The Maddest Week

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Sept. 26 cover by Rea Irvin.

“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.

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Michael Arlen in 1925 (Bettmann/Corbis)

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:

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Broadway newcomer Leslie Howard embraces Katherine Cornell in this publicity photo from The Green Hat. (inafferrabileleslie)

And Ralph Barton’s unique take on the whole thing:

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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:

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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:

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Talk also continued to help its readers with regular updates on the bootleg liquor trade:

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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.”

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A 42nd Street landmark: Grand Central Station in the 1920s (wirednewyork)

Then Brown concluded with these prescient thoughts:

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An illustrated tribute (by Rea Irvin) to 42nd Street appeared in the “Talk” section:

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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.”

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Joe Frisco (findagrave.com)

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.”

FOLLIES OF YOUTH…Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in The Freshman. (avclub.com)

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:

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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:

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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:

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And a still from the film on which the drawing is no doubt based:

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Tyrone Power Sr. and Greta Nissen in The Wanderer (1925) (Sad Hill Archive)

Next Time: Lois Long’s Fifth Avenue…

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The Dramatic Season

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Sept. 5, 1925, cover by James Daugherty.

The writer Michael Arlen was back in pages of The New Yorker on the occasion of his second visit to the U.S. The magazine also heralded his first visit in March 1925, when he was liberally feted by various literary hangers-on and assorted socialites.

This time around Arlen was the guest of Charles Dillingham, “being at the moment deeply engaged in his host’s forthcoming presentation of Mr. Cyril Maude in “The Charming People.” And, between times, casting watchful eyes on “The Green Hat,” whose New York premiere next week comes just in the nick of time to save many of Mr. Arlen’s admirers from collapses fomented by anguished anticipation.”

With Arlen’s return, and with new works by the “youngster” Noel Coward (he was 26), ‘The Talk of the Town” noted that the fall theater season “will have a distinctly British flavor.”

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The young Noel Coward. (Victoria & Albert Museum)

“Talk” called Coward “the rage of the London dramatic season,” in anticipation of his upcoming New York presentations:

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Babe Ruth also returned to “Talk” with another tale of mischief:

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It was also reported that Charlie Chaplin was still playing the melancholy, holed up in his room at the Ritz with his telephone disconnected:

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French tennis star Rene Lacoste was the subject in “Profiles.” John Tunis wrote, “The French are supposed to be a volatile people. Rene Lacoste us about as volatile as Swiss cheese. His is the most perfect self-control imaginable; both on the court and off, his is the demeanor of a real champion…he will go a very long way.”

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Rene Lacoste was one of “The Four Musketeers” with Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, and Henri Cochet, French tennis stars who dominated the game in the 1920s and early 1930s. He won seven Grand Slam singles titles at the French, American, and British championships, and was the World’s No. 1 player for both 1926 and 1927. Today he is still known worldwide as the creator of the Lacoste tennis shirt, which he introduced in 1929. (Biography.com)

“Moving Pictures” announced the arrival of the German film Siegfried at the Century Theatre. An advertisement in the magazine proclaimed that a “Symphonic Orchestra of 60 musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Co. render a special score compiled with Wagner’s Immortal Music…”

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Still from 1924’s Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (UFA)

In my last post I wrote about Raoul Fleischmann’s investment in The New Yorker, and how his initial $25,000 led to subsequent infusions of hundreds of thousands of dollars. No doubt in an effort to recoup some of his investment, he started placing these full-page ads in the magazine that promoted health benefits of consuming his company’s product: yeast.

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Next time: Issue #30: A Magazine’s Merry Ride

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The Ordeal of Michael Arlen

The March 28 “Talk of the Town” ponders “what sort of paces a visiting literary lion may be expected to put through.”

The “literary lion” in question was writer Michael Arlen, who was planning his escape from New York  by reserving a cabin on the Olympic for its April 18 sailing: “It is expected that very few of his writing compatriots in London will venture America-wards after he reports on the ritual to which he was subjected.” The “ritual,” it seems, was Arlen’s constant exposure to various literary hangers-on and assorted socialites.

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March 28, 1925 cover by Ray Rohn (New Yorker Digital Archive)

Arlen’s real name was Dikran Kouyoumdjian, an Armenian writer transplanted to England who was most famous for his satirical romances set in English smart society. He also wrote psychological thrillers, including The Gentleman from America, filmed in 1956 (the year Arlen died) as a television episode for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was well known in New York and London society, a dandy who resembled many of the characters he portrayed in his novels.

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Arlen in 1925 (Bettmann/Corbis)

Returning to the “ritual,” Arlen received “the reasonably constant chaperonage, at tea time, of John Farrar” (editor of the literary magazine The Bookman) who took it upon himself to add Arlen’s publishing interests to his duties (Farrar would go on to found the publishing house of Farrar & Rinehart, and later Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

“Talk” also noted that Arlen was “admitted into the game known as meeting Miss Elsie de Wolfe.”

A bit more about Miss de Wolfe: In the September 14, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, Dana Goodyear observed that “Interior design as a profession was invented by Elsie de Wolfe.” A prominent figure in New York, Paris, and London society, de Wolfe was also an American stage actress and author of the bestselling 1913 book, The House in Good Taste.

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Elsie de Wolfe in 1925 (Architectural Digest)

During Arlen’s first two weeks in America, de Wolfe arranged no less than three formal gatherings, each with the purpose of introducing the author to herself. “Talk” also reported that Arlen was invited to a costume party given by Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, for which Paramount Studios producer Jesse Lasky “gracefully supplied (Arlen) with a gypsy costume.” It was noted that Lasky was there to arrange some movie work with Arlen to occur later in the fall, when the author would return to New York to attend the opening of the Broadway play The Green Hat, based on the 1924 book that made him famous.

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Pola Negri in the 1920s (doctor macro.com)

Arlen was then to depart for Hollywood to “adjust his ideas into adequate scenario form for Miss Pola Negri.” Negri was a Polish stage and screen star world famous for her roles as a femme fatale. Her personal life often made headlines in the gossip magazines of the day, fueled by a series of love affairs that included Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino. Negri would not land the female lead for The Green Hat; it would eventually go to Greta Garbo in a 1928 film titled A Woman of Affairs.

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Greta Garbo and  John Gilbert in A Woman of Affairs (1928), a silent film based on The Green Hat. (ggarbo.weebly.com)

“Talk” reported that “ Mr. Arlen, early in his American visit learned a piece of social usage that has stood him in good stead. This has involved, upon introduction to any stranger, his saying rapidly “Didn’t I meet you at tea?” whereupon the gratified stranger murmurs yes and has become a friend for life. This stratagem is said to have suggested itself to Mr. Arlen when he noticed that the average number of guests at teas in his honor was around two hundred.” The columnist noted that “that this business of becoming a friend for life” was a bit of literary exaggeration, and in reality the magazine:

has seldom seen such atrocious behavior and lack of fundamental good manners as has characterized a large proportion of the people who have been brought forward to met Mr. Arlen. Seemingly ignoring the fact that there was no law compelling their attendance at a function in Mr. Arlen’s honor, ever so many persons have come to his parties with an axe rather awkwardly concealed behind them.

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John McGraw (howstuffworks)

The “Profile” in issue featured John McGraw and proclaimed that he “is baseball…the incarnation of the national sport.” The piece was titled “Mr. Muggsy,” a nickname reportedly detested by McGraw because, as the magazine observed, “it is so perfectly descriptive.”

At the time of the writing, McGraw was manager and part-owner of the New York (baseball) Giants. He still holds the record for the most wins of a manager in the National League.

The issue also featured a humorous column by Frank Sullivan, which took aim at the complexity (and likely graft) of taxicab fares. The caption reads: The Taxicab System is Simple to Any Man with a Master’s Degree.

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The April 4 Issue, the “gypsy-themed party” continues…

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April 4, 1925, cover by Ilonka Karasz (New Yorker Digital Archive)

The following week’s issue of “The Talk of Town” (April 4) offered more details regarding the “gypsy-themed costume party” given by Mrs. William Randolph Hearst at the Hotel Ritz-Carlton and attended by Michael Arlen.

The party was in honor of Ambassador Alexander Pollock Moore’s departure to his Spanish post (he left the post later that year and served as ambassador to Peru in 1928-29. He died at age 63 in 1930).

The item noted that the widower Moore (his wife, famed stage actress Lillian Russell, died in 1922) during an earlier Condé Nast event for the “theatrical and literary world,” never rose from his chair without scattering to the winds a dozen or more ingénues who had been draping themselves around him…”

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The tented ceiling and glittering chandeliers of the Ritz-Carlton’s Crystal Room. The hotel at 46th and Madison opened in 1911 and was torn down just 40 years later, in 1951.

“Talk” shared accounts from the New York American and the New York Mirror that described the Ritz’s famous Crystal Room as decorated to resemble a “gypsy camp,” complete with organ grinder and monkey wandering through the crowd.

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A much thinner W.C. Fields of the vaudeville circuit, here in a still from the movie Sally of the Sawdust (1925) (Film Forum)

Entertainment at the event featured a cabaret with vaudevillian W.C. Fields, who apparently “gazed at his distinguished audience and allowed his thoughts to play with the wealth of juggleable material that confronted him.”

Finally, “Of All Things” noted that “The Turks are said to be mobilizing a hundred thousand men in an effort to affect the Mosul boundary decision but, despite this display of force, we have every confidence that right and justice and Christian civilization will prevail and the British will get their oil.”

The League of Nations awarded Mosul to Iraq, and to the British a 25-year mandate over Iraq (at this writing Mosul is firmly under the control of the Islamic State).

“Books” looked at Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil and suggested that it is not “A-One Maugham.” It also mentioned the New Yorker’s own Alexander Woollcott and his The Story of Irving Berlin, described as “uncommonly pleasant reading.”