Lighter Than Air

The New Yorker was launched as a sophisticated, funny, urbane weekly, so it’s always interesting to see how the magazine will respond to a national tragedy.

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Sept. 12, 1925 cover by Rea Irvin, depicting plutocrats on a Merry-Go-Round.

For example, the Sept. 12, 1925 “Talk of the Town” featured a brief item titled “Zachary Lansdowne.” It opens with a paragraph describing the lieutenant commander’s demeanor and character:

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Then it becomes apparent that this is a eulogy of sorts, since Lansdowne was the pilot of the American dirigible S.S. Shenandoah:

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Built in 1922, the S.S. Shenandoah was the first of four U.S. Navy airships. On Sept. 2, 1925, it departed on a promotional flight that would include flyovers of 40 cities and visits to state fairs. While passing through thunderstorms over Ohio on the morning of September 3, the Shenandoah was caught in a violent updraft that carried it beyond the pressure limits of its helium gas bags. It was torn apart in the turbulence and crashed in several pieces. Fourteen of Shenandoah‍ ’ s crew, including Commander Lansdowne, were killed. Amazingly, there were 29 survivors who succeeded in riding three sections of the airship to earth.

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Wreck of the Shenandoah. The front section rests in a field near Caldwell, Ohio. (Wikipedia)

After a lean summer, advertising in The New Yorker picked up dramatically, with the opening spread for the Sept. 12 issue featuring full-page ads by The Roosevelt Hotel and the French fashion house Paul Poiret:

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This infusion of advertising was largely the result of a big promotional push orchestrated by John Hanrahan, considered one of the most gifted writers of publisher promotions. The magazine’s major (and really only) investor, Raoul Fleischmann, brought Hanrahan on board to address the magazine’s dearth of advertising, a move that was much to the dislike of the acerbic Harold Ross.

The trials of starting a new magazine were not lost on Ross, as was evidenced in this Newsbreak on page 13:

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But Ross knew that the ad push helped the bottom line, and he did his part to draw new talent to the magazine and improve its overall quality.

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Ingersoll in the 1940s (baseball-fever.com)

New talent included Ralph Ingersoll, who joined the magazine as managing editor in the summer of 1925. Ingersoll went to work giving the magazine a “voice,” especially in the rather weak and unfocused “Talk of the Town” section.

After suffering Ross-induced burnout in 1930, Ingersoll would go on to serve as a managing editor of Time-Life Publications, and would later found the short-lived, left-wing daily newspaper, PM.

That summer Ross also brought on Katharine Angell (later Katharine White) as a part-time reader of manuscripts, but almost immediately she became a full-time employee and was soon involved in every aspect of the magazine.

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Katherine Angell (Wikipedia)

She is often credited with the magazine’s maturity and its sophisticated taste and style. It was through Angell that Ross would meet and hire both E.B. White (who would later marry Angell) and James Thurber.

In the “Profiles’ Section, Murdock Pemberton took a look at the challenges facing Richard Bach in his attempts to promote the arts to business-minded New Yorkers. Bach was an “Associate in Industrial Arts” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, merchandise based on art museum collections is a ubiquitous practice, but in 1925 Bach’s job was viewed as somewhat distasteful:

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Morris Markey (“In The News”) tried to make sense of the continued enforcement of Prohibition, and seemed to conclude that it originated in Puritan resentment in the Midwest, and would continue to be enforced according to regional customs and strictures:

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And true to form, New Yorker film critic Theodore Shane panned a movie that today is considered a classic of the silent era:

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UM, AWKWARD…Theodore Shane called Phantom of the Opera “Grand Guignol in imitation of Poe with a generous smear of Laemmle hokum”…in this scene, Erik, The Phantom (Lon Chaney) woos Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin) (Wikipedia)

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With this issue Lois Long retired “When Nights Are Bold” (a column on local nightlife she inherited from Charles Baskerville) and introduced us to a renamed column, “Tables For Two.” She opened with a description of a police raid on a on old barroom where she had been apparently enjoying a nice beefsteak. She then abandoned the “slums” for the Plaza Hotel, where she spied none other than Charlie Chaplin and Adolph Menjou:

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Ads return to the back cover, an indication that things are picking up:

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The poster above was created by American illustrator Rose O’Neill, who is best known as the creator of the popular Kewpie comic characters in 1909. The wildly popular Kewpies were later produced as dolls, and became one of the first mass-marketed toys in America. Raised in rural Nebraska, O’Neill was active in the women’s suffrage movement and at one point was the highest-paid female illustrator in the world.

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Rose O’Neill in 1907, and her famous creation (Wikipedia)

On the back cover, we are treated to some more great illustrations by artist Einar Nerman in this ad from Doubleday:

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And a whimsey from Julian de Miskey:

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Next time: Signs of Autumn…

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Summertime Blues

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July 18, 1925 cover by H.O. Hofman

“The Talk of the Town” welcomed midsummer by noting the changes in the “new Summer Social Register…A long, slow swing of the same pendulum-like power which shifts the vogue in night clubs and restaurants is the migration to inland resorts…The Hamptons have fallen off, Newport has weakened and of the coasts only New England, boasting ‘the prestige of the Summer White House,’ has held its own.”

It was thought that perhaps financial pressures on waterfront acreage “had added zeros to the 400” and “The fragments of our battered conservatives turn and twist uneasily, seeking readjustment, new barriers (translation: old money responds to the invasion of new money).

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There goes the neighborhood…

This siege on the sanctity of “the 400” – a reference to the number limited to Mrs. John Jacob Astor’s social circle  – included the appearance of “scanty” bathing suits on Southampton beaches:

Screenshot 2015-05-18 09.40.58Corroborative evidence of the storming of the conservative fortresses by Undesirables comes with Southampton’s latest protest against scanty bathing costumes, “usually worn by strangers.”

Just what these costumes were or were not, the Southampton Bathing Corporation did not say, but they ruled that stockings and cape must be worn “while walking down to the water.” This ordinance to apply “especially at week-ends and during tennis week.

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Arrowhead Inn Dining Terrace (Museum of the City of New York)

Beginning with this issue, the “When Nights Are Bold” feature was passed from Charles Baskerville (pen name “Top Hat”) to the newly hired Lois Long (pen name “Lipstick”). In her first column for The New Yorker, Long suggested that for those “who can get out of town at will,” the Arrowhead Inn “up Riverdale way” and high on a bluff above the Hudson, was a popular destination for dining and dancing, even if the dancing crowd left something to be desired:

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Another recommended Hudson River location was the Claremont (but alas, no dancing!), while for those staying in the city, Long recommended the Embassy Club at 695 Fifth Avenue.

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Lois Long at work in the early 1920s (walloffemmes.org)

According to Here At The New Yorker by Brendan Gill, Long chronicled nightly escapades of drinking, dining, and dancing for The New Yorker, and because her readers did not know who she was, she often jested in her columns about being a “short squat maiden of forty” or a “kindly, old, bearded gentleman.” However, in the announcement of her marriage to The New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, she revealed her true identity.

Harold Ross hired Long in the summer of 1925 as part of a group of “saviors” he hoped would help boost his struggling magazine. The group included Arno, Katharine Angell, managing editor Ralph Ingersoll, and cartoonist Helen Hokinson.

Although she was a favorite of Ross’s, the two couldn’t be more different, as historian Joshua Zeitz explains in Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern (2006), Long knew just how to embarrass the girl-shy editor, and loved to do it:

(Ross) was a staid and proper Midwesterner, and she was absolutely a wild woman. She would come into the office at four in the morning, usually inebriated, still in an evening dress and she would, having forgotten the key to her cubicle, she would normally prop herself up on a chair and try to, you know, in stocking feet, jump over the cubicle usually in a dress that was too immodest for Harold Ross’ liking. She was in every sense of the word, both in public and private, the embodiment of the 1920s flapper. And her readers really loved her.

