Despite The New Yorker’s taste for the finer things–polo, opera, classical music–its editors couldn’t resist the pull of popular culture as both spectacle and fodder for mockery of the hoi polloi.
And so we have the Oct. 9, 1926 issue with a review of the much-anticipated Broadway play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was based on a surprise bestselling novel by Anita Loos (and illustrated by The New Yorker’s own Ralph Barton). Despite garnering lukewarm reviews from critics, the public loved the adventures of gold-digging flapper Lorelei Lee.
According to Wikipedia, the book was one of several famous novels published in 1925 to chronicle the Jazz Age, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (which ironically didn’t do so well) and Carl Van Vechten’s Firecrackers. Loos was inspired to write the book after watching a sexy blonde “turn intellectual H. L. Mencken into a lovestruck schoolboy.” Mencken, a close friend of Loos, actually enjoyed the work and saw to it that it was published.
Ralph Barton contributed this drawing of June Walker for the magazine’s review:
And a bit of the review itself…
In other items, Lois Long paid a visit to Texas Guinan’s 300 Club on 54th Street, which apparently was still the place to go for a roaring good time:
The magazine’s comics continued to mine the humor of rich old men out on the town with their young flapper mistresses. The one below was a center spread illustration by Wallace Morgan with the caption: “Poor little girl–to think you’ve never had anyone to protect you.”
Finally, a look back at one of my earlier blog posts (Cuban Idyll) that featured Americans in Havana. I recently traveled there and visited some of the old haunts, including the famed Sloppy Joe’s:
“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:
In a previous post I briefly looked at the Algonquin Round Table–writers, critics, artists, some of them New Yorker contributors–who had been exchanging witticisms over lunch at the Algonquin Hotel since 1919.
Like so many things connected to The New Yorker, Alexander Woollcott was at the center of the famed table’s origin story. According to Wikipedia, the group that would become the Round Table began meeting as the result of a practical joke carried out by theatrical press agent John Peter Toohey, who was annoyed at Woollcott (a New York Times drama critic) for refusing to plug one of his clients (Eugene O’Neill) in his column. Toohey organized a luncheon supposedly to welcome Woollcott back from World War I, where he had been a correspondent for Stars and Stripes (and where Woollcott first met Harold Ross and Jane Grant). Instead Toohey used the occasion to poke fun at Woollcott on a number of fronts, including his long-winded war stories. Woollcott’s enjoyment of the joke and the success of the event prompted Toohey to suggest that the group meet every day at the Algonquin for lunch.
An illustrated feature by Ralph Barton in the August 29, 1925 issue (titled “The Enquiring Reporter”) thumbs its nose at critics of the Round Table who accused its members of “logrolling” (exchanging favorable plugs of one another’s works). Barton’s feature spoofs the man-on-the-street interviews that were popular in the 1920s. The persons chosen “at random” are none other than members of the Algonquin Round Table who take turns denying that any logrolling takes place at the famed gathering:
In fact, there was quite a bit of logrolling taking place in this “Vicious Circle.” As Thomas Kunkel writes in Genius in Disguise, in addition to New Yorker contributors, the Algonquin Round Table variously included representatives of the New York Times, the New York Tribune, Vanity Fair, Harpers Bazaar and Life.
“The wits cross-pollinated feverishly. Shrugging off charges of logrolling, they quoted one another in their columns, reviewed one another’s shows, publicized one another’s books. To be fair many of the glowing notices were deserved—and in any case not all the notices were glowing.”
Kunkel also observes, “By far the most powerful transmitter of Round Table wit was (Franklin) Adams (known to most as F.P.A.), whose column in the Tribune (and later the World), “The Conning Tower,” was scoured by tens of thousands of New Yorkers for its dollops of quippery and clever verse. Young writers conspired to break into the column, and the appearance of even a four-line snippet was regarded as a triumph…the Round Table supplied F.P.A. with a freshet of material, and he wasn’t bashful about using it. A particularly good line from Parker or Kaufman or Benchley might turn up in “The Conning Tower” within hours of its utterance.”
