One Perfect Night

Once again The New Yorker marked its anniversary — the eighth — with a repeat of its very first cover, a tradition that would last until 1993. Unlike previous years, E.B. White made no special mention of the occasion in his “Notes and Comment,” no doubt feeling confident about the magazine’s prospects despite the challenges of the Depression. In 1933 The New Yorker could count on nearly 117,000 readers.

Feb. 18, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

And so we look to another of the magazine’s star contributors, humorist and stage critic Robert Benchley, who was rarely impressed with Broadway’s middlebrow fare. It was in such an environment that Benchley found himself separating the wheat from the chaff, listing a selection of scenes from various plays that together might represent a “perfect night” of entertainment:

A BROADWAY BUFFET…Clockwise, from top left, Robert Benchley recommended Jack Haley’s bedroom scene and Ethel Merman’s rendition of “Eadie Was a Lady” in Take a Chance as worthy of a look; he also found George M. Cohan’s telephone call to police HQ in Pigeons and People memorable, and Beatrice Lillie was apparently a delight in the dressing room scene from Walk a Little Faster. (playbill.com)
TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC in Cole Porter’s musical Gay Divorce were Claire Luce and Fred Astaire, dancing to the hit song “Night and Day.” It was Astaire’s last Broadway show before he headed to Hollywood for even greater stardom; Jack Pearl and Barbara Newberry in Pardon My English; Eva Le Gallienne as the White Queen and Josephine Hutchinson as Alice in the 1932-33 production of Alice in Wonderland at Le Gallienne’s own Civic Repertory Theatre; Alice (Hutchinson) encounters Tweedledee (Burgess Meredith) and Tweedledum (Landon Herrick) in Alice in Wonderland. (Pinterest/gershwin.com/blog.mcny.org)

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Spring Cleaning

While passing by the Vanderbilts’ “Triple Palace” on 51st and Fifth Avenue, E.B. White (“Notes and Comment”) noted signs of neglect at the famed mansion:

HOME  SWEET HOME…At top, Alva Vanderbilt engaged Richard Morris Hunt to build a “Petite Chateau” on the northwest corner of 52nd Street; below, the drawing room. The Triple Palace was demolished in 1947-49. (mcny.org/Wikimedia Commons)

The Triple Palace site today:

(daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)

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Going Round and Round

No one was landing quad flips at New York’s Ice House in 1933, but for ice skating enthusiasts it was the place to be for both figure skating competitors as well as for those just interested in a leisurely skate to the strains of a live orchestra. “The Talk of the Town” explains in this excerpt:

CHILLING SIGHT…Top and below, the Ice House was located on the top floor of a four-story building attached to Madison Square Garden. (Pinterest)

In both Europe and America ice skating in the 19th and early 20th century was something of an elaborate ritual in urban areas; skating rinks included tea rooms as well as places to dance or ice skate to the gentle rhythms of a live orchestra…

TEA COSY…The Biltmore Hotel Ice Gardens offered guests a warm place to watch the cold weather fun of the hotel’s outdoor ice skating rink, circa 1915. (mcny.org)

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The Jig Is Up

Jigsaw puzzles have been around since the late 1700s (they were handmade then), but their popularity really took off in the 20th century with advancements in manufacturing and especially during the Depression when folks sought affordable forms of entertainment they could enjoy at home. The 1930s also saw jigsaw puzzles become more complex. “The Talk of the Town” observed:

In 1933 the Long Island City-based puzzle manufacturer Einson-Freeman introduced a line of puzzles that included clues to solving mysteries described in an accompanying novelette…

(worth point.com)

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Small But Deadly

Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column, which ran from 1925 to 1951, was a series of brief, satirical comments on the events of the day, including some that to modern eyes point to the catastrophic events that awaited Brubaker’s world (reader Frank W. notes that “the ‘aged piano-player’ was Ignacy Paderewski, who had served as Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of WWI, and who was the nearest thing the Poles had to a national-unity figure”):

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Her Protégé

When Mae West adapted her 1928 Broadway play Diamond Lil into the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong, the puritanical backers of the Hays Code (which would be enforced in 1934) demanded that the film make no reference to the “scandalous” play. But because it was still the pre-Code era, West’s film featured many double entendres and her famous (and famously misquoted) quip, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” That line was spoken to Cary Grant — whom West would later claim as her discovery even though Grant had drawn considerable attention in the previous year for his work opposite Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus. For the record, Grant, who would be paired again with West in 1933’s I’m No Angel, would later credit West, and She Done Him Wrong, for giving his career a major boost. New Yorker critic John Mosher lauded the film for the much-needed laughs it provided to Depression-weary audiences.

SHOWING HIM THE ROPES…The nearly forty-year-old Mae West was 11 years older than Hollywood newcomer Cary Grant when they appeared together in 1933’s She Done Him Wrong. The film was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Picture), and in 1996 was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. (filmreference.com)

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From Our Advertisers

The folks at Packard took a new advertising tack by demonstrating the durability of their luxury automobile…

…hopefully the Packard was riding on “Double Eagle” tires by Goodyear…however, this is an odd illustration to emphasize a child’s safety, when the kid’s posh mum seems more concerned about her appearance than anything else…also, does she plan to drive home with the windshield down?…

…Log Cabin continued its series of ads featuring New Yorker cartoonists…here Peter Arno lends one of his dirty old walruses to the cause of syrupy waffles and pancakes…

…on to our cartoonists, we have Arno again, keeping up appearances among high society…

Gluyas Willams demonstrated his knack for illustrating the foibles of his fellow citizens…

Helen Hokinson looked in on a man aspiring to become the next T.S. Eliot…

…the growing popularity of the gangster film knew no bounds, according to Perry Barlow

…and we close with James Thurber, and a speakeasy standoff…

Next Time: Deskey’s Deco…

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.

4 thoughts on “One Perfect Night”

  1. The “aged piano-player” was of course Ignacy Paderewski, who had served as Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of W W I, and who was the nearest thing the Poles had to a national-unity figure.

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