An Instant Star

George Cukor’s 1932 pre-Code film A Bill of Divorcement would make Katharine Hepburn an instant star in her screen debut…

Oct. 8, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

… but New Yorker critic John Mosher seems to have missed the boat in spotting this new talent, who would go on to be — at least according to the American Film Institute, “the greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema.” In A Bill of Divorcement, Hepburn portrays a young woman who fears she has inherited the same psychiatric problems that plague her father (John Barrymore). Mosher wrote:

A LOT ON HIS MIND…In A Bill of Divorcement, John Barrymore portrays a man who escapes from a mental hospital after 15 years of confinement, seeking to return to wife and family; his daughter, Sydney (Katharine Hepburn), fears she has inherited his psychiatric problems, while Sydney’s mother, Meg (Billie Burke) wants to start a new life with another man. (IMDB)

Although Mosher offered a rather tepid response to Hepburn’s debut role, critic Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called the film “intelligent, restrained and often stirring.” Of Hepburn he wrote: “Miss Hepburn’s characterization is one of the finest seen on the screen and the producers have been wise in not minimizing the importance of her part because Mr. Barrymore is the star of the film.”

 *  *  *

On Shaky Ground

E.B. White noted the sad state of the Pulitzer Fountain, which had stood at the Plaza since 1916. Although Joseph Pulitzer’s sons had put up funds to restore the landmark, the city had yet to act on a plan.

Fortunately the fountain still stands, thanks to restorations in 1933-35, 1971 and 1985-90. As to White’s concerns, the city finally accepted the Pulitzers’ offer, and after delays due to labor disputes it was completed in June 1935. The original limestone basin was rebuilt in Italian marble, and a limestone balustrade and columns that surrounded the fountain were demolished.

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG…The Pulitzer Fountain after it was completed in 1916. (New York Public Library)

White also mused about the nature of Long Island, soon to be transformed under Robert Moses’ system of parkways that would stretch across the island’s vast expanses.

EAT ME…Hundreds of truck farms dotted Long Island in the early 20th century, especially known for their potatoes. (Newsday)

…and we have more from White, also serving as the magazine’s theater critic and taking in the latest installment of Earl Carroll’s Vanities…I include this mainly to note the young vaudevillian Milton Berle’s first appearance on a big stage…

BEFORE UNCLE MILTIE…Milton Berle (1908–2002) made his first appearance on a big stage with Earl Carroll’s 1932 Vanities. It is also noteworthy that in that same year Chicago native Vincente Minnelli (see program cover) was getting his first breaks on Broadway as a stage and costume designer. (tralfaz.blogspot.com/Playbill)

 *  *  *

Delirious Nights

Although Lois Long was primarily focused on her fashion column, she continued to file an occasional “Tables for Two” that gave readers a glimpse into New York nightlife, including the star-studded (Walter Chrysler, Howard Hughes, among others) opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room…

DANCING WITH THE STARS…Lois Long reported on the star-studded opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room, which featured a series of Saturday night supper dances; images of the Sert Room left and right; at center, the New York Times’ account of the club’s opening, Oct. 2, 1932. (geographicguide.com/NYT/jstor.org)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Simon & Schuster promoted George Gershwin’s Song Book, illustrated by New Yorker regular Constantin Alajalov

…signed first editions go for up to $8000 these days…

(raptisrarebooks.com)

…meanwhile, Farrar & Rinehart trumpeted the release of Evelyn Waugh’s latest novel (his third)…Black Mischief satirized the ways Europeans attempted to impose their customs and beliefs on other cultures…

…Squibb helped the New Yorker’s bottom line with three separate ads scattered throughout the magazine…back in the day the Squibb brand was associated with everything from toothpaste…

…to aspirin and shaving cream…founded in 1858, it merged with Bristol Meyers in 1989 to form one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Bristol Myers Squibb, which today is mostly known for manufacturing dozens of prescription pharmaceuticals and biologics…

…Squibb & Sons were the primary tenant (the top 12 floors) of New York’s landmark Squibb Building when it opened its doors in 1930…

(Museum of the City of New York)

…moving on, here are a couple of ads that show us one thing that has definitely changed in the past 89 years…when was the last time you wore a fur coat to a football game?…

…cigarette manufacturers had plenty of money to advertise during the depths of the Depression, but apparently so did the folks at Wamsutta Mills…Wamsutta sheets are no longer made in New Bedford — part of the circa 1847 mill complex is now loft-style housing…however, the Wamsutta brand still exists in the U.S. through Bed, Bath & Beyond and internationally as part of a Brazilian textile conglomerate…

…Micarta was a substance developed by Westinghouse in the early 20th century for use with electrical equipment…produced from a combination of linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass and other materials processed under heat and pressure, Westinghouse found a new use for this laminate — serving trays designed by George Switzer…you can read more about Micarta trays at Driving for Deco…reader Chris notes that Micarta is “still available in a wide range of grades and designer colors and is popular with hobbyists and craftsmen the world over”…

…in the Oct. 29 issue, E.B. White made this observation about Micarta trays…

…on to our cartoons, William Steig’s “Small Fry” learned about the birds and the bees…

Gardner Rea visited some tobacco researchers challenged to keep pace with advertising claims…

Barbara Shermund looked into the love lives of the modern woman…

…and Peter Arno got playful at the pipe organ…

…on to our Oct. 15, 1932 issue…

Oct. 15, 1932 cover by William Steig.

…where we check in on John O’Hara (1905–1970), who defined the short story at the New Yorker (and contributed more shorts to the magazine than any other writer). For the Oct. 15 issue O’Hara submitted a profile titled “Of Thee I Sing, Baby.” The profile is unusual because it is told as a story rather than as a biography, and the subject, a chorus girl, is not identified by her real name. A brief excerpt:

WRITING MACHINE…John O’Hara (pictured here in 1945) contributed more short stories to the New Yorker than any other writer. (Library of Congress)

 *  *  *

William Steig (1907–2003) was both a writer and illustrator, and every bit as prolific as O’Hara, publishing more than 50 books during his long life and career, including his very first, which received this mention at the end of the Oct. 15 book review section:

…on to our Oct. 15 advertisers, we have the makers of Chesterfields pairing their product with the sophistication of Paris fashions…

Carl “Eric” Erickson illustrated a number of ads for R.J. Reynolds’ Camel cigarettes in the late 1920s and early 1930s…here he employed his signature sophisticated style for the French Line…

…RCA promoted the next great advance in radio technology — “bi-acoustic” sound that added “two more octaves” to radio broadcasts…it would take thirty more years to roll out something we take for granted today — stereo…

…on to our cartoons, Robert Day joined a misdirected fox hunt…

Richard Decker gave us one man’s simple solution to a perilous situation…

…and we close with a classic from James Thurber

Next Time: City On a Hill…

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.

2 thoughts on “An Instant Star”

  1. I had a feeling it was Westinghouse that invented Micarta.Sounds like them.
    Today its available in a wide range of grades and designer colors from which to choose which makes it popular with hobbyists and craftsmen the world over.Can be tricky to machine though.Also its made by other companies now too so you can price comparison.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s