Those Jaunty Jalopies

The January 8, 1927 issue of the New Yorker was all over the 27th Annual Motor Show at the Grand Central Palace, both in its lengthy review of the show and the many automobile ads throughout its pages.

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January 8, 1927 (Issue # 99) cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Auto manufacturers discovered early on that cars didn’t need to advance technologically from year to year as long as there were superficial changes–trimmings and such–to dazzle the consumer:

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Artist Helen Hokinson added this touch to the issue devoted to the auto show.
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A 1927 Gardner Model 90 Roadster on display at the 27th Annual New York Motor Show at Grand Central Palace. (gardnermotorcars.com)

Advertisements in the New Yorker ranged from snobbish appeals to Francophiles…

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 3.32.48 PM…to those who might be concerned about safety. Although cars weren’t very fast, they were fast enough to kill, and their plentiful numbers often overwhelmed a city with rudimentary traffic control.

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In his book, One Summer: America, 1927, Bill Bryson writes that New York in 1927 was the most congested city on earth. It contained more cars than the whole country of Germany, while at the same 50,000 horses (and wagons) still clogged the streets. More than a thousand people died in traffic accidents in the city in 1927, four times the number today.

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THE DEATH-O-METER … was a 20-foot sign installed near Grand Army Plaza in 1927. It tallied traffic accidents and fatalities in the borough and reminded motorists to slow down at the traffic circle. (Ephemeral New York)

Traffic control was still in its infancy in the 1920s. Seven ornate bronze towers, 23 feet high, were placed at intersections along Fifth Avenue from 14th to 57th Streets starting in 1922. By 1927 smaller, simpler lights were mounted on street corners and the system of green, yellow and red was generally adopted.

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Bronze traffic signal tower designed by Joseph H. Freedlander at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, 1922. (New York Times)

Keeping with the motorcar theme, the issue also featured a profile (written by Lurton Blassingame) of Walter P. Chrysler, founder of the new car company that bore his name (Chrysler founded his company in June 1925 after acquiring and reorganizing the old Maxwell Motor Company). In just three years a famous New York City landmark bearing his name would pierce the skyline.

I recently noted that the fall 1926 editions of the New Yorker barely mentioned baseball, even though the Yankees made it to the World Series that year. No doubt the Black Sox scandal of 1919 still lingered in the minds of many fans. Morris Markey’s “Reporter at Large” column in the Jan. 8, 1927 issue suggested that the game was still dishonest, thanks in part to its collusion with the newspapers:

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Baseball might have been down and out, but actress Pola Negri still maintained her place in the spotlight with her latest film, Hotel Imperial.

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Actress Pola Negri consults on a script with director Mauritz Stiller (left) on the set of Hotel Imperial. (MOMA)

Next Time: Bad Hootch

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Car Talk: 1926

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Jan. 23, 1926 cover by James Daugherty (aka Jimmie-the-Ink)

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:

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No doubt Lois Long walked by this Packard special sport phaeton, prominently displayed at the 26th National Automobile show. (Wayne State University)
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The 26th National Automobile Show was at the Grand Central Palace, which occupied the block of Lexington Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets. It was razed in 1963. A 44-story office tower, 245 Park Avenue, took its place. (New York Times)
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A Cleveland auto manufacturer, Chandler, took advantage of the moment by placing this ad in the Jan. 23 issue of The New Yorker.
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ZOOM ZOOM…A blue-and-white 1926 convertible Chandler. The company folded in 1929. (Steve Brown, Flickr)

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“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.”

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A 1926 Edison MAZDA calendar featuring artwork by Maxfield Parrish. (icollector.com)

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:

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Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light 2015 Day-to-Day Boxed Calendar
Another “Painter of Light”…I add this for comparison. Thomas Kinkade made a lot of money off the calendar trade until he died in 2012.

And to close, this message (illustrated by Peter Arno) from Miltiades Egyptian cigarettes. Apparently they empower you to call your non-smoking friend “fatso.”

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Next Time: Cuban Idyll

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