When Eustace Tilley came to Madison Square Garden: professional hockey and the editorial policy of the New Yorker in the 1920s and 1930s
In even its earliest months of publication during the winter of 1925, the New Yorker sought to position itself as an upscale humor magazine. But the often-too-slim periodical was notoriously uneven in its first numbers, and it was difficult for its few readers to see how editor Harold Ross would develop the reputation for sophistication he desired for the New Yorker while achieving its intended tone "of gaiety, wit and satire," as set out in the prospectus he had written a year before.1 Part of the initial problem, as Ross biographer Thomas Kunkel argues, was that the editor himself was uncertain whether a Manhattan aristocracy was to be the audience for his magazine or the primary target of its mockery. One attempt to strike a balance between these early positions was represented by the Rea Irwin illustration of "Eustace Tilley," the monocled dandy whose inquisitive pose on the first cover came to embody the "smart, enigmatic, relaxed, observant, amusing, yet somehow detached" mien Ross sought.2 If Tilley was the New Yorker in its early years, watching over with impeccable discernment a city more demonstrably heterogeneous than anyone of his social standing would have dared concede, it is still difficult to imagine him in attendance at Madison Square Garden, taking in a spectacle like a bicycle race, a boxing match, or, from the middle of the 1920s, a professional hockey game. And, yet, hockey reportage held considerable significance during the first decade of publishing the New Yorker, as the story itself quickly evolved beyond the discussion of a successful business venture, especially in the five years during which hockey was covered by Niven Busch, a young Manhattan writer who later found success as a novelist and screenwriter in Hollywood.
Monk, C. (2005). When Eustace Tilley Came to Madison Square Garden: Professional Hockey and the Editorial Policy of the New Yorker in the 1920s and 1930s. American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism 15(2), 178-195. doi:10.1353/amp.2005.0018.
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