In the days before air conditioning, summertime city dwellers escaped the heat by fleeing to the countryside or the coast, or, if they lacked the time or the means, by taking their dining and dancing to one of Gotham’s breezy rooftop nightclubs.
In her column “Tables for Two,” nightlife correspondent Lois Long welcomed the addition of rooftop dining atop the St. Regis Hotel, which featured decor by the famed theatrical set designer and architect Joseph Urban:
Illustrations by Alice Harvey (in the July 7, 1928 issue) depicted diners and dancers on the St. Regis rooftop…
Long also fondly recalled a “comic waiter” who entertained patrons of another popular rooftop destination, The Cascades atop the Strand:
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The June 30 issue featured a Profile of cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein, who began her cosmetics empire with a dozen jars of face cream. Writer Jo Sterling described a businesswoman of limitless energy whose habits could be described as restless and haphazard but also revealed a woman of great generosity. Sterling noted that this woman of great wealth and a renowned collector of fine art and other rare objects preferred riding the bus to owning an automobile.
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Portents of War (to be continued…)
In the Roaring Twenties most believed the Great War was indeed the “War to End All Wars,” so when militarism was clearly on the rise in Shōwa Japan few took it seriously, including New Yorker cartoonist Al Fruh:
On the lighter side, Peter Arno offered up his take on a cinematic love scene:
Broadway shows were a popular nightlife diversion for New York’s upper middle-class, but plays and musicals were only part of an evening’s entertainment. The city’s “after theatre” clubs beckoned those who enjoyed an evening of dance with the Astaires or a light comedy with Lunt and Fontanne, but believed the night was still young.
And who better to chronicle the late night revelry than Lois Long, who through her “Tables For Two” column (signed “Lipstick”) was a leading voice of after hours Manhattan and a nightly presence in its various clubs and speakeasies. Longtime New Yorker writer Brendan Gill (Here at the New Yorker) observed that Long, who joined the New Yorker in 1925, “had plunged at once, joyously, into a New York that seemed always at play — a city of speakeasies, night clubs, tea dances, football weekends, and steamers sailing at midnight.”
In May 1928 Long had been married for about nine months to colleague and cartoonist Peter Arno, who was also a regular fixture of the nightclub scene. But in Long’s column for May 5, 1928, one can detect a bit of weariness setting in, the 27-year-old sensing the next generation didn’t know how to have a good time.
And it didn’t help that the younger people were dancing to “canned music,” what with the spread of broadcast radio and improvements in phonograph records…
For those on the wilder side, Lois Long recommended a number of after-hours entertainments, including Texas Guinan’s latest all-night club, Salon Royal, and its snake-charming hootch dancer.
Because so many New Yorker readers were both theatre and after-theatre-goers, the magazine included some of the after-dinner destinations in its “Goings On About Town” section. Excerpts follow.
The May 5 “Talk of the Town” commented on the challenges film crews faced when they shot on location in the city, in this case the production of Harold Lloyd’s latest comedy, Speedy:
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Before Mommie Dearest
The actress Joan Crawford is best known today as the subject of the 1981 biopic, Mommie Dearest, which portrayed Crawford as an insecure, abusive parent to her adopted daughter Christina (the film was based on a 1978 memoir and exposé of the same name written by Christina Crawford).
But in the 1920s and 30s the former dancer and chorus girl was better known for her sex appeal, attractive to men for her looks and to women for the roles in which she portrayed hard-working women who find both romance and success.
The New Yorker took notice of Crawford in its review of Across to Singapore, the critic O.C. noting that Crawford “gets prettier in every picture”…
Another film released later in 1928, Our Dancing Daughters, would make Crawford a star and a symbol of the liberated, 1920s flapper. Even the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald would observe that “Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see in smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living.”
Another actress with a talent for living was 34-year-old Mae West, who was appearing on Broadway in Diamond Lil. Already a 21-year veteran of the stage (she began performing in vaudeville in 1907 at age 14), West was known for writing and performing in risqué plays beginning in 1926, when she appeared in Sex, which was panned by conservative critics but enjoyed hot ticket sales.
Subsequent plays aroused controversy and kept her name in the newspapers, but her play Diamond Lil would become the Broadway hit that would cement her image as a sex symbol, one she would maintain until her death at age 87 in 1980. In the May 5 issue artist Miguel Covarrubias offered his vision of the Queen of the Bowery:
From Our Advertisers
It’s interesting to see how 1920s advertisers made even the most mundane gadgets appear to be vital to one’s survival. The ad for the “Sesamee” auto switch lock is a case in point, appealing to upscale female readers of the New Yorker with this odd scenario in which the gadget enables the driver to avoid the awkward and potentially hazardous situation depicted below, although it hard to see what the actual threat might be from a dandy in a tie and waistcoat. Perhaps death from boredom.
Our cartoon is courtesy of Mary Petty, who would become a renowned illustrator for the New Yorker, best remembered for a series of covers featuring her gentle satirization of the upper class Peabody family.
Perhaps no other hairstyle has a stronger link to a historical period than the “bob cut,” associated not only with the flapper lifestyle in the 1920s but with women in general who wished to signal their independence from old cultural norms that defined femininity.
Women in Western cultures typically wore their hair long, but in the early years of the 20th century a few women of prominence began to flout convention and wear their hair in a bobbed style, including French actress Polaire, who began wearing her hair short in the 1890s; English socialite Lady Diana Cooper, who wore her hair short as a child and continued to do so as an adult; and dancer Irene Castle, who unveiled her “Castle Bob” to Americans in 1915. By 1920 the style was all the rage.
Another famous bobbed flapper of the 1920s was the New Yorker‘s own Lois Long, who wrote under the pseudonym “Lipstick” for her nightlife column “Tables For Two,” but signed her fashion column (“On and Off the Avenue”) with a simple “L.L.” Long was also a regular unsigned contributor to “The Talk of the Town,” and is credited as one the New Yorker’s early writers who gave the magazine its “voice.”
In the March 10, 1928 issue Long wrote in “On and Off the Avenue” about the challenges in maintaining her bobbed hairstyle:
Many women in the 1920s preferred to have a permanent wave treatment applied to their bob, which usually involved the application of high heat via a complex array of wires and hot rollers. In the March 10 issue, this ad promoted an alternative “cool method”…
…and in the March 17, 1928 issue of the New Yorker, the Ace Comb company made a pitch to improve its market share by touting their hard rubber combs as ideal for the “ragged bob”…
…and for some further context on all things bobbed, following are some images gleaned from glamourdaze.com, including a page from a 1920s movie magazine featuring Paramount’s bobbed stars; a 1920s salon advertisement promoting bobs for all ages; and finally, a helpful reference card from the American Hairdresser, circa 1924…
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A New Plot for Billy Haines
William “Billy” Haines was a number one male box office draw in the 1920s, and throughout the decade was typecast in a number of comic roles as a conceited baseball player (Slide, Kelly, Slide), conceited cadet (West Point), conceited football star (Brown of Harvard), conceited golfer (Spring Fever), and conceited polo player (The Smart Set). It was that last picture that left the New Yorker wanting Haines to consider taking a different approach in his next picture:
Haines would eventually escape being typecast as a wisecracking, arrogant leading man, not by choosing different roles but by quitting acting altogether in 1935. The head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, had demanded Haines deny his gay lifestyle (which he had lived quite openly despite the times) and marry a woman for appearances. Haines went on to become a successful interior designer, with clients ranging from Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson to Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
In our featured cartoon from March 10, 1928, Helen Hokinson spies on her famous spinsters passing the time with a Ouija board:
Dorothy Parker had a particular aversion to intellectual snobs, and in the Feb. 11, 1928 issue she wrote that the city had been beset with “Literary Rotarians” in search of bookish gatherings attended by people who, according to Parker, “looked as if they had been scraped out of drains.”
I would have to say Parker was on firm ground here. Her own writing was clear and unaffected, and her tastes were democratic (she enjoyed and even wrote about comic strips). So when the book dandies crossed her path, there was trouble:
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Parker continued, recalling the trauma she once endured at a literary association dinner:
Thumb on the Scale of Justice
An unfortunate aspect of American life is how the law is selectively applied to favor those in power. Such was the case of Florence Knapp, who was elected as New York’s Secretary of State in 1924. After leaving office in 1926, she was accused of maladministration, and two years later was convicted of grand larceny while in office—Knapp put her stepdaughter’s name on the state payroll during the administration of the 1925 census, then cashed the checks herself, apparently using the funds to purchase clothes.
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In a special article for the New Yorker, contributing writer Hugh O’Connor did not disagree with Knapp’s guilt, but found the hypocrisy of her accusers hard to stomach. Some excerpts:
Just in case anyone thought this was solely a Republican hit job, O’Connor concluded that the other side was just as complicit in keeping women from high office:
For the record, Knapp was the last Secretary of State elected to that office in New York. After Knapp the office became appointive by the governor, and remains so today. It would be 50 years until another woman would be elected to a statewide office in New York.
Opening Eyes to Red Russia
The New Yorker encouraged open-minded readers to check out a new exhibition on Soviet Russia that offered an alternative vision of a young country beset by famine and political violence:
The exhibition featured hand-carved toys probably similar to these:
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Also featured were pieces of “boldly propagandistic china.” Below are some examples of period pieces, not necessarily featured in the exhibition but perhaps give some idea of what New Yorkers were viewing in 1928. They range from kitschy…
…to the stunningly avant garde….
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Woof for Westminster
The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” was abuzz with anticipation for the Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden. The article noted that the record price paid for a dog was $9,500 (roughly equivalent to $133,000 today). By comparison, in 2014 a Chinese property developer paid nearly $2 million for a Tibetan mastiff puppy.
Note how the writer of the “Talk” piece already knows that the “wire-haired terrier” has the inside track to victory:
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Advertisers in the New Yorker also had Westminster fever, including sporting goods purveyor Abercrombie & Fitch (note the breed of the tartan-clad dog):
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I found this advertisement in the back pages interesting because it called out the New Yorker’s Lois Long, who wrote her nightlife column, “Tables for Two,” under the pseudonym “Lipstick.” The drawing for the ad was provided by Rea Irvin, the artist who gave the magazine its signature look.
In her nightlife column Long played coy with her readers, careful not to reveal her true identity. She teased about being a “short squat maiden of forty,” but when she married cartoonist and fellow New Yorker contributor Peter Arno in August 1927, word was out about her true identity. Irvin’s drawing aptly captures Long in her early years at the New Yorker, on a writer’s salary but nevertheless fashionably dressed, partying all night and heading home with the rising sun.
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And finally, a great illustration that graced the bottom of the “Talk” section. If anyone knows the artist, please comment!
We close out 1927 by looking at the final December issues, which grew fat with Christmas advertising catering to the tastes of New York’s smart set.
Before we jump to the ads, let’s look in on Lois Long, who in the Dec. 10 issue continued her lamentations regarding the quality of New York’s Prohibition-era night life and reminded readers that her job was far from a “soft snap”…
The problem, as diagnosed by Long, was that there were not enough talented entertainers to fill the needs of an overabundance of nightclubs…
Long also railed against the white appropriation of Harlem entertainment, which she felt was draining the place of its soulfulness. In particular she called out writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten, who among white writers was the most prominent in intellectualizing the “Harlem Renaissance”…
What to Buy in ’27
The Dec. 10 and Dec. 17 issues grew fat with holiday advertising, averaging 120+ pages as opposed to the usual 60 or so pages. The advertisements mostly appealed to upscale readers, ranging from this almost Victorian-style ad from the staid Brooks Brothers…
…to this ad from Rex Cole promoting the latest in modern conveniences…
And I’ll toss in this comic from the Dec. 10 issue, in which Peter Arno allows us to listen in on an unlikely conversation between a couple of toffs…
Lois is Also Tired of the Holidays
On to the Dec. 17 issue, in which Lois Long (who had recently married cartoonist Peter Arno, whose work is pictured above) also shared with readers her weariness of Christmas shopping in her column, “On and Off the Avenue.”
The “Parisite” Long referred to in this excerpt was actually Elizabeth Hawes, who occasionally contributed to Long’s column (with cables sent from Paris) regarding the latest in French fashions. More on Hawes another time…
As for ads in the Dec. 17 issue, we get this one from Dunhill, maker of fine English cigarettes and accessories: a woman’s compact that resembles a lighter…
…and the same issue offers this glimpse into the life a spoiled rich kid, home from college for the holidays. The cartoon is by Alan Dunn, one of the most published New Yorker cartoonists (1,906 cartoons from 1926 to 1974)…
With Christmas advertising over, the magazine’s page length dropped by half from the Dec. 17 to the Dec. 24 issue…
…in which we find this holiday-themed illustration by Al Frueh:
Why We Sing Auld Lang Syne
This advertisement in the Dec. 24 issue invited readers to celebrate the New Year at The Roosevelt Hotel…
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Now Let’s Get Out of Here
With the holidays out of the way, New Yorkers still faced a good three months of winter. That is, unless you were well-heeled enough to head south to Palm Beach. Considering the abundance of ads promoting travel to southern climes in the Dec. 24 and 31 issues, apparently many of the magazine’s readers possessed the means to do just that…
And we close this entry, and the year of 1927, with this cover…
…and another tropical-themed advertisement, courtesy of Russeks…
…and this cartoon by Mary Petty depicting those who were left behind, still returning their Christmas gifts…
Continuing to explore the Oct. 8, 1927 issue, the New Yorker editors were taking into account the rapid changes around the bustling heart of the city, Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street and Park Avenue.
Their subject was the New York Central Building, which was slated to become the tallest structure in the great “Terminal City” complex.
The New Yorker commented that the new building would “remove a section from the sky.” Just 34 years later, in 1963, more sky would be removed when the massive Pan Am Building would open at 200 Park Avenue and dwarf the New York Central Building.
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In the same issue the New Yorker lauded the opening of the Savoy-Plaza Hotel, which overlooked Central Park at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
Harry Black, the owner of the nearby Plaza Hotel, built the Savoy-Plaza on a site previously occupied by the old Savoy Hotel (built in 1890). The Savoy-Plaza, designed by McKim, Mead & White, was intended to serve as a newer and less stuffy companion to the older Plaza Hotel.
Lois Long paid a visit to the new Savoy-Plaza and offered these observations in Oct. 15 issue’s “Tables for Two”…
In 1958 the Savoy-Plaza was sold to Hilton Hotels and renamed the Savoy Hilton. Hilton sold the hotel to investors in May 1962. In August 1964, the hotel’s planned demolition was announced amid significant public outcry and protests. The hotel remained open during the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair, but was demolished by early 1966. It was replaced in 1968 with the General Motors Building.
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On Oct. 8, 1927 Lois Long revived her “Tables for Two” column after a summer hiatus. She had married her New Yorker colleague Peter Arno in August, and no doubt was returning from a honeymoon. Maintaining her ruse that she was single and possibly middle-aged and writing under her pen name, Lipstick, Long referred to her absence as a “vacation”…
And finally…in the Oct. 8 issue this advertisement from Saks appeared opposite “The Talk of the Town.” In those high times before the market crash some folks apparently had the means to to buy a Russian sable for prices ranging from $19,500 to $55,000–the equivalent range today would be roughly $261,000 to $735,000…
Lois Long stepped off her fashion beat to check out a new fitness salon on East 49th Street that used a combination of spa treatments, exercise and body shaming to get women into shape.
Operated by a “Miss Marjorie Dork,” the salon offered a comprehensive and “rather sweeping program of making a new and perfect woman of you.” Long observed…
…and what gym would be complete without large placards shaming you for gaining weight or growing old?…
…or an array of newfangled electric gadgets one could use to melt away those extra pounds…
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Another One Bites the Dust
The New Yorker bid farewell to yet another familiar landmark, the old Van Buren Place at No. 21 West 14th Street. Four stories high and five bays wide, the 1845 mansion was considered the height of early Victorian taste.
According to the blog Daytonian in Manhattan, in the 19th century the Van Buren estate had a large garden that extended through the block to 15th St., and in the rear included a conservatory, a stable, arbors, dove cotes “and remnants of the farm life—chicken coops and a cow or two.”
The August 7, 1927 issue of The New York Times reported that the mansion, erected “when all that section north of Washington Square was occupied principally by estates and truck farms, has finally succumbed to the march of improvements and will be demolished to make way for a theatre and office building.” The New Yorker managed to get one last look via “a hole in the fence”…
I don’t know if either a theatre or office building was ever erected on the site, but this is what stands there today:
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Chill Out With Sanka
Santa decaffeinated coffee was first marketed in the U.S. in 1923, but was only sold at two Sanka coffee houses in New York. The company made a big retail push in 1927, including sponsored broadcasts under various titles including the Sanka After-Dinner Hour on WEAF radio in New York. At least until the 1980s if you wanted a decaffeinated coffee you simply ordered a “Sanka.” According to a Wikipedia entry, the bright orange color of the Sanka can was so easily identifiable to consumers that even today a restaurant’s decaf coffee pot might sport a bright orange handle–the direct result of the public’s association of the color orange with Sanka, no matter which brand of coffee is actually served.
Our cartoon from the Sept. 24 issue comes from Alan Dunn, who explored the topic of the birds and bees among the posh set…