The “Profile” for the May 12, 1928 issue was unusual in that its subject was not a titan of industry, or a prominent politician, or noted artist, musician or literary figure, but rather a dog—an extraordinary animal named Egon who would be lost to history were it not for Alexander Woollcott writing about this particular German Shepherd and his exploits on the French Riviera.
I should be clear that the dog featured at the top of this entry is not Egon, but a famous contemporary named Rin Tin Tin. It is said Egon could have enjoyed similar fame on the silver screen (Hollywood was looking for an animal to replace the aging canine superstar), but Egon’s owner, Benjamin Finney, had no interest in the limelight. So I couldn’t find any images of Egon save for this drawing that accompanied Woollcott’s essay:
Writing for the Huffington Post, Anne Margaret Daniel calls Egon Finney the “Jazz Age celebrity no one has noticed since his lifetime, but who is surely as interesting as many of his human contemporaries — and far more interesting than many of them.”
Woollcott would agree with that statement, given the opening paragraphs of his piece on Egon:
When Egon and Finney lived in Antibes in 1927 and 1928, Egon would give diving exhibitions off the rocks below the Hotel du Cap. According to Daniel, the dog also “availed himself of his owner’s surfboard, and water skis — possibly the first pair ever on the Riviera.” Egon was aided in his efforts by none other than the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who lived on the Riviera from 1925 to 1930.
According to Daniel, Finney recalled that Egon’s physical design “made it difficult for him to get started (on the surfboard), but his friend Scott Fitzgerald was expert at giving him a hand… Firmly balanced, tail streaming in the wind, he was a noble sight — and he knew it.”
Because the dog outshone his owner, Woollcott headlined his profile, “The Owner of Ben Finney.” Egon died in 1934, and those very words are carved on his headstone, located in America’s first pet cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
Someone He Could Finally Relate To…
Charles Lindbergh was famously shy and crowd averse, so when the famed aviator met with the serious-minded boxing champ Gene Tunney, he found something of a kindred spirit. The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” was there for all of the action:
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From Our Advertisers…
Beginning in 1924 the Southern Pacific’s Golden State Limited trains added modern and luxurious 3-compartment, 2-drawing room observation cars to their Pullman fleet. This advertisement in the May 12, 1928 New Yorker enticed affluent readers to take the 2,762 mile, 70-hour journey from Chicago to Los Angeles:
As the fashion advertisements turned to summer, the May 12 issue featured no less than three separate ads for straw boaters…
Today’s ubiquitous polo shirt was an entirely new look for the summer of 1928. The shirt was designed by France’s seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion René Lacoste, who understandably found traditional “tennis whites” (starched, long-sleeved white button-up shirts with neckties) both cumbersome and uncomfortable. Lacoste first wore the polo at the 1926 U.S. Open, and in 1927 he placed the famous crocodile emblem on the left breast of his shirts. It didn’t take long for many imitators to hit the market. This ad from Wallach Brothers offered one version for $6, although I can’t imagine wool was the best material for this shirt (Lacoste used cotton in his).
No doubt B. Altman had June brides in mind for this advertisement featuring a deco bride of impossible proportions:
And our cartoon is once again from Peter Arno, who explored the not so subtle racism of the upper classes:
The “sad young man” in question was none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was profiled by John Chapin Mosher in the April 17, 1926 issue of The New Yorker.
Mosher wrote that Scott believed he was “getting on in years,” even though he was only 29 years old and had recently published The Great Gatsby (which had received a brief, lukewarm review from The New Yorker in 1925). Mosher observed that the novelist and his wife, Zelda, famous on two continents and with money pouring in from the publication of This Side of Paradise, nevertheless complained of being broke:
It was noted however that the couple had little financial sense:
Mosher found Fitzgerald to be a grave, hardworking man, and seemed to sense the melancholy that would lead to madness (in Zelda’s case), alcoholism and an early grave (Fitzgerald would be dead in 14 years).
In this issue we were also introduced to Peter Arno’s “Whoops Sisters,” although they are not yet identified here by that title:
According to New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin, “in 1925, The New Yorker published nine Arno drawings. In 1926, it ran seventy-two. The enormous jump was due to the wild success of two cartoon sisters Arno created: Pansy Smiff and Mrs. Abagail Flusser, otherwise known as The Whoops Sisters. The Sisters were not sweet little old ladies — they were naughty boisterous grinning “wink wink, nudge nudge” sweet little old ladies, their language laced with double entendres.”
In the April 24, 1926 issue, the dyspeptic film critic Theodore Shane took aim at Cecil B. DeMille’ The Volga Boatman:
Also in this issue, Al Frueh’s interpretation of New York’s social strata via the city’s Madison Avenue train stops:
Near the theatre section, this illustration of famed Spanish singer and actress Raquel Meller, as rendered by Miguel Covarrubias:
And a photo of Meller from the 1920s that looks like it could have been taken yesterday:
An international star in the 1920s and 1930s, Meller appeared in several films and sang the original version of the well known song La Violetera.
