Withering under a July heat wave, The New Yorker editors turned their thoughts to the cooling breezes that could be found blowing across the penthouse garden of real estate developer Robert M. Catts.
Catts erected the 20-story Park-Lexington office building at 247 Park Avenue in 1922, topping the building with his own penthouse apartment. Located near Grand Central Station, the building was innovative in the way it was built directly over underground railroad tracks leading into the station. The editors of The New Yorker, however, were more impressed by what was on top:
It was the rooftop garden, however, that sent the editors into a swoon:
Before World War II the apartment would have other notable tenants who would succeed Catts, including the violinist Jascha Heifitz. The apartment, and the building beneath it, were demolished in 1963 along with the adjoining Grand Central Palace building, which was replaced in 1967 with 245 Park Avenue:
In other news, Arthur Robinson wrote a somewhat sympathetic profile of Babe Ruth, observing that Ruth’s “thousand and one failings are more than offset by his sheer likableness.”
Curiously, the Yankees were having a better year in 1926, but there was scant mention of baseball in the pages of The New Yorker, the magazine preferring to cover classier sports such as golf, polo, tennis and horse racing. Another sport of interest was yacht racing, with Eric Hatch covering the races at Larchmont augmented by Johan Bull’s illustrations:
The magazine continued to have fun with the androgynous fashion trends of the Roaring Twenties. This appears to be an early Barbara Shermund cartoon:
The Roaring Twenties were a strange confluence of the Puritan and libertine, perhaps best represented by Prohibition and the speakeasy night life it inspired. Many if not most of The New Yorker readers of the late 1920s were familiar with these establishments as well as with reliable bootleggers and rum runners. And for those of you following this blog we all know that “Tables for Two” columnist Lois “Lipstick” Long was THE voice of speakeasy and New York nightlife.
I should point out here that Prohibition did not make consumption of alcohol illegal. The 18th Amendment prohibited the commercial manufacture and distribution of alcoholic beverages, but it did not prohibit their use.
So if you had a connection to a smuggler bringing whisky from Scotland via Canada, for example, you could enjoy a Scotch at home without too much trouble, although the prices could be high. “The Talk of the Town” editors regularly reported black market wine and liquor prices (I include an adjoining Julian de Miskey cartoon):
Note the mention of pocket flasks, which were an important item in a purse or vest pocket when one went to a nightclub or restaurant, where White Rock or some other sparkling water was sold as a mixer for whatever you happened to bring with you. You see a lot of this type of advertisement in the Prohibition-era New Yorker:
I’ll bet those grinning golfers have something in their bags besides clubs.
And then there were ads like these, which I find terribly sad:
“The Talk of the Town” also commented on the recent visit of British writer Aldous Huxley, who told his New York hosts that he admired American writers Willa Cather and Sherwood Anderson, and he also had praise for writer and critic H.L. Mencken, whom he likened to a farmer “of the better type:”
Other odds and ends from this issue…a clever drawing by Al Frueh for the “Profile” feature on New York Governor Al Smith:
I include a photo of Al Smith for comparison:
And this bit from “Of All Things,” complete with bad pun/racial slur:
New Yorker readers in 1926 had little reason to believe that in a decade Mussolini would try to make good on his statement and join Hitler in the next world war.
Here’s a couple more ads from the issue that are signs of those times. Note the listing of Florida locations for those New Yorkers who were flocking to that new winter vacation destination:
And this ad for an electric refrigerator…for those who could afford such newfangled things. The ice man was still plenty busy in 1926, but his days were numbered.
And finally, a nod to springtime, and this excerpt of an illustration by Helen Hokinson for the “Talk” section:
In reading all of these past issues of The New Yorker (a year’s worth, as of this post) one writer in particular jumps from the pages: Lois Long.
Perhaps it was her irreverent, high-spirited style and her fearless forays into any topic. She was the most modern of the New Yorker writers, developing a style that communicated directly to the reader as a confidant.
Her output was also impressive, writing about nightlife in “Tables for Two” under the pseudonym “Lipstick” and also about fashion in “One and Off the Avenue.” In his autobiography, Point of Departure, colleague Ralph Ingersoll wrote that Long “did a wheel-horse job of pulling The New Yorker through its first years,” with an “almost infinite capacity for being childishly delighted” while also possessing a “native shrewdness, an ability to keep her head.”
