The Faux Prince

He was variously a restaurateur, con man and actor, but one thing Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitry Obolensky Romanoff was not was a prince.

Oct. 29, 1932 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

But apparently to many movers and shakers he was a lot of fun, and so much of a character that Alva Johnston penned a five-part profile of Romanoff. A brief excerpt of Part One:

Born Hershel Geguzin in Lithuania, Romanoff (1890–1971) immigrated to New York City in 1900 and changed his name to Harry F. Gerguson. An odd-jobber and sometime crook (passing bad checks, etc.), at some point Romanoff raised the ante to become a professional imposter, and among other guises began passing himself off as a member of Russia’s royal House of Romanov. Few believed him, but it didn’t matter because his antics (aided by an eager press) got him invited to all sorts of soirees. And what better place than America to re-invent yourself, and especially Hollywood, where in 1941 Romanoff cashed in on his fame to establish a popular Rodeo Drive restaurant.

ALL THAT GLITTERS…Although Romanoff’s attracted all matter of glitterati, from Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield (in a famous photo) to Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, Romanoff mostly ignored his clientele, preferring to dine with his dogs. (

Here’s the terrific cover of the Romanoff’s menu:

Romanoff appeared in various films — both credited and uncredited — from 1937 to 1967…

ON THE SCREEN…Michael Romanoff (right) with Louis Calhern in 1948’s Arch of Triumph. (IMDB)

…and apparently he didn’t ignore all celebrities…

…AND OFF…Romanoff in the 1950s and early 60s with some of his pals including, clockwise, from top left, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, rat-packers Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope. (Pinterest)

…and if you are hungry for more, there is a recipe named for Romanoff, still available from the folks at Betty Crocker:

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Return to Sender

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White exposed the corrupt ways of the Tammany-dominated Department of Taxes and Assessments thanks to the New Yorker’s fictional figurehead Eustace Tilley:

IN ARREARS…Neither death, nor taxes, bothered the inimitable Eustace Tilley.

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Chinese Checkered

White actors portraying Asian characters was all too common in the 20th century (and still persists to this day) but Alla Nazimova’s portrayal of O-Lan in the Guild Theatre’s stage adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth was just too much for critic Robert Benchley:

WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT IT?…Claude Rains as Wang Lung and Alla Nazimova as O-Lan in the Guild Theatre’s The Good Earth. At right, Nazimova as O-Lan. (

In all fairness to Rains and Nazimova, many of their white Hollywood compatriots portrayed Asian characters, including Katherine Hepburn in another adaptation of a Pearl Buck novel:

IN ON THE ACT…Luise Rainer as O-Lan and Paul Muni as Wang Lung in the 1937 film adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth; at right, Katherine Hepburn in the 1944 film adaptation of Buck’s Dragon Seed. For the record, the New Yorker’s John Mosher called the 1937 film “vast and rich.”  (IMDB/

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with some good old-fashioned sexism from the makers of Packard automobiles…if this woman had a job outside of the home (uncommon before the war) she could have just gone and bought the damn car…right?…

…and don’t forget the ANTI-FREEZE, as this two-page ad from Union Carbide helpfully suggested (Prestone anti-freeze, that is, not the other crap on the market)…

…some back-page ads…the one on right featured a rather somber-looking Jack Denny, appearing at the Waldorf’s famed Empire Room…and then there is the Schick Dry Shaver…I owned a Schick in the 1980s and had a permanent 5 o’clock shadow until I switched to blades; I can’t imagine how these things would have performed 89 years ago…

…cartoonist Otto Soglow continued to extoll the virtues of decaf coffee…

…and on to our cartoons, William Crawford Galbraith eavesdropped on a backstage political discussion…

Peter Arno found a lovelorn soul in a furniture department…

Soglow again, this time hinting at the Little King’s naughty side…

…as a former newspaper editor, this entry from Garrett Price really hit home…I used to get calls about all sorts of interesting critters and misshapen vegetables…

Rea Irvin gave us a former bank teller all washed up by the Depression…

…and James Thurber continued to explore the growing war between the sexes…

…we continue on to Nov. 5, 1932…

Nov. 5, 1932 cover by William Cotton.

