Bohemian Rhapsody

Part love story and part wildlife protection fable, the pre-Code romance and melodrama Zoo in Budapest was that rare film that pleased critics and audiences alike.

May 6, 1933 cover by Richard Decker. This is one of four covers Decker (1907–1988) contributed to The New Yorker; he also contributed more than 900 cartoons in his nearly 40-year run with the magazine.

Jesse L. Lasky’s first production for Fox (Lasky was the founder of Paramount Pictures), Zoo in Budapest starred relative newcomer Gene Raymond as a young man (Zani) keenly attuned to nature and particularly to the animals he cares for in the Budapest Zoo. In the course of the film he becomes an anti-fur industry activist and rescues a beautiful orphan girl, Eve (Loretta Young) from a life of servitude. Although the film is little known today, in 1933 it had quite a winning effect on critic John Mosher, who usually found little to like from Hollywood’s output:

HE TALKS TO THE ANIMALS…Top, zoo worker Zani (Gene Raymond) rescues a beautiful orphan girl, Eve (Loretta Young) from a life of servitude, and both come to the aid of a little boy named Paul, played by Wally Albright, who escapes the clutches of his harsh governess. Below, hidden in the bushes, Eve changes her clothes after escaping from a group of orphans visiting the zoo. (IMDB)

The film made such an impression that even E.B. White had to mention it in the opening lines of his “Notes and Comment”…

ANIMAL CRACKERS…Filmmakers went all out in creating elaborate sets for Zoo in Budapest. The film was likened to Grand Hotel because the drama took place in less than 24 hours, almost entirely in one location. Below, Loretta Young converses with director Rowland Lee on the set. (IMDB)

 * * *

High Anxiety

The Depression was hard on the Empire State Building, which opened its doors during some of the darkest days of the economic crisis. Visitation was down, and a lot of the office space in the world’s tallest building remained vacant. It would remain in the red into the 1940s.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT…To this day the 86th floor observation deck has been a popular destination for tourists. In the 1930s a photographer stationed on the deck captured the moment for tourists on a souvenir postcard. The image at top is from 1934, the one below circa 1930s. Fencing to deter suicide attempts (or people chucking things over the side) wouldn’t be erected until 1947. (

 * * *

As the World Churns

Howard Brubaker continued to comment on the deteriorating conditions of the German people in his column “Of All Things”…

…and speaking of the Third Reich, Alexander Woollcott profiled (in his column “Shouts and Murmurs”) an enterprising young journalist Hubert R. Knickerbocker (1898–1949), who reported from Berlin from 1923 to 1933 and wrote about the threat of Nazism. In April 1933, after fleeing Germany, he reported in the New York Evening Post that “an indeterminate number of Jews [had] been killed.” A brief excerpt (with illustration by Cyrus Baldridge):

MYSTERY WRITER…In December 1930, H.R. Knickerbocker interviewed Josef Stalin’s mother, Keke Geladze, for the New York Evening Post. The resulting article was titled, “Stalin Mystery Man Even to His Mother.” (The New Yorker)

A graduate of Southwestern University in Texas and a 1931 Pulitzer Prize winner, Knickerbocker kept his word with Woollcott and entered Columbia University to study psychiatry.

TALES TO TELL…H.L. Knickerbocker (at the microphone) with Alexander Woollcott circa 1940. (Kansas City Public Library)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with an ad from the makers of the first commercially successful wheat flake breakfast cereal…before there were Wheaties (created in 1921) there was Force, invented in 1901…almost from the beginning the Force brand was wildly successful thanks to a series of jingles featuring a morose character, Jimmy Dumps, who was transformed into Sunny Jim by consuming Force flakes…in 1933 the makers of Force were still big on jingles, sponsoring contests such as the one below…

…here is a box from that period, promoting cash prizes for winning jingles…


…the folks at Chesterfield began targeting the working man in their advertising…

…while Canada Dry was anticipating the end of Prohibition…

…but until that day, you could mix some Green Ribbon with your bootleg alcohol, according to Sonia Strega, who was likely an invention by the advertisers rather than an actual living endorser…

…Lux, on the other hand, had piles of money to spend on real life endorsers including Jimmy Durante, Hope Williams and Lupe Velez

Otto Soglow drew up this strip for the makers of Nettleton shoes, creating a character similar to his famed “Little King” to promote the company’s sports and golf shoes…

James Thurber continued his work for the French Line, replete with his familiar dogs…

…and we also find Thurber in the cartoons…

…joined  by Garrett Price

Gardner Rea

Gluyas Williams (originally this ran sideways)…

…and we close with a frolic by Robert Day

Next Time: Headline News…


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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