Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Look at the New Yorker's Second Issue

THE NEW YORKER will be the magazine which is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque. It will not be concerned in what she is thinking about. This is not meant in disrespect, but THE NEW YORKER is a magazine avowedly published for a metropolitan audience and thereby will escape an influence which hampers most national publications. It expects a considerable national circulation, but this will come from persons who have a metropolitan interest.
-H. W. Ross, Editor

Despite implications of the catch-line of a certain new magazine most of the old ladies in Dubuque are keenly interested in things that are supposed to interest only New Yorkers.
"The Talk of the Town"
The New Yorker, February 28, 1925

Is there some backpedalling going on here? We're up to only the second issue of his new magazine, and already it seems Harold Ross knew he was in hot water regarding his famous comment about the old lady in Dubuque. When writing his mission statement, it would have been more appropriate  to define for whom the magazine was intended rather than for whom it was not. It can't ever have been a good idea to put people down solely because of where they make a life for themselves. Ross was an experienced journalist. He should have known his careless words would fly all across the country.

It's hard to imagine a time when a cover illustration for the New Yorker carried no expectations of what it should or should not be. Rea Irvin's monocled dandy from the first issue introduced the literary gent who presides over the masthead, but what next? The distinctive logo written in what we now call the Irvin font was of course continued.

Alfred Frueh, who drew the first two cartoons in the February 21 issue, created here what looks like another cartoon for the February 28 cover. That is to say, it really doesn't look much like a magazine cover illustration, even without being clear on what a NewYorker cover should look like. It is primarily a simple black and white cartoon with a flat color background added in the printing process along with some gray and flesh tones. Two portly police officers share a tiny motor scooter. That's about it. It's more lighthearted than the first cover, no doubt, and less quirky, but it's also less memorable. It isn't specific to the season or even to the City. It was to be Frueh's only New Yorker cover illustration.

Alfred Frueh, The New Yorker, February 28, 1925

The first week's issue used Irvin's heading in a section called "Of All Things," of all things. Now the illustration is happily paired with "The Talk of the Town" section where it clearly belongs. Much of this week's "Talk" is of "the old ladies in Dubuque" and particularly one supposed Aunt Evelyn in Dubuque. All right, let's see Ross talk himself out of this one!
"The Talk of the Town"

The breezy entry on Ciro's, above, carries a spread illustration by Reginald Marsh, his first appearance, but you don't see it until you turn the page.
Reginald Marsh, Clifton Webb and Mary Hay at Ciro's
There's a new section, "Behind the News," but it's hard to take it seriously when it lacks an illustrated section heading by Irvin.
"Behind the News"

What could be more delightful than a bit of light verse from the inimitable Dorothy Parker? Not much.
"Cassandra Drops Into Verse" by Dorothy Parker

"Of All Things" has given up its section illustration to "The Talk of the Town." These two facing pages show the young magazine trying to define its brand of humor even while denying it has one. "Above all we don't want to be taken as a humorous magazine. Being funny when you don't feel like it is like editing the Nation when you are feeling good." Right, almost.
"Of All Things."
The Good Bad Showman by Miguel Covarrubias. The drawing is in reference to "A Good Bad Woman," one of the plays singled out by the New York World for censure.

Apparently "The Story of Manhattankind" was conceived as a regular feature. Here it carries an energetic initial illustration.
"The Story of Manhattankind"
 The magazine's second "Profile," again only two pages long, is of Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
"Profiles:  Princess Alice"

Here's a very nice little spot illustration. These original lampposts are long gone. Today modern reproductions can be seen in many historic areas of the City. Alas, no one has figured out how to bring back the flapper.
Spot Drawing
British cartoonist W. Heath Robinson makes his first New Yorker appearance. Known largely for his convoluted contraptions, he offers here an uncharacteristically simple modification of the dinner party.
W. Heath Robinson, The Glass of Fashion—A pleasant little fiction practiced
when only a few of the invited guests turn up for dinner

Ralph Barton's theatre cartoon just might be more entertaining than the David Belasco production it describes.

Five new plays in one week! Which would you see?

The New Yorker's lively writing hadn't quite reached the cartoons yet, which retain the popular style then in vogue.
Gardner Rea, "Genuine Queen Anne, sir.  Note the leg."
"Ah, yes--but I never really knew the Queen, you know."

"The Optimist"
"The Optimist"
Image added April 16, 2015

The "Music" and "Art" pages faced each other.

The old lady from Dubuque gets another mention on the art page which is nevertheless rather interesting, more so today than in 1925. "The exhibit of Eugene Speicher's paintings at the Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries is one to be seen by all those interested in American artists." No thank you. It is a singular irony of taste that the New Yorker's illustrator of art world luminary Eugene Speicher, Miguel Covarrubias, is today more highly-regarded than his once-famous subject. Covarrubias's paintings fetch more in today's auction market as well. Much more.
Illustration of Eugene Speicher by Miguel Covarrubias

In this interlude, let's compare a couple of nudes at auction by Speicher and Covarrubias, shall we? Both were sold at Christie's New York eighty-seven years after the above page appeared in the New Yorker. Which piece do you prefer? Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.
Eugene Speicher, Seated Nude
$2,500 - Christies New York, August 2012

Miguel Covarrubias, Bather Holding Up Her Kemban, c. 1934
$590,500 - Christies New York, May 2012

 All right, back to the magazine. There is a new delightful Irvin illustration this week for the "Goings On" section.
"Goings On"

A capsule review of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Patience" from "Goings On:"

The subscription offer remains very clever. "THE NEW YORKER with this issue enters upon the second week of its existence. Plans for a Golden Jubilee Number have been cancelled, because of the unsettled situation in Europe." This stuff is comedy gold!
"Our Big Anniversary Number"

Really? There was punning in the New Yorker?

From the "In Our Midst" mock-social section. Huh?

Here's the last word from the issue. Now who could have written this one-liner? Dorothy Parker?

So here's a question I ask myself. It's 1925 and I have before me Harold Ross's prospectus and the first two issues of the New Yorker. Do I invest money with him? I have no knowledge, of course, of what the New Yorker is eventually to become. Ross has put out a spunky little magazine, but can it compete or is it doomed? On the plus side, the magazine has adopted a bright, fresh voice with a ready sense of humor. The writing is above average and sophisticated. With this second issue, artists Reginald Marsh and W. Heath Robinson have joined the fold. Dorothy Parker published some light verse. Clearly, Ross has made a serious commitment to bringing in some considerable talent.

On the downside, competition at the newsstand is fierce. Collier's is serializing the latest from H. G. Wells. The Saturday Evening Post regularly has covers by J. C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell that are immensely popular. Meanwhile, Life's covers by John Held, Jr. seem to capture the Zeitgeist with every issue. Sure, The New Yorker has Rea Irvin presiding over the art department, but his inaugural cover depicted a Regency butterfly fancier with a monocle, for crying out loud! The New Yorker is the dark horse in this race. The illustrations are interesting but the cartoons are not up to the level of the magazine's other humor. Maybe they should be dropped altogether, or at the very least completely rethought.

Will the New Yorker be able to generate newsstand sales or paid subscriptions outside of the New York metropolitan region? It seems doubtful. As an investor, I'm also very concerned about the lack of advertising. I'm even more concerned about Ross's temperament. He's already insulted the city of Dubuque before his first issue went to press and is likely to provoke further public relations disasters. To invest in the New Yorker, you would have to implicitly trust him. I'm not sure I can. I'm out. Besides, the stock market is a sure thing.

Note:  Too soon? Last week, I took a look at The New Yorker's first issue.


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