The Year of the Thurber

When the fifth anniversary issue of the New Yorker hit the newstands in February 1930, the magazine was also setting down another milestone: its first-ever publication of a James Thurber cartoon.

Feb. 22, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

Inserted into the top corner of page 25 (next to a short fiction piece by Emily Hahn), was Thurber’s first installment of his spoof on newspaper pet columns titled “Our Pet Department.”

Seeming a bit quizzical about his debut as a cartoonist, in February 1930 Thurber wrote to his friend Minnette Fritts Proctor (for whom he held lifelong romantic yearnings) that his drawings were “now coming into a strange sort of acclaim… The New Yorker is going to run a series of my animal pictures…and a concern wants me to do ads for it. Imagine!…I’m enclosing a few (pictures), which you can throw away. They’ll alarm you.”

PET WHISPERER…James Thurber, already well established as a writer at the New Yorker, made his debut as a cartoonist for the magazine in its fifth anniversary issue. The brilliant “Our Pet Department” would run through the spring in the 14 installments. (thurberhouse.org)

Animals of all sorts would pop up in Thurber’s cartoons throughout the 1930s (click image below to enlarge)

Clockwise from top left, cartoons from the following issues: Jan. 30, 1932; April 6, 1935; July 14, 1934; and Feb. 13, 1937.

…and his famous dogs would make frequent appearances, including on their own cover in 1946 to coincide with that year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show…

Office mate, co-author and friend E.B. White, on the other hand, assumed his usual duty of marking the magazine’s anniversary in “Notes and Comment”…

FOOD FOR THOUGHT…As E.B. White pointed out in his “Notes and Comment,” there was another, earlier New Yorker published nearly a century earlier in the 1830s by Horace Greeley, who described his periodical as “A Weekly Journal of Literature, Politics, Statistics and General Intelligence.” Greeley published his New Yorker from 1834 to 1841. (rickgrunder.com)

…and contemplated his own magazine’s contributions to the advancement of civilization…

…and as E.B. White continued his tradition of marking the magazine’s anniversary, so too did Rea Irvin continue to mark the passage of time with a tip of the hat from Eustace Tilley…

…and most prominently the New Yorker marked each anniversary with a repeat of the original Rea Irvin cover (later with some slight alterations), a tradition that continued unbroken until 1994, when a series of parodied versions of Eustace Tilley began to appear on the cover. The classic Tilley cover reappeared in the 2000s and ran frequently during that decade, but sadly made its last appearance in 2011 (see below covers from the first issue and anniversary covers from 2011 and 2019). I hope to see the Irvin cover return next year, and most certainly for the 100th anniversary in 2025. You can read more about cover’s history in Michael Maslin’s indispensable Ink Spill.

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Drama Queen

Chinese opera star Mei Lanfang (1894-1961) was known as “Queen of Peking Opera” for his graceful stage portrayals of young and middle-aged women. Considered one of China’s greatest “Dan” performers (Dan is the general name for female roles), Mei had many admirers outside of China including Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, who welcomed Mei to Hollywood when he toured the U.S. in 1930. The New Yorker paid Mei a visit during his stay at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, recounted in these excerpts from “The Talk of the Town”…

QUEEN OF PEKING OPERA, Mei Lanfang, circa 1920, and as a “Dan” in Chinese opera, circa 1930s. (people.chinesecio.com/Wikimedia)

HE’S A FAN…Charlie Chaplin greets Mei Lanfang during a 1930 visit to Hollywood. At right, Mei with his family in the early 1940s. (thatsmags.com/Wikipedia)

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A Kitty With Claws

“The Talk of the Town” also featured Kitty Marion (1871-1944) in a mini-profile. The German-born Marion moved to London at age 15, where she gained some prominence as a music hall singer. She found greater fame, however, as an activist, first standing up for the rights of fellow women performers and later crusading for voting rights. In response to attacks on women protestors by police officers, Marion embraced militant activism, throwing bricks through the windows of offices and handling a number of arson and bombing attacks that were intended to harm property, not people. Arrested numerous times (and enduring 232 force-feedings while on hunger strikes) she emigrated to the U.S. after World War I and joined forces with birth control advocate Margaret Sanger.  The New Yorker takes it from there…

TRANSATLANTIC ACTIVIST…A British Criminal Record Office mugshot of Kitty Marion, circa 1912; cover of Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review, November, 1923; Marion handing out copies of the Review on the streets of New York, 1915. (Wikipedia/Smith College/British Library)

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Going Deep With Noguchi

It’s hard to imagine modern decor without the influence of Isamu Noguchi, but before he inspired everything from coffee tables to lamps, he was a noted sculptor, and in 1930 he was best known for his portrait busts. New Yorker art critic Murdock Pemberton observed:

TWO HEADS ARE BETTER…Left to right, Isamu Noguchi’s portraits of architect/inventor Buckminster Fuller (1929, chrome-plated bronze) and the painter Marion Greenwood (1929, cast iron). Despite being three years short of the age requirement for a Guggenheim Fellowship, Noguchi was nevertheless awarded the grant to study stone and wood cutting and to gain “a better understanding of the human figure.” It appears the grant paid off handsomely. (noguchi.org/Smithsonian)
MODERN MASTER…Collection of Noguchi lamps available from the Noguchi Museum. At right, 1947 coffee table by Herman Miller, inspired by a 1939 Noguchi design. (noguchi.org/Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Pond’s Cold Cream continued to roll out endorsements from  society figures, including a “Mrs. John Davis Lodge” (Francesca Bragiotti), described in this advertisement as possessing “starry wide dark eyes, hair golden as Melisande’s, and tea-rose skin”…

…for reference, Francesca Bragiotti’s wedding portrait, as featured in Vogue magazine, 1929…

…Doubleday Doran targeted the appropriate audience for its publication of The Second New Yorker Album, with cover illustration by Peter Arno

…and we have another lovely Camel ad from illustrator Carl “Eric” Erickson, who conjured up more Continental imagery as an inducement to take up a bad habit…

…in a recent post we looked at Don Dickerman, who operated themed restaurants in Greenwich Village. In the Feb. 22 issue he promoted his four restaurants in a series of ads (illustrated by Dickerman himself) that ran on four consecutive pages (72-75)…

…and Barbara Shermund illustrated this ad for Frigidare…

…Peck & Peck touted the “mannish lines” of its “Hillbilly” suits…

…no doubt influenced by trendsetters like Marlene Dietrich.

…and lest we forget that it’s 1930, a “Cowboys and Indians” mentality was rife in the advertising business, as seen in this ad from Mendel Trunx, proud of 20th century progress (“we’ve come a long way…”) and yet…well, read on…

…the mentality was still alive and well 30 years later, as seen in this ad from 1962…

…and coincidently, in the same issue we have this scene illustrated by Peter Arno mixing “Redskins” and luggage, in this case, a matron who means to summon the aid of a “red cap” baggage handler…

…other cartoons included this dramatic scene courtesy William Crawford Galbraith

…a rustic, slightly naughty woodcut by John Held Jr

…a peek at fashion trends by Helen Hokinson

…a look at social mores…from Alan Dunn

…and Alice Harvey

…and we end with Barbara Shermund, and a moment of art appreciation…

Next Time: Famous Friends…

 

 

 

 

 

Prophet of Doom

The October 1929 stock market crash took most people by surprise, but one man, Roger Babson, knew all along it was coming…thanks to Sir Isaac Newton

Feb. 15, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

Babson (1875-1967) is perhaps best known today as the man who predicted the market crash and the Great Depression that followed. He employed an economic assessment tool called the “Babsonchart” that was based on Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the Feb. 15, 1929 “Profile” (titled “Prophet of Doom”) Henry Pringle tried to make sense of this eccentric businessman, who would go on to wage war against gravity itself:

