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:
Silent film star (and sometime French “noble”) Gloria Swanson was back in the States after a summer sojourn at her Paris residence.
“The Talk of the Town” reported that she had arrived on the steamer Paris, with the great Polish pianist and statesman Jan Paderewski in tow…
Johan Bull’s take on Swanson’s grand arrival with Paderewski, who was much decorated as both a statesman and artist:
The New Yorker made light of the fact that Swanson assumed a rather regal bearing not only as a famous film star but also as the new wife of French aristocrat Henri, Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye, her third husband. In his column, “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker added this swipe at the Swanson’s pretensions to royalty:
Although a marquis and member of the famous Hennessy Cognac family, Henri was not wealthy and worked for a living. He met Swanson when he was hired to be her assistant and interpreter during the filming of Madame Sans-Gêne (1925) in France. The match of a Hollywood star with European nobility made the marriage a global sensation.
The marriage ended in divorce in 1930. According to Wikipedia, (citing two books on the subject), Swanson had an affair with Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. for several years during her marriage to Henri:
Henri became a film executive representing Pathé (USA) in France through Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who was running the studio. Many now assume he was given the position, which kept him in France for ten months a year, to simply keep him (Henri) out of the way…(Kennedy) became her business partner and their relationship was an open secret in Hollywood. He took over all of her personal and business affairs and was supposed to make her millions. Unfortunately, Kennedy left her after the disastrous “Queen Kelly” and her finances were in worse shape than when he came into her life.
In another Talk item, the Sixth Avenue Elevated rail line continued to serve as a “blot” upon the city of New York:
According to a Wikipedia, the old Sixth Avenue El (constructed during the 1870s) was notoriously noisy, made buildings shake, and bombarded pedestrians underneath with dropping ash, oil, and cinders. Eventually, a coalition of commercial establishments and building owners would stage a successful campaign to have the El removed because it was hurting business and property values. It would be razed in 1939 and replaced by the underground IND Sixth Avenue Line.
The New Yorker also featured a lengthy interview with Emory Buckner (conducted by Morris Markey), in which the New York District Attorney discussed his approach to Prohibition enforcement, including the padlocking of restaurants and clubs found to be serving alcohol. In a surprisingly frank interview, Buckner said his zealous crusade had nothing to do with moral conviction:
Buckner also admitted that the government wasn’t making a serious effort to enforce Prohibition (e.g. low salaries for agents), and if it wasn’t going to make the effort then the law should be repealed. Markey concluded his article with words of surprising admiration for a man who had been so thoroughly excoriated in previous issues of The New Yorker.
In other items, theatre critic Herman J. Mankiewicz stepped out of the “Critique” section to write about his experience travelling by train to a football game. He found the whole spectacle (especially the coonskin coat-clad fans) wanting.
Waldo Frank contributed a profile of the popular poet Carl Sandburg, whom he described as moving “through the Machine of our world” with “a peasant’s mind.” Frank used the term not necessarily as a criticism but as a way to describe Sandburg’s Midwestern simplicity. However, a drawing by James House Jr. that accompanied the article depicted Sandburg not as a man of letters, but more like some dim-witted forebear of Homer Simpson:
The actor Leslie Howard contributed another humorous piece to The New Yorker titled “Such is Fame,” accompanied by this Julian de Miskey illustration:
Theodore Shane reported in “Motion Pictures” that Rudolph Valentino appeared in person at the opening of his new film, The Eagle. Known for his aversion to public appearances, Valentino handled the occasion with a silent flourish:
At the end of his column Shane included this exchange with novelist and playwright Edna Ferber, who was also one of the regular wits at the Algonquin Round Table:
In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long wrote about the opening of the Nineteenth Hole Club at the Roosevelt Hotel, and noted that the putting greens on either side of the dance floor offered “additional uplift” to short skirts worn by some female patrons:
She closed her column with this observation and a “warning” about “Lipstick” imposters:
This was a familiar jest by Lois Long in her “Tables for Two” column–describing herself as short and squat–since most readers did not know her true identity or appearance, which was quite the opposite.
In Long’s other column, “On And Off The Avenue,” she offered this advice to women who were fashion-conscious but also thrifty:
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:
“The maddest week any of us remembers in the theatre,” observed “The Talk of the Town” for Sept. 26, 1925, as The Green Hat (the play based on Michael Arlen’s popular novel) was creating a riotous rush for tickets on The Great White Way.
Talk described The Green Hat as “a play so eagerly sought after that even in a week providing 12 openings, speculators were offering five hundred dollars for twenty tickets” ($500 then is roughly equivalent to $6,800 today).
It was noted that despite the openings of such plays as The Vortex and No, No Nanette, The Green Hat was consuming most of the attention, with the opening attracting “every bigwig of Broadway” including Irving Berlin.
One notable guest, however, did not arrive until after the second act: Michael Arlen himself. It was said that Arlen had never seen a complete performance of his play, due to “nervousness.”
Perhaps there was a good reason for his butterflies.
