Rocky’s Cover-Up

On April 28, 1933, just two days before the RCA Building was to open to new tenants, artist Diego Rivera added a portrait of Vladimir Lenin to the mural he was painting in the building’s lobby.

Feb. 24, 1934 cover by Garrett Price.

When Nelson Rockefeller asked Rivera to replace Lenin with a portrait of an “everyman,” Rivera refused, stating that he would prefer to see the whole mural destroyed than to alter it. Two weeks later Rivera was paid and dismissed from the job; carpenters immediately covered the mural in a white cloth. Fast forward to Saturday, February 10, 1934, when workers showed up late in the evening and began chipping away at the plaster bearing the mural, reducing Rivera’s artwork to dust. E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” had this to say about that fateful night:

DUST TO DUST…Diego Rivera working on his mural, Man at the Crossroads, in the RCA Building lobby in 1933. At right, workers quickly covered up the mural after Rivera was dismissed from the job. One of Rivera’s artist assistants, Lucienne Bloch, clandestinely took the photo before she was escorted from the building. (Wikipedia/
ARTEM INTERRUPTUS…Mexican artist Diego Rivera stands with a copy of the mural he painted at Rockefeller Center that was eventually destroyed. (A. Estrada /Courtesy of Museo Frida Kalho)

Rea Irvin shared his own thoughts on the issue with this illustration below, which referenced the hateful rhetoric of Charles Coughlin, a Canadian-American Catholic priest and populist leader and one of the first public figures to make effective use of the airwaves to spew his invective.

FAMILIAR RING…Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest and populist leader, promoted antisemitic and pro-fascist views while also acting as a champion to the poor and a foe of big business. In the midst of the Depression he spoke to the hopes and fears of lower-middle class Americans throughout the U.S. One supporter recalled: “When he spoke it was a thrill like Hitler. And the magnetism was uncanny. It was so intoxicating, there’s no use saying what he talked about…” (BBC/NPR)

* * *

Dog Days

E.B. White also chimed in about boorish behavior he witnessed at the Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden. Terriers had dominated Westminster; the fox terrier that ultimately won the 1934 competition represented the 21st terrier of any type to win Best of Show since that category was introduced in 1907.

YOU AGAIN? Ch Flornell Spicy Bit of Halleston, a Wire Fox Terrier, took Best of Show at Madison Square Garden in 1934. (

 * * *

Anybody Home?

After the wealthy owner of the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer, died in 1911, his family moved out of his lavish East 73rd Street mansion, which was designed by Stanford White to resemble an Italian palazzo. The building sat empty until 1930, when investors planned to knock it down and replace it with an apartment building. The Depression foiled their plans, and another attempt to raze the mansion in the 1950s also miraculously failed, and the building was eventually converted into a co-op with sixteen apartments. Writing in “The Talk of the Town,” James Thurber pondered the Pulitzer mansion’s expected fate. An excerpt:

THEN AND NOW…With so many buildings reduced to dust these days in NYC, it’s good to see the Pulitzer mansion still standing. You can buy one of its sixteen apartments for roughly $6 million, if and when they become available. (

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

The makers of Camel cigarettes combined three previous ads into one, featuring endorsements from society matrons in Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York…

…while Fanny Brice and the cast of the 1934 Ziegfeld Follies offered a chorus of endorsements for Lux detergent in this two-page spread…

…the Graham-Paige Motors Corporation is long gone, but in the early 1930s the company was still going strong, introducing many innovations (described in the ad below) that would be copied by other carmakers…

…in the 1930s an exiled Russian noble, Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, was known for his streamlined automobile designs…he influenced the look of the 1934 Nash Ambassador Eight, which was touted here as the choice of the budget-minded toff…note how the illustrator exaggerated the car’s length in this ad…

…as compared to an actual model of a Nash Eight…

A restored 1934 Nash Ambassador Eight. (

…on to our cartoonists, Alan Dunn floated above the “Goings On About Town” section…

William Steig gave us a tactless grocer…

Howard Baer offered up some finer points from Madison Avenue…

Gardner Rea illustrated a very special delivery…

…and James Thurber’s war continued to be waged on a snowy battlefield…

…on to our March 3, 1934 issue…

March 3, 1934 cover by Harry Brown.

…which featured a profile of singer Kate Smith (1907–1986), written by none other than Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996), who began his career at The New Yorker in 1933. Smith was an American contralto often referred to as “The First Lady of Radio,” well known for her renditions of When the Moon Comes over the Mountain and Dream a Little Dream of Me. She was enormously popular during World War II for her rendition of God Bless America among other patriotic tunes.

Smith got her start in New York in 1926 when she appeared on Broadway in Honeymoon Lane. That year also saw the emergence of countless humiliating wisecracks about her weight that would dog her long career. A reviewer in The New York Times (Oct. 31, 1926) wrote, “A 19-year-old girl, weighing in the immediate neighborhood of 200 pounds, is one of the discoveries of the season…” In 1930, when Smith appeared in George White’s Flying High, she served as the butt of Bert Lahr’s often cruel jokes about her size.

An excerpt from the opening lines of Mitchell’s profile:

RISING STAR…At left, Kate Smith performing in the 1932 Paramount Pictures musical, Hello Everybody!; at right, on the cover of the October 1934 issue of Radio Mirror. (

Toward the conclusion of the profile Mitchell suggested that Smith’s future was “doubtful.” She would prove that prediction wrong, however…

…23 years after her death her rendition of God Bless America would be discontinued pretty much everywhere when it was revealed that in the early 1930s she recorded such songs as That’s Why Darkies Were Born and Pickaninny Heaven (which was featured in Hello, Everybody!).

CANCELLED STAR…Since the late 1960s a rendition of God Bless America by Kate Smith served as a good luck charm for the Philadelphia Flyers. “The team began to win on nights the song was played,” the New York Times wrote in Smith’s 1986 obituary. Smith sang the tune live during game six of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals, which the Flyers went on to win against the Boston Bruins. When Smith’s racist songs were rediscovered in 2019, a statue of the singer that stood outside the Flyers’ arena was covered and ultimately removed. (Daily Mail)

A note on Joseph Mitchell, whose first credited piece in The New Yorker was a Nov. 11, 1933 “A Reporter at Large” column titled “They Got Married in Elkton.” The article described a small Maryland border town that became known for discrete “quicky” marriages. Mitchell would become known for his finely crafted character studies and expressive stories found in commonplace settings. His 1943 McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon is a prime example.

MAN ABOUT TOWN…At left, Joseph Mitchell circa 1930, wearing a brown fedora he was rarely seen without; at right, Mitchell in Lower Manhattan near the old Fulton Fish Market, as photographed by his wife, Therese Mitchell, circa 1950. (Estate of Joseph Mitchell)

 * * *

Acquired Taste

Occasionally New Yorker film critic John Mosher found himself at odds with other reviewers, and such was the case when Mosher sat down to watch Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night. While he described the 1934 pre-Code romantic comedy as “nonsense” and “dreary,” other critics found it generally enjoyable, and although it took audiences awhile to catch on, the film eventually became a smash hit.

In all fairness to Mosher, even the film’s co-star, Claudette Colbert, complained to a friend after the film wrapped, “I just finished the worst picture in the world.” As it turned out, It Happened One Night became the first of only three films to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is now widely considered one of the best films ever made. Go figure.

Back to Mosher, who thought so little of the film he didn’t even lead his column with the picture’s review:

PRE-CODE AND TOPLESS…An heiress (Claudette Colbert) and a reporter (Clark Gable) find themselves hitchhiking (and sharing a motel room) after their bus breaks down in It Happened One Night. The film famously featured a scene in which co-star Gable undresses for bed and takes off his shirt to reveal that he is bare-chested. An urban legend claims that, as a result, sales of men’s undershirts declined noticeably. (IMDB)

 * * *

More From Our Advertisers

If you wanted luxury with the price, you could buy a Nash Ambassador Eight for $1,800 (about thousand less than other luxury models) or opt for Studebaker’s Berline Limousine, practically a steal at $1,295…

…or you could opt for this fancy-looking Buick with “Knee-Action wheels”…Knee Action was a GM marketing term for independent front suspension, which made for a smoother ride…

…always colorful, the makers of Cinzano vermouth made their splash in The New Yorker

…the folks at Lucky Strike continued their theme of colorful ads featuring attractive women enjoying their cigs…

…on to our cartoonists, Leonard Dove illustrated a domestic spat…

Mary Petty captured a romantic interlude on the dance floor…

…and James Thurber introduced a new twist—espionage—into his “war”…

Next Time: The Power Broker…



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.

2 thoughts on “Rocky’s Cover-Up”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s