Although the United States declared its independence from British Empire nearly 250 years ago, the royal family and all of its requisite trappings persist in the American imagination like a phantom limb.
E.B. White observed as much in the “Notes and Comment” section of the Oct. 5 issue, in which he offered his views regarding the “pother” over the wedding of Calvin Coolidge’s son, John, to Florence Trumbull, the daughter of Connecticut Governor John Harper Trumbull…
White could have looked no further than the pages of the New Yorker for further evidence to his claims. The bourgeois yearnings of its readers were reflected in countless advertisements laced with anglophilic pretensions. Here are examples from 1929 issues we have previously examined:
Writing under the pseudonym “Guy Fawkes,” Robert Benchley commented further on the Coolidge-Trumbull nuptials in the “Wayward Press” column:
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We go from famous faces to infamous ones, namely the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, aka Il Duce, who received the adoration of his public while trying to remain inconspicuous at the cinema. “Talk” recounted…
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“Talk” also commented on the growing trend for high-rise apartments to provide swimming pools and other amenities below street level:
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How About a Catch?
As I’ve noted on previous occasions, the New Yorker of the 1920s all but ignored major league baseball. The magazine gave regular coverage to seemingly every sport, from hockey and college football to polo and yacht racing, but regular coverage of baseball was nonexistent, even when the Yankee’s Murderers’ Row (Ruth, Gehrig among others) won back-to-back World Series titles in 1927-28.
Still no coverage in the Oct. 5 issue, but the sport did get a brief mention in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column…
…and the issue was filled with baseball imagery, including the cover…
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In a Sentimental Mood
Robert Benchley checked out George White’s latest version of his Scandals revue at the Apollo Theatre, and found the sometimes risqué show to be in a sentimental mood…
Benchley also looked in on Elmer Rice’s latest, See Naples and Die, featuring veteran English actress Beatrice Herford and the up-and-coming Claudette Colbert…
Benchley applauded the veteran Herford’s performance, but found the otherwise reliable Colbert miscast as a wisecracking, Dorothy Parker type (Benchley, as we know, was close friends with Parker, so he knew what he was talking about)…
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An (Ugly) American in Paris
Off to Paris, we find correspondent Janet Flanner joining with Parisians in deriding the behavior of American tourists, who were on a course to drain every last drop from the Île–de–France before departing for the bone-dry USA:
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With her infant child (Patricia Arno) at home, it is doubtful Lois Long was seeing as much nightlife as she did during her first weeks at the New Yorker, when “nights were bold.” And indeed, her nightlife column “Tables for Two” would end for good in June 1930. Her Oct. 5 column took a cursory spin through the various nighttime offerings, ending on this note regarding a fan letter and a message from comedian Jimmy Durante:
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From Our Advertisers
With the latest Paris fashions splattered across newstands all over Manhattan, retailers scrambled to get “replicas” to consumers…Macy’s had “couturier bags”…
…the Hollander Dressmaking Department was ready to make a perfect copy of Patou’s “Quiproquo”…
…and this Chanel frock could be had in misses’ sizes for $145 (roughly equivalent to about $2K today)…
…Philip Morris hadn’t yet discovered the “Marlboro Man,” and were still hawking their cigarettes through a “distinguished handwriting contest.” The latest winner was Edmund Froese…
…who would go on to become a popular mid-century landscape painter…
…another artist in the midst of our ads is Carl “Eric” Erickson, who created these lovely images for R.J. Reynolds that would induce people to take up the habit with a Camel…
…and then we have some rather unlovely ads from the back pages, including these two that would not go over well with today’s readers…
…or this from Dr. Seuss, still sharpening his skills with Flit insecticide…
…or this ad from Abercrombie & Fitch, wrong on so many levels…
…on to happier things, here’s an illustration by Reginald Marsh that ran along the bottom of “Talk of the Town”…(click to enlarge)
…Alan Dunn found love in the air above the streets of Manhattan…
…and Leonard Dove revealed the hazards of apartment rentals…
Although its founding editor, Harold Ross, was raised in the rude surroundings of a Colorado mining town and often displayed the manners of a backwoodsman, the New Yorker nevertheless looked down its sophisticated nose at most anything west of the Hudson, and the middle west was reserved for particular ridicule in its homespun piety and small city boosterism.