TOLD YOU SO…Illustration by Hugo Gellert for the profile on Roger Babson, who famously predicted the stock market crash; at right, Babson circa 1930. (Gravity Research Foundation)
BIG THINKER…Roger Babson dedicates the world’s largest spinning globe at Babson College in 1955; at right, the globe as it appears today. Founded by Babson in 1919, Babson College is often ranked as the most prestigious entrepreneurship college in the U.S. (babson.edu/Wikipedia)

Pringle concluded his profile on a confused note, wondering if his subject — a product of sober New England stock — could possibly be a socialist in disguise…

In any case, it is difficult to assign Babson to any one category. Some considered him a genius and visionary, while others thought him a crackpot, particularly in the late 1940s when, following the death of a grandson by drowning, he began to wage war against gravity itself. In 1948 essay “Gravity – Our Enemy Number One,” he wrote: “Broken hips and other broken bones as well as numerous circulatory, intestinal and other internal troubles are directly due to the people’s inability to counteract Gravity at a critical moment.”

That same year Babson founded the Gravity Research Foundation to expedite the discovery of a “gravity shield.” The foundation is still in operation, but rather than seeking to block gravity it works to better understand it. It continues to hold an annual essay prize contest — remarkably, five of its winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in physics. The essay contest’s 1971 winner was none other than physicist Stephen Hawking.

ROCK STAR…Clockwise, from top left: Roger Babson at home with a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton; Babson was the Prohibition Party’s candidate for President of the United States in 1940; Babson provided charitable assistance to unemployed stonecutters in Gloucester, Mass., during the Great Depression, commissioning them to carve inspirational inscriptions on more than 20 boulders near the abandoned settlement of Dogtown. (centennial.babson.edu/Wikipedia)

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An Imperfect Romance

Born in the midst of the Jazz Age, it would seem that the New Yorker would have been a perfect fit for the most prominent chronicler of that era, F. Scott Fitzgerald. But it was mostly not to be: Fitzgerald would publish just two poems and three humorous shorts in the New Yorker between 1929 and 1937, including “Salesmanship in the Champs-Élysées” in Feb. 15 issue.

In all fairness, the New Yorker wasn’t exactly enamored of the young author. In its book review section for the May 23, 1925 issue, the magazine singled out three books for review, the first (and longest) review was devoted to James Boyd’s historical novel Drums. This was followed by a brief review of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the reviewer writing that the book revived his interest in the author but “not in a Byronic promise he probably never had,” and referred to the character of Jay Gatsby as “a good deal of a nut.”

The following year Fitzgerald was the subject of a New Yorker profile titled “That Sad Young Man.” In the magazine’s March 12, 2017 issue, Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman note that the profile (by John Mosher) would be called “snarky” in today’s lingo. They also point out that “Fitzgerald, for his part, appeared to take a rather snobbish view of Harold Ross’s new publication, referring to the short stories he published in it as “hors d’oeuvres.”

With that, here is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “hors d’oeuvres” … “Salesmanship in the Champs-Élysées.”

SOUR GRAPES…The Champs-Elysées in 1929; F. Scott Fitzgerald with his daughter, Scottie, and wife Zelda in Paris in 1925. Despite being products of the Jazz Age, the author and the New Yorker were mostly at odds. In a letter to his daughter, Scottie, Fitzgerald advised that she expand her knowledge of literature “instead of skimming Life + The New Yorker.”  (fr.wikibooks.org/AP)

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The Empire-less State

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White pondered the possibilities of a large lot at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street previously occupied by the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Although construction of the Empire State Building would soon commence at the site, White mused about other possibilities…

LIGHT THERE BE LIGHT…E.B. White found the newly excavated space at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street (former site of the Waldorf-Astoria) to be a refreshing change. It would be short-lived, as the first beams of the Empire State Building would begin to rise from the site in March 1930. (NYPL Digital Gallery)

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Westminster People Show

Although it’s now customary to retire Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show winners, back in 1930 a wire terrier called Pendley Calling of Blarney won Best of Show in 1930 and won the title again the following year. Alice Frankforter was on hand for the event, but found the people at the show every bit as diverting as the animals. Some excerpts…

DOGGONE FUN…The 1932 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, NYC. (westminsterkennelclub.org)

REIGN OF TERRIER…Wire Fox Terrier Pendley Calling of Blarney, left, won back-to-back Westminster Kennel Club Best of Show titles in 1930-31. At right, King’s Best of Show win in February 2019 made him the 15th Wire Fox Terrier in Westminster history to earn the top prize. Terriers are by far the winningest breed at Westminster. (aka.org)

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Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Robert Benchley struck a pre-emptive pose in his review of a new Broadway play titled Rebound — written by his good friend (and fellow Algonquin Round Table alumnus) Donald Ogden Stewart (1894-1980) — and responded to “a chorus of yawps” that accused him of log-rolling…

A FRIEND INDEED…Robert Benchley (right) said his friendship with playwright and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart (left) had no influence over his review of Stewart’s latest play, Rebound. It seems Benchley was in safe territory here, since Stewart’s output was generally high in quality. Indeed, in 1940 Stewart would win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the The Philadelphia Story.

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Georgia On His Mind

The opening of the Museum of Modern Art in late 1929 had a profound effect on the New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton. In the beginning he dismissed the museum as just another place for the old money crowd to throw parties, but with the opening of its third exhibition, “Painting in Paris” — which featured an extensive display of the works of French modernists — Pemberton began to come around to the idea that this new MoMA was a place to see groundbreaking works of art. In his Feb. 15 column Pemberton looked beyond France for signs of talented modernists in the States, and found only one who stood out — Georgia O’Keeffe.

MOD COUPLE…Clockwise, from left, Alfred Stieglitz attached this photograph to a letter for Georgia O’Keeffe, dated July 10, 1929; Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition of Paintings (1919-1934), at Stieglitz’s An American Place gallery, 1935; O’Keeffe’s Trees at Glorieta, New Mexico, 1929. (Beinecke Library, Yale/Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation)

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From Our Advertisers

Just as hemlines were dropping after the stock market crash, so were the brims of women’s hats — the flapper caps of the 1920s now sprouted droopy ears…

…this ad for Chase and Sanborn coffee featured a weirdly distended image of the writer and humorist Irvin Cobb

…Cobb as he actually appeared, circa 1930…

(talesofmytery.blogspot.com)

…G. Washington coffee, on the other hand, continued to draw from the New Yorker’s stable of cartoonists, including Garrett Price, for its illustrated ads…

…I was surprised to see this ad for two reasons: I wasn’t aware floss was in common use 90 years ago, or that it once came in the handle of a toothbrush…

…and then we have this sad little back page ad (just above a tiny ad for piano lessons) promoting Peggy Joyce’s ghostwritten “tell all” — Men, Marriage and Me. A former Ziegfeld girl and occasional actress who cultivated fame for fame’s sake, Joyce (1893-1957) was mostly known for her six marriages and extravagant lifestyle. By feeding the media a steady stream of scandals and other adventures (she often received reporters in her bedroom, dressed in a see-through negligee) she remained in the celebrity spotlight throughout the 1920s…

Peggy Joyce in 1923; cover of the first edition of her “tell all” — Men, Marriage and Me. Celebrated in the 1920’s as a swinging golddigger, her fame quickly evaporated into the mists of the Great Depression. (Wikipedia/Abe Books)

…speaking of celebrity, advertisers were so eager for endorsements of the famous that even “Mrs. Ring Lardner” (Ellis Abbott) got a piece of the action…

…as travel by airplane became more fashionable, automobile manufacturers increasingly paired their products with flying machines…

…for those who wished to stay on the ground, the Pickwick-Greyhound bus system featured “Nite Coaches” with 14 sleeping compartments (for 28 passengers), hot and cold water in each compartment, and hot meals served by stewards…

…on to our comics, I. Klein illustrated the excitement of heavyweight boxing…

Perry Barlow paid a visit to a writer and his dimwitted visitor…

Helen Hokinson looked in on a prep school dance…

Barbara Shermund demonstrated the finer points of beauty…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and one woman’s plan for a costume party…

Next Time: Five Years in the Making…

We Smiled As We Danced

In his 2006 book, Flapper, Joshua Zeitz refers to the New Yorker’s Lois Long as the epitome of the 1920s flapper, an “absolutely a wild woman” who wrote about Jazz Age nightlife “with a wicked sort of sexual sense of humor.”

Feb. 8, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt (the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show was in town…)

This Vassar-educated daughter of a Congregational minister began her New Yorker career in the summer of 1925, at age 23. She took over Charles Baskerville’s rather dry column, “When Nights are Bold,” renamed it “Tables for Two,” and using the pen name “Lipstick” plunged into the nightlife scene with considerable brio.

TIMES CHANGE…At left, in a still image from a 1920s home movie, Lois Long relaxes on a beach; at right, Long with newborn daughter Patricia Arno in 1929. (PBS/Patricia Arno)

Two years later she would marry cartoonist Peter Arno, and in 1929 would give birth to a daughter, Patricia. During this time the almost weekly “Tables” column would appear infrequently as Long turned her attentions to her family and her fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue.” But as I’ve noted before, Long, along with many of her New Yorker colleagues, had grown weary of the Roaring Twenties many months before they were over. She would put an end to the “Tables” column in June 1930; the good times, as Long noted in her Feb. 8 column, had lost their “verve”…

BRITS AND TWITS…Lois Long recalled the nightlife entertainments of the past and present in one of her last “Tables for Two” columns. Photo at left (from left to right), Beatrice Lillie, Nelson Keys, and Gertrude Lawrence in Andre Charlot’s Revue of 1924. At right, the comedy trio Eddie Jackson, Jimmy Durante and Lou Clayton. (Museum of the City of New York/Herbert Mitchell Collection)

…Long found Don Dickerman’s latest themed restaurant, the Daffydil, to be a mildly amusing distraction…

HE WAS AN ARRRTIST…Greenwich Village personality and pirate aficionado Don Dickerman (left) failed to make a living as an artist, but found success with his various themed restaurants including the Pirate’s Cove, the Blue Horse, the Heigh-Ho (where Rudy Vallee started out), the County Fair and the Daffydil (which was financed by Vallee). At right, singing at the Daffydil were the California Collegians, a group that included actor Fred MacMurray (tallest in the photo). (Restaurant-ing through history)

…and she also looked to Harlem for some nighttime diversions, but the ex-flapper just wasn’t up for a rowdy scene…

FOR THE YOUNG AT HEART…Dancing the Lindy Hop at the Savoy in Harlem, circa 1930. (Pinterest)

…ten years later, in the New Yorker’s fifteenth anniversary issue (Feb. 17, 1940), the 38-year-old Long would look back to the Roaring Twenties in the column “That Was New York,” reprising her signature “Lipstick” as she recalled the days when “Harlem was a thrill” and “we smiled when we went dancing in 1925 even though there wasn’t a candid camera within miles. In those days people frequently laughed out loud in public.” She concluded the piece with this observation:

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Rise of the Débutantes

New York’s débutantes and the New Yorker had something of a symbiotic relationship during the magazine’s early days, beginning with a piece written by 22-year-old Ellin Mackay for the Nov. 28, 1925 issue that served as a manifesto of sorts for a new kind of débutante. Mackay’s essay explained why modern women were abandoning the forced social matchmaking of débutante balls in favor of the more egalitarian (and fun) night club scene.

Mackay’s piece provided a huge boost to the New Yorker’s circulation, the magazine barely staying afloat at the time. Nevertheless, its writers couldn’t resist taking occasional shots at the seemingly frivolous existence of debs, including E.B. White, who called out a one Katrinka Suydam in his “Notes and Comment” column for Jan. 4, 1930:

Perhaps White came across Suydam’s name in the Sept. 7, 1929 New York Times:

What he probably didn’t expect was a reply from Suydam herself, an act that seemed to impress the magazine’s editors, who printed the proud débutante’s letter in full on page 32:

Suydam would go on to marry Frederick Roelker later that June. Note in this excerpted wedding write-up how the couples’ European and colonial pedigrees were carefully detailed in the first paragraphs, distinguishing their union from couplings enjoyed by the unwashed masses…

Katrinka Suydam’s wedding as reported in the June 12, 1930 issue of the New York Times.

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Skirt Stakes

In 1930 hemlines plummeted along with the stock market. E.B. White, in “Notes,” welcomed the return of “mystery” to women’s fashions:

THEY DROPPED WITH THE MARKET…Women’s spring fashions with lowered hemlines on display in the April 1930 issue of Good Housekeeping. (fashion-era.com)

Frederick Lewis Allen, on the other hand, was having difficulty understanding the modern woman, circa 1930, based on what he was seeing in the display windows along Fifth Avenue. Excerpts:

NO NONSENSE WOMEN…Window displays on Fifth Avenue included (left) this “Travel Smartly in Tweed” window display for Franklin Simon (1929-30); and right, a window at Lord & Taylor, 1933. (Harry Ransom Center/Museum of the City of New York)

Allen noted that the “snooty” mannequins on display along Fifth Avenue represented a certain type who wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bus…

Whether or not he liked the Altman girls, the 39-year-old Allen felt like an “old fogey” in the presence of these “no nonsense” women:

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Get A Room

Marion Sturges Jones pondered the life of another kind of modern woman, namely that of Virginia Woolf, who had recently published the extended essay A Room of One’s Own. Jones discovered that finding such a room was easier said than done…

IN HER ROOM…Virginia Woolf at Monk’s House in East Sussex, 1932; dust jacket of the first edition of A Room of One’s Own. (kaykeys.net/Beinecke Library, Yale)

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The Way You Really Look

Franklin P. Adams penned a profile of the legendary songwriter and stage producer Jerome Kern, who created dozens of Broadway musicals and Hollywood films and wrote a substantial chunk of the American songbook (more than 700 songs) with such hits as “Ol’ Man River”, “A Fine Romance”, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, and “The Way You Look Tonight.” Peter Arno provided this less-than-flattering caricature of the man…

…and this is how Kern actually looked, circa 1930…

(bloggingtonybennett.com)

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At the Talkies

Speaking of showbiz, New Yorker film critic John Mosher offered high praise for William Powell’s latest film, Street of Chance. Although Powell is often linked professionally to actress Myrna Loy thanks to their six Thin Man films (1934 – 1947), from 1930 to 1932 he also appeared with Kay Francis in six films, including Street of Chance. Both Powell and Francis would become major stars of the 1930s, and between 1930 and 1936 Francis would be the number one female star at Warner Brothers and the highest-paid American film actress. Francis was no stranger to wild living — she was a longtime friend of Lois Long’s (see above) and also shared an apartment with her at 381 Park Avenue before Long married Peter Arno. Mosher’s review:

TOUGH ODDS…William Powell and Kay Francis in Street of Chance (1930). Francis was a longtime friend of New Yorker columnist Lois Long. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We have an advertisement from the aforementioned County Fair, one of the themed restaurants operated by Greenwich village artist and personality Don Dickerman, who illustrated his own ads…

…I’m not sure who drew this Arno-esque illustration below for the Holmes Electric Protective Company, but I can tell you that the name Holmes was synonymous with home security in 1930…in 1857 Edwin Holmes bought a patent for an electric burglar alarm (invented in 1853 by Augustus Pope) and went on to successfully commercialize and popularize the electromagnetic burglar alarm. Holmes is also credited with creating the first large-scale alarm network in the United States…

