Thursday, March 19, 2020

The New Yorker April 17, 1926

The New Yorker from April 1926
This cover of the New Yorker from April 1926 does not look like it was created in 1926. I might have believed 1966 but even more 1996 or 2016. It's not only the clean lines and the appearance of the woman drinking with a straw, it's that bright pink, which seems so contemporary, rather than from a decade before my mother was born.

When this cover was printed, few people knew who Hitler was, and nobody knew what atomic bombs or TV or penicillin were, let alone laptop computers and blogging and Wikipedia.

The artist is Clayton Knight, who had a busy life - he was a WWI aviator before he became an artist.
Then he created the Clayton Knight Committee to prepare to fight the Axis while the US was still neutral in the beginning of WWII. So it wasn't only his illustration work that was forward-looking.

In spite of its cover, the inside of the issue is believably from 1926. It features a profile of F. Scott Fitzgerald and family which, although "The Great Gatsby" had been published a year before, does not mention the book once, while it mentions "This Side of Paradise" several times. This must have been the last time Fitzgerald was profiled without Gatsby being mentioned.

The author of the New Yorker piece keeps raving about how attractive Fitzgerald is, but I don't see it. Certainly his center-parted 1920s hair style did him no favors.

The rest of the issue is very much from 94 years ago, with reviews of silent movies and inexplicable humor. I've written about the New Yorker magazine many times on this blog, and back in 2010 I wrote about incomprehensible examples of humor of the time. Unfortunately the cartoons are no longer visible in the blog post, I deleted the original image files without thinking.

I found another example of comedic bafflement in this April 1926 issue. The caption reads:
"Tripe? Oh, I'm mad about trip!" "Me too. I always say I'd do almost anything for a bit o'tripe."
 It's by an artist named Peter Arno who was an important contributor to the New Yorker's early tone. This cartoon is apparently the first appearance of what became "The Whoops Sisters" described in a Vanity Fair article about Arno:
The Whoops Sisters are two middle-aged foulmouths, later named Pansy Smiff and Abagail Flusser, who spout double entendres (“Whoops, I lost me muff!”) as they stumble about tipsy in New York, with their bloomers visible to appalled young men. In a 1927 appearance, the sisters gleefully toboggan through a cemetery, shouting, “Whoops! Mind the tombstone!”
Dorothy Parker was an enthusiastic fan of the Whoops Sisters, which her disapproving friend Edmund Wilson saw as an example of her “cruel and disgusting” sense of humor. But Parker had lots of company, including Benchley and Fitzgerald. Arno didn’t offer Prohibition tut-tutting about their drinking. He celebrated their rudeness. “These, even more than the introduction of the one-line joke, were the red, red revolutionists of the joke world,” Benchley wrote of them, finding the ladies “sinister” and “macabre,” and that, with their arrival, “fifty years of picturized joking in this country toppled over with a crash.”

So the remark about tripe is an example of their rudeness or it's a double entendre? I guess? Does "lost me muff" really count as a double entendre?

I noticed the cartoon because the rest of that issue, and every other issue of the New Yorker in the 1920s is crawling with flappers, and the Whoops sisters are wearing long frilly old-fashioned skirts. Which I guess makes sense, they're supposed to be middle-aged and flappers were young things.

French culture was a symbol of all things fancy in 1926, too, and another thing that jumped out at me in this issue was the conversation between a married couple in an ad for a shaving cream called Latherite.

The wife suggests the husband try her shaving cream and he says "Egad, has the day come when my spouse shall even prescribe my shaving cream for me?"

To which she responds in French, sans translation: "Ce n'est pas la pomme seulement, mon ange, qu'Eve peut offrir à son mari aujourd'hui!"

Which I am proud to say I was able to translate without cheating as "It is  not only the apple, my angel, that Eve can offer to her husband today."

Although why did she suddenly bust into French? Apparently that's what readers of The New Yorker would want. Below the conversation it says "Latherite will appeal especially to readers of The New Yorker because it's so refreshingly different. It contains lanolin, menthol...

Lanolin and menthol are standard ingredients in shaving cream now but maybe Latherite was a pioneer and at the time lanolin and menthol were refreshingly different. Just like throwing untranslated French into your advertisement I guess.

But I don't get the comparison of suggesting your husband try Latherite with Eve offering Adam the apple. Were lanolin and menthol subversive in 1926?