Enter one Marion Talley, a child prodigy from the tiny town of Nevada, Missouri. After appearing in a lead role at age 15 for the Kansas City Grand Opera, excited civic leaders raised enough money to send Talley to New York to study voice. Four years later (February 1926) she made herMetropolitan Operadebut as Gilda in Rigoletto — at that time the youngest prima donna to appear on the Met stage. A delegation of Kansas City’s two hundred leading citizens (including the mayor) travelled to New York via special train to attend the performance. Adding to the spectacle, a noisy telegraph machine was set up backstage so Talley’s father could send dispatches back home during the performance. Writing in his “A Reporter at Large” column for the New Yorker’s Feb. 27, 1926 issue, Morris Markey scoffed at the hype and Babbitry on display:
The New Yorker (via E.B. White in “Notes & Comment”) caught up with Talley more than three years later in the April 20, 1929 issue, her short career seemingly over, her voice perhaps destined for nothing more than “hog-calling”…
When Talley’s Met contract was not renewed for the 1929 season, she announced her plans to retire to a wheat farm in Kansas (hence the hog calling reference). She did, however, try to revive her career on concert tours and then on her own NBC Radio program (1936-1938), sponsored by Ry-Krisp. She made one film, the 1936 musical Follow Your Heart, but after its tepid reception the 30-year-old Talley decided to retire from show business.
How good a singer was Marion Talley? We will never really know, but you can get some sense of her style and range from this 1927 Vitaphone short (the Vitaphone sound method synchronized the film with what was essentially a record player):
Talley married twice — to pianist Michael Rauchelsen (1932–1934) and to music critic Adolph Eckstein (1935–1942), the latter with whom she had a daughter, Susan. Talley died in 1983 in Beverly Hills, California.
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Dark Clouds on the Horizon
The April 20, 1929 “Talk of the Town” made passing mention of a man who would be instrumental in the stock market crash later that year—National City Bank President Charles E. Mitchell:
The “Talk” item references a $25 million advance Mitchell offered to stock market traders who were getting the yips in an overheated market. This happened after a “mini crash” on March 25, 1929, when the Federal Reserve told its banks to withhold all loans to finance securities. Mitchell’s announcement apparently reassured the public enough to stop the panic, but in reality it only delayed the inevitable—a major market crash brought on in large part by the over-selling of securities by Mitchell’s bank.
The “Talk” item continued with this observation on the Panic of 1907, and how banker J.P. Morgan had also offered $25 million to bring the market back to earth:
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One of Broadway’s biggest stars in the 1920s, Fanny Brice (1891-1951) was profiled by Niven Busch Jr. in the April 20 issue. In addition to her work with the Ziegfeld Follies and other stage productions, by 1929 the comedian, singer and actress had recorded two-dozen songs and appeared in the 1928 film, My Man. Brice’s star would continue to rise in the 1930s and 40s, especially on the radio portraying the bratty toddler “Baby Snooks.”Here are the opening lines of the profile, which included a caricature of Brice by Miguel Covarrubias:
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From its very beginnings comic verse played an important role in the pages of the New Yorker. The subjects of my previous blog post (Generation of Vipers), sisters Elinor Wylie and Nancy Hoyt, both contributed comic poems to the magazine, as did Clarence Knapp, a former mayor of Saratoga, New York, who also wrote prose pieces on that city’s famed horse racing scene. According to Judith Yaross Lee (Defining New Yorker Humor, p. 354), Knapp was a New Yorker insider who penned a total of 14 mock-melodramatic “sob ballads” between 1927 and 1930. Lee observes that Knapp’s ballads followed a fixed formula, two 16-line stanzas followed by eight-line refrains, that “joked about present social values by invoking past forms.”
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They Loved a Parade
After the passing of literary giant Victor Hugo in 1885 (his funeral attracted two million mourners),Paris became known for its spectacular funeral processions. So whenfamed French general and (WWI) Supreme Allied Commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch died on March 20, 1929, the City of Light turned out in droves to say goodbye. On hand to report the scene was the New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, Janet Flanner, aka Genêt:
By Flanner’s account, Foch’s send-off easily matched Hugo’s in terms of crowd size:
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The Art of Smoking
Cigarette manufacturers used a variety of marketing techniques to promote their tobacco products. During the late 1920s and early 30s R.J. Reynolds sought to attract more women smokers through a series of stylish ads for its Camel brand that evoked a softly elegant world. These ads were illustrated by Carl Erickson (1891–1958), a fashion artist whose work was widely seen in Vogue and in promotions for Coty cosmetics. This ad appeared in the April 20 issue of the New Yorker:
While studying at Chicago’s Academy of Fine Arts, Erickson was nicknamed “Eric,” a name he later used to sign his works. Also a successful portrait artist, Erickson lived part of his professional life in France (1920 to 1940) with his wife, the fashion illustrator Lee Creelman. Below are several examples of Erickson’s Camel work, including two back page illustrations from Delineator, a women’s fashion magazine that featured Butterick sewing patterns.
