I haven’t done a post on magazine covers since last August. I tried early this year, but the covers I found were uninspiring. Has the Golden Age of Illustration come to an end, I wondered.*
I decided to give it another shot, and I spent a long time looking at covers from March and April 1922. They weren’t bad. Most of them were quite good, in fact. But nothing seemed new or fresh or different.
I expect Erté’sHarper’s Bazar covers to be attractive and haunting, but the March one is haunting without being attractive and the April one is attractive without being haunting.**
This A. H. Fish Vanity Fair cover was solid but not memorable.
Are these either houses or gardens? I think not, House & Garden!
Okay, maybe I was just in a bad mood. I’ll stop carping now and just tell you what I found.
Regular Good Housekeeping cover illustrator Jessie Willcox Smith was her usual competent, family-friendly self.
The kids were up to their usual wholesome fun at St. Nicholas.
With Ireland newly independent, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were especially festive.
There was a newcomer, Tom Webb, at the Saturday Evening Post,
The insanely prolific Rockwell was all over the place in March and April, at The Literary Digest
and The Country Gentleman
For the Ladies’ Home Journal, N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew) painted a boy dreaming of stolen loot.
Over at Vogue, a Helen Dryden cover featured an old-timey couple,
and there were two new-to-me Vogue cover artists, Pierre Brissaud and Henry R. Sutter.***
So, this is all very nice, and if I hadn’t been looking at hundred-year-old magazine covers for over four years I might be impressed. It’s just that there wasn’t anything that hadn’t been done before.
And then I came across this Vanity Fair cover from March 1922, by newcomer Eduardo Garcia Benito, who had arrived in New York from Spain the year before.**** I hadn’t seen anything yet like the sleek, clear lines and bold colors of this cover, which would come to typify Art Deco illustration.*****
And then I took a second look at the other March Vogue cover, by Georges Lepape, which, maybe because of the muted colors, I hadn’t paid particular attention to.
Same minimalist design. Same clear lines. Same boyish silhouette on the woman.
Two years into the decade, the twenties have begun!
**Here is an examples of an attractive and haunting Erté cover:
***UPDATE 5/1/2022: I looked into this some more and these both seem to be Vogue debuts. Brissaud went on to be a regular Vogue cover artist. Sutter only did six covers that I could find (i.e. that appear on art.com, which I think has all of them), all in 1922 and 1923. I haven’t been able to find much information about him other than that he lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
****This wasn’t Benito’s Condé Nast debut, though. This November 15, 1921, Vogue cover was his first (as far as I can tell) of many for the magazine.
*****I could do without the “Women can smoke too!” message, though.
People sometimes complain that the world of a hundred years ago is so picked over that there’s nothing left to write about.* After spending a year reading as if I were living in that period, though, I can tell you that there’s a treasure trove of subjects just waiting to be turned into books, articles, dissertations, or academic projects. Here are ten topics that I’m mystified that no one has gotten to yet.**
1. Archiving Erté’s Harper’s Bazar covers
Over the (yikes!) almost four years of this project, I have spent many happy hours finding online copies of Harper’s Bazar covers by Erté, the legendary art deco artist, designer, and crossword puzzle clue stalwart who worked as the magazine’s regular cover artist from 1915 to 1936. I included him in my Thanksgiving lists of 10 1918 People I’m Thankful For and Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For.***
But I have also spent many unhappy hours searching for Erté covers in vain. HathiTrust, the Google Books online archive, is missing some issues from 1918 and doesn’t have any at all for 1919 (or from 1923 to 1929, but I’ll worry about that in the future). I’ve found images for some, but not all, of these covers elsewhere, often on Pinterest, which is the source of most of my magazine cover images anyway. Those images that do exist aren’t at the level of quality that these important cultural artifacts deserve.
