Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Gene Tunney was not your typical boxer. Holder of the heavyweight title from 1926 to 1928, he defeated his rival Jack Dempsey in 1926 and again in 1927 in the famous “Long Count Fight.” But Tunney was no Palooka—he preferred to be known as a cultured gentleman, and made a number of friends in the literary world including George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway and Thornton Wilder.

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January 14, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

So when given the opportunity to say a few words, Tunney made the most of it, including at a dinner hosted by boxing and hockey promoter Tex Rickard to honor champions in various sports. The New Yorker’s E.B. White was there tell us about it:

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FETED FOR FEATS…World champion athletes are shown here from top row, left to right; Babe Ruth (baseball), Gene Tunney (boxing), Johnny Weissmuller (swimming), Bill Cook (hockey). On the bottom row is from left to right, Bill Tilden (tennis), Bobby Jones (golf), Fred Spencer and Charlie Winters (six-day bicycle race).

While Tunney was doubtless composing his thoughts at the banquet table, baseball legend Babe Ruth was wishing he could be someplace else…

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…like hanging out with his old buddy Jack Dempsey…

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BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS…Babe Ruth having breakfast with his friend, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, at Ruth’s residence at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City, 1927. Dempsey reigned as the champ from 1919 until 1926, when he was defeated by Gene Tunney. (captainsblog.info)

Instead, the Babe would have to listen to a surprise speech by Tunney, who sought to prove to those in attendance that he had brains to match his brawn. No doubt to the relief of many in attendance, New York City’s flamboyant mayor, Jimmy Walker, was able to return the proceedings to party mode.

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THAT’LL DO, GENE, THAT’LL DO…Newly crowned heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney (center) meets with New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker (right) at City Hall, September 1926. (josportsinc.com)

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The New Yorker writers found little to like about Hollywood, but Charlie Chaplin could always be counted on to knock out a humorous film. At least most of the time. Here is what “The Talk of the Town” had to say about his latest, The Circus:

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LIGHTEN UP, CHARLIE…Merna Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin and Harry Crocker in The Clown (1928). (alamy)

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Give ‘Em Dirty Laundry

In these days of clickbait and other news designed to attract our prurient interest, we can look back 89 years a see that the tabloids were doing much of the same, particularly in Bernarr Macfadden’s New York Graphic, which was making the most of the final days of death row inmates Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray…

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TSK, TSK…Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (left), received a tidy sum to write about convicted murderer Ruth Snyder for the New York Evening Graphic. (Wikipedia/Murderpedia)

Former lovers Snyder and Gray were sentenced to death in 1927 for the premeditated murder of Snyder’s husband (they went to the electric chair at Sing Sing prison on Jan. 12, 1928). Newspapers across the country sensationalized their trial, but the Graphic went the extra step by paying large sums to celebrity correspondents, including evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, to write about the sordid case. Sister Aimee used her Graphic column to encourage young men to “want a wife like mother — not a Red Hot cutie.” Semple herself would later be accused of an affair, but then what else is new in the business of casting stones?

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FAKE NEWS…Before the National Enquirer and Weekly World News came along, Benarr Mcfadden’s Evening Graphic was the tabloid of choice among the less discerning. This issue from March 17, 1927, depicted silent actor Rudolph Valentino meeting the famed tenor Enrico Caruso in heaven. The Graphic was famous for these “Composographs,” — images cut and pasted together using the heads or faces of current celebrities and glued onto staged images created by employees in Macfadden’s studio. (bernarrmacfadden.com)

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Even His Skivvies?

We can also look back 89 years and see that people were just as celebrity-crazed then as they are now. Charles Lindbergh could barely keep the clothes on his back while being pursued by adoring mobs, according to “Talk of the Town”…

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KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY BVDS

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Kindred Spirits

Dorothy Parker wrote a vigorous, even impassioned defense of the late dancer Isadora Duncan in her column, “Reading and Writing.” Parker reviewed Duncan’s posthumously published autobiography, My Life, which she found “interesting and proudly moving” even if the book itself was “abominably written,” filled with passages of “idiotic naïveté” and “horrendously flowery verbiage.” In this “mess of prose” Parker also found passion, suffering and glamour—three words that Parker could have used to describe her own life.

Parker elaborated on the word “glamour,” which she thought had been cheapened in her day to something merely glittery and all surface. True glamour, wrote Parker, was that of Isadora Duncan, coming from her “great, torn, bewildered, foolhardy soul.” Parker concluded with this plea:

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REAL GLAMOUR…Isadora Duncan in an undated photo. (bustle.com)

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New Kid on the Block

Yet another high-rise dwelling was available to Jazz Age New Yorkers—One Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. One Fifth Avenue was an apartment with the word “hotel” attached to justify its 27-story height. To meet zoning requirements, the apartments had “pantries” instead of kitchens. But then again, your “servant” would fetch your dinner anyway…

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GOING UP…The art deco landmark One Fifth Avenue signaled a dramatic change from the four-story mansions that once occupied the site.  (New York Public Library)

Historical note: One Fifth Avenue marked a dramatic change in the character of Washington Square, one of the most prestigious residential neighborhoods of early New York City. A previous occupant of the One Fifth Avenue site was the brownstone mansion of William Butler Duncan. In addition to One Fifth Avenue, the residences at 3, 5, and 7 Fifth Avenue were also demolished to make way for the new art deco “apartment hotel.”

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DUST TO DUST…The William Butler Duncan residence at One Fifth Avenue. (daytoninmanhattan)

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To close, a two-page spread by Helen Hokison exploring one woman’s challenge with the “flapper bob” (sorry about the crease in the scan–that is how it is reproduced in the online archive). Click the image to enlarge.

 

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And a bit of fun on the streetcar, courtesy of cartoonist Leonard Dove…

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Next Time: Machine Age Bromance…

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Picking on Charlie Chaplin

In 1927 silent film star Charlie Chaplin was working on his latest film, The Circus, when his second wife, Lita Grey, filed for divorce, accusing her husband of infidelity, abuse, and of harbouring “perverted sexual desires.” Life imitated art, and Charlie’s own life became a circus.

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July 23, 1927 cover by Stanley W. Reynolds.

The New Yorker’s Ralph Barton, who contributed countless illustrations for the magazine, wrote about Chaplin’s latest travails in a column titled “Picking on Charlie Chaplin.”

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LIFE ON THE HIGH WIRE…Charlie Chaplin in The Circus (1928). (MoMA)

The “2” Barton mentioned were teenaged actress Lita Grey and her mother, Lillian Parker.

In 1924 the 35-year-old Charlie Chaplin married the 16-year-old Lita Grey in a discreet ceremony in Mexico — because Grey was pregnant, Chaplin could have been charged with statutory rape under California law (it was Chaplin’s second marriage, and his second to a teenaged actress). Chaplin and Grey had two sons from their brief union–Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr., was born in 1925, followed by Sydney Earl Chaplin in 1926.

The divorce made headline news as Chaplin was reported to be in a state of nervous breakdown. Filming for The Circus was suspended for ten months while he dealt with the mess:

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Chaplin’s lawyers agreed to a cash settlement of $600,000 – the largest awarded by American courts at that time (Roughly equivalent to more than $8 million today). Groups formed across America calling for his films to be banned (no doubt the same groups that had earlier protested his marriage to a pregnant, teenaged minor). Barton mused that the protests might cause Chaplin to abandon America for the more permissive atmosphere in Europe:

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HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU…Chaplin first became acquainted with the 12-year old Lillita McMurray (later Lita Grey) during the filming of The Kid (1921).
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PRATFALL…Charlie Chaplin and Lita Grey during their brief, tumultuous marriage. (The Artifice)

The Circus was released in January 1928 to positive reviews, and during the first-ever Academy Awards Chaplin received a special trophy “For versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus. Despite the film’s success, he rarely spoke of it again. For Charlie, it was a time best forgotten.

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And now, an advertisement from the July 23 issue urging readers to buy the 1920s equivalent of “Smart Water” endorsed by the Sun King himself…

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…and a cartoon by Reginald Marsh, portraying a distinctly American view of the grandeur of Niagara Falls…

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On to July 30, 1927 issue, in which the New Yorker once again takes a poke at our 30th President…

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July 30, 1927. (Cover is unsigned, but I suspect it is by John Held Jr.)

…and his latest adventures in the wilds of South Dakota’s Black Hills:

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BIG CHIEF CAL…President Calvin Coolidge donned a headdress while being named an honorary Sioux chief (“Leading Eagle”) in Deadwood, South Dakota. His advisers cautioned that the headdress would make him look funny, but he apparently replied, “Well it’s good for people to laugh, isn’t it?” (AP)

Safely back in the environs of the big city, the New Yorker continued to take stock of summer sports such as tennis, polo, and the yacht races at Larchmont (but still no mention of the legendary ’27 Yankees). This illustration of the races (unsigned, but I guess it is Reginald Marsh) graced a double-spread below “The Talk of the Town”…

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(click to enlarge)

…and if you were attending the races, or wanted to look stylish on your yacht (or if you just wanted to dress this way to appear that you owned one), you could check out the selections at B. Altman’s…

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…looking smart was everywhere in the issue, from multiple ads for fall furs, to this come-on from Buick, which suggests that even though it is no Cadillac, and certainly not a Rolls, its smartness will prevail “on any boulevard”…

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The Buick ad is somewhat revolutionary for an early automobile ad in that it doesn’t actually show the product advertised.

As for those not among the smart set, and not enjoying the races at Larchmont, there were other summer diversions, as rendered here by J.H. Fyfe:

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Next Time: Babe Comes Home…

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