The Wild West

Kino Lorber)

We first encountered Mae West back in 1926 when The New Yorker commented on her risqué Broadway play, Sex. Although the play was the biggest ticket in town, it eventually attracted a police raid that landed West in jail on morals charges. Sentenced to ten days for “corrupting the morals of youth,” she could have paid a fine, but for West a short stint on Welfare Island was worth its weight in publicity gold.

Oct. 14, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

Fast forward seven years, and West is one of the nation’s biggest box office attractions and starring in her third film, I’m No Angel. Depression-era audiences responded enthusiastically to West’s portrayals of a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who in the end gains both fortune and social acceptance. Although puritanical forces continued to be outraged by West’s antics, New Yorker film critic John Mosher found her act to be “a safe parody on indecency.”

SHIMMY TO SUCCESS…Clockwise, from top left: At the beginning of I’m No Angel, Tira (Mae West) shimmies and sings in a circus sideshow; studio poster for the film— In the early 1930s, West’s films were key in saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy; a wealthy sideshow customer (William B. Davidson) arranges a private rendezvous; Tira has her day in court despite attempts by her ex-boyfriend, Slick Wiley (Ralf Harolde), to discredit her. (IMDB)
SHE GETS HER MAN…Cary Grant starred opposite Mae West for the second and final time in I’m No Angel. Eleven years junior to West, Grant portrayed Tira’s fiancé, Jack Clayton. (TCM)

And finally, a much-talked about scene from the movie featured West putting her head (rather sensually) into the mouth of a lion. In reality it appears to be a camera trick: West was actually placing her head to the side of the lion’s mouth. Still, a gutsy move by West. As for the lion, it was no picnic either.

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Comic Relief

Eugene O’Neill surprised critics and audiences alike when he premiered Ah, Wilderness! at Broadway’s Guild Theatre on October 2, 1933. Among the critics was Wolcott Gibbs, who concluded that O’Neill should stick to his usual themes of disillusion and despair. An excerpt:

PASS THE CORN, PLEASE…Around the table in the original 1933 Broadway production of Ah, Wilderness! are (from left) George M. Cohan (Nat Miller), Eda Heinemann (Lily), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Richard), Gene Lockhart (Sid), Marjorie Marquis (Mrs. Nat Miller), Walter Vonnegut, Jr. (Tommy) and Adelaide Bean (Mildred). (Photograph by Vandamm for Stage magazine, November 1933)
ERRORS OF COMEDY…Wolcott Gibbs (left) found Eugene O’Neill’s attempt at comedy to be nothing more than a recycling of corny old saws. However, Ah, Wilderness! proved successful in its first Broadway production and in the touring company that followed. It remains to this day a staple of community repertory. (The New Yorker/Playbill/Britannica)

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Hell in a Handbasket

If Eugene O’Neill couldn’t offer up some woe, then leave it to E.B. White of all people to supply reason for despair. In his 1982 review of a collection of White’s poems and sketches,

For the Oct. 14 issue White bemoaned the loss of the American elm (of the 77 million elms in North America in 1930, more than 75 percent were lost to Dutch elm disease by 1989), the dangers of pesticide use, and other maladies. Excerpts:

APPLE OF HIS EYE…E.B. White had reason to be concerned about the widespread practice of spraying lead arsenic on fruit trees. This 1930 photograph shows an Oregon orchardist and his child spraying apple trees with the stuff. (

White’s New Yorker colleague John O’Hara raised some concerns of his own, namely the likelihood of another world war in this prescient piece titled “Dynamite is Like a Mill Pond.” Excerpts:

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE…John O’Hara pondered the likelihood of another world war and an unlikely bedfellow: Soviet Russia. Photo circa 1938. (AP via

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Pooh-Poohing Mr. Milne

In his review of A.A. Milne’s latest novel, The Red House Mystery, Clifton Fadiman seemed to recall Dorothy Parker’s own revulsion to Milne’s juvenile style (“Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up” Parker once wrote of The House at Pooh Corner). Excerpts:

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Camels took to the water to prove how their cigarettes supported “healthy nerves,” whether in the deep sea or on the high dive…

…with a name like “Spud” you really had to stretch to prove you were a choice of the smart set…here they claimed their product was “quite at home among royalty”…

…here’s another great example of class appropriation, a white-tie dinner featuring a couple of toffs eating canned soup…

…and we give our eyes a break with a bit of elegance from Lord & Taylor, featuring the art of modern living…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with James Thurber

…curious to know Thurber’s favorite songs?—then check out this Thurber Thursday post from Michael Maslin’s Inkspill...

…we continue with William Steig’s look at a “Lady With Mirror”…

…and discover the calm after a storm in this domestic scene by Kemp Starrett

…visit the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago, with George Price

…for reference, Price’s cartoon depicted the Federal Building at the Century of Progress…

…and is often the case with this blog, we give Peter Arno the last word…

Next Time: As Millions Cheer…

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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