The Future Was a Silly Place

One of the most expensive movies of 1930 was a sci-fi musical comedy titled Just Imagine, a silly mash-up of great sets, terrible acting, and a vision of the future fifty years hence that was way off the mark.

Nov. 29, 1930 cover by Victor Bobritsky.

Not that the film ever set out to be an accurate prediction of the future. Nevertheless, it is instructive (or, at the least, amusing) to look back on “yesterday’s tomorrows” to understand the American mind in the first year of the Great Depression.

COME FLY WITH ME…Clandestine lovers LN-18 (Maureen O’Sullivan) and J-21 (John Garrick) share a romantic moment high above the streets of 1980 New York City. (scifist.net)

Just Imagine borrowed some of its look from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), a dystopian vision of the future that reflected the contentious years of Germany’s Weimar Republic. Just Imagine similarly reflected its time and place — the early years of the Depression — Hollywood responding not with gloom and doom but rather with uplifting fare — comedies, musicals, and escapist fantasies (Flash Gordon came along in 1936). The producers of Just Imagine rolled all of it into one film, and the New Yorker’s John Mosher tried to make sense of the mess:

EYE IN THE SKY…In Just Imagine, technology is advanced enough to have a traffic cop floating in the sky, but he still must rely on his arms and mechanical signals to keep the skyways in order. (YouTube clip)

The floating traffic cop is just one example of the film’s attention to set design. The New York skyline, featured in the opening scene, was constructed in a giant hangar at enormous cost…

(Reddit)

In one of the films weirder twists, vaudeville comedian El Brendel is brought back to life with an electric beam…

SMOKED HAM…Vaudeville comedian El Brendel is zapped back to life to provide the world of 1980 with comic relief. Some of the electrical equipment assembled by set designer Kenneth Strickfaden would be seen again in 1931’s Frankenstein. (scifist.net)

…and Brendel (below, center), proceeds to get drunk on booze pills and spew a series of really bad jokes throughout the duration of the film…

SHOULD HAVE LEFT HIM DEAD…Frank Albertson, El Brendel and John Garrick in Just Imagine. (scifist.net)
MARS ATTACKS…The film also took audiences to the surface of Mars via a phallus-shaped spaceship that would later be used in Flash Gordon serials. Clockwise, top left, the spaceship blasts off surrounded by a crowd of men in fedoras; aboard the spaceship; landing site on Mars; J-21 (John Garrick) encounters the Martian Queen (Joyzelle Joyner). (YouTube/scifist.net)

The movie flopped at the box office, but producers were able to recoup some of the costs by farming out clips of the futuristic sets, and some of the props, to other sci-fi films of the 1930s including the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials.

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Toys For Tots

By mid-November the New Yorker’s “On and Off the Avenue” column had lengthened to include ideas for Christmas shoppers. The Nov. 29 issue offered these ideas for children’s toys from Macy’s…

XMAS IS COMING…Patsy Ann dolls in smart berets, and dollhouses in various styles (a 1930 Triang Tudor dollhouse at right) could be had at Macy’s Herald Square flagship store. (Pinterest)

GRRRR…First introduced in 1922, the revival of “Radio Rex” proved popular to the kiddies in 1930. It was the “high tech” toy of its day, the first to respond to voice commands. Rex the dog would spring out of his doghouse at the sound of the word “Rex,” thanks to a sound-sensitive electromagnet. (ctinventor.wordpress.com)

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A Century-old-Problem

Traffic woes have been around almost as long as there have been cars. In an excerpt from “A Reporter at Large,” Morris Markey explained the challenges facing the city’s police department:

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME…Traffic clogs Fifth Avenue near 42nd Street in 1930. (Pinterest)

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Speaking of cars, this ad in the New Yorker announced the opening of the annual Automobile Salon at the Commodore Hotel…

…and the magazine was on hand to describe its various wonders. Some excerpts:

POETRY IN MOTION…Top, the Walter Dorwin Teague-designed Marmon 16-cylinder wowed crowds at the Salon, even if few could afford it. The Great Depression limited the production of the luxury Marmon, and less than 400 were produced. The company abandoned the car business altogether in 1933. Below, the sporty Ford Model L Roadster, designed by Raymond Dietrich. (supercars.net/Sotheby’s)

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Maestro Politician 

The New Yorker profiled pianist, composer and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941). Paderewski served as Poland’s prime minister in 1919, negotiated on behalf of his country at the Treaty of Versailles, and had a 60-year career as a virtuoso pianist. A brief excerpt:

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Not For the Moneychangers

Architecture critic George S. Chappell checked in on the progress of three prominent Manhattan cathedrals in his “Sky Line” column:

LANDMARKS ALL…From left, Riverside Church, the still yet-to-be completed St. John the Divine, and St. Bartholomew’s. (MCNY/masonrymagazine.com/dtjoyce.com)

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The theater review section included this illustration of a new play, Roar China, that opened Oct. 27, 1930 at the Beck Theatre.

The staging of Roar China included this reconstruction of the bow of the H.M.S. Europa on the Beck Theatre stage…

(messynessychic.com)

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From Our Advertisers

The holiday season was in the air, and retailers were taking various approaches to entice Depression-era shoppers to consider their wares. The ads have a more conservative bent, when compared to late 1920s, and in the case of Wanamaker’s and B. Altman’s, an appeal to simpler times…

…Macy’s, on the other hand, looked to sell rather expensive lighters “to arouse the youthful enthusiasm among veteran smokers”…

…despite the Depression, New Yorker subscriptions continued to steadily increase — the magazine had nearly 45,000 subscribers in 1930, and by the end of the decade the number would approach 100,000 — below, a house ad designed to entice new subscribers…

…our cartoons include this holiday spot illustration by Barbara Shermund

…and another by Shermund of her parlor room crowd…

Otto Soglow amused us with a couple of tots…

Gardner Rea imagined a confrontation between a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon and Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini

…the balloon Rea illustrated was “The Captain” from the popular Katzenjammer Kids comic strip. Along with his “family,” the Captain appeared in the parade in 1929 and 1930 (and possibly 1931). They were the first licensed character balloons in the parade’s history…

macysthanksgiving.fandom.com

…back to cartoons, book shopping with William Crawford Galbraith

…and some holiday cheer from A.S. Foster

Next Time: The Folly of Ziegfeld…

 

 

 

The High Place

For this installment we look at two issues, Nov. 15 and 22, both featuring covers by Theodore Haupt that celebrated two autumn rituals: football and Thanksgiving.

Let’s begin with the Nov. 22 issue, which climbed to the highest place in Manhattan — no, not the Chrysler Building, but the nearby Empire State Building — with E.B. White admiring the commanding view:

Before the Empire State Building could go up, the old Waldorf-Astoria hotel had to come down. As White observed, the old hotel was built so soundly that it was too costly to deconstruct and salvage. Most of it ended up on the bottom of the ocean.

DOWN IN DAVY JONES’ LOCKER lie the remains of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which stood for just 36 years before it was razed to make room for the Empire State Building. At right, one of the hotel’s lobbies, and the Grand Ballroom. (nyc-architecture.com/Pinterest)
UPSTART…Left, in this image from November 1930, scaffolding embraces the Empire State Building’s “mooring mast,” which promoters claimed would allow dirigibles to load and unload passengers atop the tallest building in the world. Top right, although not yet complete, the actual height of the Empire State Building exceeded the Chrysler Building by October 1930. It would officially claim the crown as the world’s tallest on May 1, 1931. Bottom right, a steelworker’s view of the Chrysler Building from atop the Empire State Building, taken by photographer Lewis Hine. (Fine Art America/MCNY/Wikipedia)
A LOT OF HOT AIR…Top images: The fabled “mooring mast,” described by E.B. White in his New Yorker brief, as imagined in composite images (old-time Photoshop). In reality, the morning mast never worked; bottom right, a cutaway view of the mast featured in Popular Mechanics; bottom left, New York Times photo from March 22, 1931, announcing the completion of the Empire State Building, just 17 months after the Waldorf-Astoria began coming down. (Reddit, Pinterest, NYT)
SURVEYING THEIR KINGDOM…Most visitors to the Empire State Building can only go as high as the 86th floor observation deck. However, if you are a VIP like Serena Williams or Taylor Swift, you can get your picture snapped on the 103rd. (Empire State Building/Evan Bindelglass, CBSNewYork)

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Sore Winner

Sinclair Lewis famously declined the Pulitizer Prize for his 1925 novel Arrowsmith, upset that his 1920 novel Main Street had not previously won the prize. But when the Swedish Academy came calling with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930, he happily accepted. According to “The Talk of the Town,” this award also seemed a bit tardy, since Lewis’s small town booster archetype, George F. Babbitt, did not fit the dour days of the Great Depression. But it turned out that the 1922 novel Babbitt was ultimately what swayed the Nobel jury:

BOOST FROM A BOOSTER…George F. Babbitt helped make Sinclair Lewis famous, and landed him a Nobel. (NYT, NOVEMBER 6, 1930)

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Not So Sweet

Those of a certain age might remember Helen Hayes as a sweet old lady who appeared on a number of TV shows in the 1970s and 80s, or as the mother in real life of James MacArthur, Disney teen star and later the portrayer of Danny “Book ’em Danno” Williams on the original Hawaii 5-0 TV series. Hayes was married to playwright Charles MacArthur, and “The Talk of the Town” takes it from there…

CREATIVE TYPES…The engaged couple Charles MacArthur and Helen Hayes posed for photographer Edward Steichen for this Jan. 1, 1929 image featured in Vanity Fair magazine. (Condé Nast)

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Ain’t It Grand

Grand Hotel opened at the National Theatre on Nov. 13, 1930 to strong reviews, including the one below by Robert Benchley that he filed for the New Yorker. The play, adapted from the 1929 novel Menschen im Hotel by Austrian writer Vicki Baum, would prove to be a smash on Broadway and again on the silver screen in a star-studded 1932 film featuring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, and Joan Crawford.