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Julia Lydig Hoyt in 1922 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Talk” also reported that Mrs. (Julia Lydig) Hoyt had “very nearly arrived,” and was capitalizing on her stage career through endorsements for cold creams and articles on social etiquette. “The motion picture industry and stage know her and now she is a designer at highest salary ever paid to an American.”

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Last Call…A rather dour-looking crowd at a New York City bar moments before midnight, June 30, 1919, when Prohibition went into effect. (Library of Congress Archives)

Prohibition continued to dampen the spirits (pun intended) of New Yorkers, particularly during the summer season. The editors noted that of 36 random summer reminiscences submitted to the magazine, eighteen were “direct references to alcoholic concoctions and all but a few theatrical recollections directly suggested indulgence. Then the editors offered their own wistful recollections:

Of course we remember “The Doctor’s cocktails” mixed by the “Commissioner” at the Astor…the highball sign at Forty-second and Broadway…the “Old Virginia Mountain” between the acts under the smile of Old King Cole…the Sunday afternoon absinthe drips at the Lafayette…Champagne at the Claremont on a June night…the Manhattan bar at cocktail time…the Ancient and Honorables in the Buckingham bar….the Navy in mufti at Shanley’s…the horseshoe bar at the Waldorf…the blue dawn of the West Forties…

Of course…but why bring that up again? It’s merely driving us down the street to that place that gave us the card last week and the rumor has just reached us that they are back serving Scotch in teacups, accompanied by a large earthenware teapot filled with soda.

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Left, Delmonico Building at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street (photo from The Brickbuilder, 1899), razed in 1925 and replaced by the building at right (Google Maps screen image)

Also lamented was the loss of renown restaurant Delmonico’s, which had been closed for some time (due mostly to alcohol sales lost to Prohibition; its famous rival across the street, Sherry’s, closed in 1919 for the same reason) but was now yielding to the wrecking ball: “Possibly, Delmonico’s might have been saved as a tradition, but finances and the changes of Fifth Avenue’s complexion forbade…Now we are to see yet another skyscraper, this one on the site where once they dined; where once they danced; across the street from old Sherry’s, long since a bank; orchestraed only by adding machines.”

“The Talk of the Town” concluded with a price list for various bootleg spirits, a feature that would continue through the Prohibition:

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Fresh off his dismantling of those clod-kickers in Chicago, Ben Hecht continued his dyspeptic tirade on the America that lay beyond Gotham, specifically attacking its love of the “Pollyanna twaddle flow” of entertainment from Hollywood:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

Ralph Barton, on the other hand, offered of a view of the entire earth, from the vantage point of a Martian observer:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

In “Profiles,” Waldo Frank (writing under the pen-name “Searchlight”) looked askance at the life and work of writer Sinclair Lewis.

Screenshot 2015-05-18 10.35.12Frank offered these observations: “Once upon a time, America created a man-child in her own image…

There’s a strange thing about America. She is passionately in love with herself, and is ashamed of herself…Here was a dilemma, Could not her self be served up to America in such a way that she could love herself—and save her shame? Sinclair Lewis, true American son, was elect to solve it.”

And for those rising young men who did not wish to mix with the unwashed during the summer social season, membership to the Allerton Club Residences was recommended in this back page advertisement:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

And yes, the Scopes Monkey Trial is still on the minds of the editors:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

And finally, to close out with a beach theme, a two-page illustration from “The Talk of the Town” section, an early work by illustrator Peggy Bacon:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

Next time, lots of horseplay:

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A Dry Manhattan

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.

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March 21, 1925 cover by Carl Fornaro (New Yorker Digital Archive)

“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.”

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A crowd gathers at the padlocking of The El Fey Club, soon to reborn nearby as “The Del Fey Club.”

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.”

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Texas Guinan’s 300 Club was a favorite of Broadway and Hollywood agents. Constantly raided by police, it closed in 1929 when Guinan returned to film
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Advertisement from Moving Picture World, May 1919, for actress Texas Guinan’s films

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).

The-King-ColeA 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.