Much like Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, Jean Harlow occupied a brief period in Hollywood history, but her star shone long after her untimely death.
Adam Victor’s The Marilyn Encyclopedia draws all sorts of weird parallels between the actresses: both raised by strict Christian Scientists, both married three times, both left school at sixteen to marry their first husbands, both acted opposite Clark Gable in the last film each ever made. Most importantly, Monroe idolized Harlow, so it was no coincidence that she sported her own version of “platinum blonde” hair.
The term “Bombshell” was affixed to the 22-year-old Harlow after the 1933 film’s release, and was later used to describe Monroe and other sex symbols of the 1950s and early 60s.
Harlow’s character in Bombshell, Lola Burns, satirized the stardom years of the silent era sex symbol Clara Bow, who was director Victor Fleming’s fiancée in 1926. Although critical reviews were mostly positive, New Yorker critic John Mosher found the film “mossy with verbiage.”
Harlow would die at age 26 on June 7, 1937. Her heavy drinking didn’t help, but neither did the misdiagnosis she received as her kidneys were rapidly failing. While filming Saratoga with Clark Gable, Harlow was stricken with what she believed was the flu, and her persistent stomach pain was misdiagnosed as a swollen gallbladder. Just two days before her death another doctor finally diagnosed her kidney disease, but in 1937 nothing could be done—kidney dialysis would not be available for another decade, and transplants would not be an option until the mid-1950s.
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Second City Sanctimony
The New Yorker rarely missed an opportunity to take a dig at the square-toed ways of the Second City and its flagship newspaper, the Tribune. In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White (who enjoyed gin martinis) found the newspaper’s sanctimonious stance tedious:
The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, aka “A Century of Progress,” received scant attention from The New Yorker, unless it provided opportunities for parody. Musicologist Sigmund Spaeth (1885-1965), well-known in the 1930s and 40s for his NBC radio programs, offered this take on the Windy City’s exposition:
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Big, Bad Earworm
It seems quaint that nearly 90 years ago one of the most popular songs in America was “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” To Frank Sullivan, there was no escaping “that lilting tune”…
Sullivan concluded that a trip to Vladivostok might be the only way to escape the catchy melody…
Briefly jumping to the Nov. 4 issue, “The Talk of Town” took a closer look at the song and the 1933 Disney Silly Symphonies cartoon in which it was featured—Three Little Pigs. Written by Frank Churchill and Ann Ronell, the song launched a market for future Disney tunes, with Irving Berlin securing the sheet music rights over Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies.
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Le Corbusier, aka Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887–1965), was known as a pioneer of modern architecture and design in the early and mid-20th century, but as this review by Lewis Mumford suggested, he was also a talented modernist painter.
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Following the high praise Ernest Hemingway received in 1926 for The Sun Also Rises, Dorothy Parker feared for the novelist’s next book: “You know how it is—as soon as they all start acclaiming a writer, that writer is just about to slip downward.” Seven years later Parker’s colleague Clifton Fadiman detected some slippage, finding Hemingway’s latest output a bit stale. Rather than pen a negative review, Fadiman shared his concerns by way of an open letter:
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From Our Advertisers
Until the 1920s all car bodies were framed in wood, preferably ash, but by the end of the 1930s all-steel car bodies became the standard…Packard made the switch beginning around 1938…
…ah, the good old days when you could smoke in the “rarefied atmosphere” of an airplane, the pilot so close by you could tap him on the shoulder…
…Brooklyn’s Hittleman-Goldenrod Brewery opened in late 1933 promising beer in the finest English tradition…sadly, it closed in 1937…
…the Waldorf-Astoria announced the re-opening of its Empire Room with entertainment by Xavier Cugat and his tango orchestra, featuring the dancer Margo…this was just the sort of “juvenile” entertainment Lois Long detested (see my previous post)…
…according to this ad, “His Lordship” drank a pot of decaf Sanka at midnight “and never winked an eye all night”…it doesn’t mention that he probably also wet the bed…
…on to our cartoons, we begin with Peter Arno and the woes of the monied classes…
…on to Helen Hokinson, and the charms of the precocious…
…Gardner Rea gave us a toff absorbed in historical fiction…
…Alain (aka Daniel Brustlein) offered up a flautist who found beauty in his routine life…
…and we close with Perry Barlow, and motherhood among the smart set…
As a book reviewer for the New Yorker, Dorothy Parker could eviscerate any writer with the tip of her pen, and often did so.
