MoMA Sees The Future

If you love modern architecture, then Feb. 10, 1932 should be an important date on your calendar, for on that date the Museum of Modern Art opened Modern Architecture: International Exhibition.

Feb. 27, 1932 cover by Leonard Dove.

Curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, the exhibition introduced 33,000 visitors (during the exhibition’s six-week run) to the “International Style,” an emerging architectural style that would utterly transform New York and thousands of cities around the world after the Second World War. In a catalogue prepared for the exhibition, Johnson and Hitchcock defined what this style was all about:

Architecture critic Lewis Mumford welcomed the exhibition, wryly noting that the “best buildings in New York” at the time were the models and photographs “arranged with such clarity and intelligence” by Philip Johnson on MoMA’s walls. An excerpt:

FORM FOLLOWED FUNCTION…MoMA’s Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, opened on Feb. 10, 1932 in the museum’s first home, New York’s Heckscher building on Fifth Avenue. There was nothing fancy about these gallery spaces, but the exhibits wowed the New Yorkers’s Lewis Mumford, including a model of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye at top right. (MoMA)
HANDSOME OBJECTS…was how Lewis Mumford described works in the exhibition he singled out for praise, including, from top, Mies van der Rohe’s 1930 Villa Tugendhat, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1929 Jones residence in Tulsa, and Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. At left, the cover of the exhibition catalogue. (MoMA/Wikipedia/dezeen.com)

Mumford concluded his review with this bold observation:

ALL ORGANIC…View of Hook of Holland housing complex in Rotterdam, designed by J.J.P. Oud, 1926-1927. (umass.edu)

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Out of the Trenches

Floyd Gibbons (1887 – 1939) was a colorful, fast-talking war correspondent known for his derring-do as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune during World War I (losing an eye in an attempt to rescue an American marine) and later as a radio commentator and narrator of newsreels. His celebrity would even earn him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For all his death-defying exploits, Gibbons would die at home, of a heart attack, at the tender age of 52.

In his “Notes and Comment” column, E.B. White suggested that Gibbon’s fame had a little help from some friends…

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IN HIS ELEMENT…Floyd Gibbons photographed in 1925 while in Morocco covering the Riff War. Seated to the left is journalist and author Rosemary Drachman, who covered the war with Gibbons. (University of Arizona Libraries)

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Love and War

The fourth of seven films Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich made together, Shanghai Express was a critical success (nominated for three Oscars, winning one for cinematography) for Sternberg as well as for Dietrich and Anna May Wong. This pre-code drama was about a notorious woman (Dietrich, who else) who rides a train through the perils of a Chinese civil war with a British captain (Clive Brook) whom she loves. Critic John Mosher takes it from there:

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LOOMING EVER LARGER…Marlene Dietrich’s image dominated this poster for Shanghai Express, which starred Dietrich and Anna May Wong (top right) as well as Clive Brook and Warner Oland. Oland, pictured at bottom right with Dietrich, was a (non-Asian) Swedish-American actor most remembered for playing Chinese and Chinese-American characters, including his role as Charlie Chan in 16 films between 1931 and 1937. (IMDB)

Dietrich and Wong were well acquainted when they came together to make Shanghai Express. It was rumored the two had a romantic relationship when Wong visited Europe in 1928, a rumor that tarnished Wong’s public image (but seemed to have little effect on Dietrich’s).

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OLD FRIENDS…Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong and German filmmaker/actress Leni Riefenstahl at a Berlin ball, 1928. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt. At the time Dietrich, Wong and Riefenstahl were close friends.  (granary gallery.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Looking at some advertisements from the Feb. 27 issue…here’s a clip from the back pages of some inexpensive sig ads promoting everything from Broadway to burlesque — Billy Minsky’s was by far the best known burlesque show in Manhattan.    Note how the Minsky’s ad included the racy little drawing (hmmm, not for the kiddies) and the postscript at the bottom following “NEW SHOW EVERY MONDAY” — P.S. For New Yorkers and their Rural cousins… 

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…MoMA wasn’t the only place you could find modern design, as this carpet ad suggested…

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…the folks at Alcoa Aluminum were sticking with a more traditional look, even though they were marketing a very modern aluminum chair…you don’t see these much anymore…I mostly remember them reposing in basement rumpus rooms…

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…the makers of Nash automobiles were keeping with the times with new “Slip-Streamed” models “with lines and curves suggested by aeronautical design”

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…my father’s first car was a used Nash — something similar to this 1951 Nash Statesman…

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…Nash would acquire rival Hudson in 1954 to create American Motors Corporation, run by a man named George Romney (Mitt’s dad), who would make AMC a successful company before turning to politics (AMC would go on to make some truly weird, if not lovable vehicles, most notably the Gremlin)…and we segue into our cartoons with this ad for Sanka decaf coffee, illustrated by the New Yorker’s William Steig

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Kemp Starrett gave us a little paddy wagon humor…

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Helen Hokinson illustrated a tender moment between father and son…

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…and we close with James Thurber, and some wintertime fun…

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Next Time: The Milne Menace…

 

Dream Cars

Whether or not you could afford a new car in Depression-era New York, you could afford to take your mind off the hard times for a few hours and visit the annual National Automobile Show at Grand Central Palace.

Jan. 16, 1932 cover by S. Liam Dunne.

The 1932 exhibition featured many familiar brands, and others that would not survive the decade. Bolstered in part by the largess of General Motors and its downscale LaSalles, Cadillac could offer a pricey edition of the Fleetwood (at $5,542, roughly equivalent to $100K today), but most car makers featured models with reduced prices and/or smaller engines, as well as new technologies and design features they hoped would attract buyers of modest means. Excerpts from the New Yorker’s “Motors” column:

CAN’T TOUCH THIS…The Cadillac V16 Fleetwood sat atop the American car world in 1932. (classicdriver.com)

LOOK, BUT DON’T BUY…The New Yorker noted the crowds gathered around the Studebaker –produced “Rockne” at the National Automobile Show. Named for the famed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne (who died in a 1931 plane crash), this 1932 model attracted plenty of gawkers at the show but few buyers. It was soon discontinued, and leftover Rocknes were disassembled and sent to Norway, where they were reassembled and sold to Scandinavian buyers. (conceptcarz.com)

DOUBLE VISION…The 1932 Oakland Roadster (left) marked the end of the Oakland Motorcar Company, which had been previously acquired by General Motors. That same year Oakland was reborn as the Pontiac division, and the Oakland Roadster was reimagined as the 1932 Pontiac Model 302 (right). (Hemmings/justamericanautomobiles.com)

PALACE OF DREAMS…Grand Central Palace (top right) sat at Lexington Ave. between 46th and 47th Streets. A favorite locale for manufacturers to display their latest wares, it was demolished in 1963; at left, images from the 1935 National Automobile Show; bottom right, 1932 copy of The Wheel, produced by Studebaker for distribution at auto shows. (freelibrary.org/chicagology.com)

Whether folks were able to shell out more than $5,000 for a Caddy or a mere $700 for Plymouth, many left the show with nothing more than dreams for better days. Howard Brubaker summed it up thusly in his “Of All Things” column:

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Darling Lily

Coloratura soprano Lily Pons (1898 – 1976) was not well-known in her native France when she took the Metropolitan Opera stage by storm in 1931 — she would become the Met’s principal soprano and, in 1940, an American citizen. The singer was profiled by Janet Flanner in the Jan. 16 issue (caricature by Miguel Covarrubias). Excerpts:

FRENCH TOAST OF THE TOWN…Coloratura soprano Lily Pons was particularly associated with the title roles of Lakmé (pictured above, mid-1930s), and Lucia di Lammermoor. Pons was a principal soprano at New York’s Metropolitan Opera for 30 years, appearing 300 times from 1931 until 1960. (Pinterest/YouTube)

If you have a few minutes, check out Lily Pon’s 1935 performance of “The Bell Song” from the film I Dream Too Much, which co-starred Henry Fonda. Although the sound quality is not the greatest, you can still get a pretty good idea why Met audiences adored her.

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Fantasy Bridge

Satirist Ring Lardner found something rotten in the behavior of robber barons and politicians in the midst of the Depression, so he imagined a bridge game that brought together banker J.P. Morgan (Jr), John D. Rockefeller (then the richest person in America and perhaps the world), Sen. Reed Smoot of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (a catalyst for the Depression), and social worker Jane Addams. Excerpts:

DEAL ME OUT…Ring Lardner addressed the wages of greed through a fantasy bridge game. (Dallas Morning News)

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From Our Advertisers

If you were one of J.P. Morgan’s bankers, you might have considered hopping on a United flight instead of taking the train — within 20 years, airlines would make a serious dent into railroad’s corporate travel business…

…and if you were a successful banker, your daughter or granddaughter might have been an aspiring deb with some very specific needs…

…the Little King also had some specific fashion needs, as Otto Soglow brings us to the cartoon section…

…with the Auto Show in town, Helen Hokinson got her girls into the conversation…

…the “wizard control” they refer to was Buick’s gimmick to attract more women drivers to their product…here’s an ad from the Feb. 6 issue of the New Yorker:

…back to our cartoons with James Thurber, and the “war” that continued to brew between men and women (note artwork on the wall)…

Al Freuh offered his perspective on meagre predictions for prosperity…

…as did one of William Steig’s precocious children…

…and Helen again with another privileged view of the downtrodden…

Barbara Shermund showed us one woman’s interpretation of “belonging”…

…and Denys Wortman gave us one salesman who probably dreamed of some solitary drinking…

…on to our Jan. 23, 1932 issue…

Jan. 23, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

…and this item in “The Talk of the Town,” which noted the challenges of publishing a book about Adolf Hitler

…and a few pages later, we are treated to an E.B. White “song” written for delegates to the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments which was being convened in Geneva, Switzerland…

Delegates from sixty countries attended the Geneva conference. They were there to consider the German demand that other nations disarm to the same levels that had been imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles. The conference deadlocked by the summer, and when it was reconvened in February 1933 Hitler had just assumed power in Germany. By fall 1933 Germany withdrew from both the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations, and the stage was set for another world war.

Here is a 1933 photo of the delegates to the Disarmament Conference before things went south:

(wdl.org)

A detail of the photo (below) reveals the identity of the tiny man seated at center: the representative from Germany — Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Just twelve years hence Goebbels would find himself trapped with Hitler and Eva Braun in a Berlin bunker as Soviet troops demolished the city above them. Goebbels and his wife, Magda, would poison their six children, and then themselves as the Third Reich crumbled to ashes.

A final note: The delegates weren’t alone in Geneva, as a number of peace organizations sent observers and demonstrators to the conference, many of them women:

APPEALS TO DEAF EARS…Women’s disarmament campaigner in Geneva, c.1932; right, a poster created by Dutch artist Giele Roelofs for the Northern Friends Peace Board and others. (London School of Economics/armingallsides.org.uk)

We’ll give the last word to Howard Brubaker in Jan. 30 “Of All Things” column:

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From Our Advertisers

With the National Automobile Show wrapping up, the Grand Central Palace prepared to welcome exhibitors for the annual Motor Boat Show…

…the woman in this next ad might have been better off in a boat than on the beach…I’m wondering if the artist had any idea that his or her illustration would be used to promote coffee…it’s hard to tell what is going on here…apparently a young woman has almost drowned and is receiving oxygen, or maybe she doesn’t really need it, and the perverted lifeguard and cop just want to ogle the poor beachgoer, who seems bored by the whole predicament…

…there is also something vaguely sexual going on in this ad for Vicks (what is he looking out for in panel four?)…the artist (the cartoon is signed “Len”) seems to be channeling one of Rea Irvin’s series cartoons…

…in the early 20th century it was fashionable to smoke imported luxury Egyptian cigarettes, or counterfeits like Ramses II, produced in the U.S. by the Stephano Brothers…

…the makers of Camel were among the most successful counterfeiters of Egyptian  cigarettes — the camel, pyramids and palm tree motifs were no mistake, but by 1932 this established brand (launched in 1913) went less for snob appeal and more for the active, fresh-faced youths whose pink lungs were highly coveted by R.J. Reynolds…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with James Thurber and some more sexual tension…

Garrett Price found a young hostess eager to to please…

Perry Barlow introduced us to a young man who (almost) never forgets a face…

William Crawford Galbraith dined with the uppers, not necessarily known for their literary sophistication…

Barbara Shermund gave us a proud collector who managed to evade the Puritans in U.S. Customs…

William Steig showed us pride of a different sort…

…and another by Steig displayed the antics of one of his “Small Fry”…

…and we end with Helen Hokinson, who found a local women’s club joining the debate raging far away at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva…

Next Time: Back in the USSR…

Babylon Berlin

The name of this post comes from one of my favorite television series, Babylon Berlin, a lavishly produced German neo-noir drama that takes place during the final years of the Weimar Republic, or precisely where we are in the timeline of this blog.

Jan. 9, 1932 cover by Theodore Haupt.

The tumultuous Weimar years of the 1920s and early 30s represented Germany’s initial flirtation with democracy, an experimental age at once filled with post-war  angst and libertine ways, and this was especially true in Berlin where nearly every vice could be plied along its streets and alleyways and in countless clubs and cabarets. It was the setting for a decade of political turmoil, with communists   (rival Bolsheviks and Trotskyites) to the left and national socialists (later Nazis) to the right, and in the middle a fledging democracy that ultimately could not hold the center. Janet Flanner, the New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, paid Berlin a visit just one year before Adolph Hitler would seize dictatorial power.

WORLDLY VIEW…Janet Flanner’s account of life in Berlin at the end of 1931 told of economic hardship and hinted at trouble to come, but it mostly depicted life as pictured at right at a Berlin tea dance. This was not a naive perspective, but rather one of a worldly mind not easily shocked by vice and upheaval. As the New Yorker’s longtime Paris correspondent, Flanner’s weekly letters during World War II would also make her a respected war correspondent. At left is an oft-reproduced portrait of Flanner, taken by Berenice Abbott in 1927. At right, a tea dance in the garden of the Hotel Esplanade in Berlin, 1928. (Clark Art Institute/ Süddeutsche Zeitung)

In this excerpt, Flanner saw life continuing at an oddly normal pace despite the hardships and the political tension that boiled behind the façade:

TRUNCATED VISION…Berlin looked to a Modernist future until Adolph Hitler put an end to the “un-German” Bauhaus style in 1933. Despite the economic collapse and political turmoil of 1931 Berlin, the city showcased remarkable technical progress, including a prototype high-speed train (left) that travelled at 230 km per hour (143 mph) from Hamburg to Berlin. At right, Berlin exhibition of Bauhaus-inspired buildings at the 1931 Deutsche Bauausstellung. The cavernous Hall 11, themed as “The Dwelling of Our Time,” was directed by Mies van der Rohe. It mostly displayed the output of his Bauhaus “Werkbund,” including a Mies-designed modern house. (Pinterest/Reichstarifvertrag)

THE OTHER BERLIN…at top, the Friedrichstrasse, Berlin’s “street of sin,” in the late 1920s; below right, prostitutes ply their trade in 1920s Berlin; and below left, buy cocaine capsules from a Berlin drug dealer, 1930. (ddr-postkarten-museum.de/Reddit/Wikipedia)

ANYTHING GOES…Clockwise, from top left, cabaret performance in Berlin that left little to the imagination; the Jockey bar mentioned by Flanner — it was frequented by A-listers such as Jean Cocteau, Andre Gide, Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich; the Eldorado gay night club in Berlin, 1932; performance of “A Slide on the Razor” at Berlin’s Haller Revue, 1923; the Europahaus, one of hundreds of cabarets in Weimar Berlin, 1931. (cabaret.berlin/Bundesarchiv/tribe.net/Wikipedia)

Toward the end of her article, Flanner noted that “Berliners are busy making a new race,” which is not a reference to Hitler’s “master race” (that would come later) but rather to a new generation overtaking the old. The final lines of this excerpt, however, suggest there might be trouble ahead…

NOT ALL FUN  AND GAMES: Weimer Berlin was also a place of political and economic struggle that at times turned violent. From left, a Nazi youth is wounded during Berlin street violence amid Reichstag elections in 1932; a Berlin bank damaged during violent clashes between police and demonstrators in June 1931; Communist youths in Berlin demonstrate on May Day 1931.  (Pinterest/Financial Times)

The party abruptly ended with Hitler’s takeover of the government in January 1933. The images below said it all:

NEW THEME, NEW OWNERSHIP…The Eldorado gay night club in Berlin before and after Nazi takeover of the German government. (lonesomereader.com)

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Masses’ Mass Media 

“The Talk of the Town” pondered the symbolism of the Daily News Building — from the inscription above its entrance to the place names on its massive lobby globe — which seemed to celebrate its readership, namely the common people.