Long was in rare form in the Feb. 13, 1926 issue, offering a comprehensive list of evening entertainments for everyone from a flapper to an aristocrat. Here’s the entire column:
According to Long, if you were an aristocrat, or a “rapacious visitor” wishing to rubberneck at the rich and famous, The Colony restaurant was a good choice for the dinner hour.
The Colony, which began as a speakeasy in the early 1920s, was one of the places to be seen in New York for many decades. According to the blog Lost Past Remembered, “there was a Colony ‘crowd’ that included Hollywood royalty Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, and Joan Crawford as well as the real deal ––The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were great fans (as were assorted bankers, brokers, wheeler dealers and gangsters and socialites).”
In those days you could display your status by where you were seated at The Colony. In later years the place was frequented by the likes of Jackie O and her sister Lee Radziwill. Writer Truman Capote, who enjoyed a special back table under a TV set, reportedly wept when the restaurant closed in 1971.
On to a less glamorous subject, “The Talk of the Town” made note of the extension of traffic lights in the city:
In 1926 traffic lights were still something of a novelty in New York, which didn’t install its first traffic light until 1920.
According to the New York Times (May 16, 2014), the first permanent traffic lights in New York went up in 1920, a gift from millionaire physician Dr. John A. Harriss who was fascinated by street conditions. His design “was a homely wooden shed on a latticework of steel, from which a police officer changed signals, allowing one to two minutes for each direction. Although the meanings we attach to red and green now seem like the natural order of things, in 1920 green meant Fifth Avenue traffic was to stop so crosstown traffic could proceed; white meant go. Most crosstown streets and Fifth Avenue were still two-way.”
The signals were so popular that in 1922 “the Fifth Avenue Association gave the city, at a cost of $126,000, a new set of signals, seven ornate bronze 23-foot-high towers (designed by Joseph H. Freedlander) placed at intersections along Fifth from 14th to 57th Streets.”
Within a few years it was determined that the towers were blocking the roadway, so in 1929 Freedlander was “called back to design a new two-light traffic signal, also bronze, to be placed on the corners. These were topped by statues of Mercury and lasted until 1964. A few of the Mercury statues have survived, but Freedlander’s 1922 towers have completely vanished.”
Skipping ahead a few issues, this Hulett advertisement from the March 20, 1926 issue features a drawing of the Freelander signal:
* * *
Although F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby received a brief, dismissive review from the magazine in 1925, a stage adaptation of the novel was received favorably by theatre critic Gilbert W. Gabriel:
In the movies, critic Theodore Shane gushed over a new film by Robert Flaherty, famed director of Nanook of the North. This time around Flaherty turned his lens on a Polynesian paradise in Moana:
And to wrap things up, a drawing by Einer Nerman of German soprano Frieda Hempel…
And this advertisement exhorting readers to stay at the Hotel Majestic. The hotel, built in 1894, would fall to a wrecking ball in 1929, just three years after this ad appeared:
If you are looking for a watershed moment in the history of The New Yorker, this is one of them. The issue of Nov. 28, 1925, featured an article written by 22-year-old Ellin Mackay titled “Why We Go To Cabarets: A Post-Debutante Explains.”
Mackay was the daughter of a Catholic multi-millionaire, Clarence McKay, who was threatening to disinherit his daughter because of her romance with Jewish songwriter Irving Berlin. Mackay’s essay explained why modern women were abandoning the forced social matchmaking of débutante balls in favor of the more egalitarian (and fun-loving) night club scene:
At last, tired of fruitless struggles to remember half familiar faces, tired of vainly try to avoid unwelcome dances, tired of crowds, we go to a cabaret. We go to cabarets because of the very fastidiousness that Our Elders find so admirable a quality. We have privacy in a cabaret…What does it matter if an unsavory Irish politician is carrying on a dull and noisy flirtation with the little blonde at the table behind us? We don’t have to listen; we are with people whose conversation we find amusing. What does it matter if the flapper and her fattish boy friend are wriggling beside us as we dance? We like our partner and the flapper likes hers, and we don’t bother each other.