One writer, however, who received consistent praise from Parker was Ernest Hemingway, whom she first met in 1926. In the pages of the 1920s New Yorker, Parker particularly lauded Hemingway’s short story collections, In Our Time (1925) and Men Without Women (1927), which bookended his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises (which Parker thought OK but overly hyped). When the New Yorker profiled Hemingway in the Nov. 30, 1929 issue, it naturally turned to Parker to do the honors (although Robert Benchley, a good friend of Hemingway’s, could have offered his own take on the author) :
During Hemingway’s Paris years Parker actually took a boat with him to France (in 1926, along with mutual friend Robert Benchley) and so got a firsthand taste of his bohemian adventures. By the time the New Yorker profiled Hemingway, the Jazz Age was dead and Paris’s so-called “Lost Generation” was a thing of the past. Indeed, Hemingway had already been in the States for more than a year, returning in 1928 with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer (their son, Patrick Miller Hemingway, was born in June 1928 in Kansas City. Patrick still lives in Kansas City, and is now 90 years old).
Biographer Jeffrey Meyers notes in his book Hemingway: A Biography, that Hemingway of the early Paris years was a “tall, handsome, muscular, broad-shouldered, brown-eyed, rosy-cheeked, square-jawed, soft-voiced young man,” features that were not lost on Parker:
…more from Parker on Hemingway’s magnetic appeal…
Although Hemingway remains widely read and revered, such a hagiography — especially from someone as reliably critical as Parker — would be unlikely today. From his safari massacres of countless animals (in pursuit of his manhood) to his mistreatment of four wives and general misogyny, he is a far more complex and controversial figure today. One thing Parker got right: his short stories have held up much better than his novels. As for the profile, Parker concluded:
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Meet the Fokkers
In previous blogs we have established that E.B. White was an aviation enthusiast. He seems never to have missed an opportunity to catch a ride into the skies, so when pilots were conducting test flights of a prototype Fokker F-32 at New Jersey’s Teterboro field, he was there to file this brief for “The Talk of the Town”…
White’s enthusiasm for the aviation age is palpable in his description of the Fokker as it took off and climbed to a thousand feet:
I suppose it was in line with the New Yorker’s stance of keeping things light, but White’s dispassionate account of a plane crash earlier that day seemed a bit cold. From the air he described a scene just north of midtown, where a crowd had gathered near the site the crash. The pilot was killed, but a passenger managed to parachute to safety.
Speaking of crashes, the Fokker on which E.B. White was a passenger crashed a week later (Nov. 27, 1929) during a certification flight from Roosevelt Field to Teterboro Airport. No one was killed, but the aircraft was destroyed. The design itself didn’t last much longer — considered underpowered for its size, and too expensive at the dawn of the Depression, it was phased out by the end of 1930.
Perhaps after all of that flying, White needed something to calm the nerves, a subject he addressed in his “Notes and Comment” column:
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The Little Gallery That Could
“Talk,” via art critic Murdock Pemberton, had more to say about the new Museum of Modern Art, that is, not taking it very seriously…
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Welcome to Thurber World
In 1931 James Thurber published his second book, The Owl in the Attic and Other Perplexities, which consisted of pieces he had done for the New Yorker, including eight stories (from Dec. 29, 1928 to Aug. 9, 1930) that featured the marital escapades of a couple in their middle thirties, the Monroes, modeled on Thurber’s real-life marriage to his wife, Althea.
