The Vicious Circle

Screenshot 2015-05-08 15.49.29
June 27, 1925, cover by Julian de Miskey (New Yorker digital archive)

With a lull in the news from the Scopes Trial, the June 27, 1925 is another hodgepodge of seemingly random bits. Perhaps this is a good time to look at  some of the magazine’s early artists, editors and writers.

The masthead of the very first issue listed these founding Advisory Editors: Ralph Barton, Marc Connelly, Rea Irvin, George S. Kaufman, Alice Doerr Miller, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott. Not listed was founding editor Harold Ross.

The list remained the same for the June 27 issue, minus Ralph Barton. His story is rather sad.

In his day, Barton was well known for his celebrity caricatures, the most famous being his group drawings. He was also a regular early contributor to The New Yorker of brief theater reviews that were accompanied by a large illustration:

Screenshot 2015-05-11 10.47.29
(New Yorker digital archive)

Despite his short stint as a New Yorker advisory editor, the Kansas City native contributed often to the magazine during its first years. Barton also contributed drawings to such publications as Collier’s, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar.

180px-Ralph_Barton_1926
Ralph Barton in 1926 (Wikipedia)

Although his work earned him an impressive income, Barton was a manic-depressive with four failed marriages. In May 1931 he shot himself through the right temple in his East Midtown penthouse. He was only 39.

According to Wikipedia, Barton wrote in a suicide note that he had irrevocably “lost the only woman I ever loved” (the actress Carlotta Monterey, who divorced Barton in 1926 and married playwright Eugene O’Neill in 1929), and that he feared his worsening manic-depression was approaching insanity.

Portrait_of_Eugene_O'Neill_and_Carlotta_Monterey_O'Neill
Carl Van Vechten photograph of Carlotta Monterey and Eugene O’Neill, 1933 (Library of Congress)

Following his death, Barton’s artistic reputation quickly dropped from sight, due not only to his demise but also to the waning of the Jazz Age subjects he drew with such verve:

RalphBartonExtract
A 1921 Vanity Fair Hollywood caricature by Ralph Barton. (Wikipedia)

A 1928 letter from Harold Ross to Barton (posted on The American Reader website) seems to be an attempt by Ross to cheer up the artist:

Wednesday 27 June 1928

Dear Ralph,

I was on the brink of writing you when your letter came—this morning—telling me about your latest predicament. I knew, of course, that you had reached some conclusion as this. You are a creative soul and therefore a restless soul; therefore, a damn fool. I would leave this to any fair-minded banker. I wish I were a banker. I also wish I were Henry Ford or anybody who can accept the church, the government, conventions, and all those things.

I also had house trouble. I am thinking of burning the damn thing down. The insurance would net a tidy bit of cash and would enable me to get a room somewhere and fit up what I really ought to have. I am not competent to manage more space than this. I would be if I were a fairy. Fairies are the happiest people there are. All editors ought to be fairies. I fuss around with commas, semi-colons, dictionaries, and wordings, and it drives me crazy. I am too virile. I ought to be building subways. I was thinking of going to the North Pole with the Byrd expedition but that would take a year or two and I can spare, at most, only two months. It probably would be a bore anyhow. All life is a bore if you think at all…

As ever,

Ross

Others listed on The New Yorker masthead were associated with legendary Algonquin Round Table, including the playwrights Marc Connelly and George S. Kaufman and writers Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott–all charter members. The writer Alice Duer Miller was also an occasional guest of this “Vicious Circle,” as they called themselves. From roughly 1919 to 1929, they met every day for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel.

Algonquin_Hotel_in_Murray_Hill
The Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street (towntopics.com)

Other regular Round Table members included Harold Ross, Franklin Pierce Adams, (best known for his newspaper column, “The Conning Tower”), New Yorker humorist Robert Benchley, husband-wife writers Heywood Broun and Ruth Hale, broadway producer Brock Pemberton, playwright Robert Sherwood and broadway publicist John Peter Toohey.

Those who moved in and out of the circle included feminist writer Jane Grant (who with her first husband Harold Ross co-founded The New Yorker), vaudeville comedian and later film star Harpo Marx, actresses Peggy Wood, Tallulah Bankhead, Lynn Fontanne and Margolo Gillmore, actor and director Alfred Lunt, playwrights Edna Ferber and David Ogden Stewart, humorist Frank Sullivan, writers Margaret Leech and Frank Crowninshield, illustrator Neysa McMein, playwright Beatrice Kaufman (George’s wife) and composer Deems Taylor.

