by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Previous posts in the “Read All About It” series on the popular magazine TIME have provided some information on the history of the long-standing and storied publication. Today we go straight to the 2 April 1928 edition of the magazine which covered nearly twenty subjects, including such examples as national affairs, foreign news, science, art, religion, medicine, sports, movie, music and books.
Always an interesting element to publications like this are letters to the editor. One, from a Democrat in Illinois suggested John W. Davis as a repeat nominee for president, though New York Governor Al Smith wound up securing the nomination that year. The editor replied, with great irony, that over 8.3 million people voted for Davis in 1924, but there were “some 15,725,016 Republicans [well, and some who didn’t have a party preference] feeling otherwise, inserted President Coolidge ahead of Great Man Davis.”
A few letters responded to the 19 March issue and a letter sent by a Virginia man who touted his native birth in America and readiness to die for “his” country and who apparently was displeased with TIME’s prior article about the demise of the Ku Klux Klan, which saw a rapid rise earlier in the Twenties. One writer, also from Virginia and stating that his family roots there predated the American Revolution, offered that “a ‘family tree’ proves nothing for a man unless he can garner from it ‘the sweet fruit of reason’ and the nectar of tolerance.”
A writer from Chicago, who added that she was a deaconess at her Methodist church, expressed distaste for the “graphic” depiction in the same 19 March issue of the cremation rites of the king of Cambodia. Acknowledging the “delightfully colorful” tone of the magazine generally, the writer asked the editors to remember “its army of ardent women readers—workers all, who must have their night’s rest in order to be equipped for their allotted portion of prosaic duties in this old work-a-day world.”
Finally, Thelma B. Miller of Bakersfield submitted a lengthy rejoinder to the assertion by TIME, in a 12 March article about a recent earthquake in the San Joaquin Valley that her city was “dreadfully hot.” Miller defended her town by admitting that Bakersfield “does have high summer temperatures” but “so has every other spot in this big state not right at the sea coast.”
Except, she continued, that “Los Angeles, we think, is ‘dreadfully hot’ in summer, because it is often sultry” whereas “Bakersfield has the dry clear air of its neighbor, the Mojave desert . . .” Miller went on to say that the summer evenings consisted of a “tonic warmth” unlike “the sticky, muggy afternoons of the middle west, where I grew up.” The magazine excised much of her letter, evidently, which waxed poetic about rose and orange perfumed streets in the spring and the “crisp tang” of September “whence a cool moist breath rises in the summer air” before the inevitable ellipses brought it all to an abrupt close!
Under national affairs, one tidbit concerned an effort by a Wyoming Republican party committee to have President Coolidge seek a second term because he “had advanced the U.S. materially, intellectually, [and] morally” and “that his wisdom and beneficence should not be interrupted.” The reticent president remained resolute, however, and insisted on serving his single term.
As for the eventual nominee, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, he made his inaugural campaign speech in March (think of how early campaigns begin nowadays) to some eighty members of the House of Representatives. It was pointed out that early Southern support for Hoover was indicative of promising things to come.
There was also news of a dispute over unemployment figures between the Department of Labor (reporting near 1.9 million) and Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York (who stated it was more like 4 million).; and reports of federal tax receipts and surplus from the Department of Treasury in the context of a bill calling for nearly $300 million in tax cuts and which passed the House in December 1927, but delayed by the Senate. The department, however, recommended a cut in the range of $190-225 million and Secretary Andrew Mellon, the powerful banker,who served under Republican presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover for the unusually long period of eleven years, assiduously pursued income and other tax cuts during his tenure.
Just under a year after his epochal solo flight across the Atlantic, Charles Lindbergh was still massive popular and constantly in the spotlight, much as he seemed to be disinclined to court it. Still, TIME had a lengthy piece on him as the “Long Lobbyist” playing on the common sobriquet of “The Long Eagle.” It concerned Lindbergh’s multiple flights from a field near the nation’s capital so he, evidently, could lobby members of Congress about a House bill for reasonable remuneration and promotions for members of the Army’s Air Corps, the forerunner to the Air Force. One of the visitors who did not take to the skies was 87-year old United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, however, marveled at the sight.
There was also speculation as the financial dividends earned by the hero, whose book We was released after his famed flight and who also had income from newspaper articles, prizes and the like. A New York Times reporter, who added that Lindbergh was considering ending all public appearances, but continuing his aviation career, estimated that the flyer was probably worth up to $400,000, but not the $1 million bandied about in rumor.
Yet, fame of that magnitude clearly had its price, especially for someone shy, retiring and reticent as the aviator and a story was printed in which Lindbergh was at a Long Island country club when “a plump matron” ran up to him and hugged and kissed him as he sat at his table. It was reported that Lindbergh immediately stood up and walked out, not without the aviator needing some assistance to avoid the “clutches” of “a bevy of young women.” The same source reported that on the street in Washington, a man ran up to Lindbergh, put a hand on his shoulder and exclaimed that he touched the hero and the source stated that he thought the Long Eagle would hit him, but regained his composure and kept walking.
A National Affairs section headed “Corruption” concerned the notorious Teapot Dome scandal, involving bribes to Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, but involving election-season rumor mongering about the alleged involvement of Democratic presidential candidates like Governor Smith through purported connections to Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil, a principal figure in the scandal.
Another reported incident on the floor of the Senate involved Arthur Robinson of Indiana’s statement that five cabinet members in the Woodrow Wilson administration worked for either Sinclair of Edward L. Doheny, the oil mogul of Los Angeles and seemed to indicate the Senator Thomas Walsh of Montana, who chaired the Senate committee investigating the scandal, “had been an intimate of Doheny’s.” This led to a rebuttal from a Maryland senator, Millard Tidings, that Robinson had his own questionable associations, namely with the K.K.K. A physical altercation, apparently, was barely averted.
Foreign news included discussions of League of Nations talks on universal disarmament, based on a proposal from the Soviet Union, which claimed it stood ready to abolish all of its military forces. Baron Cushendun of Great Britain, who towered over nearly everyone at 6 feet 6 inches, gave a masterful critique of the Soviet proposal, including a withering assessment of Soviet foreign policy in seeking civil wars throughout the world, and claiming that the Communist country was trying to weaken the League (which was already lacking force without the involvement of the United States, which elected not to join the entity its own president, Wilson, championed in the peace conference after the end of the First World War.)
Other foreign items of note included a rare visit by Afghanistan’s emir to England, a piece about famed author Sinclair Lewis and other Americans in the Soviet Union, including comments on life in that country by journalist Dorothy Thompson and Ivy Lee, former publicist to John D. Rockefeller from their new book, Present-Day Russia and by another well-known writer, Theodore Dreiser, both of which were cited as being both somewhat critical and, in some ways, complimentary of life in that nation.
In the Medicine section is a somewhat timely article, “Favorable Fevers,” in which it was stated that “fever is one of the first weapons of the body” because, upon infection, “the old organism stokes the furnace, heats up the blood, [and] sends it racing round in hot haste to destroy the enemy.” The long-held idea of tamping down fever was being challenged, including by a Berlin surgeon, August Bier, who told the medical society in the German capital “about his use of fire as a curative agent.”
Specifically, Bier “burns the body to bring on a fever in cases of chronic diseases of the joints” and other conditions, including cardiac inflammation. He applied a cauterizer to tissues just below the skin and the resulting fever effected, it was stated, a cure for the several ailments addressed.
The Business & Finance section included a story of a rare female applicant for a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Peggy Cleary, who worked as a stockbroker for the Watson & White brokerage house after evidently being in the Ziegfeld Follies for a time, made enough money to meet the $375,000 baseline for membership, and was apparently among the first quartet of females to apply. Cleary, however, was denied a seat and it was another 40 years until Muriel Siebert, who owned her own brokerage, was elected at the end of 1967.
The cover photo is of Amadeo Peter Giannini and an article in this section details the remarkable career of the former San Francisco fruit dealer and founder in 1904 of the Bank of Italy. The week prior to the issue’s publication, a merger with a Los Angeles bank called Bank of America (formed in 1923) led to the creation of the Bank of America National Association, the parent company of the behemoth Bank of America, now with headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Among the observations about Giannini was that “during a long working day he is seated less than 60 minutes.. His body is kinetic, as is his mind.” His rise from the San Francisco wharves of the 1880s to a powerful banker led to this remarkable description and one to consider in light of how Italians and Italian-Americans were often treated by the Anglo-Saxon majority in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries:
He has the Corsican touch of leadership, the Lombard’s flair for finance, the Florentine’s nimble mentality, the Roman’s dignity, the Sicilian’s slashing pugnacity. Living this fully in the multiplicity of his inmost traits, he is a happy, contented man.
Giannini was also applauded for his large donation to the University of California for agricultural research and for providing for 40% of his companies’ profits to go to employees, which led, it was said, to great loyalty to the “Boss.”
In the Cinema section, highlighted new films included The Trail of ’98, a big-budget drama about the Yukon gold rush starring Dolores del Rio (were there Latinas there at the time?), Ralph Forbes and Harry Carey. Special effects and epic scenes of avalanches and a battle in small boats among roaring river rapids were cited as enthralling as “the screen is moved 15 feet nearer the audience, enlarging and slightly blurring the pictures, giving a sensation that is like watching the gods at play.” Other new pictures included The Garden of Eden with Corinne Griffith, Charles Ray, and Marie Dresser, and Two Lovers with Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky.
The Theatre section included mention of, among the “Best Plays in Manhattan,” the performance of Porgy, the “violent, truthful drama acted by and about black people” that was a sensation when it premiered in New York in October 1927 and was the basis for the mid-1930s opera Porgy and Bess. Helen Hayes in Coquette, Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude and musicals like Funny Face and Show Boat were also cited.
In the Books portion was mention of Elinor Wylie, who was as notorious in her day for her scandalous affairs and marriages as for her poetry and novels, of which Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard was critiqued in TIME as something that “exists entirely for its manner.” The publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, stated the book took fewer than three months to write, but the magazine offered that “this is an admission less damaging than it appears to be” in the result. Later in 1928, Wylie wrote two more volumes of poetry before she died suddenly of a stroke in December at just 43 years of age.
Advertisements are always interesting to peruse in publications and a sample are provided here, with two standouts. One is for the Southern Pacific’s Sunset Route from New Orleans to California and its romanticized associations with the semi-mythical Spanish past, exemplified by a rendering of a friar benevolently overlooking native indigenous laborers building a large mission.
Moreover, it was claimed that the “Sunset Trail” was “the pathway of the Spanish friars, grim-visaged captains, and early-day explorers” including Anza in 1776. In the ad, it was proclaimed that “every mile is historically significant. Every mile is scenically interesting.” Along the SP’s route were to be found “prehistoric structures, crumbling Missions, typical western ranches and virile modern development.” Other historic routes promoted were the “Golden State Route” from Chicago to El Paso and then along the Sunset, and the Overland Route from Chicago to San Francisco along much of the transcontinental route which opened nearly six decades prior.
The second ad to note here is from Viking Books and its new offering, American Prosperity—Its Causes and Consequences by Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers (the storied firm founded in 1850 and which flamed out spectacularly in the 2008 crash), who was uttering prophecy for the “coming revolution in business.” The ad asked, “unemployment, investigations and bread lines are front-page news. Is something happening to our much-vaunted prosperity?”
Moreover, buying in installments, whether for goods or stock, was “pyramiding” and “the buying power of a million families has been chopped in half.” Mergers took over independent companies and borrowing in Europe would “either dump great masses of cheap goods on our markets or bar American products.” With all of this, “something must be done—or our prosperity is ended.” More striking is this utterance:
Something is radically wrong with many of our present business oracles when a banker, of all men, becomes so aroused he heaves bombs at them, and blows their ideas sky high with the deadly accuracy of his facts . . . If you, too, see the absolute necessity of sizing up what is coming—and how to face it—get this book at once . . .
A year-and-a-half after this, the bottom fell out of the American economy, which was not only booming for most of the Twenties, but seemed to have the potential to continue an upward trajectory for years. Mazur and others, however, did write of concerns and cracks in the armor of American economic invincibility.
Even a cursory perusal of issues of TIME and other magazines, as well as newspapers and other material, of the period can be amazing excursions in time and this one, given its references to the 1928 presidential election; the economic picture; remarkable people of varying levels of fame like Lindbergh, Giannini, and Wylie; foreign issues; the Teapot Dome scandal; and much more. The “Read All About Series” will continue to look at publications that show us how different in many ways and how similar in others life was during our interpretive era of 1830 to 1930 to now.