The Circus Comes to Town

If you lived in small town America in the 20th century, it was a big deal when the circus came to town with its entourage of clowns, acrobats and exotic animals from distant lands.

April 19, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

Even New Yorkers, it seems — who could be quite blasé about such things — got a thrill when the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus rolled into town for its annual spectacle at Madison Square Garden. The New Yorker marked the occasion with its April 12 cover by Theodore Haupt:

For the April 19 issue, E.B. White welcomed the circus on a cautionary note, airing concerns in his “Notes and Comment” column that this old-timey entertainment might be falling under the “base influences” of broadcast radio, Broadway, and Hollywood:

SEND IN THE…YOU KNOW…THOSE GUYS…Top, clowns in town for the 1931 Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. Below, circus poster announcing the arrival of “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  (potterauctions.com)

José Schorr, who wrote a number of humorous columns in the New Yorker from 1926 to 1930 on the subject of “how to the pass the time” in various situations, offered this advice on attending the spectacle at Madison Square Garden…

I’D RATHER BE FLYING…1930 poster advertising “The Human Projectile”; 1931 photo of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. (worthpoint.com/bidsquare.com)

…for example, Schorr advised circus-goers to pass the time by considering the inner lives of performers such as “The Human Projectile”…

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Funny Farm

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Joe Cook (1890-1950), but in the 1920s and 30s he was a household name and one of America’s most popular comedic performers. “Talk of the Town” looked in on his antics at his Lake Hopatcong farm, “Sleepless Hollow”…

BATTER UP…Comedian Joe Cook’s residence at Lake Hopatcong, NJ, was known for its celebrity-studded parties. At left, Babe Ruth takes a swing with a giant bat on Cook’s wacky three-hole golf course; at right, Cook relaxing on the steps of his farm. (lakehopatcongnews.com)

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Fun With Balloon Animals

One thing that distinguishes the 1930s from today is that era’s apparent lack of safety standards, or fear of liability. A case in point was Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began a tradition in the late 1920s of releasing its giant balloons into the sky at the conclusion of the parade — a $50 reward was offered by Macy’s for their return. “The Talk of the Town” explained:

GOING, GOING, GONE…When Felix the Cat (left, in 1927) was released after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it floated into a power line and caught fire; in 1931 the parade’s Big Blue Hippo (right) was apparently spotted floating over the ocean, never to be seen again. (Macy’s/hatchingcatnyc.com)

Perhaps the craziest anecdote attached to the parade’s annual balloon release belonged to Annette Gipson. While flying a biplane at 5,000 feet with her instructor, she spotted the parade’s 60-foot “Tom Cat” balloon rising high above Queens. Looking to have a bit of fun, the 22-year-old Gipson flew the plane directly into the cat. According to the book Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, “Upon impact, the balloon wrapped itself around the left wing. The plane went into a deep tailspin (nearly throwing Gipson from the cockpit) and sped toward the ground out of control.” Fearing the plane would catch fire when it hit the ground, the instructor killed the ignition, and somehow managed to pull the plane out of the spin and land it safely at Roosevelt Field.

KITTY LITTER…Annette Gipson, right, nearly killed herself and her flight instructor after she deliberately crashed her biplane into a Tom Cat balloon (left) that had been released following the 1932 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of her near-death experience,Gipson told reporters, “It was a sensation that I never felt before—the whirling housetops, rushing up to meet me—and the thoughts of a whole lifetime flashed through my mind.” (ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

A footnote: Following Gipson’s brush with death, Macy’s announced it would not give prize money to those who tried to down the balloons with their airplanes. The incident also brought an end to the company’s tradition of releasing the balloons.

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Birth of the Soundtrack

Songs from popular theater productions were first made available to the masses in the mid-19th century via printed sheet music and later through early recordings. Part of this lineage is the movie soundtrack, which has its origins in the early days of sound pictures. According to the New Yorker’s “Popular Records” column, these new recordings would bring the talkies into your home, albeit without the picture…

FROM MAMMY TO MAMMA MIA…Left, a 1930 Brunswick 78 RPM recording of Al Jolson’s “To My Mammy”; at right, soundtrack from the 2008 film Mamma Mia! (popsike.com/amazon.com)

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Cosmo Calvin

Before Helen Gurley Brown came along in the 1960s and sexed it up, Cosmopolitan was known as a somewhat bland literary magazine, and it was certainly bland enough in 1930 to welcome the scribblings of America’s blandest president to its pages. E.B. White mused in his “Notes”…

NOTHING COMES BETWEEN ME AND MY CALVIN…At left, the May 1930 issue of Cosmopolitan; Kourtney Kardashian on the cover of the October 2016 issue. (Pinterest/Cosmopolitan)

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How Dry I Am

After a decade of living under Prohibition, John Ogden Whedon (1905-1991) put pen to paper and shared his sentiments in a poem for the New Yorker

…Whedon would go on to a successful career as a screenwriter, especially finding acclaim for his television writing on The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show, among others. He was also the grandfather of screenwriter and director Joseph “Joss” Whedon and screenwriters Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon.

Another poem in the April 19 issue was contributed by John Held Jr., who was perhaps better known to New Yorker readers for his “woodcut” cartoons…

…example of Held’s work from the April 12 issue, featured in an Old Gold advertisement…

…and that provides a segue into our ads for the April 19 issue, beginning with this spot for an early electric dishwasher…

Here’s what that bad boy looks like in color. (automaticwasher.org)

…I couldn’t find a review in the New Yorker for Emily Hahn’s new book, Seductio Ad Absurdum, but her publisher did take out an ad to get the attention of readers. Many years later the New Yorker would call the journalist and author “a forgotten American literary treasure”…

Emily Hahn circa 1930; first edition of Seductio Ad Absurdum. Author of 52 books, her writings played a significant role in opening up Asia to the West.(shanghaitours.canalblog.com/swansfinebooks.com)

…and here we have another sumptuous ad from illustrator Carl “Eric” Erickson, a far cry from the “Joe Camel” ads that would come along decades later…

…on to our cartoons, Reginald Marsh offered a blue collar perspective on city fashions…

Alice Harvey captured a moment of reflection by an overworked housewife…

…and I. Klein looked in on a couple of working stiffs in need of a dictionary…

…now over to the posh set, with Barbara Shermund

Leonard Dove found humor on the chorus line…

…and we end with this terrific cartoon by Peter Arno, and the perils of apartment life…

Next Time: Paramount on Parade…

 

 

 

Hot Jazz in Stone and Steel

With the Chrysler Building nearing completion and the Empire State Building beginning to rise from the old Waldorf-Astoria site, the New York City skyline was taking on the iconic form most of us now associate with the city.

April 12, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Dubbed “hot jazz in stone and steel” by modernist architect Le Corbusier, the Chrysler Building’s gleaming spire beckoned the New Yorker’s E.B. White and real estate journalist David G. Bareuther (New York Sun) to its summit for a closer look…

BARE BONES…The spire in place atop the Chrysler building, the dome awaiting its metal skin. (skyscraper.org)
WHAT LIES BENEATH…The stainless steel spire still gleams atop the Chrysler Building; beneath the spire, a maze of scaffolding — navigated by E.B. White and David G. Bareuther for their “Talk of the Town” piece, supports the upper portions of the building’s dome. (yahoo.com/nygeschichte.blogspot.com)
THE HIGH LIFE…The Chrysler Building’s exclusive Cloud Club was located on the 66th, 67th, and 68th floors. At one time it was the highest lunch club in the world. It closed in 1979. (decopix.com)

If you want to get a sense of what E.B. White and David Bareuther experienced during their climb through the Chrysler’s dome, take a look at this video featuring American radio personality “Opie” (Gregg Hughes) and Hidden Cities author Moses Gates…

The article also noted that an “observation balcony” would be available for visitors to the 71st floor (actually an enclosed room inside the dome), but I’m sure the expectations for revenue fell quite short, given the competition it would soon receive from the much larger, higher, open air observation deck of the Empire State Building…

REACHING FOR THE STARS…When the Chrysler Building officially opened in 1931, visitors could go up to the 71st-floor observatory (in the dome) and view the city through its triangular windows. The observatory closed in 1945. (nygeschichte.blogspot.com)

…a bit of a digression, but I couldn’t help but notice the observatory’s resemblance to this set from the 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

(silent-volume.blogspot.com)

…and here is a terrific graphic from Popular Science (August 1930) demonstrating how the spire, which was assembled inside the dome, was raised into its final position…

…and finally, some great archival footage documenting the achievement…

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Tragic Theater

We continue our forays into the built environment of 1930 New York by looking at what was lost, including two beloved Broadway theaters. “The Talk of the Town” lamented the decline of the Garrick…

FINAL CURTAIN…Built in 1890 and originally named Harrigan’s Theatre, The Garrick closed as a playhouse in 1929. After a short run of burlesque, the building was demolished in 1932.

…and the Casino…

You can read more about the Casino at one of my favorite blogs, Daytonian in Manhattan.

HEYDAY…Clockwise, from top left, circa 1910 postcard image of The Casino Theatre at Broadway & 39th; an audience on the Casino’s roof garden glimpses the performance below; interior of the Casino; the British musical comedy Floradora would become one of Broadway’s greatest hits — the New York production opened in 1900 and ran for 552 performances. (Museum of the City of New York )

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From Jazz to Gothic

We return our gaze to the skies with three more new buildings reviewed by architecture critic George S. Chappell in his “Sky Line” column. He began with the Manhattan Towers Hotel, which thanks to the Depression would soon fall on hard times, going into foreclosure by October of 1931 and becoming a favorite gangster hideout (read more about the hotel at Daytonian in Manhattan)…

GOD AND MAMMON…Clockwise, from top left, the Manhattan Congregational Church in 1927. The church was torn down in 1928 and replaced by the Manhattan Towers Hotel at Broadway and 76th; the completed hotel, designed to wrap around the three-story Jones Speedometer Building, seen in the lower right of the photo; the first five floors of the building were dedicated to church use; after falling into disrepair, in 1980-83 the 626-room hotel was converted into 113 cooperative apartments. Note that the Speedometer Building still stands, sadly shorn of its ornamentation. (New York Public Library/Daytonian in Manhattan)

…Chappell also found much to admire in the new Fuller and Squibb buildings…

FULLER HOUSE…Clockwise, from top left, the 1929 Fuller Building was the third home of the George A. Fuller Company (its second home was the 1903 Flatiron Building); detailed views of the building’s tiled pinnacle and unique glass display windows that distinguish the building’s first six stories; an advertisement from the March 2, 1929 New Yorker that touted these gallery spaces for “superior merchandise”; detail of a coffered panel on an elevator door. (deskgram.net/nyc-architecture.com)
Clockwise, from top left, entrance to the Squibb Building, now known as 745 Fifth Avenue; the cool white marble of the building’s base so admired by critic George Chappell; today, the building at dusk, the slender profile of 432 Park Avenue rising in the background. (pinterest.com/OzBibliophile/paramount-group.com/landmarkbranding.com)

…From the Chrysler Building to the Fuller and Squibb, these new buildings, their architects, and the city’s ever-changing skyline were famously celebrated at the January 1931 Beaux Arts Ball…

HEADS IN THE CLOUDS…the Chrysler Building’s architect, William Van Alen (center), flanked by, from left to right, Stewart Walker (The Fuller Building), Leonard Schultze (The Waldorf-Astoria), Ely Jacques Kahn (The Squibb Building), Ralph Walker (1 Wall Street), D.E. Ward (The Metropolitan Tower), and Joseph H. Freelander (Museum of the City of New York). The New York Times referred to the group as “a tableau vivant of the New York Skyline.” (Van Alen Institute)

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Quiet on the Set

The early days of sound movies created numerous challenges for directors who not only had to adjust the action to accommodate cumbersome microphones, but also to keep out unwanted noises or bad enunciation. “The Talk of the Town” explained…

CLOSETED…In the early days of the talkies, cameras had to be soundproofed in cabinets so their noisy motors would not be picked up by primitive sound equipment. (coloradocollege.edu/Library of Congress)

Peter Arno illustrated the predicament of filming in nature in this cartoon from the April 5, 1930 issue…

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One of Ours

In the story of the New Yorker, Alexander Woollcott and Marc Connelly were there at the beginning as founding members of the Algonquin Round Table and advisory editors to the first issues of the magazine. Basking in the success of his latest play, The Green Pastures (for which he would receive a 1930 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), he was the subject of a April 12, 1930 profile, titled “Two-Eyed Connelly,” which was written by Woollcott. Some excerpts, and a caricature by Al Frueh

FAMILIAR WITH THE SUBJECT…Alexander Woollcott, left, explored the life of his old friend Marc Connelly in the April 12 profile. (goodreads.com/Fine Art America)

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The Party is Really Over

Lois Long’s column “Tables for Two,” which in the 1920s was a must-read for those interested in Jazz Age night life, appeared intermittently in its last year, and its April 12 installment was not even written by Long, but by a writer who signed the column “F.D.” — I assume this is Fairfax Downey, who tried his best to capture Long’s style…

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From Our Advertisers

Warner Brothers opened their pocketbooks to publicize John Barrymore’s latest film, The Man From Blankey’s, which the studio described as a “Modern High Hat Comedy”…

WHEN ALCOHOLISM WAS FUNNY…Loretta Young, John Barrymore and Angella Mawby in The Man from Blankley’s. (IMDB)

…Thanks to William Randolph Hearst and his King Features Syndicate, Robert Ripley, the P.T. Barnum of the funny pages, soared to fame in the 1930s with his “Believe It or Not” panel…here he begins his 14-year run on the radio…

HELLO SUCKERS…Robert Ripley in 1930 with a drawing of “the Horned Man of South Africa.” (RIPLEY ENTERTAINMENT INC.)

…and here’s an ad for another questionable but very American diversion — Fred Harvey’s “Indian Detours”…

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE…The Fred Harvey Company was renowned for its chain of eating houses hosted by the famed “Harvey Girls” along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad between 1876 and 1968. To encourage train travel (and Harvey business) in the Southwest, the Harvey company developed “Indian Detours.” The photo at left is of an “Indian Building” in Albuquerque, which featured displays of art and “live exhibits” that included Native Americans from many tribes around New Mexico. (santafeselection.com)
EASY RIDER…1929 Cadillac Harvey Indian Detour Car outside La Fonda, Santa Fe. (Palace of the Governors photo archive)

…if you preferred to travel abroad, Texaco wanted you to know that you could still gas up with their product, even in distant Singapore…

…we begin our cartoons with the spare stylings of Gardner Rea

…and Otto Soglow

…we find one of Helen Hokinson’s ladies on her way to fitness…

William Crawford Galbraith showed us an enterprising young man…

Art Young illustrated the challenges of the lecture circuit…

…and one of my all-time favorite Peter Arno cartoons…

Next Time: The Circus Comes to Town…

 

Noblesse Oblige

Just three years before she would enter the White House as First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was familiar to some New Yorkers for her social work, but was known to most as the wife of the Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This week we look at two issues, March 29 and April 5, 1930, both with covers by Rea Irvin.

In a profile featured the April 5 New Yorker, Helena Huntington Smith looked at the life of a woman who was a niece to former President Theodore Roosevelt and a fifth cousin (once removed) to her husband Franklin. A somewhat reluctant mother (who nevertheless had six children) in a marriage that was mostly a political arrangement, Eleanor devoted considerable time and energy to social causes. Below is a brief excerpt, accompanied by an illustration of Eleanor by Cyrus Baldridge.

ALBANY DAYS…Clockwise, from top left: Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933; Gov. Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor, and their youngest son, John, in Albany in 1930; FDR being sworn in as Governor of New York, January 1929. (Wikipedia/Albany Group Archive)
IN HER ELEMENT…Eleanor Roosevelt with boy and girl scout volunteers at the University of Kentucky, July 1934. (eleanorroosevelt.org)

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No Laughing Matter

In a surprising twist, James Thurber took a hand at writing the “A Reporter at Large” column (titled “Cop Into College Man”) in the March 29 issue, visiting a new “Police College” in New York City. In this engaging piece, Thurber seemed thoroughly engrossed in the operation…

…and particularly in the mugshots of some of the city’s most notorious criminals, including gangster Jim Flanagan, “debonair in a Bangkok hat”…

…and in the college’s museum, filled with all manner of deadly implements…

PREPPING FOR PERPS…The April 1930 edition of Popular Science featured the opening of New York’s new Police College. (Modern Mechanix)

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Pluto’s Salad Days

In was something of a sensation in February 1930 when Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997) discovered the then-planet Pluto at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. Howard Brubaker in “Of All Things” (March 29) had this to say about the achievement:

JUST A SPECK…Clyde Tombaugh poses with the telescope through which he discovered the planet Pluto at the Lowell Observatory on Observatory Hill in Flagstaff, Ariz., 1931. At right, images of the planet (specks indicated by arrows) were all the proof Tombaugh needed to confirm his discovery. (AP/NASA)

Thanks to a 2015 flyby by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, we now have a better idea of what Pluto, now classified as a “dwarf planet,” actually looks like…

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Dandy Doodle Mayor

Fillmore Hyde, author (and four-time national amateur squash tennis champion), penned this ditty in the March 29 issue in tribute to New York City’s dandyish mayor…

HAT’S OFF…Mayor Jimmy Walker.

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Back for More

Also for the March 29 issue art critic Murdock Pemberton was back at the Museum of Modern Art — a new institution he met with skepticism when it opened in late 1929, but a place that was definitely growing on him as a destination to revel in the work of some of the world’s top modern artists, including the American Max Weber (1881-1961), whose retrospective was supposed to the big draw of MoMA’s latest show, but Pemberton seemed more impressed by French artist Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) and particularly by the Swiss-German Paul Klee (1879-1940).

AMERICAN CUBIST…Max Weber’s The Cellist, 1917, oil on canvas, was featured in Weber’s 1930 retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art; at right, Weber seated in front of Interior with Music (1930). (Brooklyn Museum/Smithsonian)
Aristide Maillol’s Crouching Woman, bronze, 1930. (MoMA)

Pemberton wrote that Klee’s show gave you “quite a feeling”…

Catalogs from Max Weber’s retrospective and Paul Klee’s exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. (MoMA)

…and when he compared Klee’s work to that of the other artists, Pemberton saw something “more potent even than electricity…signposts toward a glorious future”…

A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE…From left, Paul Klee’s Actor’s Mask, 1924, oil on canvas mounted on board; Josef Albers’ 1929 photographic portrait of Klee, 1929; Klee’s In the Grass, 1930, oil on canvas. (MoMA/Guggenheim.org)
 A week later, writing for the April 5 issue, Pemberton penned this piece for “The Talk of Town” about the work habits of artist John Marin

OLD MAN AND THE SEA…John Marin in 1921, in a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz; Marin’s Bathers, 1932, oil on canvas. (mfa.org/Dallas Museum of Art)

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Who Needs a Vet?

The April 5 issue featured James Thurber’s latest installment of “Our Pet Department…

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Spend It Quickly

April 5’s “Talk” also featured this item about Al Capone’s release from prison in Philadelphia, lavishing money and gifts on prison employees as he made his exit from Eastern Penitentiary…

…it was no wonder, because officials at the prison didn’t treat Capone like some ordinary prisoner…

SALUTARY CONFINEMENT…Arrested outside a Philadelphia movie theater for carrying a concealed, unlicensed .38 caliber revolver, Al Capone was sentenced to a year in Eastern State Penitentiary. His last seven months were served in a cell (right) with fine furniture, oriental rugs, paintings, and a console radio, among other frills. (easternstate.org)

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This Al Could Sing

Upon the DVD release of Al Jolson’s 1930 film, Mammy, Dave Kehr of the New York Times wrote that Jolson was “Simultaneously one of the most significant and most embarrassing show business figures of the 20th century.”

That was not view of most audiences 89 years ago, when Jolson reigned as one of America’s most famous entertainers. In his review of Mammy for the April 5, 1930 issue of the New Yorker, critic John Mosher admitted that he didn’t care for minstrel shows depicted in the film, but not for any of the reasons we would cite today…

UGH…Clockwise from top left, Al Jolson and Lois Moran in Mammy; a studio promotional poster; Jolson as a minstrel performer in the film. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We have more racial stereotypes, this time to sell Stetson shoes…

Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) continued to pay the bills by illustrating ads for Flit insecticide…

…while professional golfer Walter Hagen picked up some extra cash by launching his own line of golf underwear…

…Walter has been gone for 50 years, but you can still get his branded clothing from Dick’s Sporting Goods…

Julian De Miskey picked up some extra work illustrating this house ad for the New Yorker

…and then we have this spot from the American Austin Car Company, which produced cars licensed from the British Austin Motor Company from 1930 through 1934…interestingly, the ad doesn’t feature the car itself…

…which looked like this…

(theoldmotor.com)

…on to our comics, Alan Dunn looked in on a devoted listener of S. Parkes Cadman’s Sunday radio broadcast…Cadman (1864-1936) was a British-born clergyman whose NBC radio broadcasts reached millions of listeners across America…

…signs of spring were noted by Otto Soglow

Don Herold shared an observation on stage entertainments…

…William Crawford Galbraith found unrequited love at the circus…

…while Barbara Shermund found a more agreeable pairing at a Manhattan cocktail party…

Garrett Price found humor in the growing numbers of the down and out…

…and Peter Arno turned in this epic two-pager that illustrated the challenges of filming in nature…

Next Time: Hot Jazz in Stone and Steel…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garbo Speaks

Imagine your favorite Hollywood actress, maybe someone like Meryl Streep or Judi Dench. You’ve followed their careers and watched most of their movies, but you’ve never heard their voices.

March 22, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

That’s what it was like for Greta Garbo fans before March 1930, when she spoke her first onscreen words in the 1930 MGM drama Anna Christie, which was adapted from a 1922 play by Eugene O’Neill. 

SWEDISH SPHINX…Greta Garbo’s mask-like qualities on display in this publicity still for Anna Christie. (IMDB)

The New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher, not always a fan of Garbo’s silent work (although she had plenty of fans), found a “special kind of glamour” in her first talking picture, even tossing out the word “legend” to describe this Swede who avoided publicity like a bad cold…

No doubt a few moviegoers saw the movie just to finally hear that voice, which Mosher described as “a surprise…a deep, low voice, a boy’s voice really, rather flat, rather toneless, yet growing more attractive as the picture advances”…

Director William H. Daniels (seated, left) with unidentified cameraman filming a scene from Anna Christie with actors Greta Garbo and Clarence Brown; at right, the actors contemplate the microphone hovering above them. Note how the camera in the first photo is contained in a soundproof case. (IMDB) click image to enlarge

Publicized with the tag line “Garbo talks!,” Anna Christie premiered in New York City on Feb. 21 and became the highest-grossing film of 1930. Later that year a German language version would be filmed featuring Garbo but with a different director and supporting cast.

SOUND DEBUT…Clockwise, from top left, Greta Garbo and Marie Dressler in Anna Christie; an MGM ad touting the film as one of the best pictures of the year (it would be the year’s highest-grossing, and Garbo would receive an Academy Award nomination); studio portraits of Garbo used in the film’s promotion. (IMDB)

And if you want to hear Garbo deliver those famous first lines — “Give me a whisky, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby” — here it is, in a scene about sixteen minutes into the film…

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Chicken and Cocktails
En route to the South Seas, the French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) paid a visit to New York City, and by all accounts had a good time there. His visit was described by Murdock Pemberton in “The Talk of the Town”…

I ♥ NEW YORK…Henri Matisse arriving in New York City on the S. S. Mauretania, December 15, 1930. He described the city as “majestic.” (artistandstudio.tumblr.com)
NICE PLACE, THIS…Henri Matisse sitting on the brick roof terrace of 10 Mitchell Place (formerly Stewart Hall), the Queensboro Bridge glimpsed in the background. The photo was taken in 1930 by his son, Pierre Matisse, who was living in New York. At right, 10 Mitchell Place today. A framed photograph of Matisse sitting on the rooftop hangs on the wall of the building’s lobby. (Henri-matisse.net/Ephemeral New York)
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The Last Page
The death of author D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) was reported to New Yorker readers by Janet Flanner, the magazine’s Paris correspondent, who briefly detailed the writer’s rather sad decline…

FLEETING DAYS…D. H. Lawrence (right) with fellow writer Aldous Huxley at Bandol, in the South of France, 1929. (Topham Picturepoint)

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What Depression?

Nearly five months into the Great Depression, yet little evidence in the New Yorker of the catastrophe that was unfolding across the land. And true to form, the approach to the topic was made with humor, via E.B. White in “Notes and Comment”…

KNOW ANY GOOD JOKES?…At left, unemployed New York dockworkers; at right, folks enjoying the New York Public Library’s outdoor reading room in Bryant Park, 1930s. (Lewis Hine/National Archives and Records Administration/New York Public Library)

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Cathedrals of Commerce

E.B. White also observed the changing skyline, and how the towering skyscrapers were quickly overshadowing the once prominent steeples of the city’s churches…

REACHING TO THE HEAVENS…Clockwise, from top left, Trinity Church Wall Street and St. Patrick’s have been eclipsed by the towers of Mammon, but St. John’s and Riverside still dominate their surroundings today. (Wikipedia/St. John’s/Riverside)

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The Other House of Worship

Perhaps a certain skyscraper ennui settled in, as architecture critic George S. Chappell was not all that impressed by the “huge” Lincoln Building (which today still seems huge)…

SIZE DOESN’T MATTER…Although the new Lincoln Building proved to be a massive addition to the New York skyline, its style seemed outdated in contrast to its flashy new neighbor, the Chrysler Building — one of its gargoyles, at right, seems poised to devour the Lincoln Building. (nyc-architecture.com)

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From Our Advertisers

We have a bit more evidence of the Depression in the ads, including this one from Abercrombie & Fitch, with two sporting gents opting to go fishing to take their minds off the markets…

