She Wore the Pants

It’s hard to fathom that a woman wearing trousers used to cause such a stir, but for international film star Marlene Dietrich it was an opportunity for the publicity that invariably came with defying the norms of fashion and sexuality in 1930s.

July 22, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

In May 1933 Dietrich was headed to Paris on a steamer, relaxing on the deck in a white pantsuit. Prior to her arrival, the Paris chief of police announced she would be arrested if she showed up in pants. However when Dietrich arrived at the Gare Saint Lazare wearing a man’s suit and overcoat, she stepped off the train, grabbed the chief of police by his arm, and walked him off the platform.

The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner reported on Dietrich’s comings and goings in her regular column “Letter From Paris”…

TAKING PARIS BY STORM…Clockwise, from top left: Marlene Dietrich in Paris, 1933, accompanied by her husband, Rudolf Sieber; Dietrich on the SS Europa, Cherbourg, France, May 1933; Dietrich arriving at the Gare Saint Lazare station, May 20, 1933 (this photo is often paired with an erroneous caption claiming that Dietrich is being arrested by French authorities. On the contrary, she owned them the moment she stepped onto the platform); Dietrich signing autographs in Paris, 1933. (

 * * *

Bullish On Office Space

Despite the Depression, millions of square feet of office space were being added to the massive Rockefeller Center complex, including the Palazzo d’Italia at 626 Fifth Avenue. “The Talk of the Town” reported:

THE BIG SHORT…Attached to the International Building at its northwest corner, the Palazzo d’Italia was originally planned as a nine-story building, a fact that impressed the fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini because it beat the six-story height of the French and British Buildings. In the end Benito only got six as well. (Wikipedia/Pinterest)

* * *

Urban Jungle

Astoria Studios in Queens was built in 1920 for Famous Players-Lasky and is still home to New York City’s only studio backlot. In 1933 it served as a tropical setting for The Emperor Jones, featuring Paul Robeson in the title role. “The Talk of the Town” looked in on the movie’s faux jungle:

35TH STREET JUNGLE…Paul Robeson in a scene from The Emperor Jones. (

Loosely based on a Eugene O’Neill play and financed with private money, the film was made outside of the Hollywood studio system and distributed by United Artists.

EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES…Brutus Jones (Robeson) schemes with colonial trader Smithers (Dudley Digges) on his plan to become emperor in The Emperor Jones. (

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From Our Advertisers

Yes, it’s advertising so we don’t expect it to be realistic, but I can guarantee no one is going to look like that after a ride to the beach in a rumble seat…

…Hupmobile enlisted humorist Irvin S. Cobb to help boost its sagging sales…

Irvin S. Cobb (1876–1944) wrote for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and was once the highest paid staff reporter in the United States. (

…with the return of legal beer the makers of Budweiser struck a patriotic note in promoting their “King of Bottled Beer” to thirsty New Yorkers…

…the makers of Pabst Blue Ribbon claimed the title of “Best of the Better Beers” with this ad featuring a woman who appeared on the verge of going overboard…

…if beer wasn’t your thing, you could try your hand at mixing a “30-Second Highball” per this Prohibition-themed ad…

…delving into the back pages one finds all sorts of curiosities, including this mail-order “charm school” operated by Margery Wilson

…Wilson (1896–1986) acted in numerous silent pictures (including the 1916 D. W. Griffith epic Intolerance) and in the early 1920s was a writer, director and producer…

Margery Wilson in Eye of the Night (1916). She was among pioneering women filmmakers of the 1920s. (

…it must have been a hot summer in New York with the abundance of air-conditioner ads…here’s one from Frigidaire for a unit that despite its size (and enormous cost) could cool only one room…

…this next air-conditioner ad from G-E seems poorly conceived…you would think an air-conditioned office would make the boss and his secretary a bit happier than they appear here…maybe they just got the bill from General Electric…

…we begin our cartoons with another pair of sourpusses, courtesy Mary Petty

George Price offered up this bit of art for the opening pages…

William Steig headed to the country to escape summer in the city…

William Crawford Galbraith’s bathers kept cool by examining the flotsam from distant shores…

Charles Addams explored various themes before he launched his “Addams Family” in 1938…

…and we move on to July 29 with a terrific cover by Barbara Shermund

July 29, 1933 cover by Barbara Shermund.

…in this issue Geoffrey T. Hellman penned a profile of Egyptologist Herbert E. Winlock, who made key discoveries about the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and served as director of the Metropolitan Museum from 1932 to 1939, where he was employed his entire career. Excerpt:

CAN YOU DIG IT…Early 1920s photo of the Metropolitan Museum’s Theban expedition team. Herbert E. Winlock is in the back row, second from left. His wife, Helen Chandler Winlock, is in the front row, far right. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 * * *

Chilling With U.S. Grant

In those days before air-conditioning was widely available or used, “The Talk of the Town” dispatched an investigator to sample indoor temperatures at various public places, finding the coolest spot at Grant’s Tomb:

WHERE THE COOL PEOPLE HANG OUT…Clockwise, from top left: The tomb of Per-neb at the Metropolitan Museum registered a cozy 80 degrees, while in the same museum it was a balmy 84 by Emanuel Leutze’s famed painting Washington Crossing the Delaware; the New York Aquarium in Battery Park was a bit cooler at 79 (pictured is the Sea Lion Pool); while Grant’s Tomb was downright chilly at 70. (Met Museum/Wildlife Conservation Society/
 * * *
Node of Gold
Apparently the famed crooner Bing Crosby had a minor node on one of his vocal cords, and when he consulted a specialist he was advised against removing it, lest he alter his voice in a way that would affect his career. Indeed, the node seemed to add an “appealing timbre” to his signature sound, so Crosby had his voice insured by Lloyd’s of London for $100,000 with a proviso that the node could not be removed. Howard Brubaker made this observation in “Of All Things”…

LUMP IN HIS THROAT…Bing Crosby with Marion Davies in the 1933 film Going Hollywood. (IMDB)

…Brubaker also shared this prescient observation from American astronomer Vesto Slipher

…Slipher (1875–1969) would live long enough to confirm his statement…the first full-disk “true color” picture of the Earth was captured by a U.S. Department of Defense satellite in September 1967:

(USAF/Johns Hopkins University)

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More From Our Advertisers

This ad was on the inside front cover of the July 29 issue, a rather jarring image following that lovely Barbara Shermund cover…

…the hugely popular P.G. Wodehouse was back with more silly antics from the British upper classes…

…while some New Yorkers could take a break from their reading and hit the dance floor atop the Waldorf-Astoria…

…and tango to the stylings of bandleader Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat and band atop the Waldorf-Astoria. (

…this ad for the French Line, illustrated by Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom, offered a precious scene of a page-boy lighting a woman’s cigarette, a sight unimaginable today for a number of reasons…

…and we close with a cartoon by Gardner Rea, doggone it…

Next Time: The Flying Season…

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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