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Smart Set Magazine

lulu One often reproduced portrait of Louise Brooks depicts the actress holding a copy of The Smart Set - a well known magazine whose heyday was the Teens and Twenties. Why Brooks was posed with the magazine is uncertain. Perhaps it was just a prop. Or perhaps (as with the image of Brooks holding a copy of Theatre Magazine), it was meant to bolster her image as a cultural sophisticate.

Louise Brooks and Smart Set

Though its circulation was relatively small, The Smart Set was a highly regarded magazine with a sophisticated, literary reputation. Its best known editors were George Jean Nathan - the drama critic, and H. L. Mencken - one of the most distinguished social critics in America. Proclaiming that "one civilized reader was worth a thousand boneheads," Nathan and Mencken engaged in a full-scale assault on American naivety and puritanism. Their weapons were scorn, sarcasm, and mockery - as well as a fierce dedication to high culture and the avant-garde. [ The Smart Set was also known for its pithy epigrams. These epigrams were so popular that the magazine sold them to movie theaters, where they were shown to entertain the audience before the main feature. ]

For a short time during the Teens, The Smart Set was edited by Willard Huntington Wright (aka S. S. Van Dine), author The Canary Murder Case. Wright was the first editor in the United States to publish a short story by D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Arthur Strindberg, Arthur Schnitzler and notably, Frank Wedekind - author of the Lulu plays.

Most importantly, The Smart Set helped introduced readers to the writers, literary trends, and critical ideas which would prove key to the development of American modernism. F. Scott Fitzgerald was an early discovery, as was Eugene O'Neill. Other American writers published in the pages of The Smart Set included Dorothy Parker, Ben Hecht, Maxwell Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, Damon Runyon, Carl Van Vechten, Dashiell Hammett, and Jim Tully (author of Beggars of Life). After three decades of helping introduce readers to the best of European and American modernism, The Smart Set ceased publication in 1930.

Louise Brooks and Theater Magazine

For further reading, check out these books. The first two are anthologies drawn from The Smart Set. Each contains short stories, poems and plays as well as some history and background on this illustrious magazine.

Rascoe, Burton and Conklin, Groff (editors). The Smart Set Anthology. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1934. (United States)
--- edited shortly after the demise of the magazine, this 840+ page anthology is rich in the literature of the teens and twenties; contains a long introductory history of the magazine

Dolmetsch, Carl R. The Smart Set. New York: The Dial Press, 1966. (United States)
--- an anthology with material independdent of the prior volume; also contains a reminiscence by Smart Set contributor S. N. Behrman

Curtiss, Thomas Quinn. The Smart Set : George Jean Nathan and H.L. Mencken New York: Applause Books, 1997. (United States)
--- a history of the magazine focusing on Broadway and the Nathan - Mencken years

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