For all of TheNew Yorker’s attention to the Scopes Monkey Trial, the August 1, 1925 issue had little to say about the trial’s outcome.
The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes was decidedin the Criminal Court of Tennessee on July 21, 1925, with Scopes found guilty and fined $100 (equivalent to $1,345 in 2015), but the verdict was overturned on a technicality.
“The Talk of the Town” offered this brief observation under its weekly wrap-up column: “Mr. Scopes, found guilty, goes home to Paducah, Kentucky…”
And then this item toward the end of “Talk,” announcing the death of the Scopes Trial defense attorney (and one of the magazine’s favorite punching bags) William Jennings Bryan:
“The Graphic Section” offered this cynical twist on the trial’s outcome:
In a related item under “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker wrote, “Representative Upshaw of Georgia will introduce an anti-evolution bill in Congress. Upshaw is never happy unless the Ship of State is making twenty thou-shalt-nots an hour.”
Brubaker also quipped, “Tennessee is not the only State where there is arrested mental development, but it is the only one so far where it has been fined.”
Back to “The Talk of the Town,” the design for a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt was approved, to be erected as part of the east façade of the Museum of Natural History. It was noted that the design featured Ionic columns that Roosevelt “would have detested in favor of a “native expression of the arts…”
“Talk” continued: “One recalls that Colonel Roosevelt wrote the American Institute of Architects deprecating the use of the lions which doze at the entrance to the Public Library, and advocating the placing there of bisons instead…The memorial to the man who insisted thus on American art, rather than imitation of foreign models, is to be a severely classic as the facade of –let us say—the First National Bank of Dubuque, Iowa.”
“Profiles” featured Walter L. Clark, a “genius who made art into business.” The movie reviews included Theodore Shane’s fumings on prudishness of American censors (Will Hays in particular) especially when compared to more liberal European productions by directors such as Ernst Lubitsch:
In books, the magazine continued its admiration for the jottings of A.A. Milne:
As for night life, The New Yorker lamented (“When Nights Are Bold) that the rooftop garden at the Biltmore “was the only bower worthy of the name left in town where quiet or startling simplicity reigns”:
And speaking of society pursuits, Philip Pratt offered this parody on falconry, while Hans Stengel took aim at the starving artists:
And we end with a detail of summertime images (by Helen Hokinson) from the center spread of the August 1 issue:
Leading up to the famous Tennessee “Monkey Trial” of John Scopes, the June 13 issue of The New Yorker continued its jabs at William Jennings Bryan.
Bryan had agreed to serve as prosecutor in the case against Scopes, who was charged on May 5, 1925, with teaching evolution from a chapter in Civic Biology, a textbook by George William Hunter that among other things described the theory of evolution. For the record, Scopes, who was merely a substitute high school teacher, wasn’t even sure if he’d actually taught evolution in his class, but purposely incriminated himself so the trial would proceed with a defendant. Just in case New Yorker readers needed more evidence that Bryan was an ignorant rube, “Talk of the Town” led off with an item on WJB’s visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Bryan was also the subject of a “Profile” piece by Charles Willis Thompson, who wrote “the Commoner” is “an extensively misunderstood man.”
Thompson observed that Bryan “is variously regarded as a statesman, chump, shrewd politician, bigot, liberal, scholar, knight, orator, reformer, crank and crusader who has fetched up short of his goal because of a chevalier-like hesitancy to sacrifice principle for expediency.”
Here is the piece in its entirety:
The New Yorker was barely afloat as it entered its first summer, but that didn’t dampen its wit as it fished for new subscribers through humorous full page ads regularly featured in the first issues.
The June 13 issue opened with one such ad that appears to be a parody of a Bernarr Macfadden health and fitness promotion (Macfadden was an influential predecessor to the likes of Charles Atlas and Jack Lalanne). The ad was accompanied by a strange drawing that appears to combine McFadden’s body with–for some reason–William Jennings Bryan’s head:
In addition to Mr. Bryan, “Talk of the Town” also offered these observations…Calvin Coolidge’s fondness for his battered felt hat…the modesty of the young golfing star Bobby Jones and his refusal to accept any money beyond barest expenses for an exhibition match at Harvard…an offer by the famed violinist Jascha Heifetz to deliver, upon his return trip from Paris, a Poiret-designed gown for opera singer Cobina Wright for her upcoming Bal Harbor engagement…and a minor money dispute between George Bernard Shaw and the Saturday Evening Post regarding the reprinting of a short story.
“Talk” also made hay about “Male Plumage” on display in the city, noting that the last time novelist Sherwood Anderson was in town (he is referred to as “the illustrious revealer of the Middle Western Subconscious”) he wore socks “of a particularly glowing brown bespread with diamond checks of an exceptionally vivid shade of green,” and he sported both brown and red feathers in his brown velour hat. It was noted, however, that this display was outdone by Rudolph Valentino, whose silk house pajamas (worn while receiving visitors at the Plaza in Paris) were of “the most vivid crimson ever accomplished.”
