The Oct. 15, 1927 issue featured the premiere of the film The Jazz Singer. Although the New Yorker found the story a bit dull, it also recognized that the film’s use of sound marked a significant turning point in the short history of cinema.
The Jazz Singer was not the first film to employ sound, but as the New Yorker review pointed out, it was the first to effectively use synchronized sound (the industry standard Vitaphone technique) in a way that improved the motion picture.
The film featured only two minutes worth of sound dialogue, so most of the spoken lines were still presented on intertitle cards commonly used in silent films. But it was Al Jolson’s recorded voice, belting out popular tunes including “Toot, Toot, Tootsie,” that really wowed audiences. At the end of the film Jolson himself appeared on stage before an audience “clapping and bellowing with joy”…
It is interesting that as early as 1927, and even with the relatively crude sound of Vitaphone, the New Yorker was already predicting the advent of a new kind of star (and the decline of the stage actor)…
As for the movie itself, well, there was Jolson, beloved by many. Perhaps it’s the sound quality, or the 89 years of changing tastes, but I cannot for life of me understand what audiences (or the New Yorker) saw that was so appealing about Al Jolson as a performer.
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The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” offered some curious observations about the new ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow.
Morrow has been widely hailed as a brilliant ambassador with a keen intellect. The New Yorker, however, offered some additional perspective on the man:
Flight of Fancy
In the wake of Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight, the New Yorker (and the rest of the country) continued its fascination with air travel, which at this point was confined to military and commercial pilots, stunt flyers and the well-to-do.
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RIP Isadora Duncan
The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, Janet Flanner, wrote of the funeral of famed modern dancer Isadora Duncan in her column, “Letter from Paris.” Duncan was killed in a freak accident on the night of Sept. 14, 1927 when her silk scarf, draped around her neck, became entangled around the open-spoked wheels of the car in which she was riding, breaking her neck.
Other items of note from the Oct. 15 issue, E.B. White contributed this ditty…
…and Corey Ford, who gave the fictional Eustace Tilley his persona, wrote of Tilley’s feat crossing Broadway in a parody of adventure stories popular at the time. An excerpt:
And finally, Peter Arno explored childhood angst among the smart set:
The New Yorker’s founder and editor, Harold Ross, did not approve of office romances. He had a magazine to run after all, and didn’t want any distractions from Cupid’s arrow.
But then again, it seemed inevitable that Lois Long and Peter Arno–two of the magazine’s most lively personalities and important early contributors–would end up together. Arno cut a dashing figure as one the New Yorker’s most celebrated cartoonists. He often drew upon the same subject matter as Long, who covered the nightclub and speakeasy scene in her column, “Tables for Two” and in the process defined the lifestyle of the liberated flapper. Long is also credited with inventing the field of fashion writing and criticism with her other New Yorker column, “On and Off the Avenue.”
In Vanity Fair, Ben Schwartz (“The Double Life of Peter Arno,” April 5, 2016) wrote that Arno and Long “personified what people thought The New Yorker was, which was very fortunate…(Long was) tall, lanky, a Vassar grad with bobbed hair and a wicked sense of humor, a minister’s daughter to Arno’s judge’s son, and she matched him as a hell-raiser.” It was actually their raucous affair that set Ross on a “permanent scowl” regarding office romances.
Schwartz quotes Arno’s and Long’s daughter, Patricia (Pat) Arno, about her parents’ wild relationship: “There were lots of calls to (gossip columnist Walter) Winchell or some other columnist about nightclub fights…with my mother calling and saying, ‘Oh, please don’t print that about us,’ trying to keep their names out of the papers.”
Schwartz suggests that Arno drew on personal experience when in 1930 he published Peter Arno’s Hullabaloo, a “collection of cartoons that included a set of racy drawings featuring a dashing couple much like himself and Long. In one, a nude woman, in bed, yells at her sleeping lover: ‘Wake up, you mutt! We’re getting married to-day.'”
