As if covering the nightclub scene and the fashion set wasn’t enough, Lois (“Lipstick”) Long found the time to attend the National Automobile Show at the Grand Central Palace and offer her insights and criticisms on the latest in automotive design.
The show featured more than 500 new models, bigger and more powerful cars mounted on new-fangled balloon tires. There were also cheaper cars available–GM introduced the Pontiac line to appeal to the mass market, and other manufacturers lowered their prices in an effort to lure customers. Visitors packed the show despite the fact that the city streets were already hopelessly clogged with traffic and navigating them was difficult and often perilous. Al Frueh offered his take on the traffic situation with a little doodle in “The Talk of the Town” section (featured above).
Lois Long gave readers her usual straightforward assessment of the show (her Danish pastry metaphor in the first paragraph is spot on). Note her list of American car companies, many of which are long gone:
“The Talk of Town” editors were bemused over the news that artist Maxfield Parrish had received “a check in six figures” following his first-ever exhibition. It was reported that Parrish received $80,000 (roughly equivalent to $1 million today) for a single painting, which the editors suggested made him “the highest paid artist living.” They also wondered “if he gets amusement out of being the highest paid painter,” since Parrish was known for wanting to be left alone, and until recently was “not well off” because no one “could persuade him to the sell the pictures with which he lined his house.”
In a previous issue (Dec. 12, 1925), New Yorker art critic Murdock Pemberton wrote a dismissive critique of the young Parrish’s work and noted that the artist was largely glorified in American advertising and not in serious art circles. This was followed by another “Talk” item in which the editors sneered at the trade calendar market that fed the popularity of artists like Parrish:
And to close, this message (illustrated by Peter Arno) from Miltiades Egyptian cigarettes. Apparently they empower you to call your non-smoking friend “fatso.”
Last time we looked at one of The New Yorker’s most prolific artists, Peter Arno. Equally prolific was Helen E. Hokinson, who preceded Arno at the magazine by several months as one of the magazine’s first regular artists.
Hokinson’s signature cartoons of often plump society women engaged in their various activities–clubs, shopping, dining out and gardening–were hugely influential in giving The New Yorker a distinct look and style.
In all she contributed 68 covers to the magazine and more than 1,800 cartoons (including the one that heads this blog entry). So strong was Hokinson’s identity with the magazine, a number of her cartoons were published after her death in 1949.
New Yorker artist Richard Merkin later wrote (The New Yorker, Feb. 14, 1994) that Hokinson was “something of a stay-at-home, preferring the rewards and routines of her work and of an apartment near Gramercy Park and a cottage in Connecticut.” He observed that it was a “dismal irony” when this homebody died in a plane crash en route to a speaking engagement in Washington, D.C.
But let us remember the joys she brought to so many through her work. Merkin wrote that Hokinson was “a beloved aunt among the family of New Yorker artists…(she) created a type that will forever bear her name–the Hokinson Woman.” Here is Hokinson’s contribution to the Dec. 12, 1925 issue:
The reluctant debutante Ellin Mackay was back for the Dec. 12 issue with a follow-up piece, “The Declining Function: A Post-Debutante Rejoices.” It would be her final word on the topic. As I reported earlier, Mackay went on to marry famed songwriter Irving Berlin, but would continue writing, most notably a number of short stories for the Saturday Evening Post and other publications.
In this her second and final New Yorker piece, Mackay drove the final nail into her past debutante life, writing that balls and other society events were “no longer a recognition of any kind of distinction.” She concluded:
People are bored, at least for a while, with being sheep; they are weary of filling their hours of ease with tiresome duties; they have learned to go where they want to go, not where they want to be seen.
* * *
“The Talk of the Town “ reported on George Gershwin’s latest work of “ambitious jazz,” his Concerto in F, which premiered at Carnegie Hall with Walter Damrosch conducting.
It was noted that Gershwin’s new work had the “beat of the Charleston stirring it.” Later in the “Critique” section, the work was applauded as an “advance on Rhapsody in Blue” and “sharply effective.”