Later in the “Critique” section, Herman J. Mankiewicz (H.J.M.) pronounced The Green Hat as “unreal and consequently uninteresting…a grand sentimental debauch for the romantically inclined. It has no place at all in the discussion of the Higher Theatre…”
Mankiewicz observed that the acting itself was passable, with Katherine Cornell delivering an “excellent, though scarcely ideal portrayal of Iris March,” but she was “showing the strains of playing a role that has no more grasp on life than a little boy’s daydream that the Giants will, after all, snatch the pennant from Pittsburgh.”
A publicity photo from the play:
And Ralph Barton’s unique take on the whole thing:
Mankiewicz also reviewed the play, Arms and the Man, but his focus was not the play but rather an annoying patron in seat T-112:
Although the Scopes Trial was long over, The New Yorker still found opportunities to take potshots at the backwardness and Babbittry of folks in the hinterlands:
Talk also continued to help its readers with regular updates on the bootleg liquor trade:
An article titled “Mid-Town” celebrated the 100th anniversary of 42nd Street. Henry Collins Brown wrote that 100 years had changed the street “from a dusty country lane to a self-contained metropolis. The brownstone of its middle age has given way to granite and marble. It has seen a railroad dynasty rise and has written its epitaph on a narrow, short avenue.”
Then Brown concluded with these prescient thoughts:
An illustrated tribute (by Rea Irvin) to 42nd Street appeared in the “Talk” section:
In “Profiles,” Jo Swerling looked at the life of comedian Louis Josephs, known to all as Joe Frisco, a mainstay on the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s and 1930s.
Swerling wrote admiringly that Frisco—who was from Dubuque, Iowa, of all places—was “the comedian’s comic.”
Considered one of the fastest wits in the history of comedy, Frisco was a famous stutterer but could recite his scripted dialogue unimpaired. According to Wikipedia, he was first known for his popular jazz dance act–called by some the “Jewish Charleston”– which was a choreographed series of shuffles, camel walks and turns. He usually danced in a derby hat with a king-sized cigar in his mouth, often performing in front of beautiful women “smoking” prop cigars.
His most famous line was uttered while in a New York hotel. A clerk learned that Frisco had a guest in a room that was only reserved for one occupant, so he called up to the room and said, “Mr. Frisco, we understand you have a young lady in your room.” Frisco replied, “T-t-t-then send up another G-g-gideon B-b-bible, please.”
With vaudeville in decline, in the 1940s Frisco moved to Hollywood and appeared in several low-budget movies. A compulsive gambler who was constantly in debt, he died penniless in Los Angeles in 1958.
In “Motion Pictures,” Harold Lloyd’s “college comedy,” The Freshman, which Theodore Shane wrote was filled with “glorious laughter.” Shane also noted that another Rin Tin Tin picture was appearing at Warner’s Theatre (Below the Line), and “as usual our hound hero is enlisted on the side of virtue.”
An interesting ad near the back of the magazine (and the book reviews) offered readers an opportunity to sample a new, unnamed work by James Joyce:
What this ad described was an avant-garde work by Joyce that would appear in serialized form until it was finally published in its entirety in 1939 as Finnegans Wake.
In other book-related matters, this illustration by Herb Roth appeared in the pages of the “Critique” section:
Anne Margaret Daniel wrote about this “Suggested Bookplate” in her May 1, 2013 blog for the Huffington Post, and made this observation:
“Be Your Age” shows how fully the magazine at the pulse of the Jazz Age registered both Fitzgerald’s personification of the decade, in many readers’ eyes, as well as the dangers he had foretold in The Beautiful and Damned, and again in Gatsby of decadence and of the coming Crash. It’s a very double-edged image of festivity and fatality, just like so many of the images of people at parties that end in disasters in Fitzgerald’s best-known, and best-loved, novel.
Charles Baskerville (Top Hat) continued to report from the City of Lights in his “Paris Letter,” mainly focusing on the doings of American tourists. No offense to the urbane and talented Baskerville (also a great illustrator), but I am looking forward to Janet Flanner’s (a.k.a. Genêt) take on Paris in future issues (Does anyone out there know if she wrote the unsigned “Paris Letter” in the Sept. 5 issue?).
The issue featured a rather faded-looking movie ad for the back cover:
And a still from the film on which the drawing is no doubt based:
“The Talk of the Town” welcomed midsummer by noting the changes in the “new Summer Social Register…A long, slow swing of the same pendulum-like power which shifts the vogue in night clubs and restaurants is the migration to inland resorts…The Hamptons have fallen off, Newport has weakened and of the coasts only New England, boasting ‘the prestige of the Summer White House,’ has held its own.”
It was thought that perhaps financial pressures on waterfront acreage “had added zeros to the 400” and “The fragments of our battered conservatives turn and twist uneasily, seeking readjustment, new barriers (translation: old money responds to the invasion of new money).
This siege on the sanctity of “the 400” – a reference to the number limited to Mrs. John Jacob Astor’s social circle – included the appearance of “scanty” bathing suits on Southampton beaches:
Corroborative evidence of the storming of the conservative fortresses by Undesirables comes with Southampton’s latest protest against scanty bathing costumes, “usually worn by strangers.”
Just what these costumes were or were not, the Southampton Bathing Corporation did not say, but they ruled that stockings and cape must be worn “while walking down to the water.” This ordinance to apply “especially at week-ends and during tennis week.
Beginning with this issue, the “When Nights Are Bold” feature was passed from Charles Baskerville (pen name “Top Hat”) to the newly hired Lois Long (pen name “Lipstick”). In her first column for The New Yorker, Long suggested that for those “who can get out of town at will,” the Arrowhead Inn “up Riverdale way” and high on a bluff above the Hudson, was a popular destination for dining and dancing, even if the dancing crowd left something to be desired:
Another recommended Hudson River location was the Claremont (but alas, no dancing!), while for those staying in the city, Long recommended the Embassy Club at 695 Fifth Avenue.
According to Here At The New Yorker by Brendan Gill, Long chronicled nightly escapades of drinking, dining, and dancing for The New Yorker, and because her readers did not know who she was, she often jested in her columns about being a “short squat maiden of forty” or a “kindly, old, bearded gentleman.” However, in the announcement of her marriage to The New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, she revealed her true identity.
Harold Ross hired Long in the summer of 1925 as part of a group of “saviors” he hoped would help boost his struggling magazine. The group included Arno, Katharine Angell, managing editor Ralph Ingersoll, and cartoonist Helen Hokinson.
Although she was a favorite of Ross’s, the two couldn’t be more different, as historian Joshua Zeitz explains in Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern (2006), Long knew just how to embarrass the girl-shy editor, and loved to do it:
(Ross) was a staid and proper Midwesterner, and she was absolutely a wild woman. She would come into the office at four in the morning, usually inebriated, still in an evening dress and she would, having forgotten the key to her cubicle, she would normally prop herself up on a chair and try to, you know, in stocking feet, jump over the cubicle usually in a dress that was too immodest for Harold Ross’ liking. She was in every sense of the word, both in public and private, the embodiment of the 1920s flapper. And her readers really loved her.
“Talk” also reported that Mrs. (Julia Lydig) Hoyt had “very nearly arrived,” and was capitalizing on her stage career through endorsements for cold creams and articles on social etiquette. “The motion picture industry and stage know her and now she is a designer at highest salary ever paid to an American.”
Prohibition continued to dampen the spirits (pun intended) of New Yorkers, particularly during the summer season. The editors noted that of 36 random summer reminiscences submitted to the magazine, eighteen were “direct references to alcoholic concoctions and all but a few theatrical recollections directly suggested indulgence. Then the editors offered their own wistful recollections:
Of course we remember “The Doctor’s cocktails” mixed by the “Commissioner” at the Astor…the highball sign at Forty-second and Broadway…the “Old Virginia Mountain” between the acts under the smile of Old King Cole…the Sunday afternoon absinthe drips at the Lafayette…Champagne at the Claremont on a June night…the Manhattan bar at cocktail time…the Ancient and Honorables in the Buckingham bar….the Navy in mufti at Shanley’s…the horseshoe bar at the Waldorf…the blue dawn of the West Forties…
Of course…but why bring that up again? It’s merely driving us down the street to that place that gave us the card last week and the rumor has just reached us that they are back serving Scotch in teacups, accompanied by a large earthenware teapot filled with soda.
Also lamented was the loss of renown restaurant Delmonico’s, which had been closed for some time (due mostly to alcohol sales lost to Prohibition; its famous rival across the street, Sherry’s, closed in 1919 for the same reason) but was now yielding to the wrecking ball: “Possibly, Delmonico’s might have been saved as a tradition, but finances and the changes of Fifth Avenue’s complexion forbade…Now we are to see yet another skyscraper, this one on the site where once they dined; where once they danced; across the street from old Sherry’s, long since a bank; orchestraed only by adding machines.”
“The Talk of the Town” concluded with a price list for various bootleg spirits, a feature that would continue through the Prohibition:
Fresh off his dismantling of those clod-kickers in Chicago, Ben Hecht continued his dyspeptic tirade on the America that lay beyond Gotham, specifically attacking its love of the “Pollyanna twaddle flow” of entertainment from Hollywood:
Ralph Barton, on the other hand, offered of a view of the entire earth, from the vantage point of a Martian observer:
In “Profiles,” Waldo Frank (writing under the pen-name “Searchlight”) looked askance at the life and work of writer Sinclair Lewis.
Frank offered these observations: “Once upon a time, America created a man-child in her own image…
There’s a strange thing about America. She is passionately in love with herself, and is ashamed of herself…Here was a dilemma, Could not her self be served up to America in such a way that she could love herself—and save her shame? Sinclair Lewis, true American son, was elect to solve it.”
And for those rising young men who did not wish to mix with the unwashed during the summer social season, membership to the Allerton Club Residences was recommended in this back page advertisement:
And yes, the Scopes Monkey Trial is still on the minds of the editors:
And finally, to close out with a beach theme, a two-page illustration from “The Talk of the Town” section, an early work by illustrator Peggy Bacon: