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December 27, 1987|Sybil Sever

ANYTHING GOES: THE JAZZ-AGE ADVENTURES OF NEYSA McMEIN AND HER EXTRAVAGANT CIRCLE OF FRIENDS by Brian Gallagher (Times Books: $18.95; 241 pp., illustrated).

Aficionados of the Jazz Age will welcome this new addition to the already voluminous chronicles of the period and its well- known cast of characters. Instead of yet another rehash of the life and times of Scott and Zelda, et al, this engaging biography focuses on a lesser-known personality of the time: Neysa McMein, an impressively successful commercial illustrator whose studio served simultaneously as "the" New York salon throughout the '20s and '30s and through whose door passed nearly every name of the period from Benchley to Chaplin to Gershwin to Mencken to Woollcott.

Author Brian Gallagher, a professor of English at City University of New York, states "Neysa McMein's art was distinctly less important than her person and her presence. Her art is interesting chiefly because of the rest of her life," and proceeds to regale the reader with some 250 pages of little-known anecdotes of the rich, talented, and famous that reveled in McMein's homes and studio.

Alternatively described by her contemporaries as "beautiful," "ugly," "the sexiest gal in town," "little better than a tart," "lacking in that apocryphal virtue dignity," Gallagher attempts, but never quite achieves, a satisfactory explanation for the fervent attraction this Quincy, Ill., native created for the international Who's Who of the period and why she inspired songs, novels, and gossip columns. Nevertheless, this enormously entertaining hagiography reunites the reader with some of the most creative, sorely missed, and irreplaceable personalities of the early part of this century.

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