Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair

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9780143127901: Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair

Offering readers an inebriating swig from the great cocktail shaker of the Roaring Twenties—the Jazz Age, the age of Gatsby—Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells showcases unforgettable writers in search of how to live well in a changing era. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter introduces these fabulous pieces written between 1913 and 1936, when the magazine published a Murderers’ Row of the world’s leading literary lights, including:

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald on what a magazine should be
  • Clarence Darrow on equality
  • e. e. cummings on Calvin Coolidge
  • D. H. Lawrence on women
  • Djuna Barnes on James Joyce
  • John Maynard Keynes on the collapse in money value
  • Dorothy Parker on a host of topics, from why she hates actresses to why she hasn’t married

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About the Author:

Graydon Carter has been the editor of Vanity Fair since 1992. He lives in New York City.

David Friend is Vanity Fair’s editor of creative development.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



When the dreariness, the madness, and, oh, the sheer tackiness of modern life get to you, isn’t it tempting to imagine a different life in a different place and period? The places and periods I go to in my mind—and I have no rational explanation for this—are invariably set in big cities in the last century: San Francisco in the sixties, Paris in the fifties, London between the wars, Los Angeles in the thirties. And for the purposes of this introduction: the New York of the twenties. New York back in those days was the fizzy incubator of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. It was the big room: Jimmy Walker was mayor; Wall Street and bootlegging were booming; jazz, modern art, and talkies were the rage; everyone—from statesmen to sandhogs—was trying to get their head around the latest theories of Freud and Einstein; and the bible for the smart set was Vanity Fair.

It was the modern magazine during that early incarnation, from 1913 to 1936. And everybody, but everybody, wrote for it, including, in no particular order, P. G. Wodehouse, Alexander Woollcott, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, e. e. cummings, Noël Coward, Gertrude Stein, A. A. Milne, Stephen Leacock, Thomas Mann, Djuna Barnes, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, Langston Hughes, Sherwood Anderson, Walter Lippmann, Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, Colette, John Maynard Keynes, Ford Madox Ford, Clarence Darrow, Janet Flanner, Paul Gallico, Dalton Trumbo, William Saroyan, Thomas Wolfe, Walter Winchell, and Douglas Fairbanks (both Sr. and Jr.).

They were drawn to Vanity Fair by a decent word rate and by the magazine’s editor, Frank Crowninshield. He was known as Crownie to his intimates, who recognized him for his skills as a cultural clairvoyant and a taste maker. He helped launch the seminal Armory Show in 1913, which introduced avant-garde painting to America, and was a founding trustee of the Museum of Modern Art. He would also play a significant role in the birth of what came to be known as café society, cohosting small get-togethers with Condé Nast, the publisher of Vanity Fair and Vogue. Their parties brought together the era’s brightest minds, talents, and wits, and were staged at the thirty-room penthouse apartment at 1040 Park Avenue that Crowninshield and Nast shared. (Same-sex domesticity was not uncommon back then.)

 · · · 

For twenty-two roller-coaster years, Crowninshield reveled in his singular cultural perch atop the masthead of what became the quintessential Jazz Age magazine. His Vanity Fair brimmed with groundbreaking photography and bold illustration and design. But just as important—in ample evidence here—were its sparkling essays, commentary, profiles, poetry, and fiction from many of the most forward-thinking writers of the day. Some contributors were public intellectuals (Huxley, Russell, H. L. Mencken). Others were experts in what was then experimental art and music (Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Gertrude Stein, George Jean Nathan, Virgil Thompson, Tristan Tzara, Carl Van Vechten). Still others, such as Fitzgerald, Anita Loos, John Emerson, and Donald Ogden Stewart, would go west to seek their fortune in the movie trade.

The offices of the magazine in those days—first on fabled West Forty-fourth Street and later in the new Graybar Building, adjacent to Grand Central Terminal—reflected its editor’s eclectic tastes. Crowninshield, who had a soft spot for sleight of hand, kept a deck of cards ready for the amusement of staffers or for guests who would often pop in—Harry Houdini, say, or Charlie Chaplin. Editorial lunches with his three rising staff members, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Robert Sherwood, consisted of eggs Benedict, kippered herring, chocolate éclairs, and café spécial.

According to Condé Nast’s biographer Caroline Seebohm, Crownie would run the office “with the greatest informality. Actresses, models, photographers, and writers were always milling about in the reception room, under the impression that he had invited them to a personal interview. (He often had.)” On many Saturday nights, Crowninshield could be found gambling in the basement of a brownstone on East Thirty-seventh Street, where friends like Woollcott would place wagers on tiny mechanical horses that would zip around a tabletop racetrack, the random victor determined by what they called a “chance machine.”

 · · · 

Crowninshield both sought and attracted excellence. The senior editors who would pass through Vanity Fair’s doors were a storied lot: not only Parker, Benchley, and Sherwood, but also Edmund Wilson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Clare Boothe Brokaw, a brash, young dynamo who would eventually sleep her way through much of the masthead. (She also wrote the play The Women, married Henry Luce, and became a congresswoman and a U.S. ambassador to Italy.)

The magazine regularly predicted which cultural forces would leave a lasting mark. (To that end, I recommend the stories in this volume on Picasso, Chaplin, James Joyce, W. Somerset Maugham, Joan Crawford, Cole Porter, and Babe Ruth.) They took the pulse of the period—in real time—with an unrivaled sense of taste. The writing in Vanity Fair pushed boundaries with its muscular and often experimental prose. In examining the daunting shape of things to come, the magazine’s writers wrote about men’s rites and women’s rights, the intrusive media and exclusive bastions of the well-to-do. They questioned our destructive fascination with the entertainment industry and our addiction to organized sports. They used satire to criticize ostentation, Prohibition, marital duplicity, and the grinding new “publicity machine.” Social historian Cleveland Amory would later observe that the magazine was “as accurate a social barometer of its time as exists.” The finest pieces in the Jazz Age Vanity Fair, seventy-two of which are collected here, focus more often than not on how Americans, especially New Yorkers, in confronting the Machine Age, radical art, urbanization, Communism, Fascism, globalization (epitomized by a World War), and the battle of the sexes, were coping with the growing pains of a new phenomenon: modern life.





Physical culture is in the air just now. Where, a few years ago, the average man sprang from bed to bath and from bath to breakfast-table, he now postpones his onslaught on the boiled egg for a matter of fifteen minutes. These fifteen minutes he devotes to a series of bendings and stretchings which in the course of time are guaranteed to turn him into a demi-god. The advertisement pages of the magazines are congested with portraits of stern-looking, semi-nude individuals with bulging muscles and fifty-inch chests, who urge the reader to write to them for an illustrated booklet. Weedy persons, hitherto in the Chippendale class, are developing all sort of unsuspected thews, and the moderately muscular citizen (provided he has written for and obtained the small illustrated booklet) begins to have grave doubts as to whether he will be able, if he goes on at this rate, to get the sleeves of his overcoat over his biceps.

To the superficial thinker this is all very splendid. The vapid and irreflective observer looks with approval on the growing band of village blacksmiths in our midst. But you and I, reader, shake our heads. We are uneasy. We go deeper into the matter, and we are not happy in our minds. We realize that all this physical improvement must have its effect on the soul.

 · · · 

A man who does anything regularly is practically certain to become a bore. Man is by nature so irregular that, if he takes a cold bath every day or keeps a diary every day or does physical exercises every day, he is sure to be too proud of himself to keep quiet about it. He cannot help gloating over the weaker vessels who turn on the hot tap, forget to enter anything after January the fifth, and shirk the matutinal development of their sinews. He will drag the subject into any conversation in which he happens to be engaged. And especially is this so as regards physical culture.

The monotony of doing these exercises every morning is so appalling that it is practically an impossibility not to boast of having gone through with them. Many a man who has been completely reticent on the topic of his business successes and his social achievements has become a mere babbler after completing a month of physical culture without missing a day. It is the same spirit which led Vikings in the old days to burst into song when they had succeeded in cleaving some tough foeman to the chine.

 · · · 

Again, it is alleged by scientists that it is impossible for the physical culturist to keep himself from becoming hearty, especially at breakfast, in other words a pest. Take my own case. Once upon a time I was the most delightful person you ever met. I would totter in to breakfast of a morning with dull eyes, and sink wearily into a chair. There I would remain, silent and consequently inoffensive, the model breakfaster. No lively conversation from me. No quips. No cranks. No speeches beginning “I see by the paper that . . .” Nothing but silence, a soggy, soothing silence. If I wanted anything, I pointed. If spoken to, I grunted. You had to look at me to be sure that I was there. Those were the days when my nickname in the home was Little Sunshine.

Then one day some officious friend, who would not leave well alone, suggested that I should start those exercises which you see advertised everywhere. I weakly consented. I wrote for the small illustrated booklet. And now I am a different man. Little by little I have become just like that offensive young man you see in the advertisements of the give-you-new-life kind of medicines—the young man who stands by the bedside of his sleepy friend, and says, “What! Still in bed, old man! Why, I have been out with the hounds a good two hours. Nothing tires me since I tried Peabody and Finklestein’s Liquid Radium.” At breakfast I am hearty and talkative. Throughout the day I breeze about with my chest expanded, a nuisance to all whom I encounter. I slap backs. My handshake is like the bite of a horse.

 · · · 

Naturally, this has lost me a great many friends. But far worse has been the effect on my moral fiber. Before, I was modest. Now, I despise practically everybody except professional pugilists. I meet some great philosopher, and, instead of looking with reverence at his nobby forehead, I merely feel that, if he tried to touch his toes thirty times without bending his knees, he would be in the hospital for a week. An eminent divine is to me simply a man who would have a pretty thin time if he tried to lie on his back and wave his legs fifteen times in the air without stopping. . . .

There is another danger. I heard, or read, somewhere of a mild and inoffensive man to whom Nature, in her blind way, had given a wonderful right-hand punch. Whenever he got into an argument, he could not help feeling that there the punch was and it would be a pity to waste it. The knowledge that he possessed that superb hay-maker was a perpetual menace to him. He went through life a haunted man. Am I to become like him? Already, after doing these exercises for a few weeks, I have a waist-line of the consistency of fairly stale bread. In time it must infallibly become like iron. There is a rudimentary muscle growing behind my right shoulder-blade. It looks like an orange and is getting larger every day. About this time next year, I shall be a sort of human bomb. I will do my very best to control myself, but suppose a momentary irritation gets the better of me and I let myself go! It does not bear thinking of.

 · · · 

Brooding tensely over this state of things, I have, I think, hit on a remedy. What is required is a system of spiritual exercises which shall methodically develop the soul so that it keeps pace with the muscles and the self-esteem.

Let us say that you open with that exercise where you put your feet under the chest of drawers and sit up suddenly. Well, under my new system, instead of thinking of the effect of this maneuver on the abdominal muscles, you concentrate your mind on some such formula as, “I must remember that I have not yet subscribed to the model farm for tuberculous cows.”

Having completed this exercise, you stand erect and swing the arms from left to right and from right to left without moving the lower half of the body. As you do this, say to yourself, “This, I know, is where I get the steel-and-indiarubber results on my deltoids, but I must not forget that there are hundreds of men whose confining work in the sweat shops has entirely deprived them of opportunities to contract eugenic marriages.”

This treatment, you will find, induces a humble frame of mind admirably calculated to counterbalance the sinful pride engendered by your physical exercises.

Space forbids a complete list of these spiritual culture exercises, but I am now preparing a small illustrated booklet, particulars of which will be found in the advertising pages. An accompanying portrait shows me standing with my hands behind my head and with large, vulgar muscles standing out all over me. But there is a vast difference, which you will discover when you look at my face. I am not wearing the offensively preoccupied expression of most physical-culture advertisements. You will notice a rapt, seraphic expression in the eyes and a soft and spiritual suggestion of humility about the mouth.




Strindberg was the most brilliant author of modern Sweden, and one of the most gifted I have ever known. Ibsen, in speaking of him, once said: “Here is a greater man than I.”

But Strindberg was a wholly abnormal type, mentally. A man so eccentric that, except for his masterly writings, I should have called him insane.

But let me begin by saying a word as to his physical appearance! His strongly modeled forehead clashed strangely with the vulgarity of his lower features. The forehead reminded one of Jupiter’s; the mouth and chin of a Stockholm street urchin. He looked as though he sprang from irreconcilable races. The upper part of his face was that of the mental aristocrat,—the lower belonged to “the servant girl’s son,” as he called himself in his autobiography.

During a long acquaintance with him I was fortunate in being able to agree with him on fundamental principles and to find that minor differences of opinion never irritated him against me, nor caused the slightest break between us.

It was my fate to be present at many crucial moments in Strindberg’s mental life. More than once I have seen him on the turn-rail, as it were, which changed the entire direction of his spiritual and mental locomotive. And each time I have been able to remark how deep and sincere were his changes, even if they contained a trace of the theatrical in their outward expressions.

 · · ...

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Verlag: Penguin Books, (2015)
ISBN 10: 014312790X ISBN 13: 9780143127901
Gebraucht Taschenbuch Anzahl: 1
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Buchbeschreibung Penguin Books, 2015. Taschenbuch. Buchzustand: Sehr gut. 432 Seiten Sehr gepflegtes Gebraucht-/Antiquariatsexemplar. Zustand unter Berücksichtigung des Alters sehr gut. Tagesaktueller, sicherer und weltweiter Versand. Wir liefern grundsätzlich mit beiliegender Rechnung. 1048556.01 Sprache: Englisch Gewicht in Gramm: 358. Artikel-Nr. 587982

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