In the fall of 1925, Peter Arno’s illustrations began to pop up in the pages of The New Yorker magazine.
Arno’s early illustrations were surprisingly understated, given that he would go on to become one of the magazine’s best known cartoonists, contributing many memorable illustrations and cartoons–and 99 covers–to the magazine from 1925 until 1968, the year of his death.
Recently described by longtime New Yorker writer Roger Angell as “the magazine’s first genius,” in 1927 Arno would marry fellow New Yorker contributor Lois Long (“Tables for Two” and “On and Off the Avenue”).
In his memoir Here at The New Yorker, Brendan Gill wrote that editor Harold Ross frowned on office romances, but “it was perhaps inevitable that Arno and Miss Long should have fallen in love.”
To keep his party-loving contributors close to the workplace, Ross opened a staff speakeasy in the basement of a near-by property. Long later relayed this story to writer Harrison Kinney about Ross’s ill-fated experiment:
“(Ralph) Ingersoll came in one morning and found Arno and me stretched out on the sofa nude and Ross closed the place down…Arno and I may have been married to one another then; I can’t remember. Maybe we began drinking and forgot that we were married and had an apartment to go to.”
The marriage would last only three years (and produce a daughter…more on that in a later post), but they would collectively give more than eight decades of their lives to the magazine.
Examples of Arno’s early contributions:
And his later work…a cartoon from 1960:In other news, “The Talk of the Town” editors also joined the throng of gapers taking one last look at the Vanderbilt mansion:
And they rhapsodized about the new Madison Square Garden, which was nearing completion at Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets:
“Profiles” featured the “Apostle of Perfection,” Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg, famed for his performances of Mahler and Strauss. “The Current Press” noted the first-ever coverage of a professional football game by a New York newspaper (NY Times):
An excerpt from the lengthy Times article referenced by The New Yorker:
In “On and Off the Avenue,” Lois Long wrote about the wonders of children’s toys on display for the Christmas season:
It is worth noting that the “Schwartz” store to which she referred (known to most of us as FAO Schwartz) will be closing its current Fifth Avenue store at the end of 2016. The name will live on (sadly) in online retailing as a unit of Toy’s R Us.
And in her “Tables for Two” column, Long referred to the previous issue’s blockbuster article penned by the reluctant debutant, Ellie Mackay, which perhaps made Long’s nighttime forays a bit less novel:
The Dec. 5 issue also carried a response to Mackay’s article, written by a young Yale alumnus named William Adee. A couple of brief excerpts:
Later in his lengthy rebuttal, Adee offers this (exasperated) observation:
In “Motion Pictures,” Theodore Shane found little to recommend: Cecille B. DeMille’s The Road to Yesterday was “hokum,” The Masked Bride tame, and the new Tom Mix picture, The Best Bad Man, was in need of a plot.
The passing of Schultz, the head of New York’s claque, was noted in “The Talk in Town” for May 9, 1925. A “claque” is simply a group of people hired to either applaud or heckle a performer, usually in theater or opera, but in the case of Schultz (he was only known by his surname) his claques were known for being heavy handed.
“Talk” continued its reporting on the comings and goings of the writer Dikran Kouyoumdjian, better known by his pen name, Michael Arlen. Exhausted from a busy social schedule (“no visitor has been so lionized since the Prince of Wales”), Arlen had retreated to Farmington to work on a play.
With Madison Square Garden slated for demolition, it was reported that the Diana figure atop MSG’s Italianate tower was to be relocated to the NYU campus. “Talk” noted that the Diana was the only nude ever completed by famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The statue is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a copy is in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
At the time, the NYU campus was largely based on a design by Stanford White, also the architect of the soon-to-be demolished Madison Square Garden. “Talk” noted that although the manner of White’s death put him “in a poor light among his puritanical countrymen,” many “courageous men” including Saint-Gaudens strongly defended White as a kind, unselfish and loyal friend.
Let’s step back about twenty years for bit more on Stanford White: He was a founding partner of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White. Although many considered him witty, kind, and generous, he also had the reputation of a middle-aged serial seducer of teenage girls. White’s desire for Evelyn Nesbit, a popular chorus girl and model, would be his undoing.
On June 25, 1906, White attended a premiere performance of Mam’zelle Champagne at a garden theatre he had designed on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden. Ironically, during the show’s finale, “I Could Love A Million Girls”, Nesbit’s jealous husband, Harry Thaw, shot White three times, point blank.
It was reported that the initial reaction from the crowd was cheerful, since elaborate party tricks were common among the upper classes of New York society. Hysteria would however ensue.
Thaw would be found not guilty by reason of insanity, and would be plagued by mental illness until his death in 1947. Nesbit, who was present at the theatre the night of the shooting, would eventually divorce Thaw. She would go on to a modest career in vaudeville, film and even burlesque (when she was in her fifties). She moved on to a quieter life after World War II and died in 1967 at age 82.
“Profile” examined the life of “Ashcan School” painter George Luks, while this blurb in “Of All Things” gave us a glimpse of things to come:
On a lighter note, we end with comic commentary on the Liquor Commission’s attempt to lock out patrons of New York’s speakeasies:
In the last post we briefly looked at changes that were coming to Fifth Avenue as it made a transition from a place of high society residences to high society commercial interests.
The May 2, 1925 “Talk of the Town” noted that “New York is no longer the beginning and ending of all things social,” as Fifth Avenue town houses were rapidly disappearing as more of the wealthy elite were building country estates in Tuxedo, Newport or Long Island.
For those remaining in the city, the trend was toward smaller dwellings that didn’t require large staffs, including apartments in locations such as the new Sutton Place.
There were some hold-outs, including Charles Schwab. Although he kept a suite at the Ritz and his wife lived in a “palatial” residence in Loretta, Penn., he nevertheless employed “a full staff of servants” at the “great gray pile with the quaint statue of a steel puddler on the lawn.” This 75-room “pile,” constructed 1902-1906, occupied an entire block between West End Avenue and the Riverside Drive, Seventy-third and Seventy-fourth streets.
Schwab made his fortune in steel, and was the first president of the U.S. Steel Corporation (He was not related to Charles R. Schwab, founder of the Charles Schwab Corporation, but was the grandfather of Charles R. Schwab the discount broker). After Schwab died in 1939, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia turned down a proposal to make the mansion the official mayoral residence, considering it too grandiose. It was torn down in 1948 and replaced by the Schwab House, an 18-story apartment building.
“Talk” also reported that one of old society’s grand gathering places, the Astor mansion at 840 Fifth Avenue, was being made available for various charity events that charged ten dollars for a peek at the Astor ballroom, although it was reported most of the visitors were more interested in the dining room than “in the scene of so many brilliant cotillions, of Ward McAllister’s arrogance toward dowagers and of Mrs. William Astor’s imperial rule of a society arbitrarily exclusive.”
The death of famed portrait painter John Singer Sargent was noted in both the “Talk” and “Art” sections, while a feature titled “The New Conquistadors” poked fun at the Babbitt-like promoters of the Florida real-estate boom:
“Profiles” noted the passing of Sam Drebin, referred to as the “Fighting Jew.” Written by screenwriter William Slavens McNutt, the piece noted the pat irony of Drebin’s death—that a man who braved untold hazards and fought with more than a dozen armies should die “in the stuffy quiet of a doctor’s office when an assistant gave him medicine from the wrong bottle.”
For all the sophistication of the early New Yorker magazine, attitudes toward various racial groups, especially blacks, was sadly in concert with the times. The section “When Nights Are Bold” mentions a minstrel performance at the Club Alabam by Johnny Hudgins, noting that the entertainer is “as funny as ever, but the rest of the outfit automatically catalogues itself under ‘fast moving brown skin.’ If you are interested in gold teeth, you’ll find some dressy sets there.”
Hudgins was both a vaudeville performer and part of the Harlem Renaissance. He developed blackface pantomime routines with a jazz trumpet soloist who played vocal-sounding “wah-wah” effects with a plunger mute while Hudgins mouthed the words and performed a comic dance. Fans called him “The Wah-Wah Man.” The French hailed him as the “colored Charlie Chaplin” when he performed in the Parisian Revue Negre that also featured Josephine Baker. Hudgins died in 1990 at age 94.
African-Americans, however, were not the only ethnic group to singled out for stereotypical depictions, as this title art from the recurring poetry feature “Lyrics from the Pekinese” suggests:
From the very first issues The New Yorker kept an eye on the city’s dramatically changing skyline as old landmarks fell and skyscrapers soared. R. W. Sexton was the magazine’s early architecture critic (to be followed by notables included Lewis Mumford and Paul Goldberger).
In the section “The Sky-Line,” Sexton wrote about the planned demolition of Madison Square Garden (it was the second facility to bear the name; today’s MSG is the fourth) and how critics, including foreign visitors, often taunted New Yorkers about their “rabid commercialism.”
Sexton wrote that the criticism is deserved to an extent, but noted that a structure can only be fine from an architectural standpoint if its value is both artistic and practical.
Such an attitude would see the erasure of many landmarks, and in some cases whole neighborhoods when Robert Moses entered the picture.
It was also the attitude that led to the destruction in 1963 of one of the world’s architectural wonders—Penn Station—an act that finally prompted New Yorkers to push for preservation laws.
Sexton suggested that “the finest building in New York” was the Shelton Hotel, a building “designed for modern New York, and looks neither to Italy nor to France for it inspiration and example.”
He said the same applied to Raymond Hood’s American Radiator building (opened in 1924). When the Gothic style is employed, Shelton suggested that Bush building on 42nd Street is the finest adaption of the style to a skyscraper.
Shelton concludes that the “set-back laws” for buildings (which prevented tall buildings from blocking all of the light from the street) actually helped to further develop a unique architectural style for the city.
Still standing at 130-132 West 42nd Street, the Bush building, designed by architect Harvey Wiley Corbett and constructed from 1916-18, was notable for its role in the evolution of Times Square and of New York skyscrapers after the 1916 Zoning Resolution.
Advertising was picking up a bit, as we see on the final page of the issue.
It will be a while until we see beer and liquor ads. However, the spate of sparkling water ads in the early, prohibition-era issues suggests that readers were not being encouraged to drink more water, but rather to use it as a mixer for bathtub gin or whatever they could get their hands on in those so called dry years.