Happy 1929!

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly three years, and during that stretch have managed to cover more than 200 issues of the New Yorker, or about the first four years of the magazine.

Dec. 22, 1928 and Dec. 29, 1928 covers by Rea Irvin.

The amount of young talent on display in those early issues is truly astounding, from writers such as E.B. White, Dorothy Parker and James Thurber (writer and cartoonist) to illustrators and cartoonists including Peter Arno, Rea Irvin, Helen Hokinson, Miguel Covarrubias and Ilonka Karasz, to name just a few. Among the contributing artists was Abe Birnbaum, who illustrated more than 150 covers for the New Yorker from the 1940s to 1970s. One of his earliest contributions to the magazine was this illustration for the “Profile” section in the Dec. 22 issue:

Canadian artist Shelley Davies writes in her blog that Birnbaum “charmingly captured some of life’s quieter moments with a deft eye.” In addition to the New Yorker, Birnbaum illustrated numerous covers for Stage and Arts In America, and won a Caldecott Award in 1954 for his children’s book, Green Eyes.

ON THE QUIETER SIDE…Abe Birnbaum (pictured here circa 1960) created more than 150 covers for the New Yorker from the 1940s to the 1970s. At right, a cover from March 17, 1962. (google.com.br)

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A couple of select advertisements from the Dec. 22 reveal what retailers knew, or thought they knew, about the magazine’s readership. Franklin & Simon, seeking perhaps to broaden their market for furs, suggested that even a stylish French woman might prefer a fur fashioned as a modest “sports wrap”…

…as for the guys, Saks appealed to the anglophilia that apparently was rife among New York’s smart set. Check out the ridiculous hat gracing the noggin of this young dandy…

Well-heeled readers who could afford to flee the New York winter were targeted by these various enticements in the Dec. 22 issue (this is a collage of select ads found in the back pages of the issue):

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Hello Down There

Writing about New Yorker humor derived from class distinctions, Ben Yagoda (About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, p. 63) noted a series of cartoons by Otto Soglow that began with this one in the Dec. 22, 1928 issue and continued through thirty installments that ran to early 1930, when the workers, Joe and Bill, finally emerged from the manhole:

This running gag, according to Yagoda, “came from the conceit that the laborers spoke with the same assumptions and in the same catchphrases as those with ‘higher’ places in society.”

Also from the Dec. 22 issue, this terrific cartoon by Leonard Dove that showed a bookish man who had accidentally entered the wrong type of book-making establishment:

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The Girl Who Wouldn’t Grow Up

Maude Adams was a major Broadway star in the early years of the 20th century. Appearing in more than 25 productions from 1888 to 1916, she was most famous for her portrayal of Peter Pan in the Broadway production of Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. She performed that role first in 1905-06 and again in 1912 and 1915. The highest-paid performer of her day, at her peak she earned more than $1 million a year, a staggering sum more than a century ago. James Thurber, writing in the Dec. 29 “Talk of the Town,” reported that after a decade-long absence from the stage, Adams was planning a comeback as a director:

STAR POWER…At left, American actress Maude Adams, circa 1900. At right, Adams as Peter Pan, her most famous stage role. Adams was the first American to portray Peter Pan on the stage. She played the role 1,500 times between 1905-1915. She retired from the stage in 1918 after a severe bout with the flu. She died at age 80 in 1953. (Wikipedia/Oakland Tribune)

Thurber also noted that Adams was working with General Electric in the development of color photography. According to the Trivia Library, it has been suggested that her motivation might have been a wish to appear in a color film version of Peter Pan. She eventually returned to acting in the 1930s, with occasional appearances in regional productions of Shakespeare plays.

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A Lukewarm Welcome to 1929

The Dec. 29 New Yorker opened with these lamentations for the last issue of 1928. At least it appears that one could obtain a decent bottle of French champagne to toast the New Year:

JAM SESSION…Detail from a 1929 photo of traffic on Fifth Avenue. (Getty)

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The Passing of a Poet

The Dec. 29 issue featured something unprecedented in the New Yorker up to that point: the reprinting of an entire piece previously featured in the magazine. In this case, it was in tribute to the sudden passing of poet and author Elinor Wylie:

PORTRAITS…Elinor Wylie posed for her friend Carl Van Vechten in this 1922 portrait (left). The photo at right, probably taken around 1926, was clearly the inspiration for the illustration by Peter Arno that accompanied “Portrait.” (Yale University/humorinamerica.wordpress.com)

It is no wonder that the New Yorker had such affection for Wylie, for she was as colorful a personality as could be found in 1920s literary circles. A Columbia University Press bio notes that “she was famous during her life almost as much for her ethereal beauty and personality as for her melodious, sensuous poetry.” Born to a socially prominent family and trained for a life in society, she instead became notorious for her multiple marriages and love affairs. She also suffered from extremely high blood pressure that gave her unbearable migraines.

Wylie died on Dec. 16, 1928, while going over a typescript of her poetry collection, Angels and Earthly Creatures, with her estranged third husband, William Rose Benét. According to Karen Stein (in the Dictionary of Literary Biography), Wylie, while picking up a volume of John Donne’s poems, asked Benét for a glass of water. When he returned with it, she reportedly walked toward him and murmured, “Is that all it is?,” and fell to the floor, dead of a stroke. She was 43.

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Age of Innocence

The Dec. 29 theatre review section featured this illustration by Al Frueh of Katharine Cornell in the Empire Theatre’s production of The Age of Innocence:

And below, a studio portrait of Cornell from the same play:

HOW SHE REALLY LOOKED…Katharine Cornell as ‘Countess Ellen Olenska’ in this Vandamm Studio portrait dated November 27, 1928. (Billy Rose Theatre Collection, The New York Public Library)

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Before Baby Snooks

Although it was still a few years before singer and actress Fanny Brice would make her radio debut as the bratty toddler named “Snooks,” she was already well-known to New York audiences for her work in the Ziegfeld Follies (beginning in 1910). In its Dec. 29 issue the New Yorker favorably reviewed Brice’s first motion picture, My Man, which included musical scenes with Vitaphone sound:

MY MAN…Fanny Brice, Guinn Williams, and Edna Murphy on the set of the partially silent film My Man, 1928. Her first movie appearance, Brice played Fanny Brand, a poor girl who becomes a star. The film is now considered lost, since only an incomplete version survives. (brice.nl)
THROUGH THE YEARS…At left, singer and actress Fanny Brice from the time she was a Ziegfeld Follies girl, circa 1915. At right, Brice in the role of Baby Snooks, 1940. (Vintage Everyday/Wikipedia)

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Let’s Get Physical

Even 90 years ago some folks (or at least some New Yorkers) resolved to get healthy and hit the gym in the New Year. In this ad, McGovern’s Gymnasium announced it was ready for them:

NO FRILLS FITNESS…Famed track and field athlete Mildred Babe Didrickson on a running machine at Artie McGovern’s gymnasium in New York, 1933. That’s Artie himself supervising the workout. (Bettmann)

And to close out 1928, a cartoon from John Reehill

Next Time: Out With the Old…

Nothing Like the Roxy

Jazz Age New York City was all about the big and grand, and nothing was bigger and grander than the new Roxy Theatre near Times Square.

March 19, 1927 cover by W. Beothling.

The nearly 6,000-seat theatre was such big news that the March 19, 1927 edition of the New Yorker heralded its arrival in three separate columns.

OPENING NIGHT at the Roxy Theatre. (elixinhollywood.blogspot.com)

The Roxy opened with the silent film The Love of Sunya, produced by and starring Gloria Swanson. The film, naturally, was panned by the magazine. Perhaps the critic’s distaste for the film also prompted a certain aloofness about the theatre itself:

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NOT EXACTLY YOUR LOCAL CINEPLEX…The Roxy Theatre lobby featuring the “world’s largest oval rug” manufactured by Mohawk Carpets. The theatre was torn down in 1960 and replaced by an office building. A TGI Friday’s restaurant is now located in the space that once housed this grand lobby. (screensonhigh.wordpress.com)
NOT ANOTHER BAD NEW YORKER REVIEW?…Gloria Swanson consults a crystal ball to learn her future with three different men in The Love of Sunya. (gswanson.weebly.com)

“The Talk of the Town” described the Roxy in similar dispassionate terms, tossing a wet blanket not on the film but rather on the rude, gawking masses who shelled out 11 bucks apiece (equivalent to $150 today) for a seat on opening night:

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THEY WERE AWESTRUCK…The stage and orchestra pit of the Roxy Theatre (elixinhollywood.blogspot.com)

New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell (pen name “T-Square”) was a bit more generous in his column “The Sky Line.”

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DUBBED ‘THE CATHEDRAL OF THE MOTION PICTURE’ by creator and namesake Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel, the Roxy was located at 153 West 50th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. It was torn down in 1960. (nycago.com)
COMING FULL CIRCLE…Gloria Swanson was photographed by Eliot Elisofon in the ruins of the Roxy Theatre on October 14, 1960. (Life Magazine)

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The magazine took an unusual approach to its “Profile” section by featuring an autobiographical profile of poet Elinor Wylie in verse, a portion of which is shown below with an illustration by Peter Arno:

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Morality-themed books got the attention of New Yorker book reviewer Ernest Boyd (pen name “Alceste), who devoted considerable ink to Anthony Comstock: Roundsman of the Lord by Heywood Broun and Margaret Leech (both of Algonquin Round Table fame). Comstock was a United States Postal Inspector and politician known for the “Comstock Law,” which sought to censor materials he considered indecent and obscene. That included birth control information, which led to famous clashes between Comstock and family planning advocate Margaret Sanger.

An advertisement for the book appeared in the back pages of the magazine:

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Boyd also reviewed Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, a controversial novel that exposed the hypocrisy of some 1920s evangelical preachers:

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This advertisement began to appear in the pages of the New Yorker for a new restaurant that claimed to replace the beloved Delmonico’s. Despite its status as a New York institution, Delmonico’s had fallen victim to the changing dining habits of Prohibition New York and had closed its doors in 1923:

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The restaurant was operated by the Happiness Candy Stores chain, which according to the ad also operated restaurants in two other locations in the city. The restaurants must have been short-lived, as I could find no record of them apart from the ads.

Next Time: The Garden City…