Of Queens and Cold Cream

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June 6, 1925 cover by Julian de Miskey (New Yorker Digital Archive)

The June 6, 1925 “Talk of the Town” was jumble of odds and ends. There were musings on William Randolph Hearst’s indecision over a redesign of his Cosmopolitan magazine (to incorporate the defunct Hearst’s Magazine), and an update on “the Queen of Rumania”…”persuaded by Miss Zoe Beckley to write that series of articles for her newspaper which are appearing currently, in this city, in the World. Her Majesty also received a tidy piece of money for endorsing, under the royal signature, a certain facial cream much favored by young ladies ion the great Middle West, where men are men.”

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The “Queen of Rumania” and her Pond’s endorsement were featured in this April 1925 ad in Motion Picture magazine. See my blog post on Issue #4 titled “The Queen of Romania” to learn more about this enterprising monarch. (Image scan)

“Talk” reported that the facial cream company (Ponds) was approaching other notables for endorsements: “Alice Roosevelt, known in some circles as Mrs. Nicholas Longworth, is reported to have succumbed to the lure of the facial cream. The sum mentioned is five thousand dollars. There will be a photograph of Princess Alice and, one hears, a statement of what she owes to the beneficent workings of the cream in question. She will be in good company, for Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt, Mrs. Marshall Field and Lady Diana Duff-Cooper have appeared already, among others.

Also noted was the closing of Joel’s, “perhaps the last of the older order of restaurants, whose hosts were individuals, not corporations.” Frequent patrons were novelist Booth Tarkington and artist George Luks.

“The Talk of the Town” also featured drawings by Rea Irvin lampooning William Jennings Bryan’s role in the Scopes Trial, but there was no mention of the event in the “Talk” section itself. However, “Of All Things” noted that “Professor Scopes will now sing that popular ballad: ‘The truth I loved in funny Tennessee.’” The next item followed with “It is said that the KKK is a strong element in the Southern anti-evolution fight. One would expect them to fight klanfully for the Jewish tribal legends.”

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Another stand-alone, full-page illustration depicted Tennessee as a dark jungle:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

“Profiles” featured Deems Taylor, who was dubbed “Versatility Personified” for his work as both a music critic and gifted composer, among other talents. According to Wikipedia, Taylor’s operas were given more performances by the Metropolitan Opera than any other American composer (including his 1927 work The King’s Henchman, with libretto by Edna St. Vincent Millay).

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Deems Taylor on the cover of Time, Feb, 16, 1931 (ACME/P&A)

Taylor was well-known to New Yorker editors and writers as a friend of the Algonquin Round Table, and briefly dated Dorothy Parker. He was also friends with composers George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. He later appeared in Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia as the master of ceremonies, and helped select pieces for the film’s musical score.

The New Yorker was seemingly hitting a rough patch as it entered its fifth month. The thin 16th issue (just 24 pages plus cover) reveals the editors still fiddling with the magazine’s format, including an odd new section titled “Critique” that looked variously at happenings in theater, motion pictures, art, music and books—apparently an attempt to consolidate all of these formerly separate sections into one. There was yet another reference to writer Michael Arlen, the magazine characterizing him as an author of light entertainments and thrillers whose best book was These Charming People.

It is noteworthy how much ink the writer Michael Arlen commands in the pages of early New Yorker, considering how little known he is today. And this was at the same time F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was receiving tepid reviews, including a brief one in The New Yorker.

Debutante from Dubuque

There was much ado at the Junior League Convention in Boston, according to May 30, 1925 New Yorker. The lead item in “The Talk of Town” concerned the delegation from New York that “wished to exercise censorship over Junior Leaguers who move here from other towns—Dubuque, Iowa*, for example—and whose memberships in the League were transferred to them.”

(*Dubuque, Iowa, as you may recall, is where resides the proverbial “old lady”–the antithesis of a New Yorker reader).

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May 30, 1925 cover by Ilonka Karasz  (New Yorker Digital Archive)

The New York delegates pointed out that their league was “committed to accepting into membership between eighty and ninety debutantes each year; moreover, that it was forced to accept as members, also, those young ladies whose ambitions led them to shake the Dubuquian dust from their French heels and take the train to New York.”

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Debutantes practicing the proper way to pick up a handkerchief in 1925. (Buzzfeed)

To address this situation, the New York delegation proposed that such transfer members should only be accepted on a one-year trail basis. “Talk” noted that “It was not said, of course, that the object of this proposal was to allow local Junior Leaguers to inspect their guests against such provincial failings as might not be corrected in the period of twelve months…”

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President Calvin Coolidge (History Today)

“Talk” also continued mining the (unintended) humor of President Calvin Coolidge. When a Washington newspaper correspondent (identified as Mr. Sullivan) asked if the president might recognize the arts and letters by inviting some poets to the White House, Coolidge responded, “Who are the leading poets?” Sullivan suggested such luminaries as Edward Arlington Robinson, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edgar Lee Masters and Elinor Wylie. After some consideration, Coolidge replied: “When I was in College, there was a man named Smith—who wrote verse.”

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Gilda Gray performed as the Hula-Hula Girl at the old Rendezvous supper club. Photo from 1922. (Wikipedia)

It was reported that the Montmartre supper club had reopened after being closed for a year by Prohibition authorities, and many of the old clientele had returned including Alice and Jimmy O’Gorman “at their usual table with the Storrs and Thelma Morgan Converse, now abroad but that evening fresh from Hollywood and the barber.” Another supper club, the Rendezvous, had also reopened, “although without the erstwhile influence of Gilda Gray’s glamourous shimmy.”

According to Wikipedia, “although the shimmy is said to have been introduced to American audiences by Gray in New York in 1919, the term was widely used before. Some stories said that her shimmy was born one night when she was singing the Star Spangled Banner and forgot some of the lyrics. She covered up her embarrassment by shaking her shoulders and hips. Although the shimmy was already a well-known dance move, Marianna appropriated it as her own: when she was asked about her dancing style, she replied in a heavy Polish accent; “I’m shaking my chemise,” which sounded to the English-speaking audience like shimmy.”

There was also a brief item on the changing fashions of men’s hats:

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“Of All Things” offered its first comments on the upcoming Scopes Trial, coverage of which would be a regular feature in upcoming issues. It was noted “If the anti-evolutionists win in Tennessee, anyone wishing to drink at the fountain of truth will have to go to a speakeasy…We are not without a twinge of envy for J.T. Scopes. A young high school teacher who can give a simple lesson in biology and become a great national menace is getting into the hall of fame on an uncomplimentary ticket.”

We also have our first mention of Mussolini, who “has granted women the ballot and the right to serve in war. It is understood, however, that the Italian women will not be used in actual fighting but will be saved for the heavy work.”

“Profiles” featured William Allen White, famed editor and owner of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette. The piece was written by Edna Ferber, who concluded that “Bill White comes perilously close to being the Great American Citizen.”

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1925 catalog ad for radio receivers (Ad scan from a 1925-26 Brown Lynch Scott publication)
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Lionel Barrymore in 1923. He mostly known today for his portrayal of Henry F. Potter, a rapacious slumlord, in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. (Wikipedia)

“Music” featured the review of entire radio broadcast—the first lengthy account of radio featured in the magazine. The reviewer tuned in to WEAF, “a commercial station, renting the air to affluent concerns who provide the amusement or otherwise. At least two of the attractions presented (including singers, a piano duet) on our night of earful waiting were sponsored by business interests and on some nights the whole program may be provided by accounts, Consequently, WEAF is able to inundate its listeners with paid entertainers in place of song pluggers and ambitious choir applicants.”

In “The Theatre,” Man or the Devil by Jerome Kern opened on Broadway featuring Lionel Barrymore and Marion Ballou. The character acting was described as pleasurable, but the play itself was referred to as “nothing much…Two men, you see, exchange souls. However, if you wish you can stuff your ears with cotton and make up a dandy plot for yourself as the action develops.”

The “Countess” Pola Negri

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May 16, 1925 cover by A.E. Wilson

The antics of Polish actress Pola Negri were once again in The New Yorker’s spotlight in the May 16, 1925 issue. In the early issues of magazine, Negri was among the most watched celebrities including Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin.