THE STARS ALIGN…Left, promotional photograph of the original Broadway production of Grand Hotel. At right, Eugenie Leontovich portrayed fading Russian ballerina Grusinskaya in the play. The role would go to Greta Garbo in the 1932 film adaptation. (Theatre Magazine, February 1931/Wikipedia)

…and while we are on the subject of Broadway, the theater review section also featured this Al Frueh illustration promoting a noted production of Twelfth Night at the Maxine Elliott…

Program for the production featuring Jane Cowl. (Playbill)

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There were also big doings at the Met, where Spanish lyric soprano Lucrezia Bori (1887-1960) wowed audiences with her portrayal of Violetta in La Traviata.

SHE HAD SOME PIPES…right, lyric soprano Lucrezia Bori on the cover of the June 30, 1930 edition of Time magazine. At right, promotional photo of Bori circa 1930. (Time/Wikipedia)

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Bounty of Blessings

Humorist W. E. Farbstein gave readers plenty to be thankful for in this tribute to the Thanksgiving holiday…

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From Our Advertisers

Occasionally advertisements acknowledged the reality of the Great Depression, including this one from the Saturday Evening Post that offered encouraging words to prospective readers…

…County Fair, a Greenwich Village country-themed nightclub, offered the diversion of Moffatt and Bowman to take audiences’ minds off of hard times…

…and for all the supposed sophistication of New Yorker readers, there were still plenty of back page ads offering nostrums laced with superstition…

…some of the more colorful, spritely ads from the era were offered up by the producers of Texaco Motor Oil…

…our cartoons are by Gardner Rea

Barbara Shermund

William Crawford Galbraith

…and Perry Barlow

…and for another reminder of reality in the city, this sketch that ran along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” by Reginald Marsh

…and now we step back to the Nov. 15 issue, where E.B. White offered a less somber take on the Great Depression…

…White also noted a change on the faces of storefront mannequins…

YIN AND YANG…The worldly pose of a Roaring Twenties mannequin, and a more wholesome look for the leaner times in the 1930s. (Pinterest)

 * * *

Playing Telephone

Long, long before cell phones, telephones were heavy stationary devices that required a certain amount of planning before installation, as E.B. White explains:

On to our Nov. 15 ads, we have this announcement for The Third New Yorker Album…with illustration by Otto Soglow

…here is what the album looked like…

…and a couple of inside pages…

(Etsy)

…one of the contributors to the album was Rea Irvin, founding illustrator for the New Yorker and Murad cigarettes…also another Flit insecticide ad by Dr. Seuss

…Christmas ads began appearing in the magazine, including this one for Hanson scales…pity the poor chap (and his wife) who actually thought this might be a suitable present for Christmas, or any occasion for that matter…

…and with Prohibition still in force, advertisers found other uses to promote their products…

…on to our cartoons, Leonard Dove illustrated a couple who didn’t get away with the ruse…

… Alan Dunn depicted what was considered typical office behavior in the 1930s…

...Peter Arno visited the Harvard Club…

Alice Harvey also explored the college scene…

…some parlor games with Barbara Shermund

……Bruce Bairnsfather, and some existentialist chat at tea time…

…and we close with Izzy Klein, and the world of corporate competition…

…and a Happy Thanksgiving, from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade 89 years ago, Nov. 27, 1930…

(CBS)

Next Time: The Future Was a Silly Place…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Body and Soul

After completing a major in French in just three years, 19-year-old Libby Holman became the youngest woman to graduate from the University of Cincinnati in 1923. But it was her unique style of torch-singing — a trademark throaty mumble — that would launch a career on Broadway and a life of seemingly endless scandal.

Nov. 8, 1930 cover by Sue Williams.

After performing in the The Greenwich Village Follies, Holman (1904 – 1971) landed her first big role in 1925 in the Rodgers and Hart production of Garrick Gaieties. But it was a signature song, “Moanin’ Low,” from Clifton Webb’s The Little Show that would make her a star. When Three’s a Crowd (by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz) opened at the Selwyn Theater on October 15, 1930, Holman was well-known to audiences not only for her voice but also for her unconventional lifestyle.

Three’s a Crowd proved to be a hit for Holman, and it gave her another hit song, “Body and Soul,” which was banned from the radio for “obscenity” but nevertheless became one of the year’s most popular songs. So popular, in fact, that it was recorded by Holman as well as by fellow torch singer Helen Morgan and Ziegfeld star Ruth Etting. This was the age of the Great American Songbook, when the song itself, and not necessarily its performer, reigned supreme. So when sheet music was distributed from a popular stage show, any number of entertainers would record it.

NAME THAT TUNE…From top to bottom, Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting and Libby Holman all recorded versions of “Body and Soul,” but Holman would make it one of her signature numbers. (YouTube/ruthetting.com/Wikipedia)

…for the hoofers, there were also a couple of dance versions of “Body and Soul” created by bandleaders Ozzie Nelson and Leo Reisman

GOOD BEAT, EASY TO DANCE TO…Bandleaders Ozzie Nelson and Leo Reisman recorded dance versions of “Body and Soul.” (YouTube)

Openly bisexual, Holman partied hard and swore like a sailor, and during her life she would lose one husband in a suspected murder (Holman herself was briefly a suspect) and another to suicide. She would take her own life in 1971. You can read more about Holman’s colorful, tragic life in the Jewish Women’s Archive.

We temporarily skip to the next issue of the New Yorker (Nov. 15, 1930), which featured Holman in a “Talk of the Town” brief, and some insight into her unique singing style. An excerpt:

The same issue also featured this drawing of the “Three’s a Crowd” cast by Al Frueh in the theater review section:

and finally, a publicity photo of the cast from 1930-31:

A FUN CROWD…Clifton Webb, Libby Holman and Fred Allen in Three’s a Crowd. At right, undated publicity photo of Holman. (performerstuff.com)

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Horsin’ Around

The National Horse Show was a major event on New York’s social calendar, first held at the original Madison Square Garden in 1883 before moving to the second Madison Square Garden in 1890 and again to the third Madison Square Garden in 1926. This account in the Nov. 8, 1930 New Yorker noted how the horse show’s patrician air contrasted with the rodeo held at MSG the previous week.

NOT FOR GOAT-ROPERS, THIS…The coaching parade on display at the 1927 National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden. (National Sporting Library & Museum)
SOON WE’LL BE FIGHTING EACH OTHER…The National Horse Show began including a military competition in 1925. This photo from the Nov. 6, 1930 New York Times featured some international guests at the 1930 show. (NY TIMES)

Along with the above photo, the Times included this partial lists of guests to the Horse Show Luncheon, a who’s who of New York society. Indeed, the National Horse Show’s 1887 directory provided the basis for the first New York Social Register.

DRESSING UP FOR THE HORSES…Champion horsewoman Mary Elizabeth Whitney (left) with actors Loretta Young and William Powell at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, Nov. 5, 1937. Standing behind Mary Elizabeth is her husband, Jock Whitney, a noted ambassador, art collector, philanthropist and investor. (Christian Anderson Collection)
HIGH STEPPIN’…After a brief stint in Florida, the National Horse Show moved to Kentucky in 2011. Perhaps a tad less formal, it nevertheless remains an important society event. Above, noted horsewoman Misdee Wrigley Miller rides World Grand Champion Grande Gil at the 2012 National Horse Show. (Doug Shiflet)

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A Lesson in Poetry 

In a casual for the Nov. 8 issue, E.B. White instructed readers on how to “Tell a Major Poet From a Minor Poet.” An excerpt.

And in his “Notes and Comment,” White suggested that criticism of the press was a major no-no for a sitting U.S. President:

Christmas shopping suggestions began to trickle into Lois Long’s section on fashion, house and home, including this bit of advice that reminds us just how distant 1930 is from our own time:

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Film critic John Mosher took in the latest offering from silent film star Harold Lloyd, who was making his second foray into the talkies with his portrayal of a hapless shoe salesman in Feet First

NICE TEETH…Theater card for 1930’s Feet First featuring Barbara Kent and Harold Lloyd. (IMDB)
GETTING A LEG UP…Top, Harold Lloyd practices the art of shoe salesmanship with a pair of dummy legs in Feet First; below, Lloyd once again finds himself in a precarious situation high above a city street. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

The National Horse Show was on the minds of several advertisers in the New Yorker, including these fashion merchants targeting the patrician set…

…speaking of the well-heeled, with winter approaching travel agencies enticed those with means to take a steamer through the Panama Canal to California, or for the more adventurous, a three-continent tour package…

…and of course Hawaii beckoned snowbirds, who could make their way across the Lower 48 by train and then hop a boat to the islands…

…the makers of Chesterfield cigarettes were on board with the travel theme…

…while the folks at Marlboro stuck with their dopey handwriting and jingle contests to push their smokes…

…as the luxury market grew ever tighter in the Depression, the sellers of finer things sought to distinguish their wares from competitors. L.P. Hollander kicked off a series of wordy ads regarding the provenance of their hats, gloves and other accessories (in short, they ain’t cheap copies)…

…no doubt the folks at L.P. Hollander were looking down their noses at the likes of Russeks, which offered copies of Lucien Lelong gowns. Apparently old Lucien was okay with this, as this “Radiogram” purportedly attests…

…Lucien pops again in another ad, this one for his perfume line…

…and for reference, here’s a photo of Monsieur Lelong, circa 1940…

…on to our cartoonists, the Nov. 8 issue featured these great spot illustrations by Constantin Alajalov, the first, running along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” referenced the horse show at Madison Square Garden…

Alice Harvey listened in on a radio soap…

William Crawford Galbraith found some admirers of art…

Barbara Shermund continued to share her sharp observations of parlor hijinks…

Garrett Price illustrated the challenges of modern design…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and a stomach-turning moment…

Next Time: The High Place…

Ghosts of Gotham

Since I am posting this on the night before All Hallow’s Eve, let’s take a quick look back 89 years at Halloween 1930 through the pages of the Oct. 25, 1930 issue of the New Yorker

…which featured a short story (excerpted below) by Sally Benson, who would write a series of shorts for the New Yorker in 1941-42 that were later published in her book, Meet Me in St. Louis. Note how Prohibition laws seemed to pose no obstacle to the Bixbys’ party plans:

Benson’s Meet Me in St. Louis would be adapted into a popular 1944 film starring Judy Garland. One of the film’s highlights featured the Halloween hijinks of Tootie and Agnes Smith (Margaret O’Brien and Joan Carroll).

