Monday, June 26, 2023

Edwin Bower Hesser's Monthly Arts Pictorial, June 1925

So, I'm all over the place lately.  I'd intended to post another Fawcett from 1937 to go with that True Mystic Confessions from a few weeks back but ended up going so far down the Fawcett rabbit hole that I want to tack to other subjects while I get a larger project together on the publisher.  So, tonight, let's go back to the one project I'm constantly chipping at here at Darwination Scans, the girlie magazines of the 1920s.  I do believe I've happened upon a key specimen, Arts Monthly Pictorial, June 1925.

A mischievous nymph in a magic forest peers at you from a purple cover a century and worlds away.

A better view at my Flickr thread here.

Get the full hires scan here: Arts Monthly Pictorial v02n04 1925-05 (Darwination).cbr

 or you can the issue from my shelf at the Internet Archive here.

As the middle of the roaring twenties, the adult end of the magazine market started to boil over.  The small, humor digests like Capt. Billy's Whiz-Bang or Hot Dog started to give way to grander productions.   New and cheaper printing techniques meant that photography and color might make their way down market.  Or, heaven forbid, let's make some high end material to match the opulence and wildness and fat times of the 20s. Girls had bobbed hair and the world is changing quickly with fast cars and bootleg booze. Live entertainment became racier and racier. A revolution in manners and morals, heavens to betsy. In the flapper's magazines you'd see pictures of girls in bathing suits.  In the Broadway magazines, perhaps you'd see Alfred Cheney Johnston's photos of follies girls wearing less and less.  Nude doodles start to appear in humor mags high and low.  And there was no code in Hollywood yet and appetite for glamour and raciness.

Edwin Bower Hesser (1893-1962) was a key figure in the photography of the magazines of the 20s and 30s, but it wasn't his first undertaking in the Arts.  Trained in a traditional curriculum and in photography at the Art Institute Chicago, Cheney was interested in the technology and possibilities artistically and financially of the motion pictures.  He reached out to a London company and became the New York agent for Kinemacolor, a process which used red and green filters for a new color experience.

A 1911 Advertisement for the process from in the UK.  More information on Kinemacolor provided here.

David Shields has an excellent bio on Hesser which you can find here. He writes of Hesser's glorious and abrupt adventure in Kinemacolor and theatre management:

In autumn of 1911 Hesser managed the Kinemacolor Theatre on 40th Street in Manhattan, the former Mendelssohn Hall, an electrified  1,200 auditorium designed by Robert H. Robertson. Hesser presided over the first of the great movie houses, predating New York’s Regent (1,800 capacity—1913) and Strand (3,000 capacity-1914) by two years.[vi]  He charged $1.00 per seat, an extraordinary sum contrasted to the 15 cents that was the norm for motion pictures in the city.  So long as the Kinemacolor Company could supply product, the Theatre did brisk business.  Highlights of the 1911-1912 season included “The Indian Durbar greeting King George V,” “Nature’s Wonders,” “The Burial of the Battleship Maine,” “Royal Horse Show,” “Unveiling of the Victoria Memorial,” and one photo-play: “Oedipus Rex” with live actors speaking in synchrony with the screen action.  Unfortunately the cumbersome production and inefficiency in managing projects forced Kinemacolor to resort to small scale projects—supplying illustrative movies of butterflies for Lillian Russell lectures on how to remain beautiful or  brief film inserts for stage plays.  High ticket prices, the lack of new product, and the Motion Picture Patent Company Monopoly’s ban on supplying product doomed the Kinemacolor Theatre which went dark before the end of 1912.  Kinemacolor dispensed with Hesser’s services.

And that was apparently the end of Mendelssohn Hall, too, as the owner sold the building, and it was torn down so lofts could be built.

Flikr user CharmaineZoe has found an ad for Hesser's venture:

She has some nice links in the placard as well as some galleries of Kinemacolor in New York as well as great gallery of old theaters here.

But life moves on, and so did Hesser.  He tried a touring opera, mixing photo light show and poetry, starting a school for actors and making his own motion pictures.  When that didn't work out, he joined the military as photographer and wrote screenplays. Sensing that the real action as a photographic artist had moved west, Hesser went to LA in a publicity photographer role and there found the subject that would propel him to photographic stardom - starlets.  Hesser contracted with Brewster Publications in New York to provide material for Motion Picture classics and Shadowland, which is a classic American magazine by any definition.  The Amon Carter Museum of American Art Research Library, God bless them, have scanned and uploaded to the Internet Archive a magnificent run of Shadowland which you can read here. Hesser's big break came with this photo from the January 1921 issue:

 David Shields writes of Hesser's break and photographic style:

1921 was Hesser’s breakthrough year as a entertainment portraitist.  He placed a headshot of Phyllis Haver in the January issue of Shadowland and immediately became a hot commodity among magazine editors and art directors. In the next six months he would place images in Pictureplay, Pantomime, Movie Weekly, Motion Picture Classic, Film Stories, Motion Picture, Theatre, and Photoplay. In 1921 he published portraits of 30 female stars as illustrations for 73 articles, with flapper Colleen Moore, Florence Vidor, and Katharine MacDonald being the most saleable personalities, securing four features each. Appearances in Brewster Publishing magazines—Shadowland or Motion Picture Classic  accounted for half of his business. He was the most prominently featured photographer in the May, August, September, and October Classics, appearing in six stories per issue.  What made such an impression on the editors?  Hesser gave women—even plain and middle-aged women—an erotic charge.  He specialized in bust shots with rounded bare shoulders, back-lit hair to surround in the head in a halo, a pictorial focus upon the sitters’ eyes. He modulated the toning in the prints, avoiding stark contrasts, and seeking a palpable three-dimensionality of the arms, body, chin, and cheeks.  Backgrounds were minimized.  Costume was optional.  Like Alfred Cheney Johnston, he made extensive use of drapes.  His women rarely seemed imperious, aloof, cruel, or narcissistic.  They were posed to appear coy, charming, candidly and attentively direct, sometimes pensive, sometimes merry.  Most displayed a consciousness of their beauty.  He was less  fascinated by the profile shot than any major entertainment portraitist of the early 1920s.

Hesser began his own magazine, Hesser Arts' Monthly, in 1922.  I've never seen images of this magazine.  Hesser knew that skin was in and veered towards nude photography, the type that had previously been sold only out of the backs of magazines.  

The issue I've scanned here is what I believe is the first issue of a title that would run for something like the next five years albeit under different publishers.

A mission statement, typical of a first issue, but also often repeated in the artists and models magazines.

Art is for everyone.  Why not have great art in a magazine cheap enough to be enjoyed by the masses where they live.  Masterworks might be viewed by the layman wherever he may be.  Art will not be guided by prudery and neither is anything on display improper.  The nude "long recognized as inseparable from art" will of course be represented "but always in such a delicate manner that the magazine may enter any enlightened home."  Skin sells but maybe Hesser has another mission, too.

But a closer look at the indicia.

TNT is actually a neat little humor/Hollywood digest that I'd characterize as a Hollywood Capt. Billy's.  I'll scan the issue I have some time which just happens to be v02n03, January 1925:

Billy Cam art.  So, with Arts Monthly picking up the numbering, I'm pretty sure that makes our purple issue the first.  Later the mag would move to New York as part of Frank Armer's Art Group and later still be published by Dawn Publishing (who I recently wrote about in a post on SEX here).  I intend to revisit Hesser's work (and have likely posted it in girlie pulp scans) c.1930 at some point, but for now let's take a look at some pages from the issue and his photographic style.  All the talk and history is one thing, but you learn just as much by LOOKING. The mag itself is a decent production on large thick stock, slick pages with multi colored inks.  The printing is not the greatest and the photos are delicate, so I've gone with a minimal color edit.  It pains me again to say how much I hate blogger's broken image system (but not half as much as it pains me too look at the compressed, blurry and otherwise butchered .jpegs), so I'll put up some Flickr mirror links if it's an image I've posted in my gallery there.

Eve. There is a reclamation of Eve at work in the 20s, woman beautiful in her natural state, innocent and not so innocent, knowledge or no.  Hesser sets his models in natural settings as often as not.  The light and shadow and natural curve of body or tree or stream at play.

 Yvonne Park, Pandora, 1880

George Brookwell on photography as fine art, once a laughable idea.  But here is photography as a medium of expression.  We make a lot of choices when take a picture.  And then there's the relation of photographer and subject.  Has the proliferation of and availability of cameras led to a more artful approach to photography?  There's certainly more opportunity to take a picture, and yet why is the world full of so many bad photos?  Don't ask me - the only camera I'm any good with is my scanner -

Salome by Frantisek Drtikol, who perhaps takes a more angular approach than Hesser.

The Veil by Edwin Bower Hesser.

Gloria Swanson channels Sarah Bernhardt as inspiration.  Edwin Bower Hesser. A better look on Flickr here.

Two images of the Wright Dancers, in purple, bodies in motion, in sepia, still and  symmetrical.  How I love the 20s hairdos.

 Cecil B. De Mille, Mack Sennett, and Joseph Schenk say that you, too, can become a star.

Betty Compson by Edwin Bower Hesser

Lorna Palmar, Stunning.  Winner of first prize in The Los Angeles Examiner's contest for the "The Perfect Extra Girl" at Flickr here


Martha Lorber of the Ziegfield Follies by Edwin Bower Hesser.  A fantastic compostion, the angles of the arm and legs.  The smooth and pale blankness of the skin contrasted with the natural but ornate decorations on the shiny silk.  Fashion accentuated by nakedness? At Flickr here.

And sometimes I snark at the art pieces in these mags as window dressing but sometimes I find something new.  This issue introduced me to Luis Falero whose mythological ladies almost have a science fiction bent. Astounding.

Luis Falero, watercolor, 1881, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  More Falero here.

And more - Norma Shearer, Evelyn Pierce, Colleen Moore, Corinne Griffith, Ricardo Cortez, Shirley Mason, Lillian Knight, Carol Wines, Marjorie Daw, Marguerite de la Motte, Monte Blue, and Zelma O'Neal.

I have no idea what I'll blog next but do enjoy when I take the time to write a post.  I've been scanning some new stuff and also chasing down leads on some old scans that never made it out here.  Every subject I research seems to lead me down some other wonderful or stupefying path of inquiry I never intended to walk.  It can feel like walking in circles sometimes, but the trip is a trip - - -

1 comment:

Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

An interesting example from before censors cracked down on nudity in magazines.