Negri’s latest activities were recounted in a “Talk of the Town” segment that began with an account of the English tenor John Coates. Upon his arrival in the U.S., it was reported that Coates “frankly noted upon his Customs’ declaration possession of two quarts of truly excellent Scotch; quite a different procedure from that followed by Pola Negri who has found it necessary, since inspectors discovered some alcoholic beverages among her baggage to (1) fail to remember their presence, (2) attribute ownership to her maid, and (3) recall that there were mild wines for medicinal use only.”

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(San Francisco Sentinel, left; rag piano.com, right)

“Talk” continued with a report on Negri’s recent behavior in Paris, where “Madame, the Countess” created a traffic jam when she demanded that her driver stop to serve her “a golden drink in a beautiful goblet,” and later at the Ritz-Carlton “she engaged for herself an entire floor.” When informed that singer/actress Nora Bayes “and her latest husband” already occupied two rooms on the floor, Negri replied that they would understand that “she could not possibly live in less than an entire floor.” Then Negri herself knocked on Bayes’ door and asked the couple to move off the floor. It was not reported if they complied, but the magazine did note that “after the clinch there was a grand and most friendly party that evening.”

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Article from Motion Picture magazine, April 1925 (page scan)

“Talk” also commented on “The Craze for Royalty” with the observation that “No social set feels satisfied with its activities these democratic days unless it is entertaining, has entertained, or is planning to entertain royalty. There were rumors that “Even that secluded section of our native aristocracy which is descended wholly from Colonial governors, and which hitherto has treated mere kings and princes with formal politeness proper for acknowledging the presence of inferiors, has succumbed to the craze” with a “discreet inquiry as to whether Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands, would accept an invitation to visit New York in 1926.”

The royal visit was sought in conjunction with a planned celebration by the descendants of the original “New Netherlanders” of that “famous real estate deal three hundred years ago, when Manhattan Island was purchased from the Indians for some rum and a few trinkets.”

“Talk” noted previous visits by royalty, such as the “kidnapping” of the King and Queen of Belgium by the “Social Old Guard,” or the “Knickerbocker dowagers” observing “the strange preferences of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales,” during his visit the previous year. “Talk” also referred to the upcoming visit by “Her Majesty of Rumania” and her “shrewd plans for a matrimonial alliance.”

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

The magazine also made note of an illustration in the previous issue – a self-portrait by the famous American portrait painter George Luks, who as a joke signed his drawing “Gene Tunney.” The champion boxer was reportedly a friend of Luks.

“Talk” reported that the actor John Barrymore was back from a London season of Hamlet and was once again contemplating a movie role. It was noted that he was wearing “Le Valentino medal,” an award given him for best screen acting of the year (I’m not sure if “Le Valentino” was a real award or some joke about Rudolph Valentino, but it is worth noting that the first Academy Awards ceremony was still four years into the future). Among those traveling abroad were playwright Marc Connelly, New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs, and “Mr. Asa Yoelson,” who “booked passage as Al Jolson.” The violinist Jascha Heifitz became an American citizen, “Squire Heywood Broun” was “enjoying a nervous breakdown,” and cartoonist Jay Darling (known as “Ding”) was “convalescing under sunny Iowan skies.”

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Political cartoon by Jay “Ding” Darling featuring Russian Communist leaders Lenin and Trotsky, originally published in March 1925. The caption read: “Seems as if five years ought to be enough to do the trick in even if they didn’t know how in the beginning.” Originally from Iowa, Ding worked at the New York Globe and Herald Tribune, but in 1919 he returned to Iowa to work at the Des Moines Register. He won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1924 and again in 1943. (Image: Iowa Digital Library)

In a feature titled “A Mob and a Machine,” novelist and social critic Waldo Frank (writing under the pen name “Searchlight”) penned a sour account of an opening day baseball game at the Polo Grounds between the New York Giants and the Boston Braves.

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Waldo Frank, circa 1923 (photo by Alfred Stieglitz)

Frank wrote of the “abyss” that separated the game “from the vast crowds that watch it” and the specialized play of the game where “Batsman and fielder mechanically carry out motions whose plan and purpose are established for them.”

That is why, observed Frank, that Babe Ruth…

…ignoble, fat fellow that he is—deserves his vogue…It is such as he who enable the wistful mob to have some sort of contact with the game. For baseball is only clockwork; but the Bab is a boy—moody, clever, tangible and human…The Babe’s home run is an effort on the part of the machine to connect with the crowd. When the ball reaches the bleachers, contact is established.

Frank wrote that after the game is ended, “we can pack ourselves like grains of sand into a stifled elevated train, and read in the headlines of the paper we have just bought, what a significant national event we have just witnessed.”

Lamenting the loss of the “old-fashioned, humble game,” Frank wrote that like everything else in America “the Game’s gotten bigger—and that means better…It used to be a enjoyable means of moving our bodies. Not any more. Now, there’s a machine that does the moving, while our forty thousand bodies sit packed and rancid in the grandstands.”

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The Polo Grounds in 1923 (Wikipedia)

“The Theatre” section reported that Oscar Hammerstein (later to become half of the famed Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical juggernaut) had engaged “two girls” for a performance at his Victoria Theatre. The “girls,” who had been arrested, tried and acquitted of shooting a W.E. Stokes in the ankle, were identified as Ethel Conrad and Lillian Graham. Their subsequent notoriety led to their hiring by Hammerstein for a singing act that The New Yorker described as “a terrible frost;” the duo reportedly left the stage after their debut performance “without a ripple of applause from the audience.” The girls’ act was arranged by Loney Haskell, who after the performance asked the opinion of song writer Jim Thornton. Thornton replied: “By golly, they’ll have to shoot a couple of men to get in next week.”

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Paul Robeson in 1925 (Independent)

“Profiles” featured Max Steuer, a famed American trial attorney, while the “Music” section mentioned Paul Robeson’s “recital of negro spirituals” at the Greenwich Village Theatre, noting that “there are few artists who can equal him in getting inside a song and becoming part of it.”

“Of All Things” reports that “the Babeless New York” was in sixth place in the American League and “hobnobbing with such shady characters as Boston and Detroit. The Yanks are slumming.”

Murder at Madison Square

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May 9, 1925 cover by Rea Irvin (New Yorker Digital Archive)

The passing of Schultz, the head of New York’s claque, was noted in “The Talk in Town” for May 9, 1925. A “claque” is simply a group of people hired to either applaud or heckle a performer, usually in theater or opera, but in the case of Schultz (he was only known by his surname) his claques were known for being heavy handed.

“Talk” continued its reporting on the comings and goings of the writer Dikran Kouyoumdjian, better known by his pen name, Michael Arlen. Exhausted from a busy social schedule (“no visitor has been so lionized since the Prince of Wales”), Arlen had retreated to Farmington to work on a play.

With Madison Square Garden slated for demolition, it was reported that the Diana figure atop MSG’s Italianate tower was to be relocated to the NYU campus. “Talk” noted that the Diana was the only nude ever completed by famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The statue is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a copy is in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Diana atop MSG (Wikipedia)

At the time, the NYU campus was largely based on a design by Stanford White, also the architect of the soon-to-be demolished Madison Square Garden. “Talk” noted that although the manner of White’s death put him “in a poor light among his puritanical countrymen,” many “courageous men” including Saint-Gaudens strongly defended White as a kind, unselfish and loyal friend.

Let’s step back about twenty years for bit more on Stanford White: He was a founding partner of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White. Although many considered him witty, kind, and generous, he also had the reputation of a middle-aged serial seducer of teenage girls. White’s desire for Evelyn Nesbit, a popular chorus girl and model, would be his undoing.

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Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden, razed in 1925. The site is now occupied by the New York Life Building (right). Images courtesy nyc-architecture.com (left) and Wikipedia (right).

On June 25, 1906, White attended a premiere performance of Mam’zelle Champagne at a garden theatre he had designed on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden. Ironically, during the show’s finale, “I Could Love A Million Girls”, Nesbit’s jealous husband, Harry Thaw, shot White three times, point blank.

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Madison Square Garden Rooftop Theatre where White was slain by Harry Thaw. (Lost New York)
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Evelyn Nesbit (Wikipedia)

It was reported that the initial reaction from the crowd was cheerful, since elaborate party tricks were common among the upper classes of New York society. Hysteria would however ensue.

Thaw would be found not guilty by reason of insanity, and would be plagued by mental illness until his death in 1947. Nesbit, who was present at the theatre the night of the shooting, would eventually divorce Thaw. She would go on to a modest career in vaudeville, film and even burlesque (when she was in her fifties). She moved on to a quieter life after World War II and died in 1967 at age 82.

“Profile” examined the life of “Ashcan School” painter George Luks, while this blurb in “Of All Things” gave us a glimpse of things to come:

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On a lighter note, we end with comic commentary on the Liquor Commission’s attempt to lock out patrons of New York’s speakeasies:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

 

 

Knickerbocker Junction

In the last post we briefly looked at changes that were coming to Fifth Avenue as it made a transition from a place of high society residences to high society commercial interests.

The May 2, 1925 “Talk of the Town” noted that “New York is no longer the beginning and ending of all things social,” as Fifth Avenue town houses were rapidly disappearing as more of the wealthy elite were building country estates in Tuxedo, Newport or Long Island.

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May 2, 1925 cover by Margaret Schloeman (New Yorker Digital Archive)
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One Sutton Place (city realty.com)

For those remaining in the city, the trend was toward smaller dwellings that didn’t require large staffs, including apartments in locations such as the new Sutton Place.

There were some hold-outs, including Charles Schwab. Although he kept a suite at the Ritz and his wife lived in a “palatial” residence in Loretta, Penn., he nevertheless employed “a full staff of servants” at the “great gray pile with the quaint statue of a steel puddler on the lawn.” This 75-room “pile,” constructed 1902-1906, occupied an entire block between West End Avenue and the Riverside Drive, Seventy-third and Seventy-fourth streets.

Aerial View of Charles M. Schwab Mansion
Charles Schwab’s “great gray pile…”
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…replaced by the Schwab House apartments in 1948. (Top image, nyc-architectute.com / Bottom, street easy.com)

Schwab made his fortune in steel, and was the first president of the U.S. Steel Corporation (He was not related to Charles R. Schwab, founder of the Charles Schwab Corporation, but was the grandfather of Charles R. Schwab the discount broker). After Schwab died in 1939, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia turned down a proposal to make the mansion the official mayoral residence, considering it too grandiose. It was torn down in 1948 and replaced by the Schwab House, an 18-story apartment building.

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The Astor Ballroom could hold 1,200 people. (thegildedageera.blogspot)

“Talk” also reported that one of old society’s grand gathering places, the Astor mansion at 840 Fifth Avenue, was being made available for various charity events that charged ten dollars for a peek at the Astor ballroom, although it was reported most of the visitors were more interested in the dining room than “in the scene of so many brilliant cotillions, of Ward McAllister’s arrogance toward dowagers and of Mrs. William Astor’s imperial rule of a society arbitrarily exclusive.”

The death of famed portrait painter John Singer Sargent was noted in both the “Talk” and “Art” sections, while a feature titled “The New Conquistadors” poked fun at the Babbitt-like promoters of the Florida real-estate boom:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

“Profiles” noted the passing of Sam Drebin, referred to as the “Fighting Jew.” Written by screenwriter William Slavens McNutt, the piece noted the pat irony of Drebin’s death—that a man who braved untold hazards and fought with more than a dozen armies should die “in the stuffy quiet of a doctor’s office when an assistant gave him medicine from the wrong bottle.”

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A Charles Baskerville drawing of Johnny Hudgins (New Yorker Digital Archive)

For all the sophistication of the early New Yorker magazine, attitudes toward various racial groups, especially blacks, was sadly in concert with the times. The section “When Nights Are Bold” mentions a minstrel performance at the Club Alabam by Johnny Hudgins, noting that the entertainer is “as funny as ever, but the rest of the outfit automatically catalogues itself under ‘fast moving brown skin.’ If you are interested in gold teeth, you’ll find some dressy sets there.”

Hudgins was both a vaudeville performer and part of the Harlem Renaissance. He developed blackface pantomime routines with a jazz trumpet soloist who played vocal-sounding “wah-wah” effects with a plunger mute while Hudgins mouthed the words and performed a comic dance. Fans called him “The Wah-Wah Man.” The French hailed him as the “colored Charlie Chaplin” when he performed in the Parisian Revue Negre that also featured Josephine Baker. Hudgins died in 1990 at age 94.

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Johnny Hudgins and Florence Mills Rehearsing on the Pavilion Theatre Roof in 1926 (elvirabarney.wordpress.com)

African-Americans, however, were not the only ethnic group to singled out for stereotypical depictions, as this title art from the recurring poetry feature “Lyrics from the Pekinese” suggests:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

From the very first issues The New Yorker kept an eye on the city’s dramatically changing skyline as old landmarks fell and skyscrapers soared. R. W. Sexton was the magazine’s early architecture critic (to be followed by notables included Lewis Mumford and Paul Goldberger).

In the section “The Sky-Line,” Sexton wrote about the planned demolition of Madison Square Garden (it was the second facility to bear the name; today’s MSG is the fourth) and how critics, including foreign visitors, often taunted New Yorkers about their “rabid commercialism.”

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Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden. (http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)
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(Left, Museum of the City of New York; right, Wikipedia)

Sexton wrote that the criticism is deserved to an extent, but noted that a structure can only be fine from an architectural standpoint if its value is both artistic and practical.

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Shelton Hotel at 49th and Lexington, which opened in 1924. (New York Times)

Such an attitude would see the erasure of many landmarks, and in some cases whole neighborhoods when Robert Moses entered the picture.

It was also the attitude that led to the destruction in 1963 of one of the world’s architectural wonders—Penn Station—an act that finally prompted New Yorkers to push for preservation laws.

Sexton suggested that “the finest building in New York” was the Shelton Hotel, a building “designed for modern New York, and looks neither to Italy nor to France for it inspiration and example.”

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Hood’s Radiator Building (Copyright friendsofsdarch)

He said the same applied to Raymond Hood’s American Radiator building (opened in 1924). When the Gothic style is employed, Shelton suggested that Bush building on 42nd Street is the finest adaption of the style to a skyscraper.

Shelton concludes that the “set-back laws” for buildings (which prevented tall buildings from blocking all of the light from the street) actually helped to further develop a unique architectural style for the city.

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Bush Building (Real Estate Weekly)

Still standing at 130-132 West 42nd Street, the Bush building, designed by architect Harvey Wiley Corbett and constructed from 1916-18, was notable for its role in the evolution of Times Square and of New York skyscrapers after the 1916 Zoning Resolution.

Advertising was picking up a bit, as we see on the final page of the issue.

It will be a while until we see beer and liquor ads. However, the spate of sparkling water ads in the early, prohibition-era issues suggests that readers were not being encouraged to drink more water, but rather to use it as a mixer for bathtub gin or whatever they could get their hands on in those so called dry years.

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

The Banqueting Wars

“The Talk of the Town” opened with musings on the “banqueting” ritual practiced by various celebrities in Manhattan, in this case the silent film stars Gloria Swanson, Pola Negri, and Tom Mix.

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April 25, 1925 cover by Ilonka Karasz (New Yorker Digital Archive)

The magazine noted that “Banquets are given upon a star’s departure and upon return, and each succeeding one must be bigger and better than ever.” Even the star of silent Westerns, Tom Mix, had a dinner in his honor when he visited the city with his fourth wife, Victoria Forde. “Talk” made this observation:

True, this cowpuncher, who sets fashion by wearing wine-colored evening clothes and with overcoats rimmed with brown leather for morning wear, did not elect to outdo Pola Negri. His was a modest affair held in the Hotel Astor, at which, however, Mrs. Mix was able to display the discomforts of being wealthy by having such an armful of glistening bracelets as made necessary treatment by a masseuse of muscles lamed by bearing such weight of jewels.

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Tom Mix and Victoria Forde (listal.com)
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Pola Negri

In Pola Negri’s case, a bon voyage banquet was given at the Ritz-Carlton (she was headed to Europe) and among the guests were the familiar faces of writer Michael Arlen and movie producer Jesse Lasky, who announced that Arlen would be writing “special stories” to be used as screen vehicles for Negri.