Mackay’s piece provided a huge boost to The New Yorker’s circulation, which had dipped below a death-rattle low of 3,000 in August 1925 before it rebounded a bit with new and more aggressive advertising and marketing strategies.
The “Debutante” article was featured on the front page of the New York Times, and was also covered on the front pages of other New York newspapers and even in papers across the country. By the end of the year circulation of The New Yorker neared 30,000.
TIME magazine later observed that with the Mackay piece, The New Yorker “suddenly found that it had succeeded in storming the penthouses of High Society. Its success opened the eyes of Editor Ross to the importance of the Manhattan socialite, to the fact that Broadway gossip sounds dull on Park Avenue.”
In The New Yorker’s 90th anniversary issue (Feb. 23, 2015), Ian Frazier wrote about the “débutante to the rescue in the Harold Ross era…”
Sometime during the magazine’s early months, Alice Duer Miller gave him (Ross) Ellin Mackay’s “Cabarets” essay. Jane Grant recalled that Ross kept it at the bottom of the pile of manuscripts he brought home, procrastinating because he liked Ellin and expected he would have to reject it, as he often did with others. Grant urged him to run the piece. “It will make wonderful publicity,” she said. Alexander Woollcott, the Times drama critic, with whom the Rosses shared a house…also championed Ellin’s piece. Woollcott knew her through Berlin, whose worshipful biography he had written.
Frazier writes, “In 1,076 words, the “Cabarets” essay had hit precisely the sophisticated young night-club-going, speakeasy-patronizing, up-and-coming, unimpressed-by-their-elders readership Ross was aiming for. The grateful editor gave Ellin Mackay a lifetime subscription to the magazine.” You can read Frazier’s entire article about Mackay and Berlin here.
Mackay, who would publish several novels, would marry Berlin on Jan. 4, 1926. The marriage would last until her death in 1988 at age 85. Berlin would die the following year at age 101.
Here is Mackay’s full article:
* * *
Even as one grand house after another fell to the wrecking ball along “Millionaires Row,” it was hard to believe that the Vanderbilt Mansion between 57th & 58th Streets would also succumb to the commercial interests transforming Fifth Avenue seemingly overnight.
“The Talk of the Town” noted that the doomed mansion, once the largest private home in New York City, was being descended upon by all manner of curiosity seekers:
According to writer Adrian Dannatt, the 130-room, full-scale Renaissance-style château was “originally built to accommodate an entire regal court, a small army, huntsmen and ladies in-waiting, but it was given over instead to a family of eight.”
This grand pile was designed by George B. Post in 1882, with interior design by John LaFarge and Augustus Saint-Gaudens among others. Post, along with Richard Morris Hunt, substantially expanded the house in 1893. Demolished in 1926, Bergdorf Goodman Department Store now occupies the site.
According to Benjamin Waldman, writing for untappedcities.com, a few remnants from the mansion weren’t reduced to dust, including a pair of monumental gates relocated to Central Park and two of six bas-relief sculptures by Karl Bitter that were relocated to the lobby of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel. Apparently the other four disappeared without a trace.
A fireplace designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, topped with a John LaFarge mosaic, was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is displayed in the courtyard of the museum’s American Wing.
“Profiles” looked at the life and work of movie director Cecil B. De Mille. R. E. Sherwood wrote that De Mille was the “archetype of the motion picture director—a composite photograph of all the Olympian gods who have descended from Mount Hollywood to dominate the earth.”
Harry Este Dounce (“Touchstone”) reviewed John Dos Passos’ new novel, Manhattan Transfer, and noted that Dos Passos’ version of Manhattan was “not the hypothetical typical New Yorker reader’s, but as far as this department knows, it is very much like the real, complete thing—which is to say, like a hell of chaotic futility.”
In “Sports of the Week,” football continued to dominate the column, with a report on Harvard and Yale battling to a 0-0 tie.
With this issue, “Motion Pictures” was moved from the “Critique” section and given its own page under the Johan Bull-illustrated heading “The Current Cinema.” Theodore Shane wrote that he found Laurence Stalling’s The Big Parade “utterly satisfying,” but he was less impressed with the much-hyped Stella Dallas, which he viewed as a contrived weeper designed to draw lovers of such fare to the box office.
