A Picture’s Worth

James Thurber made a rare appearance in the “Reporter at Large” column — usually the purview of the departing Morris Markey — to offer a glimpse into the life of Albert Davis and his extensive collection of theatrical and sports photographs.

Sept. 24, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

A publicist by trade, Davis (1865-1942) collected thousands of photographs, clippings, programs, scripts and playbills from hundreds of productions mainly from the 1890s to the 1920s. In this excerpt, Thurber took a look into Davis’s rarefied world:

PLAYING MAKE-BELIEVE…Among the photographers collected by Davis was Joseph Byron, who captured this scene from the 1912 play The High Road by American playwright Edward Sheldon. Pictured are actors Frederick Perry and Minnie Maddern Fiske. (monovisions.com)
OSCAR THE FIRST…Theatre impresario Oscar Hammerstein (left) at Manhattan Opera House, which opened December 3, 1906. Hammerstein was the first person with whom Davis traded photographs. He was also the father of famed lyricist and musical comedy author Oscar Hammerstein II. (monovisions.com)
WHEN ALL PERFORMANCES WERE LIVE…Images of performers from the Davis collection included actor Bert Williams (ca. 1895); sharpshooter Annie Oakley (ca.1886); and actor Theodore Drury as Escamillo in Carmen (ca. 1905). (Harry Ransom Center)

Thurber pointed out that the collection was quite valuable, and its sale could reap a considerable sum for Davis. It seems Davis intended to present the collection to his university’s library, a wish more or less fulfilled.

Davis’s collection also contained hundreds of sports figures, mostly from the world of boxing.

TOUGH GUYS…Omaha-born Max Baer (left) defeated German champion Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in 1933 and took the heavyweight title in 1934; Paul Berlenbach (right) was a light-heavyweight champ from 1923 to 1926. An interesting footnote: Baer acted in 20 films, and one of his three children, Max Baer Jr., portrayed Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies. (Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports)
PEDDLERS…Bicycle racers at the Hartford Wheel Club’s bicycle tournament pose for an 1889 photograph in Stamford, Connecticut. (Stark Center)

Endnote: Davis wanted his collection to go to a university library, and so it finally did: it resides at the University of Texas at Austin — the theatrical photos and memorabilia are at the Harry Ransom Center, and the sports-related items are housed at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.

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Is It Beer-Thirty Yet?

Brewer, politician and owner of the New York Yankees baseball franchise  Jacob Ruppert Jr. (1867–1939) inherited the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company and the Yankees upon his father’s death in 1915. It was Ruppert who purchased the contract of Babe Ruth (from the Red Sox in 1919) and built famed Yankee Stadium (1923), moves that helped propel a middling franchise to the top of the major leagues. Alva Johnston profiled Ruppert in the Sept. 24 issue; here is the opening paragraph:

LOOK WHAT I JUST BOUGHT…Jacob Ruppert purchased the contract of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox in 1919; Ruppert also inherited the Knickerbocker brewery at 92nd Street and 3rd Avenue (demolished in 1969). (historywithkev.com/brookstonbeerbulletin.com)

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Pol Mole

With the 1932 presidential election just weeks away, E.B. White’s focus was on an apparently elusive mole that decorated the left side of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s face, or possibly the right, or perhaps not at all…

REPRESENTING THE LEFT AND THE RIGHT…E.B. White mused on FDR’s apparently shifting mole, which appeared on the right cheek on the cover of Vanity Fair, on the left on the cover of Life, and not at all on the campaign button. (picclick.com/Britannica/2Neat.com)

This wouldn’t be the last time someone discussed FDR’s dermatology. Health experts today still debate whether a pigmented lesion above FDR’s left eyebrow was a melanoma—some even speculate that it led to his death at age 63, although the official cause of FDR’s death on April 12, 1945 was cerebral hemorrhage associated with high blood pressure. Incidentally, most photographs show the cheek mole on the right side.

