Aleck and Frank at Taliesin

From the late I.M. Pei to Frank Gehry, America has its share of “starchitects,” but only one architect in the history of the profession could claim to be a true household name: Frank Lloyd Wright. 

July 19, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

In a profile titled “The Prodigal Father,” Alexander Woollcott wrote about Wright’s “return” to American acceptance after nearly two decades of scandal and tragedy. Woollcott took great pains to defend Wright’s reputation, marred by his extramarital affair with Mamah Cheney, her murder in 1914 along with six others (including her children) at Wright’s Wisconsin home, Taliesin, and his subsequent remarriage, divorce, and remarriage that followed.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN…Clockwise, from top left, Reginald Marsh illustration for the profile; Frank Lloyd Wright, circa 1930; Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, completed in 1923. Designed in the Maya Revival Style Wright favored throughout the 1920s, it was damaged by the 1923 Great Tokyo Earthquake just months after opening. It was demolished in 1967, however the iconic central lobby wing and the reflecting pool were disassembled and rebuilt near Nagoya. (Library of Congress/dezeen.com)

Woollcott also wrote of his visit to Taliesin (the third version of the house, after the first two were destroyed by fires). It’s a shame these two headstrong fellows never met — it would have been a lively conversation, no doubt. One thing that does stand out about this profile is that it is a rare hagiography from a man renowned for his savage wit.

AN ADMIRER…Alexander Woollcott praised the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright in his profile. He doesn’t mention actually meeting Wright. It would have been fascinating to see these headstrong individuals match wits.
MAYA OH MAYA…Clockwise, from top left, Frank Lloyd Wright favored the Maya Revival Style in the 1920s, which is evident in the Alice Millard House in Pasadena (1923) and the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles (1919-21). At bottom, the third version of Taliesin (built in 1925) that Woollcott would have visited. (Wikipedia/Taliesin Preservation)

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No Surprise Endings, Please

Although sometimes confused with Alexander Woollcott because of his first name, the timid, taciturn Wolcott Gibbs was a force at the New Yorker in his own right, perhaps even more so as he served the magazine from 1927 to 1958 as a jack-of-all-trades: copy editor, feature writer, theater critic, and overall wordsmith. So when the editors of The Writer’s Digest posed a question regarding the New Yorker’s policy for submissions, it was Gibbs who was tapped to compose a response, which was a particular challenge given the magazine didn’t have a clear set of editorial requirements. So Gibbs conjured up an “Answers-To-Hard-Questions Department,” and signed it “Mr. Winterbottom.” Some excerpts:

IN HIS ELEMENT…Wolcott Gibbs, left, relaxes at the Algonquin Hotel in 1937. At right is his New Yorker colleague Dorothy Parker. (Time)

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Munitions of Bremen

The German Ocean liner SS Bremen was one of the most technologically advanced ocean liners of its day, known for its speed and luxury. Author Eric Hodgins climbed aboard to file a report for the New Yorker, and in the excerpt below marveled at the “mechanical perfection” of the ship’s engine room:

PLOUGHSHARES INTO SWORDS…More than the length of three football fields, the streamlined SS Bremen, launched in 1928, was designed to have a cruising speed of  27.5 knots (50.9 km/h). After a 1941 fire, the ship was largely dismantled, its steel used to manufacture war munitions. (Wikipedia/greatoceanliners.com)

You can get some idea of the ship in this clip from the 1936 German comedy Spiel an Bord (Game on Board). Location shooting took place in Bremerhaven, New York, and on the Atlantic crossing of the SS Bremen (at about :53 there is an image of a Nazi flag salute that I don’t believe was in the original film, but that flag undoubtedly flew on this ship in 1936)…

In 1941, while docked in Bremerhaven, a disgruntled crew member set fire to the ship, completely gutting its luxurious interior. During the war the ship was stripped of its steel for use in munitions, and in 1946 what remained was destroyed by explosives.

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From Our Advertisers

In my readings of recent issues I’ve noted numerous references to hot weather, and for good reason. The summer of 1930 would see record high temperatures and diminished rainfall that would usher in the “Dust Bowl” era of the 1930s. The Wallach Brothers adjusted by offering this “Dixie Weave Suit”…

…the hot weather also called for a tall glass of sparkling soda (mixed with your favorite bootleg beverage, of course)…

…smokers could keep cool by puffing on a Spud, the first menthol cigarette…

…or you could stick with your Luckies, endorsed by none other than this generic, genial doctor and some bogus survey…

…on to our cartoons…I. Klein showed us a downside of Edison’s invention…

…and Leonard Dove gave us two gentlemen on the skids, a frequent sight in Depression-era New York…

…after a long absence, we see suddenly see a flurry of activity from the pen of Ralph Barton, including this rare sequential cartoon…

…and with the hot summer New Yorkers took to the waters, at Coney Island with Denys Wortman

…and Southampton, with Helen Hokinson

Next Time: For the Byrds…

 

Transatlantic Dreaming

When Apollo astronauts landed on the moon fifty years ago, many skeptics asked the question, “What good does this accomplish?”

July 12, 1930 cover by Constantin Alajálov.

New Yorker writer Morris Markey posed the same question 89 years ago about transatlantic flights, then limited to a handful of daredevils chasing various speed and distance records. Crossing the ocean in an airplane, Markey observed, was “one of the most difficult things imaginable.” He concluded that despite the heroics of a few pilots, “we are still not much nearer to transoceanic commercial service…”

TESTING THE LIMITS…In photo at left, Charles Kingsford Smith (second from left) and the crew of his airplane, Southern Cross, pause before embarking on their east-west crossing of the Atlantic in  June 1930; photo at right: Dieudonné Costes (right) with Maurice Bellonte in Boston in 1930. On September 1-2, 1930, they flew the “Point d’Interrogation” from Paris to New York, the first heavier-than-air aircraft to reach New York in the more difficult westbound direction between the North American and European mainlands. (National Library of Ireland/Wikipedia)
BIG THINKERS…Germany’s massive Dornier Do-X made its first test flight on July 12, 1929. A few months later, it carried a world-record 169 passengers on a 40-minute flight, an astonishing number given that the largest planes at that time rarely carried more than 20 passengers. In 1930, the Do-X took off on an international publicity tour through Europe, down the west coast of Africa, across the Atlantic to Brazil and up to New York before returning to Berlin. (Mashable)

Markey went on to detail the various obstacles facing transatlantic fliers, including fairly good odds that a plane, laden with fuel and supplies for such a journey, would crash on takeoff. He noted that a little over half of the attempts succeeded, while the others seemed doomed from the start.

ILL-ADVISED…With only 70 hours of flying experience, Montana rancher Urban F. Diteman (left, with his airplane “Golden Hind”) took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, bound for London. He was never seen again; at right, the William Randolph Hearst-sponsored “Old Glory,” a Fokker F.VIIa single-engined monoplane that was used in 1927 on an attempted transatlantic flight from Old Orchard Beach, Maine to Rome, Italy. The overloaded plane and its crew were lost approximately 700 miles east of Newfoundland, where only a section of wing was recovered. (dailymontana.com/Wikipedia)

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Glare of the New

Architecture critic George Chappell enthusiastically followed the construction of the world’s tallest building, but in its completion he found the Chrysler Building’s now-iconic spire to be little more than a stunt, and suggested that a covering of masonry might be in order:

MAYBE SOME VINYL SIDING?…George Chappell wasn’t too crazy about the Chrysler’s chrome dome, and also worried about the amount of steel that would clad the exterior of the Empire State Building, right, which is composed of limestone, chrome bars and aluminum panels. (Wikipedia)

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Bottoms Up

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White pondered the drinking habits of his fellow citizens in the tenth year of Prohibition:

MAKE THAT A DOUBLE…Finding refreshment in the dark days of Prohibition. (junkee.com)

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Good Old Summertime

Along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” a Reginald Marsh interpretation of Coney Island fun and games…

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Still the Same

Lois Long, who painted a picture of Jazz Age nightlife like no other in her “Tables for Two” column, teased her readers by disguising her identity, often claiming she was a frumpy old lady. With her “Tables” column now relegated to the dustbin, the fashionable and young Long maintained her pose, referring to herself as an “old war horse” in her fashion column “On and Off the Avenue.”

Problems of the Rich

John Mosher reviewed the 1930 American Pre-Code comedy Holiday, which told the story of a young man torn between his wild lifestyle and the tradition of his wealthy fiancée’s family. Films that explored the “problems” of the rich seemed particularly popular in the Depression years…

POOR LITTLE RICH GIRLS…Mary Astor and Ann Harding in Holiday. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Pond’s Cold Cream continued its campaign of endorsements by society women, including Philadelphia socialite, philanthropist and champion horsewoman Elizabeth Altemus

Altemus (1906-1988) was a prominent owner/breeder of Thoroughbred racehorses for more than 50 years. Her first marriage was to Jock Whitney, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, and president of the Museum of Modern Art. By the looks of this 1937 portrait of Altemus, the cold cream certainly didn’t do her any harm…

Mary Elizabeth Altemus Whitney in 1937. (geni.com)

…speaking of cold cream, when Kleenex was introduced in the early 1920s, it was marketed solely as a hygienic way to remove cold cream. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the makers of Kleenex began to suggest it could also be used as a tissue in place of a handkerchief. Of course it was also a great way to dramatically expand consumption of its brand, and help usher in a new age of disposable products…

…as the Depression deepened, ads for automobiles began to change with the times, most manufacturers emphasizing the affordability of their cars over performance or prestige, as this sad little ad from Packard attested….

…in three consecutive issues (June 5, 12 and 19) Peter Arno featured the same drawing with a different caption that gave readers a very brief courtship story…

Alan Dunn offered a glimpse of life among the newsboys…

Leonard Dove found Americans browsing newsstands along the Seine…

Helen Hokinson looked in on an existential crisis…

Perry Barlow was Out West at a dude ranch…

Barbara Shermund eavesdropped on a couple of debs…

Garrett Price gave us an awkward encounter among the yachting crowd…

…and finally William Crawford Galbraith, and a case of domesticus interruptus

Next Time: Aleck & Frank at Taliesin…

A Happy Fourth!

The July 5, 1930 New Yorker made a subtle nod to the Fourth of July holiday with this cover by Julian De Miskey. The title images above are of actress Alice White and child actor Jackie Coogan getting into the Independence Day spirit in the 1930s.

July 5, 1930 cover by Julian De Miskey.

On Solid Ground

With massive skyscrapers going up all over the city, some New Yorkers apparently feared that the weight of those buildings would cause the earth’s surface to crack. “The Talk of the Town” offered some factual information to allay those fears:

Not guaranteeing the science on this, but here’s an image I gleaned from Reddit…

Dark gray lines are fault lines (why the brown soil drops in those places). The gray areas are bedrock known as Manhattan Schist, which one can see above ground in Central Park. The reddish brown at lower right is marble. The green area is either gneiss or sill rock.

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War and Apple Pie

E.B. White had some fun at the expense of “Major” Frank Pease, president of the Hollywood Technical Directors Institute, an anti-communist activist organization. Despite the title of his organization, no film director had ever heard of Pease until he began issuing press statements labeling the 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front as anti-American and anti-military. White responded:

MINOR MAJOR…”Major” Frank Pease, left, thought the depiction of the horrors of war in All Quiet on the Western Front was anti-American. Pease himself never rose above the rank of private, but claimed he was a retired major in the U.S. Army. (Wikipedia/IMDB).

In one of my recent posts, the New Yorker’s John Mosher reviewed the film, All Quiet on the Western Front.

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Speaking of Un-American

City Hall organizers of a welcome home ceremony for Admiral Richard Byrd — back from his South Pole adventures — arranged to have a woman sing The Star Spangled Banner, but according to “The Talk of the Town,” not just any woman would do…

DISSED…Italian-American soprano Dusolina Giannini was born in Philadelphia, but deemed not American enough to sing at New York’s City Hall for Admiral Richard Byrd. (YouTube)

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Five Alarm Fireworks 

“The Talk of the Town” discussed at some length the challenges July 4 posed to New York’s firefighters. An excerpt:

Also in the “Talk” section, some spot illustrations by Abe Birnbaum, who apparently had returned from a trip to Paris. The first image appeared in the June 28 issue, the second the July 5 issue:

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Just Say No

Helena Huntington Smith turned in a profile on American birth control activist Margaret Sanger (1879-1966). Sanger popularized the term “birth control” and opened the first family planning clinic in the United States. She established several organizations that eventually evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The opening paragraphs of Smith’s profile:

Margaret Sanger circa 1930. At right, portrait for the profile by Ralph Barton.

Controversial 89 years ago as well as today, Sanger remains a target of both the right and left, labeled variously as a baby killer and a racist. Sanger was vocal in her opposition to abortion, maintaining that birth control would not only prevent abortions, but would give many women the ability to control family size and end their cycle of poverty. Sanger also spoke out against racism, but the case is more muddled here: She became involved in the eugenics movement through her belief that society needed to limit births by those least able to afford children, including those deemed “unfit” to raise them.

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From Our Advertisers

From 1920 to 1930, automobile ownership in America nearly tripled from eight million to 23 million. Along with that growth came the rise of oil giants such as Texaco, which in 1928 became the first U.S. oil company to sell its gasoline nationwide under one single brand name. So they had no problem taking out a three-page ad in the July 5 New Yorker…

…while Americans were ready to guzzle gas, British automaker Austin touted both fuel economy and compactness in its American entry…

…for several decades in the 20th century tobacco companies employed physicians to promote their deadly products…Fatima was one of the first…

…the makers of Old Gold, however, were pioneers in associating cigarette smoking with sporting activities and tales of derring-do…here the rapid spread of the Old Gold brand across the country is equated to the record-breaking feats of a young female pilot, Elinor Smith

…I don’t know if Smith herself smoked, but she almost lived 100 years, and flew well into her her 90s…we looked at Smith’s feats in a recent post

Elinor Smith’s flying career would extend from age 16 to her 90s. In March 1930 she set the women’s world altitude record.

…Carl G. Fisher bought a big chunk of the East End of Long Island in 1926 with the intent of turning it into the “Miami Beach of the North.” Fisher would build more than two dozen Tudor-style buildings at Montauk before losing his fortune in the 1929 market crash. This ad appears to be an attempt to draw renewed interest in the development, appealing to Anglophilic pretensions that sometimes afflicted New Yorker readers…

…speaking of Anglophilia, a cartoon by Denys Wortman offered an example…

Barbara Shermund examined an aspect of society’s pecking order…

…and referenced a gay stereotype…

Garrett Price looked in on a misunderstanding at the museum…

Peter Arno discovered that a bite is worse than a bark in this case…

…and Leonard Dove gave us a double entendre courtesy of a mild-mannered building supervisor seeking to remove a draft block (or bung) from a chimney flue…

Next Time: Transatlantic Dreaming…

Robeson’s Othello

In 1930s America there were few if any opportunities for black actors to perform in mainstream stage or screen productions unless they conformed to racial stereotypes. An exception was Paul Robeson.

June 21, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

In 1930 Robeson (1898-1976) won rave reviews for his performance in Shakespeare’s Othello. That performance, however, took place in London, not New York, which London correspondent Anthony Gibbs took pains to point out in his dispatch for the June 21, 1930 New Yorker.

English actress Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona and Paul Robeson as Othello in London’s Savoy Theatre production of Othello in 1930. Although only 22 at the time, Ashcroft was an established Shakespearean actress. The 32-year-old Robeson was already famous as both an athlete and actor. He was twice named a consensus All-American in football (Rutgers) and was the class valedictorian. He also received a law degree from Columbia while playing in the NFL. In 1930 he was already known to London audiences, having previously appeared in a 1928  London production of the American musical Show Boat. (theshakespeareblog.com)
CENTER STAGE…Left to right: Maurice Browne (Iago), Paul Robeson (Othello) and Peggy Ashcroft (Desdemona) in Othello at the Savoy Theatre, 1930. Maurice Browne was also the play’s producer; his over-the-top portrayal of Iago and his wife’s incompetent stage direction hurt the production, but Robeson nevertheless received high praise for his performance. (britishstageandscreen.tumblr.com)

Although the performance was a triumph for Robeson, the production itself was a mess. The play’s producer, Maurice Browne, enlisted his wife, Ellen van Volkenburg, to direct (Peggy Ashcroft later called her “a pretentious dud”). Writing in The Guardian (Sept. 3, 2003), Samantha Ellis observes: “Recognising that his Othello transcended the ropey production, the audience gave Robeson 20 curtain calls. He reprised the role all over the world and never lost his pleasure in it. For Robeson, it was more than just a part: it was, as he once said, “killing two birds with one stone. I’m acting and I’m talking for the negroes in the way only Shakespeare can.”

Robeson’s Othello would not make it to New York until 1943. It would run for almost 300 performances, setting an all-time record run for a Shakespearean play on Broadway.

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Restoring Order

In the aftermath of Grover Whalen’s disastrous (and sometimes violent) run as New York City Police Commissioner, E.B. White and his fellow New Yorkers welcomed the steady hand of Edward P. Mulrooney (1874-1960) to the helm:

THE COMMISH…Edward P. Mulrooney in a 1930s portrait by Edward Steichen. (Conde Nast)

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The Commander

American author and lecturer Virgilia Peterson Ross profiled Evangeline Cory Booth (1865 – 1950), who would become the fourth General of the Salvation Army in 1934. She was the first woman to hold that post. An excerpt:

Ralph Barton returned to provide this caricature for the profile, one of the last works he would create for the New Yorker before his untimely death…

HEIRESS TO A LEGACY…William Booth, an English Methodist preacher who founded The Salvation Army and became its first General, poses with his grand-daughter Evangeline Cory Booth in this 1908 postcard image. (National Portrait Gallery)

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Home of the Dome

Architecture critic George “T-Square” Chappell was gladdened by the sight of scaffolding atop St. Bartholomew’s Church, which would finally get its dome to complete architect Bertram Goodhue’s vision…

NOW YOU SEE IT…Clockwise, from top left, St. Bartholomew’s Church at 325 Park Avenue, sans dome, in 1928; the church with dome in the 1950s; interior and exterior views of dome. (nyago.com/bostonvalley.com)

…Chappell also commented on the emergence of the Chrysler Building’s blindingly shiny dome and interior appointments…

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT…The Chrysler Building’s gleaming spire emerged in all its glory in June 1930. At right, an elevator in the building’s lobby. (Wikipedia)

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Below the Belt

It wasn’t Dempsey-Tunney, but the bout between Max Schmeling (1905-2005) and Jack Sharkey (1902-1994) was the next best thing for boxing fans. The World Heavyweight Championship had been vacant since Gene Tunney’s retirement in 1928, and Sharkey and Schmeling had emerged as the sport’s No. 1 and 2 contenders.

The bout ended in a controversial decision: Although Sharkey won the first three rounds, he was disqualified after he landed a punch below the belt late in the fourth round. Schmeling became the first boxer to win the World Heavyweight Championship on a foul. The New Yorker’s Niven Busch Jr. (with illustration by Johan Bull) offered these thoughts on the fight’s disappointing outcome:

LOW BLOW…Although Jack Sharkey (far right) led after three rounds, a low blow in the fourth delivered the World Heavyweight Championship to German boxer Max Schmeling (left). Sharkey would claim the title two years later in a rematch with Schmeling. Although boxing isn’t the healthiest pursuit, both men lived into their 90s; Schmeling died in 2005 just shy of his 100th birthday. (Wikipedia/boxrec.com/thefightcity.com)

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One Of Ours

The New Yorker included this brief review of a collection of short fiction pieces by Dorothy Parker, herself a literary critic of some renown at the New Yorker

DOROTHY’S LAMENTATIONS…The New Yorker’s Dorothy Parker published this collection of short fiction in 1930.

…and on to our advertisers, this ad appeared on the opposite page of the review…

…speaking of ads, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes continued to sponsor gimmicky penmanship and writing contests to promote their deadly product…

…while promoters of the Empire State Building (still under construction) continued to draw on the historical significance of the building’s Midtown location…

…on to our cartoons, Garrett Price pondered the very real challenge of guiding a massive Zeppelin to the planned mooring mast atop the Empire State…

…a portent of what would happen to the Hindenburg just seven years later…

…the New Yorker made clever use of typesetting for this I. Klein entry…

John Murray Anderson found humor in contrasting the grand with the mundane…

Kindl eavesdropped on the small talk of a couple of ash haulers…

…and William Crawford Galbraith found humor at the public pool…

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On to the June 28 issue, with a cover featuring a satirical kakemono-style illustration by Rea Irvin, who was fond of Japanese scroll art…

June 28, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

Film critic John Mosher checked out the new documentary on Admiral Richard Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole…

A BYRD WITH WINGS…A Paramount Pictures movie poster promoting the 1930 documentary With Byrd at the South Pole; still images from the film at right. (Wikipedia/YouTube)

…if you’d like to see the actual film, here it is on YouTube…

“The Talk of the Town” also made note of the Byrd’s expedition and homecoming, contrasting his upcoming book, Little America, with the four-volume historical work planned by popular historian Will Durant.

In collaboration with his wife, Ariel, Durant would end up publishing an eleven-volume history of civilization (four million words across nearly 10,000 pages), written between 1935 and 1975. Will Durant was at work on a twelfth volume when he died in 1981 at age 96.

Admiral Richard Byrd’s Little America, left, and the 11-volume The Story of Civilization, by Will and Ariel Durant.

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American Lenin

The June 28 profile, written by Alva Johnston, featured radical American labor organizer and Marxist politician William Z. Foster. Despite Johnston’s portrayal of Foster as something of a genial pinko, in reality Foster was a strong supporter of Joseph Stalin and a dedicated and loyal ally of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party until his death in 1961. The Soviets even gave him a state funeral, with Nikita Khrushchev personally heading an honor guard in Red Square. An excerpt of Johnston’s profile:

RED AS A ROSE…Left, a campaign photo of William Z. Foster when he headed the Communist Party ticket in the 1928 U.S. presidential election; at right, illustration of Foster for the profile, by Abe Birnbaum.

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And to close…a colorful advertisement in the June 28 issue from Rex Cole…from the signature it appears to be the work of Mario Cooper, but this doesn’t look at all like his other work…

…and a two-page Rea Irvin cartoon, which demonstrates his visual storytelling skills…

click to enlarge

Next Time…Happy Fourth!