A “Profile” piece by Frank Waldo (aka “Searchlight”) in the May 23, 1925 issue took a look at the 36-year-old Charlie Chaplin and his “magical popularity,” recounting how he was nearly “devoured” by an adoring crowd in Paris (Chaplin was decorated by the French government in 1921 for his film work and made Officer of the Légion d’Honneur in 1952). Chaplin dismissed the attention as “nothing,” and was reported to spend much of his time off-screen brooding and in despair.
Waldo wrote that the “pity” of Chaplin is that “he does not understand the adoration he receives, and therefore has become a self-doubting, melancholy, haunted man…caught in a vast machine he has created and which he does not run…he has created for himself a mask (that) has satisfied the world, from China to Paris. It has failed in but a single way—a cruel one: for it has failed to satisfy its maker.”
Waldo wrote that Chaplin seeks his answer wistfully through women or through association with intellectuals, leaving him “as will-less as a Russian romantic, in the quicksands of Los Angeles: lost in a world of which he is the king, and which he does not love and which distrusts him, knowing him different from it.”
William Jennings Bryan, “The Great Commoner,” was a frequent target of the early New Yorker. “Talk of the Town” reported that he denied making a million dollars on a Florida land deal (“it was only five hundred thousand dollars, Mr. Bryan indignantly averred”).
Apparently Bryan, “the great statesman and religionist,” also controlled a choice site in Miami, toward which “a certain church cast longing glances.” The church pleaded poverty, but Bryan wouldn’t budge on the price. Instead, he said if the church bought the plot at said price and built on the site he would agree to preach eight sermons there, which, the “Talk” writer observed, “would unquestionably attract many casual worshippers, so swelling the collections.”
“Talk” also reported on the wedding of Mrs. David Meriwether Milton, nee Abby Rockefeller. Guests included New York Governor Alfred Smith and NYC Mayor John Hylan. The New Yorker also reported receiving a letter from writer Michael Arlen prior to his departure for England. Referring to a previous issue that pondered what impressions of America he would relate to England, he wrote “I shall say that I found America charming. And Oh, I have!” The New Yorker dryly observed that Arlen, before boarding his ship, “made an arrangement with one of our monthly periodicals; that is to say, The Cosmopolitan.” It was reported that this rival Hearst publication was paying Arlen the princely sum of $3,500 for each short story delivered. No doubt a pang of jealousy was felt at the fledgling New Yorker.
A feature by “Susan Simple, Spinster” titled “Husbands, An Appreciation,” described various types of husbands including those who are acrobatic, helpless, doggy (“so friendly and believing”) and those who have no time for their wives (“the Metered One”).
“Books noted the passing of Amy Lowell, and briefly reviews F. Scott Fitzgerald’s latest novel The Great Gatsby; the reviewer writes that the novel “revives our interest” in Fitzgerald, though the book is “not in a Byronic promise he probably never had. He still reveres and pities romantic constancy, but with detachment. Gatsby, its heroic victim, is otherwise a good deal of a nut…Parts are solidly good, all has to be read, The young man is not petering out.”
History would not be kind to Fitzgerald, who received similar mixed reviews from other publications. The book sold only 20,000 copies in its first year, and when the writer died in 1940, he believed himself to be a failure and his work forgotten. Little did he know that he had written what many still believe to be “The Great American Novel.”
Issue #4, March 14, 1925 opened with “The Talk of the Town,” the lead item noting that New York was “agog about the possible visit of Queen Marie of Rumania,” and that the queen was supposedly offered a contract by a newspaper to write her impressions of the United States.
Born into the British royal family, Queen Marie was titled Princess Marie of Edinburgh at birth. After refusing a proposal from her cousin, the future King George V, she was chosen as the future wife of Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, the heir apparent of King Carol I, in 1892 (she was the last Queen consort of Romania, and her trip to the U.S. would prove to be the last months of her reign).
An account in the Frontier Times in 1968 describes the visit this way:
When Queen Marie first announced her intention of making a trip to America, she stated that her general purpose was a sort of educational good will tour; but that her specific purpose was to dedicate a museum at Maryhill, Washington…She sailed from Cherbourg (France) on October 12, 1926, on the Leviathan, accompanied by her son, Nicholas, and her daughter, Ileana; her special aide, Major Stanley Washburn; her close friend, Loie Fuller, the ballet dancer; six personal attendants; several European dignitaries; about one hundred pieces of baggage—and her dog.
For publicity, the timing was perfect. Front page news was scarce, and the Queen’s visit was “manna from heaven” for the newspapers, and a field day for the reporters—who played up the trip in great style.
Queen Marie had contracted with the North American Newspaper Alliance to write a series of articles ranging from “Why I Came to America” to “My Impressions of America.” About six of such articles were published; and as they ran 2,000 words each, one suspects she must have had a ghost writer—and there was one such in her party.
In her syndicated articles she gave a variety of reasons why she came to America—which might have been condensed into a desire to see the country first-hand, and find out how its people lived. She wanted to see almost every object of interest—Pikes Peak, the Everglades, farmers, Indians, washing machines and rodeos; and wanted to ride a horse. She spoke of steel mills, skyscrapers, big trees and tombs of famous men. Particularly she wanted to see American kitchens, and find out if the occupants were as good looking as they appeared to be in linoleum advertisements…
However, the reasons advanced by some who clearly were not in sympathy with the Queen’s visit, were not so altruistic. One newspaper was of the opinion that the real purpose of the trip was to find a rich American husband for Ileana…
“The Talk of the Town” also featured a brief item on “vaudeville headliner” Harry Houdini and his “denunciations of Marjorie.”
This is in reference to a rivalry between a Bostonian, Mina Crandon (known as “Margery the Medium”) and magician Harry Houdini, who called himself “the scourge of spirit mediums.”
The 1920’s marked the height of America’s obsession with the paranormal—the “spirit world”–and Margery was a rock star among the many competing spiritualists of the day. The most famous of her followers was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Doyle was so convinced of her powers that he recommended her to the editors of Scientific American. The magazine was offering a $2,500 prize to the first medium who could verifiably demonstrate (to an investigative committee) a “visual psychic manifestation.”
When the committee reported it found no trickery in Margery’s methods, the outraged Houdini cancelled his upcoming shows and headed to Boston with the aim of personally debunking the medium at a seance.
In an article by Robert Love posted on Mental Floss, he relates what happened next when Houdini arrived at her Lime Street apartment:
Margery greeted the panel and took her seat within a three-sided Chinese screen, the lights dimmed. Soon enough, an eerie whistling filled the room. On cue, the spirit of Walter (Margery’s dead brother) whispered his arrival, even touching Houdini on the inside of his right leg. After a break, he ordered an electric bell enclosed in a wooden box brought to Houdini’s feet. Then Walter levitated a megaphone and boomed: “Have Houdini tell me where to throw it.”
“Toward me,” Houdini said, and the megaphone flew through the air and crashed in front of him. That was just the beginning. Throughout the evening, Walter produced a sequence of metaphysical spectacles, ringing the bell box on command and tipping over the wooden screen.
Houdini had done his homework. He knew that Dr. Le Roi Crandon, Margery’s husband, always sat on her right. (A Harvard-educated surgeon, Crandon was her greatest promoter, often showing visitors nude photographs of his wife in séance delicté). Houdini also guessed correctly that he would be seated at her left in the circle, with hands joined, feet and legs touching. In preparation for the evening, Houdini wore a tight bandage under his right knee all day; it was so painful it made his skin tender to even the slightest touch. The heightened sensitivity paid off. He could feel Margery twist and flex in the dark as she moved her left ankle slightly to get to the bell box under the table. Later, he felt her shift again to tip the Chinese screen with her foot. The flying megaphone stumped Houdini for a few hours, but he eventually figured out that Margery had placed it on her head, dunce-cap-style, with a momentarily free hand. She then jerked her head in his direction to send it crashing to the floor.
“I’ve got her,” he said when the evening was over. “All fraud. Every bit of it. One more sitting and I will be ready to expose everything.”
A second séance at a Boston hotel featured a levitating table. Houdini reached out in the dark and found Margery’s head lifting the table from beneath. He again felt her legs move as she reached to ring the bell box. “The slickest ruse I ever detected,” Houdini said later, in something close to admiration.
Other celebrities of the time are found in the issue’s pages. The section “In Our Midst” tells of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda visiting Rome, and that the author was nearly finished with a novel called “The Great Braxton” (which would actually be titled “The Great Gatsby”). Another item noted that Eugene O’Neill was vacationing in Bermuda.
The “Profile” featured boxer Jack Dempsey, and “Books” announced the publication of A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young.
The “Hourglass” mentions the antics of Gutzon Borglum, who had been sculpting a tribute to the Confederacy on Georgia’s Stone Mountain.
The “antics,” specifically, concerned Borglum’s famed temper and his penchant for smashing completed sculptures in fits of rage. He would later go on to sculpt the monument at Mt. Rushmore.
Then there’s an article by “The Professor” on the Ziegfeld Follies that features this illustration:
The author concludes, “I forget whether it was a good show or not, but as a barometer of New York, it can’t be excelled.”
The “Motion Pictures” section featured a brief mention of “Mr. Hay’s” moral crusade against plays and movies. Hays would later lend his name to the The Production Code of 1930, known to most as the “Hays Code.”
Finally, if you really want to get a sense of how times have changed, check out the issue’s back page ad, and the suggested look for a “University man:”