…and this observation by E.B. White on the state of cigarette ads, namely the latest from Lucky Strike…

…one of the ads that caught White’s eye…

…the Nov. 5 issue featured another edition of the parody newspaper “The Blotz,” but what caught my eye was the upper right-hand corner…

…intended as a joke, of course, referring to political changes in Germany…but to our eyes quite ominous…

…and here we have a Lord & Taylor ad that begs the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Aside from the weirdly attenuated figures (admittedly standard in fashion illustration), the fellow in the lounger appears to be sitting at floor level, contemplating a photograph that seems to be of some interest to his companions, none of whom appear to be all that cheerful

…the Nov. 5 issue also offered readers several options for stockings…

…on to our cartoonists, James Thurber provided these sketches for the magazine’s football column (except the one at bottom left, which appeared in the events section in the Oct. 29 issue)…

…Americans were turning out for the 1932 presidential elections, some in their own way per Helen Hokinson

…twenty-year old Syd Hoff gave us some late night hijinks…

William Crawford Galbraith continued to probe the entertainment world…

…and we close with Alan Dunn, who takes us out with a bang…

Next Time: Pining for Tin Lizzy…


Age of the Talkies

The Oct. 15, 1927 issue featured the premiere of the film The Jazz Singer. Although the New Yorker found the story a bit dull, it also recognized that the film’s use of sound marked a significant turning point in the short history of cinema.

October 15, 1927 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

The Jazz Singer was not the first film to employ sound, but as the New Yorker review pointed out, it was the first to effectively use synchronized sound (the industry standard Vitaphone technique) in a way that improved the motion picture.

The film featured only two minutes worth of sound dialogue, so most of the spoken lines were still presented on intertitle cards commonly used in silent films. But it was Al Jolson’s recorded voice, belting out popular tunes including “Toot, Toot, Tootsie,” that really wowed audiences. At the end of the film Jolson himself appeared on stage before an audience “clapping and bellowing with joy”…



IT SINGS! IT TALKS!!!…Al Jolson as Jack Robin and Eugenie Besserer as his mother, Sara Rabinowitz, in The Jazz Singer. One attendee at the premiere recalled that when Jolson and Besserer began their dialogue scene, “the audience became hysterical.” (

It is interesting that as early as 1927, and even with the relatively crude sound of Vitaphone, the New Yorker was already predicting the advent of a new kind of star (and the decline of the stage actor)…



BLACK TIE EVENT…A Vitaphone projection setup at a 1926 demonstration. Western Electric engineer E. B. Craft, left, is holding a soundtrack disc, which was essentially a phonograph record. The turntable, on a thick tripod base, is at lower center. (Wikipedia)

As for the movie itself, well, there was Jolson, beloved by many. Perhaps it’s the sound quality, or the 89 years of changing tastes, but I cannot for life of me understand what audiences (or the New Yorker) saw that was so appealing about Al Jolson as a performer.


THAT WAS THEN…Al Jolson as Jack Robin in The Jazz Singer. Although performing in blackface is considered racist today, Jolson’s use of blackface was integral to the film in that it was tied to Jack’s own Jewish heritage and his struggle for identity. Of course that doesn’t make it any less offensive today. (theredlist)

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Absent-minded Ambassador

The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” offered some curious observations about the new ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow.

SON-IN-LAW…Aviator Charles Lindbergh would marry Dwight Morrow’s daughter, Anne, in 1929. in this photo from 1931 are, from left, Charles Lindbergh, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Elisabeth Morrow, and Dwight Morrow. (

Morrow has been widely hailed as a brilliant ambassador with a keen intellect. The New Yorker, however, offered some additional perspective on the man:



Flight of Fancy

In the wake of Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight, the New Yorker (and the rest of the country) continued its fascination with air travel, which at this point was confined to military and commercial pilots, stunt flyers and the well-to-do.