“Profiles” featured Tex Rickard, proprietor of the new Madison Square Garden. The profile’s writer, W. O. McGeehan, suggested that Rickard had assumed the mantle of P. T. Barnum, and although he had given up his saloon-dealing days (promoting gambling and boxing) and now feigned “respectability and elegance,” his primary talent remained in rounding up the gullible masses for popular entertainments:
He will promote anything that will gather a sufficient number of Rubes for profit or for prestige…Behind his guileless exterior, there is a deep guile that is half benevolent and half Satanic…
The following year (1926) Rickard would be awarded an NHL franchise to compete with the (now defunct) New York Americans hockey team. Rickard’s team would immediately be nicknamed ‘Tex’s Rangers,” a moniker that remains to this day.
In “Art,” Murdock Pemberton wrote a dismissive critique of the young Maxfield Parrish’s work, which was on display at Scott & Fowles gallery. It was Parrish’s first exhibition. Pemberton took pains to point out that although the work had technical merit, it was by an artist largely glorified in American advertising and not in serious art circles:
The Dec. 12 issue was filled with Christmas advertisements, including this one that suggests even “sophisticated” readers of the magazine had a taste for kitsch:
Included in the back pages was an extensive list of “Christmas Shopping Suggestions” compiled by Lois Long (who noted that the list was “not compiled for the benefit of the Old Lady from Dubuque”), while in “Tables for Two” she confessed something akin to horror that she had not yet visited Harlem in the fall season. Among her observations:
And in the spirit of the season, the “Old Lady from Dubuque” made an appearance in the magazine courtesy of cartoonist Ralph Barton:
Prohibition posed one the biggest challenges to the life of an urban sophisticate in the 1920s, but also provided opportunities for sophisticated behavior through the flaunting of the Volstead Act.
“The Talk of the Town” for March 21, 1925 opens with an attack on the new U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Emory C. Buckner. He took office with the promise to “debunk” Prohibition enforcement by collecting evidence of liquor sales in nightclubs and speakeasies. Bypassing both the police and the Bureau of Prohibition, he would file injunctions in federal court and have the offending establishments padlocked for up to a year as a “public nuisance.”
(In “The Hour Glass” section of the same issue, the magazine observes that “Minister’s sons always go one way or the other, mostly the other.” It also notes that along with William Jennings Bryan, “Nebraska gave Emory Buckner to the Union.”)
According to the book Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City, by Michael Lerner, Buckner hoped that his method would break the endless cycle of arrests, plea bargains and fines that had come to define prohibition. His approach took the focus off the city’s working class; rather than throwing bartenders into jail, he would threaten owners and landlords with financial losses and would “pinch the pocketbook of the man higher up.”
Lerner writes that Buckner targeted high-profile nightclubs and speakeasies in the upscale theater district rather than focusing on working class saloons that had been previously singled out by the dry lobby. The goal was to “hold the city’s more cosmopolitan social circles accountable for their drinking.”
In other words, this hit The New Yorker readership, and its writers and editors, right where they lived.
“The Talk of the Town” suggested that Buckner’s motivation was self-promotion, and predicted that his padlocking tactic would backfire, since previous attempts at padlocking actually lent “prestige” to the closed establishments.
That prediction would indeed become true. Instead of curtailing liquor consumption, Lerner writes that the padlocking actually increased the allure of nightclubs: “The leading lady of New York’s nightlife, Texas Guinan, went so far as to adopt the padlock as her personal trademark.”
Nevertheless, the “Talk of the Town” entry concluded with wistful remembrances of pre-Prohibition days, the Hoffman House taproom and the (Maxfield Parrish) Old King Cole mural above the Knickerbocker Bar, now “reposing disconsolately in the gloom of a warehouse.”
The writer would be happy to know that today the Maxfield Parrish mural (recently restored) graces The King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel (if you are in NYC you should put on a nice jacket and grab an old school martini there).
A final tidbit from Gotham magazine regarding the mural: “John Jacob Astor IV originally opened the St. Regis Hotel in 1904. Two years later, he commissioned the Old King Cole mural for his Knickerbocker hotel. Apparently Parrish, a Quaker, was reluctant to accept the gig, until Astor upped the offer to $5,000. Astor was tragically lost aboard the Titanic in 1912. And the Parrish mural was installed at The King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in 1932.”
Gotham magazine also offers a secret about the mural revealed at an unveiling following the restoration: under his regal robe, King Cole is breaking wind, therefore the smirks of the jesters.
This is what I love about history—its endless digressions.