CAN YOU FIND HOOTERVILLE?…the massive globe in the Daily News lobby (circa 1941), featured the names of small towns and cities along with major population centers; below, inscription “HE MADE SO MANY OF THEM” above the building’s entrance (atlasobscura.com)

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Dem Bones

The New Yorker art critic Murdock Pemberton paid a visit to the Stieglitz Gallery to check out the latest works by Georgia O’Keeffe. He found that her themes were moving from the urban landscape of New York to the bleached simplicity of the Southwestern desert:

CHANGING HER TUNE…Georgia O’Keeffe’s Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue (1931); O’Keeffe with one of her skull paintings, 1931. (metmuseum.org/Everett/CSU Archives)

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Hyde-bound

Film critic John Mosher found much to like about Frederic March’s performance in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and so did critics and Academy voters who bestowed a Best Actor award on the actor.

HEY, WE’RE PRE-CODE HERE…Bar singer Ivy Pierson (Miriam Hopkins) in a state of undress as she tries (unsuccessfully) to seduce Dr. Jekyll (Frederic March); when Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde, however, the tables are turned, much to Ivy’s distress. (IMDB)

Mosher found, however, that other pictures playing at the time left much to be desired…

BAD GIRLS…From left, Sylvia Sidney, Miriam Goldina and Esther Howard in 1931’s Ladies of the Big House. (IMDB)

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Modern Methods

Early in his writing career Richard Lockridge penned a series of comic sketches for the New Yorker, many of them featuring the characters Mr. and Mrs. North, who would inspire a 26-book series of detective novels. The Norths had yet to make an appearance, but here Lockridge had some fun with the makers of Chevrolets, who used a new-fangled method to promote their product. Excerpts:

 

FREEBIE…Richard Lockridge thanked the folks from Chevrolet for the free phonograph record, but passed on the automobile. (Ebay)

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From Our Advertisers

The Annual National Automobile Show at Grand Central Palace kicked off the new year with a stunning lineup of new cars, but General Motors separated itself from the pack by exhibiting its wares at the new Waldorf-Astoria Hotel…I believe this unsigned illustration is by Peter Arno (note “Walrus” in background) but someone please correct me if I am wrong…

…the New Yorker’s advertising department reaped the benefits of the annual show, the Jan. 9 issue replete with ads from various companies…the makers of the Buffalo-based Pierce Arrow — a top-of-the-line luxury car — added a downscale version with a “New Eight” and deeply discounted their prices (which were still well above economy models offered by others)…

…the Depression would put an end to Pierce Arrow by 1938, but rival Lincoln would manage to hang on thanks to their own new “8” and the largess of parent Ford Motor Company…the Lincolns shown here are actually priced higher than the Pierce Arrows, $4300 for the 12 (vs $3185 for the PA 12) and $2900 for the 8 (vs. $2385 for the PA 8)…

…a bit more down the ladder we have venerable Oldsmobile, alas no longer with us (removed from GM’s lineup in 2014)…

…and a few more rungs down we have the DeSoto (a Chrysler product) and its “sleek” new radiator that was the talk of the auto show, and admired here by “Jimmy Flagg” (aka illustrator James Montgomery Flagg, perhaps best known for his 1917 Uncle Sam poster with the caption “I Want YOU for U.S. Army”)…the DeSoto was a real bargain, priced at under $700…

…and here are a few ads from companies long gone…like Pierce Arrow, Auburn (top left) struggled to sell its upscale cars during the Depression…however, the makers of another upscale brand, Packard (bottom right), were able to survive by favoring tried and true designs over gimmicky yearly changes…Hupmobile (top right) was known for its innovations, but a decision to build more expensive cars in the late 1920s put it into a bad position for the Depression-era market, and the company folded by 1939…when Hupmobile was on its last leg, it partnered with the ailing Graham-Paige Motor Company (bottom left), another company known for great designs, but combining two failing companies in this case yielded one larger failing company, and Hup and Graham went down together…

…the clever folks at Buick were way ahead of the others in marketing savvy, emphasizing an attractive, confident woman at the wheel of an unseen car, tapping into a previously untapped market (tobacco companies were busy doing the same)…

…as we see here from the folks who pushed the Chesterfield brand — in this ad aimed at the growing market of women smokers, you don’t see the carton, but what you do see are people waxing philosophical about smoking, quality smoking, that is, and it’s no mistake that the woman is sitting on the arm of the chair, receiving this “wisdom” from her husband…

…even when a man isn’t present, Chesterfield still perched the woman on the arm of the chair, as seen in this ponderous New Yorker ad from the previous year…

…and then you have Spud — the direct approach — yes dammit, do something, man!…your “mouth happiness” is at stake, so follow a schedule that keeps you puffing every waking minute…

…and we move on to the fashion world, where this new-fangled “Talon Slide Fastener” is keeping women’s corsets zipped up, except the vulgar, slang word “zipper”  hasn’t quite made it into the fashion lexicon as of 1932…

…and this other new invention — “Rayon” — is “becoming important to women who watch and are watched in classic correctness,” but believe me, no old money deb would ever allow anything artificial to touch her delicate hide…

…we continue into the cartoons in the fashion mode with one of Helen Hokinson’s “girls” getting a makeover…

Mary Petty, on the other hand, is keeping an eye on the younger crowd…

…we move on to Barbara Shermund and the old money gang, wary of astrologer Evangeline Adams‘ thoughts on the ailing stock market…

…one of their fellows was having troubles of his own in those troubled times, per William Steig

…and Denys Wortman took us to the other side of that window, and the dreams of a better life…

…urban realist Reginald Marsh gave us all a splash of cold water…

I. Klein, on the other hand, presented a domestic scene with particular relevance these days…

…and another domestic scene from the brilliant James Thurber, in which the pistol once again makes a timely appearance…

Next Time: Dream Cars…

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

We first encountered critic Lewis Mumford in the June 30, 1931 issue of the New Yorker when he roundly excoriated plans for Rockefeller Center. The Nov. 14 issue once again found him in a surly mood, this time regarding the decorative arts and how they had been poorly displayed at the otherwise esteemed Metropolitan Museum.

Nov. 14, 1931 cover by B.H. Jackson.

To say that Mumford was displeased with the Met’s decorative arts exhibition would be an understatement:

BED, BATH AND BEYOND…Let’s just say Lewis Mumford probably needed a stiff drink after strolling through the Met’s latest displays of the decorative arts. (Library of Congress)

PAST IMPERFECT…Norman Bel Geddes was known for his theatrical, futuristic visions of streamlined everything, but the radio he exhibited at the Met was more Queen Victoria’s speed in Mumford’s view. (Pinterest)

Mumford pondered this sudden decline: was it the Depression, or just a streak of bad taste? And what could be done with the purveyors of bad taste, short of shooting them? Let’s read on…

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET…Mumford suggested that Macy’s International Exposition of Art in Industry in the late 1920’s had more vision than the Met’s 1931 offering. Above, living room furniture designed by Houbert et Petit exhibited in a showroom during the 1928 “International Exposition of Art in Industry” at Macy’s department store. (Library of Congress)

LESS THAN A PRETTY FACE?…The streamlined form of Norman Bel Geddes’ “House of Tomorrow” probably wowed a few readers of Ladies home Journal in April 1931, but critic Lewis Mumford was likely not among them, as he often criticized Bel Geddes for his theatricality at the expense of good taste and functionality (see first excerpt above). Mumford was especially critical of Bel Geddes’ glorification of the automobile and the highway at the expense of livable cities. (Pinterest)

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Peter, We Have Your Back

When your colleague has a play made from his book, and it closes after just seven performances, what can you say, especially if you are theater critic for the New Yorker? Well, here is what Robert Benchley did:

THAT’S SHOW BIZ…Here Goes The Bride, based on a Peter Arno book, closed after just seven performances. However, as a cartoonist, Arno was at the top of his game. (Britannica/Ebay)

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From Our Advertisers

Depression? Who needs it? If you had the means, and didn’t lose your shirt in the 1929 crash, you could get away from it all and book passage to the Bahamas, where you could drink legally, soak up some sun, and forget about those lengthening bread lines you occasionally glanced from the window of your town car…

…well, that bootleg gin was a mind eraser…

Helen Hokinson continued to offer her cartooning skills to the folks at Frigidaire…

…on to our cartoons, the George Washington Bridge drew the envy of some out-of-towners, as illustrated by Garrett Price

…nearly 90 years ago folks were almost as nuts about college football as they are now, except for Perry Barlow’s lone dowager, who would rather be sitting in her parlor with a cup of tea…

Gardner Rea explored the wonders of heredity…

Otto Soglow’s Little King employed a guard ready for any emergency…

Barbara Shermund gave us an artist with a god complex…

James Thurber continued to probe the nuances of the sexes…

Peter Arno sketched this two-page spread with the caption: J.G’s a card all right when he gets to New York

…and from the mouth of babes, we have these observations of the underworld from Chon Day

…and Denys Wortman

On to the Nov. 21 issue, which featured the last in a series of eleven covers Helen Hokinson contributed to the New Yorker in 1931. The covers featured one of Hokinson’s “Best Girls” — a plump, wealthy, society woman — on an around-the-world cruise, which began with the March 2 issue and ended on Nov. 21 with a stop at the customs office, and a nosy customs officer…

Nov. 21, 1931 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Bread & Circuses

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White reported on a recent editorial in the Columbia Spectator, that university’s student newspaper, which took issue with the professionalization and “furtive hypocrisy” of college football (if only they could see us now). White observed:

In 1931, Columbia was a football power, and the Ivy League was a big-time conference. To the editors of the Spectator, this was not a point of pride, which they made clear in this 89-year-old editorial that could have been written yesterday:

Clippings from Columbia Spectator Archive

JUST GETTING MY KICKS…1931 press photo of Columbia University football star Ralph Hewitt, who still holds the school record for the longest field goal — a 53-yarder he dropped kicked in a 1930 upset victory over Cornell. Hewitt went on to coach high school sports.

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Sorry, Charlie

William “Billy” Haines was a popular actor during the 1920s and early 30s a top-five box-office star from 1928 to 1932, portraying arrogant but likable characters in a string of pictures that ended abruptly when Haines refused to deny his homosexuality and was cut loose by MGM. “The Talk of the Town” looked in on Haines at his Santa Barbara home, where he entertained a mysterious visitor:

THE INTERIOR LIFE…The stylish actor William Haines in a 1926 publicity shot taken at his Hollywood home. Haines would abandon acting in the 1930s and take up a successful career as an interior designer. (Photofest)

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Coveted Coiffeur

Speaking of stylish, writer Bessie Breuer wrote an admiring profile of Polish hairdresser Antoine (aka Antoni Cierplikowski), considered the world’s first celebrity hairdresser. The opening paragraph:

A CUT ABOVE…In 1914 famed hairdresser Antoine (aka Antoni Cierplikowski) invented the “shingle cut” (at left, sported by actress Louise Brooks in the 1920s), which was all the rage during the Roaring Twenties. (Pinterest)

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The Look of Relief

In “The Talk of the Town” E.B. White noted that a familiar face was gracing advertisements for President Herbert Hoover’s Unemployment Relief Agency:

I NEVER FORGET A FACE…E.B. White referred to this ad featuring an unnamed woman who had a familiar look about her. (period paper.com)

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More His Style

We return again to Lewis Mumford, this time cheered by the sight of the new Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea, designed by Cory & Cory. An excerpt from “The Sky Line” column:

THAT’S MORE LIKE IT…Lewis Mumford praised the striking effect of the Starrett-Lehigh Building’s alternating bands of brick, concrete and steel. (Atlas of Places)

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The Chump

John Mosher was neither moved nor charmed by the appearance of little Jackie Cooper in The Champ, a tearjerker story of an alcoholic ex-boxer (Wallace Beery) struggling to provide for his son. He did, however, appreciate the boy’s ability to carry “on his little shoulders a heavy and tedious and lengthy story.”

BUMMER…John Mosher had little to like about King Vidor’s The Champ, featuring Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper. Mosher was no doubt a bit dismayed when Beery received an Academy Award for his performance. (IMDB)

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A Wishful Christmas List

It was that time of the year when the New Yorker began running its lengthy features on possible gifts for Christmas. This excerpt caught my eye for what might have been possible in 1931 — buying a photographic print directly from Berenice Abbott or Nickolas Muray:

NO LUMP OF COAL, THIS…In 1931 it might have been quite possible to buy this print directly from photographer Berenice Abbott. Barclay Street, Hoboken Ferry 1931, is in MoMA’s photography collection.

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From Our Advertisers

It has been well-established in previous posts that Anglophilia ran rampant among New York’s smart set, and this advertisement from Saks provides everything we need to underscore the point…

…and the top hat mades another appearance in this spot for Lucky Strike, featuring an endorsement from actor Edmund Lowe...

…our cartoons featured a song-less songbird courtesy of Perry Barlow

…and from James Thurber, another creature with little appetite for song, let alone wine and women…

William Steig brought us back to the bleachers with another nonconformist…

Gluyas Williams gave us this sad sack all alone in the crowd…

Richard Decker sought to bring order to this court…

…and we end with Carl Rose, and this two-page cartoon illustrating a dicey parking challenge…

Next Time: Yankee Doodles…

 

Bonfire of the Vanities

When Earl Carroll’s Vanities hit the Broadway revue scene in 1923, it faced strong competition from George White’s Scandals and the long-running Ziegfeld Follies. Carroll’s answer: More of everything.

Sept. 5, 1931 cover by Theodore Haupt.

That included more nudity than the other revues. Critics, including the New Yorker’s Robert Benchley, found the nudity gratuitous, a titillating distraction from what was otherwise a mess of a show. It also landed Carroll in court from time to time on charges of public indecency. All of this, of course, was just more publicity to drive audiences to his theatre at 753 Seventh Avenue, which he built in 1922 and then partially tore down just nine years later to replace it with an even grander venue. This is where Benchley found himself on the evening of August 27 — at the grand opening of the Earl Carroll Theatre and the 1931 edition of the Vanities. Benchley found nothing grand about it:

AUTOGRAPHS, ANYONE?…Accompanied by his Vanities showgirls, Earl Carroll leaves the Essex Market Police Court on July 20,1930, after appearing to answer charges of public indecency. Police raided a Vanities matinee on July 9, arresting eleven including famed burlesque dancer Faith Bacon, who performed in nothing but fans made of ostrich feathers. No doubt police were tipped off by critics who called the 1930 edition the “nudest” cast in American theatre history. From the looks on their faces, it seems even the police enjoyed the spectacle. (Worthpoint)

IS THERE A PROBLEM, OFFICER?…Faith Bacon in a less-revealing pose with the ostrich-feather fans that brought the police ‘a calling. (fanpix.net)

Carroll’s ambitions were always big, whether it was the size or lavishness of his stage shows or the Art Deco theatre (designed by George W. Keister) he erected in 1931 in answer to Flo Ziegfeld’s 1927 Joseph Urban-designed theatre on Sixth Avenue. With 3,000 seats, Carroll’s theatre was nearly twice the size of Ziegfeld’s.

THEY DON’T COME FOR THE SCRIPTWRITING…Earl Carroll made it clear what audiences could expect in his 1931 Art Deco-style theatre, which featured black velvet-covered walls relieved with gold and silver-colored highlights. Its 3,000 seats made it one of the largest theatres in the world. Clockwise, from top left, portrait of Carroll (a gift from the 1930 Vanities showgirls) flanked by busts of Vanities girls Doris Andrese and Beryl Wallace in the theatre lobby; sign above theatre entrance; a two-page spread from the theatre’s “Beauty Souvenir” booklet; cover of the booklet, featuring singer Lillian Roth. (New York Historical Society).

DECO DRAMA…Clockwise, from top left, Earl Carroll circa 1925; ceiling detail inside the Earl Carroll Theatre; mezzanine lounge; the stage. (New York Historical Society).

The show itself left Benchley baffled, a mishmash of lights, colors, and effects including a drooling dinosaur that dropped a naked woman on stage for a dance number…

LAUNCH SITE….The Vanities stage helped launch the careers of many entertainers. Clockwise, from top left, undated photo of a Vanities production — some shows would feature more than 100 women on stage at one time; singer Lillian Roth was a star attraction; Vanities alumni included William Demarest (Uncle Charlie!), Jack Benny and Vincente Minnelli. (assumption.edu/flickr.com/classicmoviehub.com/amazon.com/sensesofcinema.com)

This wasn’t last word from the New Yorker on the new theatre; the Sept. 12 issue featured these observations by Creighton Peet:

In the end, Carroll’s ambitions were too big for the deepening Depression, and just six months after his theatre’s opening he would lose it to creditors. The property would be snapped up by rival Florenz Ziegfeld and renamed the Casino, but the Ziegfeld connection would be short-lived; Ziegfeld would die a few months later in July 1932. Later that year another rival, George White, would take over the venue to stage his Music Hall Varieties, which ended in 1933 with middling results. The theatre would go through several more tenants — including Billy Rose — until 1940 when the discount “dime store” Woolworth’s would move in, demolishing the lobby and walling off the remaining ceiling and walls. Woolworth’s would close the location in the late 1980s — the store, and the last remnants of the Earl Carroll Theatre, would be demolished in 1990.

CLOSING NUMBER…At left, a sneak peek behind the false walls of Woolworth’s in 1988 shows a detail of the theatre’s proscenium, ceiling and sidewall. At right, top to bottom, the second Earl Carroll Theatre at 7th Avenue & 50th Street; the Woolworth’s store that replaced it, circa 1980; the site today. (Large image from the book Lost Broadway Theatres, via drivingfordeco.com/Google Maps)

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From Our Advertisers

Fall is upon us, and so the social season begins, according to the Hotel St. Regis…

…and what better way to prepare for the season than to acquire a new mink coat…

…maybe politics and world affairs were more your bag, in which case you probably wanted to get a subscription to the Herald Tribune and read the latest from commentator Walter Lippmann

…the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, an upstart brand that initially targeted women, continued with their prize contests, but now they began courting men as well…

…on the other hand, the more established brand Chesterfield had the resources to run a color back-cover ad with endorsements from the brother-sister dance team Fred and Adele Astaire

…Fleishmann’s continued to run their full-page ads touting the wonders of daily yeast consumption (“Eat three cakes a day”). The ads were there because Raoul Fleishmann used his wealth from the family baking business to keep the New Yorker afloat during its fledgling years…

…Farrar and Rinehart announced the arrival of Otto Soglow’s first book, Pretty Pictures

…here is the cover of the book…

…and we move on to the cartoons with the character that would make Soglow rich and famous…The Little King

…although Fleischmann likely saved the New Yorker with large infusions of cash, its cartoonists, including Gardner Rea, still took an occasional poke at the company’s health claims…

…anticipating his “Small Fry” cartoons, William Steig finds two of them examining the wonders of human physiology…

Rea Irvin looked in on some stuffy Western Union censors…

…newcomer Robert Day illustrated the challenges of a doorman (Day would be a longtime contributor)…

Garrett Price found humor abuzz between the bold and the meek…

Alan Dunn tracked down a clueless hunter…

…and we end with Leonard Dove, who takes flight and anticipates our next installment…

Next Time: A Big Bird…

 

Unnatural History

In my last post we visited the Central Park Zoo, circa 1931, and found a collection of animals displayed as curiosities in barren enclosures that in no way resembled natural habitats.

Aug. 29, 1931 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

It’s hard to say if those creatures were better or worse off than their cousins at the American Museum of Natural History, a short walk across the park to the northwest. Unlike the zoo, the tigers and rhinos at the museum were displayed in naturalistic, almost dreamlike settings. But then again they were dead; indeed, all that remained of them were their skins, skillfully fitted over skeletons of wood and clay.

SIMULACRUM…Clockwise, from top left, American Museum of Natural History staff mounting rhinoceros and Indian elephant, circa 1930; preparing African buffalo group diorama; staff cleaning elephant skin in preparation for mounting on a frame consisting of a skull and some wood. This would be covered with clay before the skin is fitted. (vintag.es)

E.B. White stopped by the famed museum to take a look at its new Asiatic Hall, and filed this report for “The Talk of the Town.”

The animals pictured below came from a couple of British big game hunters, gathered during expeditions in the 1910s and 1920s…

PLEASE HOLD STILL…American Museum of Natural History staff prepare the tiger group diorama in 1931. The display was in the new Asiatic Hall referred to by E.B. White. (vintage.es)

SURVIVORS OF A SORT…Nearly 90 years later, the tiger group is still on display at the American Museum of Natural History, now in the Hall of Biodiversity. (AMNH)

STILL THE SAME…This Asiatic leopard diorama, which so impressed E.B. White, also survives to this day, in the Hall of Asian Mammals at AMNH. (atlasobscura)

NEVER-ENDING BATTLE…The Sambar stag diorama, dating to 1911, is also mentioned by White in his article. (atlasobscura)

I am delighted that the AMNH (which I visited in December as an avid fan of diorama art) preserves these exhibits, which not only display animals — many now endangered — but also the artistry of painters, sculptors and taxidermists from a century ago. Sadly, many museums are scrapping these cultural treasures and replacing them with gaudy, interactive displays and video screens. An article in Newsweek (“Museum Dioramas Are as Endangered as the Animals They Contain,” Aug. 2, 2015) notes that around 2008 “the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., closed two diorama halls and reopened them with video screens, interactive features and stand-alone specimens where the dioramas had been.” In other words, the specimens were removed from naturalistic scenes and displayed as stand-alone curiosities, rather like those poor animals in the Central Park Zoo of yesteryear.

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Everyday Icons

Gilbert Seldes profiled industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss (1904 – 1972), who along with contemporaries Raymond Loewy and Norman Bel Geddes was among celebrity designers of the midcentury. Like Bel Geddes, Dreyfuss was a well-known Broadway set designer who would go on to become an industrial designer in the era of streamlining. But unlike Loewy and Bel Geddes, Dreyfuss went well beyond mere styling, taking a practical, scientific approach to problems that would not only make products better looking, but also safer and more comfortable to use. An excerpt:

GOT MY START IN SHOW BIZ…Henry Dreyfuss in 1946, and his 1930-31 design of the RKO Theatre in Davenport, Iowa (now the Adler Theatre). (Wikipedia/qctimes.com)

ICONS OF EVERYDAY LIFE…Some of Dreyfuss’s designs included, top row: the Western Electric Model 500 telephone (center), which replaced the clunkier Model 300 (left) in 1950; the Hoover model 150 vacuum cleaner, from 1936; middle row: Dreyfuss designs for the New York Central Railroad’s streamlined Mercury train (1936); and the NYC Hudson locomotive for the Twentieth Century Limited (1938); bottom row: Dreyfuss designed things as varied as tractors for John Deere (1960); the Honeywell T87 circular wall thermostat (1953–present); and the Polaroid SX-70 Land camera (1972).

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Body-Building Barnum

Another well-known figure of the 1930s was Bernarr Macfadden (1868 – 1955), an early proponent of physical culture who would prefigure such notables as Charles Atlas, Jack LaLanne, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But none of them were quite like McFadden, who also created a pulp publishing empire (among his magazines: Liberty, True Detective, True Story, True Romances, Photoplay and the notorious tabloid newspaper The New York Evening Graphic).

READ ALL ABOUT IT…Macfadden’s Evening Graphic was all about scandal, and especially sex and murder.

Macfadden also established numerous “healthatoriums” across the East and Midwest, including (in 1931) his latest venture, the Physical Culture Hotel near Dansville, New York. E.B. White explained, in his “Notes and Comment”…

MCFADDEN SHOWS OFF HIS BOD in 1910 (left) at age 42, and at age 55 in 1923. (Wikipedia)

BEFORE AND AFTER…Mcfadden acquired the 1882 Jackson Sanatorium near Dansville, NY in 1931 and renamed it the Physical Culture Hotel. Circa 1930s images at top contrast with the condition of the property today — it fell into disrepair after MacFadden’s death in 1955, and closed for good in 1971. Known to locals as the “Castle on the Hill” in its heyday, it can still be glimpsed by motorists traveling on I-390. (bernarrmacfadden.com/abandonedplaces.livejournal.com)

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For the Birds

When I came across “Farewell to Birds,” on page 17, I thought for a moment it was one of James Thurber’s animal parodies (there was even a Thurber cartoon at the bottom of the page), but then I noticed our writer was Will Cuppy, (1884-1949) who wrote in the Thurber vein (Cuppy was ten years Thurber’s senior) and like Thurber, was a bit of a curmudgeon. From 1931 until his death Cuppy wrote satirical pieces for the New Yorker that were later collected into books (also like Thurber). Here is an excerpt from “Farewell to Birds.”

THE SIMPLE LIFE…Satirist Will Cuppy (center, in 1932) and two of his early books. How to be a Hermit (1929) was a humorous look at his life residing in a Jones Island seaside shack from 1921 to 1929 (he was escaping city noise and hayfever); How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes was a 1931 compilation of Cuppy’s articles, including the one above.

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Puttin’ on the Ritz

Lois Long, newly divorced from cartoonist Peter Arno, concluded her fashion column (“On and Off the Avenue”) by telling readers about her “swell new hairdo”…

HAVE A SEAT, LOIS…The perm room at Charles of the Ritz, 1932.

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Your Majesty

Speaking of new looks, Central Park West was boasting the addition of a new “skyscraper apartment building” called the Majestic. “The Sky Line” reported:

APTLY NAMED…The Majestic at Central Park West. (Pinterest)

Another building making its mark was the Parc Vendôme on West 57th, offering more than 600 apartments with annual rents ranging from $1,100 to $6,600. Condos in the same building today range from $495,000 to $5,495,000.

BREAD BOX INCLUDED…The Parc Vendôme on West 57th. (street easy.com)

From Our Advertisers

Henry Mandel, one of New York City’s most ambitious developers in the 1920s and early 30s, touted the Parc Vendôme in this advertisement…

…I wonder if Lois Long (see above) got one of these “dos” at the Ritz…I love the snob appeal of this ad — “The New Paris Way of Doing Your Hair”…

…which seemed to work…here is a random sample of Hollywood stars in 1931, all wearing the look…

DOING THE WAVE…From left, Tilly Losch, Constance Bennett, and Barbara Stanwyck.

…other ads appealing to the Continental lifestyle…a very understated yet elegant ad for Guerlain lipstick, and Nellie Harrington-Levine gave us a disinterested deb sporting “the wave,” a cigarette and a velvet dress…

…and Pond’s continued its parade of rich society women to sell its cold cream…here we are presented with “Mrs. Morgan Belmont,” aka Margaret Frances Andrews (1894 – 1945), a Newport socialite and prize-winning show dog breeder…

Andrews didn’t limit herself to cold cream, here appearing in a 1927 ad for Simmons mattresses…

Margaret Frances Andrews was a noted dog breeder, seen above at the Newport Dog Show around 1915; below, Andrews had a small role in the 1920 Mary Pickford film Way Down East. Andrews, at left, was credited as “Mrs. Morgan Belmont.”

…and we move on to this sad little ad from the back pages, featuring something called “Peeko,” which apparently mimicked the flavors of Rye, Gin and Rum…it must have tasted awful…

…our cartoons feature Perry Barlow, and I can’t quite tell if this guy is drinking a soda or some bootleg gin, which was often sold at select gas stations…

…a two-page sequence from Gardner Rea

Otto Soglow went fishing…

…and commiserated with a couple of unemployed guys whose plight is ignored by the celebrity-obsessed media…

Alan Dunn hit the lecture circuit…

Kemp Starrett sketched some wink-wink, nudge-nudge at the men’s store…

…and we close with James Thurber, and the trials of our elders…

Next Time: Bonfire of the Vanities…