The Nov. 30, 1929 issue included Thurber’s fifth installment of the Monroe saga, “Mr. Monroe Holds the Fort,” in which a fearful Mr. Monroe, left home alone (his wife was visiting her mother), imagines there are burglars in the house:
…like his famous character Walter Mitty, which Thurber would introduce in 1939, Mr. Monroe had an equally lively imagination…
The character of Mr. Monroe would see new life in the fall of 1969 when NBC debuted My World… and Welcome to It, a half-hour sitcom based on James Thurber’s stories and cartoons. The actor William Windom portrayed John Monroe, a writer and cartoonist who worked for a magazine called The Manhattanite. In the show, Monroe’s daydreams and fantasies were usually based, if sometimes loosely, on Thurber’s writings.
My World… and Welcome to It was cancelled after one season. Nevertheless, it would win two Emmies: one for Windom and another for Best Comedy Series.
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Thank Heaven for Maurice
Things were looking up a bit in the talking movie department thanks to the Ernst Lubitsch-directed The Love Parade, featuring recent French import Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald. Film critic John Mosher observed:
Mosher was much less impressed by another musical, Show of Shows, featuring an all-star cast and Technicolor that added up to little more than a “stunt”…
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A Guide to Christmas Shopping, 1929
Lois Long’s fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue,” predictably grew in length as the Christmas holiday approached, and in the Nov. 30 issue she offered advice on how to go about one’s shopping duties. Some brief excerpts:
…Long’s column was peppered with holiday-themed spots, including this one by Julian DeMiskey…
From Our Advertisers
…we start with a couple of back page ads, including one from the National Winter Garden’s burlesque show and an ad announcing the imminent arrival of Peter Arno’sParade (just $3.50, or signed by Arno himself for $25)…
…another ad hailed the arrival of the New Yorker’s second album (read more about it here at Michael Maslin’s excellent Ink Spill)…
…other ads, in full color, featured cultural appropriation by the Santa Fe railroad…
…bright silks available at the Belding Hemingway Company…
…silk stockings from Blue Moon…
…for our cartoons, Helen Hokinson on the challenges of holiday shopping…
…Hokinson again, at tea with her ladies…
…Barbara Shermund, and the miracle of broadcast radio crossed with the nuances of a dinner party…
…and Shermund again, with a hapless friend of a clueless family…
For more than a century, a political organization known as the Tammany Society ruled New York City politics with an iron fist. Founded in 1786 (and named for Tamanend, a chief in the Lenni-Lenape nation), by the mid 19th century it rapidly expanded its political control by earning the loyalty of the city’s fast-growing immigrant population, particularly the Irish.
The Tammany Society proved an efficient machine for controlling state Democratic politics as well as New York City elections. Through its use of patronage to reward loyal precinct leaders, it also became a center for big-time graft. Most of us know a bit about Tammany thanks to school history books that focused on the deep corruption of William “Boss” Tweed, who was brought down by the press and by Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870s. Tammany Hall would survive the scandal, and in the 1920s would still pull the strings of politicians including Gov. Al Smith and New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker.
Tammany had several homes, but during its most notorious years it was located in a circa 1812 hall (then called a “wigwam”) and later in an 1868 building on 14th Street, between Third and Fourth avenues. The July 13, 1929 “Talk of the Town” noted the recent demolition of that old hall and the opening of a new headquarters on 17th Street:
“Talk” found the new building unimpressive; it seemed to signal that the old political machine was losing some of its luster:
Indeed, “Talk” found the building to be a somewhat austere, hosed-down affair, far removed from its grander past:
For further evidence that the more austere Tammany Hall was nevertheless alive and well in 1929, another “Talk” item noted the organization’s continued influence behind the scenes in local politics:
The 1930s marked the beginning of the end for Tammany Hall, when reform-minded Democrats such as President Franklin Roosevelt and New York’s Republican Mayor Fiorello La Guardia (supported by Roosevelt on a “Fusion” ticket) dismantled Tammany’s system of patronage. The Tammany Society abandoned its headquarters in 1943 when it found it no longer had the funds to maintain the hall. Bought by a local affiliate of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, it later housed the New York Film Academy and the Union Square Theatre until 2016, when it underwent extensive remodeling to make way for new office and retail space.