And From Our Other Advertisers…
With our Cuba relations once again eroding, let’s look back 89 years to a time when affordable, care-free living could be yours in sunny Havana…
…or in the days before foam rubber, “ozonized” animal hair gave bounce to your rugs…
…or the modestly well-off could contemplate an apartment on Park Avenue…
Our cartoons come courtesy of Garrett Price (1895-1979), who would contribute hundreds of cartoons as well as 100 covers during his more than 50 years with the New Yorker. An excellent look at Price’s life and work can be found in The Comics Journal…
…Denys Wortman (1887-1958) looked in on a bookseller with a “spoiler” problem. From 1924 to 1954 Wortman drew the nationally syndicated comic strip Metropolitan Movies for the New York World. The beautifully drawn strip offered a naturalistic portrayal of daily life in New York City…
…and John Reynolds looked in on the challenges of the architecture profession. Reynolds contributed 34 drawings to the New Yorker from 1928 to 1930.
A defining moment for Art Deco design in America occurred at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art during a 1929 exhibition that showcased everything from household furnishings to garden design.
Before we delve into the Met’s exhibition, The Architect and the Industrial Arts, a quick note about the New Yorker’sTheodore Haupt-illustrated cover, which referenced the annual Six-Day Cycling Race that was taking place at the Madison Square Garden Velodrome. The event, which began at the old Madison Square Garden in 1891 and lasted until 1950, featured a beer garden (after Prohibition) in the center of the oval and drew such celebrities as Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck and Peggy Joyce. It was said that Crosby even paid the hospital bills of riders who fell during the race.
The March 9 issue was lively with another contribution from Groucho Marx (“Press Agents I Have Known”) and an Alexander Woollcott-penned profile of playwright and screenwriter Charles Gordon MacArthur (husband of stage actress Helen Hayes and father of James “Book ’em Danno” MacArthur).
But as the blog title suggests, it was also filled with articles and ads that told of a city embracing all things new and modern, including a piece by architecture critic George S. Chappell on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s eleventh Exhibition of Contemporary American Design, titled The Architect and the Industrial Arts. It was curated by the Met’s Richard F. Bach, who organized 15 annual exhibitions of contemporary industrial art at the museum between 1917 and 1940.
The 1929 exhibition of Art Deco works was the biggest yet, inspired by the Art Moderne movement in Europe and particularly the 1925 Paris Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels). The Met exhibition, wrote Chappell, “should not be missed”…
Chappell found the exhibit to be “stimulating,” although he hoped designers in the future would “curb cleverness” and focus more on fundamentals:
Writing in the February 1929 Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curator Richard S. Bach posed bold questions for this new age: “What is the tempo of our day? What are the dominant elements of our culture, our activities, our thinking? Is this a speed age or are we sedate? Have we time to be dignified and stately about frills or are we air-minded? Do we wait for months, as once all did, for the silkworm to complete his labors before beginning to make thread from his cocoon…or (do we) make a few bales of vegetable silk out of chemically treated wood fiber between breakfast and lunch as a regular chore of a business week-day? And is this the mechanistic millennium which shrivels the soul and makes mockery of imagination, or are these fabulous industries, these automatic instruments of production, the means of bringing within range of vision the real potentialities of our crowded lives and of interpreting our aspirations and achievements?
Pumping Iron Into the Sky
The architecture firm Starrett & van Vleck saw the “real potentialities of our crowded lives” when they designed a new Art Deco skyscraper to house the Downtown Athletic Club. Writing in Lost City News, Mary Hohlt cites the architect Rem Koolhaas, who sees the Downtown Athletic Club as “the ideal of a hyper-reality in the burgeoning urban form of hyper-density and congestion.” The Club is “the everything-at-your-fingertips self-improvement incubator for men…It is a place for men to indulge on self-improvement; to better themselves in a place only the constructed, hyper-reality of Manhattan can provide.”
