Friday, October 30, 2009
The Early 1950s
I am nearly done with the current phase of my research for a new musical that I'm writing the book for. This has involved skimming back issues of the New Yorker, via The Complete New Yorker on cds. The magazine is in some ways remarkably similar to how it is now, and in other ways, not so much.
In the 50s, the shopping feature (On the Avenue) was much more common. They also had semi-regular columns about horse-racing, boxing, and tennis (even court tennis). There were two or three pieces of fiction in every issue. (And, yes, S.J. Perelman is still funny!) Douglas Watt, who died recently, was the music critic.
I also discovered a wonderful feature writer named Joseph Wechsberg. A native of the Czech part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Wechsberg served in World War II. He mainly writes about that part of the world- Berlin after the partition, the German-Czech border after 1948, a ride on the Orient Express- but also wrote a wonderful "Letter from Lebanon." Wechsberg died in Vienna in 1983. His website (www.josephwechsberg.com) is mostly in German, but there are some of his magazine and newspaper articles for English-language publications. Wechsberg was one of those feature writers (as was the recently deceased Nan Robertson for the New York Times) who while not at all chummy, really opens a window onto a different world for his readers. You feel like you're there with him, and it's a fascinating place to be.