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Your Two Cents Worth
“Talk” also commented on the introduction of a new two-cent stamp that featured an image of Thomas Edison’s Mazda lamp, marking the celebration of 50 years of electric light. The magazine cheekily suggested that in the world of technological progress, there was nothing new under the sun:
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Americans in Paris
The New Yorker featured this humorous bit by a writer identified as “Guido” (I assume it is one of E.B. White’s many pseudonyms), who looked in on the chatter of various Parisian cafés and bars:
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Hit and Miss
The New Yorker generally reveled in the good times Florenz Ziegfeld brought to the stage, but his latest effort, Show Girl, proved a bit of a disappointment (more evidence, in my view, that folks were tiring of the decade-long party known as the Roaring Twenties):
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One of a Kind
New Yorker sportswriter Niven Busch, Jr. provided a nice write-up on golfer Bobby Jones, the most successful amateur ever to compete in the sport. An attorney by trade, the unassuming Jones had just won his third U.S. Open (he would win again in 1930). In all he would play in 31 majors, winning 13 of them and finishing in the top 10 an incredible 27 times. After retiring at age 28 in 1930 he helped design the Augusta National Golf Club and co-founded the Masters Tournament. An excerpt:
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An Odd Bit
Looking around the July 13 issue, let’s see what nighttime diversions were being touted by the New Yorker in their “Going on About Town” section (note the warning on the last item):
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From Our Advertisers
The makers of Pond’s cold cream continued to roll out endorsements from high society with this testimonial from Jane Kendall Mason (1909-1980), the newlywed wife of George Grant Mason, an executive with Pan American Airways in Cuba.
In 1925, the 17-year-old Jane made her formal debut in Washington society. After a visit with Grace Goodhue Coolidge, the first lady famously declared that Jane was “the most beautiful girl ever to enter the White House.”
After their marriage, the Masons became friends with Ernest and Pauline Hemingway, and introduced the Hemingways into Cuban society. Jane could hunt, fish, and hold her liquor, and, according to Ernest Hemingway, she was the most uninhibited person he’d ever met. So naturally they had a torrid, tempestuous, two-month affair that ended with Jane’s attempted suicide (she leapt from a balcony that was not high enough to do the job).
Hemingway supposedly used Jane as a model for the cruel-hearted Margot Macomber in The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber, in which the title character—trapped in a sad marriage to a wealthy but spineless American (George?)—accidently shoots her husband in the head while on safari. She is also considered to be the model for the sex-obsessed Helene Bradley in Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not— a character also married to a rich but spineless husband.
Mark Walston, writing for the July-August issue of Bethesda Magazine, notes that the mean-spirited Hemingway “sent Jane drafts of his work, taunting and tormenting her with his venomous and thinly veiled portraits.” According to Walston, Jane divorced Mason in 1940, and one month later married John Hamilton, former executive director of the Republican National Committee. After that brief marriage she wed George Abell, columnist for The Baltimore Sun and Washington Times-Herald. Her fourth and final husband was Arnold Gingrich, founder of Esquire and editor of Coronet magazines. Jane died in 1980. On her tombstone is her self-penned epitaph: “Talents too many, not enough of any.”
On to our next ad, which featured an interesting exchange between two men who discuss the fortunes of a guy named Cecil Barnes, retired at age 33 and owner of a new personal airplane…
…and we segue into our cartoons, featuring a mother and child (drawn by Kindl) probably flying on one of those Sikorskys…
…Rollin Kirby looked in on a tailor’s shop (this is one of only two drawings published by Kirby in the New Yorker)…
…a note on Kirby, a three-time Pulitzer winner: outraged by the passage of Prohibition laws, Kirby created one of his most famous characters, “Mr. Dry,” which he introduced to readers of the New York World in January 1920…
You can read more about Rollin Kirby and Mr. Dry here.