Long and Arno were married by her father, the Rev. Dr. William J. Long, at her parents’ home in Stamford, Conn., on August 13, 1927. Their daughter, Patricia, was born September 18, 1928.
According to Schwartz, Arno’s first three books sold well (Whoops Dearie! 1927, Parade 1929, and Hullabaloo 1930) “allowing the young family to move into an East Side penthouse. Their social circle included New Yorker staffers, the magazine’s owner, Raoul Fleischmann, publishers Condé Nast and Henry Luce, Kay Francis (Broadway actress, future Hollywood star and Long’s former roommate), and some of the city’s financial powers. ‘Once my mother was having trouble with her Plymouth,’ says Pat Arno, “and Walter Chrysler took off his evening coat, rolled up his sleeves, and fixed it himself.'”
Less than two years after the birth of their daughter, Arno and Long would get a divorce in Reno on June 30, 1931. Arno later married debutante Mary Livingston Lansing in August 1935; they divorced in July 1939. After his divorce from Lansing, Arno moved to a farm near Harrison, New York, where he lived in seclusion, drawing for the New Yorker and enjoying music, guns, and sports cars. He died of emphysema on February 22, 1968 at the age of 64.
In 1938 Long would marry Donaldson Thorburn, a newspaper and advertising man. After his death in 1952 she would marry Harold Fox, head of an investment brokerage firm. Long’s colleague at the New Yorker, Brendan Gill, described Fox as “a proper Pennsylvanian named Harold A. Fox.” They lived in an 1807 Pennsylvania-Dutch farmhouse, where Long delighted in the woods, farms and wildlife as well as in her two grandchildren—Andrea Long Bush and Katharine Kittredge Bush. In 1960 she wrote to her alma mater, Vassar College, that the “hectic fifteen years or so after graduation, when I thought I had New York City by the tail and was swinging it around my head, seem very far away. Thank God. I like things this way.” Long would continue working as a columnist for the New Yorker until the death of Harold Fox, in 1968. She died in 1974 at age 72.
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The big news in the Aug. 13, 1927 edition (the same date as the Long-Arno wedding) was President Calvin Coolidge’s brief, ambiguous announcement that he would not run for president. Almost everyone assumed he would run for a second term, given the booming economy in the age of “Coolidge Prosperity.”
Coolidge was summering in Black Hills when he gave his secretary, Everett Sanders, a piece of paper that read, “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” Sanders then scheduled a midday press conference for August 2, 1927. At 11:30 a.m., Coolidge cut out strips of paper with this statement–I do not choose to run—and at the conference handed each reporter one of the strips. Coolidge offered no further information, and only remarked, “There will be nothing more from this office today.” This led to considerable debate among the press as to intentions of the president. The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” mused…
…Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column offered this wry observation…
…while humorist Robert Benchley (writing under the pseudonym “Guy Fawkes”) in his “The Press in Review” column continued the New Yorker’s stinging attack on the media for its continued attempts to sensationalize events or impart personality traits on colorless newsmakers:
The New Yorker welcomed spring with a cover featuring Peter Arno’s popular Whoops Sisters testing the waters at the beach…
…and so was the New Yorker, on the south shores of Brooklyn to check out attractions old and new at Coney Island, paying a visit on an “off-day” to check out attractions ranging from incubating babies to the mechanical horse-race at the old Steeplechase:
Of course not everything was as dazzling as Luna Park at night. Like any carnival, Coney Island had its share of barkers announcing everything from games of “chance” to freak shows and a wax museum that depicted–among other grisly sights–the murder of Albert Snyder by his wife, Ruth Snyder, and her lover, Judd Gray, and the subsequent execution of the notorious pair.
Charles Lindbergh, feted with his own wax image at Coney Island, was beginning to appear on the verge of a meltdown thanks to the relentless attention he was getting in the aftermath of his historic flight:
Lois Long also seemed at her wit’s end, abruptly announcing to readers that her nightlife column, “Tables for Two,” would go on hiatus for the summer. No doubt this was a relief to Long, who seemed to be growing weary of the nightclub scene and was doing double duty as fashion writer (“On and Off the Avenue”) for the New Yorker:
And perhaps there was another reason Long was taking a break–she would marry fellow New Yorker contributor and cartoonist Peter Arno on Aug. 13, 1927.
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Always poised to take a poke at the newspaper media, the New Yorker had some fun with the New York Times’ attempt to reproduce an early wirephoto of Clarence Chamberlin, the second man to pilot a fixed-wing aircraft across the Atlantic from New York to Europe, while carrying the first transatlantic passenger, Charles Levine. The original photo apparently showed Chamberlain and Levine being greeted by the mayor of Kottbus, Germany:
Charles Levine took a plane to Europe, but most still had to settle for the more leisurely pace of a steamship. Below is a two-page advertisement featured in the center of the June 18 issue for an around the world excursion on the Hamburg-American Line (click to enlarge):
And finally, this advertisement in the back pages for Old Gold cigarettes, which claimed to be “coughless”….
The artist for these Old Gold ads was Clare Briggs, an early American comic strip artist who rose to fame in 1904 with his strip A. Piker Clerk. Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska gave Briggs the material he needed to depict Midwestern Americana, a style that would influence later cartoonists such as Frank King (Gasoline Alley).
We cross the pond for the May 14, 1927 issue, for a look at all things French. As I’ve previously noted, New Yorker readers of the 1920s had a decidedly Francophile bent when it came to food, fashion and general joie de vivre.
In fact, readers were so enamored with France that the country merited its own New Yorker correspondent, Janet Flanner, who wrote under the nom de plume “Genêt.”
In the May 14 issue Flanner casually mused about the racing season at Longchamps, which attracted the likes of Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt (nee Anne Harriman), who was well-known in France for her philanthropic work during World War I, including her founding of an ambulance service and a hospital at Neuilly. Vanderbilt received the class of the Legion of Honor in 1919 in recognition of her war work, and in 1931 she was made an officer of the legion.
In “Talk of the Town,” the editors suggested that readers go to Madison Square Garden and check out the world’s largest canvas painting, Panthéon de la Guerre, more for the spectacle than for any artistic merit:
Panthéon de la Guerre was painted during World War I as a circular panorama — 402 feet in circumference and 45 feet high — displayed in Paris in a specially built building next to the Hôtel des Invalides. It was visited by an estimated 8 million people between 1918 and 1927.
The painting was acquired by American businessmen in 1927 and exported to New York, where it was displayed at Madison Square Garden. Some changes were made to the painting for the benefit of an American audience, including the addition of an African-American soldier. The work later toured the U.S — from 1932 to 1940 it went to Washington DC, Chicago, Cleveland, and San Francisco. It was then acquired by restaurant entrepreneur William Haussner for $3,400.
In 1956 Haussner donated the work to Leroy MacMorris to be adapted for display at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. MacMorris drastically reduced the size of the work and modified it to emphasize America’s contribution to WWI: Only 7 percent of the original work was retained, and large French sections were left out. MacMorris likened it to “whittling down a novel to Reader’s Digest condensation.” And he didn’t stop there. He also modified some figures to represent post-WWI figures such as Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
To reduce and reconfigure the painting, MacMorris first photographed it in detail, then cut out the figures in the photos and used them like puzzle pieces to work out his new condensed version, which was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1959.
As for the unused portions, what MacMorris did not use he threw away, sending several of the larger excised passages back to Haussner for display in his Baltimore restaurant. MacMorris also gave pieces to the art students who helped him reconfigure the painting and to a number of prominent Kansas Citians.
The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City recently held an exhibition on the painting and its recovered fragments.