Near the back of the magazine the editors printed an exhaustive list of prices on the bootleg liquor market. The prices are quite astonishing, given that $50 in 1925 would be the equivalent of roughly $675 today, based on inflation. Of course that number could vary depending on all sorts of other economic and historic factors, but nevertheless fascinating reading if you are into that sort of thing:
At the conclusion of “The Talk of the Town,” the editors offered this qualifying note regarding their liquor market list:
Mayor Jimmy Walker wasn’t known for being cerebral. But as the voters’ choice to lead the City of New York, he could not have been more well-suited (pun intended) to the zeitgeist of the final, dizzying, roaring years of The Jazz Age.
Walker was a flamboyant man-about-town, a clothes horse who was no stranger to speakeasies or the backroom politics of Tammany Hall.
As Jonathan Mahler wrote in New York magazine (April 1, 2012), Gentleman Jimmy “perfectly embodied that moment of indulgence: the public servant who favored short workdays and long afternoons at Yankee Stadium, who was loath to miss a big prizefight or Broadway premiere, who left his wife and Greenwich Village apartment for a chorus girl and a suite at the Ritz-Carlton.”
Not that there weren’t some concerns. “The Talk of the Town” offered this early observation of the incoming mayor:
Mahler quoted a columnist from Walker’s time, who noted that “No man could hold life so carelessly without falling down a manhole before he is done.” And Walker would fall to scandal by 1932. But we will get to that. For now, it’s party time in Gotham.
The New Yorker continued to have fun with President Calvin Coolidge, publishing this cartoon by Izzy Klein that took a poke at Coolidge’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, in which Coolidge spoke at length about the nation’s abundance:
Talk also reported the latest bootleg prices in “The Liquor Market…”
“Profiles” examined the life of New York Times owner Adolph Ochs. The writer Elmer Davis observed that “More than any other newspaper owner, he is his paper, and his paper is himself…”
In “The Theatre,” critic Herman J. Mankiewicz addressed criticisms of the Booth Theatre’s new approach to Hamlet, which was presented “in modern dress.” Mankiewicz wrote that the departure from traditional Elizabethan costumes had brought the play “into the open,” and that Basil Sydney was a “splendid” Hamlet.
In “Books,” reviewer Harry Este Dounce recommended Ford Madox Ford’s No More Parades (“a fine display of virtuoso writing”) and Arthur Schnitzler’s Fraulein Else (“a scintillant little firework”).
In “Motion Pictures,” Theodore Shane panned the movie Lord Jim (based on the Joseph Conrad novel), but he enjoyed the “simple hokum tale” of Bright Lights and the “restrained” performance of Pauline Starke, “a perfect miniature Gloria Swanson.”
In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long despaired of finding a decent “swank dinner” on a rainy autumn evening, and finally headed to a Viennese restaurant (Frau Greta’s) for some German comfort food. The rain turned to torrents as she then headed out for some nightlife:
Long concluded her “Tables” column with this peevish note on “grammar:”
In her other column, “On And Off The Avenue,” Long wrote about the increasing popularity of New Yorkers traveling to Florida for the winter, and in anticipation of the Christmas holiday, offered this advice on what not to give as gifts:
In her report from Paris, Janet Flanner commented on the popularity of Josephine Baker at the Champs Elysees Theater:
Flanner also commented on the growing appreciation of paintings by Henri Rousseau, who just a decade or so earlier was considered something of a joke among art circles:
And finally, Julian de Miskey’s take on The Big Game:
The woes of Prohibition were acutely felt by the readership of The New Yorker. The magazine responded in kind with its continued criticism of the law’s enforcement and particularly the tactics of Manhattan District Attorney Emory C. Buckner, whose agents continued to padlock restaurants and clubs suspected of selling alcohol.
The New Yorker previously called the padlocking tactic a “promotional stunt” that would ultimately backfire (I wrote about this in a previous blog post last March).
Both the “The Talk of the Town” and “Tables for Two” took aim at Buckner this time around. “Talk” led with this item, accompanied by the art of Johan Bull:
“Talk” also made a call to action by “men of virtue:”
Heck with statements. Lois Long just wanted to have some fun, and led her column, “Tables for Two,” with her own attack on Buckner and on the “stupidity” of establishments that were closed by Buckner’s agents (I include art that accompanied the column by Frank McIntosh–at least that is what I think the “FM” stands for; if I am in error, someone please correct me!):
In a previous column (Oct. 17), Long pondered the popularity of a new dance, the “Charleston.” She closed her Oct. 31 column with “telegrams” from exemplary colleges in answer to the query: “Is the Charleston being done at college dances?”
“W.J. Henderson wrote a lengthy article about the upcoming opera season at the Metropolitan Opera (it was opening with La Gioconda), and recalled the days after World War I when the once-popular German singers suddenly grew scarce on the American stage.
According to Henderson, this led to a general falling off of quality in the performances, a situation made even worse by the absence of the late, great Enrico Caruso on the Metropolitan’s stage.
In other items, John Tunis wrote about Illinois All-American halfback Red Grange in “Profiles,” calling him “a presentable youth of twenty-two…well-groomed, he would pass anywhere—even in the movies—for a clean type of American manhood.”
Tunis also noted that Grange had been offered a “half a million” to star in movies, and that professional football was ready to offer him a sum “that would cause even the once-mighty Ruth to blanch.” Grange, known as “The Galloping Ghost,” would later join the Chicago Bears and help to legitimize the National Football League (NFL).
The young actor Leslie Howard, who was appearing on Broadway in Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat, wrote a humorous account of theatre life in “The Intimate Diary of An Opening Night.”
It was one of seven articles on the acting life that Howard (perhaps best known for his role as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind) would write for The New Yorker between 1925 and 1927.
For the record, I include Howard’s first New Yorker article here:
“Motion Pictures” looked at Buster Keaton’s new film, Go West…
Theodore Shane wrote that what at first seemed to be a real weeper…
…turned into a comic romp thanks to the introduction of the “sad-eyed cow…”
And finally, in keeping with the Prohibition theme, here is a center-spread cartoon by Rea Irvin that seemed to depict the results of consuming too much bootleg booze:
Apparently even Parisians have fashion lapses from time to time. Janet Flanner (Genêt) reported with some alarm a “curious phenomenon” from Paris in the Oct. 24, 1925 issue of The New Yorker.
It seemed that the otherwise fashionable Parisians were slumming it a bit and had adopted a dowdy look previously associated with residents of the British Isles. (The un-dowdy image at the top of the page is French designer Sonia Delaunay and her matching Citroen in 1925).
Apparently such pedestrian tastes had also caused a shift from formerly fashionable travel destinations on the Atlantic coasts to Mediterranean destinations:
And to top things off, the French were agog over the latest Charlie Chaplin film, The Gold Rush (another French favorite of American clown-dom, Jerry Lewis, would be born the following year):
But then there was another new distraction in town, the Autumn Salon:
Pavel Tchelitchew was known as a leader of “mystical surrealist” painting. He left his native Russia in 1920 and lived in Berlin before moving to Paris in 1923. There he became acquainted with Gertrude Stein and Edith Sitwell, the latter with whom he had a long-standing friendship.
The French were also on display in a comic piece by Theodore Shane, who also served as the magazine’s movie critic.
Shane wrote a piece titled “Fra~nce” in a style that suggested he was teaching children about France by dividing words into syllables (it was similar to a piece about Russia (“Rus~sia”) in the Aug. 29 issue, signed “Freudy”) Here’s a sample:
A full-page ad on the Page 1 announced the “The Midnight Open” event at The 19th Hole Club in the Hotel Roosevelt, with an impressive lineup of golf professionals such as Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen and even “prominent amateurs” including Bobby Jones.
I was surprised that the annual membership fee was advertised as only $10, which would roughly translate to $135 today—a bargain compared to what it costs today to join even the lowliest golf club.