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Words Were Their Bond

What a treat it must have been for a New Yorker reader to turn to pages 15-16 and find Dorothy Parker’s “A Young Woman in Green Lace,” followed by Parker’s dear friend and confidant Robert Benchley’s “Filling That Hiatus” on pages 17-18.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley (far right) with their employers in 1919: Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield, Vogue editor Edna Chase, and publisher Condé Nast. (publicdomainreview.org)

Benchley and Parker’s friendship began when he was hired as Vanity Fair’s managing editor in the winter of 1919 (and would become Parker’s office mate the following May). That same year they were among the founders of the famed Algonquin Round Table.

“A Young Woman in Green Lace” reveals how Parker regarded some of the modern women of those times, this next-generation flapper, a bit childish and snobbish, wishing she were back in “Paree.” In the story a man presses his charms as the woman descends into drunkenness and drops her Continental facade:

Where disillusion creates a darkly comic mood in Parker’s piece, in Benchley’s world disillusion provided a nice opening for some silliness. In ”Filling That Hiatus” Benchley addressed a seldom-discussed dinner-party etiquette situation in which both your right- and left-hand partners become engaged in conversation with someone else. He concluded:

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His Country, Too

It is always with a tinge of sadness that I write about Morris Markey, who from the start wrote for virtually every department at the New Yorker and was best known for his “A Reporter at Large” feature. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Markey won his greatest recognition for the book This Country of Yours, published after he left the New Yorker. That magazine’s review was brief, and read thusly:

The book is mostly forgotten today, as is Markey, who was found shot to death on July 12, 1950 at his home in Halifax, Virginia. He was just 51 years old. There was insufficient evidence as to whether the wound behind his right ear was the result of accident, homicide, or suicide.

As a farewell, here is what the Times (Sept. 10, 1932) had to say about Markey’s book:

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From Our Advertisers

With cold weather arriving during the Depression’s worst year, fashions continued to borrow from the past for a more conservative look (these are two ads from Jay-Thorpe and B. Altman)…

…as for the gentleman, fashion continued to emphasize a genteel look (although there is a bit of the Little Tramp about this fellow)…

…then as now, folks turned toward the rustic to find a bit of comfort in uncertain times…

…and if they could afford it, the comforts of the stolid, solid Lincoln motorcar…

…the folks at Lucky Strike continued to ask this question…

…and with the help of Syd Hoff, the makers of Log Cabin syrup ran this parody ad (in the Oct. 1 issue) of the Lucky Strike campaign…Hoff was among the newest members of the New Yorker cartooning cast…

…as was William Steig, who featured one of his “Small Fry” to tout the benefits of decaf coffee…

…our cartoon from the Sept. 24 issue is by Richard Decker

…on to Oct. 1, 1932…

Oct. 1, 1932 cover by Peter Arno.

…where film critic John Mosher took in the latest from Marlene Dietrich and came away less than dazzled by Blonde Venus

Now something of a cult film, reviews were mixed when Blonde Venus was released in 1932. The New York Times’ critic Mordaunt Hall went even further than Mosher, calling the film a “muddled, unimaginative and generally hapless piece of work, relieved somewhat by the talent and charm of the German actress…”

WELL HELLO THERE…Cary Grant made his film debut in 1932 in This Is the Night—he went on to appear in eight films that year, including Blonde Venus with Marlene Dietrich. (MoMA)

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Unlucky in Luck

In its early years the New Yorker paid little attention to baseball, but “The Talk of the Town” did appreciate a human interest story from the field every now and then, and Yankee batboy Eddie Bennett filled that bill — this was the second time Bennett was featured in the column…

LUCKY EDDIE…Top, Eddie Bennett in 1921, the year he became the Yankees’ batboy; below, with slugger Babe Ruth in 1927; at right, newspaper profile the year after the 1927 World Series. As an infant Bennett twisted his spine in a carriage accident that stunted his growth and gave him a misshapen back.(Library of Congress/New York Times/Brooklyn Citizen)

Throughout the 1920s Bennett was a famed good luck charm for the Yankees, but when a taxicab struck him in 1932 his batboy career ended. According to the New York Times (April 2, 2021) “Three years later, Mr. Bennett was found dead in a furnished room on West 84th Street. Autographed photos from Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt, both pitchers for the Yankees, hung on the walls…Balls and bats signed by Ruth and Lou Gehrig decorated the room. An autopsy found that Mr. Bennett had died of alcoholism. He was 31.”