Hohlt writes that Koolhaas sees the Downtown Athletic Club as a sterile place: “Towering in the sky, the Club removes men from the rest of the world and allows them a kind of aesthetic improvement that cannot be passed on.” E.B. White took a less jaded view in this “Talk of the Town” segment:
Another New Yorker who saw the “real potentialities of our crowded lives” was insurance salesman Milton A. Kent, who in 1928-29 erected a brick and terra-cotta Art Deco tower that could park 1,000 cars using an automatic elevator system.
Once again E.B. White was on hand to render this observation for “Talk”…
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Death of a Can-Can Dancer
The sad death of Louise Weber, aka La Goulue, was announced in Janet Flanner’s “Letter from Paris” column. Weber was a can-can dancer at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and a model for some of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s most famous cabaret paintings. Flanner wrote of La Goulue’s rise to fame…
…and her sad downfall into a life of poverty among the rag-pickers:
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From Our Advertisers
An advertisement on page 45 for Mohawk carpets featured two Cockney charwomen admiring the new carpets at the General Motors headquarters:
A corresponding note: Shreve & Lamb’s 1927 General Motors Building was the hub of Columbus Circle’s Automobile Row. A hideous 2012 remodel, which clad the entire structure in reflective glass, has rendered the former landmark unrecognizable:
Getting back to all things “moderne,” these facing ads on pages 8-9 offered some new looks for spring…
…and in the cartoons, a tongue-in-cheek vision of a modern high-rise by Al Frueh, prompted by the news that Florenz Ziegfeld planned to build a 44-story building in his native Chicago. Thanks to the market crash later in the year, it was never realized.
In drawings sprinkled across pages 24-25, Helen Hokinson examined various approaches to tax season, including these two examples…
…and finally, Peter Arno caught a theatre performer with his pants down…
In 1928 Al Capone bought an estate on Miami’s Palm Island as a getaway from the hustle and bustle of Chicago gangster life. He was apparently basking in the Florida sun on Feb. 14, 1929 when four of his associates gunned down seven members of a rival Irish gang on Chicago’s North Side.
It is widely believed Capone ordered the killings, given that he dominated Chicago’s illegal bootlegging, gambling and prostitution trades and was known for his ruthless elimination of rivals. On the heels of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, James Thurber contributed this item in the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” describing a more mundane side of gangster life:
Shortly after Thurber’s article appeared in the March 2, 1929 New Yorker, Capone would be arrested in Chicago by FBI agents on a contempt of court charge and again in May 1929 on a weapons charge. The following March Capone would be referred to as “public enemy number one” by the Chicago Crime Commission, and a month later he would be arrested on vagrancy charges during a visit to Miami—the Florida governor wanted him out of the state. In 1932 Capone would be sent to Federal Prison for tax evasion.
When Capone finally returned to Palm Island in 1940, he was a very different man. When he entered the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta in 1932 he was found to be suffering from both syphilis and gonorrhea, and when he was released seven years later his mental capacities were severely diminished due to late-stage syphilis. In 1946 a physician concluded Capone had the mentality of a 12-year-old child. He died on Jan. 25, 1947, having just turned 48 years old.
Another mention of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre could be found in Howard Brubaker’s column “Of All Things”…
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Back in New York, patrons of famed chef Charles Pierre Casalasco were abuzz over his plans for a luxury high-rise hotel. Writing in “Talk of the Town,” Leonard Ware made these observations about Pierre’s big plans:
Ware recounts how Pierre went from humble busboy to renowned haute cuisine restaurateur:
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The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, Janet Flanner, who wrote under the pen name Genêt, wrote under her own byline for the first time in a profile of the famed novelist Edith Wharton, featured in the March 2 issue. Although born a New Yorker, Wharton mostly lived in France after 1914. Below is a drawing of Wharton by Hugo Gellert that accompanied the profile, of which a few excerpts are included below:
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From Our Advertisers
Automobile manufacturers were keen to snob appeal even 90 years ago, as can be seen in this advertisement for Dodge cars—the company had been acquired the previous year by Walter Chrysler. Dodge cars were noted for dependability and value, but this ad suggested even blue bloods would find them appealing…
…Chrysler did however take a more direct aim at the top-hat set with a new model— Imperial—to compete with luxury carmakers such as Lincoln and Cadillac…
…just for kicks, this is what the Chrysler Imperial would look like just 30 years later…
…not to be left out, Cadillac placed its downscale luxury model next to Mont-Saint-Michel in this illustrated advertisement. The LaSalle was comparable in price to the Imperial (around $2,500 to $3000) while top-of-the-line Caddies were priced up to $7000…
…and what do you put in your fine automobile to make it purr? Why gasoline mixed with tetraethyl lead, of course!
