Tuesday, January 22, 2008
My First Entry for The New Yorker's Eustace Tilley Contest 2008
This is my first entry for the New Yorker's Eustace Tilley Contest 2008. The deadline is the January 24, just a couple days from now. All contestant entries can be seen in the contest pool at Flickr. There are some amazing and funny parodies on the iconic cover. I hardly expect to win with my rough cartoon, but I wanted to enter for the challenge of coming up with something appropriate and fun.
In the process, I learned much about 'Eustace Tilley,' a character created and named for the New Yorker by Corey Ford. The cover portrait was rendered by Art Editor, Rea Irvin [August 26, 1881 — May 28, 1972] for the first isssue (February 21, 1925). The famous M. Tilley appeared annually on every February issues' cover until 1994. While Ford's memoirs, The Time of Laughter indicate the surname, Tilley was that of a maiden aunt, I can't help but note the likeness of the fictional foppish dandy and his surname to that of the famous Vaudevillian male impersonator, singer and comedianne, Englishwoman, Vesta Tilley [May 13, 1864 – September 16, 1952]; she was likewise immaculately suited in top hat, high collar, ascot, vest, overcoat, monocle, spats, etc.,...for at least one of her popular characters. Her finely-tailored style was so impeccible and admired that she became a trend-setter for the latest in male fashion. I've learned quite a bit about this other chic Tilley and about the "dandy" fashion of that day, as well:
Vesta Tilley had often performed onstage in New York at vaudeville halls such as Tony Pastor's and the Murray Hill Theatre. In 1903, she appeared in New York for "Undercover." The following year she returned to New York, playing the cross-dressing Lady Molly. Highly paid for a woman in her day, it is said "the taste, wit, and social observation of her act transcended vulgarity"; in fact, her successful independence as a female in theatre inspired and helped to pave the way for other would-be working women. When her husband entered politics, Vesta Tilley retired. She was in her mid-fifties, just 5 years before The New Yorker made its debut.
Interestingly, by the 1920's some lesbians, including artist, Romaine Brooks (1874-1970) and her circle, adopted the tailored attire of the dandy as their own; hat, spats, bobbed hair and all, and sported the monocle as a recognizible symbol. In fact, a popular Paris nightclub owned by Lulu de Montparnasse, catering to the lesbian community was named, "The Monocle."
It's just my wild imagination's way of association, but probably too wobbly an association to make anything substantial of. Yet, I can't help but wonder if Corey Ford (and perhaps Rea Irvin) had not seen Vesta Tilley perform as a stylish Edwardian fop in the preceding and recent years, influencing the choice of surname. At the very least, cosmopolitan 'men about town' as they were, the two would have been very aware of Vesta Tilley, and of course, the adoption of the dandy and monocled cross-dressing fashion by the female fringe; in the latter instance, perhaps it would have been too controversial to acknowledge such an inspiration in print, whereas a picture paints a thousand words. And a thousand speculations.