Not for the Kiddies

Over the years Tod Browning’s 1932 pre-code film Freaks has been called everything from grotesque and exploitive to sympathetic and compassionate. Now a cult classic, the film’s closing scenes are regarded by some critics as among the most terrifying ever put to film.

July 16, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

What disturbed so many about Freaks was Browning’s use of actual sideshow performers with real disabilities to tell the story of a conniving trapeze artist who plots to seduce and then kill a dwarf performer to gain his inheritance. The film was not well-received by audiences and many critics. The Kansas City Star’s John Moffitt wrote, “There is no excuse for this picture. It took a weak mind to produce it and it takes a strong stomach to look at it.” However, the New Yorker’s John Mosher, along several other New York critics, gave the film a rather favorable review:

ONE OF US…Although audiences and critics found Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks grotesque and exploitive, today many regard the film as a rare (for its time), sympathetic portrayal of persons with disabilities. Clockwise, from top left, Browning with some of the members of his Freaks cast; French-American actress Rose Dione portrayed Madame Tetrallini, operator of the sideshow; Daisy and Violet Hilton with actor Wallace Ford in a scene from Freaks. Born fused at the pelvis, the sisters were joined at their hips and buttocks and shared blood circulation; limbless sideshow performer Prince Randian, who wore a one-piece wool garment over his body, appeared in the film as “The Living Torso.” (IMDB)
IT HAD A PLOT, ACTUALLY…Freaks told the story of a conniving trapeze artist named Cleopatra (portrayed by Russian actress Olga Baclanova, bottom right) who plots to seduce and then kill a dwarf performer, Hans (portrayed by Harry Earles) to gain his inheritance. Top photo: assembled “freaks” chant their acceptance of Cleopatra at the wedding feast of Hans and Cleopatra; bottom left, the kind-hearted seal trainer Venus (portrayed by Leila Hyams) consoles Frieda (Daisy Earles), who worries about Hans (Daisy and Harry Earles were members of a famous quartet of sibling entertainers known as The Doll Family. The quartet also appeared as members of The Munchkins in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.)(IMDB)
SURPRISE…Leila Hyams (1905 – 1977) was something of a surprising presence in the controversial film Freaks, given that she was a popular leading lady in the 1920s and 30s. Known for both her comedic and dramatic talents, she retired from films in 1936; another unlikely cast member was Henry Victor (1892 – 1945) whose physique didn’t necessarily support his role as circus strongman. (dangerousminds.net)
TRUE GRIT…Perhaps only a Russian actress in 1932 had the grit to transform herself from an exotic blonde temptress to a grotesque “human duck” for the movie Freaks. In the film, Olga Baclanova (1893 – 1974) portrayed a conniving trapeze artist named Cleopatra. Near the end of film the “freaks” capture Cleopatra, gouge out her right eye, remove her legs and tongue and melt her hands to look like duck feet. For critics and audiences, the horror was just too much. As for Baclanova — who was a popular silent film actress known as the “Russian Tigress” — her heavy accent did not translate well to talking films, and she left the movie business altogether in 1943. (muni.com/IMDB)

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Tennis Anyone?

Helen Moody was the top women’s singles tennis player for nearly a decade in the 1920s and 30s, winning Wimbledon eight times, including a match in 1932 against her rival Helen Jacobs. However to sportswriter John Tunis, the women had reached such a level in their play that it had become robotic and tedious to watch. At least James Thurber livened things up with some keen illustrations.

RACKETEERS…Helen Jacobs (left) and Helen Moody (right, in a 1929 photo) were tennis rivals known for their explosive matches. Except, apparently, for the one attended at Wimbeldon in 1932 by John Tunis. (nickelinthemachine.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Sensing that the end of Prohibition was near, the makers of Budweiser reminded readers of the good ol’ days of beer drinking and such…

…if you could afford something better than beer, then you might have contemplated a trip on the SS Manhattan, which along with her sister ship SS Washington were the largest liners ever built in the US…

TO AND FRO…Beginning in August 1932 the SS Manhattan operated the New York – Hamburg route until 1939, when instead of taking passengers to Germany the ship began taking Jewish refugees and others away from Nazi-occupied Europe. It was turned into a troopship in 1941 and never returned to commercial service. The SS Manhattan was sold for scrap in 1965. (cruiselinehistory.com)

…if your thing wasn’t traveling to Germany to see that country being transformed into the Third Reich, you could instead become a Bermuda “Commuter”…

…back home, William Steig joined other New Yorker cartoonists who earned extra money off of the big tobacco companies…

…which segues into our cartoonists, beginning with Victor Bobritsky’s illustration for “Goings On About Town”…

Otto Soglow offered more Little King adventures…

…and Carl Rose gave us a man striding into a factory, apparently a rare sight in 1932…

…on to July 23…

July 23, 1932 cover by Antonio Petruccelli (1907 – 1994). This is the first of six covers Petruccelli created for the New Yorker from 1932 to 1938. He also did numerous covers and illustrations for Fortune, Colliers and other publications.

…and we have another John Mosher film review, in which he refers to Freaks as a “dainty prelude” to another film about the lives of entertainers, in this case George Cukor’s What Price Hollywood, a pre-Code drama starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman with a storyline that anticipated 1937’s A Star Is Born — namely, a famous but fading male star who helps an ingénue rise to stardom while he descends into a pit of alcoholic despair.

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…Top image: Waitress and aspiring actress Mary Evans (Constance Bennett) has the good fortune to meet film director Maximillan Carey (Lowell Sherman) when she serves him one night at the Brown Derby. Bottom: Mary and her polo player boyfriend Lonny Borden (Neil Hamilton) look down with pity at the down-on-his-luck Maximillan in What Price Hollywood? (Wikipedia/IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Originally published by Adam Budge, Inc. in 1910 and later by Joseph Judd Publishing and others, Arts & Decoration magazine hoped to stay alive in the Depression with a promise that its August 1932 issue would be “compellingly readable”…

…and here is the cover of that issue…Arts & Decoration would hang on for another ten years before folding in 1942…

…one of the stars of Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 was actress and dancer Patricia Boots Mallory (1913 – 1958), who posed for this portrait to demonstrate the wonders of color reproduction…

…and here’s Boots Mallory in a scene from the 1932 film Handle With Care with comedian Elmer “El” Brendel (standing) and actor James Dunn

…not everyone could be a movie star, but you could pretend to be one in this swell new (and low-priced) DeSoto…Walter Chrysler must have laid out some big bucks for this two-page color spread…

…for those with greater means you could skip the roads altogether and fly the friendly skies of Ludington Airlines…the airline was founded by wealthy New York socialite Charles Townsend Ludington and his brother Nicholas…

…founded in 1929, Ludington Airlines was the first airline with flights every hour on the hour and the first to carry passengers only (others carried mail, an important source of revenue). The airline offered service between Washington, D.C. and New York City — with stops in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Virginia, Nashville and Knoxville, Tennessee — using seven Stinson tri-motor 6000 aircraft in its fleet, each carrying up to ten passengers…the airline went bankrupt in 1933 (mostly due to the lack of mail revenue) but left behind an astonishing record — in its first two years it flew more than 3.4 million miles and carried 133,000 passengers, a record at the time…

A Stinson SM-6000 airliner similar to the type flown by Ludington Airlines from 1929 to 1933.

…back to earth, sort of, we have this Lucky Strike ad with the famed “Do You Inhale?” campaign that oozed innuendo and no doubt prompted a few young men to take up the habit posthaste…

…on to cartoons, beginning with this spot art by James Thurber

Gardner Rea showed us a man getting his nickel’s worth of sin and repentence…

…and we end with the delightfully unrepentant Peter Arno

Next Time: Something to Say…

Help Wanted

Above image: The 1937 painting, titled "Employment Agency," was by Isaac Soyer (1902-1981). Like Reginald Marsh, he was considered a social realist painter who painted scenes of working class life.

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Nineteen thirty-two was a tough year for most Americans, as the Depression approached rock bottom and jobless numbers continued to mount as one out of every four workers was unemployed.

July 2, 1932 cover by William Steig.

Despite the Depression, the New Yorker was on solid footing, although judging by these next two issues advertising had fallen off. Other indications things weren’t so rosy included the occasional broadsides penned by E.B. White in his “Notes and Comment” column that opened “The Talk of the Town.” White anticipated Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, calling for “direction from above” and the creation of a peacetime army that would give purpose to the unemployed.

White filed his column while the nation was experiencing a summer of unrest, men and women across the country joining demonstrations demanding relief from the federal government, which under President Herbert Hoover mostly refused to provide funds for the jobless and homeless.

Writing for The Conversation, James N. Gregory, professor of history at the University of Washington, developed a mapping project that has recorded 389 hunger marches, eviction fights and other protests in 138 cities during 1932.

THE UNWANTED…Clockwise, from top left, a man advertises his worth on a sandwich board, ca. 1930; unemployed gather in front of an employment agency, ca. 1930; long line of jobless and homeless men wait outside to get free dinner at a New York municipal lodging house, 1932; even with the New Deal times remained tough for many rural folks — in 1936 Los Angeles Police Chief James E. Davis declared a “Bum Blockade” to stop the mass emigration of poor families fleeing from the Dust Bowl states of the Midwest. (rarehistoricalphotos.com/dailybulletin.com/AP)

White’s column was prescient in many ways, including the need for Americans to laugh during tough times: Abbott & Costello, Burns & Allen, Laurel & Hardy and the Three Stooges, among many other acts, enjoyed their heydays during the Depression and war years.

SWORDS, NOT PLOUGHSHARES were offered to those protesting in the summer of ’32. Above, tanks and mounted troops advance to break up a Bonus Marchers’ camp of veterans protesting lost wages in Washington D.C. on  July 28, 1932. Below, the marchers at the Capitol. (PhotoQuest/The Conversation)

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From Our Advertisers

As noted earlier, advertising had fallen off a bit in the New Yorker, but those who still had means to market their wares included the folks at Goodyear, who continued their campaign of comparing their tires to “masterpieces”…

…this B. Altman ad presented a “fashion artist” who was doing quite well despite the Depression…

…on to our cartoonists, the top of page 2 and the bottom of page 3 in the “Goings On About Town” were decorated by Julian de Miskey

William Steig put one of his “Small Fry” in a barber’s chair…

James Thurber continued to plumb the depths of courtship…

…as did Barbara Shermund

…while Peter Arno was perfecting one his classic tropes…

…on to July 9, 1932…

July 9, 1932 cover by Virginia Andrews.

…where we look at John Mosher’s review of Red Headed Woman, a romantic comedy about an ambitious secretary (Jean Harlow) who tries to sleep her way into high society.

Harlow (1911-1937) was already famed as a “platinum blonde,” which made her turn as a redhead a major selling point for the pre-code film. Although based on a novel by Katharine Brush, it was Anita Loos’ humorous treatment of the script that made the film more than just a sex romp.

SEEING RED…Jean Harlow seduces her wealthy boss William “Bill” Legendre Jr. (Chester Morris) and breaks up his marriage to his wife Irene (Leila Hyams, photo at right). (IMDB)
In many ways Jean Harlow embodied Lorelei Lee, the ambitious gold-digger Anita Loos created for her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. When Loos (left) adapted Katharine Brush’s (right) novel for the 1932 film Red-Headed Woman, MGM made hay of the whole arrangement, seen in this 1932 publicity photo (center) of Harlow and Loos.

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From Our Advertisers

Speaking of redheads, we have this one encouraging us to become addicted to Camel cigarettes and then “leave them if you can”…

…Longchamps was a chain of restaurants in Manhattan that brought a taste of Continental refinement to middle class New Yorkers…

…the terrific Driving for Deco blog site tells us that wholesaler Henry Lustig opened his first Longchamps restaurant in 1919 at Madison and 78th, specializing in an American version of French cuisine at affordable prices. During the mid to late 1930s the chain rapidly expanded, opening seven restaurants within five years. Four of these restaurants were known for interior designs by Winold Reiss…

HIGH STYLE, LOW PRICES…Clockwise, from top left, the 1931 Continental Building was home to this Longchamps restaurant at Broadway and 41st Street (circa 1937); entrance on 42nd Street to the Longchamps in the Chanin Building, circa 1935; late 1930s matchbook cover from Longchamps; interior design by Winold Reiss in the Chanin Building location. (nyneon.blogspot.com/drivingfordeco.com)

…on to our cartoons with Rea Irvin and another view of French elegance…

…and we close with Barbara Shermund, evesdropping on her Manhattan demimonde…

Next Time: Not For the Kiddies…