Back in the USSR

The year 1932 was a tough one for many Americans, barely scraping by in the deepening Depression. But to the suffering millions in the Soviet Union, America’s economic woes looked like a walk in the park.

Jan. 30, 1932 cover by Rose Silver.

The year marked the beginning of a catastrophic famine that swept across the Soviet countryside, thanks to the government’s bone-headed and heartless forced collectivization that caused more than five million people to perish from hunger. Those events, however, were still on the horizon when Robin Kinkead, a New York Times Moscow correspondent, ventured out into Moscow’s frigid streets in search of a lightbulb. Here is his story:

WE HAVE PLENTY OF NOTHING FOR EVERYONE…In 1930s Moscow, and in the decades beyond, much of life consisted of standing in line for everything from bread to light bulbs.
MAGIC LANTERN…Russian peasants experience electricity for the first time in their village. (flashback.com)
STALIN CAST A LARGE SHADOW over his subjects, even when they sought a bit of light in the darkness. Stalin and Lenin profiles served as glowers in this Soviet lightbulb, circa 1935. The first series of these bulbs were presented to the delegates of Soviet parliament of 1935, just in case they forgot who was in charge — or who might liquidate them at any moment, for any reason, or for no reason. (englishrussia.com)

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One of Theirs

Miguel Covarrubias was one of the first artists to contribute to the fledgling New Yorker, and his linear style was well known to readers when he opened his latest show at New York’s Valentine Gallery. It featured works he had created during a 1931 sojourn in the East Indies. Critic Murdock Pemberton found the palette reminiscent of Covarrubias’ earlier work during the Harlem Renaissance:

GLOBETROTTER…A frequent contributor to the early New Yorker, Miguel Covarrubias traveled the world in search of inspiration. His 1932 exhibition at New York’s Valentine Gallery featured his latest work, a series of “Balinese paintings” including In Preparation of a Balinese Ceremony, at right. (sothebys.com)
MAN OF MANY TALENTS…An early Covarrubias contribution to the New Yorker in the March 7, 1925 issue.
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From Our Advertisers
Listerine had been around since the late 1860s, but it wasn’t marketed as a mouthwash until 1914. The brand really took off in the 1920s when it was heavily advertised as a solution for “chronic halitosis” (bad breath), so in 1930 its makers went one step further by adding a few drops of their product to one of the chief causes of bad breath. The folks at Listerine were also keen to the growing market of women smokers — note the fifth paragraph: “They seem to appeal especially to women”…

…when you run out of ideas to amuse your grandchild, drop your top hat and walking stick and let him take you for a swing on a GE fridge door…wow, admire its “all-steel sturdiness” as it slowly tips toward the unsuspecting lad…

…on to our cartoons, Rea Irvin showed readers what he thought of the latest “rosy” economic predictions…

…but with the economy still deep in the dumps, building continued to boom, per Robert Day

Perry Barlow gave us a fellow needing a break from the daily gloom…

Richard Decker unveiled this crime-fighting duo…

Alan Dunn tempered the flames of passion…

…and we close this issue with one of James Thurber’s most famous cartoons…

…on to Feb. 6, 1932…

Feb. 6, 1932 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

…and we head straight to our advertisers……and yet with another sad Prohibition-era ad, this from the makers of Red & Gold Vintages, who promised to dress up your bootleg rotgut with many fine flavorings…

New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross couldn’t care less about the advertising department as long as it paid the bills and kept its nose out of editorial, but I wonder if a cig dropped from his puritanical (if profane) lips when he glanced at this ad…

…as noted in the Listerine ad above, tobacco companies were eager to tap the growing market of women smokers…actress Sue Carol egged on the sisterhood in this ad…Carol would have a brief acting career (including 1929’s Girls Gone Wild — not quite as racy as the 1990s DVD series) before becoming a successful talent agent…

…as noted in my previous “Dream Cars” post, women were also a fast growing market for automobiles, and manufacturers — desperate for Depression-era sales — scrambled to show women all of the swell gadgets that would make driving a snap (as if men didn’t need these gadgets too)…

…and here we have an ad from Kodak that demonstrated the ease of its home movie camera, which could go anywhere, say, like the horse races in Havana…

…Havana then was a playground for wealthier Americans, and many resided at a grand hotel operated by another rich American…

…but if you remained in town, you should at least know how to get tickets to the latest show (this drawing is signed “Russell”…could it be the noted illustrator Russell Patterson?)…

…on to our cartoons, Rea Irvin again commented on the latest predictions for economic recovery…

…but Alan Dunn found one woman who wanted an adventure, not a job…

…perhaps she should hang out with one of Barbara Shermund’s “New Women,” who had a flair for the dramatic…

…as for those seeking a new life, Mary Petty considered the costs…

Richard Decker took us to the high seas, where a thirsty yachtsman hailed a passing smuggler…

Otto Soglow probed the sorrows of youth…

…and William Crawford Galbraith, the joys…

…and James Thurber introduced his classic dog in a big way on this two-page spread…

…and on to one more issue, Feb. 13, 1932…

Feb. 13, 1932 cover by S. Liam Dunne.

…we begin with a nerd alert — the Feb. 13 cover represented one of the magazine’s biggest departures from the original Rea Irvin nameplate, here heavily embellished within S. Liam Dunne’s design. Departures in previous issues were more subtle, Irvin himself experimented with an elongated version in the third issue (below, left). For the April 17, 1926 issue, Katharine and Clayton Knight’s* stylish illustration (center) was the first to overlap part of the nameplate, and Sue Williams’ Nov. 17, 1928 cover (right) was the first to embellish the Irvin font.

*A note on Katharine Sturges Knight and Clayton Knight. The April 17, 1926 cover (center) was the only design by the Knights published by the New Yorker. The original picture was drawn on wood by Katharine and then cut by Clayton. Their son, Hilary Knight, is also an artist, best known as the illustrator of Kay Thompson’s Eloise book series.

…on to the advertisements, kicking off with this subtle appeal from the makers of the unfortunately named “Spud” menthol cigarettes…here a young woman experiences Spud’s “mouth-happiness” while attending the annual Beaux Arts Ball at the new Waldorf-Astoria…

…if you’re wondering why the Spud ad featured a guy in a powdered wig puffing on a cigarette, well the theme of the 1932 ball was “A Pageant of Old New York.” Every year had a different costume theme, and the ladies and gentlemen of the ruling classes delighted in dressing up for the occasion…

PLAYING DRESS-UP…Program for the 1932 Beaux Arts Ball, and two of the attendees, Frank Sanders and Frances Royce. (Pinterest)

…if stuffy events weren’t your thing, you could chuck the fancy duds and head to the sunny beaches of Bermuda…

…I include this Coty advertisement for its modern look — it easily could have appeared in a magazine from the 50s or even 60s…the artwork is by American fashion illustrator Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…

…the auto show has left town, but for some reason the makers of 12-cylinder models continued to shill their products in the New Yorker…Auburn (the middle ad) built beautiful, upscale vehicles, but the Depression would drop it to its knees by 1937…Pierce Arrow would succumb the following year…Lincoln, the highest-priced of these three, would hang on thanks to the largess of parent Ford…

New Yorker cartoonist John Held Jr. picked up some extra bucks by designing this ad for Chase and Sanborn’s…

…and on to our other cartoonists/illustrators, Reginald Marsh wrapped this busy dance hall scene around a section of “The Talk of the Town”…

Otto Soglow was back with his Little King, and the challenges of fatherhood…

Leonard Dove gave us a knight lost on his crusade…

Richard Decker explored the softer side of gangster life…

…and we sign off with Peter Arno, and a little misunderstanding…

Next Time: Winter Games…

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.

4 thoughts on “Back in the USSR”

  1. Peter Arno’s cartoons remind me of those home movies shot by rich people in the 1920s that used to be shown on Channel 13.A woman’s voice would be talking all the while-
    “and heres Daphne home from Foxcroft.She was such a crackerjack rider at hounds…”
    Very surrealistic and weird.What was the name of that show?

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  2. It was called “Time to remember” or “Time out of..something or other”with a picture of a clock face.It was on about 3:30 pm every weekday in the early 70s on channel 13.(who else?)Couldnt find it on you tube or google.Sure was a weirdo.Like watching an early Bunuel movie.The maid used to get stoned and just zone out watching it.

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