“Talk of the Town” welcomed news from Boston that “ladies are to be allowed to smoke in the open” in that city (drawing by Johan Bull):
In a feature “Our Collegiate Hilltop,” Elmer Davis wrote about the droves of college students who had taken over much of the available housing along Morningside, “a ghetto for the Nordic native-born.” Davis offered this lament about Columbia’s continued creep into the surrounding neighborhoods (with accompanying art by Helen Hokinson:
“Profiles” examined the life of “A Kind Man,” William Lyon Phelps. That title was not meant as a complement from writer Waldo Frank, but rather it was his “kindness” toward authors that caused him to praise books that were not worthy of praise and made him the personification of the “most American of disasters: the disaster of Good Intentions, when they are not fortified by intellectual hardness, when they are not drained of all sentimental juices.”
In “The Theatre” Elsie Ferguson and Basil Rathbone were appearing in “The Grand Duchess and the Waiter” at the Lyceum (“an agreeable piece of work”), while Ethel Barrymore “wowed” critic Herman J. Mankiewicz with her performance as Ophelia in a revival of Hamlet at Walter Hampden’s theatre.
Or at least I think she wowed him. Mankiewicz knew and worked with the Barrymore family, and I wonder if his over-the-top style here is a wink to the fact that a 45-year-old Ethel was playing the part of a young virgin. Here’s an excerpt from the review:
I hate to jump ahead, but in the Nov. 14 issue, “Talk of the Town” offered this humorous anecdote from one of Barrymore’s performances:
In sporting news, John R. Tunis continued his coverage of rivalry matches staged at Yankee Stadium, this time the fiercely competitive Notre Dame vs Army matchup. Despite Notre Dame’s renown under Knute Rockne, Army was a worthy foe in the 1920s and in this particular matchup the Cadets blanked the Irish 27-0. The matchup between these teams was so popular that it was played at Yankee Stadium until 1947.
And finally, Lois Long sharpened her pencil and offered her thoughts on a dull dinner crowd at Pierre’s:
A drawing by Peter Arno (who would marry Long in 1927) in another section of the magazine seemed to refer to Long’s lament:
Long also offered some criticisms of a “new negro revue” that decidedly differed from the mainstream:
A great illustration by Julian deMiskey of the Bellows exhibition at the Met:
At an age when most students are barely out of college (23), Lois Long was emerging as one of The New Yorker’s most prolific contributors and a prominent voice of Roaring Twenties New York.
The Oct. 3, 1925 issue not only saw her continuing coverage of night life in “Tables for Two” (which she signed under the pen name “Lipstick”), but also the introduction of her column, “Fifth Avenue” (which she signed L.L.), that would further define her voice at the magazine for years to come.
And The New Yorker wasn’t even her first professional stint as a writer.
Beginning in 1922, Long wrote for both Vanity Fair and Vogue before she caught the eye of New Yorker editor Harold Ross, who hired her to take over the “When Nights Are Bold” column from Charles Baskerville. She later made it her own by changing the name to “Tables for Two.”
With the Oct. 3 issue she doubled her workload as both an observer of night life and the fashion scene.
According to Judith Yaross Lee’s Defining New Yorker Humor, the “Fifth Avenue” column took a very different tack from the magazine’s original “Where to Shop” listings that were merely classified ads.
Yaross writes that Long’s first “Fifth Avenue” column relied on “the conceit of her friend Jerry, ‘boarding school roommate, perennial flapper, and graceful idler’ (evidently the department’s target reader)…”
The column would soon be renamed “On and Off the Avenue,” and Long would officially assume the title of fashion editor in 1927.
Her obituary in The New York Times (p. 36, July 31, 1974) quoted New Yorker editor William Shawn, who declared that “Lois Long invented fashion criticism,” and that Long “was the first American fashion critic to approach fashion as an art and to criticize women’s clothes with independence, intelligence, humor and literary style.” The article noted that her task was particularly challenging since The New Yorker did not publish photographs “and more than other writers she had to turn to words alone to describe clothes in detail.”