Margaret O’Brien and Joan Carroll go trick-or-treating in 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis.

As for the Bixbys in Benson’s short story, their party probably looked something like this…

(Pinterest)

…among the college crowd, Halloween revels were a bit less formal…

(Pinterest)

…Hollywood also got in on the act, each studio issuing pinup-style images of major female stars to newspapers and magazines …

Clockwise, from top left, Bessie Love (ca. 1920s), a still from a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon, Anita Page, Joan Crawford, Clara Bow, and Myrna Loy.

…the pages of the Oct. 25 issue contained other references to the holiday, including these spot drawings…

…and there were also ads offering both parties and party treats to those seeking some Halloween fun…

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Not Exactly Whale Watching

On to our issues, the Oct. 15, 1930 edition featured a strange account (in “The Talk of the Town”) of a man who travelled the country with an embalmed whale carcass, which apparently drew large crowds wherever it was displayed.

Oct. 15, 1930 cover by Peter Arno. As I noted in my previous post, it seemed everyone was lighting up in the 1930s.

The account is disgusting on a number of levels (the last line: “People simply love whales”). During my research I learned that these “whale tours” continued into the 1970s.

SAVE THE WHALES…in this case, by pumping the animal with gallons of formaldehyde.

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From Our Advertisers

The owners of the new Barbizon-Plaza Hotel at 106 Central Park South tried their best to lure the smart set (especially artists and musicians) to this “habitat” designed especially for them. Unfortunately, artists and musicians were as broke as everyone else, and the property was foreclosed on in 1933…

…and we have another appeal to the smart set, this one from the publishers of Vogue magazine (now a sister publication to the New Yorker, as both are now owned by Condé Nast)…

…and one more appeal to fashionable sorts, this time perfume in a bottle shaped like an art deco skyscraper…

…here is what one version of the bottle looked like in 1928, similar to ad above. According to the blog Cleopatra’s Boudoir, the We Moderns perfume was sold from 1928 to 1936 in bottles made in Czechoslovakia. The bottle below was made from glass, enamel (label), and the early plastic Bakelite (cover and base)…

(Perfume Bottles Auction)

…on to our color ads, I like this one because RCA induced the inventor of wireless radio, Guglielmo Marconi, to endorse their “Radiola”…

…and we have a beautiful illustration by Ellis Wilson for Dodge Boats…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Denys Wortman

…here’s the art of Rea Irvin in a full pager…

Helen Hokinson kept up the tradition of New Yorkers looking down on those backward Bostonians…

Alan Dunn, illustrating the sunlamp fad of the 20s and 30s…

…and Jack Markow, checking on the progress of the Empire State Building…

On to the Oct. 25 issue, and the Broadway opening of the comedy Girl Crazy…

Oct. 25, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

…which featured Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman introducing the many hits from George Gershwin’s score including “I Got Rhythm” and ‘Embraceable You.” The plot was simple: a young New York playboy is banished by his family to a dude ranch in Arizona to keep him out of trouble…where of course he finds trouble. The orchestra for the Broadway performance included such talents as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, and Gene Krupa.

THEY SEEM SANE ENOUGH…Above, poster for the Broadway musical Girl Crazy. Below, Ginger Rogers poses with fellow stage actors. (gershwin.com)

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More from Our Advertisers

Ads from the Oct. 25 issue included this recurring one from the promoters of the Empire State Building, marking progress through various historical vignettes…

…the ad accurately depicted the building’s progress, measured against these images below…

…and we have more radio ads…no endorsement from Marconi here, but the makers of Fada claimed their receiver was far less annoying than their rivals…

…while Atwater Kent touted the convenience of its new “Quick-Vision Dial”…

…as I’ve previously noted, backgammon was all the rage in 1930, so much so that this clothier even advertised a special frock for the game…

…and what would the 1930s be without smoking tied to athletic prowess…

…and remembering friends and family in California in 2019 as they battle wildfires across that great state…

…on to our cartoons, Garrett Price introduced us to a man with a peculiar taste in pet canaries…

Barbara Shermund illustrated the startling views afforded by rail travel…

…and Peter Arno leaves us in a moment of religious ecstasy…

Next Time: Risky Business…

Lights, Camera, Action

Comedian Ed Wynn began his long acting career on a vaudeville stage in 1903, and beginning in 1914 his giggly voice would delight Broadway crowds flocking to the Ziegfeld Follies. So when he stepped in front of a movie camera for a talking picture, it was something of a sensation.