For 85 years, Bennett rested in an unmarked grave at St. John’s Cemetery in Queens, but last November he was remembered with a new marker and a simple ceremony. You can read more about it in this Times article.

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Original Verse

Ogden Nash was working as an editor at Doubleday when he submitted some rhymes to the New Yorker. Harold Ross (New Yorker founder/editor) saw the submissions and asked for more, apparently stating “they are about the most original stuff we have had lately.” Here is one of the later submissions:

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From Our Advertisers

If you were of the male persuasion and a member of the smart set you probably dressed down in something like this for a day with your dressage buddies…

…the modern woman of the 1930s could also be a successful business woman in this “successful” frock (how that translated into reality was another thing)…what is also interesting about this ad is how it features both an illustration and a photograph of the same outfit—it’s as though they’ve acknowledged that the attenuated figure in the illustration, although eye-catching, does not resemble an actual body type…

…here was see an early use of the word balloon in an advertisement featuring real people—I wonder if this was inspired by the comics, or by Bernarr Mcfadden’s “composographs” featured in his New York Evening Graphic?…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with a strange bit of bedside manner courtesy Gardner Rea

Robert Day introduced us to a modest suspect…

Barbara Shermund continued to explore the travails of modern women…

…while this woman (via Perry Barlow) seems quite content with her lot…

…Mayor Jimmy Walker was out, but not down, like these fellows presented by Alan Dunn

…and we close with Peter Arno, announcing some upcoming nuptials…

Next Time: An Instant Star…



A Bird’s Eye View

The New Yorker’s E.B. White was an aviation enthusiast who rhapsodized about his flights into the clouds, but also had prescience to see the darker side of this modern thrill ride.

October 6, 1928 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Writing in the “Reporter at Large” column for the Oct. 6, 1928 issue, White described his visit to Curtiss Field, where he inquired about a pilot who could fly him over New York City. He was told someone named Bill would take him up.

EARLY BIRD…This Fairchild FC-2 Cabin Monoplane, with strut-supported wing, was probably similar to the plane E.B. White rode in his flight over New York City. (Quora)

After a half hour wait, a man in a gray felt hat and sack suit offered White a cigarette and said, “You want to fly over New York?” Although the man didn’t look like a pilot, White followed him to a “little cabin monoplane.” Without saying another word the man took the plane up into the air, much to White’s surprise:

FLYBOY…E.B. White (left) with friend and New Yorker colleague James Thurber in 1929. (University of Virginia)

White described the various sites from 800 feet up, including Coney Island, a view at once beautiful and foreboding…

AMUSING SIGHT…Aerial view of Coney Island in 1920. (Pinterest)

…and the thrill of the approaching city skyline as his plane soared up the Bay toward Manhattan:

Lower Manhattan looking northeast from the Bay in July 1927. This is approximately the view described by E.B. White as his plane approached Manhattan. (Favrify.com)
A closer view of lower Manhattan as it would have appeared to E.B. White on his 1928 flight over New York City. (Fairchild Aerial Survey photo, 1928)

Once over the city, White could not help but contain his exuberance, soaring high above the towering spires and teeming crowds below:

And yet as I noted earlier, his observations were tinged with melancholy and foreboding. In describing his flight over Coney Island, for example, White concluded that “the world in general seems sadly beautiful, it is so soon to be gone entirely.”

Perhaps he referred to the rapid changes seen daily in the city during the 1920s, when nothing seemed permanent. Or did this bird’s eye view suggest something else to White? Twenty years later, in his 1948 essay “Here is New York,” White would write:

A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.

Unlike 1928, White had the hindsight of World War II, of entire cities leveled by waves of heavy bombers, or in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just a single bomb. The foreshadowing of 9/11 is contained in his words as well.