You can read Long’s first “Fifth Avenue” column, featuring her friend, “Jerry,” here in its entirety:
In the same issue, just three pages back, in “Tables for Two,” Long shared these insights on the opening of the Club Mirador:
And she pulled no punches in this erratum item that appeared below this Johan Bull illustration:
And in “The Talk of the Town,” Bull provided this illustration depicting the flare-up of Tong Wars among New York’s Chinese immigrant population. The main consequence of murderous assault seems to be a patron’s ruined shirt:
“Profiles” featured Reinald Werrenrath, “A New Yorker Who Sings.” Described by writer Clare Peeler as someone who “looks New York,” the baritone opera singer also recorded popular songs and was a regular on early radio broadcasts.
In “Critique” George S. Kaufman’s The Butter and Egg Man received a positive review by Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote that the play was “not for the artistically inclined,” but adds:
By the way, the queen of New York nightlife, “Texas” Guinan, has been attributed as the source of the term “Butter and Egg Man” to generally describe generous souls (according to a “Talk” item in the Oct. 31 issue). At the movies, Theodore Shane found little to amuse as he panned The Tower of Lies (“colorless and loose-jointed”). Rather than capturing a Scandanavian setting, Shane wrote that the film “reeks of the studio scenario shops and the pleasant fields of Long Island.”
He also took Sydney Chaplin’s attempts at humor to task in the film, The Man on the Box, including his tired “male dressing up as a woman” gag.
“Talk” also commented on changing face of New York City, including plans for a new Ziegfeld theatre as part of a “regeneration” of Columbus Circle:
According to performingartsarchive.com, Florenz Ziegfeld took over Columbus Circle’s Cosmopolitan theatre in 1925 and updated the interior. The building originally opened in 1903 as the Majestic (where the first musical stage version of The Wizard of Oz and the play Pygmallian debuted). It was briefly a burlesque house in the early 1920s (Minksy’s Park Music Hall) until William Randolph Hearst acquired it as a main venue for his Cosmopolitan Pictures company.
Under Ziegfeld, the Cosmopolitan returned to “legitimate” theater, but in 1926 he gave it up to focus on the construction of his self-named theatre at Sixth Avenue and 54th Street. The Cosmopolitan (renamed the International in 1944) would continue to serve both as a venue for movies and live performances until 1949, when it was acquired by NBC as a television studio for the TV program Your Show of Shows, featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. NBC left the International in 1954, and not long afterwards, the former theatre, along with most of its neighbors on Columbus Circle, was razed to make way for the New York Convention Center.
Also from this issue, Al Frueh’s take on a “Busy Business Man’s Day:”
Hans Stengel delivered “Sermons on Sin”…
And lest we doubt the snob appeal of our fledgling magazine, check out this advertisement from the Mayfair House assuring that tenants will be kept a safe distance from the proles.
And to close, a back page ad for the Restaurant Crillon, featuring the unmistakable graphic innovation of Winold Reiss:
In a previous post I briefly looked at the Algonquin Round Table–writers, critics, artists, some of them New Yorker contributors–who had been exchanging witticisms over lunch at the Algonquin Hotel since 1919.
Like so many things connected to The New Yorker, Alexander Woollcott was at the center of the famed table’s origin story. According to Wikipedia, the group that would become the Round Table began meeting as the result of a practical joke carried out by theatrical press agent John Peter Toohey, who was annoyed at Woollcott (a New York Times drama critic) for refusing to plug one of his clients (Eugene O’Neill) in his column. Toohey organized a luncheon supposedly to welcome Woollcott back from World War I, where he had been a correspondent for Stars and Stripes (and where Woollcott first met Harold Ross and Jane Grant). Instead Toohey used the occasion to poke fun at Woollcott on a number of fronts, including his long-winded war stories. Woollcott’s enjoyment of the joke and the success of the event prompted Toohey to suggest that the group meet every day at the Algonquin for lunch.
An illustrated feature by Ralph Barton in the August 29, 1925 issue (titled “The Enquiring Reporter”) thumbs its nose at critics of the Round Table who accused its members of “logrolling” (exchanging favorable plugs of one another’s works). Barton’s feature spoofs the man-on-the-street interviews that were popular in the 1920s. The persons chosen “at random” are none other than members of the Algonquin Round Table who take turns denying that any logrolling takes place at the famed gathering:
In fact, there was quite a bit of logrolling taking place in this “Vicious Circle.” As Thomas Kunkel writes in Genius in Disguise, in addition to New Yorker contributors, the Algonquin Round Table variously included representatives of the New York Times, the New York Tribune, Vanity Fair, Harpers Bazaar and Life.