September 27, 1930 cover by Sue Williams.

It was not an easy transition for the stage veteran. As you can see from Morris Markey’s account below in “A Reporter at Large,” the early talkies presented all manner of challenges and restrictions for stage actors accustomed to a bit more freedom of movement and expression.

SCANDALOUS BUNCH…Ed Wynn (in hat) portrayed a character he developed on Broadway — “Crickets” — in his film debut Follow the Leader. At left is actor Stanley Smith, and at center, holding Wynn’s hand, is a brunette Ginger Rogers, with chorus girls from George White’s Scandals. (IMDB)

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE WINDOW…Noisy cameras were enclosed in soundproof boxes in the early days of the talkies. Above, Woody Van Dyke directs Raquel Torres and Nils Asther in 1930’s The Sea Bat. (Pinterest)
TINSELTOWN IN QUEENS…For his article, Morris Markey visited the set of Follow the Leader at Astoria Studios in Queens. The original studio building, at 35th Avenue, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Although Paramount moved its movie operations to Hollywood in the early 1930s, the studio continued to be used for both film and television productions. At right, a bit of Paris was erected in the midst of Queens for the filming of 1929’s The Gay Lady. (Wikipedia/Kaufman Astoria Studios)
FILM DEBUT…A December 1930 magazine advertisement touting Ed Wynn’s first motion picture. (IMBD)

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False Modesty?

In Morris Markey’s second installment of his profile on Charles Lindbergh, Markey suggested that Lindbergh’s aversion to publicity might be a pose…

NO WI-FI, BUT YOU CAN SMOKE…Top, the posh set take wing circa 1930; below, passengers prepare to board an American Airlines flight in 1930. (Pinterest/Daily Mail)

…and also wondered how much credit Lindbergh could take for sparking the aviation industry, given that flying was still an activity reserved for a very few…

…Markey also noted a “lively rumor” that Lindbergh wanted to be President…

…fortunately Lindbergh did not give truth to the rumor, or fulfill the alternate history created by Philip Roth in his 2004 novel The Plot Against America

HANGIN’ WITH A BAD CROWD…Top, Charles Lindbergh accepts a ceremonial sword from Hermann Göring during a 1936 visit to Nazi Germany; below, right, Lindbergh in Germany, 1937. Philip Roth’s novel imagined Lindbergh’s election to the Presidency in 1940 and its chilling results. (Reddit/New Yorker/Goodreads)

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Bad Moon Rising

In 1930 few, if anyone, were aware of Lindbergh’s proclivities toward nationalism and antisemitism. And lacking a crystal ball, Markey’s New Yorker colleague, Howard Brubaker, had little reason to be alarmed by the federal elections in Germany, which gave the Nazis the second largest number of seats in the Reichstag. In his “Of All Things” column, Brubaker quipped:

INCOMPATIBLE…As Howard Brubaker noted in “Of All Things,” the fascists led by Adolf Hitler, left, and the communists led by Ernst Thälmann (right) made big gains in the 1930 German elections. After gaining power in 1933, Hitler would arrest Thälmann and later have him shot. (Wikipedia)

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Gummed to Death

The New Yorker’s John Mosher took in the latest travelogue to exploit and misrepresent life on the African savannah. Africa Speaks included a scene depicting a fatal attack on a “native boy” by a lion —  an attack that was actually staged at a Los Angeles zoo and involved a toothless lion…

STRANGE INDEED…At left, movie poster for Africa Speaks; top right, Pygmy drummers in the film; bottom right, explorer Paul Hoefler getting closer to nature. (IMDB/Wikimedia)

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From Our Advertisers

When Paris unveiled is spring and fall fashions, large department stores were always quick to respond with “copies”…

…while the higher end boutiques offered originals to “poor little rich girls”…

…perhaps some of these “poor little rich girls” socialized at the Panhellenic, a “club-hotel for college women”…

…and here are some views of the Panhellenic House, circa 1929…

Center, The Panhellenic House, at First Avenue and 49th Street; at left, the solarium; at right, a ballroom. (Avery Library/Museum of The City of New York via the New York Times)

…the makers of Old Gold cigarettes had some of the weirdest ads to push their smokes, including this one…

…and one wonders what the world would be like (and especially the U.S.) if car buyers would have favored a more compact version of the motorcar going forward…

…on to our comics…we begin with parenting tips from the posh set, courtesy Garrett Price

Alan Dunn explored modern matrimony…

…one of Helen Hokinson’s ladies demonstrated a unique taste in furniture…

Otto Soglow continued to explore humor in a wavy fashion…

…and we close with this vertiginous view provided by Leonard Dove

Caption: “Beer at lunch always makes me drowsy.”

Next Time: Leatherheads…

 

 

Animal Crackers

Above image: Groucho Marx, Margaret Dumont, and Lillian Roth in the Marx Brothers second film, Animal Crackers, 1930

The Marx Brothers were famous for a string of hit films in the 1930s, but some of the comedy on which those films were based went all the way back to the days of vaudeville and 1920s Broadway.