Back on the ground at Curtiss Field, White would finally learn the identity of the man who didn’t look like a pilot, but had just flown him over the city:

Another Vantage Point

With buildings rising ever higher in Manhattan, you could get a pretty good view of the surrounding city by taking an elevator to the rooftop of the latest skyscraper. The Oct. 6 “Talk of the Town” found a good perch atop the 680-foot-tall Chanin building on the southwestern corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street.

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP…The Chanin Building at Lexington and 42nd. Sloan & Robertson Architects, 1928. (Favrify.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Something you never see in the New Yorker anymore, or in most magazines for that matter, are ads promoting various brands of gasoline. This one touts the benefits of Tydol, produced by the (now defunct) Tide Water Oil Company of New York:

For our Oct. 6 cartoon, here is one of Rea Irvin’s occasional multi-panel, two-page comic spreads, this one exploring the ordeal of a man who couldn’t think of the word for a type of natural plastic used in the 1920s (click to enlarge image):

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The Oct. 13, 1928 issue featured a notable short story by Thyra Samter Winslow, a writer who contributed nearly a dozen pieces to the New Yorker in 1927 and 1928.

October 13, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Her short story on page 25, “But for the Grace of God,” was a “key transitional work” for the magazine, according to Ben Yagoda in his book About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made. He writes: “Realistic fiction thrives in periods of social ambiguity and flux, and the attention to class was on of the factors working to propel New Yorker writing from two-dimensional sketches to fleshed out short stories.” Yagoda observes that Winslow’s story, “in its carefully selected details, its mild epiphany, and its attention to the potency of class…is an accomplished and poignant piece of short fiction.” Excerpts:

GROUNDBREAKER…Thyra Samter Winslow, circa 1920s. She wrote more than 200 pieces for New York magazines between 1915 to 1955, as well as Hollywood screenplays, early television scripts, and several books. She was married to New Yorker staff writer Fillmore Hyde. (playinginthepages.blogspot.com)

You can read more about Thyra Samter Winslow in Savannah Fry’s excellent blog, Playing the Pages.

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The New Yorker continued its stubborn refusal to report on baseball in its sports section, even though the Yankees were in the process of taking their second consecutive World Series title with a 4-0 sweep over the favored St. Louis Cardinals. The magazine did, however, mention the game in the Oct. 13, 1928 “Talk of the Town” — not on how it was played, but rather on how the championship money was distributed among players and assistants:

Money matters in the game of sport were more informal 90 years ago, with players themselves divvying up money to other players, trainers, mascots and batboys. For example, in 1927 Yankees batboy Eddie Bennett received $700 for the one-eighth World Series share voted him by the team. This sum earned over the four days of the series nearly equalled a batboy’s pay for a full year.

GOOD LUCK CHARM…Yankee batboy Eddie Bennett in the 1920s. Although a spinal injury as an infant left him hunchbacked, Bennett would serve as Yankee batboy for 12-years — a period that would include seven pennants and four World Series titles. (sabr.org)

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Although European-inspired modern furniture was all the rage among certain members of the New York smart set, writer Joseph Fulling Fishman (best known for his writing on contemporary prison conditions) offered a dissenting view in the Oct. 13 edition. An excerpt:

In the art review section, critic Murdock Pemberton also seemed a bit perplexed by modern design, in this case by the work of Ukrainian-born avant-garde artist Alexander Archipenko. His Archipentura was an electronic machine that displayed pre-loaded images of a female undressing by rolling painted canvas through a complex system of sprockets and belts. He intended the machine “to do for painting what the motion picture did for photography.” Pemberton observed:

THINK DIFFERENTLY…Alexander Archipenko (right, circa 1920), intended his intended his Archipentura machine (pictured in front and side views) “to do for painting what the motion picture did for photography.” (Wikipedia/Archipenko Foundation)

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From Our Oct. 13 Advertisers

Yet another endorsement for cigarettes from the posh set. This time Melachrino Cigarettes got in on the action with this endorsement by Augusta Barney Harriman.

For our cartoon, Peter Arno once again looked in on the mannerisms of the upper class, contrasting a lithe young flapper with the imposing presence of a battle-axe. Note how the young woman uses the archaic British “mater” in reference to her mother…

Next Time: The Prohibition Portia…