This is part five of a seven-part blog series exploring the long-forgotten Los Angeles arts & culture magazine, The Graphic. The Los Angeles Public Library owns what is likely the most complete collection of this magazine anywhere, and our participation in the California Revealed project means that we can share this rare and unique resource with the world. As part of reintroducing this long-forgotten Los Angeles arts & culture magazine to contemporary audiences, the next few entries in this series will focus on the history of the publication and the Angelenos who kept it operating for twenty-six years.
Part V: The Birth Of A "Society Journal"
On July 28, 1916, Sam Clover sold The Graphic to Albert D. Porter. Porter, a publisher from New York, had relocated to Pasadena following the death of his wife in 1914. Porter had founded one of the most successful magazines, The Housewife, and, despite being largely forgotten today, it made Porter very rich. Porter had "retired," but purchasing The Graphic was, evidently, an opportunity that was too good to pass up. The South Pasadena Record reported that Porter envisioned beefing up The Graphic's financial and sports reporting but Porter's tenure as owner was generally indistinguishable from Clover's time at the helm. Porter was a smart man, and he seemed to subscribe to the old adage, "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" The most remarkable aspect of Porter's time as owner was the man he hired as editor, Charles Lapworth. Lapworth was born in Willenhall, England, in 1878 and gained some notoriety as a reporter for the London Daily Mail covering the Turco-Italian campaign in Tripoli. His time in North Africa eventually culminated in a book on Italian colonization entitled Tripoli and Young Italy (1912). Sometime around 1915, Lapworth decided to make his way to Los Angeles, and less than a year later, he was hired by Porter as editor of his newly acquired magazine.
The July 28, 1917 issue was a dramatic change in presentation from its predecessors, and it's likely that Elbridge Rand was the impetus for these changes. Rand and Lapworth didn't completely abandon the established template of the paper, but the magazine has a tone that is more familiar to the east coast arts & culture magazines. In some respects, it is virtually indistinguishable from more well-known publications like The Saturday Evening Post or Town & Country. Politics, while not entirely absent, are noticeably toned down, and coverage of arts and society was amplified. Of course, this didn't mean that opinions were altogether absent from The Graphic's pages, but they typically resemble satire or irony rather than libel. Reporting on figures like evangelist Billy Sunday, for instance, was critical but was deliberately portrayed as burlesque, and one can easily imagine the accompanying eye-roll of the reporter or the guffaw from the reader. Lapworth in particular, had a real mastery for satire and a gift for appealing to a person's humanity through writing (and oration for that matter). He was also keenly aware of what constituted true journalism, as he had edited both the Daily Herald and the Daily Mail while in London, and his presence gave an air of legitimacy to the magazine in the eyes of Angelenos.
It's reasonable to assume that this shift in tone and presentation was the influence of Elbridge Rand. Rand seemed to be able to balance Lapworth's political acumen with more human interest content. During Rand's time at the helm, the publication is noticeably more polished with a stylish and even sophisticated presentation. Rand's status as a member of a very prominent (and wealthy) Los Angeles family meant he was accustomed to certain standards of quality and wanted the magazine which bore his name to reflect these standards. By this point, Rand had become a man of the world traveling to Europe and had spent time in New York where he had been exposed to publications like Vogue, Vanity Fair and Town & Country. Town & Country in particular seemed to be Rand's overall objective, and he would describe this new incarnation of The Graphic as the "Town and Country of the Pacific Coast" while adding the motto "Setting Forth the Town and Country Life of Southern California" to its opening pages.
The most obvious change to The Graphic was the cover. More than anything, this change seemed to indicate the aspirations that the pair had for their magazine, and Elbridge Rand is, quite likely, the person to thank for that change. From mid-1917 until a little over one year later when the final issue was published, the covers of The Graphic show some exquisite and wholly unique artwork created by men and women with remarkable mastery of their profession. Some of these artists have become household names while others faded into obscurity, but all had a profound talent. These artists and their work deserve a more comprehensive look which will come in the next blog within this series.
One of the unlikely journalists working for The Graphic was Josephine "Jo" Neely who had a regular column devoted to new and noteworthy books. Neely was not a journalist, nor did she have any sort of training as a writer; in fact, her column at The Graphic was tantamount to gig work. Neely was the book buyer for Bullocks Department store and had served as book buyer for both the White House Department Store in San Francisco and Denver Dry Goods Company Department Store in Colorado. Neely was passionate about books and had her hand on the pulse of hot new titles and trends in literature. Her growing notoriety as a bibliophile eventually led to a feature profile in the February 8, 1915 edition of the Los Angeles Evening Express and speaking engagements around town. It's not clear how she became involved with The Graphic, but it's likely that Rand or Lapworth approached her because of her growing notoriety and offered the plucky bookseller a side gig as a writer. Neely proved her resourcefulness as a reporter in her first column where she offered a profile of author and literary critic Vance Thompson. Thompson declined to be interviewed for the profile but rather than admitting defeat, Neely reached out to his wife who provided ample information on her taciturn husband and certainly more than he was ever likely to divulge himself. Neely's contributions to The Graphic serve as the backbone of the magazine and are all the more astonishing when you consider that women weren't even allowed to vote when Neely was given her own column. Her involvement with The Graphic also speaks to Rand and Lapworth's ability to look beyond gender and recognize talent when it came their way. By the end of The Graphic's run, it was clear that Jo Neely was holding up the proverbial roof for the magazine, in fact, a series of unfortunate events led Neely to write the final editorial for the magazine (but more on that later).
A regular contributor to The Graphic was writer and journalist Walter Vogdes (sometimes spelled Vodges). Vogdes was born and raised in New Jersey before relocating to Philadelphia where he got his start in Journalism. By 1917, Vogdes had relocated to Los Angeles where he took a number of writing jobs including a number of contributions to The Graphic. In 1917, Vogdes interviewed Charlie Chaplin for the December 30, 1917 edition of the Los Angeles Times which seems to have landed him a job as a publicist for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation (What would become Paramount Studios). A 1919 Motion Picture Studio directory states that he served as "Dramatic editor of the L.A. Graphic" a title that seemed to be self-imposed rather than an actual title at The Graphic. Around 1920, Vodges relocated to the Bay area where he found a job with Hearst's International News Service. It seems the powers that be thought Vodges' connection to the film industry made him an ideal choice to report on the Fatty Arbuckle Trial taking place in San Francisco. Consciously or not, Vogdes may have contributed to destroying Arbuckle's reputation and career as Hearst's newspapers were particularly brutal towards the comedian. Vogdes stayed in the Bay Area throughout the 1920s and, by the end of the decade, Vogdes published his first novel, A Great Man. He and his wife relocated to New York where he continued to work for Hearst, this time as the Associate Editor at King Features Syndicate. Vogdes suffered a heart attack in 1935 at the age of 41 and died.
One reporter for The Graphic that is a bit of a mystery was the fashion reporter, Violette Ray. Ray's regular column, "New Modes Descried" gave smart descriptions of clothing along the lines of "A silk knitted sweater dress is something new under the sun! It is black and is plaited in the stitch. The hat is fitted perfectly to its distinct consort. Exclusively at Robinsons." Violette also wrote a handful of articles during the Rand and Lapworth years including a piece on the new department store Harry Fink & Co, "A Shop with Atmosphere" and a piece in the September 20, 1918 issue that focused on bungalows in the Wilshire district. The only problem with Violette Ray is that she doesn't seem to have ever existed. No one named Violette Ray appears within the Los Angeles city directories, and there is no mention of anyone named Violette Ray in the local papers. In fact, the only mention of a "Violet Ray" in newspapers of the period is a device developed by Nikola Tesla and used in the treatment of various ailments including skin problems. The device has since been largely forgotten but was well-known in the 1910s. While it's impossible to know with any certainty, the person behind Violette may have been artist Helen Cappel who provided the fashion illustrations that were usually paired with Violette's column. Cappel was a commercial artist originally from Ohio who grew up in Oregon before relocating to California. But, more than likely, Violette Ray was just a hokey nom de plume for any editor or writer who was saddled with fashion reporting when, in fact, most of the male staff were indifferent to the topic, and the name was probably the product of Charles Lapworth's droll sense of humor. Violette Ray, however, wouldn't be the only pen name in The Graphic. A far more recognizable name was responsible for writing the social column.
The reporting from one writer named "Becky Sharp" remains fairly interesting even a century later. The cynical, ironic tone and rather unladylike satire make it clear that "Becky Sharp" is no society maven. "Becky Sharp" is clearly a nom de plume alluding to the cynical social climber of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, Vanity Fair but, much like Violette Ray, it's unclear who the person writing as "Becky Sharp" for The Graphic really was. The most likely suspect, however, was Charles Lapworth. An avowed Socialist from a working-class background, Lapworth had disdain for the "idle rich" of Los Angeles; he also had a sharp, dry sense of humor. One of Becky Sharp's columns, "Becky Sharp's Dissertation on the Trials and Troubles of the Very Rich" is a rather delicious "poor little rich girl" satire. Becky writes "I like Millionairesses. They are a cruelly maligned race and sadly misunderstood. The trouble is that they live behind a haze of gold and diamonds, which is apt to blind us to their virtues. It is almost difficult for them to be loved for themselves alone as it is for a poor relation. Immense wealth is a genuine handicap…" While no particular millionairess is identified, it's easy to imagine that this may be an allusion to Aline Barnsdall, the oil heiress who commissioned Hollyhock House. Barnsdall had contracted artist Norman Bel-Geddes around this time to design sets for her "Little Los Angeles Theater." Concurrent to his work with Barnsdall, Bel-Geddes had been commissioned to create original artwork for The Graphic, and began spending time with Lapworth. Bel-Geddes was even present at the aforementioned visit to evangelist Billy Sunday that "Becky Sharp" would write about and he even provided illustrations for the article. Lapworth, no doubt, was privy to much of Bel-Geddes' observations while working with Barnsdall and they seemed to manifest in the pages of The Graphic. Additionally, Bel-Geddes created the accompanying sketches of "troubled" millionairesses for Becky Sharp's article indicating some collusion in the matter. Another article, published later, relayed the tale of the feckless country club set and included characters named "Aileen" and "Frank." The similarity of the spelling of "Aileen" and Aline is noteworthy while "Frank" is possibly a nod to architect Frank Lloyd Wright who Bel-Geddes met while employed by Barnsdall. It should be noted, however, that in Bel-Geddes autobiography, he was nothing but complimentary to Barnsdall while he barely acknowledged Charles Lapworth. The Billy Sunday article comes the closest to revealing Becky's identity as it opens in Lapworth's voice, stating that "the editor took a reckless chance" by sending "Becky" and Bel-Geddes to record their observations and then shifts between Lapworth's voice and "Becky." There's no definitive evidence as to who Becky Sharp really was but a tantalizing theory is that Bel-Geddes may have been behind Becky Sharp but we'll never really know for sure.
The Great War
The Graphic provides some fascinating insights into the general climate of Los Angeles during World War I. The War was the elephant in the room: it was a topic that couldn't be avoided but it was also one that The Graphic didn't want to dwell on too deeply. Editorials on the War were serious, to the point and avoided partisan politics; to elaborate, on April 7, 1917, the day after the United States entered the War, The Graphic was quick to acknowledge the reality of the situation and ran the following statement, "War is Our Only Business Now…From this moment forward there must be neither Republican nor Democrat, only Americans." Covers of The Graphic began depicting brave doughboys while local men who had enlisted were regularly profiled in the society section of the paper, most notably a Captain named George S. Patton, Jr. Wartime propaganda also appeared throughout, reminding Angelenos to purchase war bonds and be mindful that "German agents" seeking information could be anywhere. Of course, humor was interjected whenever possible, mostly in the form of silly cartoons. One such cartoon depicted a wartime knitting craze meant to supply socks, sweaters, and other garments to warm American soldiers at home and abroad.
Perhaps the most thoughtful gesture that The Graphic staff could offer to the boys serving overseas was a reminder of Los Angeles. Magazines printed during the War usually had a notification printed on the lower left corner of the cover which read:
"Notice to the Reader: When you have finished reading The Graphic, place a 1-cent stamp on this notice and it will be placed in the hands of our soldiers and sailors at the front. No wrapping–no address. The Postmaster General.”
It's unclear how many (if any) copies were sent to the boys at the front but the sentiment was, no doubt, appreciated.
The changes made to The Graphic were welcomed and even embraced by Angelenos. The Los Angeles Times described this new incarnation of The Graphic as a "society journal" that the city could be proud of while The Herald not only approved of the changes but singled out The Graphic's new owners for praise:
" The Los Angeles Graphic is out in new form, with an attractive cover design, profuse illustrations, a number of feature articles and a page of up-to-the-minute cartoons. The new owners of The Graphic, Elbridge D Rand and Charles Lapworth, are being congratulated on the new departure which has greatly added to the attractiveness of the magazine."
Lapworth and Rand had played all the right notes and the next year would be a prosperous one for The Graphic but the War brought unprecedented change to everything including the magazine—and not just its content. The War not only stymied the resources that allowed its new owners to create this 'society journal' but, like something out of an Agatha Christie novel, the men and women behind The Graphic began to disappear one by one.