“The Very Golden Apple” was the title of an essay by E. A. Tosbell in the Sept. 3, 1927 issue that examined the transformation of the Miss America pageant–just seven years old–into a big money concern.
Tosbell opened with the lament that Miss Los Angeles, Adrienne Dore, should have won the 1925 contest save for a lapse in table manners…
Tosbell offered us a taste of what contestants could expect upon their arrival in Atlantic City…
Norma Smallwood from Tulsa, Oklahoma was crowned Miss America 1926, the first Native American to capture the title. Smallwood was highly criticized in the press for her business savvy as she went on to earn $100,000 through personal appearance fees and product endorsements. Tosbell noted:
In 1927 Smallwood would again draw criticism when she requested $600 from the pageant for her appearance in crowning the new winner, Lois Delander. Delander was a high school student who won her local contest in Joliet, Illinois by reciting Bible verses. Unlike her predecessors, Delander turned down lucrative offers in show business and returned home to continue her school studies.
In the case of a 1922 Miss America contestant, Georgia Hale, you didn’t have to win the pageant to make it to the Big Time. Hale was chosen by Charlie Chaplin to be his “leading lady” in 1925’s The Gold Rush, and in the following year she would play Myrtle Wilson in the first filmed version of The Great Gatsby. A savvy businesswoman, Hale would become wealthy through real estate investments in Southern California.
* * *
The September 3 “Talk of the Town” offered some insights into the dressing habits (and tardiness) of New York’s dandified mayor, Jimmy Walker, who was preparing for an overseas journey. Excerpts:
The New Yorker continued its commentary on the changing city skyline as urban residences continued their skyward climb, including the oddly named Oliver Cromwell apartment hotel:
An advertisement in the same issue touted the Cromwell’s serene, park-like setting:
There were numerous advertisements like these in the New Yorker. Another promoted the Beverly’s sky-high “wind-swept terraces…”
* * *
On to the Sept. 10, 1927 issue, and a couple of cartoons that aptly represented the spirit of Roaring Twenties…
…Johan Bull offered a glimpse of the new rich in the realm of culture…
…while Carl Rose captured the spirit of investors during the waning days of the red hot 1920s stock market…
The critic Gilbert W. Gabriel was more than a bit appalled by the spectacle at the old Olympic Theatre, where a tired and “degenerated” cast of burlesque performers took turns shaking their ancient haunches in the direction of the former Julliard student.
Gilbert’s article in the August 22, 1925 New Yorker, “They Call It Burlesque,” described the performance at the Olympic on East Fourteenth Street as “on its last legs.” The once “honest animalistic, gorgeously orgiastic burlesque show of ten or twenty years ago” had “degenerated in decency,” he wrote.
As the performers wiggled up and down the runways, Gilbert noted:
The audience was an equally sad lot:
There is some relief expressed when two comedians appeared, but they offer an unimaginative routine:
And then back to the dancers:
And still more…
Happier news over in “The Talk of the Town,” where jazz was getting some respect: “Jazz, successor to the outcast ragtime, each day is becoming acceptable. It is the young brother of the musical family, irresponsible and at time highly irritating, but, nevertheless, acknowledged.”
It was reported that even famed violinist Jascha Heifetz “dabbled” in jazz as an amusement, and writers of jazz were “no longer those products of East Side dives,” but rather included the likes of Buddy de Sylva, lyrist to Al Jolson, and George Gershwin, “high priest of jazz,” who was besieged by symphony conductors for his “Symphony in Blue” (better known today as Rhapsody In Blue).
“Talk” continued its lament of the changing face of Fifth Avenue:
And the Waldorf Astoria was being remodeled in order to add shops on the ground floor along with “125 bathrooms,” giving the famed hotel “a bath for almost every room.” In just four years the old Waldorf would be torn down and replaced by the Empire State Building.
“Talk” also noted the planting of Ginkgo trees in the city:
Although prized today for their beauty and hardiness, not all New Yorkers are in love with the strong odor of its fruit. In the June 30, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, Lauren Collins examined the activities of the “Anti-Ginkgo Tolerance Group” in her article“Smelly Trees.”
