The Sporting Life

One of the strangest things about the fall 1926 issues of The New Yorker is the almost complete absence of baseball coverage, even though the 1926 Yankees had turned things around from an abysmal 1925 season and found themselves in the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

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November 20, 1926 cover by Andre De Schaub.

The Yankee’s star Babe Ruth had recovered his health from the previous season and played exceptional all-around baseball in 1926, even setting a World Series record of three homers in the fourth game. According to (now disputed) newspaper reports at the time, Ruth had promised a sickly boy named Johnny Sylvester that he would hit a home run for him in Game 4. The papers reported that after Ruth’s three-homers, the boy’s condition miraculously improved.

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SNUBBED…Babe Ruth knocked in three homers during Game 4 of the exciting 1926 World Series, an event completely ignored by the football-crazed New Yorker. (Bronx Banter)

The Yankees would lose the series in seven games (it would be the first of the Cardinals’ 11 WS championships), but nevertheless the season represented a dramatic turnaround for the team.

But The New Yorker was obsessed with college football, mostly Ivy League contests and the exploits of Knute Rockne and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

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Johan Bull provided lively illustrations for Tunis’s columns.

Sportswriter John Tunis cranked out lengthy accounts of football games, including the Princeton-Yale contest covered in the Nov. 20, 1926 issue.

The same issue also included an article by Herbert Reed, who wrote about Notre Dame’s victory over Army at Yankee Stadium and proclaimed the Fighting Irish to be the greatest team in the country.

The New Yorker caught the Notre Dame bug the previous season. When attendance dropped at Yankee Stadium due to an ailing Babe Ruth and his team’s losing record, college football took center stage at the stadium that fall, with the fiercely competitive Notre Dame–Army game the marquee match-up (the rivals would continue their annual meeting at Yankee Stadium until 1947).

The “other” game–professional football–was still in its infancy, and the editors of “The Talk of Town” made it clear that the college atmosphere was more to their liking. It is interesting that even today when fans compare college to pro football, the same observations are made:

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STAR ATTRACTION…After playing his first professional season with the Chicago Bears, in 1926 Red Grange joined the short-lived New York Yankees professional football team. (ourgame.mlb)

As for other sports, The New Yorker also offered extensive coverage of tennis, golf, and polo in its issues. And there would also be rowing, boat and auto racing, and steeplechase events such as National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. An advertisement promoting that event appeared on the inside back cover:

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The editors of “Talk of the Town” continued their sad refrain on the city’s changing landscape, the wrecking ball this visiting Gramercy Park:

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The Stanford White house referred to in “The Talk of the Town.”
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The Dining Room ceiling in the Stanford White House came from a 16th century chapel in Florence.
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Gramercy Park Hotel on the site today. (All 3 photos: Daytonian in Manhattan)

And to close, this terrific advertisment for the Greenwich Village Inn, illustrated by Hans Flato:

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Next Time: Holiday Shopping…

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Social Errors

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Dec. 19, 1925 cover by Julian de Miskey

In my previous post, I hinted that “social errors” would be the topic of this entry, and in a sense that title describes the stance New Yorker editors were taking toward the continued demolition and remodeling of old city landmarks.

“The Talk of the Town” reported that two more Fifth Avenue mansions on “Millionaries Row” were soon to be demolished: the Brokaw and Yerkes mansions (the photo at the top of this entry depicts workmen taking a sledgehammer to a chimney atop the Brokaw house–not in 1925, but in 1965–more on that later).

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The Isaac Brokaw mansion at 79th and 5th Avenue, completed in 1890. Behind the mansion are the twin residences of two Brokaw sons, Howard and Irving. Daughter Elvira would also erect a residence next door. Although the Dec. 19, 1925 edition of The New Yorker lamented the imminent destruction of the house, it would actually stand another 40 years. (Library of Congress)
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The Yerkes Mansion, erected in 1896, would not be so fortunate…it would fall to the wrecking ball in 1926. (Collection of Charles T. Yerkes)

In his excellent blog site, Dayton in Manhattan, Tom Miller writes that the Isaac Brokaw mansion first faced the wrecking ball after Isaac’s eldest son, George, moved out in 1925. George “intensely disliked the house” because of its size and maintenance costs, and petitioned the courts to allow him to mortgage the property for $800,000 and use the money to demolish the mansion and erect a modern apartment house.

His brother, Howard, blocked the move. Three years later, the court ruled that the house could not be sold nor razed without the mutual agreement of all the Brokaw siblings, so George moved back in.

George died seven years later of a heart attack. His wife, Frances Ford Seymour would marry Henry Fonda a year later and have two children, Jane and Peter (George was married twice, the first time to Clare Boothe, who would later become Clare Boothe Luce).

The mansion was then occupied as offices for the Institute of Radio Engineers. When it was announced in 1965 that the mansion (and the adjacent mansions of the Brokaw children) were to be demolished to make way for a high-rise apartment building, there was an outcry from members of the city’s nascent Landmarks Preservation Commission, still stinging from the destruction of Penn Station. Miller writes that demolition workers were paid overtime to begin immediate destruction of the mansions in order to preclude the possibility of a court order to stop the work.

The Yerkes mansion, on the other hand, disappeared rather unceremoniously. According to Miller, a neighbor, Thomas Fortune Ryan, bought the house in 1925 and tore it down in order to enlarge his flower garden. In 1937 an apartment building was erected on the site. I recommend that you check out Miller’s entertaining and informative posts on both the Brokaw and Yerkes mansions.

The Dec. 19 issue also featured a column by Gilbert Seldes titled “Complaint.” Seldes bemoaned the remodeling of “sober, decent” brownstones at Fiftieth Street and beyond (Beekman Place) into overly ornamented facades favored by the Babbitt set:

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A remodeled brownstone at No. 41 E. 67th Street. Note the original brownstone next door. (Museum of the City of New York)

With the much-publicized signing of famed halfback Red Grange to the Chicago Bears (a $100,000 annual contract), the professionalization of football and the money attached to it were frequent topics in the magazine. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” noted:

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And in this illustration by Johan Bull, Grange is depicted carrying a large money bag at New York’s annual Christmas Bazaar:

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“Profiles” looked at the life of pianist and composer Leo Ornstein, noted for performing and composing avant-garde works. Ornstein would have a long career, completing his eighth and final piano sonata at the age of 97. He died in 2002 at age 108.

The Marx Brothers’s broadway musical The Cocoanuts wowed audiences (and New Yorker theatre critic Herman J. Mankiewicz) at the Lyric Theatre:

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In her Paris Letter, Janet Flanner announced the deaths of “two great servers of the French palate”—Emile Pruinier (famed for his Portuguese oysters) and Mother Soret of Lyons, who “died with a knife in her hand” and whose death was “solemnly listed in Comoedia as that of an artist.”

And to stay in the spirit of the holidays, this Christmas advertisement from the back cover:

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Next Time: We Ring Out the Year…

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Enter Peter Arno

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Dec. 5, 1925 cover by Max Ree.

In the fall of 1925, Peter Arno’s illustrations began to pop up in the pages of The New Yorker magazine.

Arno’s early illustrations were surprisingly understated, given that he would go on to become one of the magazine’s best known cartoonists, contributing many memorable illustrations and cartoons–and 99 covers–to the magazine from 1925 until 1968, the year of his death.

Recently described by longtime New Yorker writer Roger Angell as “the magazine’s first genius,” in 1927 Arno would marry fellow New Yorker contributor Lois Long (“Tables for Two” and “On and Off the Avenue”).

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Peter Arno

In his memoir Here at The New Yorker, Brendan Gill wrote that editor Harold Ross frowned on office romances, but “it was perhaps inevitable that Arno and Miss Long should have fallen in love.”

To keep his party-loving contributors close to the workplace, Ross opened a staff speakeasy in the basement of a near-by property. Long later relayed this story to writer Harrison Kinney about Ross’s ill-fated experiment:

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Lois Long

“(Ralph) Ingersoll came in one morning and found Arno and me stretched out on the sofa nude and Ross closed the place down…Arno and I may have been married to one another then; I can’t remember. Maybe we began drinking and forgot that we were married and had an apartment to go to.”

The marriage would last only three years (and produce a daughter…more on that in a later post), but they would collectively give more than eight decades of their lives to the magazine.

Examples of Arno’s early contributions:

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August 1925
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Dec. 5, 1925

And his later work…a cartoon from 1960:Peter-Arno-10-Sept-1960-beauty-contestIn other news, “The Talk of the Town” editors also joined the throng of gapers taking one last look at the Vanderbilt mansion:

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And they rhapsodized about the new Madison Square Garden, which was nearing completion at Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets:

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Postcard image of New York City’s Madison Square Garden No. 3, which remained in use until 1968. (Wikipedia)

“Profiles” featured the “Apostle of Perfection,” Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg, famed for his performances of Mahler and Strauss. “The Current Press” noted the first-ever coverage of a professional football game by a New York newspaper (NY Times):

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An excerpt from the lengthy Times article referenced by The New Yorker:

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Original caption: Red Grange at left trying to get through the Chicago Cardinals line in the game between the Chicago Bears and the Cardinals in Chicago when Grange played his first professional game as a member of the Bears. This picture was taken in the first quarter and he gained about two yards in this play. November 27, 1925 Chicago, Illinois, USA
The Chicago Bears’ Red Grange breaking through the Chicago Cardinals defensive line, November 27, 1925. (Corbis – Bettmann)

In “On and Off the Avenue,” Lois Long wrote about the wonders of children’s toys on display for the Christmas season:

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It is worth noting that the “Schwartz” store to which she referred (known to most of us as FAO Schwartz) will be closing its current Fifth Avenue store at the end of 2016. The name will live on (sadly) in online retailing as a unit of Toy’s R Us.

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This is the F.A.O. Schwarz store that would have been familiar to Lois Long. (6sqft.com)

And in her “Tables for Two” column, Long referred to the previous issue’s blockbuster article penned by the reluctant debutant, Ellie Mackay, which perhaps made Long’s nighttime forays a bit less novel:

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The Dec. 5 issue also carried a response to Mackay’s article, written by a young Yale alumnus named William Adee. A couple of brief excerpts:

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Later in his lengthy rebuttal, Adee offers this (exasperated) observation:

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In “Motion Pictures,” Theodore Shane found little to recommend: Cecille B. DeMille’s The Road to Yesterday was “hokum,” The Masked Bride tame, and the new Tom Mix picture, The Best Bad Man, was in need of a plot.

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HO HUM…Basil Rathbone and Mae Murray in The Masked Bride. The film is now lost. (doctormacro.com)

Next Time: Yuletide Approaches…

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How Dry I Am

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Oct. 31 cover,  Julian de Miskey.

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:

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“Talk” also made a call to action by “men of virtue:”

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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!):

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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?”

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“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.

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The old Metropolitan Opera House at 1411 Broadway. The “Old Met” opened in 1883 and was rebuilt after a fire in 1892. The interior, shown here, was redesigned in 1903. This photo depicts a recital by pianist Josef Hofmann on November 28, 1937. The old Met was torn down in 1967 and replaced by a 40-story office tower. (Wikipedia)
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Site of the old Metropolitan Opera House today.

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).

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Howard (Real Photograph)

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:

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“Motion Pictures” looked at Buster Keaton’s new film, Go West…

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Cow and Keaton in Go West (1925) (silentology.com)

Theodore Shane wrote that what at first seemed to be a real weeper…

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…turned into a comic romp thanks to the introduction of the “sad-eyed cow…”

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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:

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Next Time: Oh Behave…

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Autumn in Paris

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Oct. 10 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

The Oct. 10, 1925 issue marked Janet Flanner’s first “Paris Letter” signed under the pen name Genêt.

The column, dated Sept. 25, noted that droves of American tourists were heading for the northern ports “carrying everything away that’s portable, and the American Express is hard pressed to find crates enough to house the antiques that are on their way to make American homes beautiful.”

Flanner also noted the huge attendance numbers at the Exhibition of the Decorative Arts, but she was no fan of the teeming masses: “More than ten million people have attended which, by the way, if you have been there, you will know, has been nine million nine hundred thousand too many for comfort.”

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Postcard image of the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts. The term “Art Deco,” which would be used to describe a prevailing design style of the Jazz Age, was derived by shortening the words Arts Décoratifs. (Flickr)
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Janet “Genêt” Flanner in Paris, 1928, in a photo by Berenice Abbott. (Wikipedia)

Persistent rainstorms that ruined the French wheat crop and inflicted major damage on the wine growing regions had also dampened the spirits of the French and tourists alike, so Flanner looked forward to the Autumn Salon which was “still to come as the big Fall event.” She also noted that James Joyces’s novel Ulysses, banned in the U.S., was already into its sixth French edition.

According to Ben Yagoda (About Town: The New Yorker and the World it Made), Flanner had first come to the attention of editor Harold Ross through his wife, Jane Grant, who was a friend of Flanner’s from the Lucy Stone League, an organization that fought for women to preserve their maiden names after marriage. Flanner would go on to work for The New Yorker for the next five decades.

In “The Talk of the Town,” it was reported that Patricia Salmon was returning to Broadway “a more confident person” after enlarging her fame with performances “in the hinterland.” And in other show-biz news, the Masonic Order’s new Mecca Temple announced that it would open with an American program led by John Philip Sousa. It was also noted that the great Sousa had succumbed to the lure of jazz music:

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The Mecca after its completion in late 1924. Known today as New York City Center, it is now home to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, The Flamenco Festival, and the Martha Graham Dance Company among other groups. (nycago)

“Profiles” featured publisher and stage producer Horace B. Liverwright, the piece defiantly titled “One Hundred Per Cent American.” The social activist Waldo Frank (pen name “Search-light”) wrote admiringly about this vocal campaigner against strict literary censorship, and observed that Liverwright possessed the soul of a poet who does what he likes, and this is what he likes above all: “that no hour be heavy, that no day and no deal be without its radiant wings.”

Morris Markey explored the Shenandoah airship disaster in greater detail in his “In the News” section, and hoped that the Navy’s inquiry into the crash would not deter further developments in airship travel:

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In “Sports of the Week,” John R. Tunis wrote what would be the first of many articles in the magazine on college football, which featured prominently in the fall issues thanks to an ailing Babe Ruth and the slumping Yankees.

The lengthy article was an account of Nebraska’s 14-0 victory over Illinois in the Illini’s gleaming new stadium in Champaign. The match was billed as one of the major contests of the season, bringing together two All-American captains in a defensive slugfest: Red Grange of Illinois and Ed Weir of Nebraska.

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Famed Illinois running back Red Grange (left) was held scoreless by fellow All-American Ed Weir and his Nebraska Cornhuskers in a much ballyhooed matchup of 1925.

Next time: Ode to a Real American Artist…

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