The Jazz Age still roaring in pop culture

Mount talk examines the people, music, and lasting appeal of the era
March 01, 2017

Nancy Von Rosk, Mount associate professor of English, during her iROC lecture. 


The Jazz age and its iconic flappers are still “the cat’s meow,” according to Nancy Von Rosk, a Mount Saint Mary College associate professor of English.

From books, movies, and TV shows to large-scale cultural events, popular culture is still fascinated by this lively era, explained Von Rosk during her Investigating Research on Campus (iROC) lecture on Monday, February 27.

Von Rosk, who gathered and edited content for the book “Looking Back at the Jazz Age: New Essays on the Literature and Legacy of an Iconic Decade,” said that during this process, she kept finding references to the Jazz age in modern media.

“On television, there was ‘Downton Abbey,’ there was ‘Dancing on the Edge,’ there was ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ and there was Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris,’” said Von Rosk. “As I was writing the introduction for this book, I also learned that Scarlett Johansson will be starring in ‘The Beautiful and Damned,’ an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald book, later this year, and there’s another movie in production about Zelda [Fitzgerald’s wife] that will star Jennifer Lawrence.”

Several cities hold major cultural events based on the Jazz age, she added, including New York City’s Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island which attracts thousands of attendees every year.

Von Rosk also examined the lives many women of the age. Some she had never heard of, and for those she had, she was fascinated by new stories of their trials and triumphs.

Some of the more familiar names she came across included Josephine Baker, Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, and Zelda Fitzgerald. Some of the unfamiliar ones included Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star; Marie Prevost, a silent film actress who starred in Fitzgerald’s “Beautiful and Damned;” Irene Castle, who was a fashion icon and started the bobbed hair craze; and Fannie Hurst.

“I had never heard of [Hurst] until I started working on this project. But she was the most popular writer of the 1920s and the most highly paid. She was also a great political activist but she’s all but forgotten today,” said Von Rosk.

The goal of iROC is to “provide a forum for Mount faculty, staff, and students to showcase their research endeavors with both Mount Saint Mary College and the local community in a manner easily understood by attendees,” explained series coordinators Evan Merkhofer and Jennifer Park, assistant librarian for access and outreach services. Presentations include research proposals, initial data collection, and completed research projects.