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In her fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue,” Lois Long advised readers on where to shop in Paris. I’m not certain, but I believe she invented the pen name “Parisite” to write this particular column, which featured recommendations for many stores and bargains in the City of Light (Long had indeed visited Paris before writing the column). A brief excerpt from the beginning of the column:
And now for the advertisements, all from the May 14 issue, featuring various French themes, such as this one for Krasny makeup that evokes the glamour of Paris and the intrigue of Russian women…
…or exotic perfumes for only the most exclusive set…
…or the chic look of Revillon Freres spring coats and wraps…
…or fake vermouth…this odd little illustration in the back pages for non-alcoholic vermouth, served by a dutiful French maid to what appears to be a giant. You have to feel sorry for the writers of such ads during Prohibition, trying so hard to make this sad libation appealing to thirsty New Yorkers…
…but there were those lucky few who could actually travel to France and drink the real stuff, you could get a really swell send-off with a “Bon Voyage Basket” from L. Bamberger & Co…
…and while you were in France (at least for the men), Peter Arno could show you how to give the glad eye to the mesdemoiselles…
The journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht wrote the “Reporter at Large” column for the early New Yorker, and for the April 30, 1927 issue took aim at the shoddy coverage of the Ruth Snyder murder trial at the Long Island City Courthouse.
Hecht was appalled by the media’s use of celebrity “experts” to cover the trial, which only served to sensationalize and trivialize the proceedings:
The Ruth Snyder trial dominated headlines in 1927. A housewife from Queens, Snyder began an affair in 1925 with Henry Judd Gray, a married corset salesman. After she persuaded her husband, Albert Snyder, to purchase life insurance, she enlisted Gray’s help to murder her husband. On March 20, 1927 the couple garrotted Albert Snyder (after bludgeoning him with a sash weight) and then staged the murder scene to look like a burglary.
The trial was covered by such figures as former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Peggy Hopkins Joyce, the radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, movie director D. W. Griffith, author Damon Runyon, popular philosopher Will Durant, and James M. Cain, a crime reporter who went on to write Double Indemnity, which was later made into a major Hollywood movie. Hecht (who would go on to co-write a hugely successful play about newspaper reporters, The Front Page) would have none of this celebrity circus. Some excerpts:
Ruth Snyder would not be acquitted (or live to write reviews), but instead would go to Sing Sing’s electric chair on Jan. 12, 1928. The 32-year-old Snyder would go to the chair first, followed shortly thereafter by her former lover and accomplice, 35-year-old Henry Judd Gray. The pair had sealed each other’s fate: During the trial, Snyder and Gray had turned on each other, contending the other was responsible for killing Albert Snyder.
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On to a lighter topic…The Sherry-Netherland Hotel has graced the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 59th Street since 1927, and when it was built it was the tallest apartment-hotel in New York City.
The building was nearing completion when around 8 pm on April 12, 1927, fire broke out on wood plank scaffolding surrounding the top floors. Firefighters responded only to find they lacked water pressure to fight the blaze.
According to the New York Times (“The Night a Hotel Turned Into a Torch,” Nov. 15, 2012), the fire was watched by hundreds of thousands, and “the windows of the Plaza Hotel across the street were ‘black with people’; every front room was engaged, either by news organizations or for spontaneous parties to watch the fire.”
Planks tumbled to the street for hours, and The Times said one “sailed in a crazy parabola” and crashed against the Savoy-Plaza, also nearly finished; occasionally minor collapses of the scaffolding turned the picturesque top into a “lofty Roman candle.” The crowds on the street could feel the heat on their faces, and the roar and crackle of the fire could be heard for blocks around. The fire burned itself out around midnight.
Oddly, the New Yorker had little to say about the fire, mentioning it only in passing in this “Talk of the Town” item:
An interesting side note…at the time of the Sherry-Netherland’s construction, the nearby Vanderbilt mansion was being demolished. Carved limestone panels from the mansion’s porte-cochere as well as ornamental frieze roundels were salvaged and installed in the Sherry-Netherland’s lobby.
Hollywood movies continued to disappoint New Yorker critics, including Cecil B. DeMille’s silent epic The King of Kings.
