America’s Love Affair

New York’s first big event of the new year was the annual National Auto Show centered at the Grand Central Palace.

Jan. 6, 1934 cover by Perry Barlow.

The year 1934 was all about aerodynamic design, with Chrysler leading the way with its ill-fated Airflow, a bit too ahead of its time. Other companies followed suit in more subtle ways, especially smaller manufacturers looking for novel ways to grab a cut of market share.

The trend in streamlining was inspired by such designers as Norman Bel Geddes, R. Buckminster Fuller and John Tjaarda

SLIPPERY SEDANS…Top left, a 1933 Briggs concept car, designed by John Tjaarda, on display at the Ford Exposition of Progress in Detroit; right, a 1932 concept model of Motorcar No. 9 by Norman Bel Geddes; below, a reproduction of R. Buckminster Fuller’s 1933 Dymaxion car. (detroitpubliclibrary.org/Harry Ransom Center/Wikipedia)

Chrysler pulled out all stops to promote its radical new design at the National Auto Show, even producing a special seven-page newspaper, Chrysler News, to promote the car’s many wonders…

…the inside pages featured the New Yorker’s Alexander Woollcott marveling over the Airflow’s design (at the time Woollcott was a Chrysler pitchman).

Although other manufacturers didn’t go as far as Chrysler, the streamlining trend was seen in slanting radiators and sweeping fenders.

LAIDBACK DESIGN…Clockwise, from top left, 1934 Hudson Terraplane K-coupe; 1934 Studebaker President Land Cruiser; 1934 Graham-Paige; 1934 Hupmobile. (hemmings.com/auto.howstuffworks.com/YouTube)

The review also noted the novel way Pierce-Arrow sound-insulated their motorcars:

IT’S STUFFY IN HERE…For sound insulation, luxury carmaker Pierce Arrow used kapok, a fine, fibrous, cotton-like substance that grows around the seeds of the tropical ceiba tree. (Pinterest)

 * * *

Wearing the Pants

In 1934 it was still something of a scandal for a woman to wear trousers. Like Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo was an actress who could and would defy gender boundaries, and in Queen Christina she effortlessly portrayed the Swedish queen, who in real life was given an education and responsibilities expected of a male heir and often dressed as a man. The film was a critical success, although John Mosher felt Garbo overwhelmed the movie.

READY FOR HER CLOSEUP…Clockwise, from top left, in one of cinema’s most iconic scenes, Queen Christina (Greta Garbo) stands as a silent figurehead at the bow of a ship as the camera moves in for a tight close-up; Garbo with co-star and real-life romantic partner John Gilbert—it was the last of the four films the two would make together; Christina kisses her handmaiden Ebba (Elizabeth Young)—some have suggested Garbo was portraying the queen as bisexual, however the kisses with Ebba were quite chaste; MGM film poster. (moviemaker.com/pre-code.com/IMDB)

 * * *

She Also Wore Pants

Katharine Hepburn quickly took Hollywood by storm, earning her first Oscar at age 26 for her performance in 1933’s Morning Glory. However, New Yorker drama critic Robert Benchley didn’t see that talent necessarily translating to the Broadway stage, at least not in The Lake:

A RARE FLOP…Robert Benchley thought it was “almost cruel” to foist Katharine Hepburn’s stardom onto the stage in a flop like The Lake. At left, cover of the Playbill; at right, Hepburn in one of the costumes for the production. (Playbill/Facebook)

Benchley correctly surmised that the play’s producer, Jed Harris, was trading on the young star’s “meteoric” film success, but Hepburn’s beauty and intelligence were not enough to save this critical flop, which closed after 55 performances.

 * * *

On the Town

The chronicler of New York fashion and nightlife, Lois Long, detested Prohibition but after repeal also missed the intimacy of speakeasy life. In her latest “Tables for Two” column Long seemed to be settling into a routine and finding new favorites, like the Waldorf’s Sert Room and Peppy de Albrew’s Chapeau Rouge.

THIS WILL DO NICELY…Lois Long sipped Casanova ’21 champagne while enjoying the music of Catalonian violinist Enric R. Madriguera (bottom left) amid the murals of Madriguera’s countryman Josep Maria Sert (right images) in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room. (waldorfnewyorkcity.com/Wikipedia)
FAMILIAR FACES…No doubt Lois Long knew Argentine dancer Abraham “Peppy” de Albrew (left) from his days at Texas Guinan’s notorious 300 Club; Long found de Albrew’s new club, Chapeau Rouge, to be a welcoming slice of Paris, enlivened by the dancing of Antonio and Renee de Marco, pictured at right with their dogs in front of San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, circa 1937. (Wikipedia/digicoll.lib.berkeley.edu)

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From Our Advertisers

Thanks to the auto show the New Yorker was raking in a lot of advertising dollars on top of the steady income from tobacco companies and the new infusion of revenue from purveyors of adult beverages…Lucky Strike grabbed the back cover for this striking ad…

…and contrary to the wisdom of the ages, American speed skater Irving Jaffee (who won two gold medals at the 1932 Winter Olympics) credited his athletic prowess in part to smoking unfiltered cigarettes…

…finally, real French Champagne was arriving on American shores…

…as was authentic Scotch whisky…

John Hanrahan was the New Yorker’s policy counsel from 1925 to 1938 and is credited with putting the magazine on firm financial footing during its infancy…in 1931 Hanrahan rebranded the Theatre Guild’s magazine, renaming it The Stage and filling it with the same splashy ads he was also able to bring to the New Yorker…the Depression was a tough time to launch a magazine, and even though Hanrahan added articles on motion pictures and other forms of entertainment in 1935, the magazine folded in 1939…

…and with the National Auto Show in town, car manufacturers filled the New Yorker’s pages with expensive ads…we’ll start with Walter Chrysler’s long-winded appeal on behalf of the Airflow…

…the folks at the usually staid Packard tossed in some unexpected color…

…Pierce-Arrow, at the time America’s top luxury car, offered this sneak peak of its 1934 Silver Arrow…

…Cadillac bought this spread to announce both its luxury and down-market brands…

…Hudson Motor Car Company invested in three color pages to announce the rollout of their 1934 Hudson 8…

…and their low-priced yet powerful Terraplane…

…Fisher, which made car bodies for General Motors, offered up this color photo of a pretty aviatrix to suggest their interiors were as fresh and clean as the clear skies above…

…Studebaker also paired flying with their latest models…

…Nash employed cartoonist Wayne Colvin for a series of six ads sprinkled across the back pages…here are two examples…

…on to our cartoonists, Perry Barlow used the auto show as inspiration for this cartoon, which appeared along with the review…

Al Frueh drew up these images for the theatre section…I believe this is the first appearance of Bob Hope in the magazine…

…some housekeeping…I accidentally included this James Thurber cartoon and…

…this Rea Irvin cartoon in my post for the Dec. 30, 1933 issue…they belong with the Jan. 6 issue…

Robert Day offered up a roving reporter…

Carl Rose looked in on a wine connoisseur…

…and we close with a steamy image, courtesy Alan Dunn

Next Time: A Poke at Punch…

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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