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  • The Un-Solemn Irish Free State

    A new country was created in December 1921: the Irish Free State. This article asked whether it might become “the first demonstration of government with a sense of humor.” Instead, the country was almost immediately plunged into civil war.

    Whatever the Irish Free State does, it will not be the usual or conventional thing. A Government with imagination and a sense of humor, if such a thing can be conceived in a world in which Government is the last refuge of pomposity, invariable custom, and solemn twaddle, ought to be competent as well as infinitely diverting. Think of the gorgeous nonsense it could slough off, the paralyzing precedents, the ponderous pretenses.

    About that.

    The country earned its independence from the United Kingdom in December 1921, but within months — starting in June 1922 — the nascent country plunged into an internecine civil war between pro-independence and anti-independence forces. The pro-independence forces won, although the country only lasted until 1937, when the Irish Free State adopted a new constitution and became “Ireland” that we all know and love today.

    The Un-Solemn Irish Free State (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, December 25, 1921

  • “Jazz ‘er Up!”: Broadway’s Conquest of Europe

    Jazz, that uniquely American art form, was beginning to take Europe by storm in 1921.

    In Paris and a score of other European centres of gayety the words “fox-trot” and “one-step” have become so much a part of the local language that natives have to think twice to remember that the words were originally imported from America and are still members in good standing of the English language.

    The catch is, it wasn’t the same jazz songs that were taking America by storm simultaneously.

    There is a saying that Paris is the place where good Americans go when they die. Be that as it may as regards ourselves, it certainly applies to American jazz tunes when they die in America. It is quite a pleasurable sensation when one is walking along the street in Paris to hear suddenly, issuing from the lips of a light-hearted Parisian, an American tune which anybody around Forty-second Street and Broadway would have told you had died — after long and honorable service on some of the hottest sectors of the Broadway cabaret front — in the Autumn of 1917.

    In the modern era where any cultural phenomena can be consumed simultaneously in all parts of the globe, it’s hard to remember that things used to spread worldwide more slowly. This continued for decades to come — in December 1963, the Beatles received their first radio airplay when a Maryland teenager named Marsha Albert requested them, as the band’s music had spread slowly from Europe.

    “Jazz ‘er Up!” Broadway’s Conquest of Europe (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, December 18, 1921

  • The Year in Books

    This late-1921 article recapping the year in books predicted: “The average of fiction was but fair, and it is to be doubted if anything of lasting import appeared.” Well, now we know: nothing of lasting import appeared.

    Looking at the Publishers Weekly list of the 10 bestselling novels of 1921, as of this writing, only four of them even have Wikipedia articles. (And Wikipedia seemingly has an article about everything.) The most famous of the 10 today is unquestionably #4, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton — but that was actually published the year prior, in 1920.

    There were certainly novels of lasting fame published in other 1920s years: Ulysses in 1922, The Great Gatsby and The Trial and Mrs Dalloway in 1925, The Sun Also Rises in 1926, All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms and The Sound and the Fury in 1929.

    In 1921, though, not so much.

     

    The Year in Books (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, November 27, 1921

  • The Child, the Book and the Movie

    In 1921, as the nascent medium of film had recently soared in popularity, New York Times Magazine commissioned a debate: would movies decrease or increase children’s love of reading books?

    Alexander Black predicted it would increase, though his argument was in no small based on how movies of the time required considerable reading with title cards and written dialogue, as the first “talkie” The Jazz Singer wouldn’t debut until 1927:

    It may be significant that nine-tenths of the demonstrations in a movie audience are for the flashed words. The pictures may have prepared the way, but the words precipitate the emotion.

    The author William Heyliger took the opposing view:

    The movie is moving the boy away from good literature. He is getting his fictional entertainment in bald elementary action pictures. Once he develops the movie type of mind he will be lost to good books forever. The repose and repression, the atmosphere and background that are part of all good books, will bore him. His artistic perceptions and appreciations will become of the five-and-ten-cent-store kind, a counterfeit of the real thing.

    Curious that he should dwell on boys specifically in that prediction. Over the summer, I visited the Book Barn in Niantic, CT and noticed that only girls were in the young adult section. Why? My theory is that the boys’ entertainment has been completely overtaken by video games.

    Alas, Heyliger’s view largely seemed to win out, as this graphic from Pew Research Center (based on U.S. Department of Education data) demonstrates:

    The Child, the Book and the Movie (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, November 13, 1921

  • A regular season sports game as a NYT front page headline

    Ostensibly, the focus of this website is to highlight the most interesting articles from the New York Times Magazine 100 years ago to the week. But when going back to the November 6, 1921 issue, something on the front page caught my eye. And since I determined it was more interesting than anything from that issue’s actual magazine, I’m going to take a one-installment-only break from tradition to focus on that front page instead.

    The upper-left headline was about a sports game. Not the World Series. Not the Super Bowl, which wouldn’t even occur until 1967. Not the World Cup, which wouldn’t occur until 1930. Rather, it was a Princeton vs. Harvard college football game… and a regular season game, at that.

    Sure, the game had a bit of a narrative: Princeton avenging their 1911 loss, which was apparently a legendary game at the time, though it’s little remembered today. And the 50,000 attendance at the 1921 rematch was surely quite high for a college football game at the time. Today, though, the largest college football stadium by capacity is University of Michigan’s Michigan Stadium at 107,601.

    The Princeton football headline even appeared a bit higher than another seemingly-more-important headline: the Senate’s vote on a proposal to pay bonuses to World War I veterans, which was rejected by 28-38.

    The New York Times of today would never put a sports story as their upper-left headline. I’m having trouble locating it at the moment, but I seem to recall that the release of the official report determining that Lance Armstrong had indeed cheated during his Tour de France victories made the Times front page, though I believe in the bottom half (“below the fold”) if memory serves? But having a sports headline as essentially their top headline would just be unfathomable for the publication in the 21st century.

     

     

    Princeton Victor Over Harvard in Thrilling Struggle (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, November 6, 1921

  • A New Literary Broom

    This 1921 article predicted potentially great things for the new literary magazine Broom. Its final issue was published less than two and a half years later, in January 1924.

    There can be no doubt of the potentialities of Broom, the international magazine of the arts whose first issue, dated November, has just reached this side of the Atlantic Ocean from its headquarters [in Rome].

    The future of Broom will be watched with interest. Its first number sharpens the appetite for more of the same kind. Its editors have much to learn, but, at the same time, it must be admitted that there is much that they have learned.

    The title was chosen because the two co-founders wanted a one-syllable name. At 50 cents per copy or five dollars for a yearly subscription, the publication limped along for a few years. It was already facing financial trouble when the U.S. Postal Service refused to mail copies of their January 1924 issue because it contained the word “breasts” (seriously), and the publication was forced to shut down.

    If interested, here’s the text of the short story Prince Llan: An Ethical Masque in Seven Parts, including a Prologue and a Coda by Kenneth Burke, which ruined the publication financially:

    https://bluemountain.princeton.edu/bluemtn/?a=d&d=bmtnaap192401-01.2.6&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——-

     

    A New Literary Broom (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, October 30, 2021

  • From Flapper to Girl Scout

    After its 1912 founding, the Girl Scouts of the United States (as it was then known) had amassed almost 70,000 members by 1920. This 1921 New York Times Magazine article profiled the surging organization, which would more than triple its membership that decade to 200,000+ members by 1930.

    “Camping” to the girls has meant a canoe and a proposal. To man it has meant getting off from the woman and roughing it with his fishing tackle or his gun.

    Now the Girl Scout program throws tradition into the discard, for it operates on the theory that a girl can practice woodcraft as well as a man can — can build a fire and construct an incinerator, can pitch a tent and police up barracks, do the Australian crawl and climb a mountain. This new feminist movement is rapidly infringing on man’s preserves.

    The article makes no mention of Girl Scout cookies, which began in 1917 with a troop in in Muskogee, Oklahoma, though it’s unclear how widespread that was by 1921. It was the next year, 1922, when their official magazine American Girl (not to be confused with the unrelated current magazine of the same name) published their first cookie recipe.

    Today, the Girl Scouts of the USA counts 1.7 million members.

     

    From Flapper to Girl Scout (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, October 23, 1921

  • One Soldier on “Three Soldiers”

    Even the most popular cultural phenomena can fade away. A 1921 New York Times Magazine article begins: “Every one now seems to have taken part in the discussion of John Dos Passos’s brilliantly written novel” Three Soldiers.

    Today, the novel’s Wikipedia article barely contains any information, while its Goodreads page has 1,131 user ratings. For comparison, the most famous fellow World War I-set novels include 378,971 user ratings for All Quiet on the Western Front and 281,251 for A Farewell to Arms.

    This 1921 analysis by Harold Norman Denny criticized Three Soldiers for an excessive focus on the negative in its tale of combat soldiers, particularly galling when the novel’s author himself did not serve in combat but rather was an ambulance driver.

    Mr. Dos Passos has combed the army for every rotten incident that happened, could have happened, or could be imagined as having happened, and welded it into a compelling narrative. He pictures this conglomeration as the army. This was not the army, of course, any more [sic] than a graphic description of Jefferson Market Police Court would do for a picture of New York.

    “Three Soldiers” purports to be a description of the actions and reactions of men in the combat forces; even to describe them on the battlefield, and in so doing it makes them out abject or malignant. The offense of the book is that Mr. Dos Passos does not know what he is talking about. He was a non-combatant.

    Then again, when Bruce Springsteen began writing his iconic songs about cars and the open road, he didn’t know how to drive.

     

    One Soldier on “Three Soldiers” (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, October 16, 1921

  • Renaissance of the Masher and Swashbuckler

    As life tamped down in 1921 under Prohibition, people sought to live vicariously through the uninhibited characters of stage and screen, characters this New York Times Magazine article called “the masher and swashbuckler.”

    “The leaden lid of ‘Thou Shalt Not’ has been hammered down on us so tightly that the explosion of our suppressed healthy animality may become a classic example of Dr. Freud’s dictum: the way to revitalize an instinct is to suppress it.

    Don Juan, d’Artagnan, and Bluebeard have invaded New York from beyond the artistic three-mile limit. [Those first two are references to the 1921 Broadway productions of Don Juan and The Three Musketeers, though I couldn’t ascertain the Bluebeard reference with certainty.] In film circles… there is talk of screening the life of that philanthropic highwayman, Robin Hood. [1922’s Robin Hood would star Douglas Fairbanks.]

    The columnist Benjamin de Casseres then added this kicker:

    If there is anybody missing, I haven’t heard of him. Satan?

    One wonders if something of the opposite has happened these days. Part of the reason The Jerry Springer Show was cancelled in 2018 after 27 years was because audiences no longer felt the same need to turn towards the entertainment world to see deubachery like cheating on your spouse with an adult film star or vile language, when the president was doing the same. As Springer himself said, Donald Trump “took my show and brought it to the White House.”

    And one of the most popular television shows to emerge in 2020 was the wholesome Ted Lasso.

     

    Renaissance of the Masher and Swashbuckler (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, October 9, 1921

  • ‘Heroes by Any Other Name’

    This 1921 article was already calling Babe Ruth a “legend,” even though he hadn’t even won his first MVP award yet.

    I think most people are hero worshippers, don’t you? Only nowadays they do not pick their heroes from the ranks of soldiers and senators. Five years of war gave us no outstanding figure, but one year of peace gave us Babe Ruth! Foch merely saved the world. The Babe has founded a legend. His is the fame of Ulysses and Charlemagne and Chaplin. His deeds will be told from father to son. His place in history is secure. He’s a hero.

    That prediction came true, as Ruth remains one of the most famous athletes ever, even today. Similarly, the one other contemporary reference in that excerpt, Charlie Chaplin, remains one of the most famous movie stars ever.

    But 1921 was before Ruth won his lone Most Valuable Player award in 1923before Ruth’s famous called shot home run in 1932, before his iconic (though possibly apocryphal) line about how he justified earning more money than President Hoover during the Great Depression because “I had a better year.”

    Reminds me of when Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf in 1993 called Michael Jordan “the greatest athlete to ever play a team sport”… and then MJ went on to win another three championships and two more MVP awards after that.

    Also, the idea that World War I produced “no outstanding figure” is sad but perhaps true. Arguably the most famous such figure may have been Alvin York, the Medal of Honor-winning soldier whose life story was turned into the movie Sergeant York, which won Gary Cooper the 1942 Academy Award for Best Actor. Still, if you ask the average 12-year-old (let’s say), they’ve probably heard of Ruth but probably not York.

     

    ‘Heroes by Any Other Name’ (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, October 2, 1921

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Written by Jesse Rifkin

April 22nd, 2022 at 9:08 pm