The Fokker F.VII pictured above is likely the same plane or very similar to the one owned by Texas oilman William Denning. The interior depicted below is also similar to what is described in the New Yorker article. (

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RIP Isadora Duncan

The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, Janet Flanner, wrote of the funeral of famed modern dancer Isadora Duncan in her column, “Letter from Paris.” Duncan was killed in a freak accident on the night of Sept. 14, 1927 when her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels of the car in which she was riding, breaking her neck.



Isadora Duncan (

Other items of note from the Oct. 15 issue, E.B. White contributed this ditty…


…and Corey Ford, who gave the fictional Eustace Tilley his persona, wrote of Tilley’s feat crossing Broadway in a parody of adventure stories popular at the time. An excerpt:


And finally, Peter Arno explored childhood angst among the smart set:


Next Time: Electric Wonders…




Making of a Magazine

Before we jump into the autumn issues of 1925, I want to briefly look back at The New Yorker’s first summer, when the magazine limped along week to week but managed to survive thanks to a fortuitous meeting between Harold Ross and Raoul Fleischmann during a bridge game.

Harold Ross and Jane Grant in 1926 (University of Oregon Libraries)

According to Thomas Kunkel’s book, Genius in DisguiseFleischmann was the wealthy scion of a New York yeast and baking family, and a frequent guest of the Algonquin Round Table. He hated the baking business, so when Ross pitched the idea of investing in his new magazine, Fleischmann obliged with $25,000. Ross and his wife, Jane Grant, together put up the other $25,000 (which included some IOU’s), but after the magazine was launched and struggled during its first months, Fleischmann was further obliged to pour in many hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the magazine afloat (and in spite teasing from his friends that he might as well dump the money in the river).

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Raoul Herbert Fleischmann with a woman identified as “Bride Mrs. Louis D. Munds” in a United Air Lines photo from Nov 30, 1939. (Oakland Museum of California)

The magazine was actually killed as early as May 8, when Fleischmann called Ross and other magazine directors together after Ross lost a large amount of money in a poker game (money he’d plan to invest in the magazine).

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Cover for July 11, 1925, by Bertrand Zadig. Funds were so scarce that the cover was printed in black and white.

Fortunately, the following day was fellow Round Tabler Franklin P. Adams’ wedding, and in the convivial atmosphere Ross and Fleishmann agreed to give the magazine another go.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the magazine struggled mightily through the summer, with thin issues featuring in-house promotional ads that claimed the most prime advertising spots (including inside front and back covers).

However, the house ads were clever and fun to read, as Kunkel explains:

To help camouflage the dearth of advertising, Ross asked (New Yorker humor writer) Corey Ford to come up with some promotional, or “house” ads. Ford’s response was the “Making of the Magazine” series, which not only represented some of the cleverest writing in the 1925 New Yorker but went a long way toward establishing the magazine’s droll, self-deprecating tone… Each article was accompanied by a Johann Bull illustration featuring the ubiquitous (Eustace) Tilley, who was based on the Rea Irvin dandy (who was featured on the magazine’s first cover). Ford had simply made up the moniker (“’Tilley’ was the name of a maiden aunt,” he explained, “and I chose ‘Eustace’ because it sounded euphonious”), and soon it came to be identified with Irvin’s monocled figure. Tilley began turning up by name in Talk items and Ross listed him in the telephone directory.

The creator of the name “Eustace Tilley,” humorist Corey Ford was an avid outdoorsman who would go on to write a monthly column for Field & Stream in the 1950s and 60s. (Image from 1952 True magazine)

More than 20 of these house ads were featured through the end of 1925. What follows are the first ads in the series from issues dated August 8, 15, 22, 29.

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