was one of the most famous stars of the silent era who popularized the bobbed haircut and flapper style. Personally, I’ve always considered Moore to be a more wholesome version of the flapper, in contrast to the more worldly Louise Brooks, another flapper icon of the Twenties.

VARIATIONS ON A THEME…Actresses Colleen Moore (left) and Louise Brooks defined flapper style in the 1920s. (dorineenvrac.wordpress.com / corvusnoir.com)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Continuing our series on celebrity endorsements of Old Gold cigarettes, none other than the Little Tramp stepped up to take the blindfold test (along with a pile of cash, no doubt):

And if Old Gold is not to your taste, then why not enjoy the “toasted” pleasures of Lucky Strike? Actress Betty Compson found them indispensable when preparing for a big scene:

 *  *  *

And now for something that caught my eye in the June 23 issue…a bit of filler art that broke up some copy on page 34:

This particular illustration was also featured in one of the New Yorker’s earliest issues—March 21, 1925—in a two-part comic panel (below). I am puzzled why the New Yorker, flush with artistic talent by 1928, reused this illustration. Perhaps the layout editors figured since the readership was so small in March 1925, no one would notice.

And we leave with yet another look at some Jazz Age shenanigans, courtesy cartoonist Peter Arno:

Next Time: Summer Breeze…

Coney Island, 1927

The New Yorker welcomed spring with a cover featuring Peter Arno’s popular Whoops Sisters testing the waters at the beach…

37723304ec91b372ae19e57e36b4d4b9
June 18, 1927 cover by Peter Arno, featuring his popular Whoops Sisters.

…and so was the New Yorker, on the south shores of Brooklyn to check out attractions old and new at Coney Island, paying a visit on an “off-day” to check out attractions ranging from incubating babies to the mechanical horse-race at the old Steeplechase:

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-06-43-am

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-06-52-am

78215d_incubatorbabies_alland2502
WEIRD BUT WORTH IT…Incubating babies on display at Coney Island in the early 1900s. At the time, most babies were born at home, so hospitals did not have incubators–considered to be untested (and expensive) equipment. Dr. Martin Couney featured the device in “incubator shows” at various World’s Fairs and as a permanent exhibit at Coney Island from 1903 to 1943. Although he found the public spectacle somewhat distasteful, Couney hoped the exhibits would prove that the new technology actually worked. Paying for staff and machinery through ticket sales, he saved the lives of perhaps 8,000 premature infants at Coney Island. (NY Historical Society)
feltmans_coney_island-3
BEFORE THERE WAS NATHAN’S…Feltmans hot dog stand, circa 1930s. Feltman’s began as a pushcart business on the sand dunes of Coney Island in 1867, operated by German immigrant Charles Feltman, considered the inventor of the hot dog on a bun. By 1920 Feltman’s Ocean Pavilion covered a whole city block and served more than 5 million customers a year. (digital commonwealth.org)
coney-island-steeplechase-postcard-ca-19152
OFF TO THE RACES…Riders astride mechanical horses prepare to compete in the popular Coney Island Steeplechase in this postcard image circa 1915. (carouselhistory.com)
cyclone-britanica
LANDMARK…Coney Island’s famed Cyclone roller coaster opened in 1927. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
romantic-luna-park-evening-coney-island-1920s
ONE MILLION lights brightened Coney Island’s Luna Park on a summer evening in the 1920s. (carouselhistory.com)

Of course not everything was as dazzling as Luna Park at night. Like any carnival, Coney Island had its share of barkers announcing everything from games of “chance” to freak shows and a wax museum that depicted–among other grisly sights–the murder of Albert Snyder by his wife, Ruth Snyder, and her lover, Judd Gray, and the subsequent execution of the notorious pair.

tumblr_m7qi19kprf1rpfjrbo1_1280
GET YOUR DIME’S WORTH…Barkers at Coney Island’s Eden Musee wax museum advertise the wax dummy recreation of the Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray executions, circa 1928. The Snyder-Gray murder trial of 1927 was a national media sensation. (houseoftoomuchtrouble.tumblr.com)

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-07-16-am

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-07-37-am

Charles Lindbergh, feted with his own wax image at Coney Island, was beginning to appear on the verge of a meltdown thanks to the relentless attention he was getting in the aftermath of his historic flight:

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-02-29-am

Lois Long also seemed at her wit’s end, abruptly announcing to readers that her nightlife column, “Tables for Two,” would go on hiatus for the summer. No doubt this was a relief to Long, who seemed to be growing weary of the nightclub scene and was doing double duty as fashion writer (“On and Off the Avenue”) for the New Yorker:

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-12-25-49-pm

And perhaps there was another reason Long was taking a break–she would marry fellow New Yorker contributor and cartoonist Peter Arno on Aug. 13, 1927.

