The Milne Menace

Dorothy Parker was no fan of A. A. Milne of “Winnie-the-Pooh” fame, and neither was her dear friend Robert Benchley, the latter having had the misfortune of reviewing Milne’s latest Broadway play, They Don’t Mean Any Harm, which opened on Feb. 23, 1932, and closed (mercifully, one gathers) after one week.

March 5, 1932 cover by Leo Rachow commemorated the US Vs. Canada hockey match at the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, NY. Canada won its fourth consecutive Olympic gold by narrowly edging the US (silver) in total points.

Parker, as readers may recall, famously ridiculed Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner in the New Yorker, beginning with a quote from the book: “‘Well, you’ll see, Piglet, when you listen. Because this is how it begins. The more it snows, tiddely-pom’ – ‘Tiddely what’ said Piglet. ‘Pom,’ said Pooh. ‘I put that to make it more hummy.’ And it is that word ‘hummy’, my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up” (Parker wrote her book reviews under the pseudonym “Constant Reader”).

As for Benchley, he fondly recalled Milne’s earlier work, when he wrote silly verse and essays in the British humor magazine Punch, but apparently Milne’s downfall began when he published some “Pooh” poetry in the Feb. 13, 1924 issue…

WELL, DISNEY LIKED IT…A. A. Milne (1882 – 1956) pictured in his younger days (inset) joined the humor magazine Punch in 1906 and served as its assistant editor. After his son was born in 1920, he compiled a collection of poems for children, When We Were Very Young, illustrated by Punch cartoonist E. H. Shepard. An excerpt from the Feb. 13, 1924 issue appears above.  (Pinterest)

Parker, of course, did not think much of Milne as a children’s author, and Benchley also found him wanting (more than once) as a playwright. Here is the first part of Benchley’s scathing review of They Don’t Mean Any Harm, which was presented at the Charles Hopkins Theatre on 49th Street.

…Benchley’s evisceration continues on the left column…

NO ACTORS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS PLAY…They Don’t Mean Any Harm closed after just a week (15 performances), but it would give rising young star Marion Burns (top left) her debut on a New York stage. Also appearing was veteran actor O.P. Heggie, who had to dial up the schmaltz to play a character so sweet (the role of Mr. Tilling, a humble, poor book agent) that it achieved just the opposite effect for critic Robert Benchley, who wrote he had never seen “a fouler character than Mr. Tilling”; pictured at bottom, A. A. Milne circa 1920s, and the cover of the program. (imdv.com/RKO Radio Pictures/Wikipedia/Playbill)

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Meanwhile, Beneath the City…

Eric Hodgins (author of the popular novel Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House) filed a two-part feature on the New York subway system, marveling at the complexities of a transportation network that daily served millions while under constant development. Excerpts:

IN THE NAME OF PROGRESS…Today’s sandhogs (tunnel diggers) work in much safer conditions than in the 1930s, but some of the technology described in Eric Hodgin’s article was still around in 2015 (see below). Top photos, left, sandhogs tightening a bolt on a tunnel connection; right, subway tunnelers who worked under the East River are shown in a decompression chamber. Bottom photos, left, city officials in 1933 showing off a ventilation system installed to cool down trains (but air-conditioning was still decades away); and right, a 1938 Walker Evans photo from his subway series. (Daily News/public delivery.org/ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

Six years ago Business Insider described the “100-year-old technology” still used by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and you can see that in 2015 (bottom photo) the switches and control panels were similar to ones in the 1930s (top photo). Also note the old handset (possibly bakelite) at left center of the 2015 photo.

(businessinsider.com)

I am not including these images to ridicule the MTA, but rather to admire the hard work, technological prowess and creativity of our forebears. Improving these vast, complex systems takes time and money, and especially money, lots of it.

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Coming Up For Air

Stuffy, crowded subway cars were largely unknown to those New Yorkers who still had means in the 1930s, and who could escape the city’s late winter doldrums and flee to sunny Bermuda. The “Out of Town” column offered some travel tips:

WISH YOU WEREN’T HERE…These fortunate New Yorkers enjoyed Bermuda’s sunny climes in 1932. (New York Historical Society)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with advertisement for the lovely Hotel Pierre, still a landmark of luxury in Manhattan. In 1932, however, the Depression forced the new hotel (opened in 1930) into bankruptcy. And so, we read this ad with tinge of sadness for Charles Pierre and his short-lived dream…

…one thing the Depression didn’t destroy was the need to shave one’s whiskers, and this is the first time (at least that I have noticed) that Burma Shave referenced its famous roadside jingles in a New Yorker ad…

…the concept of being “mouth-happy” was the tagline used by the makers of Spud menthol cigarettes, who encouraged smokers to light up even before they got out of their PJs…

…Lucky Strike, meanwhile, stuck with their “toasted” claims, and to images of fame, youth and beauty to suggest that your looks as well as your throat would benefit from their product…

…the woman in the Lucky ad, June Collyer (1906-1968), was one of 13 women selected as “WAMPAS Baby Stars” in 1928. During the 1920s and early 30s, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS) honored 13 or so young actresses each year whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom (In the 1940s Collyer’s brother “Bud” Collyer provided the voice of Superman on the radio). While I digress, here is a photo of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1932:

WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1932. Back row: Toshia Mori, Boots Mallory, Ruth Hall, Gloria Stuart, Patricia Ellis, Ginger Rogers, Lilian Bond, Evalyn Knapp, Marian Shockley. Seated in front row: Dorothy Wilson, Mary Carlisle, Lona Andre, Eleanor Holm and Dorothy Layton (June Clyde is not pictured).

…on to our cartoons, we go from the glamorous to the everyday with William Steig

…and Garrett Price

Richard Decker suggested someone might be in for a bumpy ride…

…and Decker again, illustrating the perils of another form of transportation…

Barbara Shermund gave us a wealthy matron eager for show and tell…

…and Peter Arno looked in on one of his ancient walruses, pining for the olden days…

…on to the March 12, 1932 issue…

March 12, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

…and some insights into a variety of world events, large and small, by E.B. White:

GR-R-ATE was the word used by one newsreel announcer to describe Malcolm Campbell’s land speed record of 253.96 miles per hour, achieved on the sands of Florida’s Daytona Beach on Feb. 24, 1932. E.B. White wanted to know why this achievement was so gr-r-ate. (floridamemory.com)

And we have White again, who we all know loved dogs, and especially Daisy, his beloved Scotty. When she was killed by a swerving taxicab, he wrote a beautiful remembrance in the New Yorker. Here are the first and last paragraphs.

TRAVELING COMPANION…Katharine White with Daisy on a leash in New York City, 1931. In the pram is baby Joel. (brainpickings.org)

One more by White, this time admiring the heavenly beauty of a GE refrigerator in the window of a Rex Cole store on East 21st Street:

KING OF COLD…The Eagle Building (right) on East 21st held the Rex Cole showroom admired by E.B. White. To get some idea of Rex Cole’s theatrical fridge displays, the image at left is of a Bronx storefront. (MCNY/Daytonian in Manhattan)

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From Our Advertisers

With the Depression still deepening, even the rich needed a break, so Lincoln rolled out an eight-cylinder model, at $2,900 still too steep for most folks…

…and priced competitively with the Lincoln, the Chrysler Imperial Eight looked a lot more fun…

…and we have another stylish and very modern Coty advertisement by American fashion illustrator Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…

…on to cartoons, Gluyas Williams demonstrated that sometimes words alone don’t have the same effect as a simple gesture…

dd

Garrett Price found a hapless fellow on a train to nowhere…

Helen Hokinson’s “girls” were going through the motions at a bridge tournament…

…and Helen again with the lives and loves of our youth…

…and we close with James Thurber, his war between the sexes taking a new twist…

Next Time: The Final Curtain…

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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