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Category Archives: Paper

Very Scarry Christmas

An interesting flickr set contrasts the 1963 and 1991 editions of Richard Scarry’s The Best Word Book Ever. In the publisher’s efforts at appearing more P.C., the book became just a little dumber and more condescending. And so it goes.

Studying the wonderful Scarry illustrations in The Animals’ Merry Christmas is one of my favorite childhood holiday memories. I seem to remember every picture vividly; so much so that Kathryn Jackson’s accompanying stories are a blur. There was a story about a polar bear who had to shave his coat and wear red long underwear, another one about a slowly deteriorating stuffed sheep. That’s about it. The copy in our family was a ’70s reprint, but I was surprised to find that the book actually dates from 1950! Maybe that explains why Scarry’s art touched me so much. I coudn’t find any examples from the book online, but Eric Sturdevant’s groovy Old Childrens Books flickr set contains art that conveys a similar look.

A Reader in Phoenix Writes

This is the neatest thing: in their June 15th, 1940 issue, The New Yorker published a colorful two-page map of the 1940 New York Worlds Fair. I came across this paging through The Complete New Yorker (for some reason, the map is not listed in the software’s search engine). I mean, look:

Isn’t that the greatest? I now find that the NYer covered the Fair extensively. They commissioned covers and cartoons, wrote about the exhibits and music presentations, and even ran “Talk of the Town” pieces on such matters as broadcasting radio reports of news from Europe at the fairgrounds (they noted with relief when the practice was stopped).

Actually, I happened to be reading Thomas Kunkel’s swell bio of New Yorker founder Harold Ross, Genius In Disguise. Every time an interesting article is mentioned in the book, I make a note to look it up. In the process, I wind up finding other stuff to make note of, until I have too way much stuff to read. A vicious cycle that never ends. Anyway, some other finds:

  • A lively profile of teenage debutante Brenda Frazier by E.J. Kahn, Jr. (June 10, 1939) Frazier was sorta the Paris Hilton of her day, an unpretentious yet glamorous young lady who somehow became Miss Hot Thing of late ’30s New York. Kahn’s profile is actually sympathetic to Miss Frazier and fascinating to read.
  • In 1938, Life magazine ran a controversial yet popular photo feature called “The Birth of a Baby”. The New Yorker‘s takeoff is a hilarious two pager called “The Birth of an Adult” (April 3, 1938) written by E.B. White and illustrated by Rea Irvin.
  • Geoffrey T. Hellman’s three part profile of industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes began in the February 8, 1940 issue. I haven’t read this one yet, but it devotes some space to the Bel Geddes-designed General Motors Worlds Fair exhibit called ‘Futurama’ — ’nuff said.
  • There’s also the profiles which made Harold Ross the enemy of powerful men — former friend Alexander Woolcott (March 18, 1939), the famous Henry Luce profile written in Timespeak (November 28, 1936), Walter Winchell (a multiparter that begun in the same 1940 issue as the Worlds Fair map!), Readers Digest founder DeWitt Wallace (November 17, 1945).

Suffice to say that these stories are from only a short period during the Ross Era. Does anyone else have interesting old New Yorker articles to share? It’s going to be a long winter.

Talk of the Town

For my birthday earlier this month, Christopher gave me a copy of The Complete New Yorker. It’s exactly what the title says — every issue of The New Yorker (up to February 14, 2005), spread across eight DVDs. Sure it’s buggy, some of the scanned artwork is splotchy and the article abstracts appear to have been written by non-English speaking interns, but overall this is pretty damn cool. Amazon has it for only sixty bucks, the deal of the century.

Although many Amazon customers complained about installing the browsing software, it was no problem with me. In five minutes, I got it going and was already collecting archived articles as a reading list (a handy feature) to look through later on. I might never get through, say, Lillian Ross’ multi-part exposé on the movie business from 1952, but it’s nice to have it handy anyhow.

One feature in this set’s software allows you to browse issues by cover. This is heaven. I love all phases of the NYer covers, from the early Art Deco ones to the more typical pastel-hued landscapes and still lifes. Once Art Spiegelman became art director in the early ’90s, the covers got wilder and more topical. I especially dug R. Crumb’s cover from 1994, which updates Eustace Tilly as a heavy-lidded slacker studying a porn leaflet. Heck, I’ve browsed plenty. Use it to trace the development of cartoonist Roz Chast (her earliest work is very primitive and funky), or the twilight years of Charles Addams.

Perhaps the greatest use for the set is just picking a typical issue and leafing through the pages. Thankfully, they’ve also included every ad in every issue. I love paging through a 1938 issue to find that, for example, Campbells Cream of Mushroom Soup is the preferred meal for the busy hostess to serve “expected guests”. There’s also a million little things to marvel at in the older editions, like the brilliant fashion columns of Lois Long, or the tiny illustrations they used between the columns, or the multitudes of theatre ads in the back … well, you get the idea.