by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As noted in a previous entry in the “Read All About It” series, TIME (all caps being correct) was launched in 1923 by Briton Hadden and Henry R. Luce as a publication to be read within an hour and providing a recap of newsworthy events during the previous week in seventeen categories such as national affairs, foreign news, sports, religion, education, music, books, business and finance, and art.
Today’s highlighted issue from the Homestead’s collection is the 25 February 1929 edition, with Hadden, a very influential figure in Roaring Twenties media whose style of writing was dubbed “Timestyle,” still the editor-in-chief, though he died just two days later at age 31 of heart failure derived from a strep infection.
His partner, Henry Luce, tried to buy Hadden’s shares while the latter was in the hospital dying from the malady, took Hadden’s name off the masthead the very week after his death, and secured his shares within months, even though Hadden left them to his mother with the proviso that they not be sold for 49 years to prevent Luce from taking full control of TIME.
The issue has a number of interesting elements to it, including a rather remarkable letter to the editors by Henry J. Weeks, a 60-year old native of England and a title and abstract searcher, who resided for years in Laguna Beach. Weeks’ diatribe was somewhat scattershot as he responded to another letter from a previous issue and observed “I am not ashamed to say that I think so much of the perfect human form that I never take a bath without a long and admiring look at my own form in its perfect proportions. No one part of me. But all of me.”
Whether this was meant to be satirical or not, Weeks then turned to religion, expressing his disdain for the 24 December 1928 cover image of Roman Catholic Cardinal William O’Connell, Archbishop of Boston and lambasting Methodist Bishop James Cannon, Jr., a fierce advocate of temperance and Prohibition.
Weeks went on to suggest “the historic role of all religions, when their power is equal to their holy malice, is that of a Persecutor. When they can no longer use the faggots [that is, bundles of sticks used to fuel the burning of heretics] and screws [as instruments of torture] they use franchises and senators.”
Not content to stop there with his venom, Weeks, who apparently was a far left-wing lecturer, added, “I have three special aversions. They are Meddlesome Methodists, edifying editors and righteous realtors. He then concluded with a decided flourish: “These Christians [meaning Cannon and his ilk] have caused more human wretchedness, misery and bloodshed, than any plague, pestilence or famine.” An “abusive oath” was removed by the editors as the culmination of Weeks’ screed.
As the inauguration of Herbert Hoover as president was just a week away, on 4 March, there was a fair amount of ink dedicated to the transition of power from Calvin Coolidge to his Secretary of Commerce. Mention of his move was made, including the wry assessment from the outgoing chief executive that “it is easier to get into the White House than out of it” as his trunks doubled from arrival in 1923 to his departure six years later.
It was stated that, among the “Work Done” under Coolidge’s administration was “three great reductions in taxes, about $5.25 billion of debt eliminated, war debts eased, huge sums for Mississippi River flood control, a massive federal building program, and other accomplishments. “Work Not Done” included problems for American farmers, trouble with the coal industry, naval disarmament agreements not concluded, and “Prohibition remains a mess.”
A series of photographs showed “Silent Cal” who was credited with proclaiming that “the business of America is business,” though it was more precisely, “the chief business of the American people is business.” They showed him wearing a feathered Indian headdress and as a hunter, a cowboy, a farmer, and commander-in-chief in military uniform, and a top-hat wearing presidential figure.
Another national affairs piece of note concerned the notorious Valentine’s Day massacre, in which men associated with the Chicago organized crime figure George “Bugs” Moran were at a warehouse filled with illicit booze were gunned down by figures disguised as police officers.
This “jungle justice” was believed to have perpetrated by Alphonse “Scarface Al” Capone, enjoying the Florida sun at the time, in retaliation for the murder of one of his men and the theft of some Canadian whiskey whisked through Detroit to the Windy City. While a police commissioner publicly declared war on gangland crime sprees, TIME reported that an assistant Prohibition administrator claimed actual police officers committed the massacre to send a message to gangsters about the timely payments of hush money.
Meanwhile, a lengthy column discussed the engagement of hero aviator Charles Lindbergh to Anne Morrow, though the famously reticent “Lone Eagle” tried to keep his romance private and insisted he’d only talk about aviation and his recent work in international air mail delivery.
Notably, it was pointed out that when Lindbergh’s father, Charles, Sr. was a rabble-rousing member of Congress from Minnesota battling the “money trust” of powerful bankers, Anne Morrow’s father was a lawyer who became a partner with J.P. Morgan and Company and, under Coolidge, Ambassador to Mexico before serving as a Senator from New Jersey until his death in 1931.
The foreign news section included a lengthy discussion of the growing independence movement in India (a timely reference given our current president’s trip to that nation) and the reaction of the British viceroy to that country, Baron Irwin, who warned “this demand for independence must do an irreparable injury to India’s cause, and sadden the hearts of the wiser of India’s sons and friends.”
Evidently, the viceroy called upon the powerful Maharajas to support him and examples of this were printed as it was noted that the “Chamber of Princes had signified unanimous approval of these sentiments.” Fewer than twenty years later, the British abruptly abandoned “the Raj” and left a chaotic transition to independence that pitted Hindus against Muslims in the future determination of the sub-continent. Notably, Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has enacted controversial citizenship legislation targeting Muslims that has brought major protests and violence even as the president is feted in that country.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the highly contentious issue of World War I reparations imposed on the defeated aggressor culminated with a statement by the president of the Reichsbank, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, that it was a tremendous economic burden on the nation and that his remarks were particularly addressed to the powerful American financier on the magazine’s cover: J. Pierpont Morgan.
Much of the history of the towering figure of world finance was given, including the work of his father Junius S. Morgan and the son’s introduction to the family business, which he took over after Junius died in 1913. The younger Morgan’s massive loans to France during the World War and his credit of $100 million to that nation to buttress its currency in 1924 were highlighted.
The piece concluded with a discussion of a presumed issuance of “reparation bonds” totaling a staggering $30 billion so that they “may be issued against the resources of the German State, sold to the public, and the money used to pay off at once Germany’s debt to the powers.”
With the onset of the Great Depression, however, what was called the Young Plan of 1930, following the Dawes Plan of six years earlier, did not achieve that objective. Rather, the worsened state of the German economy, along with most of the world, led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the horrors that ensued. It was not until 2010 that the last $94 million interest payment on these bonds was finally paid by Germany, 92 years after the end of the war!
There is much else of interest in the issue: the focus on theater actress Claudette Colbert, appearing in Eugene O’Neill’s classic Strange Interlude, while her film debut was yet a few months off; the discussion of new films like the war picture True Heaven, starring George O’Brien and Lois Moran and the Soviet film, The Lash of the Czar, also known as The White Eagle, of which TIME stated “propaganda does not spoil this story” like so much “soap-box communism” of the era; the death of Associated Press mastermind Melville Stone; and the bemused response to a concert by avant-garde composer Virgil Thompson with text by notorious author Gertrude Stein.
There is also another notable, but brief, local mention with a “Milestones” listing of the death of Edward L. Doheny, Jr., son of the Los Angeles oil tycoon whose involvement in the notorious Teapot Dome scandal during the administration of President Warren Harding was among the most newsworthy of our region during the Twenties.
The younger Doheny, mentioned as the “carrier of the famed ‘little black bag’ from his father to one-time Secretary of the Interior [Albert] Fall during the Elk Hills phase of the conniving the caused the oil scandals,” was murdered by his private secretary in Doheny, Jr’s opulent Beverly Hills mansion, Greystone.
Another Milestone of note was the death of Kit Carson, Jr. “son of the famed frontiersman,” who was an apprentice in the Franklin, Missouri saddlery of David Workman and a friend of William Workman in Taos, New Mexico during the 1820s, 1830s and early 1840s. Lillie Langtry, a famed, if not critically admired, actress at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century and whose social life was the topic of substantial gossip.
The brief Science section highlighted the 82nd birthday party of Thomas Edison, held in Florida and which President-elect Hoover and his wife attended, along with the likes of Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. It was noted that the golden anniversary of the incandescent light bulb, the decline of which is mourned by some today, was to be celebrated later in 1929.
The Art section had a long discussion about the contested authenticity of a painting long attributed to Leonardo da Vinci in a court case involving its owner, a Kansas City (that would be Missouri, by the way) woman, who sued preeminent art dealer, Sir Joseph Duveen, who averred that the work was not the product of the Italian genius.
The assistant curator at the Louvre offered a telling commentary when he observed that, while the painting was considered by “a number of world experts” to be of the Leonardo school, it was not by the master. He added, however, “that does not make much different when one doesn’t take the commercial view” as the work was “a beautiful one and of great interest.”
Finally, the Business and Finance section included an interesting report that “the outstanding development of the week was the fact that without taking any radical measures [and who would during a Republican dominated decade?], the Federal Reserve Board . . . succeeded in scaring Wall Street into a liquidation movement” amid mounting criticism of stock speculation, with TIME paraphrasing Utah Senator William H, King that “85% of speculation is made on margins” and that King proposed abolishing the practice.
Given this, though, Secretary of Commerce William Whiting, who replaced Hoover once his presidential nomination was secured and remained only through the end of the Coolidge Administration, proclaimed:
Administration policies have made for a substantial and increasing stability in business for several years . . . if these conservative, constructive policies of the government and of business are maintained, then there would seem to be no reason why the present economic situation should not continue.
These were truly (almost) famous last words, given the crushing disaster that ensued eight months later with the crash of the stock market in October 1929 and the resulting Great Depression.
That makes an artifact like this issue of TIME both timely and telling for what was happening at the end of the Homestead’s interpretive era and what can be connected between then and today.