Sept. 6, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

Animal Crackers was their second film (the first was 1929’s The Cocoanuts), and the last to be adapted from one of their stage shows. It was also the last Marx Brothers movie to be filmed at Paramount’s Astoria Studio in Queens before the brothers headed for Hollywood.

MUSICAL CIRCUS…Animal Crackers began as a Broadway stage production in 1928 before moving to film in 1930; from left to right: Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo in a publicity photo for the stage version of Animal Crackers. (www.georgeskaufman.com)

The New Yorker’s John Mosher reviewed the film version, which was playing at the Rialto Theatre:

SO LONG, NEW YORK…Animal Crackers was the second and final Marx Brothers movie to be filmed at Astoria Studios in Queens; from left, Chico, Zeppo, Groucho and Harpo Marx pose for a 1930 publicity photo. (IMDB)

Always partial to European directors, Mosher found Ernst Lubitsch’s Monte Carlo among the better films playing in the late summer.

OH YOU CAD!…Jeanette MacDonald and Jack Buchanan in Monte Carlo. (IMDB)

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Fox in the Hen House

“The Talk of the Town” made light of Mayor Jimmy Walker’s plan to “rid the city of graft.” Ironically, Jimmy himself would be drummed out of office two years later for accepting bribes…

WHAT ME WORRY? Yes maybe. Mayor Jimmy Walker in 1930. (nymag.com)

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From Our Advertisers

We have another lovely illustration from Carl “Eric” Erickson promoting the joys of smoking unfiltered cigarettes…

…these small ads for apartments in the back pages of the magazine promoted the bucolic vistas in Westchester…

Images of Fleetwood Hills from The American Architect, June 1926.

…and European-style living on East 44th Street…

The Beaux-Arts Apartments (which still stand) consisted of buildings on both sides of E. 44th Street. (Museum of the City of New York)

…as for comics, Peter Arno continued this running gag…

…as did Rea Irvin in another tableaux (originally running sideways, full page) featuring the clash of country bumpkins and city elites…

Garrett Price looked in on the burdens of the wealthy…

…and Barbara Shermund caught some small talk at a cafe…

…back to Peter Arno, and a heated game of table tennis…

…and Gardner Rea, witness to modern-day crime reporting…

On to the Sept. 13, 1930 issue…

Sept. 13, 1930: yet another satirical kakemono cover by Rea Irvin.

As I’ve noted many times before, the early New Yorker covered every sport under the sun (and especially elite sports such as yacht racing, tennis and badminton, golf and polo) but to my knowledge never covered a major league baseball game in its then five-year existence. Here, E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” complains about the high price of tickets to polo matches…

…White, a well-known dog lover (and all-around animal lover), offered a rather cruel solution to a problem cat in this feature:

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Oh Never Mind

At first glance I thought this might actually be an article about a baseball game, but alas, it was a column by Ring Lardner (titled “Br’er Rabbit Ball”) that showed little enthusiasm for the game (the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal apparently soured his love for baseball). Excerpts:

Speaking of sports, we move to the advertisements and the helpful folks from Lucky Strike, who wanted to help you get in shape with a smoke…

…and another ad for Flit insecticide by Dr. Seuss, featuring an elephant that looked a lot like the future Horton, and some unfortunate racist imagery…

…yet another Peter Arno repeat with a new caption (is the joke growing stale, folks?)…

…and another in a series of 1930’s images by Ralph Barton

…a maritime dilemma, courtesy Garrett Price

…and apartment shopping with Constantin Alajalov

Next Time: The Flying Misanthrope…

Germany’s Anti-Decor

The annual Salon of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in Paris reflected the growing importance of design as a profession, although it was primarily attuned to an affluent urban elite. Then along came the Germans.

June 14, 1930 cover by Helen Hokinson.

A radical new wind blew through Paris in 1930 when Bauhaus designers were invited to exhibit in their own special section at the Salon. According to the New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet Flanner, the Germans put on a display in their Section Allemande that left some French designers scratching their heads.

KEEPING IT CLEAN…Members of the Bauhaus Werkbund displayed their wares in the Section Allemande (German section) of the annual Salon of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in Paris. Clockwise, from top left, examples of reception areas and workspaces by Walter Gropius; bottom left, inside pages of the exhibition catalogue for the Section Allemande. (journal.eahn.org)
STAIRWAY TO THE FUTURE…A staircase fashioned from galvanized chicken wire, by Walter Gropius, on display in Section Allemande of the 1930 Salon of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs. (journal.eahn.org)
UNKNOWN THEN, COMMON NOW…The Section Allemande also featured building models, including this multi-story apartment with communal facilities, designed by Walter Gropius. (Journal of Design History, 2004)
HOW IT STACKED UP…Rather than dazzle audiences with the latest in posh decor, the Germans confronted Salon audiences with their radical approaches to furniture and interior spaces. At left, chairs by Marcel Breuer and others; at right, Light Prop for an Electric Stage by László Moholy-Nagy. (journal.eahn.org/Artists rights Society)

