A new decade approaches, and we are once again entering the Twenties!
The 1920s was a wild decade, and like every era, it had its good and bad aspects. It was an era of prohibition, race riots, and the Teapot Dome scandal. However, when people think of the Twenties, they also think of the Jazz Age, flapper fashion, and the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Sure, you could put up some art deco black and gold balloons, make everyone wear flapper costumes and flat caps, and call it good, but here are a couple of additional fun and simple ways to bring some of the 1920s into the 21st century.
First, make the literary greats part of the party.
There are plenty of fun ways to incorporate a love of literature into a party. Have guests bring a paperback from a 1920s author (or about the 1920s) for a book drive, host a book exchange, or give 1920s classics as game prizes.
Today, it is hard not to associate the 1920s with the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby, but there are plenty of other books that sold many more copies at the time. These included the Hercule Poirot mysteries from Agatha Christie, the poetry of Langston Hughes, noir detective stories from Dashiell Hammett, Emily Post’s etiquette book, and scientific reads on relativity from Albert Einstein. Some other famous authors including Willa Cather, Thomas Wolf, Virginia Woolf, Zane Grey, and Ernest Hemingway. Don’t forget young readers’ favorites like A.A. Milnes’s Winnie the Pooh, Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit, and one that will soon be getting a new feature film treatment in the 2020s, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting.
Fun Fact: Since prohibition in the 1920s spawned the “Speakeasy,” have guests gain entrance to the party by asking a trivia question of who the bestselling author was in the 1920s. No, it wasn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose works weren’t fully embraced until after his death in the 1950s. The bestselling author of the Roaring 20s was… Agatha Christie, of course.
Next, make ’em laugh.
Just like today, when people wanted to escape the problems of the “real world,” they would take in a movie, and with silent films being in full swing, that means physical comedy was at its best, filled with some amazing stunts and athleticism that still holds up today.
I normally don’t like playing movies during parties, as I think it can be too distracting. Since “talkies” weren’t really a thing until the end of the 1920s, playing one of the classic comedies of the 1920s in the background is a fun way to add atmosphere. Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton are great choices, as well as animated classics from Max Fleischer, but if you want one of the most iconic comic bits from the 1920s, play Safety Last! featuring the scene where Harold Lloyd dangles dangerously from a high-rise clock. This also is one of the many films from 1923 that just went into the public domain in 2019.
Fun Fact: If you can find it, the 1925 film The Village of Peter Pan starring Richard Dix is the only film in which comic icon Harpo Marx actually speaks… which is ironic, since it is a silent film.
Finally, make it musical.
There’s more to the Jazz Age than the Charleston, and though many less free-wheeling folks of the 1920s found jazz to encourage “depravity,” some of the greatest jazz musicians in America started in this decade, including Louis Armstrong, guitarist Eddie Lang, Duck Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, and Jack Teagarden.
Of course, if you have a crowd who insists on some more current sounds, search for soundtracks from shows and films set in the 1920s. One of the most obvious and eclectic mixes is from the BBC hit Peaky Blinders, whose soundtrack includes a White Stripes cover of the late 1920s hit “St. James Infirmary Blues” to the show’s theme song, “Red Right Hand,” from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (although other versions are available from PJ Harvey, Arctic Monkeys, and Snoop Dog.”
Music sites like Spotify have some great Prohibition and Jazz Era playlists, as well as the Peaky Blinders Official Soundtrack with music and dialogue mixed in.
Fun Fact: If you start Panic at the Disco’s song “Roaring 20s” at 13 seconds past 11:59 p.m., Brendon Urie will sing “This is my roaring 20s!!!” right at midnight!
Not exactly the Charleston… but it works!
The era of flappers and flat caps may be a century behind us, but no matter what the future holds for any of us, good or bad, we can look ahead with perfect “2020” vision at another year.
Have fun and be safe this New Year’s Eve.