Finally, a couple of advertisements from the April 30 issue. It was spring, and time to hit the links…
…and New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno plugged his new book featuring the Whoops Sisters:
New York’s American Museum of National History unveiled its new Hall of Dinosaurs, and it was so impressive that even the New Yorker set aside its usual blasé tone toward popular attractions…
…and found its “Talk of the Town” editors to be quite taken with “sacred bones:”
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The April 2, 1927 issue also found New Yorkers to be agog over “French-style” telephones:
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The April 9, 1927 issue featured the second of Peter Arno’s 99 covers for the New Yorker. His first cover appeared eighteen issues earlier (Nov. 22, 1926) and featured the same gardener, but this time he was inspecting a newly budded leaf rather than the last one to fall:
Note the difference in style between the two covers–the April 9 cover is rendered with more detail, depth and texture. These would be Arno’s only covers with rather sedate subjects. Subsequent covers would have more action and humor, such as this one from 1954, one of my favorites:
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And now for a note about Paul Whiteman. One cannot write about the Jazz Age without mentioning the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. It was Whiteman who in 1924 commissioned George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which premiered with Whiteman’s orchestra (and with George Gershwin himself at the piano).
Even Lois Long, who seemed to be growing bored with New York nightlife, found reason to celebrate Whiteman in this column that appeared alongside the ad:
Whiteman had 28 number one records during the 1920s and dominated sheet music sales. He provided music for six Broadway shows and produced more than 600 recordings. Dubbed “King of Jazz” his style was actually a blending of jazz and symphonic music.
The folks at Victor Talking Machines played on Whiteman’s fame with this advertisement for their latest “Orthophonic” Victrola. Although it was the first consumer phonograph designed specifically to play “electrically” recorded discs and was recognized as a major step forward in sound reproduction, the claim that the machine would reproduce sounds “exactly as you would hear them at the smart supper clubs” seemed a little far-fetched.
And finally, in celebration of spring, Constantin Alajalov illustrated an April day in Central Park, which was featured in a two-page spread in “Talk of the Town.”
As the New Yorker was a magazine of the city’s new money smart set, it poked fun at their faddish tastes and patronizing attitudes while at the same time feeding their Anglophilia and WASPish sense of superiority.
The magazine’s pages were filled with ads for English-style clothes, French perfumes and expensive cars. And in the Jan. 22 issue there were many ads for the motorboats that had displaced the automobile show at Grand Central Palace:
It is important to note that this ad is an appeal to new money; old money would have found this motorized vessel quite vulgar.
As it were, the new money needed some guidance if they hoped to live a lifestyle of ease and sophistication. And thus the issue’s “On and Off the Avenue” column, guest-written by Gretta Palmer (Lois Long took the week off), offered advice on how to hire and clothe the help:
Perhaps you wanted a proper English butler. Lida Seely had your man:
Or a Scotch maid, or choose from a selection of “any color or race”…
In case you found that last sentence a bit callous, Gretta reassured:
The issue also featured a cartoon by Rea Irvin (displayed full-page, sideways in the original magazine) that would be offensive to 21st century sensibilities. The cartoon depicted the “lower orders” aping the lifestyle of the upper classes. Note that of all the racial and ethnic types shown here–“Orientals,” Eastern Europeans and the Irish–only blacks remain in the servant class.
As I noted in a previous post, “Race Matters,” the New Yorker of the 1920s was decidedly mainstream in engaging in casual bigotry common in those days, including treating blacks as racial “others.” There is, perhaps, a subtle jab here by Irvin at the pretensions of the uppers, but he’s not around anymore to clarify this.
The issue also featured the first of a series of articles (“Profiles”) on the 87-year-old John D. Rockefeller. A brief excerpt, with illustration by Cyrus Baldridge:
The writer’s prediction wasn’t too far off: John D. Rockefeller would live another ten years, and die at age 97 in 1937. His grandson, David Rockefeller, apparently inherited both his money and his genes: he recently celebrated his 101st birthday.
Finally, a cartoon by Peter Arno, famed for his drawings of women, usually scantily clad. Here we see an early example in one of his “Whoops Sisters” panels:
By comparison, here is a cartoon by Arno 33 years later, from the September 10, 1960 issue of the New Yorker: