Disappearing Act

British actor Claude Rains made his American film debut in a 1933 movie where the actor’s face isn’t revealed until the final scene.

Nov. 25, 1933 cover by Gardner Rea.

Although praised by critics in 1933 and today, the New Yorker’s John Mosher had but a paragraph to offer on the The Invisible Man, calling it a “bright little oddity” and an “absurd and diverting film.” Mosher also reviewed the Arctic adventure Eskimo, a film he found to be less than convincing about life on the frozen tundra.

FROM A TEST TUBE, BABY…Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) develops a secret formula that renders him invisible, much to the distress of his former fiancée Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart). Some of you may recall Stuart from 1997’s Titanic, in which she portrayed the 100-year-old Rose. In real life Stuart had a career spanning nearly eighty years. And wouldn’t you know, she died in 2010 at age 100. (IMDB)
NOW YOU SEE HIM…Special effects in 1933 were no mean feat. To create the effect of invisibility, Rains was covered head to foot with black velvet tights and wore whatever clothes he required for the scene. The invisibility scenes were then shot against a black set, the negative areas later manually masked to create the effect of invisibility. (IMDB)

…on to our other film, Eskimo…Mosher had doubts about the authenticity of the Eskimo family portrayed in the movie, suggesting (rather unkindly) that the lead actress, Lotus Long, looked like a client of the noted beautician Elizabeth Arden. The film was well-received by critics, but did poorly at the box office. However, it did receive the first-ever Oscar for Best Film Editing.

ICEBREAKER…Although MGM publicists portrayed Eskimo as a steamy love story set against a backdrop of adventure in the wild, the film was ahead of its time in some ways, including the use of Inuit dialogue, which was translated in English intertitles. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, who also directed 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man, the cast included (top photo, from left), Ray Mala and Lulu Long Wing (older sister of famed Hollywood actress Anna May Wong) with unidentified child actors. Bottom right, Mala with actress Lotus Long. (IMDB)

 * * *

Numbers Racket

Little known today, the sliding number puzzle “Imp” was hugely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Plastic versions were produced following World War II—I recall one of them being quietly deployed from my mother’s purse during church, to keep me occupied during lengthy sermons.

 * * *

Hammered and Sickled

“The Talk of the Town” commented on a Union Square riot in which American communists attacked a group of Ukrainians protesting the Soviet-imposed mass starvation in their country. Following is an excerpt from a longer piece that also noted the arrival of New York police, who “charged into the Square, riding their horses into the crowd and taking a crack at a head here and there.”

SEE NO EVIL…American Communists attack a group of Ukrainians protesting the Soviet-caused Holodomor famine in 1933, which killed at least four million Ukrainians. (Public domain)

 * * *

Party Girl

Elsa Maxwell (1883–1963) was an Iowa girl who grew up to become a gossip columnist and a hostess of high society parties—throughout the 1920s she was known for throwing lavish affairs for Europe’s wealthy and entitled. A 1963 Time magazine obituary noted that Maxwell developed a gift for staging games and diversions for the rich, making a living devising treasure-hunt parties, including a 1927 Paris scavenger hunt that created disturbances all over the city. Excerpts from a profile by Janet Flanner:

GETTING AN EARFUL…Elsa Maxwell hobnobbing with actress Constance Bennett and producer Darryl Zanuck in 1939. (Pinterest)

 * * *

Masked Man

Novelist Sherwood Anderson offered his impressions of the late Ring Lardner in a piece titled “Meeting Ring Lardner.” Anderson wrote that although Lardner “seemed surrounded by a little halo of something like worship wherever he went,” he had no satisfaction in his achievements. Anderson recounted Lardner’s encounter with a shy banker, when for a moment Lardner dropped the “mask” that he often wore to shield himself from humanity. Excerpts: 

SPHINX…Sherwood Anderson (right) wrote of Ring Lardner: “You wanted him not to be hurt, perhaps to have some freedom he did not have.” (AP/hilobrow.com)

 * * *

Phooey on Huey

When Louisiana Senator and former Governor Huey Long published his autobiography, Every Man a King, the reaction from the press was resoundingly negative; in the Saturday Review, Allan Nevins wrote that Long “is unbalanced, vulgar, in many ways ignorant, and quite reckless.” The New Yorker’s Clifton Fadiman went further, calling him the “Goebbels of Louisiana” and compared the senator to Adolf Hitler. Excerpts:

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME, REALLY…Huey Long’s 1933 autobiography, Every Man a King, was excoriated by the press, which largely viewed the senator as a fascistic demagogue. Long was assassinated in 1935. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

Christmas was coming, and parents with the means could consider buying a “Skippy” brand racer for their little tykes. The cartoon character at the top of the ad—Skippy—was the star of one of the most popular American comic strips of its day…

…written and drawn by Percy Crosby (1891–1964) from 1923 to 1945, the Skippy comic was a big influence on later cartoonists including Charles Schulz (Peanuts) and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)…note the football gag below later made famous by Schulz’s Lucy and Charlie Brown…

…on to some of our one-column ads…Raleigh cigarettes were promoted to the growing women’s market, while Dunhill touted a “cocktail pipe” that allowed women to get in on the fun of pipe smoking…and with Disney’s Three Little Pigs penetrating every nook and cranny of America, the makers of Stahl-Meyer sausages decided to join in the fun…

…I include this razor ad mainly for the bold typography…advertisers were in a transitional phase, experimenting with new forms and more white space, but still holding on text-heavy pitches…

…in the case of Goodyear, if you wanted to inspire confidence in your product, you propped an old codger in a rocking chair and offered some homespun wisdom…

…here is a closer look at the old-timer’s advice…

…another tobacco ad, this one displaying the glorious blooms of a tobacco plant…how could something so lovely be bad for you?…

…a small back page ad announced a big-time book for James Thurber, including a satirical blurb from Ernest Hemingway

…and that makes a nice segue to our cartoons, with Thurber again…

Otto Soglow demonstrated the unexpected effectiveness of hair tonic…

Perry Barlow gave us a look at the posh and precocious set…

…and we close with George Price, and 1933’s version of Black Friday…

Next Time: Genesis of a Genius…

The Radio City

The NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza have wowed visitors and performers alike for nearly 90 years. Today we look back at the remarkable foresight of the studios’ designers, who created spaces that would one day accommodate a new medium called television, which was still in its experimental stages.

Nov. 4, 1933 cover by Robert Day, who contributed a total of eight covers to The New Yorker.

However, before we jump in, let’s look at Robert Day’s cover for the Nov. 4 issue, which featured a familiar character who made his first appearance on the cover of issue #12 (May 9, 1925), and returned four years later looking much older in the dog days of August…

Cover of issue #12 (May 9, 1925) by Rea Irvin introduced our street sweeper, who returned Aug. 3, 1929 by the hand of Gardner Rea.

Day’s cover, however, was also a nod to the annual gathering of autumn leaves—an occasional cover theme that began with Peter Arno’s contribution to the Nov. 27, 1926 issue (below, left) and most recently expressed in Adrian Tomine’s cover for the Nov. 7, 2022 issue (with timely pandemic reference)…

Back to Radio City, Morris Markey recounted the technological wonders of the new NBC studios in his “A Reporter at Large” column, “Marconi Started It.” Markey noted the “fabulous quality” of the facilities, wired for the day when television would arrive. Excerpts:

GEE WHIZ…Morris Markey could be assured that some folks would be “goggled-eyed” by NBC studios, including the technophiles at Popular Mechanics. (westmb.org)

WHERE HISTORY WAS MADE…Studio 8H was the world’s largest radio studio when it opened in 1933. It would be converted for television in 1950. (westmb.org)

Markey marveled at NBC Studios’ various design innovations, including a revolving control room dubbed the “Clover Leaf”…

(Modern Mechanics, Jan. 1931)

Almost 90 years later, the studios continue to serve the broadcast needs of the 21st century, including Studio 8H…

LIVE FROM NEW YORK…Studio 8H was the world’s largest radio studio when it opened in 1933. Converted to television in 1950, it has been home to Saturday Night Live since 1975. Above, SNL stage manager Gena Rositano, in 2015. Below, longtime SNL director Don Roy King at the controls for Studio 8H, also in 2015. (Dana Edelson/NBC via Directors Guild of America)

 * * *

Leopold!

Conductor Leopold Stokowski was no stranger to Studio 8H. From 1941 to 1944 he led the NBC Symphony Orchestra in that venue. One of the leading conductors of the early and mid-20th century, Stokowski (1882–1977) began his musical career in New York City in 1905 as the organist and choir director at St. Bartholomew’s Church, but by 1915 he was conducting the famed Philadelphia Orchestra. Robert Simon reported on Stokowski’s return to New York for a performance at Carnegie Hall. A brief excerpt:

I GET AROUND…Portrait Of Leopold Stokowski by Edward Steichen, Dec. 1, 1933. Married three times and once romantically linked to Greta Garbo, he was married to wife #3, Gloria Vanderbilt, for ten years.(Condé Nast)

Stokowski had the distinct honor of being satirized in a 1949 Looney Tunes cartoon, “Long-Haired Hare,” in which Bugs Bunny disguised himself as the conductor and entered the stage to the astonished whispers of the orchestra…Leopold! Leopold!…

MAESTRO…Bugs Bunny as Stokowski in “Long-Haired Hare.”

Stokowski was no stranger to animation. The conductor appeared in silhouette in Disney’s Fantasia (1940), leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in the film’s score. He even shook hands with Mickey Mouse.

 * * *

Bigga Badda Wolfa

The New Yorker took a look at the popular records of the day, and in addition to tunes by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallée there was yet another release of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”…Ethel Shutta was the latest of seemingly dozens of artists to cash in on the Disney hit…

I’LL HUFF AND I’LL PUFF…Those who couldn’t get enough of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” could turn to Ethel Shutta’s rendition of the hit song on Columbia records. (discogs.com)

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Page-Turner

Writer Kay Boyle wasn’t afraid of wolves or any other subject for that matter, according to book reviewer Clifton Fadiman

TOSSING A SALACIOUS SALAD…Kay Boyle, photographed by George Platt Lynes, 1941. (The Kay Boyle Papers, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University)

 * * *

A Grapeful Nation

As New Yorkers counted the days until the end of Prohibition, The New Yorker did its part to get readers back up to speed by enlisting the talents of one of the world’s great wine experts, Frank Schoonmaker, who had the enviable job of filing a series of wine reports for the magazine. His first installment of “News From the Wine Country” featured the Champagne region. Excerpts:

THAT FIZZY FEELING…Bottling the good stuff in the Champagne region, circa 1930. (wineterroirs.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Christmas was just around the corner, and F.A.O. Schwarz was READY with its 64-page catalog…

…White Rock anticipated the end of Prohibition with an ad featuring a miniature colonel who apparently needed a stiff drink to prepare for his wife’s return from abroad…

…Mrs. Hamilton Fish Jr, aka Grace Chapin, was married to the New York congressman from 1920 until her death in 1960, apparently enjoying many Camels along the way…her husband would go on living another 31 years and take three more brides before expiring at age 102…

…another cautionary tale from Chase & Sanborne about the perils of undated coffee…

…and with the holidays approaching, a jolly ditty from Jones Dairy Farm, home to little piggies who merrily dash toward their inevitable slaughter…

…and we jump to another back-page ad, this from the stately Plaza, where you could get a single room for five bucks a night…

…turning to the cartoons, we find George Price hitting his stride with multiple cartoons in consecutive issues…

…and taking a look at the recent elections…

…on to James Thurber, and continuing struggles on the domestic front…

…and that brings us to our next issue…

Nov. 11, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

…in which E.B. White had a thing or two to say about the latest edition of the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden.

HORSE SENSE AND SENSIBILITY…The National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden was a major event on New York’s social calendar; top and bottom right, scenes from the 1936 show; bottom left, undated scene circa 1960. (Stills from YouTube)

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Versatile Verse

Phyllis McGinley (1905–1978) was the author of children’s books and poetry, the latter genre most notably for The New Yorker. However, she attracted a wide audience for her light verse in other publications ranging from Ladies Home Journal to The Saturday Review.

LIGHT TOUCH…Phyllis McGinley in an undated photo. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her book Times Three—the first writer of light verse to receive the prize. (wnyc.org)

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Oil and Water

Art and architecture critic Lewis Mumford found two very different visions of America in the works of contemporaries John Marin and Edward Hopper. Marin’s watercolors were featured at An American Place, while Hopper’s oil paintings and etchings were shown down the street at the Museum of Modern Art.

SIDE BY SIDE…Lewis Mumford found different visions of New York and the world at An American Place and MoMA galleries. At left, John Marin’s watercolor From the Bridge, N.Y.C. (1933); at right, Edward Hopper’s Room in New York, also from 1933. (Artists Rights Society/Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery)

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More From Our Advertisers

Okay, so I’ll buy the part about PBR’s ability to soothe “jaded nerves,” but I doubt it gave this guy “fresh energy” and “a sound, healthy body”…

…After thirteen long years, winemakers emerged from their cellars to glimpse the light of a new day…

…and yes, after thirteen long years, some folks would be yearning for their DRY SACK Sherry…

…the name Elizabeth Hawes was synonymous with high fashion in the late 1920s and 1930s—she owned one of the most exclusive couture houses in New York…

…an outspoken advocate of dress reform, Hawes (1903–1971) was referred to by one historian as “the Dorothy Parker of fashion criticism.” After attacking the fashion industry with her 1938 book, Fashion Is Spinach (Hawes wrote: “I don’t know when the word fashion came into being, but it was an evil day…”), she closed her fashion house and in 1942 took a job as a machine operator at a wartime plant in New Jersey. She became a union organizer, a champion of gender equality, and a critic of American consumerism.

IN A LEAGUE OF HER OWN…Elizabeth Hawes — writer, fashion designer and political activist, poses for a photograph in 1941. (Mary Morris Lawrence)

…speaking of consumerism, ooooh look! A radio “you can slip in your pocket,” depending of course on the size of your pocket…

…transistors would not come along until the late 1950s, so the Kadette still depended on tubes, and you had to plug it in somewhere, so no running down the beach with headphones, at least for awhile…

The Kadette Junior. (radiolaguy.com)

…it must have been a rare treat to sail on a ship like the SS Santa Rosa—situated between the ship’s two funnels, the dining room had an atrium stretching up two-and-a-half decks and featured a retractable roof…

…on to more cartoons, and more George Price

…moving along, we received some big news from one of Helen Hokinson’s “girls”…

…an aside I’ve been meaning to include…in 1952, just three years after Helen Hokinson’s untimely death, a cartoonist for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Franklin Folger, debuted a cartoon called “The Girls.” The cartoon was eventually syndicated and appeared in more than 150 newspapers worldwide before Folger retired it in 1977. Perhaps I am missing something, but I cannot find a single reference to Folger’s obvious appropriation of Hokinson’s “girls”…some examples of Folger’s work from the early 1960s and another from H.H. for comparison:

…and onward to Peter Arno, and the trials of portrait artists…

…and we close with two by Barbara Shermund

…rendered in different styles…

Next Time: Coach Arno…

The Bombshell

Much like Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, Jean Harlow occupied a brief period in Hollywood history, but her star shone long after her untimely death.

Oct. 28, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

Adam Victor’s The Marilyn Encyclopedia draws all sorts of weird parallels between the actresses: both raised by strict Christian Scientists, both married three times, both left school at sixteen to marry their first husbands, both acted opposite Clark Gable in the last film each ever made. Most importantly, Monroe idolized Harlow, so it was no coincidence that she sported her own version of “platinum blonde” hair.

ART IMITATES LIFE…In 1958 Marilyn Monroe posed as Jean Harlow for photographer Richard Avedon in a Life magazine feature. (Flickr)

The term “Bombshell” was affixed to the 22-year-old Harlow after the 1933 film’s release, and was later used to describe Monroe and other sex symbols of the 1950s and early 60s.

Harlow’s character in Bombshell, Lola Burns, satirized the stardom years of the silent era sex symbol Clara Bow, who was director Victor Fleming’s fiancée in 1926. Although critical reviews were mostly positive, New Yorker critic John Mosher found the film “mossy with verbiage.”

TAKE A BOW, CLARA…Bombshell satirized the stardom years of silent era sex symbol Clara Bow, who was director Victor Fleming’s fiancée in 1926 (photo at left is of the couple on the set of 1926’s Mantrap); in Bombshell Jean Harlow portrayed a sex symbol who, like Bow, wanted to live a normal life. In real life, Bow made her last film in 1933 and retired to a ranch at age 28.

A STAR IS BORED…In Bombshell, movie star Lola Burns (Jean Harlow) dislikes her sexy vamp image and wants to live a normal life, but her studio publicist E. J. “Space” Hanlon (Lee Tracy) insists on feeding the press endless provocative stories about her. Clockwise, from top left: Lee Tracy and Louise Beavers in a scene with Harlow; Harlow and Una Merkel, who portrayed Lola’s assistant, Mac; Harlow in a scene with Mary Forbes, C. Aubrey Smith, and Franchot Tone; Harlow in a scene with Ruth Warren and Frank Morgan—the latter portrayed Lola’s pretentious, drunken father. (IMDB)

Harlow would die at age 26 on June 7, 1937. Her heavy drinking didn’t help, but neither did the misdiagnosis she received as her kidneys were rapidly failing. While filming Saratoga with Clark Gable, Harlow was stricken with what she believed was the flu, and her persistent stomach pain was misdiagnosed as a swollen gallbladder. Just two days before her death another doctor finally diagnosed her kidney disease, but in 1937 nothing could be done—kidney dialysis would not be available for another decade, and transplants would not be an option until the mid-1950s.

 * * *

Second City Sanctimony

The New Yorker rarely missed an opportunity to take a dig at the square-toed ways of the Second City and its flagship newspaper, the Tribune. In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White (who enjoyed gin martinis) found the newspaper’s sanctimonious stance tedious:

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, aka “A Century of Progress,” received scant attention from The New Yorker, unless it provided opportunities for parody. Musicologist Sigmund Spaeth (1885-1965), well-known in the 1930s and 40s for his NBC radio programs, offered this take on the Windy City’s exposition:

WONDERS NEVER CEASE…In addition to its more high-minded attractions, the Chicago World’s Fair also featured such sideshow attractions as Ripley’s Odditorium, which featured “The Fireproof Man” among other novelties. (pdxhistory.com)

 * * *

Big, Bad Earworm

It seems quaint that nearly 90 years ago one of the most popular songs in America was “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” To Frank Sullivan, there was no escaping “that lilting tune”…

SIMPLER TIMES…”Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” was a huge hit during the second half of 1933. One of the most well-known Disney songs, it was covered by numerous artists and musical groups.

Sullivan concluded that a trip to Vladivostok might be the only way to escape the catchy melody…

Briefly jumping to the Nov. 4 issue, “The Talk of Town” took a closer look at the song and the 1933 Disney Silly Symphonies cartoon in which it was featured—Three Little Pigs. Written by Frank Churchill and Ann Ronell, the song launched a market for future Disney tunes, with Irving Berlin securing the sheet music rights over Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies. 

WE’RE IN THE MONEY…The 1933 Disney Silly Symphonies cartoon Three Little Pigs helped to launch the Disney juggernaut nearly 90 years ago.

 * * *

Polymath

Le Corbusier, aka Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887–1965), was known as a pioneer of modern architecture and design in the early and mid-20th century, but as this review by Lewis Mumford suggested, he was also a talented modernist painter.

WAYS OF SEEING…Le Corbusier’s early paintings followed the ideas of something he called “purism”—at left is an example from 1920, Still Life. Later on his work become more abstract, including Menace, at right, from 1938. The horse head in the painting seems to reference Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting, Guernica. (Wikipedia/Art Basel)

 * * *

Dear Papa

Following the high praise Ernest Hemingway received in 1926 for The Sun Also Rises, Dorothy Parker feared for the novelist’s next book: “You know how it is—as soon as they all start acclaiming a writer, that writer is just about to slip downward.” Seven years later Parker’s colleague Clifton Fadiman detected some slippage, finding Hemingway’s latest output a bit stale. Rather than pen a negative review, Fadiman shared his concerns by way of an open letter:

PHONING IT IN…Clifton Fadiman (right) found Ernest Hemingway’s Winner Take Nothing to be “stuck fast in yesterday.” (AP/Wikipedia/Pinterest)

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From Our Advertisers

Until the 1920s all car bodies were framed in wood, preferably ash, but by the end of the 1930s all-steel car bodies became the standard…Packard made the switch beginning around 1938…

…ah, the good old days when you could smoke in the “rarefied atmosphere” of an airplane, the pilot so close by you could tap him on the shoulder…

…Brooklyn’s Hittleman-Goldenrod Brewery opened in late 1933 promising beer in the finest English tradition…sadly, it closed in 1937…

…the Waldorf-Astoria announced the re-opening of its Empire Room with entertainment by Xavier Cugat and his tango orchestra, featuring the dancer Margo…this was just the sort of “juvenile” entertainment Lois Long detested (see my previous post)…

…according to this ad, “His Lordship” drank a pot of decaf Sanka at midnight “and never winked an eye all night”…it doesn’t mention that he probably also wet the bed…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Peter Arno and the woes of the monied classes…

…on to Helen Hokinson, and the charms of the precocious…

Gardner Rea gave us a toff absorbed in historical fiction…

Alain (aka Daniel Brustlein) offered up a flautist who found beauty in his routine life…

…and we close with Perry Barlow, and motherhood among the smart set…

Next Time: Radio City…

 

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)

 * * *

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:”

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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…

Rebirth of a Nation?

As we enter the summer months we find the recurring themes of June brides…and German Nazis…

May 27, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Those Nazis were on the mind of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he wrote to the sixty participating nations at the Geneva Disarmament Conference, imploring them to eliminate all weapons of offensive warfare. As we now know, it was a plea that mostly fell on deaf ears, notably those of the leaders of Japan and Germany. E.B. White offered this observation:

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE?…Sixty countries sent delegates to the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1932–33. Germany was represented by Nazi Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (front row, center), that is until his country pulled out of the conference and continued its massive arms buildup. (Library of Congress)

Howard Brubaker was also keeping an eye on FDR’s efforts to hold off the rising powers in Europe and Asia…

WAR AND PEACE…On May 16, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt pleaded with the world’s nations to consider total disarmament of all offensive weapons. In the meantime, Adolf Hitler led the rapid rearmament of Germany (right) while Chinese soldiers (below) did what they could to counter the latest Japanese offensive—the invasion of Jehol Province. (Wikimedia/Pinterest)

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Writer of Lost Causes

The short story “Pop” would be Sherwood Anderson’s first contribution to The New Yorker. Anderson was known for his stories about loners and losers in American life, including Pop Porter, whose sad, drunken death is described in the closing lines:

NO EXIT…Best known for his 1919 novel Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941) took an unsentimental view of American life. He would contribute six short stories to The New Yorker from 1933 to 1936. Photo above by Edward Steichen, circa 1926. (NYT)

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The German Tourist Information Office welcomed visitors to “witness the rebirth of a nation,” promising a land of “new ideas and broader visions” that would bestow on travelers “undying memories endlessly renewed”…

…Those “undying memories” might have included massive, country-wide book burnings that took place on May 10, 1933, when students in 34 university towns across Germany burned more than 25,000 “un-German” books…

FANNING FLAMES OF HATE…On May 10, 1933, student supporters of the Nazi Party burned thousands of volumes of “un-German” books in the square in front of the Berlin State Opera. (Bundesarchiv)

…knowing where all of this would lead, it is hard to look at this next ad and not think of the Luftwaffe raining death from the skies later in that decade…

…so for the time being we’ll turn to something less menacing, like checkered stockings, here resembling one of John Held Jr’s woodcuts…

…and this crudely illustrated ad (which originally appeared in one column)…call your buddy a fatso and the next thing you know he’s moving to Tudor City…

…and from the makers of Lucky Strikes, a back cover ad that provided a thematic bookend to Constantin Alajalov’s cover art…

James Thurber kicks off the cartoons with this sad clown…

…atop the Empire State Building, Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein found more than just a view of the city (it’s former governor Al Smith!)…

Otto Soglow’s Little King got his vision checked, in his own way…

…a loose button threatened to bring down a nation…per Gardner Rea

…and we take a leisurely Sunday drive, Peter Arno style…

…on to the June 3, 1933 issue…

June 3, 1933 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

…where we appropriately look to the skyline, which was giving Lewis Mumford a crick in the neck…

THAT’LL DO…Lewis Mumford was not a fan of giant skyscrapers, but when the architects of the Empire State Building turned their attention to the Insurance Company of North America building at 99 John Street, Mumford found a design that could serve as a model for future business buildings. (Museum of the City of New York)

CONVERSION THERAPY…the Insurance Company of North America building now houses modern loft condominiums known as 99 John Deco Lofts. (nest seekers.com).

Later in the column Mumford called skyscrapers “insupportable” luxuries, arguing instead for long, shallow buildings rising no more than ten stories.

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The Stars Align

Film critic John Mosher was delightfully surprised by International House, a film loaded with some of the era’s top comedic stars along with other entertainers.

CLUTCH THOSE PEARLS…The risqué subject matter of International House had the Legion of Decency up in arms, but it left critic John Mosher in stitches thanks to the antics of Edmund Breese, Peggy Hopkins and W.C. Fields (top photo). Below, a publicity photo for International House with George Burns, Gracie Allen, Franklin Pangborn and W.C. Fields. (IMDB)

The film featured an array of entertainers including Peggy Hopkins (more famous as a real-life golddigger than an actress), the comedy duo Burns and Allen, W.C. Fields, Bela Lugosi, Cab Calloway, Rudy Valley and Baby Rose Marie.

ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE…Ten-year-old Rose Marie Mazzetta, known in 1933 as the child performer Baby Rose Marie, sings a number atop a piano in a scene from International House. Thirty years later Rose Marie would appear on The Dick Van Dyke Show as television comedy writer Sally Rogers (pictured here with co-stars Dick Van Dyke and Morey Amsterdam. (WSJ/LA Times)

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The New Germany, Part II
The June 3 “Out of Town” column took a look at life in Berlin as well as the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The piece is signed “A.L.”, leading me to believe it might be A.J. Liebling (author of one of my faves, Between Meals), but he didn’t start at The New Yorker until 1935. At any rate the article seems to dismiss the crackdown on Berlin’s cultural life as a mere inconvenience.

NEW THEME, NEW OWNERSHIP…The article mentions the closing of the Eldorado night club in Berlin, famed for its drag shows and other naughty diversions. Images above show the before and after the Nazis redecorated. (lonesomereader.com)

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From Our Advertisers

More propaganda from Germany, where everything is sweet and bright away from the din of the city and the sound of marching jackboots and the crash of broken glass…


…an unusual ad from Cadillac, which barely mentions the automobile but goes full bore on the June bride theme…

…the folks at Camel went full color in their latest installment of “It’s Fun to be Fooled”…in this strip Jack gets his friend Ellie hooked on his cigarette brand…

…looking for fresher air, well you could get a window air conditioner from the folks at Campbell Metal Window Corporation…however, these units were only available to the very wealthy, roughly costing more than $25,000 apiece (more than half a million today)…

…better to take a drive a catch the breeze with this smart pair…

…and fight off those pesky bugs with a blast of Flit, as illustrated by Dr. Seuss before he became a children’s author…

Richard Decker picked up some extra cash illustrating this ad for Arrow shirts…

…which segues to our other New Yorker cartoonists, such as H.O. Hoffman…

…and yet another bride, with sugar daddy, courtesy of Whitney Darrow Jr

William Crawford Galbraith continued his exploration into the lives of showgirls…

Gardner Rea gave us this helpful switchboard operator…

Carl Rose showed us how the posh set got into the spirit of the Depression-era farm program…

George Price was getting into familiar domestic territory…

…and on this Father’s Day, we close with some fatherly advice from James Thurber

Next Time: Making Hays…

 

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.

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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”…

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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)

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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…

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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…

 

Deskey’s Deco

Above, Donald Deskey's Design for a Sportshack, 1940 (Cooper Hewitt)

If you’ve never heard of Donald Deskey, you’ve most likely seen his work.

Feb. 25, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

Cultural critic Gilbert Seldes featured Deskey in the Feb. 25 profile (“The Long Road to Roxy” — with illustration by Al Frueh), noting that his subject had come to his profession as an industrial designer in a rather roundabout fashion. Here is a brief excerpt:

Deskey (1894 – 1989) was locally known in the late 1920s for his window displays at New York’s Franklin Simon Department Store, but it was his work at Roxy Rothafel’s new Radio City Music Hall that made him a marquee name in the design world. Although known for popularizing the Art Deco style, his interior designs for RCMH were noted for their restraint, signaling a break from the lavish, ornate designs of the city’s earlier performance spaces.

FEAST FOR THE EYES…Donald Deskey designed more than thirty spaces in Radio City Music Hall, including the Grand Foyer (left) and several lounges, each featuring a distinct visual motif. At bottom right, auditorium’s “Singing Woman” carpeting. (archdaily.com/drivingfordeco.com)

Original Deskey creations are highly prized today by collectors and museums…

DESIGN IN MOTION…Clockwise, from top left, Deskey’s “Guest Bedroom for Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.” (Abby Aldrich Rockefeller), on display at the 1931 American Union of Decorative Artists exhibition; Deskey table lamp, circa 1927; linen panel, circa 1930s; Deskey desk, circa 1930. (brooklynmuseum.org/artic.edu/Pinterest)

…and if that wasn’t enough, Deskey also designed logos for many consumer products in the late 1940s and 1950s…

THE TOTAL PACKAGE…Deskey designed some of the most iconic logos of midcentury America, including, clockwise from top left, Tide laundry detergent (1947); Gleem (1956) and Crest (1955) toothpastes; Cheer laundry detergent (1952); JIF peanut butter (1956) and Joy dishwashing liquid (1950).

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It seems appropriate to follow Mr. Deskey with some words and images from our sponsors, including the folks at Cadillac who continued to hammer home the snob appeal of their motorcar while also giving a nod to those hard times by emphasizing the car’s economy

…meanwhile, Studebaker was back with another full page ad — again featuring the admiring giant woman — in a vain attempt to push their fledgling, and unpopular line of Rockne automobiles…

…and Helena Rubenstein continued her series of ads disguised as advice columns…the advice here was to shame women into buying her products…

…after Helena removed your wrinkles you could restore them with GE’s Mazda sunlight lamp…

Otto Soglow, on the brink of becoming a very wealthy man thanks to his Little King cartoons, continued to lay down some ink on behalf of the makers of Sanka decaf…

…and we move along to Soglow’s fellow cartoonists, beginning with Gardner Rea and a cartoon sequence spread across pages 24-25…

…here it is again, rearranged for closer inspection…

…and we have another terrific “Fellow Citizens” drawing by Gluyas Williams, which originally ran sideways on a full page…

…I like this James Thurber drawing for its utter disregard of scale — but of course (and thankfully) it wouldn’t be a Thurber if he cared about such things…

William Crawford Galbraith was still hung up on showgirls and sirens…

…while Peter Arno explored his spiritual side, as only Arno could…

…and we move along to March 4, 1933…

March 4, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

…in which The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet Flanner (“Genêt”) wrote about a new book of “extreme interest to both sides of the Atlantic”…

BOOK OF REVELATION…Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein were well known in the ex-pat community of 1920s Paris, but the publication of the American edition of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (written by Stein) brought them fame in the wider world. Stein claimed she wrote the book — now considered a 20th century classic — in six weeks to amuse herself and to make money. At right, Toklas and Stein at 27 Rue de Fleurus in a portrait by Man Ray, 1922. (Library of Congress)

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Hope Springs Eternal

Even in the deepest depths of the Depression signs of hope abounded in works of public art, including a mosaic of one million hand-cut and hand-set glass tiles being prepared for the Sixth Avenue entrance to Rockefeller Center. Intelligence Awakening Mankind, by Barry Faulkner, celebrated the triumph of knowledge over the evil of ignorance. “The Talk of the Town” explained:

GOOD VIBES…Details of Intelligence Awakening Mankind include the central figure of Intelligence (top) sending knowledge into the far corners of the world. (Pinterest)

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The folks at luxury brand Packard continued to counter their stodgy image with ads that emphasized other qualities including speed, durability, and here, serenity…despite the lengthy text, the ad also suggested modernity, with the sliced-off image and the single word “Hush!” to entice prospective buyers…

…if you couldn’t afford $3,720 for a 12-cylinder Packard, then you might have considered a Buick, “livable as a fine home” this ad claimed. And look at that back seat — you could comfortably fit three adults and a baby elephant in there…

…and then there’s Hupmobile — for the price of a Packard 12 you could have purchased three Hupmobile Victorias (pictured below) with a good chunk of change left over…here the company celebrates its silver anniversary…a couple of odd facts: in 1914 a Minnesota Hupmobile salesman used an unsold vehicle to found Greyhound bus lines…the National Football League also traces its origins to Hupmobile — the league was created in 1920 at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio…both Greyhound and the NFL survive Hupmobile, which went belly up in 1939…

…and now we move to the world of fashion, and some cultural appropriation by Lord & Taylor…

…in 1929 J. Walter Thompson President Stanley Resor observed how people instinctively wanted to be told what to do by authorities they respected. Applying this thinking to the marketing of Pond’s cold cream, Resor’s firm hired famed photographers to create idealized portraits of society women…

…Writing for Indy Week (July 7, 2010) Amy White observes that a 1933 portrait (above) of Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt, aka Gloria Mercedes Morgan, reveals patrician eyes as “languid jet pools, her lips full and dark, her finely coiffed hair oiled to ebony perfection. However, a bit of backstory might explain the painful and hollow look Mrs. Vanderbilt can barely suppress. In that same year, she was declared by the courts to be unfit as a parent, and her young daughter was placed under the guardianship of her sister, Gertrude.” That young daughter, Gloria Vanderbilt, would later find fame for her designer jeans, her glittering lifestyle, and as mother of newscaster Anderson Cooper. White concludes, “I wonder if somehow, subconsciously, those consumers saw the pain in the eyes of some of those upper-crust spokeswomen, and it was basic humanness and empathy, as well as desire for wealth and beauty, that won them over”…

Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt, aka Gloria Mercedes Morgan, and her daughter, “Little Gloria,” in 1928. (Wikipedia)

…and we move along to the toasted pleasures of Luckies, and Howard Chandler Christy’s “Christy Girl” looking the picture of health and vitality in this back cover ad…

…we make an abrupt switch to the cheaper ads in the magazine’s nether pages…here “Miss Eleanor, formerly with Mme. Binner,” announced her selection of modern corsets for the “debutante and young matron”…and below, in a sign of the times, repossessed homes for sale…

…looks like Fifi had a bit too much of the Green Ribbon-flavored bootleg…

…and if you thought taking probiotics was a new thing…

…the French Line once again featured the art of James Thurber to promote its Mediterranean cruises…

…and Thurber kicks off our cartoons with spot art that headed the “Goings On About Town” section…

…and this gem with one of Thurber’s beloved dogs…

…below is the second New Yorker cartoon by Gruff with the “Buy American” slogan juxtaposed with an ethnic stereotype…I have no idea who this artist is, or if “Gruff” is a pen name — the style looks familiar but I haven’t had any luck chasing this artist down…

…here is the first one from the Feb. 18 issue…

…but we all know Al Frueh, who contributed this delightful bit of art to the theater review section…

Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein gave us an enterprising Frenchman offering peeks at exiled New York Mayor Jimmy Walker sunning on a beach at Cannes…

…and we close with Peter Arno, and the first signs of spring…

Next Time: Beauty and the Beast…

Life With Father

If you’ve ever come across the byline B.H. Arkwright, you were most likely reading the work of Clarence Day Jr., who in February 1931 began writing for the New Yorker under that pseudonym and also under his given moniker, which in four short years would become a household name.

Jan. 21, 1933 cover by Theodore Haupt.

In the Jan. 21, 1933 issue Day would publish his first humorous story in the New Yorker about upper-middle-class family life in the 1890s. A subsequent collection of these stories would be published in 1935 under the title Life with Father. Sadly, Day would die shortly thereafter and wouldn’t witness the enormous cultural impact his stories would have on mid-century America.

Here is an excerpt of Day’s first story about his father, describing an exchange between his parents that would set the tone for the series:

Life with Father was a hit with readers, inspiring a 1939 Broadway production by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse that would run for 3,224 performances over 401 weeks — it was, and still is, the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway. The play would be adapted into a 1947 film featuring Irene Dunne and William Powell in the leading roles. The stories even made it to the small screen in a CBS TV series that ran from 1953 to 1955.

ALL IN THE FAMILY…Clockwise, from top left, Clarence Day, Jr. (1874-1935) in undated photo; Dorothy Stickney and Howard Lindsay in the Broadway production of Life with Father, 1939; Day’s father and inspiration, stockbroker Clarence Day, Sr. (1844-1927); scene from the 1947 feature film Life with Father with Irene Dunne, William Powell, and a 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. (britannica.com/theguardian.com/IMDB)

Day was also a cartoonist, contributing satirical cartoons for U.S. suffrage publications in the 1910s and also publishing collections of humorous essays including a Darwinian satire on the origins of human nature, This Simian World (1920), and the rambling, whimsical The Crow’s Nest (1921). Both featured Day’s simplistic cartoons and anthropomorphic tales that anticipated the work of James Thurber later in the decade.

CATTAIL…Self-portrait of Clarence Day rendered as a cat in a selection from The Crow’s Nest (1921). The entire book is available as a free e-book from The Project Gutenberg.

As we know, New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross was a man of contradictions, at once profane and puritanical, the latter on display when it came to one of Day’s cartoon submissions for the magazine. According to Brendan Gill’s memoir Here at The New Yorker, Ross balked at publishing the drawing below because it showed an exposed breast. Either Day or an editor simply removed the nipple (note the broken line in the nipple’s place) and the cartoon was published.

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Big Man’s Big Man

August Gennerich not only served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s bodyguard, he was also a close family friend. “The Talk of the Town” featured a lengthy account of the man, an excerpt of which is below:

ON GUARD…Augustus “Gus” Gennerich (1887-1936) was a friend of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s as well as one of FDR’s most trusted guards. He began his career in 1909 as a NYC policeman and in 1929 was assigned to be then-Governor Roosevelt’s bodyguard in the city. The Roosevelts were heartbroken when Gus died unexpectedly at age 50 from a heart attack. (picryl.com)

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Desert Solitude

In 1933 Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) was well into her Southwestern phase when her husband Alfred Stieglitz staged a show of her work at his last New York gallery, An American Place. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz lived together in New York until 1929, when O’Keeffe began spending more time in the Southwest — most likely to put some distance between herself and Stieglitz, who was in a long-term affair with photographer and writer Dorothy Norman. After this show opened O’Keeffe would suffer a nervous breakdown (per the above) and not return to painting until 1934. Lewis Mumford visited An American Place and had this to say about O’Keeffe’s work:

ANOTHER AMERICAN PLACE…New Mexican Landscape by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1930. (springfieldmuseums.org)

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The Bookish Type

Modernist American poet and writer Archibald MacLeish (1892–1982) was a man of letters to the letter, serving as the ninth Librarian of Congress (1939-44) and during which time initiating the process of naming U.S. poet laureates. Here he contributes some of his verse to the New Yorker:

DESK JOB…Archibald MacLeish, circa late 1930s. (Library of Congress)

It was no accident that MacLeish contributed to the New Yorker: in addition to being among the literary expatriates in Paris including Gertrude Steinand Ernest Hemingway, MacLeish and his wife, Ada Hitchcock, were part of the Riviera crowd hosted by Gerald and Sara Murphy, which included among other notables John O’Hara, Dorothy Parker, and Robert Benchley.

OVER THERE…Gerald and Sara Murphy hosting friends at a Riviera beach party, circa 1923. Gerald is the man standing in the striped shirt; Sara is at right with a parasol. I believe that is Benchley at the bottom right, but not positively sure. (Beinecke Library)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with this ad from Helena Rubinstein that parodies Lois Long’s “Tables for Two” column (Long signed that column as “Lipstick”) and announced a new “Red Poppy” shade…

…on the other hand, the folks at Tangee borrowed from the old Temperance Movement song, The Lips that touch liquor, shall never touch mine, to promote a lipstick guaranteed to snag a sugar daddy like the one illustrated below (recalling Monopoly’s Uncle Pennybags)…

…more advertising weirdness comes our way from the staid Best & Company, its execs somehow persuaded by an ad man to go with this chef motif…

…Leg ‘O Mutton referred to a type of puffy sleeve introduced in 1830s France that had a revival in the late 1880s…

MMMMM, MUTTON…The Leg ‘O Mutton look, circa 1890s. (genealogylady.net)

…the National Auto Show moved on and the National Motor Boat and Engine Show took its place at the Grand Central Palace…

…I’m trying to imagine the guy at left stowing his top hat in an overhead bin…

…down on earth folks could enjoy some down-to-earth home cooking at Mary Elizabeth’s, or go some Italian at Caruso’s…

…and for reference…

Top left, Mary Elizabeth’s success on Fifth Avenue led to expansion into Boston; below, a 1921 menu at Mary Elizabeth’s in New York; at right, 1930s postcard advertising Caruso’s on 42nd Street. (restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com)

…of course you couldn’t legally drink at those places, so you had to go to a speakeasy or mix your cocktails at home…but this is just sad, ‘ol Buddy here flavoring his bootleg with some Green Ribbon…let’s hope the playboy’s guests aren’t blinded before the night is over…

…we all know the tricky ways of the tobacco companies, including this 3-page Q&A from the makers of Camels offering smokers and would-be smokers THE TRUTH and THE FACTS about the cigarettes folks smoke…turns out Camels are the best…it’s true…

…and now for a bit of fresh air before we turn to our cartoonists…

…beginning with Al Frueh and his impressions of a show at the Guild Theatre…

Peter Arno contributed this two-pager across pages 12-13 in “The Talk of the Town” section…

Helen Hokinson offered up some scandal among the “girls”…

James Thurber gave us an awkward moment among the tender youth of the unclad world…

Otto Soglow’s Little King rose to the occasion, as always…

Daniel Alain’s artist tried his best to make some small talk while at work…

…and we close with E. Simms Campbell, and the yawning gulf between owners and workers…

Next Time: A Slice of Paradise…

 

 

March of Time

In the span of 112 minutes, the much-anticipated Fox production Cavalcade took movie audiences through the first 30 years of the 20th century.

Jan. 14, 1933 cover by Peter Arno.

Anticipating Upstairs, Downstairs (1971) and the more recent Downton Abbey, Cavalcade looked at life through the eyes of upper class Londoners — Jane and Robert Marryot, their children and close friends — and the Marryot’s servants. It was a calamitous ride that included both the Boer War and World War I among other historic events. Critic John Mosher thought it a memorable picture despite its mawkishness.

IT’S A SCARY WORLD OUT THERE…This Fox theater card promised audiences epic thrills with a cast of thousands. (IMDB)

AGING GRACEFULLY…Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook portrayed upper class Londoners Jane and Robert Marryot through three tumultuous decades in Cavalcade. (IMDB)

The first decades of the 20th century would claim the lives of both Marryot sons — Joe would perish in World War I, and Edward would make the unfortunate decision to take his bride on a honeymoon cruise…

ONE-WAY TICKET…Edward Marryot (John Warburton) and his childhood sweetheart Edith Harris (Margaret Lindsay) are thrilled to be celebrating their honeymoon on a “big boat.” When the couple walk away from the railing, the opposite side of the life preserver is revealed in a dramatic camera shot.

After World War I the film hastily moved on to the Jazz Age, where the social order was going to hell…

CRY WOLF…A creepy older dude puts the moves on a young blonde (portrayed by Betty Grable in an uncredited role) during a Jazz Age scene of a wild party that included glimpses of flirting gay couples. Cavalcade was one of the first films to use the words “damn” and “hell.” (IMDB)

Cavalcade is considered by some critics to be one of the worst films to receive an Academy Award (it actually won three — Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Art Direction). If you are interested in learning more about Cavalcade or about pre-Code films in general, visit the excellent pre-code.com website.

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Sad Songs

George White was famed for his lavish Scandals revues, especially during the Roaring Twenties — leggy showgirls and wisecracking comedians shared the stage with some of the era’s top singers and dancers. White’s Music Hall Varieties seemed to have all of the same elements as his Scandals, but something seemed amiss to Robert Benchley — an unnamed sadness that he chalked up to those depressing times:

THE SHOW MUST GO ON…Even during the Depression George White did what he could to keep the old Roaring Twenties spark alive. Clockwise from top left: White auditioning dancers for his Scandals; Bert Lahr preparing for a stage show in the 1930s (Lahr’s son, John, would later become the New Yorker drama critic); the Howard Brothers, Eugene and Willie, in 1936; and a young Eleanor Powell ready to do some toe-tapping circa 1932. (PBS/NYPL/Wikipedia)

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Journey of the Mind

Louise Bogan (1897–1970) was poetry editor at the New Yorker for nearly 40 years (1931–1970) and in 1945 was the first woman to be appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. For the Jan. 14 issue she wrote “Journey Around My Room,” which begins with her recollection of a childhood train ride. Here are some excerpts:

POET LAUREATE…Louise Bogan in 1937. She was poetry editor at the New Yorker for nearly 40 years and was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 1945. (Library of Congress)

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Silent Cal Silenced

Many folks were surprised by the sudden passing of former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge. He was just 60 when he succumbed to coronary thrombosis at his Northampton home, “The Beeches.” During the New Yorker’s first years Coolidge was the butt of many jokes…beginning with this Miguel Covarrubias cartoon in the magazine’s fourth issue (March 14, 1925)…

E.B. White offered this eulogy of sorts…

THRIFTY IDYLL…Calvin and Grace Coolidge outside their newly acquired home, “The Beeches,” Northampton, summer 1930. (Leslie Jones Collection)

…and mused about the state of politics in 1933, proving that some things never change…

Last time we learned Lewis Mumford’s views about the new artwork displayed in the RKO Roxy Theatre and in Radio City Music Hall. In the Jan. 14 issue he turned his attentions to the actual buildings, giving them an average grade and preferring the Music Hall over the Roxy (he disliked the oversized chandelier/electrolier). Mumford was decidedly not a fan of the Rockefeller Center development, evident in his closing lines:

SHOWPLACES…Lewis Mumford gave Radio City Music Hall (top) and the RKO Roxy some muted nods, but found the Roxy’s electrolier distracting.

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Parting Thoughts

Alexander Woollcott shared some final recollections of his visit to Moscow, in which he likens the Russians’ freedom under Josef Stalin to the freedom of a spirited schoolboy who desires to sit in the back of the classroom…

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From Our Advertisers

Bonwit Teller employed some modern typesetting, wryly using the word DULL — offset in large san-serif letters — to draw attention to their “Chardonize” fabric, which was essentially artificial silk…

…nothing subtle about this next advertisement…don one of these bathing suits and millionaires will bow before you, or rather, to borrow this ad’s odd metaphor, “fall like wheat before locusts”…

…we get a similar but far more muted pitch from Coty…so does this mean one out of every six desirable bachelors want to be seen with her? Not exactly knocking them down like locusts…

…now here’s a couple of self-assured souls who are neither troubled by hungry locusts nor face powders…they own a Cadillac, and wow, that is really quite the automobile, not like the Caddies you see today that are half-plastic and blend in with the rest of the shapeless blobs we call cars these days…

…the folks who pushed Chesterfield cigarettes were back with another ad aimed at their fastest growing demographic…note the sly reference to women’s suffrage…but that’s not why this woman smokes; she smokes because it gives her pleasure, and come to think of it, why should men have all the fun?…

…the Cunard Line suggested that you might run into some big-time celebrities on one of their ships, including actress Norma Shearer and banker/arts patron Otto Kahn (bottom of left-land page); or on the opposite page Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne among others…

…by contrast, the French Line employed the artistry of James Thurber to entice travelers onto the high seas…

…which gives us a nice segue into our cartoons, beginning with this spot by Thurber referencing the National Auto Show…

Al Frueh offered up another of his famed sequential works…

Gardner Rea with his usual perspective on the absurd…

Douglas Ryan plied the familiar waters of the harem trope…

…and Robert Day showed us that even the smallest consolation can still satisfy…

Next Time: Life With Father…

Modernism Lite

Above: “The Fountain of Youth” mural by Ezra Winter in the Main Foyer of Radio City Music Hall. (Architectural Digest)

The opening of two new theaters at Rockefeller Center no doubt brightened a few souls at the start of 1933, but art and architecture critic Lewis Mumford wasn’t particularly dazzled by the “watered-down” modernism of the buildings’ much-ballyhooed decor.

Jan. 7, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin, in a nod to the annual automobile show in New York City.

Oddly, it was a philosophy professor from Nebraska, Hartley Burr Alexander, who was tasked with creating an artistic vision for Rockefeller Center, developed along the theme of “Frontiers of Time.” According to Mumford, Alexander’s “classic-banal” vision, executed under the “virtuous glare” of theatrical impresario Samuel L. “Roxy” Rothafel, resulted in the first “large-scale vulgar tryout of modern art.” Excerpts from Mumford’s column:

Several aluminum sculptures in Radio City Music Hall no doubt pleased Mumford — Gwen Lux’s Eve sculpture, William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance, and Robert Laurent’s Goose Girl. However, thanks to Roxy Rothafel’s “virtuous glare” and worries that the nudes might hurt ticket sales, all three sculptures were temporarily banned from RCMH.

NAKED AND AFRAID…A flare-up of puritanism led to the temporary removal of aluminum sculptures at Radio City Music Hall. At left, Eve by Gwen LuxRobert Laurent (right) working on Goose Girl in his studio. Below, William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance. (Smithsonian/viewingnyc.com)

Radio City Music Hall also featured an array of murals that should have brought some delight to Mumford…

SHOW BEFORE THE SHOW…Radio City Music Hall featured a number of murals including, clockwise from top left, a detail of Donald Deskey’s The History of Nicotine (The Life of Saint Nicotine) in a second floor men’s lounge; a textile piece titled The History of Theatre by Ruth Reeves, which covers the back wall of Radio City Music Hall; Stuart Davis’s mural Men without Women in the  men’s lounge; Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s mural in the women’s powder room. (melwithpals.medium.com/viewingnyc.com/evergreen.com)

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Mea Cuppa

“The Talk of the Town” shared this account of fifteen Harvard freshman who dared to pay a call on the home of visiting poet T.S. Eliot

TEA-DIUM…Fifteen nervous Harvard freshman confronted this visage until one of them finally broke the ice. Photo above taken during one of T.S. Eliot’s visits to Monk’s House, the 16th century cottage of Virginia Woolf. (blogs.harvard.edu)

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Country Cousins

During his 1932 presidential campaign Franklin D. Roosevelt paid a Sept. 29 visit to the Waterloo, Nebraska farm of Gustav “Gus” and Mary (Kenneway) Sumnick. Mary served FDR a chicken dinner and pie before he addressed a crowd of 8,000 at a rally on the Sumnick farm. Gustav, a German immigrant, and Mary, a daughter of Irish immigrants, were successful farmers even during those tough years. The visit would turn the Sumnicks into national celebrities, and in later years FDR would return to visit the family and would also stay in touch by telephone. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” made this observation about the celebrated farm family:

TIME FOR SOME VIDDLES!…Mary Sumnick chats with presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt during his Sept. 29, 1932 visit to the Sumnick farm. (douglascohistory.org)

ENOUGH FOR A FOOTBALL TEAM…A lengthy article in the Dec. 4, 1932 New York Times described life on the Sumnick farm and their upcoming visit with President Roosevelt in the spring. Gus and Mary and their 11 children all planned to make the trip. (NYT)

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The Gang’s All Here

Siblings Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore of the famed Barrymore theatrical family appeared together in just one film — Rasputin and the Empress — and you would think that would have been enough to guarantee multiple awards along with box office gold. However, the film actually lost money, and on top of that attracted a lawsuit that further dipped into the pockets of MGM producer Irving Thalberg. Critic John Mosher was wowed by Ethel’s performance, but wasn’t exactly charmed by the overall production:

ACTING ROYALTY ACTING ROYAL…John Barrymore, Ethel Barrymore, and Lionel Barrymore with child actor Tad Alexander in Rasputin and the Empress. It is only film in which all three siblings appeared together. (Pinterest)

About that lawsuit: The film used the real-life Princess Irina Yusupov as a model for Princess Natasha, portrayed by English actress Diana Wynyard. The film implied that Rasputin raped Princess Natasha (that is, Irina), which wasn’t true, so she sued MGM and won $127,373 from an English court; MGM reportedly  settled out of court in New York for the sum of $250,000 (roughly equivalent to nearly $5 million today). The ubiquitous “all persons fictitious” disclaimer that appears in TV and film credits is the result of that lawsuit.

NO HARD FEELINGS?…English actress Diana Wynyard (left) portrayed Princess Natasha in the Barrymore family vehicle Rasputin and the Empress. Her portrayal, however, drew the ire of a real Russian royal, Princess Irina Yusupov, who successfully sued MGM in 1933 for invasion of privacy and libel. (Wikipedia)

A much-less controversial film was the “glib” No Man of Her Own, a pre-Code romantic comedy-drama starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in their only film together:

LET’S PLAY HOUSE…Clark Gable romances Carole Lombard in the pre-Code romantic comedy-drama No Man of Her Own. It was their only film together, and several years before they became a married couple in real life. (ha.com)

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Vroom-Vroom

The annual National Automobile Show opened at the Grand Central Palace and other locations in Midtown, promising an array of affordable models:

DECISIONS, DECISIONS… The 1933 National Automobile Show offered a number of affordable options to car buyers including these shiny new Pontiacs on display at the Grand Central Palace. (libwww.freelibrary.org)

BUT LOOK OVER HERE…General Motors also displayed its models at the first “Motorama” held in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom in 1933. (waldorfnewyorkcity.com)

Auto Show visitors also got a glimpse of their streamlined future in the form of a 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow…

FAST & FURIOUS…Powered by a V12 engine, the aerodynamic 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow could exceed 100 miles per hour. Unveiled at the 1933 National Automobile Show, the car grabbed the spotlight with its futuristic, streamlined design. Just five of these were built, and only three are known to exist today. The Silver Arrow was one of Pierce-Arrow’s final attempts to appeal to its wealthy clientele, but even they were feeling Depression’s pinch. The company folded in 1938. (Sotheby’s)

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From Our Advertisers

The New Yorker had unusually thin issues over the holidays, so the magazine’s bean-counters must have been thrilled by the dozens of ads that poured in ahead of the National Automobile Show. As usual Walter Chrysler took out several two-page ads to promote his Chryslers, Plymouths, Dodges and DeSotos…

…while GM one-upped Walter with its own series of two-pagers — in color — sprinkled throughout the magazine…everything from the affordable Oldsmobile…

…to the high-end Cadillac…

…General Motors also featured this Peter Arno-themed ad (with sugar-daddy walrus) to promote its posh new venue at the Waldorf-Astoria…

…the folks at struggling Hupmobile tried to wow not with shiny cars but rather with the announcement of their…drum roll, please…annual report…

…companies that supported the auto industry also got in on the act, including the makers of leaded fuel…this image says a lot about the lack of safety concerns in the 1930s…

John Hanrahan, who early on served as the New Yorker’s policy council and guided it through its lean first years, be­came the publisher of Stage magazine (formerly The Theatre Guild Magazine) in 1932. In 1933 Stage became part of the Ultra-Class Magazine Group’s line-up that included Arts & Decoration and The Sportsman. Stage published its last issue in 1939, and I don’t believe the other two survived the 1930s either…

ULTRA-CLASS GROUP was the over-the-top name used to describe this line-up of magazines.

…on to our cartoons, we join Peter Arno for some fine dining…

…based on the what we have seen lately from William Crawford Galbraith, he seems to be hung up on seductresses and showgirls…

…to my point, some of Galbraith’s recent entries…

…we move on to Richard Decker and a dangerous cold front…

Garrett Price pondered the wisdom of children…

Gluyas Williams was back with the latest industrial crisis…

Perry Barlow found some ill-fitting words to go with an ill-fitting coat…

…and we close with James Thurber, and some very fitting words for those times, and ours…

Next Time: March of Time…