“Talk” also offered a brief glimpse into the latest adventures of Pola Negri, noting in its “This Week” section that the actress had paid “$57,000 customs dues in seized jewels…”
In other items, artist Helen Hokinson provided illustrations for an article on the horse races at Saratoga…
…John Tunis examined the life of tennis star Elizabeth “Bunny” Ryan in “Profiles” … and E.B. White and Alice Duer Miller offered their thoughts on why they liked New York:
“Moving Pictures” featured a lengthy review of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. Theodore Shane (“T.S.”) wrote that the film’s opening night at the Strand attracted such celebrities as Will Rogers and Constance Bennett.
Shane observed that this “dramatic comedy” was a “serviceable picture,” but perhaps Chaplin was getting “too metaphysical about his pathos” and could have used some old-fashioned pie-in-the-face slapstick.
As an example, in a scene in a typical Klondike town, Shane wrote that “one might be given to expect wonders of Gold Rush burlesque with the old Chaplin at the receiving end of the Klondike equivalent of a custard. But one is doomed to disappointment, for Chaplin has seen fit to turn on his onion juices in a Pierrot’s endeavor to draw your tears…We cannot help but recall with a tinge of sadness, the old days when custard was young.”
Shane went on to give short but favorable reviews to Rex Reach’s Winds of Chance (at the Piccadilly Theatre), the film’s chief props consisting of “string ties, wooden saloons, ½ dozen cold-blooded murders and the tenderfoot who conquers everything…Shane also noted that the “spiritual features” of Tom Mix in The Lucky Horseshoe (at the Rialto) lent themselves delightfully to “a lovely and sensitive drama of moyen age and modern machinations in the Fairbanks style.”
In “Books,” Harry Este Dounce (“Touchstone”) suggested readers take a look at Carl Van Vechten’s Firecrackers as a good introduction to the writer’s unique style, while J.D. Bereford’s The Monkey Puzzle was deemed only “partly good” but worth reading.
In her regular nightlife review (“When Nights Are Young”), Lois Long (“Lipstick”) playfully sparred with her New Yorker colleague, theater critic Herman J. Mankiewicz:
Long was referencing this Mankiewicz review in a previous issue (Aug. 8):
And it all started when Long offered this observation in her July 25 “When Nights Bold” column:
I hope you are fully sated. As a palate cleanser, I offer yet another droll observation of the world of old money by Gardner Rea:
“Charlie Chaplin is in trouble again.” So began the next item in “The Talk of the Town” for the March 21 issue.
Over his head hangs a sword that was forged in the Californian sunshine of the cold metal that entered the souls of the native sons when they lived in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. It is the sword of righteousness, the flaming blade of moral indignation.
The New Yorker, in its modesty of the times, refers to the “trouble” as Chaplin’s home life, which “has been a trifle irregular.” The magazine was referring to his sudden and secretive marriage to a much younger woman, Lillita McMurray.
According to the website The Artifice, Lillita McMurray was Chaplin’s second and youngest wife (he had four in all). In 1920 McMurray landed a small role as a “flirting angel” in Chaplin’s The Kid. When she landed another small role in The Gold Rush four years later (changing her name to Lita Grey) a serious relationship between Grey and Chaplin developed. Grey, just barely 16, soon became pregnant, and Chaplin, seeking to prevent scandal (and possible criminal charges), secretly married Grey in Mexico (She gave birth soon after to Charles Chaplin Jr. on May 5, 1925).
Not surprisingly, Chaplin was uncooperative with the story-hungry media, which The New Yorker noted took revenge by casting Grey as a innocent victim of a “rapacious roué.”
The The New Yorker noted that the California Women’s Clubs called for a boycott of Chaplin films, and even the famed L.A. theatre proprietor Sid Graumann bowed to their pressure and cancelled his booking for The Gold Rush (which the “Talk” writer calls an “extraordinarily good comedy”).
The magazine observed that it was the goal of Chaplin’s detractors to drive him out of the movies—“That way lies Fatty Arbuckle” (alluding to sex scandal that destroyed the career of one of the most beloved silent film stars three years earlier).
A footnote: Chaplin’s marriage to Grey soon crumbled, and a divorce was granted August 22, 1927. According to The Artifice, it was a bitter, public ordeal with rumors of affairs and sexual misconduct clouding Chaplin’s fame and reputation. In the end, Grey was awarded a massive $600,000 settlement and $100,000 for each child. After the scandal Grey became reclusive and was featured in only a few small films before her death on Dec. 29, 1995.
Another item of note in the March 21 issue: a review Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (“good, but not as good as Babbitt”).
And how about a little cartoon to end our segment on the March 21, 1925 issue: