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)

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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)

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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.

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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…

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. (oregonhistoryproject.org)

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 loa.org)

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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…

As Thousands Cheer

ABOVE: Broadway's As Thousands Cheer (1933) featured evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (Helen Broderick) trying to persuade Mahatma Gandhi (Clifton Webb) to end his hunger strike and join her act. (NYPL)

Broadway gave Depression audiences a lift with As Thousands Cheer, a revue featuring satirical sketches that skewered the lives and affairs of the rich and famous and served as a precursor to sketch shows like Saturday Night Live.

Oct. 7, 1933 cover by Peter Arno.

With a book by Moss Hart and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the revue was a big hit, playing for nearly a year on Broadway in its initial run.

TOON TIME…Marilyn Miller led a chorus of cartoon characters in a sketch titled “The Funnies” in As Thousands Cheer; leading the revue were Miller, Clifton Webb and Helen Broderick, here featured on the cover of the Playbill. The production would be Marilyn Miller’s last—one of Broadway’s biggest stars known for playing sunny characters, her personal life was filled with illness and tragedy, and she would go to an early death in 1936. (playbill.com)

Wolcott Gibbs took his turn as Broadway reviewer, and pronounced As Thousands Cheer “the funniest thing in town.”

Not everything was roses in As Thousands Cheer: In a poignant star turn, Ethel Waters sang—at Irving Berlin’s request—his famous tune “Supper Time,” a Black woman’s lament for her lynched husband. The revue was the first Broadway show to give an African-American star (Waters) equal billing with whites, however she was segregated from her co-stars and did not appear in any sketches with them. Her co-stars even refused to bow with her at the curtain call until Irving Berlin intervened. According to the James Kaplan biography Irving Berlin, “The show had a successful tryout at Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre in early September, although opening night was marred by an ugly incident all too in tune with the times: the stars Clifton Webb, Marilyn Miller, and Helen Broderick refused to take a bow with Ethel Waters. To his everlasting credit, Berlin told the three that of course he would respect their feelings—only in that case there needn’t be any bows at all.

“They took their bows with Waters at the next show.”

NEWSMAKERS…Each sketch in As Thousands Cheer was preceded with a newspaper headline. Clockwise, from top left, in the sketch headlined JOAN CRAWFORD TO DIVORCE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR, Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb portrayed the stars arguing over publicity rights to their divorce; Webb as 94-year-old John D. Rockefeller; the headline FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT INAUGURATED TOMORROW featured Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover on their last day in the White House, portrayed by Leslie Adams and Helen Broderick; Ethel Waters singing Irving Berlin’s “Supper Time.” (New York Public Library)

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A Final Byline

E.B. White opened his column with a tribute to Ring Lardner, who died at age 48 of a heart attack and other complications. In the months before his death Lardner had contributed a number of comical “Over the Waves” radio reviews.

JOURNALIST AT HEART…Ring Lardner (1885-1933) worked for several newspapers before settling at the Chicago Tribune in 1913—it became the home newspaper for his syndicated column, In the Wake of the News. (Chicago Tribune)

Lardner’s first contribution to The New Yorker came shortly after the magazine’s founding. “The Constant Jay” was published in the April 18, 1925 issue: Readers appreciated his subtle wit, including this oft-quoted gem:

“The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong—but that’s the way to bet.”

Lardner also liked to poke fun at himself and his aw-shucks view of things. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of his final New Yorker contribution, “Odd’s Bodkins:”

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Macy Modernism

As Lewis Mumford observed in his “Skyline” column, Macy’s was the first department store to embrace a modern approach to interior design, but as Marilyn Friedman notes in her book, Making America Modern: Interior Design in the 1930s, Macy’s modernism was a bit toned down to blend into more traditional settings. A case in point was Macy’s 1933 Forward House exhibition, which Mumford described as “a brilliant piece of modern showmanship.”

EASY ON THE EYES…”Living room in the Suburban House of Forward House” at R.H. Macy & Co., New York, 1933, from The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator, October 15, 1933. ​(www.artdeco.org)

 * * *

Fishing for Commies

Geoffrey Hellman profiled New York House Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr (1888–1991), a staunch anti-communist perhaps best known for establishing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. I feature this brief excerpt mainly for the great caricature by Abe Birnbaum.

MINDING THE HOME FRONT…Hamilton Fish, Jr making a speech in Los Angeles, 1935. Fish served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1920 to 1945 and during that time was a prominent opponent of intervention into foreign affairs. (UCLA Special Collections)

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All Wet

Eleven years before Esther Williams made her first aqua-musical, Ruby Keeler took the dive under Busby Berkeley’s direction in Footlight Parade. E.B. White served as film critic for the Oct. 7 issue, and found Footlight to be a feast for the male gaze, as well as mindless entertainment.

TAKING THE PLUNGE…Clockwise, from top left: According to E.B. White, there was no gainsaying “the general aahhhhh” of the semi-nude waterfall scene in Footlight Parade; promotional poster left no doubt as to what audiences might expect from the film; Busby Berkeley displayed his craft in water-based choreography; Ruby Keeler portrayed a dancer turned secretary who is transformed back into a dancer—just add water. (IMDB)

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A Dog’s Life

Doubtless drained from writing The Waves, Virginia Woolf followed up with some historical fiction, namely Flush: A Biography, a book about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel. Clifton Fadiman had this to say about the unusual biography:

VIRGINIA WOOF…Frontispiece for Flush: A Biography. Virginia Woolf used the tale of a dog to explore social themes ranging from feminism to class conflict. (Heritage Auctions)

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From Our Advertisers

When you market a car for only $445 you aren’t going after the luxury market, but hey, drop a ten-truck truck on this baby and you can live to tell about it…

…with legal beer flooding the market brewers were particularly keen to attract female drinkers of all ages…and apparently social classes…

…a couple of ads from the back pages, the first touting the smart-set writing of columnist and foreign correspondent Alice Hughes for the New York American, and the second an advertisement for Chase & Sanborn coffee, which relayed the story of a marriage on the brink due to stale coffee…

…I include this ad for the heroic scale of the ocean liner, particularly as depicted by the people in the background…

…we bounce on to our cartoons with Otto Soglow’s Little King…

James Thurber continued to explore the unrest among our domestic youth…

…speaking of America’s youth, this gathering (courtesy Gardner Rea) appeared to have trouble finding some…

Helen Hokinson found fun with flounder…

Rea Irvin turned the tables on a life-drawing class…

…and we close with Richard Decker, over the moon with a stranded chorine…

…and in a nod to the approaching holiday, imagery from a 1933 Fleischer Studios animated short film, Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party

Next Time: The Wild West…

Making Hays

The name Will Hays will always be linked to the Motion Picture Production Code, a set of guidelines for self-censorship that studios adopted to avoid government intervention.

June 10, 1933 cover by Harry Brown.

Hays, however, played both sides in the culture wars. A Republican politician, Hays (1879–1954) managed the 1920 election of Warren G. Harding before moving on to Postmaster General and then chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. During the so-called pre-Code era, roughly 1930 to 1934, the Production Code was barely enforced, giving filmmakers the freedom to explore themes ranging from prostitution to gangster violence. When Alva Johnston wrote a two-part profile on Hays for The New Yorker, pressure from Catholic Church and other morality groups was building for Hays to strictly enforce the Code, or else. An excerpt:

CLEAN IT UP, JOAN…Will Hays (top left) felt pressure in 1933 to start seriously enforcing the Production Code, and scenes such as the one at top right from Blonde Crazy (1931) with Joan Blondell would probably not pass muster after 1934; the Hays Code would also lengthen the animated Betty Boop’s skirts, and tone down gratuitous violence (James Cagney and Edward Woods in 1931’s Public Enemy). (Wikimedia/pre-code.com/Warner Brothers)

 * * *

The Trouble With Money

In their investigation of the probable causes of the 1929 market crash, the Senate Banking and Currency Committee summoned J.P. Morgan Jr (1867–1943) on June 1, 1933, to testify on questionable banking practices. Committee counsel Ferdinand Pecora (1882–1971) set out to prove, among other things, that Morgan sold stock below market price to some of his cronies. Pecora also learned that Morgan and many of his partners paid no income tax in 1931 and 1932, big news to Americans still suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. E.B. White made these observations:

Although not mentioned by White, the hearing began with an odd little sideshow. Writing for the U.S. Capitol Historical Society blog, Joanna Hallac notes that because the hearings were slow to get started, newspaper reporters grew desperate to get something for the evening papers. Then one enterprising reporter, Ray Tucker, spotted circus dwarf Lya Graf with her agent, Charles Leef, outside of the hearing room (the Barnum & Bailey Circus was in town) and suggested Graf meet the famed banker. Hallac writes: “Although he was initially startled, Morgan was genial and rose and shook her hand. Naturally, the photographers were stepping all over each other to get a picture of the exchange. Leef, seeing a perfect press opportunity for himself and the circus, waited for Morgan to sit down and then scooped up Graf and placed her in J.P. Morgan’s lap. Morgan apparently laughed and had a brief exchange with the demure lady, in which he told her he had a grandchild bigger than her.”

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF FINANCE…Before being grilled by Senate counsel Ferdinand Pecora at a June 1, 1933 banking hearing,  J.P. Morgan Jr was paid a surprise visit by Lya Graf, a Barnum & Bailey circus dwarf. At right, Pecora, circa 1933. Sadly, Graf, who was German, perished in a concentration camp after she returned to her homeland in 1935. She was condemned to death in 1937 for being half Jewish and “abnormal.” (NY Magazine/Wikipedia)

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Single Member Plurality

Among other attributes, E.B. White was known for his use of the first person plural, the editorial or clinical “we.” White himself offered this insight:

I, ME, MINE…E.B. White at work in 1945. (Britannica.com)

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Uncle Tom, Revived

Plays based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin were wildly popular throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but by the 1930s the story seemed antiquated and no longer relevant. That didn’t stop the Players (a Gramercy park actors club) from mounting a 1933 Broadway revival that proved popular with audiences and a New Yorker stage critic, namely E.B. White, sitting in for Robert Benchley…an excerpt…

SAY UNCLE…Otis Skinner (1858–1942), a beloved broadway actor, portrayed Uncle Tom in the 1933 Broadway revival. The all-white cast performed in blackface.

…on the other hand, White found the Frank Faye/Barbara Stanwyck play Tattle Tales tedious, a thin veneer over the stars’ crumbling marriage off-stage…

THAT’S ALL, FOLKS…Publicity photo of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Faye for the Broadway production of Tattle Tales at the Broadhurst Theatre. The co-stars’ real-life marriage supposedly inspired the 1937 film A Star is Born (as well as subsequent remakes). As Stanwyck’s star rose, Faye’s faded—his heavy drinking and abuse led to their 1935 divorce. The play itself closed after 28 performances. (ibdb)

 * * *

Frothy Air

E.B. White (via “The Talk of the Town”) took a stroll through Coney Island and found the place somewhat revived, perhaps thanks to the return of legal beer and Bavarian-style beer gardens…

RECALLING THE GOOD OLD DAYS…Feltman’s Restaurant on Coney Island operated this popular Bavarian Beer Garden in 1890s. (Westland.net)

 * * *

Peace, He Said

Adolf Hitler was talking peace, but the French weren’t buying it according to The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet Flanner—in just seven years her beloved City of Light would fall to the Nazis…

IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE…Adolf Hitler makes his first radio broadcast as German Chancellor, February 1933. Hitler spoke of peace in Europe while preparing his country for war. (The Guardian)

…speaking of Janet Flanner, apparently her “Paris Letter” implied that the author Edna Ferber had married. Ferber offered this correction, in good humor:

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From Our Advertisers

Class anxieties were (and still are) gold to Madison Avenue—look at this poor woman, pondering her very existence, lacking as she did the horsepower to lay some rubber at a green light…

…or this woman, who thought ahead and made sure she had some hair lotion to ward off cackles from the beach harpies…

…on the other hand, this cyclist seems to care less about appearances as she races toward us with a crazed smile, half-human, half-illustration…

…and then there’s this fellow, playing it cool in a white linen suit, which for a sawbuck seems like a bargain, even in 1933…

…the last two pages of the magazine featured friends racing to some swell destination…the lads at left are being propelled to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair thanks to the wonders of leaded gasoline, while the women at right seem to be doing at least eighty…note neither car has a windshield, so you wonder how many bugs they will pick out of their teeth…

…an apt segue to our cartoons, where Peter Arno showed us a couple going nowhere fast…

Otto Soglow’s Little King had his own marital situation to ponder after a visit from a sultan…

…a very unusual cartoon from Helen Hokinson, who rarely delved into serious socio-political issues (although her captions were often provided by others at The New Yorker)…this cartoon referred to a cause célèbre of the 1930s, the case of the prejudicial sentences of the Scottsboro boys that recalled the Tom Mooney frame-up two decades earlier…

…on to lighter topics, Robert Day checked in on the progress at Mt. Rushmore…

George Price also went aloft for a challenge…

…and Carl Rose found this dichotomy in the conquest of nature…

…on to June 17, 1933…

June 17, 1933 cover by Perry Barlow.

…where Frank Curtis reported on the military-style schedule that put young men to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps…excerpts:

MARCHING ORDERS…CCC reforestation recruits in Virginia in 1933. (New York Times)

…just one ad from this issue, another Flit entry from Dr. Seuss, who wouldn’t publish his first book until 1937…

…our cartoons are courtesy Otto Soglow, with some bedside manner…

Kemp Starrett set up what should prove to be an interesting evening…

Gluyas Williams considered the woes of J.P. Morgan Jr

…and we close with another from George Price, doing some tidying up…

Next Time: Home Sweet Home…

Not Worth a Dime

First performed in Berlin in 1928, The Threepenny Opera was Bertolt Brecht’s socialist critique of capitalist society and was a favorite (somewhat ironically) of that city’s bourgeois “smart set.” However when it landed on the Broadway stage in 1933, it famously flopped, and closed after just twelve performances.

April 22, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

The first American production, adapted by Jerrold Krimsky and Gifford Cochran, opened April 13, 1933, at the Empire Theatre, featuring Robert Chisholm as Macheath (“Mack the Knife”) and Steffi Duna as his lover, Polly. Critic Robert Benchley found value in the play’s “modernistic” music, but seemed puzzled by its enigmatic production, an opinion shared by other contemporary critics.

HANGING IN THERE…Scenes from the 1928 Berlin premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s musical, The Threepenny Opera. At left, Macheath (tenor/baritone Harald Paulsen) is spared the noose during the closing act, much to the relief of his lover, Polly (soprano Roma Bahn); at right, in a deus ex machina moment, a messenger arrives at the hanging and announces that Macheath has been pardoned by the queen. (British Library)

Some critics today defend the 1933 American production, noting that the Krimsky–Cochran adaptation was quite faithful to the Brecht original. Perhaps something was lost in translation, or maybe the world in which the play was conceived no longer held much relevance to Depression-era Americans.

THE FINAL CURTAIN fell after just twelve performances of the first American production of The Threepenny Opera at Broadway’s Empire Theatre. The production featured Robert Chisholm as Macheath and Steffi Duna as Polly. (discogs.com/bizzarela.com)

Benchley half-heartedly concluded that the play was probably worth seeing, for no other reason than to experience something different for a change.

By 1933 the world that had conceived The Threepenny Opera was long gone—Brecht fled Nazi Germany two months before his play opened in New York, fearing persecution for his socialist leanings. Things were quickly going “from bad to worse” under Adolf Hitler’s new regime, as Howard Brubaker observed in his “Of All Things” column:

 * * *

Look Ma, No Net!

Karl Wallenda (referred to as “Carl” here) was born to an old circus family in Germany in 1905, and by 1922 he would put together a family-style high-wire act (with brother Herman) that would come to be known as “The Flying Wallendas.” They debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1928, notably without their safety net, which had been lost in transit. So they performed without it, much to the acclaim of the adoring crowd. They soon became known for their daring high-wire acts, often performed without safety nets. E.B. White filed this (excerpted) report for “The Talk of the Town.”

In the years that followed Karl developed some of troops’ most startling acts, including the famed seven-person chair pyramid. They performed this incredibly dangerous stunt until their appearance at the Detroit Shrine Circus in January 1962; the wire’s front man, Dieter Schepp, faltered, causing the pyramid to collapse. Schepp, who was Karl’s nephew, was killed, as was Richard Faughnan, Karl’s son-in-law. Karl injured his pelvis, and his adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down.

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME…The Wallenda family practices the seven-person pyramid just prior to the Shrine Circus in Detroit, where the group fell, killing Dieter Schepp (far right, bottom row) and Dick Faughnan (second from left, on bottom). (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

Karl’s own luck finally ran out on March 22, 1978, on a tightrope between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. High winds, and an improperly secured wire, caused the 73-year-old Wallenda to wobble, and then fall, one hundred feet to the ground. He was dead on arrival at a local hospital.

THE SHOW ENDED for Karl Wallenda on March 22, 1978, on a tightrope between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The 73-year-old high-wire legend fell one hundred feet to his death. (esquire.com)

 * * *

Safer Entertainments

Lois Long continued to file nightlife reports in her “Tables for Two” column, reveling in the sights and sounds (and rhythms) of the Cotton Club’s orchestra, led by Duke Ellington…but the real attraction was Ellington’s unnamed drummer, whom I assume was the great Sonny Greer

JAZZ GREAT Sonny Greer wowed Lois Long and the rest of the crowd at Harlem’s Cotton Club in April 1933. (jazz.fm)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Given the news Howard Brubaker shared earlier in this post, I wouldn’t use the word Gemütlichkeit (basically, warmth and friendliness) to describe the state of things in Nazi Germany…

…a better option would be a trip to the British Isles or France on the White Star lines, nicht wahr?…

…RCA’s mascot, Nipper, appeared to contemplating fatherhood in this two-page ad for the company’s new “baby sets”…

…Camel took a break from its magician-themed “It’s Fun to be Fooled” ads to run another elegant Ray Prohaska-illustrated spot…

…on to our cartoons, Carl Rose demonstrated the economic benefits of legal beer…

E. Simms Campbell showed us a woman seeking a bit of motherly wisdom…

Whitney Darrow Jr (1909–1999), who began his 50-year career at The New Yorker on March 18, 1933, offered this look at childhood’s hard knocks…

James Thurber drew up an odd encounter at a cocktail party…

Peter Arno served up a proud patriarch…

…and William Steig explored the perils of somnambulism…

…on to our April 29, 1933 issue with a cover by Garrett Price…although we’ve already seen many cartoons by Price, we haven’t seen many covers (he did two covers in the magazine’s first year, 1925). Price would ultimately produce 100 covers for The New Yorker, in addition to his hundreds of cartoons…

April 29, 1933 cover by Garrett Price. Note the little train illustration along the spine.

…for the record, here is Price’s first New Yorker cover from Aug. 1, 1925…

…there was more troubling news from Nazi Germany, this time from Paris correspondent Janet Flanner in her “Letter from Paris” column…Flanner would later gain wider fame as a war correspondent…

THUGS…SA members stick a poster to the window of a Jewish store in Berlin on April 1, 1933. The poster is inscribed, “Germans, Defend yourselves, Do not buy from Jews”. (Bundesarchiv, Berlin)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Camel followed up its elegant ad from the previous issue with another “Fun to be Fooled” spot, this time presented as a multi-panel comic strip…

…Powers Reproduction was a frequent advertiser in the early New Yorker, touting the “realism” of their color photography, but in this case the model looked more like a department store mannequin…

Otto Soglow continued to ply a lucrative sideline illustrating ads for Sanka decaf…

…as we segue to our cartoonists, the opening section featuring work by both James Thurber and George Price

Gardner Rea’s snake charmer expressed her belief that all men are created equal…

…here is a cartoon by a new artist, Howard Baer, who contributed to The New Yorker between 1933 and 1937…

…and another by newcomers Whitney Darrow Jr.

…and E. Simms Campbell

Barbara Shermund continued to rollick with her modern women…

…and we end with the ever-reliable Peter Arno

Before we close I want to remember Roger Angell, who died last week at age 101. A literary legend and a great baseball writer to be sure, but also one of the last living links to the first days of The New Yorker. Rest in Peace.

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe, for The New Yorker.

Next Time: Bohemian Rhapsody…

 

 

Stormy Bellwether

While legal beer dominated the headlines in the spring of 1933—a little something to cheer about in those depressed times—few seemed to notice the troubles brewing on the other side of the pond.

April 1, 1933 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Artist George Grosz (1893–1959) was not among them. A recent self-exile from his native Germany, Grosz had savagely caricatured the perversity of the bourgeois in 1920s Weimar Berlin; through his art he tried to warn fellow Germans of the horrors to come. Critic Lewis Mumford stopped in at the Raymond & Raymond galleries to check out the latest efforts of this Manhattan newcomer:

EARLY WARNING SIGNS… George Grosz’s The Pillars of Society (1926) satirized the bourgeois supporters of Fascism in post-war Germany; Grosz with friend, circa 1933. (history net.com)

Although Grosz intended to make a clean break with his past after emigrating to New York in January 1933, his work still reflected his distaste for bourgeois sensibilities…

GROSS GROSZ…In a Restaurant (circa 1933) was admired by Mumford for the tenderness of the watercolor wash that contrasted with the “grossness” of its subjects. (artnet.com)
ON THE SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK…Grosz wanted to make a clean break with his past after emigrating to New York in January 1933, but he still couldn’t help but see the hypocrisy in the faces of bourgeois Manhattanites. At left, Black & White (1933) and at right, Street Scene, Downtown Manhattan (1933). (mutual art.com/artsy.net)

…and when war raged in his homeland, Grosz returned to chronicling the perversity of the Nazi regime…

HORRORS REALIZED…Grosz’s God of War (at left, from 1940) and his 1944 oil on canvas, Cain or Hitler in Hell. (David Nolan New York)

 *  *  *

Bluenose Blues

Sadly, we are moving toward the end of the pre-Code era, and as E.B. White explained in “Notes and Comment,” the talkies were about to get a bit less talkative:

AW HECK…Dorothy Mackaill portrayed a secretary-turned-prostitute in the 1931 pre-Code Hollywood film Safe in Hell. The days were numbered for the brief period in Hollywood (roughly 1929–34) when films featured “adult” themes including sexual innuendo, mild profanity, and depictions of drug use, promiscuity and prostitution. (IMDB)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with the back pages, and the latest in entertainment on Broadway…

…the makers of Cadillacs continued to promote the snob appeal of their 12- and 16-cylinder automobiles…it appears these folks are leaving an Easter service (note the doves), but whatever went on in there, they don’t seem very moved by the spirit…

…and here’s a close-up of the ad’s opening lines that suggested Cadillacs are an ideal complement to the apparel of those strutting their stuff on the Easter Parade…

…and here’s a jolly rendering for Lucky Strike by advertising illustrator John LaGatta (1894–1977)…his work was seen in many ads and in magazines during the first half of the 20th century, including twenty-two Saturday Evening Post covers…LaGatta’s style was known for its cool elegance, but I have to say this image is a bit disturbing, given that the banjo player’s fag is just inches from the woman’s eyeball…

…on to our cartoonists, we have a rare appearance by Clara Skinner (1902–1976), showing us here in the “Goings On About Town” section that John Held Jr wasn’t the only one making woodcuts…

William Steig was lost at sea…

Perry Barlow gave us this split scene (across two pages) of the challenges of mixing domestic and non-domestic life…

Otto Soglow continued to chronicle the adventures of his popular Little King…

…we haven’t seen Mary Petty in awhile, so here’s a bit of gossip…

James Thurber used a rare two-page spread of Alexander Woollcott’s “Shouts and Murmurs,” to lay out this unusual illustration…

…and Thurber again, in a more familiar vein…

…we move on April 8, 1933…

April 8, 1933 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

…and go straight to advertisers who were responding to the March 22 signing of the Beer and Wine Revenue Act by Franklin D. Roosevelt…the Congressional action made it permissible to sell beer as long as it was less than 3.2% alcohol…

…the makers of Rheingold beer came out of the gates with this ad showing that even elegant women could enjoy this taste of freedom…

…not completely sure, but I believe this was the first ad for Coca-Cola to appear in The New Yorker

…in those tough times the steamship lines were beginning to realize they needed to appeal to the thrifty as well as the posh…

…the style and signature of this illustration look familiar, but I can’t ID the cartoonist…nevertheless, it’s a great gag…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with this Peter Arno spoof of a series of R.J. Reynold’s Camel ads that referenced various magic tricks…

…in the same issue, just 20 pages later (p. 48) appeared one of the actual Camel ads…proof that Harold Ross would never kowtow to the advertising department—with the exception of those yeast ads for his friend and benefactor Raoul Fleischmann, who kept the magazine afloat in the early, lean years…

…we have more James Thurber, who kicked off the April 8 issue…

…and offered more hijinks inside…

William Steig gave us this strip captioned “The Spicy Story” which ran across the bottom of pages 26-27…

Gluyas Williams continued to hang out with his fellow citizens, this time in the skies above Manhattan…

Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein showed us one cabbie’s reaction to the cheap ways of the posh crowd…

…and we end by saying grace, with Peter Arno

Next Time: Beer Thirty…

Not Even Funny

There were a number of people Dorothy Parker couldn’t abide. That included gifted writers who not only eschewed serious literature, but who instead chose to crank out a lot of mass-market trash.

March 18, 1933 cover by William Steig.

