More Funny Business

My last entry featured cartoonist Bud Fisher, inventor of the comic “strip” (Mutt & Jeff) and the subject of the New Yorker’s Nov. 26, 1927 “Profile.” It was something of a surprise, then, to open the next issue, Dec. 3, and find the New Yorker’s literary critic Dorothy Parker offering her observations on the funny papers, including Sidney Smith’s comic strip, The Gumps.

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December 3, 1927 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Before we get to Ms. Parker, let’s have a look at The Gumps. Although that strip had plenty of slapstick, it was wordier than Mutt & Jeff and somewhat more realistic (Sidney Smith was the first cartoonist to kill off a regular character, in 1929–it caused a national outcry). An example of the strip from around 1920:

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(michaelspornanimation.com) Click image to enlarge

Like Bud Fisher, Sidney Smith would become wealthy from the merchandising of Gump toys, games, songs, food products, etc…

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The image of Andy Gump even graced cigar boxes. (kenlevine.blog)

The Gumps were also featured in nearly 50 animated shorts, and between 1923 and 1928 Universal produced dozens of two-reel comedies starring Joe Murphy (one of the original Keystone Cops) as Andy Gump, Fay Tincher as Min and Jack Morgan as Chester (two-reelers were usually comedies, about 20 minutes long).  The director of these short films, Norman Taurog, would go on to become the youngest director to win an Academy Award (Skippy 1931). He would also direct such films as Boy’s Town (1938) and nine Elvis Presley movies from 1960 to 1968.

In 1922, The Gumps cartoonist Sidney Smith famously signed a 10-year, one million-dollar contract. In 1935 he would sign an even more lucrative contract, but on his way home from the signing he would die in a car accident.

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OH MIN!…A publicity still from Universal’s two-reel comedy series featuring The Gumps. From left, Fay Tincher (Min), Joe Murphy (Andy Gump) and Jackie Morgan (Chester). The actress Fay Tincher is a bit of a mystery…an enterprising young comedienne who started her own production company in 1918, she dropped from public view by 1930, and little is known of her life since that time, even though she lived to see the year 1983, and died at age 99. (younghollywoodhof.com)
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Theatre poster announced the coming of what would be dozens of two-reelers produced by Universal between 1923 and 1928 featuring The Gumps. (imdb.com)

In her column, “Reading and Writing,” Dorothy Parker (writing under the pen name “Constant Reader”) lamented the fact that the comic strips were abandoning simple, light horseplay in favor of “melodramas.” Apparently even Andy Gump wasn’t exempt:

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GUMPS IN THE DUMPS…in late 1927 Dorothy Parker longed for the antics of the old, dimwitted Andy Gump and his much-brainier wife, Minerva. Above, the first strip from 1917 that introduced The Gumps. Below, a circa 1920 strip featuring a typical Andy Gump mishap and his trademark “Oh Min!” (newspapers.com) Click images to enlarge.

Parker also bemoaned the likes of Little Orphan Annie and the gang from Gasoline Alley, where everyday hijinks were replaced by melodrama:

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I LOVE YA, TOMORROW…but I’m gonna kick your ass today! Annie gets rough in this 1927 strip. Hugely popular, the strip (begun in 1924) inspired a ton of merchandise, films, a radio show and the musical Annie. Little Orphan Annie made creator Harold Gray a very rich man. (ha.comics.com) Click image to enlarge.
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SORRY, NO PIE IN THE FACE HERE…In this series of turgid word balloons, Walt gets full custody of the orphan Skeezix in this Gasoline Alley strip from 1927, ending what Dorothy Parker called “an interminable law suit.” First published November 24, 1918 by Frank King (who drew the strip until 1959), Gasoline Alley is still going and is the second-longest-running comic strip in the U.S. As Parker noted in her column, the characters in Gasoline Alley were allowed to age naturally. Skeezix is currently 97 years old. (hoodedutilitarian.com) Click image to enlarge.

Parker suffered throughout her life from depression, and no doubt turned to the funnies for respite. However, she wrote that she hadn’t “seen a Pow or a Bam in an egg’s age,” and sadly concluded that melodrama was what the readers wanted.

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When Minerva Was a Car

The New Yorker’s Nicholas Trott visited the Automobile Salon at the Hotel Commodore and noted that the latest trend favored an automobile’s “ruggedness” over its “prettiness.” Given the condition of roads in the 1920s, that probably wasn’t a bad thing…

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In the early days of the auto industry there were thousands of different manufacturers that eventually went broke or merged with other companies. Trott’s article mentioned new offerings from Chrysler, Mercedes, and Cadillac as well as from such makes as Erskine, Sterns-Knight, Minerva, Holbrook Franklin, Stutz, and Brewster.

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SEE THE USA IN YOUR, UM, MINERVA…The 1928 Minerva AF. (conceptcarz.com)

In “The Talk of the Town,” however, the editors wrote about another car with a far less colorful name: The Ford Model A. After 18 years of the ubiquitous black Model T, Ford buyers were ready for something different…

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GOOD ENOUGH…The 1928 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan (Wikipedia)

The New Yorker editors cautioned, however, that buyers of the Model A should “not expect too much” from a car aimed at more modest pocketbooks. In a little more than a year Ford would sell one million of the things, and by the summer of 1929, more than two million.

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When Model A production ended in early 1932, nearly five million of the cars had been produced.

German Atrocities?

It’s seemed a bit of an “about face” for New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell to write of the “horrific style of modern Germany” after previously writing admiringly of the Bauhaus movement and “International Style” promulgated by Le Corbusier. Chappell’s column “The Sky Line” included this subhead, “German Atrocities Neatly Escaped.” In a few years “German Atrocities” would refer to something very different…

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TEN-HUT!…The New Yorker’s George Chappell liked the Harriman Building at 39 Broadway despite its “militant aspect.” Designed by Cross & Cross, it opened in 1928 (Museum of the City of New York)

Another monstrous building of note in Chappell’s column was the “huge” Equitable Trust Building at 15 Broad Street…

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Equitable Trust Building at 15 Broad Street. Designed by Trowbridge & Livingston, completed in 1928. (Museum of the City of New York)

To save the best for last, Chappell also wrote of Cass Gilbert’s landmark New York Life Building, rising on the site of the old Madison Square Garden…

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The distinctive pyramidal gilded roof of the New York Life Insurance Building aglow as evening falls on Manhattan. Photograph by Priyanka, January 18th, 2015. (fineartamerica.com)

 *  *  *

She Nearly Made It

Morris Markey wrote about the exploits of pilot and actress Ruth Elder in his “Reporter at Large” column. Known as the “Miss America of Aviation,” on Oct. 11, 1927 Elder and her co-pilot, George Haldeman, took off from New York in her attempt to become the first woman to make a transatlantic crossing to Paris. Mechanical problems in their airplane (a Stinson Detroiter dubbed American Girl) caused them to ditch into the ocean 350 miles northeast of the Azores. Fortunately they were rescued by a Dutch oil tanker in the vicinity.

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MISS AMERICA OF AVIATION…Ruth Elder in 1930. (Vintage Every Day)
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NO WORSE FOR WEAR…Ruth Elder, center, and George Haldeman, far left, on board their rescue ship, the Barendrecht, Oct. 25, 1927. (ctie.monash.edu)
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WHAT A HOOT…Ruth Elder and Hoot Gibson in a promotional pose for the film Winged Horseman (1929).

Although they were unable to duplicate Charles Lindbergh’s feat, Elder and Haldeman nevertheless established a new over-water endurance flight record of 2,623 miles–the longest flight ever made by a woman. They were honored with a ticker-tape parade upon their return to New York. Despite her derring-do, Elder suggested that she longed for a simpler, more domestic life…

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Whether or not she found the simple life it is hard to say. She married six times, perhaps looking for the right “old stuff” and not quite finding it.

 *  *  *

And finally, this ad from the Dec. 3 issue featuring the art of New Yorker contributor John Held Jr…

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…and this cartoon by Otto Soglow, depicting how one toff bags his “trophy”…

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Next Time: The Perfect Gift for 1927…

dec-10

Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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