…Roland Baum peeked in on a reluctant stargazer…
…and to close, this little filler drawing of a hot dog vendor by Constantin Alajalov…
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.
The campaign launched by the Leo Burnett Agency sought to make Virginia Slims an “aspirational” brand for the liberated woman of the Swinging 60s…
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:
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”…
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:
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…
…and this ad for the the tipless Smokador ashtray, which was featured in many issues of the New Yorker…
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:
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:
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”…
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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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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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.
And finally, Barbara Shermund explored the intersection of high culture and flapper culture in this cartoon…
Ernest Hemingway wrote his lone New Yorker piece for the Feb. 5, 1927 issue. Titled “My Own Life,” it was a short parody of the 3-volume My Life and Loves by Irish writer Frank Harris.
Writing for The Hemingway Review (Fall 2001), Francis Bosha notes in “The Harold Ross Files” that Hemingway’s sole contribution to the New Yorker is striking given that the magazine was such a major influence on fiction in the 20th century.
Money, or the shortage thereof, appears to be the main reason why Hemingway was not a regular contributor. Although the young magazine was doing well, Bosha writes that it was not yet ready to compete financially with more established mass market magazines. Indeed, Hemingway’s “My Own Life” landed in the New Yorker because it had already been rejected by both Scribner’s magazine and The New Republic.
If you read the piece you can see why it was rejected. The famed fiction writer, hot off the success of The Sun Also Rises, was not a great parodist. An excerpt:
And so on. Hemingway wisely stuck with serious fiction, which might explain his fleeting association with the New Yorker, which in its first years was bent toward humor in the Punch vein and not toward serious writing.
Nevertheless, the New Yorker’s founding editor, Harold Ross, maintained a friendship and a regular correspondence with Hemingway during the writer’s years in Cuba in the 1940s. On several occasions Ross invited Hemingway to submit something to the magazine, but nothing came of it. It didn’t help that Hemingway publicly stated in 1942 that he “was out of business as a writer,” and was suffering from depression, weight gain, and bouts of heavy drinking.
The Great Ziegfeld Finally Opens His New Theatre
“The Talk of the Town” reported the premiere of Florenz Ziegfeld’s new art deco theatre was “one of the big mob scenes of the season,” attracting celebrities and celebrity-gawkers alike:
The opening drew the likes of Charlie Chaplin and polar explorer Roald Amundsen, who perhaps found a line of chorus girls a welcome sight after years of trekking through frozen landscapes.
Among the attractions of the new theatre was what was claimed to be the largest oil painting in the world:
Sadly, despite public protests, the theatre was razed in 1966, bulldozed into rubble. The Burlington House stands on the site today:
But we will end on a happier note, a cartoon by Barbara Shermund:
The death of artist Claude Monet prompted the editors of the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” to speculate on the true origins of the “Impressionist” movement of the late 19th century.
Note how the “Talk” editors lightly regarded the artist’s late period, during which he painted his famous “Water Lilies” series:
The editors also used the occasion to clear up the confusion (in the lay mind) between Édouard Manet and Claude Monet, identifying them not only as two distinct persons but also crediting the former with the founding of the Impressionism technique while giving Claude his due for actually giving it a name:
Another much younger notable of the age, Ernest Hemingway, was the talk of literary society on both sides of the Atlantic with the publication of his latest novel, The Sun Also Rises. According to the New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet “Genêt” Flanner, the novel was creating a buzz in Montparnasse over the origins of the book’s colorful characters:
Keeping in mind that the Christmas shopping season was still in full swing, Frigidaire thought it the perfect time for New Yorker readers to buy a newfangled electric refrigerator:
And we ring out the year with the final issue of 1926:
It was a tough year for New Yorker film critic “OC”, who summed up his disappointment with the movies by offering a Top Ten list that included only two films:
And to close, this cartoon by Helen Hokinson, which in the original magazine filled all of page 14 and therefore had to be printed sideways: