Like many publications, there are defining moments in the New Yorker’s history that make the magazine what it is today.
In a post more than two years ago I wrote about Ellin Mackay’s pivotal essay, “Why We Go To Cabarets: A Post-Debutante Explains.” The debutante daughter of a multi-millionaire (who threatened to disinherit her due to her romance with Irving Berlin), Mackay explained that modern women were abandoning social matchmaking in favor of the more egalitarian night club scene. Mackay’s essay provided a huge boost to the struggling New Yorker, which had dipped to less than 3,000 subscribers in August 1925. A more recent post, “A Bird’s Eye View,” noted how a short story by Thyra Samter Winslow opened the door to serious fiction in the magazine.
The Dec. 8, 1928 issue was significant for a cartoon by Carl Rose that appeared on the bottom of page 27:
It remains one of the New Yorker’s most famous cartoons, and for good reason. In his book About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, Ben Yagoda writes that the cartoon (drawn by Rose, with spinach line provided by E.B. White) “was picking up on something in the culture: it was a moment when the air reverberated with the sound of speech.” Yagoda notes that although “the cartoons led the way,” the magazine has always been filled with the sound of voices in “The Talk of the Town.” Naturalistic rendering of speech could also be found under the heading of such features as “Overheard,” which ran from 1927-1929 and included such contributors as the young writer John O’Hara.
Another New Yorker contributor whose work resounded with the sound of speech, Robert Benchley, received some kind words from the magazine on his latest book, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or David Copperfield:
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Appearing at the Civic Repertory Theatre (founded by actress Eva Le Gallienne in 1926) was Alla Nazimova and Eva herself in Anton Chekov’s last play, The Cherry Orchard. Al Frueh offered this sketch for the theatre review section.
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From Our Advertisers
Advertisements from the Dec. 8 issue offered this study in contrasts…a “modern” take on the holidays by Wanamaker’s, featuring the unfortunately titled “Psycho-Gifts for Christmas”…
…versus the staid offerings of Brooks Brothers on the following page…
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On to the Dec. 15 issue, we find the New Yorker enjoying the debut of the Ziegfeld Follies latest revue…
…the show “Whoopee” at the New Amsterdam, featuring Eddie Cantor:
And lest you think audiences were flocking to only see Eddie Cantor…
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On to less glamorous pursuits, the New Yorker also paid a visit to the new “Fish Wing” at the Museum of Natural History, as recounted in “Talk of the Town.” A brief excerpt:
From Our Advertisers…
…comes this house ad from the New Yorker itself, promoting its first-ever Album:
Chris Wheeler has gathered all of the albums at this site.
Dorothy Parker turned her jaded eye to the latest big thing — talking pictures — and in the Sept. 1, 1928 issue she joined her New Yorker colleagues in a collective yawn at the technology that was dramatically transforming cinema.
In a feature titled “Out of the Silence,” Parker mused about the changes facing former silent stars…
…and seemed unconvinced that the talking pictures, at least to date, were any real improvement over the silents, including a performance by her Algonquin Round Table pal and New Yorker colleague Robert Benchley, who seemed but a talking simulacrum:
Parker attended a matinee at a jam-packed Warner Theatre, where folks paid a dollar apiece for standing room only to witness a series of shorts and a feature-length film, all presented with sound:
One of the shorts featured a performance by female impersonator George Francis Peduzzi, known professionally as Karyl Norman, “The Creole Fashion Plate,” followed by a performance from violinist Albert Spaulding:
What Parker was subjecting herself to was the Vitaphone Varieties, described by North Carolina Museum of Art film curator Laura Boyes as “the last gasps of vaudeville.”
Boyes writes that many vaudevillians stepped off the stage to immortalize their acts on film in the early days of the talkies. They were produced in Brooklyn between 1927 and 1929 using the Vitaphone method (large recorded discs synchronized with the film) “at a time when the major studios hoped that the talkies were just a passing fad.” She notes that “talkies would eventually put this style of theater completely out of business, and Vitaphone shorts literally became the place where Vaudeville went to die. Many of the people in these short films were obscure at the time, and they are doubly obscure now.”
As for the main feature, The Terror, the only terror Parker felt was the fear of being bored to death:
Parker concluded that “talking pictures are marvels of invention,” but “a bad show is a bad show, synchronize it how you will.”
Coming of Age in Samoa
Social critic and humorist Baird Leonard took the honors as book reviewer for the Sept. 1 issue, offering a brief, humorous endorsement of Margaret Mead’s landmark Coming of Age in Samoa, in which the famed anthropologist explored the link between culture and psychosexual development among the island’s adolescents. Leonard found much to like about the book, and particularly Mead’s observations on the separation of youth from adult activities in Samoan culture (it would enhance his bridge-playing enjoyment):
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Writer Cameron Rogers profiled American sculptor Paul Manship, who was an important contributor to Art Deco style, and is perhaps best known for his iconic Prometheus sculpture at Rockefeller Center in New York. Rogers made these closing observations about Manship, noting that the artist’s success netted him about $60,000 a year — close to $850,000 today (These days, someone like showman/artist Jeff Koons, who makes giant shiny balloon animal sculptures, among other things, has a net worth of at least $100 million).
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From Our Advertisers
I find it interesting when one magazine advertises in another, especially when an older magazine like the Outlook (founded in 1893) advertises in an upstart like the New Yorker. But then again, the publishers of the Outlook were looking to breathe new life into their stodgy journal, and what better way than to announce that their “conservative girl” was now a modern, grown-up woman with a new Jazz Age look and an attitude to match. And it was no coincidence that they hired the New Yorker’s Rea Irvin to illustrate their point.
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Our cartoon is by Peter Arno, who continued to explore the lighter moments of New York night life…
The New Yorker’s founder and editor, Harold Ross, did not approve of office romances. He had a magazine to run after all, and didn’t want any distractions from Cupid’s arrow.
But then again, it seemed inevitable that Lois Long and Peter Arno–two of the magazine’s most lively personalities and important early contributors–would end up together. Arno cut a dashing figure as one the New Yorker’s most celebrated cartoonists. He often drew upon the same subject matter as Long, who covered the nightclub and speakeasy scene in her column, “Tables for Two” and in the process defined the lifestyle of the liberated flapper. Long is also credited with inventing the field of fashion writing and criticism with her other New Yorker column, “On and Off the Avenue.”
In Vanity Fair, Ben Schwartz (“The Double Life of Peter Arno,” April 5, 2016) wrote that Arno and Long “personified what people thought The New Yorker was, which was very fortunate…(Long was) tall, lanky, a Vassar grad with bobbed hair and a wicked sense of humor, a minister’s daughter to Arno’s judge’s son, and she matched him as a hell-raiser.” It was actually their raucous affair that set Ross on a “permanent scowl” regarding office romances.
Schwartz quotes Arno’s and Long’s daughter, Patricia (Pat) Arno, about her parents’ wild relationship: “There were lots of calls to (gossip columnist Walter) Winchell or some other columnist about nightclub fights…with my mother calling and saying, ‘Oh, please don’t print that about us,’ trying to keep their names out of the papers.”
Schwartz suggests that Arno drew on personal experience when in 1930 he published Peter Arno’s Hullabaloo, a “collection of cartoons that included a set of racy drawings featuring a dashing couple much like himself and Long. In one, a nude woman, in bed, yells at her sleeping lover: ‘Wake up, you mutt! We’re getting married to-day.'”
Long and Arno were married by her father, the Rev. Dr. William J. Long, at her parents’ home in Stamford, Conn., on August 13, 1927. Their daughter, Patricia, was born September 18, 1928.
According to Schwartz, Arno’s first three books sold well (Whoops Dearie! 1927, Parade 1929, and Hullabaloo 1930) “allowing the young family to move into an East Side penthouse. Their social circle included New Yorker staffers, the magazine’s owner, Raoul Fleischmann, publishers Condé Nast and Henry Luce, Kay Francis (Broadway actress, future Hollywood star and Long’s former roommate), and some of the city’s financial powers. ‘Once my mother was having trouble with her Plymouth,’ says Pat Arno, “and Walter Chrysler took off his evening coat, rolled up his sleeves, and fixed it himself.'”
Less than two years after the birth of their daughter, Arno and Long would get a divorce in Reno on June 30, 1931. Arno later married debutante Mary Livingston Lansing in August 1935; they divorced in July 1939. After his divorce from Lansing, Arno moved to a farm near Harrison, New York, where he lived in seclusion, drawing for the New Yorker and enjoying music, guns, and sports cars. He died of emphysema on February 22, 1968 at the age of 64.
In 1938 Long would marry Donaldson Thorburn, a newspaper and advertising man. After his death in 1952 she would marry Harold Fox, head of an investment brokerage firm. Long’s colleague at the New Yorker, Brendan Gill, described Fox as “a proper Pennsylvanian named Harold A. Fox.” They lived in an 1807 Pennsylvania-Dutch farmhouse, where Long delighted in the woods, farms and wildlife as well as in her two grandchildren—Andrea Long Bush and Katharine Kittredge Bush. In 1960 she wrote to her alma mater, Vassar College, that the “hectic fifteen years or so after graduation, when I thought I had New York City by the tail and was swinging it around my head, seem very far away. Thank God. I like things this way.” Long would continue working as a columnist for the New Yorker until the death of Harold Fox, in 1968. She died in 1974 at age 72.
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The big news in the Aug. 13, 1927 edition (the same date as the Long-Arno wedding) was President Calvin Coolidge’s brief, ambiguous announcement that he would not run for president. Almost everyone assumed he would run for a second term, given the booming economy in the age of “Coolidge Prosperity.”
Coolidge was summering in Black Hills when he gave his secretary, Everett Sanders, a piece of paper that read, “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” Sanders then scheduled a midday press conference for August 2, 1927. At 11:30 a.m., Coolidge cut out strips of paper with this statement–I do not choose to run—and at the conference handed each reporter one of the strips. Coolidge offered no further information, and only remarked, “There will be nothing more from this office today.” This led to considerable debate among the press as to intentions of the president. The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” mused…
…Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column offered this wry observation…
…while humorist Robert Benchley (writing under the pseudonym “Guy Fawkes”) in his “The Press in Review” column continued the New Yorker’s stinging attack on the media for its continued attempts to sensationalize events or impart personality traits on colorless newsmakers:
We close out The New Yorker’s first year with the magazine on firmer footing and many of its mainstay writers and artists firmly in place.
The Dec. 26, 1925 issue was the usual hodgepodge, but some writers did give a nod to the end of the year, including film critic Theodore Shane, who offered his list of the best ten moving pictures of 1925.
Shane’s favorite film by far was The Last Laugh, (the German title was Der letzte Mann, or The Last Man) a 1924 German film directed by F.W. Murnau and starring Emil Jannings (who would later win the first Academy Award for Best Actor in 1929). Shane referred to it as “the greatest picture ever made.” Released in the U.S. in 1925, the film was about a proud doorman who loses his job and tries to hide the fact from his friends and family. Shane usually reserved his highest praise for German cinema in his columns.
Shane’s complete list of the ten best movies of 1925:
For the worst films of the year, Shane suggested a tie between Drusilla With a Million, Lord Jim, Joanna, the Million Dollar Girl or Stella Dallas.
The New Yorker also commented on the murder of the irrepressible boxer Louis Mbarick Fall, popularly known as “Battling Siki.”
Born in Senegal, he was a light heavyweight boxer from 1912–1925, and briefly reigned as a light heavyweight champion. Known for his heavy drinking and carousing, on the night of Dec. 15, 1925, he was found dead near his 42nd Street apartment. He had been shot twice in the back at close range. He was 28.
In his column, “A Reporter at Large,” Morris Markey offered this observation on Battling Siki’s passing:
The cartoonist I. Klein, on the other hand, contributed this strange stand-alone illustration for “The Talk of the Town” section:
Also in “Talk” was this brief item about the United Fruit Company:
United Fruit would be no laughing matter three years later with the Banana Massacre, which would claim the lives of an unknown number of workers who were striking for better working conditions in Columbia.
Art critic Murdock Pemberton offered a glowing review of an exhibit at the Montross Galleries by frequent New Yorker contributor Peggy Bacon:
“Profiles” looked at Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr, “The Fifth Avenue Maverick.” William Boardman Knox wrote that the young Vanderbilt “is as alien to his blood as a marmoset to a gorilla.”
In the “The Theatre,” critic Herman J. Mankiewicz pulled no punches when he declared Gilbert Seldes’ play The Wise Crackers “the worst play of the season” (Seldes was himself a noted critic and sometime New Yorker contributor):
What’s more, the play was about a group of literate New Yorkers who gather to exchange witty barbs and sarcastically comment on the doings of the day. In other words, it was inspired by the Algonquin Round Table, which famously included Mankiewicz as a member.
Another Round Table notable was Robert Benchley, who contributed this piece for the last issue of the year:
Lois Long offered her regrets for ever bringing up the subject of “The Charleston:”
And just a few pages over, lessons were advertised for…The Charleston!
And to close, here’s a little fun with hotel inspectors, courtesy of Al Frueh: