Role Reversal

James Cagney began his entertainment career singing and dancing in various vaudeville and Broadway acts, but when he was cast in his first film as a tough guy, the die was cast…at least for one New Yorker critic.

Feb. 11, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Cagney’s first film role came after he starred along with Joan Blondell in Broadway’s Penny Arcade. However when the play was made into the 1930 movie Sinners’ Holiday, execs at Warner Brothers opted to put Grant Withers and Evalyn Knapp into the lead roles, believing they were destined for stardom; Cagney and Blondell were relegated to supporting parts. As fate often has it, Withers and Knapp ended up in B-movie obscurity, while Cagney and Blondell went on to become two of the biggest stars of the 1930s. The pair would appear in six more films together, including the gangster film The Public Enemy (1931) and the musical Footlight Parade (1933).

TWO-FACED…James Cagney would be paired with Joan Blondell in seven films during the 1930s including the gangster film The Public Enemy (1931, left) and the musical Footlight Parade (1933, also with Ruby Keeler). (IMDB)
THE ONE I USED TO KNOW…Top, Cagney mashes a grapefruit half into Mae Clarke’s face in a famous scene from Cagney’s breakthrough film, 1931’s The Public Enemy; below, Cagney gets acquainted with a bartender (Lee Phelps) in The Public Enemy. (IMDB)

New Yorker film critic John Mosher preferred the tough guy Cagney to the toe-tapping version, and was anticipating Cagney’s return to pictures after a contact dispute with Warner in which he threatened to quit the business and follow his brothers into the medical profession…

When Cagney finally announced his return in Hard to Handle, Mosher found he had taken on the guise of actor Lee Tracy, who was best known for his comic portrayals of wisecracking salesmen and reporters…

MY SOFTER SIDE…James Cagney and Mae Clark (top) in 1933’s pre-Code comedy Hard to Handle — Cagney played a clowning con artist who organizes a dance marathon. Below, critic John Mosher thought Cagney was channelling the comic actor Lee Tracy, seen here with Jean Harlow in 1933’s Blonde Bombshell. (IMDB)

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Slippery Slope

Located on Lexington between 102nd and 103rd streets, Duffy’s Hill was once famous for being the steepest hill in Manhattan and the scourge of street cars that had to quickly accelerate and decelerate at that point, leading to numerous accidents. An excerpt from “The Talk of the Town”…

LOOK OUT BELOW…Duffy’s hill played merry hell with New York’s streetcars more than a century ago. (New York Social Diary via Facebook)

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Getting High

George Spitz Jr was an AAU high jump champion when he participated in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1933 he made a personal best leap of  6 feet, 8¼ inches using scissors-style leap with elements of the Western roll. “The Talk of the Town” marveled at Spitz’s feat, giving him an extra quarter inch for his record leap:

MILLION-DOLLAR LEGS…In 1933 George Spitz Jr made his personal best leap of 6 feet, 8¼ inches using a scissors-style jump with elements of the Western roll. With the introduction of the Fosbury Flop in 1968, today’s men’s record stands at 8 feet, ¼ inches. The current women’s record is 6 feet, 10¼ inches. (Olympedia)

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Ugh, This Guy Again

As we move into the 1930s we will be seeing more references to Adolf Hitler, who seized power in Germany on January 30, 1933. At this point “The Talk of the Town” wasn’t taking him seriously…

…and neither was Howard Brubaker in his regular column of short quips…

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From Our Advertisers

Hitler aside, the German-owned Hamburg-American Line was still serving peaceful purposes when it advertised the comfort of its “stabilized ships” on transatlantic voyages…these sisters ships of the Hamburg-American Line were all destroyed during World War II…the SS New York and the SS Deutschland were both sunk by the British RAF in 1945…The SS Albert Ballin and the SS Hamburg sank after hitting Allied mines…

THE BIG BANG…the RAF sent the S.S. Deutschland to the bottom of the Bay of Lübeck  on May 3, 1945. (Wikipedia)

…if travel wasn’t your thing, when you escape the winter blahs in the comfort of your home thanks to the GE Mazda Sunlight Lamp…

…and Dad, when you were her age you called these things “horseless carriages”…

…the folks at luxury carmaker Packard answered the splashy color ad from Cadillac in the Jan. 7 issue…

…with a colorful show-stopper of their own…

…if the Packard was too pricy, you could have checked out this lower-priced Cadillac, marketed as the LaSalle…

…no, New York did not say “Rockne, you’re the car!”, even if it was juxtaposed with a giant, attractive woman…the car was named for famed football coach Knute Rockne, and the Depression was not a good time to promote a new car line…it was produced from 1932 to 1933, when Studebaker pulled the plug and sold the remaining inventory (about 90 cars, packaged in kits) to a Norwegian railroad car manufacturer…

…a couple of posts ago (“Life With Father”) we were accosted by a 3-page Camel ad featuring a Q&A stating the facts about its product…here they are back with two more pages of irrefutable evidence…

…what I read in their eyes is that none of them, including the woman, gives a damn about the others…if anything, the fellow at left is checking out the other guy…

…this ad from Sonotone Corporation promoted a new hearing aid developed by Hugo Lieber…this revolutionary bone conduction receiver enabled the deaf to hear through bones in their head…

…a 1939 Sonotone catalog demonstrated how the hearing aid could be worn inconspicuously…

(abebooks.com)

…on to our cartoonists, Al Frueh illustrated the drama on board Broadway’s Twentieth Century Limited…note vaudevillian William Frawley’s caricature in the bottom right hand corner…although he appeared in more than 100 films, Frawley is best known today for his role as Fred Mertz on TV’s I Love Lucy

…here’s a great caricature by Rea Irvin of New York’s new mayor John P. O’Brien, using his new broom to sweep away the corruption of the deposed Jimmy Walker and his Tammany Hall cronies…

…here’s another early work by George Price, who would be a cartoonist at The New Yorker for nearly six decades…

…and here we have the other Price…Garrett Price gave us a fellow who made some changes in his life à la Paul Gauguin

…I like this Perry Barlow cartoon because it reminds me of the patient-in-traction trope commonly seen in comedy of the 1960s and 70s…

…such as this Paul Coker Jr. illustration from the June 1970 issue of MAD magazine…

…and Terry-Thomas and Spencer Tracy in 1963’s It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

William Steig assured readers there was nothing sweet about his “Small Fry”…

…once again Helen Hokinson offered her impressions of the annual Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden…

Peter Arno’s Lake Placid would never be the same for his mustachioed millionaire “walruses” after the previous year’s Winter Olympic Games…

Next Time: One Perfect Night…

 

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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