…if fishing wasn’t your thing, perhaps you just wanted to escape into the “quiet” of the wide streets in the East Seventies…

…or relax with a smoke, which artist Carl Erickson made look so appealing with his Camel ad illustrations…

…or take the humorous route to a relaxing smoke, with this ad for Murad as illustrated by Rea Irvin

…on to our cartoonists, Garrett Price captured the mood of the times…

…while Alfred Krakusin captured an altogether different mood…

...Leonard Dove examined the path to stardom…

I. Klein pondered modern art…

William Crawford Galbraith found an unlikely victim of religious zeal…

Mary Petty gave us a glimpse of a doctor’s office…

…and Leonard Dove again, this time at ringside…

Next Time: Noblesse Oblige…

 

The Lion Roars

It’s easy to get into the weeds while digging through the New Yorker archives, as it is filled with a richly interconnected cast of characters whose lives and work still resonate with us today.

March 15, 1930 cover by Rose Silver. (Please see note on this artist at the end of this blog entry)

A case in point is Bert Lahr (1895-1967), who at age 15 dropped out of high school and joined the vaudeville circuit, working his way up to top billing in Broadway musical comedies including 1930’s Flying High, which received an enthusiastic welcome from New Yorker critic Charles Brackett

…Brackett enjoyed the “feminine beauty” offered by a George White chorus that included the “Gale Quadruplets,” described in the Playbill as “The only Quadruplets in the world appearing on the stage”…

…although in fact the Gale Quadruplets were actually two sets of twins: June and Jane, and Jean and Joan (real names were Doris, Lenore, Helen and Lorraine Gilmartin). But I digress.

What really caught Brackett’s eye were the antics of Bert Lahr:

ONLY ONE BERT…Clockwise, from top left, publicity photo of Bert Lahr from the 1931 film version of Flying High; cover of the Apollo Theatre Playbill; the Gale Quadruplets, circa 1930; Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. (Everett/Playbill/Pinterest/Wikiwand)

The Gale Quadruplets are long forgotten, but the work of Bert Lahr still lives on thanks to his role as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz (a film, incidentally, that was panned in 1939 by New Yorker critic Russell Maloney, who called it “a stinkeroo” that showed “no trace of imagination, good taste, or ingenuity”).

Lahr also connects us to today’s New Yorker magazine, where his son, John Lahr, has been a staff writer and critic since 1992. Lahr has written a number of stage adaptions (he won a Tony award in 2002, the first drama critic to do so) as well as nearly twenty books, including a 2017 biography of his father, Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr.

DRAMATIC DUO…John Lahr with his father, Bert, backstage at the Belasco Theatre in the late 1940s; John Lahr today. (NY Times/Amazon)

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Greener Pastures

We remain on Broadway with another writer who was deeply connected to the New Yorker’s origins. Marc Connelly (1890-1980) was a playwright, director, producer and performer who collaborated with George S. Kaufman on five Broadway comedies in the 1920s. Connelly was also a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, around which orbited a number of writers, critics and assorted wits who would help bring the New Yorker to life in 1925. Connelly was listed as an advisory editor on the masthead of the very first issue:

Connelly’s play, The Green Pastures (based on stories from the Old Testament), had just opened on Broadway, drawing much acclaim for both Connelly and actor Richard B. Harrison (1864-1935). “The Talk of the Town” looked in on the playwright and the actor:

DID YOU HEAR SOMETHING?...Richard B. Harrison (left) and unidentified actor in 1930’s The Green Pastures. At right, Wesley Hill as the Angel Gabriel. (blackarchives.org/ngv.vic.gov.au)
FINAL BOW…Richard B. Harrison in a 1930 publicity photo for the Broadway play, The Green Pastures. At right, Harrison on the cover of the March 4, 1935, Time magazine. He died of heart failure ten days after appearing on the cover. (Henrietta Alice Metcalf Collection/Time)

Connelly would receive the 1930 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Green Pastures. And nearly 60 years later he would be featured in a 1987 documentary about the Algonquin Round Table (The Ten-Year Lunch) as the Table’s last survivor. It would win an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. During his long career Connelly would act in 21 movies, including the 1960 romantic comedy Tall Story with Jane Fonda and Anthony Perkins. He also did some TV, included a stint from 1962 to 1964 as Judge Rampell in The Defenders.

HE COULD ACT TOO…Clockwise, from top left, Marc Connelly in a 1937 photo by Carl Van Vechten; a page from the Playbill for The Green Pastures; college student June Ryder (Jane Fonda) collides on campus with Professor Charles Osmond (Marc Connelly) in the 1960 romantic comedy Tall Story. (Wikipedia/Playbill/ridesabike.com)

Also in the “Talk of the Town” section of the March 15 issue was James Thurber’s latest installment of pet advice:

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Lipstick’s Lamentations

Once the place to read about wild speakeasies and other nighttime diversions of the Roaring Twenties, Lois Long’s “Tables for Two” column had quickly become anachronistic in the Depression years. Although the decade was still young, Long reminisced about her column’s “golden days” as if they had existed in some distant time, and lamented the state of the speakeasy; once a place for cheap and sordid frivolity, it had become staid and even snobbish…

THAT WAS THEN…Lois Long lamented the state of the speakeasy in 1930. Once sordid and given to frivolity, it had become a rather staid institution. (prohibition.themobmuseum.org/Time-Life)