Many critics and commentators at the time characterized the Salon as a nationalistic showdown between French luxury decor and German efficiency and standardization. Flanner suggested that while the Germans seemed to be throwing out the rule book, the French were accepting modernity at a much slower pace:

MODE DE VIE…Salon entries by French designers had a more art deco bent. Clockwise, from top left, vestibule of a boudoir by Jean Dunand; cover of the Salon’s catalogue; Petit Salon by André Groult; a living room by Jules Leleu. (Pinterest/art-utile.blogspot.com)

Of course we know how this story in turns out. In just three years the Nazis would shut down the Bauhaus, scattering its faculty and students abroad, including many to America, where they would find fertile soil to continue their work and eventually spread their design philosophy and aesthetic (for better or worse) across the U.S. and to every corner of the world.

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A Gay Old Time

New Yorkers could escape the summer heat by taking in the latest incarnation of the Garrick Gaities at Broadway’s Guild Theatre. Character and voice actor Sterling Holloway Jr., (1905-1992) best known today as the voice of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh, appeared in all three Garrick Gaiety revues (1925, 1926, 1930), which were staged as benefits for New York’s Theatre Guild. Robert Benchley offered this review:

                   Sterling Holloway, left, with June Cochran in Garrick Gaieties.

Another familiar face in the Garrick Gaieties was Imogene Coca (1908-2001), a pioneer of early television (with Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows) who is best known today for her role as Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983).

KEEP ‘EM LAUGHING…Clockwise, from top left, Scene from the 1930 Garrick Gaieties revue, with Philip Loeb in the high hat and Thelma Tipson standing behind him. Also from left are Ruth Chorpenning, Donald Stewart and Ted Fetter; cover of the program for the 1930 revue; publicity photo from 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, with Imogene Coca as Aunt Edna at right; Coca, far left, in the chorus line for the 1930 Garrick Gaieties. (New York Public Library/IBDB/ifccenter.com/Pinterest)

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Ahh-Choo

A child of New York City’s suburbs, E.B. White developed a love of the natural world thanks to a severe bout of hay fever he had as a child — on the advice of a doctor, he was sent to Maine for the summer. White’s allergies, and his love of country living, would prompt him to buy a summer residence on the Maine Coast in 1933. He and his wife, New Yorker writer and fiction editor Katherine Angell White, would make it their permanent home four years later. In 1930, however, White was still putting up with the bad summer air of the city:

THANK GOD I’M A COUNTRY BOY…E.B. White on the beach with his dog Minnie, circa 1940s. (Wikipedia)

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It Didn’t Work Then, Either

Some things never change. The HawleySmoot Tariff Act, sponsored by Representative Willis C. Hawley and Senator Reed Smoot and approved June 17, 1930, raised tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods. Promoted as a way to protect American businesses and farmers, it put additional strain on international markets already reeling from the effects of the Depression. A resulting trade war severely reduced imports and exports. Writing for “The Wayward Press,” Robert Benchley (under the pen name Guy Fawkes) shared these observations:

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How Dry I Ain’t

Despite his sober demeanor, Henry Hastings Curran (1877-1966) was a champion for those seeking the repeal of Prohibition laws. A longtime city manager in several roles, in 1930 he was president of the Association Against Prohibition Amendment. According to profile writer Henry Pringle, Curran predicted the end of Prohibition in five years. Happily for the wet side, they would get their wish in just three. A brief excerpt from the profile, titled “The Wet Hope.”

Henry H. Curran (Underwood and Underwood)

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From Our Advertisers

The Hotel Algonquin ran a series of ads in the back pages of the New Yorker that capitalized on its reputation as a place where stars and other notables gather. And although the Algonquin Round Table was a thing of the past, the hotel made sure to showcase names forever associated with the famed table, including Robert Benchley and the hotel’s manager, Frank Case

…hoping for some crossover interest from New Yorker readers, William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan (then a publisher of fiction, not sex tips) promoted this fictionalized autobiography of a famous tap dancer in this full page ad…

…introduced in 1924, Kleenex was originally marketed as a cold cream remover, and not as something you would blow your nose into, for goodness sake…

…however, after 1930 Kleenex was being marketed with the slogan “Don’t Carry a Cold in Your Pocket”…

DON’T BLOW IT…Kleenex boxes circa 1925. (Kleenex.com)

…and artist Carl Erickson remained busy making Camel cigarettes look so darn appealing…

…from Macy’s we have a jolly ad illustrated by Helen Hokinson

…and for our cartoons, Peter Arno, and an awkward moment in a parking lot…

Reginald Marsh visited Coney Island…

…fresh off his first “Little King” strip for the New Yorker, Otto Soglow returned with this wry observation…

...Garrett Price looked in on a clash of cultures at a golf course (an image that seems quite relevant today)…

Barbara Shermund found a bit of trouble at home…

…while Art Young offered this woman a choice of her daily mayhem…

Next Time: Robeson’s Othello…