The New Yorker continued its assault on crooked cab drivers with this cartoon by Miguel Covarrubias:
“Of All Things” (written by Howard Brubaker) noted that “The Queen of Rumania and the King of Swat (Babe Ruth) are both writing for the World, but fortunately for us constant readers, low-born newspaper men are still on the job.” It was also noted that silent film idol Mary Pickford “has fallen among bad characters or good press agents.” I have no idea what this refers to. Pickford was married to film star Douglas Fairbanks at the time, and their Hollywood mansion Pickfair was the center of the celebrity universe. The couple played host to heads of state and other dignitaries as well as notables in literature, the arts, and science (Albert Einstein once paid a call).
German cinema regularly drew favorable reviews in The New Yorker, however Fritz Lang’s Siegfried was called long and arty, “possessing many fine intervals of real beauty…that usually wins the critical adjectives. The average audience will probably be a bit bored at Siegfried’s quest. Tom Mix does this sort of thing with much more verve and snap.”
And if you think the “Cinderella” story has been made and remade too many times, consider that in 1925 The New Yorker already found the theme wearing thin. A review of the The Desert Flower referred to the film as “just another variation of the Cinderella theme.” It told the story of a waif (Colleen Moore) in a railroad construction in camp who falls in love with the son of the railroad’s president. The reviewer wrote that “probably all of this will be popular. It always has been.”
Texas Guinan’s new club proved a be hit, as reported in the feature “When Nights Are Bold.” I last reported on Texas Guinan in my March 18, 2015 post, “A Dry Manhattan,” when prohibition officials put a padlock on her old haunt, the El Fey Club. As we see, things are looking up for the leading lady of New York nightlife:
I am guessing this an attempt to fill ad space and encourage readership. I guess we will find out soon enough:
The issue closes with a satirical piece that appears to poke fun at tenement life, or perhaps at the pretensions of art critics, or both. You be the judge:
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.”
“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.”
Another stand-alone, full-page illustration depicted Tennessee as a dark jungle:
“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).
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.
A “Profile” piece by Frank Waldo (aka “Searchlight”) in the May 23, 1925 issue took a look at the 36-year-old Charlie Chaplin and his “magical popularity,” recounting how he was nearly “devoured” by an adoring crowd in Paris (Chaplin was decorated by the French government in 1921 for his film work and made Officer of the Légion d’Honneur in 1952). Chaplin dismissed the attention as “nothing,” and was reported to spend much of his time off-screen brooding and in despair.
Waldo wrote that the “pity” of Chaplin is that “he does not understand the adoration he receives, and therefore has become a self-doubting, melancholy, haunted man…caught in a vast machine he has created and which he does not run…he has created for himself a mask (that) has satisfied the world, from China to Paris. It has failed in but a single way—a cruel one: for it has failed to satisfy its maker.”
Waldo wrote that Chaplin seeks his answer wistfully through women or through association with intellectuals, leaving him “as will-less as a Russian romantic, in the quicksands of Los Angeles: lost in a world of which he is the king, and which he does not love and which distrusts him, knowing him different from it.”
William Jennings Bryan, “The Great Commoner,” was a frequent target of the early New Yorker. “Talk of the Town” reported that he denied making a million dollars on a Florida land deal (“it was only five hundred thousand dollars, Mr. Bryan indignantly averred”).
Apparently Bryan, “the great statesman and religionist,” also controlled a choice site in Miami, toward which “a certain church cast longing glances.” The church pleaded poverty, but Bryan wouldn’t budge on the price. Instead, he said if the church bought the plot at said price and built on the site he would agree to preach eight sermons there, which, the “Talk” writer observed, “would unquestionably attract many casual worshippers, so swelling the collections.”
“Talk” also reported on the wedding of Mrs. David Meriwether Milton, nee Abby Rockefeller. Guests included New York Governor Alfred Smith and NYC Mayor John Hylan. The New Yorker also reported receiving a letter from writer Michael Arlen prior to his departure for England. Referring to a previous issue that pondered what impressions of America he would relate to England, he wrote “I shall say that I found America charming. And Oh, I have!” The New Yorker dryly observed that Arlen, before boarding his ship, “made an arrangement with one of our monthly periodicals; that is to say, The Cosmopolitan.” It was reported that this rival Hearst publication was paying Arlen the princely sum of $3,500 for each short story delivered. No doubt a pang of jealousy was felt at the fledgling New Yorker.
A feature by “Susan Simple, Spinster” titled “Husbands, An Appreciation,” described various types of husbands including those who are acrobatic, helpless, doggy (“so friendly and believing”) and those who have no time for their wives (“the Metered One”).
“Books noted the passing of Amy Lowell, and briefly reviews F. Scott Fitzgerald’s latest novel The Great Gatsby; the reviewer writes that the novel “revives our interest” in Fitzgerald, though the book is “not in a Byronic promise he probably never had. He still reveres and pities romantic constancy, but with detachment. Gatsby, its heroic victim, is otherwise a good deal of a nut…Parts are solidly good, all has to be read, The young man is not petering out.”
History would not be kind to Fitzgerald, who received similar mixed reviews from other publications. The book sold only 20,000 copies in its first year, and when the writer died in 1940, he believed himself to be a failure and his work forgotten. Little did he know that he had written what many still believe to be “The Great American Novel.”