…and Long described some of these new upscale speakeasies, where the oilcloth had been replaced with fine linen…

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Ozark Oeuvre

New Yorker art critic Murdock Pemberton, in his ongoing search for America’s best artists, took another look at that once “uncouth native” from the Ozarks, Thomas Hart Benton

PAINTING FROM THE SOIL…Cattle Loading, oil on canvas, by Thomas Hart Benton, 1930. It was one of the works viewed by critic Murdock Pemberton at the Delphic Studios in New York. (wahooart.com)

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From Our Advertisers

We start off with a couple of two-page ads, the first featuring caricatures of George Gershwin and Alexander Woollcott as rendered by the great Miguel Covarrubias

click image to enlarge

…and then we have this ad from the makers of Lux Toilet Soap, who must have had a bottomless advertising budget given all the splashy ads and celebrity endorsements…

…in the ads we also find clashes between the old and new…the new being this art deco-styled appeal for the newest form of transportation…

…and the old, the makers of the luxury car Pierce-Arrow, still harking back to its patrician origins (“The Tyranny of Tradition”)…the firm would not survive the lean years of the 1930s…

…and once again a colorful ad from Church using snob appeal to sell something as pedestrian as a toilet seat…”Toilet Seats For Better Bathrooms”…

…on to our cartoons, we have a voyeur’s perspective courtesy Helen Hokinson

…an exploration of the generation gap by Alice Harvey

…and this terrifically quaint encounter, rendered by Perry Barlow

…and before we go, a note about this week’s cover artist, Lisa Rhana, a.k.a. Rose Silver (1902-1985) who illustrated several New Yorker covers in the 1920s and early 30s. Her work is included in the permanent collections at the Whitney Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which holds this watercolor (left) that graced the cover of the Jan. 30, 1932 issue:

Next Time: Garbo Speaks…

 

 

 

 

The Non-linear Man

As Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke to the “Lost Generation” of writers and artists in the 1920s, John Dos Passos (1896-1970) drew upon the ethos of that period to usher in a new style of writing for the 1930s — modern, experimental, and deeply pessimistic.

March 8, 1930 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Dos Passos’ book The 42nd Parallel would be the first of three books from 1930 to 1936 that would comprise his landmark U.S.A. Trilogy. The book critic for the New Yorker (identified as “A.W.S.”) sensed that this work of avant-garde historical fiction represented a significant marker in the modernist movement, likening it to the work of the great 20th century composer Igor Stravinsky:

A WRITER FOR DEPRESSING TIMES…The 42nd Parallel was the first book in a trilogy published by John Dos Passos between 1930 and 1936. At right, Dos Passos in the early 1940s. (22.hc.com/hilobrow.com)

Dos Passos also painted throughout his life, nearly 600 canvases including this early work from his days in Spain in the 1920s…

John Dos Passos’ watercolor painting of the the Spanish countryside, circa 1922. A modernist writer, Dos Passos also painted in the style of the avant-garde. His nearly 600 paintings throughout his lifetime show influences of Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism. (johndospassos.com)

…and he joined his literary and artistic talents in 1931 when he translated and illustrated Blaise Cendrars’ long poem Le Panama et Mes Sept Oncles. Dos Passos became good friends with Cendrars, and in the book’s  foreword acknowledged his debt as a writer to the French poet…

(johndospassos.com)

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Don Could Also Write And Draw

Like Dos Passos, Don Herold (1889-1966) could express himself through both words and pictures, albeit in a much less serious vein. In the March 8 issue Herold wrote about the indignity of having to disrobe for a medical examination. An excerpt:

Also an illustrator and cartoonist, Herold made his debut in the New Yorker with this cartoon in the June 1, 1929 issue:

Herold began working as an illustrator around 1910, and enjoyed a long career with a number of publications, including the humor magazine Judge:

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Measuring Up

When the Chrysler Building was completed in May 1930, it officially became the world’s tallest building (a record it ceded 11 months later to the Empire State Building). Being the tallest gave the building the distinction of being something to be measured against, including the durability of a musical recording pressed into a material called “Durium”…

…and when advertisers were in need of something large for comparison, they also turned to the new skyscraper to drive home their selling point…

…new skyscrapers also were used to lend distinction to their tenants, such as Liberty Magazine in the new Daily News Building…

…below a 1940 postcard image of the Daily News Building, then known simply as “The News Building,” and a view of the lobby’s famous globe in 1941…

(Wikipedia)

…on to the rest of our ads, here’s a baldly misogynistic one from Longchamps restaurants…

…and as Prohibition wore on into the Thirties, we have sad little back page ads for cocktail “flavours” and Benedictine “Dessert Sauce”…

…on to our comics, Gardner Rea explored the subject of family planning…

Art Young illustrated the perils of modern art…

Otto Soglow took a stroll with a somnambulist…

Leonard Dove inked this awkward moment between the Old and New Worlds…

…and Peter Arno went to the movies…

Next Time: The Lion Roars…

 

Learning To Be Modern

On March 1, 1930, the Empire State Building was still just a bunch of sketches and blueprints, as was much of the yet-to-be-built modern cityscape of Manhattan. But as the Depression slowly worked its gnarled fingers into the American landscape, some still dreamed of the sleek, streamlined world to come.

March 1, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

The New Yorker’s architecture critic, George S. Chappell, kept readers apprised of changes on the city’s skyline, as well as of the trends in modern design that were being displayed at various exhibitions including one held annually by the city’s Architectural League. Chappell observed:

A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE…Opening pages of the Architectural League’s 45th Annual Exhibition, featuring an image of the Empire State Building. Construction had just begun on the iconic building at the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. (mullenbooks.com)

The exhibition featured a variety of projects, from the Aluminaire House in Long Island to Boardman Robinson’s murals in Pittsburgh to Bertram Goodhue’s Nebraska State Capitol featuring Lee Lawrie’s sculptures and friezes…

ECLECTIC…Model of the Aluminaire House erected in full scale for the 45th Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York; Boardman Robinson’s The History of Trade murals in Kaufmann’s Department Store, Pittsburgh; detail of one of Boardman’s 10 murals displayed at Kaufmann’s; Lee Lawrie’s “The Sower,” a 19-foot-tall bronze statue mounted on top of Bertram Goodhue’s Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. In 1937 Lawrie would install his “Atlas” sculpture in front of Rockefeller Center. (archleague.org/archive.triblive.com/capitol.nebraska.gov)

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And Now For Something Old

While George Chappell contemplated the world to come, “The Talk of Town” looked back in time to Greenwich Village’s oldest drugstore…

FORM FOLLOWED FUNCTION…Quackenbush Pharmacy in 1930. Manager James Todd at right. (Library of Congress)

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Pet Project

The March 1 issue featured James Thurber’s second installment of “Our Pet Department”…

And while Thurber was doling out pet advice, his pal E.B. White was worrying over changes to the design of the Shredded Wheat box…

HORSELESS CARRIAGES replaced animal power on the packages of Shredded Wheat, much to the dismay of E.B. White. (oldshopstuff.com)

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A Prince of a Guy

A refugee from the Bolshevik Revolution, the Georgian Prince Matchabelli (Guéorgui Vassilievitch Matchabelli) was penniless when he landed on American shores in 1924. Two years later he launched a perfume business with three scents  — Ave Maria, Princess Norina, and Queen of Georgia — sold in bottles that were said to be small replicas of the Prince’s lost Georgian crown. “The Talk of the Town” paid the royal perfumer a visit for the March 1 issue:

HIS CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT…A bottle of Princess Norina perfume from 1926, and its creator, Prince Matchabelli. (Pinterest/Wikipedia)

Those who were around the late 1970s and 1980s no doubt recall the Prince Matchabelli Windsong Perfume commercials and the catchy tune that kind of stuck in your head (for better or worse)…

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Low Life Revue

Ben Hecht continued his exploration of the hardboiled world of journalists, bootleggers, nightclub singers and other lowlifes in his screenplay for Roadhouse Nights, a film that was apparently enjoyed by New Yorker film critic John Mosher. As for Hecht, an erstwhile member of the Algonquin Round Table and occasional contributor to the New Yorker in the 1920s, the film was just one of many to follow in a Hollywood career that the former Chicago journalist held in some disdain (see recent New Yorker article by David Denby)…

IT’S MOIDER, I SAY…Helen Morgan, Eddie Jackson Jimmy Durante, Fred Kohler, and Lou Clayton in 1930’s Roadhouse Nights. (IMDB)

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The Winds of Wynn

Ed Wynn wowed theater critic Robert Benchley in his portrayal of “Simple Simon” at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Wynn was one of the most popular comedians of his time, but is best known today for his portrayal of “Uncle Albert” in the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins

AGELESS…Ed Wynn in Simple Simon, 1930; at right as Uncle Albert in 1964’s Mary Poppins. (secondhandsongs.com/Pinterest)

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He Was No Palooka

The March 1 and 9 issues of the New Yorker gave considerable ink to Niven Busch Jr’s success story of a middleweight prizefighter. Titled “K.O. Middleweight,” the two-part article was about Stanislas Kalnins, who went by the name K.O. Keenen because it would go over better with the large majority of Irishmen at the fights. Peter Arno provided the art for the piece:

From Our Advertisers

We have another ad from the Franklin motorcar company touting its air-cooled engines, which thanks to the Depression were not long for the world…

…Saks shamelessly appealed to the “poor” little rich girl in this ad aimed at aspiring debutantes…

…Lenthric perfumes offered this all-French ad to those seeking Continental refinement…

…and this ad from Talon, advertising zippers before the word “zipper” came into common use…

Garrett Price was the latest New Yorker cartoonist to pick up some extra cash from G. Washington instant coffee…

…while John Held Jr. even lent his image (along with some drawings) to promote Chase and Sanborn’s coffee…

…this artist for Spud cigarettes borrowed Carl Erickson’s style from his famed Camel ads (see examples below)…

…examples of Carl “Eric” Erickson’s Camel ads from the late 1920s…

…and here we have another New Yorker cartoonist, Rea Irvin, helping the makers of Murad cigarettes move their product…

…Irvin also illustrated this cartoon for the March 1 issue…

Reginald Marsh contributed these cartoons, no doubt based on a recent winter stay in sunny Havana (I’ve been to Sloppy Joe’s, and still looks pretty much like this)…

…back stateside, Peter Arno looked in on a cultural exchange…

…and we close with two from the issue by Barbara Shermund

Next Time: The Non-linear Man…