Speaking of mixing, I like this advertisement for Cliquot Club, whose manufacturers finally—and not so subtly—hint at how their product is to be enjoyed…
…and finally, this ad for the new Fuller Building, which touted gallery spaces for “superior merchandise” on its first six floors…
In the cartoon department, we have I. Klein’s take on recent activities associated with the inauguration of President Herbert Hoover…
…and Abe Birnbaum, who provided this sketch of Hoover for the opening pages…
…Otto Soglow’s manhole denizens looked for signs of spring…
…and finally, a comment on the diversification of drugstore wares, by a cartoonist signed as “Kinol.” I’ve had no luck tracing this name, so if anyone has the scoop on this artist, please drop me a note!
As I noted in my previous post, Prohibition never really caught on in New York City, and instead the law gave rise to thousands of the famed (or to some, infamous) speakeasies tucked away in the nooks and crannies of Jazz Age Manhattan.
However, there were periodic attempts to reign in the city’s lawbreaking drinkers, including U.S. attorney Emory Buckner’s padlocking of speakeasies in the mid-1920s and New York Police Commissioner Grover Whalen’s strong-arm tactics in early 1929.
The New Yorker took issue with Whalen’s attempt to enforce Prohibition at the end of a billy club (ironically, Whalen was appointed to the post by Mayor Jimmy Walker, who openly flaunted Prohibition). The magazine also attacked the New York Telegram for conspiring with Whalen to spread rumors among the public about poison alcohol being served in the city’s speakeasies. Research chemist Beverly L. Clarke took the Telegram to task in the New Yorker’s “A Reporter at Large” column:
There is also the oft-told account of the U.S. government adding poison to alcohol to discourage illegal consumption, but in truth the government never set out to poison anyone. Rather, it was continuing a practice used long before Prohibition to “denature” alcohol, usually by adding methyl alcohol (commonly referred to as “wood alcohol”) to grain alcohol to make it unfit for human consumption. According to Snopes, adding poison to alcohol was a way to exempt producers of alcohol used in paints and solvents from having to pay the taxes levied on potable spirits. Other denaturing agents were added to grain alcohol by mid-1927, including these listed in Clarke’s article:
Clarke not only accused the Telegram of spreading misinformation, but also of encouraging Whalen’s ruthless enforcement of Prohibition. Whalen was famously quoted as saying, “There is plenty of law at the end of a nightstick.” Clarke continued:
Clarke concluded that it was “patently unfair to discriminate” against the city’s speakeasies on the basis of “pseudo-scientific” evidence:
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He Was No Coward
The Jan. 19 issue also featured a lengthy profile of Noël Coward, written by his longtime friend Alexander Woollcott, a critic and commentator for the New Yorker and a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table.
Woollcott wrote of his friend’s work ethic while taking a wry shot at the New Yorker magazine’s early days:
Abe Birnbaum provided this sketch of Coward for the profile:
By 1929 Coward was one of the world’s highest-paid writers, but he did have his setbacks, as Woollcott noted:
Woollcott was referring to Coward’s 1927 play Sirocco, which depicted free love among the posh set and was greeted with loud disapproval in London. According to Dick Richards in his 1970 book, The Wit of Noël Coward, Coward later remarked that his “first instinct was to leave England immediately, but this seemed too craven a move, and also too gratifying to my enemies, whose numbers had by then swollen in our minds to practically the entire population of the British Isles.”
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The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, Janet Flanner, noted that 1929 would usher in a new era in French passenger air service:
Advances in aviation in 1929 were remarkable considering the Wright Brothers first flight occurred just a little more than 25 years earlier (for those of us in 2018 who can recall 1993, that isn’t a lot of time).
And although only the wealthy could afford to fly back then, it was definitely not for the faint of heart. According to an article by Georgia Diebelius for the Daily Mail, the engine noise could be deafening in the thinly-walled cabins (sometimes little more than painted canvas). The engines of a Ford Tri-Motor, for example, reached 120 decibels on take-off, just 40 decibels below the level that would result in permanent hearing loss. Diebelius writes that because of the noise level, flight attendants had to speak to their passengers through megaphones. As for the flight itself, planes would suddenly drop hundreds of feet at a time, causing passengers to make good use of air sickness bowls placed beneath their seats. Nevertheless, passenger travel increased from just 6,000 annually in 1930 to 1.2 million by 1938.
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Skin As Soft As An Armadillo’s
Sampling the advertisements from Jan. 19 we have this message from Amor Skin announcing a youth treatment utilizing something called dasypodine hormones. The term “dasypodine” refers to critters related to the armadillo, so one wonders what they putting on their faces. The armadillo is known carrier of leprosy, so I don’t think I’d be using this stuff, thank you very much…
…and I include this ad for Murad cigarettes because it features artwork by A. H. Fish, renowned for depictions of members of high society. She illustrated dozens of magazine covers for The Tatler and Vanity Fair as well as hundreds of inside and spot illustrations for Condé Nast…
…another cigarette brand, Lucky Strike, convinced American silent movie star Constance Talmadge to endorse their “toasted” smoke…
…and our final advertisement, from Pan American Airliners. Could you imagine an ad for an airline today depicting a man firing a rifle at one of their airplanes?
I include this comic by Alice Harvey for its reference to the song, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” made popular by Broadway’s hit musical revue Blackbirds of 1928. The song continues to be recorded to this day, and was even included on a 2014 collaborative album, Cheek to Cheek, by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.
And finally, a different perspective on Manhattan’s changing skyline, courtesy of Reginald Marsh:
Modernism in interior design gained a wider audience in the 1920s thanks in part to a series of major exhibitions sponsored by some of New York City’s leading department stores.
Although the New Yorker continued to feature advertisements for traditional styles of furniture, such as this one from the Sept. 22, 1928 issue…
…it was clear that the appetites of the city’s younger “smart set” were being whetted by retailers such as Macy’s, who in May 1927 hosted an “Exposition of Art in Trade” that included 100 exhibitors of modern European and American silver, pottery, books, textiles and furniture. The following spring Macy’s hosted the “International Exposition of Art in Industry,” where more than 250,000 visitors saw the work of more than 300 exhibitors from six countries. (This blog’s opening photo features a 1928 sideboard by Kem Weber, one of the exhibitors at Macy’s 1928 show. Photo courtesy Cooper Hewitt Collection).
Macy’s inspired other exhibitions by such retailers as Wanamaker’s, Abraham & Straus, Frederick Loeser, Lord & Taylor, and B. Altman & Co., which advertised its “20th Century Taste in the New Expression of the Arts in Home Furnishings” in the Sept. 29, 1928 issue of the New Yorker:
Writer Bertram Bloch reviewed the exhibit in the Oct. 6 issue. Although he suggested that he had some “hard, cruel things” to say about the show, overall he believed it something not to be missed. Excerpts:
While on the topic of modern furniture, Ilonka Karasz, who painted a total of 186 New Yorker covers from 1924 to 1973, showcased her own furniture designs (along with other artists from theAmerican Designers’ Gallery), at an exhibition the following month.