Someone needs to make high-quality digital scans of the full collection and archive them online**** before the original covers deteriorate any further. (Maybe Harper’s Bazaar—the extra A was added in 1930—has done this, but, if so, the archive isn’t available online, as Vogue’s is.) A book or scholarly article about the covers would be good, too. Get on this, digital humanities people!
2. A biography of cartoonist Percy Crosby
One of the most intriguing people I’ve written about for this blog is Percy Crosby, who penned the cartoon The Rookie from the 13th Squad. The hapless but ultimately stouthearted Rookie was the Sad Sack of World War I. Crosby, who received a Purple Heart after being hit in the eye with shrapnel, went on to create the popular cartoon Skippy, which the Charles Schulz website cites as an influence for Peanuts. He also, I kid you not, won the silver medal in the 1932 watercolors and drawing event in the 1932 Olympics.
Crosby’s personal life was troubled, though. He ran with a hard-drinking crowd that included Jerome Kern, Ring Lardner, John Barrymore, and Heywood Broun. Following a violent episode, his wife divorced him and got a restraining order, and he never saw her or their four children again. He began taking out two-page ads in major newspapers, espousing left-wing views and taking on targets like the FBI, the IRS, and Al Capone. After a 1948 suicide attempt, he was confined to a mental hospital and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. One of the purported symptoms of his paranoia was his endless ranting about how Skippy Peanut Butter had violated the trademark on his character’s name. Now, I’m no intellectual property rights lawyer, but that doesn’t sound all that paranoid to me. Crosby himself believed that his left-wing views contributed to his prolonged confinement. He died in the mental hospital in 1964.
A biography of Crosby was published in 1978, but his life, and his long confinement, deserve a closer look.
3. Girl Scout badges through the ages
What gives you a better sense of what was expected of girls in a given era than its Girl Scout badges? Well, lots of things, probably, given that the 1920 edition of Scouting for Girls included badges for telegraphy (“send 22 words per minute using a sounder and American Morse Code”), bee keeping (“have a practical knowledge of bee keeping and assist in hiving a swarm…”), and rock tapping (“collect two or three scratched or glaciated pebbles or cobblestones in the drift”). But, as I discovered during my quest to earn a 1919 Girl Scout badge,***** Girl Scout badges do provide an interesting window into the era. I learned all about caring for sick relatives and found out what a cruel practice plucking egret feathers for women’s hats is.
My own Girl Scout book was written closer to 1920 than to today (it had been around a while, but still!). There are some cool badges in that book, like Observer, where you learn about constellations and rock formations and make a conservation exhibit. Others, like Indian Lore and Gypsy, wouldn’t pass muster today.
The current badges look kind of trippy and feature topics like cybersecurity, coding, entrepreneurship, and preparing for STEM jobs. That all sounds way too stressful and careerist for me. Personally, I’d rather learn telegraphy.
Well, I’d better stop before I end up writing the book myself.
4. Did Daisy Ashford really write The Young Visiters?
The Young Visiters, nine-year-old Daisy Ashford’s unintentionally hilarious account of sometimes unsavory high-society goings-on, became a runaway bestseller following its 1919 publication. The manuscript, written in 1890 or so, was discovered by the adult Daisy and circulated among her friends until it reached novelist and publisher’s reader Frank Swinnerton, who arranged for its publication, with an introduction by L. Frank Baum.
Or so the story goes. Some reviewers at the time were skeptical, and there was speculation that Baum himself was the author. When Ashford died in 1972 at the age of 90, her obituary in the New York Times mentioned the doubts about her authorship.
Here is the opening paragraph. You decide for yourself whether you buy it as the work of a preteen or if, like me, you’re with the skeptics.
Except you don’t have to leave it at that! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can figure out the authorship for yourself. In recent years, researchers have used computer software that analyzes similarities between texts to discover new sources for Shakespeare’s plays and help unmask J.K. Rowling as the author of the mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I wonder what a comparison between The Young Visiters and the works of L. Frank Baum (or maybe Frank Swinnerton) would reveal. Go for it!******
5. The Crisis Press, The Brownies’ Book, and Jessie Redmon Fauset
The life and work of W.E.B. Du Bois is not exactly lost to history. To cite only one recent example of his place in the culture, the novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois was an Oprah book club pick and was long-listed for this year’s National Book Award. The Crisis, the NAACP magazine that he edited, is rightly celebrated as a groundbreaking publication for and about African-Americans. Less well-known are the side projects of the magazine’s publishing company, including books like Hazel, by Ruth White Ovington, the first children’s book to figure an African-American protagonist, and The Brownies’ Book, an all-too-short-lived magazine “designed for all children, but especially for ours.” Recent high school graduate Langston Hughes published his first poems in the magazine. There have been a number of academic articles about The Brownies’ Book, as well as a 1996 anthology, but the magazine and the Crisis Publication Company’s other ventures deserve to be better known today.
While you’re at it, how about a biography of The Brownies’ Book managing editor Jessie Redmon Fauset, who was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance?
6. Women Illustrators of the 1920s
Career opportunities for talented women in the 1920s were limited, but magazine illustration was one field where women could, and did, succeed. Their work and their lives are worth revisiting.
Why did Helen Dryden, once the highest-paid woman artist in the United States, end up living in a welfare hotel?
How did Gordon Conway make it to the top of her profession without taking a single art class?
Why did talented illustrator Rita Senger disappear from the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1919? (Well, I told you all about that here.)
As for Neysa McMein, suffragist, Saturday Evening Post illustrator, best friend of Dorothy Parker, lover of Charlie Chaplin, Ring Lardner, Robert Benchley, and others, I just want to spend a winter afternoon reading a gossipy account of her life.
In May 2018, I read a May 1918 New York Times article about the apparent death of popular aviator Jimmy Hall, who had been shot down behind enemy lines. I decided to Google him to see if by any chance he had survived. But James Hall is a common name, and I kept getting articles about the co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty. Eventually I realized that the courageous aviator and the successful writer were…one and the same!
Hall, it turned out, had been captured by the Germans. After the war, he moved to Tahiti, where he and co-author Charles Nordhoff penned Mutiny on the Bounty and other best-sellers.******* His wife was partly of Polynesian descent. Their son, cinematographer Conrad Hall, won three Oscars, including one for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Amazingly, no one seems to have written a biography of this fascinating man. If I haven’t done enough to persuade you to take on this project, it would definitely require a trip to Tahiti, where his modest house is now a museum.
8. Edna Ferber biography and revival
Edna Ferber checks a number of boxes to spark contemporary interest: she took on racism and sexism in her novels and short stories, and she may have been a lesbian. On top of that, she was a wonderful writer, at least judging from the early novel and short stories that I’ve read, featuring the dreams, disappointments, and, very occasionally, triumphs of department store saleswomen and accountants and stenographers. Ferber was a regular at the Algonquin Round Table, which would make for entertaining research.********
Harper Perennial Classics has reissued some of Ferber’s novels, which is a good start, but she’s due the kind of revival that Tim Page sparked for novelist Dawn Powell a few decades back when he published her diaries, her letters, and a biography. Any volunteers?
9. The Illustrators of New Rochelle, New York
High on the list of nonexistent books I’m longing to read is a group biography of Norman Rockwell, Coles Phillips, the Leyendecker brothers, and the other illustrators who turned suburban New Rochelle, New York, into one of the country’s most important artists’ colonies. If you can believe Wikipedia, New Rochelle was the source of more than half of the illustrations in major publications in the early 1920s.
I want SO much to read about J.C. Leyendecker’s romantic relationship with the model for his Arrow shirt ads
and about his brother Frank’s short life and tragic death.
I want to read about Coles Phillips’ apparently happy marriage (one of all too few I’ve read about in the period) to his wife Teresa, who served as his primary model, “making up in keen interest and endurance what I lacked in pulchritude,” as she wrote in the Saturday Evening Post after his death in 1927 at the age of 46.
I want to read about Normal Rockwell’s…well, I can’t think of anything I want to read about Norman Rockwell. But, if you write it, I’ll read it!
10. This one’s for me!
By now, you may be wondering why I’m asking the rest of the world to do all of these projects and not saving any for myself. Well, don’t worry—I’ve set aside a project, or two, or three. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to finish, or, um, start them, but I look forward to telling you more when I can.
In the meantime, get to work, everyone!
*Actually, this is mostly an amateur opinion. The academics I know who are working on this period have more than enough to keep them busy.
**That I know if. If I’m wrong, please let me know!
***I’ve noticed recently that some of my old posts have gone all Alice in Wonderland on me, with small photos suddenly huge, like this squiggle from the Thanksgiving 2019 post.
I’ll get with WordPress to see what this is about and in the meantime am resizing the giant photos as I come across them.
****Or at least the covers (currently up to 1925) that are out of copyright.
*****Actually, a 1916 Girl Scout badge. My logic in using 1919 in the title was that this was the Girl Scout book being used 100 years ago at the time of the post. If I had known that this would go on to be by far my most popular post, read by many people who didn’t have a clue about my 100 years ago project, I would have used the 1916 in the blog post title.
******Go for it yourself, you might reasonably say. I tried once, with some different texts, and it’s kind of hard.
*******Speaking of fake child authors, Hall confessed in 1946 that he had written the critically acclaimed 1940 poetry collection Oh Millersville!, supposedly the work of a 10-year-old girl named Fern Gravel.
********That’s Ferber on the bottom right corner, looking like she’s wearing a skeleton mask, in the Al Hirschfeld cartoon of Algonquin Round Table members. I can’t post it here because it’s still under copyright.
On Thanksgiving 2018, the first year I had this blog, I wrote about ten people I was thankful for. They were all over the map—a social worker, the designer of the first bra, and a food safety pioneer, among others. Last year, I narrowed my focus to ten illustrators I was thankful for. This year, I’m narrowing the focus further, to women illustrators. I’m also reducing the number, because ten illustrators was exhausting for me and, let’s face it, maybe you too.*
Neysa McMein, 1918 (Library of Congress)
You know those implausible historical movies where the main character is involved in every notable event of the era? Like, if the heroine were living a hundred years ago, she’d be a suffragist and also entertain troops during the war and also be best friends with Dorothy Parker and also be a famous painter whose studio was a salon where people like George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin and Noel Coward and H.L. Mencken would party on while she painted away at her easel, ignoring them?
That’s Neysa McMein.
McMein was born in Quincy, Illinois in 1888, with the much more prosaic first name of Marjorie. Her father, who owned a printing company, was an alcoholic, and the family was not a happy one. McMein studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and then moved to New York in 1913, working briefly as an actress before turning to illustration. Commercial success eluded her until, at the advice of a numerologist, she changed her name to Neysa, after a favorite racehorse. She soon sold her first cover to the Saturday Evening Post.**
May 13, 1916
Nearly sixty other Saturday Evening Post covers followed.***
When the United States entered the war, McMein was, according to her hometown paper, one of seven artists chosen by the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the War Department’s Committee on Public Information to go to France to illustrate the American war effort. Except, oops, she was a woman, a fact that had eluded the Division. What to do? McMein solved the problem by volunteering to go overseas as a YMCA volunteer instead. She entertained troops with Dorothy Parker,**** to considerable acclaim, and was saluted by a soldier with a poem that included this verse:
She’s a lady of fame, this Neysa McMein,
And she numbers her friends by the host;
She’s the party that places
Those wonderful faces
On the Saturday Evening Post.
In her downtime, McMein managed to contribute to the war effort artistically as well.
Neysa McMein,1918 (Library of Congress)
After the Armistice, she returned to New York, sold more magazine covers, became part of the Algonquin Round Table set, moved in with across-the-hall neighbor Dorothy Parker when Parker’s marriage broke up, hosted the aforementioned salon, and, in 1923, married John Baragwanath.***** Their daughter Joan was born the next year. It was an open marriage that allowed for affairs with Charlie Chaplin, Ring Lardner, Robert Benchley, and others.
McMein was McCall’s magazine’s regular cover artist from 1923 to 1937. She also worked as the magazine’s film reviewer.
She also did advertising work.
Neysa McMein, 1918 (metmuseum.org)
Motion Picture Classic, 1920
McMein painted portraits as well, and this allowed her to continue working when magazines turned from illustration to photography. Among her subjects were Herbert Hoover, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Charlie Chaplin, and, of course, Dorothy Parker.
Portrait of Dorothy Parker by Neysa McMein, ca. 1922 (dorothyparker.org)
Oh, and I almost forgot, she drew the original Betty Crocker.
McMein died in 1949 at the age of 61.
McMein wasn’t among the most technically accomplished illustrators of her era. A large percentage of her covers could be described as “woman who looks kind of like Neysa McMein in hat in front of white background.” But she was one of the most popular and highly paid illustrators of her time. And what a life she lived!
Thank you, Neysa!
If you’re thinking about how this is all very interesting but you have a kitchen full of Thanksgiving dishes to` get to, don’t worry, I could hardly find any information about the other two women we’re celebrating today. The sum total of what I’ve been able to find about Edna Crompton (mostly from this website) is that she lived from 1882 to 1952 and that she painted portraits and created calendars in addition to her magazine illustrations. As the 1920s progress, we’ll be seeing more of her as a regular cover artist for Redbook. If you know anything else about her, please let me know!
In the meantime, we’ll have to content ourselves with enjoying her art.
Vogue cover artist Harriet Meserole also kept a low profile. I found a Find a Grave entry for a Harriet A. Meserole (1893-1989) buried in a Brooklyn cemetery, who, date of birth-wise, could be our Harriet. I learned on a website about the history of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that the Meseroles were a prominent Greenpoint family, descended from French Huguenots who arrived in 1663. No mention of Harriet, though.
As far as I can tell, Meserole illustrated exclusivly for Vogue, and 1920s issues of Vogue are infuriatingly hard to access. They’re not archived at Google’s Hathitrust Digital Library, my main source of hundred-year-old magazine. Vogue has an online archive, but you need to be a subscriber to access most of it.****** Luckily, fashionmodeldirectory.com, which is much more intellectual than its name suggests, has a page about Meserole. FMD couldn’t find much biographic information either, but they say that her work appeared inside the magazine as well as on the cover, and they provide the following 1923 quote from her, presumably from Vogue: “”I like simplicity in all things and people. I hate prettiness and ice cream. I also like being one of your younger artists.” Questionable taste in desserts aside, she sounds charming!
Here’s Meserole’s first cover for Vogue, from February 1, 1919.
This is all from 1920, as far as I know, but there are many more to come.
July 15, 1924 (vogue.com)
October 1, 1924 (vogue.com)
I’m thankful to have Meserole’s bright future to look forward to.
Thank you, Harriet!
I’m thankful, too, for all of you who have shared my time travels with me over the past three years. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
*It was originally going to be five, but life and Thanksgiving cooking got in the way. Sorry, Cornelia Barnes and Jessie Willcox Smith, I’ll get to you at some point! My good intentions live on in the photo at the top of the post, from Smith’s November 1920 Good Housekeeping cover.
****When they invent time travel, this is going to be one of my first stops.
*****They met at the house of dancer Irene Castle.
Irene Castle, Cosmopolitan, March 1918
******I’m severely allergic to perfume, so subscribing to Vogue would be like subscribing to the Tear Gas Canister of the Month Club.
New on the Book List:
There’s quite a lot new on the book list because I keep forgetting to do this. The newest entry is Mary Marie, by Eleanor Porter. (UPDATE 11/29/2020: I’ve just added a writeup of John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World, which I finished listening to as an audiobook a few days before Thanksgiving.)
When I picked up my mail after arriving in D.C. from Cape Town a couple of weeks ago, I found to my surprise that I have been a New Yorker subscriber since September. My first reaction: “Oh, look, a giant pile of guilt!” Then I saw the brightly colored covers, and I wanted to gather them all in a slippery embrace, like fellow survivors from a lost world. Few things from 100 years ago bring me as much joy as magazine covers, and few things (well, few non-news-related things) are as dispiriting as a 2020 magazine rack.
I had a post on February 1920 covers almost ready before I left Cape Town, but what with all the electricity cuts I didn’t manage to post it. So I’m covering both February and March here.
The February magazines feature lots of women engaging in wholesome outdoor activities like skiing,
and pathetic ice skating.
And also engaging in unwholesome outdoor activities like this:
The artist for this surprisingly risqué cover is Warren Davis. He also drew this February 1918 Vanity Fair cover,
which I took note of back in February 2018. That one was also daring, but it struck me as having that Greek mythology vibe that lets you get away with anything. It turns out, though, that young women cavorting around outdoors naked, or at most with a diaphanous scarf, comprise pretty much Warren Davis’ entire oeuvre.*
Some favorite artists are back: Frank Walts at The Crisis,
and at Smart Set, which I’m pleased to see breaking out of its face-of-young-attractive-woman rut.
There are people in traditional dress at Sunset
and World Outlook.
I loved these covers from House & Garden
Charles Livingston Bull
and Popular Mechanics
and Elite Styles.
As I prepared for my trip, I was all psyched up to leave the southern hemisphere summer for some outdoor winter fun. Of course, what I actually ended up doing was lugging groceries home in the rain. So good riddance to February…
…and onward to blustery March!
They’re getting in some late-season ice skating at Red Cross**
and some early-season boating at Motor Boating.
Am I reading this wrong or is this elephant being used as an accessory to kill other elephants?*** And don’t get me started on the African man in the loincloth.
Everybody’s is late to the Valentine’s Day party.
Vogue has a cover by regular George Wolfe Plank
George Wolfe Plank
and one by 26-year-old newcomer Harriet Meserole, who would go on to be a Vogue stalwart.****
Bright spring colors abound at Harper’s Bazar
and The Delineator
and The Green Book
and House & Garden
and Vanity Fair, which features a cover by Anne Harriet Fish, an artist whom I wasn’t familiar with but who will now join Gordon Conway and John Held Jr. in the ranks of VF artists whose work I can’t tell apart.
Anne Harriet Fish
Future New Yorker cartoonist Rea Irvin was the artist for this striking, though problematic to modern sensibilities, Life cover.
This woman on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post seems to be about to ditzily cast her first vote for the supposedly more handsome candidate, which I would take offense at, except, um, Warren Harding.*****
The woodcut on the cover of Liberator is by J.J. Lankes, who was a friend of, and illustrator for, Robert Frost and Sherwood Anderson.
This Photoplay cover isn’t particularly notable except that “If Christ Went to the Movies” is the best cover headline ever.******
And it wouldn’t be March without a lion and a lamb, courtesy of Carton Moore-Park:*******
Counting the days until spring!
*Google him if you don’t want to take my word for it. Just don’t do it at the office.
**According to the go-to site for Norman Rockwell cover information, this was Rockwell’s fourth and last cover for Red Cross, which folded in late 1920. Rockwell turned to smaller magazines when large-circulation magazines passed on his illustrations.
***I always thought you couldn’t ride African, as opposed to Asian, elephants. Apparently you can, although, according to animal rights advocates, you shouldn’t.
****As far as I can tell, this is Meserole’s first Vogue cover other than this February 1919 one, which is mostly white space:
*****Also, the cover artist, Neysa McMein, was a woman and an ardent supporter of gender equality. Here she is marching in a suffragist parade in 1917.