As for Gloria Swanson (returned from France, more on that below) she was “in the happy position of having a contract for one more year with the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, whose officials are greatly concerned lest Cecil B. DeMille wean from them their popular actress.” To ensure Swanson’s happiness, Lasky and Adolph Zukor hosted a banquet and dance in her honor at Park Lane. It was reported that Swanson “was signally honored” when she entered the room to greet her 300 guests:

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Gloria Swanson (United Artists)

The lights were turned off as she took her seat; a spotlight was thrown on her shingled head, and the orchestra struck up her new national anthem, “La Marseillaise”…Girls in Marie Antoinette costumes wended their way among the tables, passing around Napoleonic paper hats, singularly appropriate for the gentlemen who wore them.

“Talk” also offered the latest observations from the magazine’s “Prohibition Authority” regarding the Coast Guard’s inability to stem the flow of Scotch whisky into the city: “Human nature is frail and large operators can afford to offer rewards far above Government pay, all for a little blindness.” Despite a Coast Guard effort to stop smugglers, Scotch remained “plentiful and reasonably priced.”

April 8, 1925 NYT
April 8, 1925, New York Times

Other “Talk” items of note: “King” Babe Ruth, after eating his “fourth breakfast porterhouse and a rough train ride,” fell ill in Asheville, N.C. (he was taken to the hotel on a stretcher, clad in pink pajamas he insisted on wearing)…The Bronxville Golf Club “decided to go stag,” and bar women from membership…Noting that New Yorkers treat their city’s landmarks with amazing indifference, it was announced that the Brevoort Mansion was to be torn down. It was described as “a huge brownstone pile, of stern aspect. It looks like a mausoleum.”

When Henry Breevort Jr. built the mansion at Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street in 1834, it marked the beginning of the transformation of Fifth Avenue from a rutted road into the destination for old and new money alike. According to the excellent blog No Place For Normal: New York, in the 1860s Fifth Avenue’s growing renown as the “axis of elegance” was enhanced by the opening of Central Park in 1859 and by fortunes fattened by Civil War contracts.

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Cornelius Vanderbilt II House on “Millionaires Row” (nyc-architecture.com)

Then during the last several decades of the 19th century, known as the “Gilded Age,” brownstone mansions like Breevort’s were supplanted by ornate French chateau-style mansions, and “a flocking of Old and New Money alike to the Upper Avenue,” which came to be known as “Millionaires Row” (and famously known for the social wars between the Astors and Vanderbilts among others).

The early 20th century saw Fifth Avenue transformed from a place of elegant mansions to a place of elegant hotels and stores. The first years of The New Yorker would witness this transformation as one mansion after another fell to the commercial interests of the booming 1920s.

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“Profile” illustration

“Profile” examined the life of Samuel Goldwyn, “The Celluloid Prince,” whose rule of life was that “in order to live, is not to let live…(this) means outstripping the other fellow by any means possible that does not land one in jail.” His rise from a glove maker to fame and fortune began around 1915 after he “saw a picture show and saw himself a millionaire simultaneously. He took his vision to Jesse Lasky, his brother-in-law, who was a vaudeville man at the time.” In ten years time “a man without background, without education…by sheer urge of some divine spark within him, he was able to build up that colossal enterprise at Culver City.”

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Adele and Fred Astaire in Lady Be Good (nickelinthemachine)

Listings in the “Goings On” section (subtitled The New Yorker’s conscientious calendar of events worth while) included George Gershwin’s Lady Be Good at the Liberty Theatre, with the brother-sister dancing team Fred and Adele Astaire. Movies playing included Grass at the Criterion (“Remarkable film panorama of a primitive Persian tribe on its migration in search of food”).

And in continuing Gloria Swanson news, it was noted that Swanson was appearing in a new moving picture, Madame Sans-Gêne, playing the role of  “the Napoleonic lady of historical romance. Color—and real Parisian backgrounds.”

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Swanson and Émile Drain (as Napoleon) in Madame Sans-Gêne (1925)

According to the site A Lost Film, Swanson took the role to “get away from Hollywood’s frivolous roles in which she felt her talent was under-used and she was little else than a clothes horse.” The lavish production, filmed at various French locations including Fontainebleau and Compiègne, was said to be Swanson’s favorite film. Although the film was released in both the U.S. and France, it is now lost, save for a snippet from the film’s trailer.

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

“Sports” offered this observation about the pantomime routine of Altrock and Schacht at a baseball game between Washington and New York (see clip at right).

Al Schacht’s ability to mimic other players from the coaching lines, and his comedy routines with fellow Washington coach Nick Altrock, earned him the nickname of “The Clown Prince of Baseball.”

If only the writer knew the extent to which his absurd suggestions would one day come true (and then some) in today’s jumbotron-dominated ballparks.

Ruth, as we know, did not play. By the Babe’s standards, it would prove to be a bad year for him, appearing in fewer than 100 games and batting .290. Somehow, though, this overweight wreck of a man still managed to score 25 home runs that year.

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Al Schacht and Nick Altrock in 1925 (Library of Congress)

 

The Gentleman Bandit

The plight of “The Gentleman Bandit” Gerald Chapman was recounted in the April 18 “Talk of the Town,” pitting the sensibilities of urbane New Yorkers against Connecticut Yankee morality.

The New Yorker noted that many of Gotham’s citizens were sympathetic to Chapman, who during the previous year had murdered a police officer during a crime spree in Connecticut.

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April 18, 1925 cover by H.O. Hofman (New Yorker Digital Archive)

The magazine suggested that Chapman—who grew up on the Lower East Side and had a long history of bootlegging and other crimes—had been sentenced to death by a Connecticut judge and jury because they hated all things associated with New York City:

You do not have to go so far as Dubuque to find a definite hatred of New York and things from New York. In Connecticut there is a very lively detestation of the loud and happy neighbor down the Sound. People from New York, to mention only one Connecticut grievance, rush through the tidy little Yankee State in week-end automobile parties, which break the Sabbath and the speed laws. This breeds no great affection.

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“The Gentleman Bandit” Gerald Chapman (Hartford Courant)

Chapman was America’s first “celebrity gangster,” and the first to be dubbed “Public Enemy Number One” by the press. He was executed by hanging a year later, on April 6, 1926. A full account of Chapman’s life can be found here.

The magazine continued its habit of William Randolph Hearst-watching, noting that the famed publisher seemed headed for retirement at his San Simeon estate in California:

Mr. Hearst retires to San Simeon and its vast acres, with only the expense accounts of his editors whom he sends for to worry about. He is not a young man,–he is sixty-two,–and he feels that his time to play has arrived…

In other news, invitations to the new Embassy Club (695 Fifth Avenue) of New York were being extended “to a selected list of persons; that is to say, to most persons owning town residences not situated in Brownsville or the Bronx.” It was further observed “when the Embassy Club opens formally, it is believed that Mr. Michael Arlen (subject of my post “The Ordeal of Michael Arlen”) will be invited to attend, if he survives Hollywood.”

Note: The Embassy Club location is now more or less occupied by Bottega Veneta. It’s hard to tell with all of the changes to the facades on the streetscape. It is, however just around the corner from the St. Regis Hotel, which became home to the King Cole Bar and its famous Mayfield Parrish mural in 1932 (See my blog on “A Dry Manhattan” for more about the mural).

The “Profile” featured Alfred Stieglitz, noting the famed photographer’s “ruthless self-direction” in his pursuit of the truth. “His life is a dynamic gesture, as of Life itself, trying to find out what Life is.”

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

This issue features The New Yorker’s first automobile ad, from the bygone Pierce Arrow automobile company. Pierce Arrow would be a frequent early advertiser, soon to be joined by other car manufacturers in the magazine’s pages. But not just yet. As I’ve noted before, advertising (and editorial content) in these first issues is scant, and so it is no surprise that the magazine is barely limping along during these precarious months.

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

Many of the advertisements are more of this variety…

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

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And then we have this gem on the inside back cover. Perhaps the only time a church will ever advertise in The New Yorker. Then again, we shall see…

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)