Mayor Jimmy Walker wasn’t known for being cerebral. But as the voters’ choice to lead the City of New York, he could not have been more well-suited (pun intended) to the zeitgeist of the final, dizzying, roaring years of The Jazz Age.
Walker was a flamboyant man-about-town, a clothes horse who was no stranger to speakeasies or the backroom politics of Tammany Hall.
As Jonathan Mahler wrote in New York magazine (April 1, 2012), Gentleman Jimmy “perfectly embodied that moment of indulgence: the public servant who favored short workdays and long afternoons at Yankee Stadium, who was loath to miss a big prizefight or Broadway premiere, who left his wife and Greenwich Village apartment for a chorus girl and a suite at the Ritz-Carlton.”
Not that there weren’t some concerns. “The Talk of the Town” offered this early observation of the incoming mayor:
Mahler quoted a columnist from Walker’s time, who noted that “No man could hold life so carelessly without falling down a manhole before he is done.” And Walker would fall to scandal by 1932. But we will get to that. For now, it’s party time in Gotham.
The New Yorker continued to have fun with President Calvin Coolidge, publishing this cartoon by Izzy Klein that took a poke at Coolidge’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, in which Coolidge spoke at length about the nation’s abundance:
Talk also reported the latest bootleg prices in “The Liquor Market…”
“Profiles” examined the life of New York Times owner Adolph Ochs. The writer Elmer Davis observed that “More than any other newspaper owner, he is his paper, and his paper is himself…”
In “The Theatre,” critic Herman J. Mankiewicz addressed criticisms of the Booth Theatre’s new approach to Hamlet, which was presented “in modern dress.” Mankiewicz wrote that the departure from traditional Elizabethan costumes had brought the play “into the open,” and that Basil Sydney was a “splendid” Hamlet.
In “Books,” reviewer Harry Este Dounce recommended Ford Madox Ford’s No More Parades (“a fine display of virtuoso writing”) and Arthur Schnitzler’s Fraulein Else (“a scintillant little firework”).
In “Motion Pictures,” Theodore Shane panned the movie Lord Jim (based on the Joseph Conrad novel), but he enjoyed the “simple hokum tale” of Bright Lights and the “restrained” performance of Pauline Starke, “a perfect miniature Gloria Swanson.”
In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long despaired of finding a decent “swank dinner” on a rainy autumn evening, and finally headed to a Viennese restaurant (Frau Greta’s) for some German comfort food. The rain turned to torrents as she then headed out for some nightlife:
Long concluded her “Tables” column with this peevish note on “grammar:”
In her other column, “On And Off The Avenue,” Long wrote about the increasing popularity of New Yorkers traveling to Florida for the winter, and in anticipation of the Christmas holiday, offered this advice on what not to give as gifts:
In her report from Paris, Janet Flanner commented on the popularity of Josephine Baker at the Champs Elysees Theater:
Flanner also commented on the growing appreciation of paintings by Henri Rousseau, who just a decade or so earlier was considered something of a joke among art circles:
And finally, Julian de Miskey’s take on The Big Game:
Silent film star (and sometime French “noble”) Gloria Swanson was back in the States after a summer sojourn at her Paris residence.
“The Talk of the Town” reported that she had arrived on the steamer Paris, with the great Polish pianist and statesman Jan Paderewski in tow…
Johan Bull’s take on Swanson’s grand arrival with Paderewski, who was much decorated as both a statesman and artist:
The New Yorker made light of the fact that Swanson assumed a rather regal bearing not only as a famous film star but also as the new wife of French aristocrat Henri, Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye, her third husband. In his column, “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker added this swipe at the Swanson’s pretensions to royalty:
Although a marquis and member of the famous Hennessy Cognac family, Henri was not wealthy and worked for a living. He met Swanson when he was hired to be her assistant and interpreter during the filming of Madame Sans-Gêne (1925) in France. The match of a Hollywood star with European nobility made the marriage a global sensation.
The marriage ended in divorce in 1930. According to Wikipedia, (citing two books on the subject), Swanson had an affair with Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. for several years during her marriage to Henri:
Henri became a film executive representing Pathé (USA) in France through Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who was running the studio. Many now assume he was given the position, which kept him in France for ten months a year, to simply keep him (Henri) out of the way…(Kennedy) became her business partner and their relationship was an open secret in Hollywood. He took over all of her personal and business affairs and was supposed to make her millions. Unfortunately, Kennedy left her after the disastrous “Queen Kelly” and her finances were in worse shape than when he came into her life.
In another Talk item, the Sixth Avenue Elevated rail line continued to serve as a “blot” upon the city of New York:
According to a Wikipedia, the old Sixth Avenue El (constructed during the 1870s) was notoriously noisy, made buildings shake, and bombarded pedestrians underneath with dropping ash, oil, and cinders. Eventually, a coalition of commercial establishments and building owners would stage a successful campaign to have the El removed because it was hurting business and property values. It would be razed in 1939 and replaced by the underground IND Sixth Avenue Line.
The New Yorker also featured a lengthy interview with Emory Buckner (conducted by Morris Markey), in which the New York District Attorney discussed his approach to Prohibition enforcement, including the padlocking of restaurants and clubs found to be serving alcohol. In a surprisingly frank interview, Buckner said his zealous crusade had nothing to do with moral conviction:
Buckner also admitted that the government wasn’t making a serious effort to enforce Prohibition (e.g. low salaries for agents), and if it wasn’t going to make the effort then the law should be repealed. Markey concluded his article with words of surprising admiration for a man who had been so thoroughly excoriated in previous issues of The New Yorker.
In other items, theatre critic Herman J. Mankiewicz stepped out of the “Critique” section to write about his experience travelling by train to a football game. He found the whole spectacle (especially the coonskin coat-clad fans) wanting.
Waldo Frank contributed a profile of the popular poet Carl Sandburg, whom he described as moving “through the Machine of our world” with “a peasant’s mind.” Frank used the term not necessarily as a criticism but as a way to describe Sandburg’s Midwestern simplicity. However, a drawing by James House Jr. that accompanied the article depicted Sandburg not as a man of letters, but more like some dim-witted forebear of Homer Simpson:
The actor Leslie Howard contributed another humorous piece to The New Yorker titled “Such is Fame,” accompanied by this Julian de Miskey illustration:
Theodore Shane reported in “Motion Pictures” that Rudolph Valentino appeared in person at the opening of his new film, The Eagle. Known for his aversion to public appearances, Valentino handled the occasion with a silent flourish:
At the end of his column Shane included this exchange with novelist and playwright Edna Ferber, who was also one of the regular wits at the Algonquin Round Table:
In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long wrote about the opening of the Nineteenth Hole Club at the Roosevelt Hotel, and noted that the putting greens on either side of the dance floor offered “additional uplift” to short skirts worn by some female patrons:
She closed her column with this observation and a “warning” about “Lipstick” imposters:
This was a familiar jest by Lois Long in her “Tables for Two” column–describing herself as short and squat–since most readers did not know her true identity or appearance, which was quite the opposite.
In Long’s other column, “On And Off The Avenue,” she offered this advice to women who were fashion-conscious but also thrifty:
The woes of Prohibition were acutely felt by the readership of The New Yorker. The magazine responded in kind with its continued criticism of the law’s enforcement and particularly the tactics of Manhattan District Attorney Emory C. Buckner, whose agents continued to padlock restaurants and clubs suspected of selling alcohol.
The New Yorker previously called the padlocking tactic a “promotional stunt” that would ultimately backfire (I wrote about this in a previous blog post last March).
Both the “The Talk of the Town” and “Tables for Two” took aim at Buckner this time around. “Talk” led with this item, accompanied by the art of Johan Bull:
“Talk” also made a call to action by “men of virtue:”
Heck with statements. Lois Long just wanted to have some fun, and led her column, “Tables for Two,” with her own attack on Buckner and on the “stupidity” of establishments that were closed by Buckner’s agents (I include art that accompanied the column by Frank McIntosh–at least that is what I think the “FM” stands for; if I am in error, someone please correct me!):
In a previous column (Oct. 17), Long pondered the popularity of a new dance, the “Charleston.” She closed her Oct. 31 column with “telegrams” from exemplary colleges in answer to the query: “Is the Charleston being done at college dances?”
“W.J. Henderson wrote a lengthy article about the upcoming opera season at the Metropolitan Opera (it was opening with La Gioconda), and recalled the days after World War I when the once-popular German singers suddenly grew scarce on the American stage.
According to Henderson, this led to a general falling off of quality in the performances, a situation made even worse by the absence of the late, great Enrico Caruso on the Metropolitan’s stage.
In other items, John Tunis wrote about Illinois All-American halfback Red Grange in “Profiles,” calling him “a presentable youth of twenty-two…well-groomed, he would pass anywhere—even in the movies—for a clean type of American manhood.”
Tunis also noted that Grange had been offered a “half a million” to star in movies, and that professional football was ready to offer him a sum “that would cause even the once-mighty Ruth to blanch.” Grange, known as “The Galloping Ghost,” would later join the Chicago Bears and help to legitimize the National Football League (NFL).
The young actor Leslie Howard, who was appearing on Broadway in Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat, wrote a humorous account of theatre life in “The Intimate Diary of An Opening Night.”
It was one of seven articles on the acting life that Howard (perhaps best known for his role as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind) would write for The New Yorker between 1925 and 1927.
For the record, I include Howard’s first New Yorker article here:
“Motion Pictures” looked at Buster Keaton’s new film, Go West…
Theodore Shane wrote that what at first seemed to be a real weeper…
…turned into a comic romp thanks to the introduction of the “sad-eyed cow…”
And finally, in keeping with the Prohibition theme, here is a center-spread cartoon by Rea Irvin that seemed to depict the results of consuming too much bootleg booze:
“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.
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:
And Ralph Barton’s unique take on the whole thing:
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:
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:
Talk also continued to help its readers with regular updates on the bootleg liquor trade:
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.”
Then Brown concluded with these prescient thoughts:
An illustrated tribute (by Rea Irvin) to 42nd Street appeared in the “Talk” section:
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.”
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.”
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:
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:
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:
And a still from the film on which the drawing is no doubt based:
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.
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:
Then it becomes apparent that this is a eulogy of sorts, since Lansdowne was the pilot of the American dirigible S.S. Shenandoah:
Built in 1922, the S.S. Shenandoah was the first of four U.S. Navy airships. On Sept. 2, 1925, itdeparted 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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
And true to form, New Yorker film critic Theodore Shane panned a movie that today is considered a classic of the silent era:
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:
Ads return to the back cover, an indication that things are picking up:
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.
On the back cover, we are treated to some more great illustrations by artist Einar Nerman in this ad from Doubleday:
“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).
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:
Corroborative 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.
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:
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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:
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:
Ralph Barton, on the other hand, offered of a view of the entire earth, from the vantage point of a Martian observer:
In “Profiles,” Waldo Frank (writing under the pen-name “Searchlight”) looked askance at the life and work of writer Sinclair Lewis.
Frank 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:
And yes, the Scopes Monkey Trial is still on the minds of the editors:
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:
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.