It is important to make note of these various players in the “Vicious Circle,” since they figure prominently both as contributors and subjects in the early issues of The New Yorker.

table
Famed Al Hirschfeld illustration from 1962 of the Algonquin Round Table includes (counterclockwise, from far left) Dorothy Parker, Robert Sherwood, George S. Kaufman, Edna Ferber, Franklin P. Adams, Marc Connelly, Heywood Broun, Alexander Woollcott, and Robert Benchley. Rounding out the back row are, from left, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Frank Crowninshield and hotel manager Frank Case. (Al Hirschfeld Foundation)

A prominent name on The New Yorker’s masthead absent from the Round Table is graphic artist Rea Irvin, creator of the magazine’s distinctive look and its mascot, Eustace Tilley.

Original_New_Yorker_cover
Rea Irvin’s Eustace Tilley on Issue #1 (New Yorker Digital Archive)

Irvin signed on as an advisory editor with the assumption that the magazine would fold after a few issues. Little did he realize that his illustrations, department headings, caricatures, and cartoons would grace the pages of The New Yorker for many years; that he would go on to illustrate 169 covers between 1925 and 1958; and that his distinctive typeface and mascot would continue to serve the magazine to this very day (Irvin died in 1972 at age 90).

Not to give the June 27 issue short shrift, “The Talk of the Town” reported Roald Amundsen had returned from his North Pole flight; “Profiles” looked at the life of theatrical producer Morris Gest; and “Books” offered a brief and somewhat mixed review of D.H. Lawrence’s new book, St. Mawr.

nazimova-nerman-caricature
In The New Yorker’s “Critique” section, a terrific caricature of Russian-American actress Alla Nazimova, by Swedish artist Einar Nerman (New Yorker Digital Archive)

In “The Theatre,” W.C. Fields continued to impress in his performances with the Ziegfeld Follies. The New Yorker noted that Fields was becoming a “talking comedian” comparatively late in life, and that after 26 years “as a straight and comic juggler,” he has become “ever so many people’s favorite comedian.” Under “Moving Pictures” it was also observed that D. W. Griffith’s Sally of the Sawdust was going to “put W.C. Fields across as a big screen comedian. Wait and see!”

image
Sideshow “Professor” Eustace McGargle (W.C. Fields) and his ward, Sally (Carole Dempster, who was director D.W. Griffith’s real-life lover and protégée) are circus carnies in Sally of the Sawdust (1925). The movie was based on Fields’ stage hit Poppy, and featured stage legend Alfred Lunt in a rare film role. (Film Forum)

The June 27 issue offered yet another full page cartoon, this time by Gardner Rea, taking aim at the droll antics of the moneyed classes:

Screenshot 2015-05-11 10.46.19
(New Yorker Digital Archive)

And finally, we are shown the answer to the mystery drawing by Covarrubias–ahem–an advertisement for a photography studio:

Screenshot 2015-05-11 10.58.43
(New Yorker Digital Archive)

 

The Ordeal of Michael Arlen

The March 28 “Talk of the Town” ponders “what sort of paces a visiting literary lion may be expected to put through.”

The “literary lion” in question was writer Michael Arlen, who was planning his escape from New York  by reserving a cabin on the Olympic for its April 18 sailing: “It is expected that very few of his writing compatriots in London will venture America-wards after he reports on the ritual to which he was subjected.” The “ritual,” it seems, was Arlen’s constant exposure to various literary hangers-on and assorted socialites.

image
March 28, 1925 cover by Ray Rohn (New Yorker Digital Archive)

Arlen’s real name was Dikran Kouyoumdjian, an Armenian writer transplanted to England who was most famous for his satirical romances set in English smart society. He also wrote psychological thrillers, including The Gentleman from America, filmed in 1956 (the year Arlen died) as a television episode for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was well known in New York and London society, a dandy who resembled many of the characters he portrayed in his novels.

RV-AA996_ARLEN_DV_20101210165837
Arlen in 1925 (Wall Street Journal)

Returning to the “ritual,” Arlen received “the reasonably constant chaperonage, at tea time, of John Farrar” (editor of the literary magazine The Bookman) who took it upon himself to add Arlen’s publishing interests to his duties (Farrar would go on to found the publishing house of Farrar & Rinehart, and later Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

“Talk” also noted that Arlen was “admitted into the game known as meeting Miss Elsie de Wolfe.”