Parker was well acquainted with Tiffany Ellsworth Thayer (1902–1959), and for a time she even associated with the Fortean Society, which Thayer founded in 1931. Inspired by writer Charles Fort, the Forteans promoted the use of scientific methods to evaluate unexplained phenomena such as UFOs, spontaneous human combustion, and other oddities. Parker and fellow New Yorker writers Ben Hecht and Alexander Woollcott were among founding members, doubtless drawn to Fort’s reputation as a skeptic; however one famous skeptic, journalist H.L. Mencken, called Fort’s ideas “Bohemian mush.” It’s hard to say how long Parker stayed connected to the Society, but by 1933 she was fed up with Thayer’s novels, including his latest, An American Girl, which she found to be “the gaudiest flower of pretentiousness.” Here is an excerpt from Parker’s sometime column, “Reading and Writing,” subtitled Not Even Funny…

TIFF WITH TIFFANY…At left, Tiffany Thayer aboard a cruise ship with an unidentified woman, most likely his first wife, a dancer named Tanagra, early 1930s; at right, Dorothy Parker and a first edition of the offending volume. In her review, Parker observed that Taylor “is beyond question a writer of power; and his power lies in his ability to make sex so thoroughly, graphically, and aggressively unattractive that one is fairly shaken to ponder how little one has been missing.” (IMDB/Worthpoint)

Although Thayer founded a society based on scientific reason, his pulp novels were filled with fantasy and prurient imagery. F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that “curious children nosed at the slime of Mr. Tiffany Thayer in the drug-store libraries.”

BELIED LETTRES…Clockwise from top left, Thayer’s 1931 novel Call Her Savage was made into a 1932 film starring Clara Bow, here featured on the book’s dustcover; the same novel repackaged in 1952 for the pulp trade; a 1943 edition of Thayer’s One-Man Show, and a 1951 Avon reprint that toned down the nudity but upped the creep factor. (facebook.com/biblio.com)

…and speaking of creep factor, check out Avon’s 1950 re-issue of Thayer’s 1937 novel The Old Goat, illustration attributed to Edgar Lyle Justis

(biblio.com)

Artists like Justis must have had a ball doing these illustrations, creating images to lure the unsuspecting into purchasing these old titles. Note how the coked-up old man sports not-so-subtle devil horns.

*  *  *

They Called It a Holiday

E.B. White, James Thurber (see below) and others in the March 18 issue commented on the national banking “holiday” declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an effort to stabilize America’s banking system and rebuild public confidence. This led to the Glass-Steagall Act, signed three months later by FDR. Some observations in “Notes and Comment” by E.B. White, with the usual great spot illustrations by Otto Soglow

SAY CHEESE!…President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Glass-Steagall Act on June 16, 1933, effectively separating commercial banking from investment banking and creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), among other things. (AP)

…meanwhile, Germany’s new chancellor, Adolf Hitler, was busy abolishing civil liberties while pretending to be distressed by the behavior of his brownshirt thugs…an excerpt from Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things”…

*  *  *

A Familiar Ring

For the second week in a row Ring Lardner lent his wit to The New Yorker’s “Over the Waves,” column, which typically reviewed the latest news and entertainment beamed from the radio tower atop the Empire State Building. Lardner, however, was in California, lamenting the challenges of the time lag. An excerpt:

AND NO WI-FI, EITHER…Ring Lardner (center) detailed the frustrations of listening to New York-based radio entertainers like Eddie Cantor (left) and Rudy Vallée during his stay in California. (Pinterest/The Classic Archives/New York Times)

 *  *  *

Dance Away Those Blues

The pre-Code musical 42nd Street received a brief, albeit mostly positive review from critic John Mosher, who along with the producers of the film knew Depression-weary Americans needed such distractions. Nearly 90 years later (April 10, 2020), another New Yorker film critic, Richard Brody, suggested 42nd Street as one of the best films to stream during the Covid-19 pandemic: “Modern musicals start here, and Busby Berkeley’s genius bursts into full flower,” he wrote.

DANCE ‘TIL YOU DROP…Under pressure to produce a hit after losing his lead dancer (Bebe Daniels) to a broken ankle, Broadway musical director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter, center) mercilessly rehearses her replacement, Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler, in her film debut) before the premiere, vowing “I’ll either have a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl.” Looking on (to the right of Baxter) is Ginger Rogers, who portrayed “Anytime Annie.” (tcm.com)
A LEG UP ON HIS CAREER…42nd Street was a breakthrough film for choreographer Busby Berkeley, who would direct and choreograph a long string of musicals until the 1960s. The film is now considered a classic, preserved in the United States National Film Registry. (IMDB)

…and for trivia buffs, during an opening scene Bebe Daniels is shown reading the February 20, 1932 (anniversary) issue of The New Yorker…

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

A convertible LaSalle (a downscale Cadillac brand) looks like a great way to enjoy a drive along the beach…let’s hope it has enough acceleration to outrun the tsunami apparently heading its way…

Walter Chrysler continued to dig into his deep pockets for two-page color spreads, including this one that placed his humble DeSoto in St. Moritz, of all places…

…not to be outdone, the folks at Nash found another exotic locale for their budget-priced sedan…Chicago, that is, at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition…and for an extra touch of class, we have what appears to be a chauffeur attending to this modest motorcar…

…America’s top luxury car maker, Pierce Arrow — a regular advertiser in The New Yorker — decided a quarter-page ad was sufficient to keep their name before the eyes of the well-heeled…at right, an ad from another back page featured cartoonist Don Herold shilling for the makers of imitation liquor flavors…according to the ad, one bottle, obtainable from your druggist, “flavors a gallon” of whatever forsaken hootch you are consuming…

…the folks at Log Cabin relied on the talents of another New Yorker cartoonist, John Held Jr., to make both their product and a signature cocktail a more palatable experience…

…I have to hand it to the folks at Heinz for signing off on an advertisement only a vampire would find appealing…

…the purveyors of Marie Earle beauty products rolled out this modern ad to promote their “Essential Cream”…

…while staid Brooks Brothers remained true to form — no flashy colors or advertising jargon — just straight talk about price increases….

…and then there’s the upmarket Fortnum & Mason, appealing to America’s Anglophiles with one of their famed wicker hampers filled with various goodies selected for “charming and greedy people”…

….for several years R.J. Reynolds employed the services of Carl “Eric” Erickson (1891–1958) to illustrate a series of ads featuring classy, disinterested, continental types smoking their Camel brand cigarettes…despite their less-than-exotic name, the makers of Spud menthol cigarettes hired Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom (1905–1986) to create their own smart set of smokers…

…ads that bore a striking resemblance to Erickson’s Camel work (this example from 1931)…

…and for your consideration, works from 1933 by Carl Erickson and Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…both were noted fashion illustrators…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with Charles Addams, who’d just published his first New Yorker cartoon the previous month, in the Feb. 4, 1933 issue

…that first cartoon was simply signed “Addams”…here he used the familiar “Chas Addams”…a close-up of the signature…

…we continue with a great caricature by Al Frueh to accompany a profile of Rudolf Kommer (as told by Alexander Woollcott)…

…a delightful full page of bank holiday-themed cartoons by James Thurber

Richard Decker offered up a tall tale…

…and we close with Peter Arno, who served up one of his clueless cuckolds…

Next Time: Diary of a Lady…

 

One Perfect Night

Once again The New Yorker marked its anniversary — the eighth — with a repeat of its very first cover, a tradition that would last until 1993. Unlike previous years, E.B. White made no special mention of the occasion in his “Notes and Comment,” no doubt feeling confident about the magazine’s prospects despite the challenges of the Depression. In 1933 The New Yorker could count on nearly 117,000 readers.

Feb. 18, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

And so we look to another of the magazine’s star contributors, humorist and stage critic Robert Benchley, who was rarely impressed with Broadway’s middlebrow fare. It was in such an environment that Benchley found himself separating the wheat from the chaff, listing a selection of scenes from various plays that together might represent a “perfect night” of entertainment:

A BROADWAY BUFFET…Clockwise, from top left, Robert Benchley recommended Jack Haley’s bedroom scene and Ethel Merman’s rendition of “Eadie Was a Lady” in Take a Chance as worthy of a look; he also found George M. Cohan’s telephone call to police HQ in Pigeons and People memorable, and Beatrice Lillie was apparently a delight in the dressing room scene from Walk a Little Faster. (playbill.com)
TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC in Cole Porter’s musical Gay Divorce were Claire Luce and Fred Astaire, dancing to the hit song “Night and Day.” It was Astaire’s last Broadway show before he headed to Hollywood for even greater stardom; Jack Pearl and Barbara Newberry in Pardon My English; Eva Le Gallienne as the White Queen and Josephine Hutchinson as Alice in the 1932-33 production of Alice in Wonderland at Le Gallienne’s own Civic Repertory Theatre; Alice (Hutchinson) encounters Tweedledee (Burgess Meredith) and Tweedledum (Landon Herrick) in Alice in Wonderland. (Pinterest/gershwin.com/blog.mcny.org)

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Spring Cleaning

While passing by the Vanderbilts’ “Triple Palace” on 51st and Fifth Avenue, E.B. White (“Notes and Comment”) noted signs of neglect at the famed mansion:

HOME  SWEET HOME…At top, Alva Vanderbilt engaged Richard Morris Hunt to build a “Petite Chateau” on the northwest corner of 52nd Street; below, the drawing room. The Triple Palace was demolished in 1947-49. (mcny.org/Wikimedia Commons)

The Triple Palace site today:

(daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)

*  *  *

Going Round and Round

No one was landing quad flips at New York’s Ice House in 1933, but for ice skating enthusiasts it was the place to be for both figure skating competitors as well as for those just interested in a leisurely skate to the strains of a live orchestra. “The Talk of the Town” explains in this excerpt:

CHILLING SIGHT…Top and below, the Ice House was located on the top floor of a four-story building attached to Madison Square Garden. (Pinterest)

In both Europe and America ice skating in the 19th and early 20th century was something of an elaborate ritual in urban areas; skating rinks included tea rooms as well as places to dance or ice skate to the gentle rhythms of a live orchestra…

TEA COSY…The Biltmore Hotel Ice Gardens offered guests a warm place to watch the cold weather fun of the hotel’s outdoor ice skating rink, circa 1915. (mcny.org)

*  *  *

The Jig Is Up

Jigsaw puzzles have been around since the late 1700s (they were handmade then), but their popularity really took off in the 20th century with advancements in manufacturing and especially during the Depression when folks sought affordable forms of entertainment they could enjoy at home. The 1930s also saw jigsaw puzzles become more complex. “The Talk of the Town” observed:

In 1933 the Long Island City-based puzzle manufacturer Einson-Freeman introduced a line of puzzles that included clues to solving mysteries described in an accompanying novelette…

(worth point.com)

*  *  *

Small But Deadly

Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column, which ran from 1925 to 1951, was a series of brief, satirical comments on the events of the day, including some that to modern eyes point to the catastrophic events that awaited Brubaker’s world (reader Frank W. notes that “the ‘aged piano-player’ was Ignacy Paderewski, who had served as Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of WWI, and who was the nearest thing the Poles had to a national-unity figure”):

*  *  *

Her Protégé

When Mae West adapted her 1928 Broadway play Diamond Lil into the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong, the puritanical backers of the Hays Code (which would be enforced in 1934) demanded that the film make no reference to the “scandalous” play. But because it was still the pre-Code era, West’s film featured many double entendres and her famous (and famously misquoted) quip, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” That line was spoken to Cary Grant — whom West would later claim as her discovery even though Grant had drawn considerable attention in the previous year for his work opposite Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus. For the record, Grant, who would be paired again with West in 1933’s I’m No Angel, would later credit West, and She Done Him Wrong, for giving his career a major boost. New Yorker critic John Mosher lauded the film for the much-needed laughs it provided to Depression-weary audiences.

SHOWING HIM THE ROPES…The nearly forty-year-old Mae West was 11 years older than Hollywood newcomer Cary Grant when they appeared together in 1933’s She Done Him Wrong. The film was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Picture), and in 1996 was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. (filmreference.com)

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

The folks at Packard took a new advertising tack by demonstrating the durability of their luxury automobile…

…hopefully the Packard was riding on “Double Eagle” tires by Goodyear…however, this is an odd illustration to emphasize a child’s safety, when the kid’s posh mum seems more concerned about her appearance than anything else…also, does she plan to drive home with the windshield down?…

…Log Cabin continued its series of ads featuring New Yorker cartoonists…here Peter Arno lends one of his dirty old walruses to the cause of syrupy waffles and pancakes…

…on to our cartoonists, we have Arno again, keeping up appearances among high society…

Gluyas Willams demonstrated his knack for illustrating the foibles of his fellow citizens…

Helen Hokinson looked in on a man aspiring to become the next T.S. Eliot…

…the growing popularity of the gangster film knew no bounds, according to Perry Barlow

…and we close with James Thurber, and a speakeasy standoff…

Next Time: Deskey’s Deco…

Role Reversal

James Cagney began his entertainment career singing and dancing in various vaudeville and Broadway acts, but when he was cast in his first film as a tough guy, the die was cast…at least for one New Yorker critic.

Feb. 11, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Cagney’s first film role came after he starred along with Joan Blondell in Broadway’s Penny Arcade. However when the play was made into the 1930 movie Sinners’ Holiday, execs at Warner Brothers opted to put Grant Withers and Evalyn Knapp into the lead roles, believing they were destined for stardom; Cagney and Blondell were relegated to supporting parts. As fate often has it, Withers and Knapp ended up in B-movie obscurity, while Cagney and Blondell went on to become two of the biggest stars of the 1930s. The pair would appear in six more films together, including the gangster film The Public Enemy (1931) and the musical Footlight Parade (1933).

