Holiday Shopping

With Christmas fast approaching, The New Yorker was getting into the spirit of holidays, especially with all of the advertising revenue it gained from merchants who targeted its well-heeled readership.

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November 27, 1926 — Peter Arno’s first cover for the New Yorker. He would go to do 98 more.

Lois Long continued to write both of her weekly columns for the magazine–her observations on fashion along with ideas for Christmas shoppers in “On and Off the Avenue” (“Saks’ toy department has some of the loveliest French notepaper for tiny children…”) and her musings on nightlife in “Tables for Two.”

In contrast to her rather light mood expressed in the fashion column, Long was feeling far from jolly in her “Tables” observations of New York’s nightlife:

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As you might recall, in a previous column Long tossed a “ho-hum” in the direction of the famed Cotton Club. Perhaps Prohibition was taking its toll on the hard-partying columnist.

Nevertheless, the holiday spirit was upon with The New Yorker, in the cartoons (this one by Helen Hokinson)…

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…and in various advertisements.

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Note this advertisement (below) from Russeks. The comics in The New Yorker famously poked fun at the comic pairings of rich old men and their young mistresses, but this ad seemed to glorify such a pairing while suggesting that an older man of means must invest in fine furs if he is going to hang on to his trophy wife or mistress, in this case a young woman who appears to be nearly eight feet tall…

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I liked this ad from Nat Lewis for the simple line drawing…
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…but the ads for Elizabeth Arden, which for years featured this “Vienna Youth Mask” image, always creep me out.

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The mask was made of papier-mâché lined with tinfoil. Although not pictured in the ad, it was also fitted to the client’s face. The Vienna Youth Mask used diathermy to warm up the facial tissues and stimulate blood circulation.

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SLEEP TIGHT…The full “Youth Mask”applied to an Elizabeth Arden client in the mid 1930s. (cosmeticsandskin.com)

In a 1930 advertisement, Elizabeth Arden claimed that “The Vienna Youth Mask stimulates the circulation, producing health as Nature herself does, through a constantly renewed blood supply. The amazing value of this treatment lies in the depth to which it penetrates, causing the blood to flow in a rich purifying stream to underlying tissues and muscles…charging them with new youth and vigor. It stirs the circulation as no external friction or massage can possible do.”

I don’t believe this claim was backed up by medical research, but as we all know, Elizabeth Arden made a bundle from these treatments and the various creams and potions that came with it.

Next Time: Race Matters…

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Ben Hur Bric-à-brac

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Jan. 9, 1925 cover by Hans Stengel.

MGM spent nearly $5 million (about $70 million today) to make the silent epic Ben-Hur, filming the movie on location in Egypt, Italy and the United States. The New Yorker’s film critic Theodore Shane was not impressed.

Shane wrote that $4,999,999.95 had been spent “on massive effects and the remaining $.05 on drama.”

He noted, however, that the original story, an 1880 novel by Lew Wallace (who was a Union general in the Civil War, among other things), was pretty lacking in drama to begin with, just a “piece of bric-à-brac romance (that was) nothing more than a super Rover Boys story touched up with a Biblical background.” Here’s Shane’s entire review of the film, which was released by MGM on December 30, 1925:

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A Nickel’s Worth of Drama…Ramon Novarro (left) and Francis X. Bushman mix it up in Ben-Hur (1925) (Virtual History)

This was actually the second Ben Hur film. The first was made in 1907, a 15-minute silent costing $500 (and it really was made on the cheap; the producers stole some shots of a mock chariot race at a fireworks show at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and then added some interior shots to complete the picture).

For the 1925 Ben Hur, filming on location proved difficult from the start. Italy’s new leader, Benito Mussolini, was in an anti-American mood when production began, and labor disputes often delayed filming. By all accounts, conditions were miserable. Kevin Hagopian, in an essay for the New York State Writers Institute, observed “The worst agonies were reserved for the film’s climax, the chariot race. Legendary second unit director B. Reeves Eason’s nickname “Breezy” was certainly not earned by his work on the Ben-Hur set, for his merciless pace cost the lives of over a hundred horses. As (actor Francis X.) Bushman said sadly, “If it limped, they shot it.” A stunt man was killed in a chariot crash, and Navarro himself only narrowly escaped death.”

The troubled Italian set was eventually torn down and a new one built in Culver City, California. The crowd scenes and master shots for the race were done in a single day, with forty-two cameras covering the action.

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The famed chariot race was shot with 42 cameras (Bridgeman Images)

In “Profiles” Esther Carples looked at the life of Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was widely considered one of the great pianists of his day, and as a composer represented the last vestiges of Romanticism in Russian classical music. Carples painted a portrait of a brooding genius, a man with aristocratic bearing who lived in lonely exile from his native Russia.

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Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1921. (Library of Congress)

In 1921, Rachmaninoff bought a house on 33 Riverside Drive in New York City, where he lived until 1925. There he consciously recreated the atmosphere of Ivanovka (his beloved Russian summer house) entertaining Russian guests, employing Russian servants, and observing old Russian customs.

*****

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Jan. 16, 1926 cover by S.W. Reynolds.

Let’s move on to the next issue, Jan. 16, 1926. “The Talk of the Town” noted another loss of a Fifth Avenue landmark with the Savoy Hotel was falling to the wrecking ball.

The Savoy, built in 1891-92, was slated to be replaced by The Savoy Plaza Hotel, which itself would be demolished in 1965-66 (amid significant public outcry and protest) to make way for the eastern headquarters building of General Motors.

It was observed that the new year would see a boon in construction of huge new buildings along the Avenue, and buildings only five years old (such as Heckscher Building) would be dwarfed by the new towers.

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Another One Bites The Dust…The Savoy Hotel (stuffnobodycaresabout.com)

The New Yorker continued to have fun with actress Gloria Swanson’s pretensions to royalty (she was married to the Marquis de La Coudraye at the time). This time it came from the pen of Jimmie the Ink (James Daugherty), part of his series of drawings that coupled famous people of the day in comic situations:

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To close, two ads from the Jan. 16 issue, this one appealing to Anglophilic, aristocratic aspirations of certain readers…

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And this one from Elizabeth Arden, who will become a mainstay in the magazine with these ads featuring women with ghostly stares, usually with their heads wrapped tightly to combat sagging skin. Thanks to Hollywood, it was the age of the close-up, so wrinkles and blemishes be gone!

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Next Time: Lois Long Talks Cars

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