…but I do know that Abe Birnbaum contributed this drawing (in “Talk of the Town”) of the beloved Colony restaurant owner Eugene Cavallero

A PLACE TO SEE AND BE SEEN…From the 1920s to the 1960s New York’s smart set dined at the Colony. Rian James, in Dining In New York (1930) wrote “the Colony is the restaurant of the cosmopolite and the connoisseur; the rendezvous of the social register; the retreat of the Four Hundred.” Critic George Jean Nathan said the Colony was one of “civilization’s last strongholds in the department of cuisine.” Photo at left of the dining room around 1940; at right, owner Eugene Cavallero consults with a chef. (lostpastremembered.blogspot.com)

…on to our comics, we have this full-pager from Al Frueh

…another full-pager from Rea Irvin

…this terrific party scene courtesy Garrett Price

…two by the marvelous Barbara Shermund (check out Michael Maslin’s latest post on Shermund)…

and we sign off with the inimitable Peter Arno

Next Time: Prophet of Doom…

 

The Wild Kingdom

A host of nature programs from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom to Planet Earth owe their origins to a few intrepid filmmakers who 100 years ago gave Americans some of their first glimpses of life in exotic, remote regions of the world.

Feb. 1, 1930 cover by Julian De Miskey.

Among the first to do it were a couple from Kansas, Osa and Martin Johnson, who together explored unknown lands and brought back footage of the wildlife and peoples of the African continent, the South Pacific Islands and British North Borneo. Their first film, Among the Cannibal Isles of the South Seas (1918), was followed by several more, including Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, which was released in early 1930.

The New Yorker film critic John Mosher was as eager as any audience to take in the adventures of the Johnsons, or even of someone who was inspired by the Johnsons, in this case a “Miss O’Brien” who had just released a “diverting diary” called Up the Congo. Mosher wrote about it in the Jan. 25 issue:

CONTACT…Image of a family from an unidentified Pygmy tribe posing with a European explorer in a 1921 Collier’s New Encyclopedia entry; a group of Mbuti posing with explorer Osa Johnson in 1930. (Wikipedia)

I can find no record of the film Up the Congo, however the exploits of the Johnsons are well documented thanks to the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, which has a treasure trove of photos and other information on the explorers.

The ad in the Feb. 1, 1930 New Yorker promoting Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson included an interesting “added attraction”…a film about Einstein’s theory of relativity that had caused a Jan. 8 “riot” at the American Museum of Natural History. That particular screening was intended for members of the Amateur Astronomers Association, but word got out and three times the invited number showed up at the museum, breaking down the lobby gates. Hard to imagine a mob today clamoring to view a science film…

Although the Johnsons made their movies under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History, much of the footage was staged or edited to maximize the thrills (Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom did this in the 1960s and 70s, as did producers of Disney’s nature films from the 50s and 60s. The practice continues to this day on cable television).

The Johnsons also didn’t hesitate to gun down animals in the course of their movie-making…

YEP, THAT’S JUXTAPOSITION…Osa Johnson poses with a Photoplay magazine, a dead rhino, and a tribesman, circa 1930. (columbia.edu)

According to a 2011 review from Wild Film History, “in stark contrast to the conservation-themed wildlife films of today, the Johnsons approached their subjects armed with both camera and rifle, with the production including provoked behaviour, staged confrontations and animals shot to death on film. Relying heavily on cutting in kills from professional marksmen, numerous hunting scenes culminate in a heart-stopping sequence where, with the use of clever editing, the adventurous Mrs Johnson appears to bring down a charging rhinoceros with one well-aimed shot.”

Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson is presented as if the Johnsons were showing their film to a few friends in their New York City apartment. The film is a “silent with sound,” that is, scenes in the field are silent, but the cocktail party “home movie” opening has sound, including “mood music” Osa provides by turning on the radio as the film begins. For all of their film experience, the acting between Osa and Martin is wooden, as is Martin’s narration. The critic John Mosher, however, enjoyed the ride, writing in his Feb. 1 column:

If you are curious, you can watch some of the film here, including the opening home movie scene with Osa and Martin in cocktail attire…

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My Kinda Town

The New Yorker occasionally enjoyed taking potshots at the Second City, as well as some good-natured jabs at a few of its former residents who were also denizens of the Algonquin Round Table. Here is E.B. White in the Feb. 1 “Notes and Comment”…

WINDY WITS…Chicagoans Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht and Ring Lardner were well-known to the New Yorker crowd. (Wikipedia)

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Not In This Century

This item from the Feb. 1 “Talk of the Town” is noteworthy for placing its admiration of technical achievement over any concerns for a child’s welfare. Today the couple would be arrested for this…

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The Perils of Aging

Irish-American actress and writer Patricia Collinge (1892-1974) wrote a series of short stories for the New Yorker, including this piece for the Feb. 1 issue written when she was 37 years old. It is a sad story about an older actress (37) who hoped to land the part of a younger woman. Some excerpts…

…the actress in the story is led to believe the part was intended for a woman of 28, and is crushed to learn that the agent was looking for “a young twenty-two”…

OH TO BE YOUNG…At left, Gladys Cooper, Alexandra Carlisle and 20-year-old Patricia Collinge in the Drury Lane production of Everywoman (1912); at right, Collinge in 1941. Unlike the sad actress in her short story, Collinge’s career spanned more than 60 years.

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Coming Around

In previous issues art critic Murdock Pemberton expressed skepticism about the new Museum of Modern of Art, founded by wealthy society women in November 1929. Pemberton held egalitarian views about art, and wondered if the old money set could create a venue for true modern artists. His review of “Painting in Paris,” MoMA’s third exhibition, seemed to allay his concerns…


PAINTING IN PARIS was the title of the Museum of Modern Art’s third exhibition featuring works by Georges Braque, Georges Rouault, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Robert Delauney, Fernand Leger, Henri Matisse and Andre Derain among others. Image above is from the original exhibition at MOMA’s first home in the Heckscher Building at 730 Fifth Avenue. (MOMA)
Images above in color, from left, Pablo Picasso’s Green Still Life Avignon (1914) and Seated Woman (1927); Georges Braque’s Still life (1927). (MOMA/WikiArt)
Pemeberton expressed enthusiasm for the show’s new works that contained few traces of the familiar…

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The King’s Speech

King George V was not known for his public speaking, but when he addressed the third meeting of the London Naval Conference it was a big deal, even to American listeners who for the first time heard his voice over broadcast radio, still a very new medium in 1930…

ON THE AIR…The voice of King George V (pictured here in 1923) was broadcast across the Atlantic for the opening of the London Naval Conference at St. James’s Palace in 1930. The third in a series of five meetings, the conference was formed with the purpose of placing limits on the naval capacity of the world’s largest naval powers. (Wikipedia/Churchill Archives Centre)

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Good Clean Fun?

In his theater review column, Robert Benchley lamented the state of burlesque shows at the National Winter Garden, where “leviathans of an earlier day” were being displaced by “agile wisps” in third-rate Broadway productions…

ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS…from left, Viola Clifton, a fuller-figured 1890s burlesque dancer; center and right, Margaret Bourke-White photos from Minsky’s National Winter Garden, 1936. Theater critic Robert Benchley wrote that he missed the “leviathans” of an earlier age, who were replaced by girls who were nothing but “agile wisps.”(mashable.com/theguardian.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Just a couple of ads from the Feb. 1 issue, including this entry from the Shelton Looms offering advice on how one should appear among the Havana social set…

…and this ad from Harper’s Bazaar, also appealing to the smart set…

…our cartoons include this two-page illustration by Rea Irvin

Alan Dunn’s look into the challenges of running a power plant…

…at the opera with Perry Barlow

Gardner Rea and some bedroom hinjinks…

…man vs. mouse, by Peter Arno

…and this by Leonard Dove, seemingly anticipating the work of Charles Addams

Next Time: We Smiled As We Danced…