In other happenings, “The Talk of the Town” noted that the last meal served at Delmonico’s–which was fated for the wrecking ball–was less a cause for mourning and more one of scorn for the bad taste of the site’s owners:
Among other items, O.H.P. Garrett penned a “Profile” about flamboyant mayoral candidate Jimmie Walker that seemed to anticipate the raucous career that would follow after his election.
Garrett observed that “his life is constructed of minutes and seconds. He can be clocked with a stop watch,” and that Walker’s main concerns seemed to be Sunday baseball, boxing and the repeal of movie censorship.
Lois Long seemed a bit bored with the week’s diversions in her column, “When Nights Are Bold,” but did welcome the reappearance of Texas Guinan after yet another club was threatened with padlocks by the Prohibition Authority:
On the advertising front, the back inside cover and back cover were graced with paid advertising. As with most ads in The New Yorker, the target audience had some money to spend on travel:
And we end with these weekend scenes from the magazine’s center spread, drawn by Helen Hokinson:
Ralph Barton’s “The Graphic Section” in the August 15, 1925 edition of The New Yorker gave readers their first whiff of one of the sensational scandals of the Roaring Twenties. Barton reported that wealthy, middle-aged bachelor Edward Browning (then 51 years old) wanted to “adopt” a “sixteen-year-old cutie for his very own.”
What Barton referenced in his comic illustration foreshadowed the “Peaches” scandal that would occur the following year.
According to an April 1, 2012 article by Dan Lee in New York Magazine (titled with the subhead, “She was 16, he was 52, what could go wrong?”), Browning was well known in New York City “as perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the city’s eligible bachelors…worth what would now be an estimated $300 million.”
Lee writes that Browning was already a tabloid fixture at age 40 when he married his first wife, Adele, a considerably younger file clerk. They adopted two daughters, Marjorie and “little Dorothy Sunshine,” Browning’s favorite. When Adele left him for a “28-year-old playboy dentist,” they split the girls between them. Browning, of course, chose “Sunshine,” and vowed never to marry again. Lee takes it from there:
In what the tabloids quickly helped morph into a Willy Wonka–style lottery, Daddy set about finding a sister for Sunshine: After personally reviewing 12,000 applications and interviewing scores of would-be daughters, he chose Mary Louise Spas of Queens, who, despite being 16 and therefore two years older than the cutoff, bore a charming gold tooth and stole his heart. A My Fair Lady transformation ensued, rapturously reported by the press, which continued trolling Spas’s past, ultimately uncovering revealing swimsuit photos that led to school records that led to the disclosure that Mary was actually 21 and not poor. Daddy moved to have the adoption annulled. Mary responded with a tabloid tell-all and lawsuit, alleging Daddy was a pervert.
According to Lee, Browning then turned his attention to charity, “especially for a local chapter of the Phi Lambda Tau social sorority for high-school girls, of which he was the main benefactor.” Lee continues:
The sorority’s primary function was throwing dances across Manhattan for girls in scanty flapper dress, where Daddy, with his long, sagging face and steep W-collared dress shirts, smoked cigars and held court. And so it went that one night, inside the ballroom of the Hotel McAlpin on 34th and Broadway, Browning’s life intersected with Frances Heenan’s, whom the press would describe as a “chubby,” strawberry-blonde high-school dropout with “piano legs” but an inexplicably “magnetic” smile who worked as a shop clerk and lived with her single mother in Washington Heights. He likened her to peaches and cream, securing her lifelong nickname. Thirty-seven days later to thwart a child-protective-services investigation, they were married.
The wedding took place on June 23, 1926, Peaches’ 16th birthday, but later that year, Peaches would seek a divorce.
The divorce trial in White Plains, New York drew intense coverage by the tabloids including Bernarr McFadden’s notorious New York Graphic, which published “composographs” of the couple, including this one:
The story was featured in newspapers across the country, including reports of Peaches’ testimony regarding her husband’s odd sexual behavior and the fact that he kept an African goose in their bedroom. According to Wikipedia, the phrase “Don’t be a goof,” which Browning allegedly used to insult Peaches, came into national vogue, and later turned up in the lyrics of the song “On Your Toes,” by Rodgers and Hart.
In the end, the judge ruled that Peaches had abandoned her husband without cause, and released Browning from the marriage. She was however awarded a $6,000 “widow’s portion” when Browning died in 1934.
According to Lee, Peaches pursued a successful career in vaudeville, “had an affair with Milton Berle,” would marry and divorce three more times, and would become an alcoholic. On August 23, 1956, her mother heard a crashing sound in the bathroom of their New York City apartment and found Peaches unconscious with a large contusion above her ear. She was dead at 46.
If you want to read more about this strange coupling, Michael Greenburg has written a book, Peaches and Daddy: A Story of the Roaring 20s, the Birth of Tabloid Media, and the Courtship that Captured the Hearts and Imaginations of the American Public.
And so on to the rest of the issue…
“Profiles” featured Theodore Dreiser, whom Waldo “Search-light” Frank dubbed “the martyr of the American Novel” and a “heroic warrior against legions of a commercial and Puritan world.”
“The Talk of the Town” offered this postscript on the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” observing that the small Tennessee town was suffering a bit of hangover (and attendant humiliation) from all of the trial publicity:
“Sports of the Week” covered the annual “Dog Show of the Consolidated Hamptons,” featuring illustrations by Johan Bull:
In her column, “When Nights Are Bold,” Lois Long offered the Montmartre as a venue for summer entertaining:
“Music” featured a brief review of Mayor Hylan’s “free people’s concert,” Aida, at Ebbett’s Field, taking the usual shots at the mayor’s grasping attempts at publicity:
“Moving Pictures” peered between fingers at Tod Browning’s latest picture, The Unholy Three (Yes, that’s the same Tod Browning who would go on to direct Dracula with Bela Lugosi in 1931 and the creepy 1932 cult classic, Freaks):
Next time, more horseplay, and another jab at the mayor:
“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:
The New Yorker rarely missed an opportunity to take potshots at rival cities such as Philadelphia or Boston, but Chicago was a special target in the magazine’s crosshairs as a notorious Midwestern backwater. The July 4, 1925 issue included a feature titled “Go Chicago,” in which Ben Hecht parodies the city’s pretensions and acts of boosterism. Among Hecht’s observations:
There is no city north of the Mason and Dixon line as active in the cultivation of witch-burning morality, as terrified by ideas, as Rotary Club ridden as Chicago.
I include below the entire piece for the full effect of Ben’s acid-tipped pen:
A note on Ben Hecht: According to IMDB, he is considered one of Hollywood’s and Broadway’s greatest writers. He won an Oscar for best original story for Underworld (1927) at the first Academy Awards in 1929 and had a hand in the writing of many classic plays and films, including the play The Front Page and the film Notorious. Although he received no credit, Hecht was paid $10,000 by David O. Selznick to perform a “fast doctoring” on the script for Gone With The Wind.
The New Yorker celebrated its first Fourth of July with a busy, two-color cover depicting Coney Island’s famous Luna Park:
One wonders if the cover art was part of an arrangement for advertising revenue, given that this ad appeared on the back cover of the same issue:
The inside front cover of the issue featured a full-page ad for the Paramount film, Beggar on Horseback, complete with joke reviews from the “Old Lady in Dubuque” and others including the film’s two writers, Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman, who were also advisory editors of The New Yorker:
“Talk of the Town” commented on how modern artists such as Henri Matisse, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth and Constantin Brancusi were influencing contemporary fashion: “To-day sees the dress houses and even the Fifth Avenue department stores displaying “Cubist fashions”—scarves patterned like composite photographs of all the abstruse countenances in Euclid’s book of open curves, gowns that are marked with subtle diagrams on the variation of the triangle…sports blouses done in bands of gradated color and roundish forms which proclaim their nepotal relation to Cezanne…”
“Profiles” featured George Creel, an investigative journalist and politician who headed President Woodrow Wilson’s propaganda arm, the Committee on Public Information, during World War I. The profile’s author, Harvey O’Higgins, wrote that “The Incredible Mr. Creel” was often unpopular with the press as a war-time propagandist, but Creel himself was not a censor but rather a good-humored, honest man with “the ideals of an adolescent.”
In the “Of All Things” section, Howard Brubaker wryly observed: “Now that Dorothy Perkins has been sentenced to three years in prison we hope that ladies will think twice before killing gentlemen unless they are actually annoying.”
At the time, Perkins was the youngest woman ever charged with murder in New York. She was just 15 when she met 35-year-old Mickey Connors, described by blogger Mark Gribben in The Malefactor’s Register as a “truck driver and spouse-abusing divorced felon.”
Gribben writes that “Connors and Dorothy apparently met in June 1924 when he wed the mother of one of Dorothy’s girlfriends. After that marriage, Connors moved away from Greenwich Village, but kept in contact with Dorothy on the sly.”
According to Gribben, on Valentine’s Day 1925, a rival suitor for Dorothy, 26-year-old Tommy Templeton (who served with Dorothy’s father, Rudolph, in World War I), attended a birthday party for Rudolph at his Greenwich Village house. During the party, the drunken Rudolph apparently asked Dorothy, “Why do you want a bum like Connors when you can have a nice fellow like Tommy?” At some point Dorothy went to her room to fetch a .22-caliber revolver she had stolen from an aunt in Connecticut.
What ensued was related by the family minister, Rev. Truman A. Kilborne, in testimony to the court. Rev. Kilborne said the family told him that when Rudolph attempted to take the revolver from his daughter, she resisted and in the struggle the revolver went off. Templeton, who was standing nearby, was shot through the heart.
During her trial, Dorothy claimed that her standoffish treatment of Tommy (and being seen with Conners) was an attempt to make “(Tommy) jealous by flirting with someone else.”
On June 17, 1925, the jury rejected the state’s case that the shooting was murder and convicted Dorothy of manslaughter.
Contrary to The New Yorker account, Dorothy was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in the women’s prison at Auburn, but ended up serving just four years of the sentence, during which time she was trained as a stenographer. She was released in January 1929 for good behavior. Mickey Connors served a few months in the Tombs prison for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The issue also included this wonderful two-page illustrated feature by Ralph Barton, a subject in my previous blog post, The Vicious Circle. Barton was very familiar with French life and customs. According to Wikipedia, in 1915 Puck magazine “sent Barton to France to sketch scenes of World War I. It was then that Barton developed a great love of all things French, and throughout his life he would return to Paris to live for periods of time. In 1927 the French government awarded Barton the Legion of Honour.”
And finally, a cartoon from the issue that takes aim at New York City Mayor John F. Hylan. From the very first issue of The New Yorker (Feb. 21, 1925), the mayor (comically referred to as “Jonef Hylan”) was a frequent target:
The next great figure in the early legends of New York is that of Jonef Hylan. Hylan, in all probability, was not a real person; but it is impossible to understand New York without giving careful study to the Hylan myth. In many respects, it resembles the Sun Myth of other great civilizations; for his head was as a head of flame, and he rose early each morning from beyond the East River, bringing light into all the dark places and heat into the sessions of the Board of Estimate. The populace called their Sun God “Red Mike”; but in the frenzy of their devotions, they simply yelled “Ra! Ra!
With a lull in the news from the Scopes Trial, the June 27, 1925 is another hodgepodge of seemingly random bits. Perhaps this is a good time to look at some of the magazine’s early artists, editors and writers.
The masthead of the very first issue listed these founding Advisory Editors: Ralph Barton, Marc Connelly, Rea Irvin, George S. Kaufman, Alice Doerr Miller, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott. Not listed was founding editor Harold Ross.
The list remained the same for the June 27 issue, minus Ralph Barton. His story is rather sad.
In his day, Barton was well known for his celebrity caricatures, the most famous being his group drawings. He was also a regular early contributor to The New Yorker of brief theater reviews that were accompanied by a large illustration:
Despite his short stint as a New Yorker advisory editor, the Kansas City native contributed often to the magazine during its first years. Barton also contributed drawings to such publications as Collier’s, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar.
Although his work earned him an impressive income, Barton was a manic-depressive with four failed marriages. In May 1931 he shot himself through the right temple in his East Midtown penthouse. He was only 39.
According to Wikipedia, Barton wrote in a suicide note that he had irrevocably “lost the only woman I ever loved” (the actress Carlotta Monterey, who divorced Barton in 1926 and married playwright Eugene O’Neill in 1929), and that he feared his worsening manic-depression was approaching insanity.
Following his death, Barton’s artistic reputation quickly dropped from sight, due not only to his demise but also to the waning of the Jazz Age subjects he drew with such verve:
A 1928 letter from Harold Ross to Barton (posted on The American Reader website) seems to be an attempt by Ross to cheer up the artist:
Wednesday 27 June 1928
I was on the brink of writing you when your letter came—this morning—telling me about your latest predicament. I knew, of course, that you had reached some conclusion as this. You are a creative soul and therefore a restless soul; therefore, a damn fool. I would leave this to any fair-minded banker. I wish I were a banker. I also wish I were Henry Ford or anybody who can accept the church, the government, conventions, and all those things.
I also had house trouble. I am thinking of burning the damn thing down. The insurance would net a tidy bit of cash and would enable me to get a room somewhere and fit up what I really ought to have. I am not competent to manage more space than this. I would be if I were a fairy. Fairies are the happiest people there are. All editors ought to be fairies. I fuss around with commas, semi-colons, dictionaries, and wordings, and it drives me crazy. I am too virile. I ought to be building subways. I was thinking of going to the North Pole with the Byrd expedition but that would take a year or two and I can spare, at most, only two months. It probably would be a bore anyhow. All life is a bore if you think at all…
Others listed on The New Yorker masthead were associated with legendary Algonquin Round Table, including the playwrights Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman and writers Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott–all charter members. The writer Alice Duer Miller was also an occasional guest of this “Vicious Circle,” as they called themselves. From roughly 1919 to 1929, they met every day for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel.
Other regular Round Table members included Harold Ross, Franklin Pierce Adams, (best known for his newspaper column, “The Conning Tower”), New Yorker humorist Robert Benchley, husband-wife writers Heywood Broun and Ruth Hale, broadway producer Brock Pemberton, playwright Robert Sherwood and broadway publicist John Peter Toohey.
Those who moved in and out of the circle included feminist writer Jane Grant (who with her first husband Harold Ross co-founded The New Yorker), vaudeville comedian and later film star Harpo Marx, actresses Peggy Wood, Tallulah Bankhead, Lynn Fontanne and Margolo Gillmore, actor and director Alfred Lunt, playwrights Edna Ferber and David Ogden Stewart, humorist Frank Sullivan, writers Margaret Leech and Frank Crowninshield, illustrator Neysa McMein, playwright Beatrice Kaufman (George’s wife) and composer Deems Taylor.
It is important to make note of these various players in the “Vicious Circle,” since they figure prominently both as contributors and subjects in the early issues of The New Yorker.
A prominent name on The New Yorker’s masthead absent from the Round Table is graphic artist Rea Irvin, creator of the magazine’s distinctive look and its mascot, Eustace Tilley.
Irvin signed on as an advisory editor with the assumption that the magazine would fold after a few issues. Little did he realize that his illustrations, department headings, caricatures, and cartoons would grace the pages of The New Yorker for many years; that he would go on to illustrate 169 covers between 1925 and 1958; and that his distinctive typeface and mascot would continue to serve the magazine to this very day (Irvin died in 1972 at age 90).
Not to give the June 27 issue short shrift, “The Talk of the Town” reported Roald Amundsen had returned from his North Pole flight; “Profiles” looked at the life of theatrical producer Morris Gest; and “Books” offered a brief and somewhat mixed review of D.H. Lawrence’s new book, St. Mawr.
In “The Theatre,” W.C. Fields continued to impress in his performances with the Ziegfeld Follies. The New Yorker noted that Fields was becoming a “talking comedian” comparatively late in life, and that after 26 years “as a straight and comic juggler,” he has become “ever so many people’s favorite comedian.” Under “Moving Pictures” it was also observed that D. W. Griffith’s Sally of the Sawdust was going to “put W.C. Fields across as a big screen comedian. Wait and see!”
The June 27 issue offered yet another full page cartoon, this time by Gardner Rea, taking aim at the droll antics of the moneyed classes:
And finally, we are shown the answer to the mystery drawing by Covarrubias–ahem–an advertisement for a photography studio: