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THE SMART MAGAZINES by George H. Douglas

THE SMART MAGAZINES

50 Years of Literary Revelry and High Jinks at Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Life, Esquire and The Smart Set

By George H. Douglas

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-208-02309-7

 The nation's most brilliant magazines in the first four decades of the 20th century, presented with style by the author of the sprightly Women of the 20s (1986). Douglas begins in the 1890's, with magazines that depended on circulation and kept their advertising to dull, cramped columns in the back pages. But as the US changed from a rural to urban society, he explains, advertising came to such bold and vivid new life that some magazines could have been given away free and still have shown big profits. The Smart Set took over from the notorious New York society weekly Town Topics, whose literary pages alternated with ``an unbridled appetite for salacious chatter and slander''--it was published by Colonel William D'Alton Mann, a blackmailer. In 1906, the young iconoclasts H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan were brought on board as book and theater reviewers and eventually became joint editors with the principal objective of giving all young ``literary bucks and wenches'' a place to show off their work. Their ten years of editorship brought first-class writers such as Willa Cather and F. Scott Fitzgerald into the fold; they finally left to found their own literary magazine, The American Mercury. On the other hand, Douglas explains, gentlemanly Frank Crowninshield's Vanity Fair was avant-garde, distinctive, and appealed to a sophisticated elite--and yet in 1915 topped all magazines for advertising. Vanity Fair was New York, and its three leading literary wits--Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Robert E. Sherwood--founded the Algonquin Round Table. In some ways, ``hobo newspaperman'' Harold Ross's New Yorker displaced Vanity Fair, while Arnold Gingrich's overnight sensation, Esquire--featuring fact-pieces by Hemingway--prompted Vanity Fair's publisher to merge it with Vogue. Zesty, but not overly spiced.