 *  *  *

Always poised to take a poke at the newspaper media, the New Yorker had some fun with the New York Times’ attempt to reproduce an early wirephoto of Clarence Chamberlin, the second man to pilot a fixed-wing aircraft across the Atlantic from New York to Europe, while carrying the first transatlantic passenger, Charles Levine. The original photo apparently showed Chamberlain and Levine being greeted by the mayor of Kottbus, Germany:

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-05-29-am

Charles Levine took a plane to Europe, but most still had to settle for the more leisurely pace of a steamship. Below is a two-page advertisement featured in the center of the June 18 issue for an around the world excursion on the Hamburg-American Line (click to enlarge):

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-40-04-am

And finally, this advertisement in the back pages for Old Gold cigarettes, which claimed to be “coughless”….

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-39-28-am

The artist for these Old Gold ads was Clare Briggs, an early American comic strip artist who rose to fame in 1904 with his strip A. Piker Clerk. Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska gave Briggs the material he needed to depict Midwestern Americana, a style that would influence later cartoonists such as Frank King (Gasoline Alley).

Next Time: Île-de-France…

80c5240bf5ffaaff418de94b7e176525

After a Fashion

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 12.12.38 PM
June 5, 1926 cover by Rea Irvin.

Fashion advertising in the early New Yorker can tell you a lot about the mood of the city’s smart set. As I’ve observed before, the magazine’s advertisements were rife with Anglo- and Francophile messaging, but they also reveal much about our changing times. A good example is the upscale retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, which these days uses the tagline “Authentic American clothing since 1892.”

In its early days, A&F was known as an elite outfitter of sporting and excursion goods, supplying aspiring country squires with expensive shotguns, fishing rods and the clothing and kit necessary for successful and stylish expeditions beyond the drawing room:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 1.05.54 PM
“Sporting goods” meant something a bit different in 1926.

The company went bankrupt in 1976 and operated through mail order until 1988, when the The Limited clothing chain bought the name and operation and turned the focus to the young adult market:

2b1c597b0a5b09ca7477ead9ec5e2e64
Cover for A&F Fall/Winter 1998, photo by Bruce Weber (Image Amplified)

Over the past couple of decades there’s been a lot of criticism regarding the abundance of A&L ads featuring shirtless, white men and the corresponding dearth of minority models. The newer ads feature a lot less skin and a sprinkling of minorities, but the product line is still a far cry from the one offered in 1926. Except for the elitist part.

As for other purveyors of fine fashion in the pages of The New Yorker, B. Altman made this stylish pitch for its line of bathing suits:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 4.40.10 PM

And here’s an advertisement for Croydon Cravats, featuring the ubiquitous Father’s Day necktie:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 4.48.08 PM

As for fashion in the comics, this drawing by I. Klein found humor in the multicultural appeal of the summer straw hat:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 4.43.28 PM

African Americans in the early New Yorker were nearly always depicted in minstrel-style blackface, and Jewish immigrants (such as the one Klein depicted at right) rarely lacked the Orthodox beard. Such is the case in this Peter Arno illustration where cultures clash rather than mix:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 4.42.20 PM

And let’s check in with the New Yorker’s fashion critic (and Arno’s soon-to-be wife) Lois “Lipstick” Long, who slummed with the Proles at Coney Island:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 4.45.44 PM

tumblr_lsv5w1uJwH1qgfx0uo1_500
LIPSTICK AT CONEY ISLAND…(l to r) Silent film star Charlie Chaplin, Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield, sculptor Helen Sardeau, Lois Long and screenwriter Harry D’Arrast pose in a Coney Island photo booth, 1925. Photo scanned from the book Flapper by Joshua Zeitz.

Finally, given the terrible circumstances in the Middle East and especially Syria, this small item in “Of All Things” is both timely and prescient:

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 4.43.07 PM

Next Time: Taxi Dancers…
Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 4.38.53 PM