TWO-FACED…James Cagney would be paired with Joan Blondell in seven films during the 1930s including the gangster film The Public Enemy (1931, left) and the musical Footlight Parade (1933, also with Ruby Keeler). (IMDB)
THE ONE I USED TO KNOW…Top, Cagney mashes a grapefruit half into Mae Clarke’s face in a famous scene from Cagney’s breakthrough film, 1931’s The Public Enemy; below, Cagney gets acquainted with a bartender (Lee Phelps) in The Public Enemy. (IMDB)

New Yorker film critic John Mosher preferred the tough guy Cagney to the toe-tapping version, and was anticipating Cagney’s return to pictures after a contact dispute with Warner in which he threatened to quit the business and follow his brothers into the medical profession…

When Cagney finally announced his return in Hard to Handle, Mosher found he had taken on the guise of actor Lee Tracy, who was best known for his comic portrayals of wisecracking salesmen and reporters…

MY SOFTER SIDE…James Cagney and Mae Clark (top) in 1933’s pre-Code comedy Hard to Handle — Cagney played a clowning con artist who organizes a dance marathon. Below, critic John Mosher thought Cagney was channelling the comic actor Lee Tracy, seen here with Jean Harlow in 1933’s Blonde Bombshell. (IMDB)

 *   *   *

Slippery Slope

Located on Lexington between 102nd and 103rd streets, Duffy’s Hill was once famous for being the steepest hill in Manhattan and the scourge of street cars that had to quickly accelerate and decelerate at that point, leading to numerous accidents. An excerpt from “The Talk of the Town”…

LOOK OUT BELOW…Duffy’s hill played merry hell with New York’s streetcars more than a century ago. (New York Social Diary via Facebook)

 *   *   *

Getting High

George Spitz Jr was an AAU high jump champion when he participated in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1933 he made a personal best leap of  6 feet, 8¼ inches using scissors-style leap with elements of the Western roll. “The Talk of the Town” marveled at Spitz’s feat, giving him an extra quarter inch for his record leap:

MILLION-DOLLAR LEGS…In 1933 George Spitz Jr made his personal best leap of 6 feet, 8¼ inches using a scissors-style jump with elements of the Western roll. With the introduction of the Fosbury Flop in 1968, today’s men’s record stands at 8 feet, ¼ inches. The current women’s record is 6 feet, 10¼ inches. (Olympedia)

 *   *   *

Ugh, This Guy Again

As we move into the 1930s we will be seeing more references to Adolf Hitler, who seized power in Germany on January 30, 1933. At this point “The Talk of the Town” wasn’t taking him seriously…

…and neither was Howard Brubaker in his regular column of short quips…

 *   *   *

From Our Advertisers

Hitler aside, the German-owned Hamburg-American Line was still serving peaceful purposes when it advertised the comfort of its “stabilized ships” on transatlantic voyages…these sisters ships of the Hamburg-American Line were all destroyed during World War II…the SS New York and the SS Deutschland were both sunk by the British RAF in 1945…The SS Albert Ballin and the SS Hamburg sank after hitting Allied mines…

THE BIG BANG…the RAF sent the S.S. Deutschland to the bottom of the Bay of Lübeck  on May 3, 1945. (Wikipedia)

…if travel wasn’t your thing, when you escape the winter blahs in the comfort of your home thanks to the GE Mazda Sunlight Lamp…

…and Dad, when you were her age you called these things “horseless carriages”…

…the folks at luxury carmaker Packard answered the splashy color ad from Cadillac in the Jan. 7 issue…

…with a colorful show-stopper of their own…

…if the Packard was too pricy, you could have checked out this lower-priced Cadillac, marketed as the LaSalle…

…no, New York did not say “Rockne, you’re the car!”, even if it was juxtaposed with a giant, attractive woman…the car was named for famed football coach Knute Rockne, and the Depression was not a good time to promote a new car line…it was produced from 1932 to 1933, when Studebaker pulled the plug and sold the remaining inventory (about 90 cars, packaged in kits) to a Norwegian railroad car manufacturer…

…a couple of posts ago (“Life With Father”) we were accosted by a 3-page Camel ad featuring a Q&A stating the facts about its product…here they are back with two more pages of irrefutable evidence…

…what I read in their eyes is that none of them, including the woman, gives a damn about the others…if anything, the fellow at left is checking out the other guy…

…this ad from Sonotone Corporation promoted a new hearing aid developed by Hugo Lieber…this revolutionary bone conduction receiver enabled the deaf to hear through bones in their head…

…a 1939 Sonotone catalog demonstrated how the hearing aid could be worn inconspicuously…

(abebooks.com)

…on to our cartoonists, Al Frueh illustrated the drama on board Broadway’s Twentieth Century Limited…note vaudevillian William Frawley’s caricature in the bottom right hand corner…although he appeared in more than 100 films, Frawley is best known today for his role as Fred Mertz on TV’s I Love Lucy

…here’s a great caricature by Rea Irvin of New York’s new mayor John P. O’Brien, using his new broom to sweep away the corruption of the deposed Jimmy Walker and his Tammany Hall cronies…

…here’s another early work by George Price, who would be a cartoonist at The New Yorker for nearly six decades…

…and here we have the other Price…Garrett Price gave us a fellow who made some changes in his life à la Paul Gauguin

…I like this Perry Barlow cartoon because it reminds me of the patient-in-traction trope commonly seen in comedy of the 1960s and 70s…

…such as this Paul Coker Jr. illustration from the June 1970 issue of MAD magazine…

…and Terry-Thomas and Spencer Tracy in 1963’s It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

William Steig assured readers there was nothing sweet about his “Small Fry”…

…once again Helen Hokinson offered her impressions of the annual Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden…

Peter Arno’s Lake Placid would never be the same for his mustachioed millionaire “walruses” after the previous year’s Winter Olympic Games…

Next Time: One Perfect Night…

 

Belle Geste

“Nobody said not to go” was a phrase often used by Emily “Mickey” Hahn when returning from one of her far-flung and often wild adventures.

Feb. 4, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

And nobody ever told Hahn (1905–1997) what she could write about, and so she wrote, with brio and authority, on a variety of subjects ranging from feminism, diamond mining, and animal behavior to Chinese history and cooking. The author of 54 books, Hahn also penned a number of biographies including those of Leonardo da Vinci, Chiang Kai-shek, and D. H. Lawrence among others. In the Feb. 4 issue Hahn wrote about spending the night at a New York flophouse, not out of necessity but rather to write about the experience. Excerpts:

NO RITZ, THIS…Entrance to a flophouse in the Bowery, photo by Walker Evans, 1934.

In the following two excerpts, Hahn described her sleepless night, and her exit from the flophouse the following morning…

More on Emily Hahn, who defied convention from the very start of her adult life: before graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1926 (the first woman to earn a degree in mining engineering there), she drove across the U.S. in a Model T, dressed a man. She wrote about her experiences in letters to her brother-in-law who, unbeknownst to Hahn, shared them with New Yorker editors. This would lead to a longtime relationship with the magazine, to which she would contribute nearly 200 articles (and one poem) between 1929 and 1996. She would also serve as China correspondent from 1935 to 1943.

In 1930 she traveled to the Belgian Congo, where she lived for two years with a pygmy tribe while working for the Red Cross; she later crossed Central Africa alone on foot. In his 2006 memoir, Let Me FinishRoger Angell described Hahn as the magazine’s “Belle Geste,” a woman “deeply, almost domestically, at home in the world. Driven by curiosity and energy, she went there and did that, and then wrote about it without fuss.”

AT HOME IN THE WORLD…Clockwise, from top left, Emily “Mickey” Hahn poses with her pet gibbon, Mr. Mills, in Shanghai, circa 1935; undated photo with more of her furry friends; Hahn as a teenager, circa 1920; cover photo from her 1944 book, China to Me; Hahn in 1944 with her daughter Carola, following their return from occupied China. (Wikipedia/Lilly Library, Indiana U)

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Chief Stooge

Theatrical promoter Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal (1885–1957) was well-known to New Yorkers in the 1920s and 30s as a speakeasy owner, buddy to Mayor Jimmy Walker and husband to actress Peggy Fears. Although “Blumey” is largely forgotten today, in 1933 he merited a two-part profile by Alva Johnston. Here are excerpts from the opening lines:

ONLY THE SHADOW KNOWS…A.C. “Blumey” Blumenthal (at left in the light suit) was often seen shadowing Mayor Jimmy Walker in his role as chief counselor and chief stooge. Here the mayor is escorted by Blumey and New York’s finest during corruption hearings in 1931. At right, Blumey’s wife Peggy Fears (1903–1994) in her most notable film role, 1935’s The Lottery Lover. Their tempestuous marriage lasted from 1927 to 1950.  (avenuemagazine.com)

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Coward’s Ménage

Playwright Noel Coward existed in the orbit of the Algonquin Round Table crowd, so it was doubtless challenging for Robert Benchley to critically review his friend’s work. Fortunately, Benchley found Design For Living mostly to his liking. Note how Benchley subtly refers to the play’s gay subtext, and to the fact that it mirrored the real-life relationships of the play’s trio.

THREE’S COMPANY…A studio in Paris. A penthouse in New York. A flat in London. These were the settings for Noël Coward’s play Design for Living at the Ethel Barrymore Theatrewhich starred the wife-husband team Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt and their close friend Coward in a Broadway run of 135 performances from January to May 1933. (Vandamm theatrical photos via wisc.edu)

Benchley did have a few quibbles, but reasoned there was no need to be overly critical when there was such a dearth of quality stage entertainment. Note the great caricatures by Al Frueh (below) that accompanied the review.

Benchley had a different sort of dilemma criticizing Elmer Rice’s earnestly patriotic We, the People, a play about the misfortunes of a working class family in Depression America.

Rice, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1929, was an occasional contributor to The New Yorker from 1929 to 1931, including his sci-fi satire on the film industry, Voyage to Purila, which was serialized in 11 installments (with illustrations by Peter Arno) in The New Yorker from Oct. 12 to Dec. 21, 1929.

LET’S MAKE A MOVIE…Elmer Rice (standing) joins theatre producer Joseph P. Bickerton, Jr. (left), and Universal’s Carl Laemmle Jr. to sign a contract for the film version of Rice’s 1931 Broadway play Counsellor at Law. The film proved to a critical success. (Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, film critic John Mosher was trying his best to enjoy the latest Hollywood fare, another Broadway play adapted to the silver screen. Whistling in the Dark…

MURDER MOST AMUSING…The 1933 American pre-Code comedy-mystery film Whistling in the Dark starred Ernest Truex and Una Merkel. (IMDB)

However, Mosher was surprisingly enthused by the rustic charms of Iowa country folk in State Fair…

THE TRIUMPH OF PRIZE PICKLES and other delights awaited viewers of 1933’s State Fair, which gave star billing to Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor. At right, Lew Ayres sweet-talks Gaynor at the fairgrounds. (IMDB)

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Form Follows Function

E.B. White paid close attention to all of the little details of daily life, including the advertisements that appeared in The New Yorker. In “The Talk of the Town” he wrote about a Camel ad that inspired a sudden fashion trend:

…here is the Dec. 24, 1932 New Yorker ad to which White referred:

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From Our Advertisers

We keep our cigs lit for our first ad, from Lucky Strike, keeping it simple with their familiar slogan…

…this ad from Powers Reproduction shows us the beach caps that were all the rage in the early ’30s…

…this may look like an old car to modern eyes, but in 1933 these sweeping curves were la dernière mode in the auto world…

…and then there was Hupmobile, trying its best to stay relevant in the Depression…

…the company folded in 1939, but a few reminders live on…

HUP HUP HOORAY…The 1917 Hupmobile dealership at 25th and Farnam in Omaha, NE, was located along the old Lincoln Highway and is the last preserved Hupmobile dealership in the United States. On the National Register since 2014, it now houses apartments. (Flickr)

…Valentine’s Day was just around the corner, so time to buy your sweetheart something special, like this scarf that was all the rage among the Miami snowbirds…

…Greenwich Village restaurateur and personality Don Dickerman took out this two-page ad to trumpet his partnership with puppeteer and illustrator Tony Sarg at the Bohemia restaurant on Broadway…

…the German-American Sarg is also known as the creator, in 1927, of the first giant balloons for Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade…

THE OLD GASBAG…Tony Sarg (upper right hand corner) and assistants painting one of his Macy’s parade balloons. (Fotograms News Photo Service via Pinterest)

…on to our cartoons, and what a big day for The New Yorker…the Feb. 4, 1933 issue featured the first captioned cartoon by Charles Addams

…for the record, Addams’s very first contribution to the magazine was this spot illustration (below) featured on page 65 of the Feb. 6, 1932 issue…

…one of the original contributing artists to The New Yorker, Gardner Rea, continued his skewering of America’s plutocrats…

William Steig took us before the bench to make an honest plea…

James Thurber gave us another skirmish between the sexes…

…and recalling my Jan. 12 post (about the Jan. 7, 1933 issue), in which the puritans got their knickers in a bunch over Robert Laurent’s Goose Girl sculpture in the Radio City Music Hall lobby…

…we end with Helen Hokinson, inspired by Laurent’s work…

Next Time: Role Reversal…