A bit more about Miss de Wolfe: In the September 14, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, Dana Goodyear observed that “Interior design as a profession was invented by Elsie de Wolfe.” A prominent figure in New York, Paris, and London society, de Wolfe was also an American stage actress and author of the bestselling 1913 book, The House in Good Taste.

elsie-de-wolfe-1925-20th-century-interior-designer-innovative-female-interior-designer-pioneer-women-interior-designers-style-blog-interiors-blog-alison-cosier-www.greychic-grey-chic
Elsie de Wolfe in 1925 (Architectural Digest)

During Arlen’s first two weeks in America, de Wolfe arranged no less than three formal gatherings, each with the purpose of introducing the author to herself. “Talk” also reported that Arlen was invited to a costume party given by Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, for which Paramount Studios producer Jesse Lasky “gracefully supplied (Arlen) with a gypsy costume.” It was noted that Lasky was there to arrange some movie work with Arlen to occur later in the fall, when the author would return to New York to attend the opening of the Broadway play The Green Hat, based on the 1924 book that made him famous.

image
Pola Negri in the 1920s (doctor macro.com)

Arlen was then to depart for Hollywood to “adjust his ideas into adequate scenario form for Miss Pola Negri.” Negri was a Polish stage and screen star world famous for her roles as a femme fatale. Her personal life often made headlines in the gossip magazines of the day, fueled by a series of love affairs that included Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino. Negri would not land the female lead for The Green Hat; it would eventually go to Greta Garbo in a 1928 film titled A Woman of Affairs.

5230312_orig
Greta Garbo and  John Gilbert in A Woman of Affairs (1928), a silent film based on The Green Hat. (ggarbo.weebly.com)

“Talk” reported that “ Mr. Arlen, early in his American visit learned a piece of social usage that has stood him in good stead. This has involved, upon introduction to any stranger, his saying rapidly “Didn’t I meet you at tea?” whereupon the gratified stranger murmurs yes and has become a friend for life. This stratagem is said to have suggested itself to Mr. Arlen when he noticed that the average number of guests at teas in his honor was around two hundred.” The columnist noted that “that this business of becoming a friend for life” was a bit of literary exaggeration, and in reality the magazine:

has seldom seen such atrocious behavior and lack of fundamental good manners as has characterized a large proportion of the people who have been brought forward to met Mr. Arlen. Seemingly ignoring the fact that there was no law compelling their attendance at a function in Mr. Arlen’s honor, ever so many persons have come to his parties with an axe rather awkwardly concealed behind them.

image
John McGraw (howstuffworks)

The “Profile” in issue featured John McGraw and proclaimed that he “is baseball…the incarnation of the national sport.” The piece was titled “Mr. Muggsy,” a nickname reportedly detested by McGraw because, as the magazine observed, “it is so perfectly descriptive.”

At the time of the writing, McGraw was manager and part-owner of the New York (baseball) Giants. He still holds the record for the most wins of a manager in the National League.

The issue also featured a humorous column by Frank Sullivan, which took aim at the complexity (and likely graft) of taxicab fares. The caption reads: The Taxicab System is Simple to Any Man with a Master’s Degree.

image

The April 4 Issue, the “gypsy-themed party” continues…

image
April 4, 1925, cover by Ilonka Karasz (New Yorker Digital Archive)

The following week’s issue of “The Talk of Town” (April 4) offered more details regarding the “gypsy-themed costume party” given by Mrs. William Randolph Hearst at the Hotel Ritz-Carlton and attended by Michael Arlen.

The party was in honor of Ambassador Alexander Pollock Moore’s departure to his Spanish post (he left the post later that year and served as ambassador to Peru in 1928-29. He died at age 63 in 1930).

The item noted that the widower Moore (his wife, famed stage actress Lillian Russell, died in 1922) during an earlier Condé Nast event for the “theatrical and literary world,” never rose from his chair without scattering to the winds a dozen or more ingénues who had been draping themselves around him…”

Screenshot 2015-03-24 09.05.56
The tented ceiling and glittering chandeliers of the Ritz-Carlton’s Crystal Room. The hotel at 46th and Madison opened in 1911 and was torn down just 40 years later, in 1951.

“Talk” shared accounts from the New York American and the New York Mirror that described the Ritz’s famous Crystal Room as decorated to resemble a “gypsy camp,” complete with organ grinder and monkey wandering through the crowd.

image
A much thinner W.C. Fields of the vaudeville circuit, here in a still from the movie Sally of the Sawdust (1925) (Film Forum)

Entertainment at the event featured a cabaret with vaudevillian W.C. Fields, who apparently “gazed at his distinguished audience and allowed his thoughts to play with the wealth of juggleable material that confronted him.”

Finally, “Of All Things” noted that “The Turks are said to be mobilizing a hundred thousand men in an effort to affect the Mosul boundary decision but, despite this display of force, we have every confidence that right and justice and Christian civilization will prevail and the British will get their oil.”

The League of Nations awarded Mosul to Iraq, and to the British a 25-year mandate over Iraq (at this writing Mosul is firmly under the control of the Islamic State).

“Books” looked at Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil and suggested that it is not “A-One Maugham.” It also mentioned the New Yorker’s own Alexander Woollcott and his The Story of Irving Berlin, described as “uncommonly pleasant reading.”