“The wits cross-pollinated feverishly. Shrugging off charges of logrolling, they quoted one another in their columns, reviewed one another’s shows, publicized one another’s books. To be fair many of the glowing notices were deserved—and in any case not all the notices were glowing.”
Kunkel also observes, “By far the most powerful transmitter of Round Table wit was (Franklin) Adams (known to most as F.P.A.), whose column in the Tribune (and later the World), “The Conning Tower,” was scoured by tens of thousands of New Yorkers for its dollops of quippery and clever verse. Young writers conspired to break into the column, and the appearance of even a four-line snippet was regarded as a triumph…the Round Table supplied F.P.A. with a freshet of material, and he wasn’t bashful about using it. A particularly good line from Parker or Kaufman or Benchley might turn up in “The Conning Tower” within hours of its utterance.”
In other happenings, “The Talk of the Town” noted that the last meal served at Delmonico’s–which was fated for the wrecking ball–was less a cause for mourning and more one of scorn for the bad taste of the site’s owners:
Among other items, O.H.P. Garrett penned a “Profile” about flamboyant mayoral candidate Jimmie Walker that seemed to anticipate the raucous career that would follow after his election.
Garrett observed that “his life is constructed of minutes and seconds. He can be clocked with a stop watch,” and that Walker’s main concerns seemed to be Sunday baseball, boxing and the repeal of movie censorship.
Lois Long seemed a bit bored with the week’s diversions in her column, “When Nights Are Bold,” but did welcome the reappearance of Texas Guinan after yet another club was threatened with padlocks by the Prohibition Authority:
On the advertising front, the back inside cover and back cover were graced with paid advertising. As with most ads in The New Yorker, the target audience had some money to spend on travel:
And we end with these weekend scenes from the magazine’s center spread, drawn by Helen Hokinson:
About a year ago I had this notion that I would read every issue of The New Yorker. I am a bit obsessive-compulsive, a condition I have successfully reined in with the deliberate exception of two pursuits—gardening/landscaping and reading history. This is about the latter.
My New Yorker binge began after I finished reading Antony Beevor’s The Second World War. It got me thinking about the 30 years of madness that reigned in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, and why a continent with such riches in art, architecture, music, philosophy and literature would descend into a period of self-destruction that would lead to the annihilation of 60 million people and the obliteration of entire towns, cities and cultures.
It was in this time frame that an American veteran of the First World War, Harold Ross, would start a magazine that would be known for “gaiety, wit, and satire.” For purposes of this blog, it is through this particular lens—the New Yorker magazine—that I write about 20th century history and chart the course of a publication that, although based safely on the other side of the Atlantic, will begin to find its serious side as the world once again descends into madness.
For background I’ve read some good first-person accounts of the period, including William Shirer’s series on the 20th century (and particularly his writings on Nazi Germany); and Patrick Leigh Fermor’s unfinished trilogy describing his walk across Europe (roughly following the Danube) in the early 1930s that offers a fascinating, ground-level view of a world that would soon vanish.
By reading back issues of the New Yorker I hope to gain some new insights or perspectives on history. A deep reading of the articles and advertisements can have the effect of transporting one back in time, at least in terms of a mindset, although you cannot escape feeling omniscient in your foreknowledge of coming events, such as this advertisement in the May 8, 1937 issue:
When I come across a cheeky account in The New Yorker’s “Of All Things” section about a couple of buffoons named Hitler and Mussolini, I know the terrible truth that awaits my fellow readers. But it’s not all doom and gloom, for along the way you also get to witness the advent of broadcast radio and sound in motion pictures, the evolution of the automobile, the birth of passenger airline service and the transformation of a city that bulldozes the 19th century and replaces it with soaring towers.
So pretend you are a young, social climbing cosmopolitan in mid-1920s New York, and this little magazine comes along written just for you—not stuffy like the old Town & Country or serious in the Atlantic vein—it is for you, a witty young Jazz Age striver living in the greatest city on earth.
(To read another account of my New Yorker project, see my article posted at Not Even Past).