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The Singing Fool
The New Yorker generally detested the introduction of sound in motion pictures, but for some reason didn’t mind it so much when Al Jolson opened his mouth. This time he followed up his blackface performance in The Jazz Singer with another blackface routine in The Singing Fool.E.B. White wrote about the film’s big opening in “The Talk of the Town”…
…and in the magazine’s film review section, yet more praise for Jolson, whose singing apparently compensated for the mediocre dialogue:
The Sept. 29 issue illustrates the dichotomy in how the New Yorker depicted African Americans in the 1920s. Blacks in the magazine’s cartoons and illustrations were often portrayed as minstrel characters, picaninnies or mammies. However, a serious artist like Paul Robeson received a much different treatment. Indeed, the magazine shamed the racism of a fictional character in Dorothy Parker’s short story “Arrangement in Black and White” (Oct. 8, 1927), in which a wealthy, white woman condescends to a black singer who might well have been modeled afterRobeson.The journalist and author Mildred Gilman profiled Robeson in the very same issue that praised Jolson’s tired blackface routine. An excerpt, accompanied by a Hugo Gellert illustration:
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Next Time Wear a Disguise
The newlywed Gene Tunney (also newly retired from boxing) was spending some time in Europe, probably hoping to get a break from the adoring crowds back in the States. Upon entering a French café with his friend, the author Thornton Wilder, he soon discovered that adoring crowds awaited him on the other side of the pond, as related by the New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet “Genêt” Flanner:
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From Our Advertisers
Although by 1928 Americans (and particularly New Yorkers) were flouting Prohibition laws, alcoholic beverages still could not be legally produced or marketed (except for “religious” or “medicinal” purposes). Advertisers, however, found clever ways to market non-alcoholic beverages like ginger ale with the allure of liquor or fine wine. But then again, few were actually drinking straight ginger ale…
And if you formerly grew grapes for winemaking, what’s preventing you from selling unpasteurized grape juice that remains free from fermentation “as long as the factory seal remains unbroken”…? Also, note the not-so-subtle cocktail shaker at the top left of the photo:
And for our cartoons, Barbara Shermund explored the modern ways of love…
…while Peter Arno continued probing the comic imbalance of rich old men and their young mistresses…
Thirty years before South Pacific would grace the silver screen, an earlier film that also explored the clash of civilizations in Polynesia, White Shadows of the South Seas, wowed audiences with its cinematography and, like South Pacific, a melodramatic love story between an American (Monte Blue) and a beautiful Polynesian girl, Fayaway, played by Mexico-born actress Raquel Torres.
Inspired by a 1919 travel book of the same name (by Frederick O’Brien), what is significant about the film is that it was shot in Tahiti, featured a supporting cast of Tahitian islanders, and was the first MGM picture to be released with a pre-recorded soundtrack, which consisted of a musical score and a few effects. It was also the first film in which the MGM Lion (known then as “Jackie”), roared during the introduction.
Leonard Maltin writes the film “features stunning, Oscar-winning cinematography of the Marquesas Islands welded to a story about the corrupting influence of Western civilization, with Blue as an alcoholic doctor who falls in love with native Torres and clashes with an exploitative (pearl) trader…Portions of the beautiful, documentary-style footage were shot under the supervision of Robert Flaherty, who fought with the studio over its emphasis on a melodramatic plot and left the production.”
The film also caused David O. Selznick, one of the top executives at MGM, to quit the studio over a dispute with fellow MGM exec Hunt Stromberg. According to the 1990 book The Dame in the Kimono by Leonard Left and Jerold Simmons,David (Selznick) thought it an idyllic story, Hunt wanted more sex.
Here’s what the Aug. 11, 1928 New Yorker had to say about the film:
Speaking of Garbo, the New Yorker’s film critic “O.C.” was one of the few moviegoers in the world not bewitched by the Swedish actress. In the same issue this is what he had to say about her latest film, The Mysterious Lady:
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As I’ve noted before, The New Yorker of the 1920s was decidedly mainstream in its treatment of blacks and other minorities as racial “others.” Here is an example (from the Aug. 11 issue) of the casual bigotry that occasionally could be found in “The Talk of the Town,” this penned by none other than James Thurber:
…and a few pages on in the same issue, this filler art by Julian deMiskey:
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And to close out the Aug. 11 issue, Barbara Shermund looked in on the Uppers during a moment of contemplation:
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The Aug. 18, 1928 issue featured an interesting dispatch from the magazine’s Paris correspondent, Janet “Genêt” Flanner.
Flanner gave us a taste of how the French regarded the recent “Battle of the Century” between heavyweight boxers Gene Tunney and Tom Heeney:
Flanner also wrote about an amusement park near the Porte Maillot in Paris called Luna Park:
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From Our Advertisers
Another sports celebrity who didn’t mind relieving Old Gold of some extra cash was Babe Ruth, who was next in line to submit to the blindfold test:
I include this ad for Proctor & Gamble’s Ivory Soap (from a 1928 issue of The Saturday Evening Post) as an explanatory note for the New Yorker cartoon that follows, by Gluyas Williams…
Also in the issue, John Held Jr. contributed one of his famous maps, displayed sideways, full-page (click to enlarge):
And finally, we close with Peter Arno, and two outraged spinsters: