The Final Curtain

Nearly a century after his passing, many still regard Florenz Ziegfeld Jr as the most important and influential producer of Broadway musicals. His theatrical revues, filled with leggy chorines and wisecracking comics, set a standard for everything from Busby Berkeley productions to the Fats Waller stage celebration Ain’t Misbehavin’.

March 19, 1932 cover by Madeline S. Pereny, who gave us a glimpse of the annual International Flower Show at Grand Central Palace.

But when Robert Benchley checked out Ziegfeld’s latest revue, Hot-Cha, which opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre on March 8, 1932, he found it tiresome, and no amount of expensive scenery could keep the show from ending on a “particularly sickening thud.” What Benchley couldn’t know, however, was that Hot-Cha would be the last original musical-comedy produced by Ziegfeld, who in just four months would punch his last ticket.

NOT SO HOT-CHA!…Florenz Ziegfeld’s final revue brought out the stars, but it wasn’t enough to dazzle drama critic Robert Benchley. Clockwise, from top left, program for the revue; Lupe Velez, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and June Knight in Hot-Cha; Benchley was more critical of Bert Lahr’s material than of the comedian himself — many years later Lahr’s son, John Lahr, would follow in Benchley’s footsteps and serve as the New Yorker’s drama critic; Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza were among the highest-paid dance acts in the 1930s and 40s, but Benchley had simply lost his appetite for yet another tango. (playbill.com/Pinterest/Smithsonian/Wikimedia)

Selections from the Ziegfeld Theatre program promised a stageful of talents, including 75 “Glorified Girls”…

…and Ziegfeld (1867–1932) would be back in May for a revival of Show Boat, which once again proved to be a hit, but a bout of pleurisy would claim his life on July 22, 1932. As Benchley alluded in his review, these lavish shows led to equally lavish expenses, and Ziegfeld, having lost much of his money in the stock market crash, would leave his actress wife Billy Burke with substantial debts. The plucky Burke, however, marched on with a successful acting career that included her appearance as Glinda the Good Witch in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.

SECOND ACT…Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and his wife, actress Billie Burke, pose for an Edward Steichen photo, 1927. At right, Burke as Glinda the Good Witch in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.

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Everyone’s a Critic

The March 19 issue also featured drama criticism from Alexander Woollcott in his “Shouts and Murmurs” column. In this case, Woollcott had a bone to pick with the famed playwright Eugene O’Neill, as well as with Guild Theatre’s coughing patrons, who called to mind a chorus of frogs:

SHSSS!…Alexander Woollcott would have preferred an empty Guild Theatre to one filled with “bronchial” patrons. (goodreads.com)

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Down in Old Mexico

The New Yorker’s latest “Out of Town” feature assured travelers that Mexico was a safe destination, and advised men to pack “spring suits and a dinner jacket” if they planned to visit Mexico City. The author of this piece (signed “P.L.”) cautioned travelers “to get insulated against liquid lightning before getting flip with the national drinks: pulque and tequila. Bootleg liquor is no preparation for the havoc these work even on the sternest drinker.”

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Sweating With the Stars

The March 19 “A Reporter at Large” column carried the simple title “Exercise.” Written by journalist Russell Lord* (1895-1964), this excerpt revealed some high-powered clients of one of the world’s first celebrity trainers:

GUY LOMBARDO’S DOOR IS ON THE LEFT…Izzy Winter’s health and exercise “institute” was tucked away on the second floor of the Roosevelt Hotel. Patrons passed through the hotel’s lobby to access an “honest sweat.” Izzy is pictured at right. (Roosevelt Hotel/Yale University)

In Lord’s conclusion, he noted that after a workout patrons were treated to a doze under a sunlamp and a cigarette…

* In his day, Russell Lord was a noted agricultural writer and editor of the agricultural literary journal The Land, which promoted ecologically responsible agricultural practices.

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Fame and Infamy

I include this snippet from John Mosher’s film column to note the first reference in the New Yorker to the March 1, 1932 kidnapping of the baby of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh…the lives and various doings of the Lindberghs were frequent subjects in the early days of the magazine…

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From Our Advertisers

We’ll start by sampling some of the wares in the back pages…looks like Ziegfeld got a big bang for his small investment with his Hot-Cha ad…

…while Ziegfeld ran a cheap ad for his lavish production, the R.F. Simmons Company decided to go big with this ad for…drum roll please…watch chains…

…the makers of Cliquot Club Ginger Ale also did their best to promote a mundane product, claiming their beverage had a “piquant personality”…yeah, especially with a splash or two of some bootleg whisky…

…the makers of Spuds were staying with their stupid “Mouth-Happy” theme, assuring menthol cigarette smokers they will be the life the party…a party filled with old gasbags, that is…

…R.J. Reynolds continued to push their Camels on the growing market of women smokers, demonstrating the effects of a fresh cigarette with this image of a rosy-cheeked nurse…

…DeSoto (a division of Chrysler) gave Depression-era readers something to smile about with this full-color, two-page advertisement featuring a sunny beach scene and an affordable automobile…

…on to our cartoons, here’s Carl Rose’s perspective on the Disarmament Conference taking place in Geneva, Switzerland…

…while the Otto Soglow’s Little King had his own way of projecting power…

…on the domestic scene, Barbara Shermund’s modern women were channeling  René Descartes

…and William Steig showed us a couple debating an equally weighty matter…

…and via Richard Decker, some well-groomed polar explorers…

…two of Helen Hokinson’s “girls” stopped by the International Flower Show at Grand Central Palace…

…and we end with another classic from James Thurber

Next Time: Dirge for a Dirigible…

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.

One thought on “The Final Curtain”

  1. The cover illustrations of old New Yorkers from the 20s and 30s could easily be used for the covers of today and vice-versa and no one could tell the difference.
    I guess the word here is “timeless”.

    Like

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