An Immemorial Year

Perhaps it was the end of Prohibition, or the implementation of the New Deal, but throughout the pages of the final New Yorker of 1933 you could sense a lightening of spirit.

Dec. 30, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

By most accounts 1933 was one of the Depression’s worst years, and that is likely why E.B. White chose to remember “only a few scattered moments,” mixing the silly with the salient.

Of the silly, there was the time when the Barnum & Bailey circus dwarf Lya Graf sat on J.P. Morgan’s lap while he was waiting to testify before the Senate Banking Committee…

HE DIDN’T BANK ON THIS…J.P. Morgan was paid a visit by Barnum & Bailey circus dwarf Lya Graf, prior to his testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on June 1, 1933. (NY Magazine)

White also noted the passing of Texas Guinan. Known as “Queen of the Nightclubs,” she was a fixture on the Manhattan speakeasy scene throughout the Roaring Twenties and a reliable source of nightlife headlines. White also recalled George Bernard Shaw’s controversial speech at the crowded Metropolitan Opera House, during which he referred to American financiers as “lunatics” and called the U.S. Constitution a “charter of anarchism.”

YEAR IN A NUTSHELL…Clockwise, from top left: The year 1933 saw the passing of the “Queen of the Nightclubs” Texas Guinan—more than 10,000 showed up for her funeral in November; also that month Thomas G.W. Settle and C.L Fordney ascended to the stratosphere in the Century of Progress balloon; The New York Times (April 12, 1933) published the full text of George Bernard Shaw’s Met speech; Esquire published its first issue in the fall, featuring Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos as well as New Yorker cartoonists Constantin Alajalov, William Steig and E. Simms Campbell; according to Vogue, 1933’s breasts were “high and pointed.” (

White also had more to say about the streamlining trend in automobiles, led by Chrysler’s new “Airflow.” White preferred the older, boxier models, with plenty of head and hat room.

In 1922 White set off across America in the car of his dreams, a Model T, which had plenty of headroom and, as he later wrote, transformed his view of the land, a vision “shaped, more than by any other instrument, by a Model T Ford…a slow-motion roadster of miraculous design—strong, tremulous, and tireless”…

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG…Clockwise, from top left: E.B. White and wife Katharine Sergeant take a spin in a Model T in the mid 1930s; despite White’s remonstrations regarding headroom, the makers of the Chrysler Airflow advertised their streamlined car’s interior as practically cavernous. (Goodreads/Pinterest)

 * * *

Crying in His Beer

A couple of issues back we saw Lois Long bid a sad farewell to the cosy and secluded atmosphere of the speakeasy…Ogden Nash turned to verse to offer his own lament, feeling naked and exposed in dining rooms “full of 500 assorted debutantes and dowagers”…

FEELING EXPOSED…Ogden Nash (1902–1971) missed the sacrilegious rite of the speakeasy and lamented the “humdrumness” of legal drinking. (

 * * *

Wondering About Alice

Combine horrific character designs with a young adult playing a child and you have the recipe for 1933’s star-studded Alice in Wonderland, a film the Nerdist’s Kyle Anderson calls “a fascinating, unintentionally disturbing take on a classic.” Almost ninety years earlier the New Yorker’s John Mosher found it disturbing in other ways, save for W.C. Field’s portrayal of Humpty Dumpty.

Writing for The Roarbots, Jamie Green notes that Charlotte Henry was 19 when she played Alice: “This version of Alice doesn’t feel like a sweet look at the twists and turns of adolescence; it feels more like a commentary on repressed desire and self-identity.” The film was a flop at the box office.

CHANNELLING HER YOUTH…Clockwise, from top left: 19-year-old Charlotte Henry as Alice in 1933’s Alice in Wonderland; W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty; Roscoe Karns as Tweedledee and Jack Oakie as Tweedledum; Alice has a chat with Gryphon (William Austin) and Mock Turtle (Cary Grant). Except for Henry, most of the cast was unrecognizable in their macabre makeup and costumes. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We start with a selection of three one-column ads, featuring, from left, the latest back-to-school look for the collegiate male (apparently attending Columbia); the dustless, noiseless, smokeless, AIR-CONDITIONED railway wonder called the Orange Blossom Special; the automobile arm of the REO Motor Car Company trying to pack everything it could into this narrow little ad (REO would stop producing cars in 1936 in order to focus solely on trucks)…

…the distillers of Holloway’s London Dry Gin warned newly liberated American drinkers about the consequences of imbibing cheap gin…

…the folks at R.J. Reynolds found another member of the gentry to push their Camels onto aspiring young women…

…on to our cartoons, the Dec. 30 issue featured a James Thurber double-header, beginning with this “Talk of the Town” spot illustration…



…a rare one-panel Little King from Otto Soglow

…ringing in the New Year with Syd Hoff

…and George Price

…and we close with Gilbert Bundy, seeking from fresh air…

Next Time: American Love Affair…

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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