Gas Tanks & Towers

Lewis Mumford (1895–1990) is best known as a critic of art, architecture and urban design, but he was unique — especially for his time — in how he approached these subjects, going far beyond aesthetics to consider how things aligned, or mis-aligned, with necessary human qualities ranging from comfort and scale to the quality of our air, water and even diet.

Oct. 22, 1932 cover by Peter Arno.

Returning home from a trip to Europe, Mumford pondered the New York skyline as his ship approached the harbor, contrasting his city’s approach to architecture with what he had seen abroad. He was not pleased:

NOT JUST ANOTHER PRETTY FACE…Lewis Mumford praised the sense of “space, clarity and order” he found in the buildings of Rotterdam — perhaps he was referring in part to Leendert van der Vlugt’s 1931 Van Nelle Factory (top) and H.F. Mertens’ 1931 Unilever office building. (metalocus.es/Wikimedia)
WELCOME BACK, LEWIS…Manhattan skyline with gas tank, 1932. (nycurbanism.com)

Mumford was among the few in 1931 who saw a bright side to the Depression, since a pause in building would afford American architects an opportunity to reflect on their past transgressions…

Mumford, among others, was regarded as a visionary in urban planning, anticipating the “New Urbanism” of the late 20th century which was proposed as an antidote to the dehumanizing free-market development Mumford rightly feared would degrade the quality of urban life, not to mention its deleterious effects on the natural environment.

Inspired by the Garden City movement in the U.K., Robert D. Kohn (mentioned above) founded the Regional Planning Association of America, which led to the development of some of the first modern zoning standards in the U.S.

MAVERICKS…Robert D. Kohn (seated in light-colored suit) was president of AIA when the association held their convention in San Antonio in 1931. Seated at left is Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, a prominent San Antonio physician who established the famed Miraflores gardens (mostly gone, sadly) in that city. (sanantonioreport.org)
Along with Mumford and Kohn, Henry Wright (left) and Frederick Ackerman were strong advocates for zoning laws unsullied by free market forces. Wright (1878–1936) was the brainchild behind the Hillside Group Housing model (described by Mumford below) and he also co-designed Radburn (pictured below) among other projects. Ackerman (1878–1950) became the first Technical Director of New York City Housing in 1934.(sunnysidegardens.us)

Mumford praised the work of architect and planner Henry Wright (1878–1936), who had co-created a “Garden City” plan for Radburn, N.J. (with Clarence Stein) and had recently produced a proposal for “Hillside Group Housing”…

NICE PLACE, THIS…Apartments around a courtyard in Radburn, a community designed by Henry Wright and Clarence Stein. Stein was an early supporter of bicycle paths. (thepolisblog.org)

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Shining Some Light

Now I’d like to offer a tribute of sorts to the almost-forgotten Maddy Vegtel, a writer known in 1920s and 30s for her Vanity Fair profiles (she penned “Blonde Venus and Swedish Sphinx” — about Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo in the June 1934 issue of VF) and articles about her European roots (Holland) in the New Yorker from 1926 to 1956. She particularly enjoyed skewering smug upper middle-class types. Here is her short piece, “Paris.”

…and for the record, the opening spread of Vegtel’s 1934 Vanity Fair piece on Garbo and Dietrich…

(Vanity Fair)

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Play It Again

Robert Benchley was back to writing stage reviews, this time taking in the drama I Loved You Wednesday (at the Sam Harris Theatre) featuring Frances Fuller and Humphrey Bogart — Bogie appeared in a number of stage productions before becoming the familiar hardboiled antihero of Hollywood’s golden age.

Bogart began his stage career in 1921, delivering one line (as a Japanese butler!) in the play Drifting. He would go on to appear in 17 Broadway productions between 1922 and 1935, and would make his screen debut in 1930 in A Devil With Women.

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID…Francis Fuller and Humphrey Bogart in a 1932 stage production of I Loved You Wednesday. It ran for 63 performances at the Sam Harris Theatre. (Pinterest)

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Off-white Christmas

In the midst of wading through poetry submissions to the New Yorker, E.B. White allowed his thoughts to drift toward the coming winter…

…and what would likely be his winter scene in Manhattan…actually this is a screenshot from the 1945 comedy Christmas in Connecticut, and this was the view through writer Elizabeth Lane’s (Barbara Stanwyck) window, which was actually part of a Hollywood sound stage…

(hookedonhouses.net)

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Seeing Red

Along with the poetry submissions, E.B. White also received a letter from the local Communists urging the New Yorker to join hands with the oppressed classes. White, however, found that class divisions weren’t always what they seemed…

FREEDOM AND FREE STUFF, PLEASE…About 10,000 Communists and unemployed march on New York’s City Hall in 1932. (NY Daily News)

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From Our Advertisers

While the Communists marched for jobs and free milk, another class of New Yorkers pondered this ad for a V-16 Cadillac…

…in my last post we saw how RCA’s mascot “Nipper” enjoyed the newfangled “bi-acoustic” radio…

…and so General Electric answered in the Oct. 22 issue with a two-legged expert, who perhaps didn’t have the same range of hearing as a terrier mix, but was nevertheless blessed with “keenly discriminating ears”…

Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel’s greatest achievement was the Roxy Theatre, which opened March 11, 1927. He was also behind the opening of Radio City Music Hall, home of the Roxyettes (later renamed The Rockettes). Rothafel (1882–1936) is also the great-grandfather of actress Amanda Peet

S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel greets wife Rosa Freedman (right) and daughter Beta Rothafel after their return from abroad aboard the S.S. Paris, Sept. 19, 1932. (AP)

…and we continue in the back pages, which included signature ads for various entertainments and an ad for American Airways, which depicted a jaunty young man announcing his plans for “week-ending in Los Angeles”…now read the fine print…in order to “breeze into Los Angeles on Saturday morning,” this fellow would need to depart on Thursday evening, and no doubt experience some bumps along the way…

…here’s a couple of ads featuring New Yorker talent, cartoonists Peter Arno and Helen Hokinson

…Mori was an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village (144 Bleecker Street) that managed to survive Prohibition and most of the Depression before closing in 1937…the building is still there, sans the charm…

A photograph of Mori’s Restaurant taken by Berenice Abbott for the Federal Art Project in 1935. (New York Public Library)

Lois Long had this to say about Mori in her Oct. 29, 1932 “Tables for Two” column:

…on to our cartoonists, beginning with Rea Irvin

…this relatively straightforward cartoon feels like a departure from James Thurber’s usual work…

…and here we have Henry Anton’s first-ever cartoon in the New Yorker (Anton was William Steig’s brother)…

John Floherty Jr. found some racy action among the amoeba…

…while William Crawford Galbraith dialed up the familiar sugar daddy trope…

…and we close with Peter Arno, on firm ground with a bit of his own naughtiness…

Next Time: The Faux Prince…

The Red House

From the 1930s until the 1950s, New York City was the one place where American communists almost became a mass movement.

Sept. 10, 1932 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Writing in the New York Times opinion section (Oct. 20, 2017), Maurice Isserman observed how in those days New York party members “could live in a milieu where co-workers, neighbors and the family dentist were fellow Communists; they bought life insurance policies from party-controlled fraternal organizations; they could even spend their evenings out in night clubs run by Communist sympathizers…” The journalist Matthew Josephson penned a report on the movement for the Sept. 17 (yes we are skipping ahead)Reporter at Large” column titled “The Red House”…excerpts:

According to Isserman (a professor of history at Hamilton College), in 1938 the Communist Party of America counted 38,000 members in New York State alone, most of them living in New York City. A Communist candidate for president of the board of aldermen received nearly 100,000 votes that same year, with party members playing a central role in promoting trade unions.

BOSS’S DAY…Communists march at Union Square against “the boss class” at a 1930 rally in New York City.  (Oxford Research Encyclopedias)
PARTY INVITATION…William Z. Foster and James W. Ford were on the Communist ticket in the 1932 U.S. presidential elections. Ford (1893–1957) was also on the 1936 and 1940 tickets as a vice-presidential candidate. (peoplesworld.org)

Josephson commented on the candidates appearing on the Communist ticket in the 1932 U.S. presidential elections, finding James W. Ford to be “much more intellectual” than his running mate:

THE HQ…Communist Party of America headquarters, 13th St., New York City, 1934; a close-up view of the Workers’ Bookshop display window in 1942. (USC Libraries/Library of Congress)
A regular New Yorker contributor, journalist Matthew Josephson (1899–1978) popularized the term “robber baron” with the publication of his 1934 book, The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists.

Josephson concluded his article with observation of a party protest event, and one unmoved police officer…

Postscript: The Cold War in the 1950s and a renewed Red Scare spelled the end of the party’s heyday, as did Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 speech that denounced the murderous legacy of his predecessor, Josef Stalin.

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Très Chic

For those with means, the idea of living in the same building with other non-family humans seemed unseemly, but in 1870 Rutherford Stuyvesant hired Richard Morris Hunt to design a five-story apartment building for middle-class folks that had a decidedly Parisian flair. The Sept. 10 “Talk of the Town” explained:


According to Ephemeral New York, the apartments were initially dubbed a “folly,” but the building’s 16 apartments and four artists’ studios — located near chic Union Square — were quickly snapped up, creating a demand for more apartments. The building remained fully occupied until it was demolished in 1958. According to another favorite blog — Daytonian in Manhattan—demolition of Morris Hunt’s soundly built, sound-proof building was a challenge.

IT DIDN’T GO QUIETLY…Stuyvesant Flats at 142 East 18th Street, 1935, in a photo by Berenice Abbott. It was demolished in 1958. (New York Public Library)

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Some Characters

I include this brief snippet of the Sept. 10 “Profile” for the jolly illustration by Abe Birnbaum of Al Smith, Jimmy Hayes and the Prince of Wales…

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Down In Front

E.B. White was always on the lookout for the newfangled in the world of transportation, but this latest development by the Long Island Railroad was not a breath of fresh air…

STACK ‘EM UP…A woman wears a bemused expression (left) as she takes in her surroundings on one of the Long Island Railroad’s new double-decked cars in 1932. (trainsarefun.com)

White also looked in on the latest news from the world of genetics—with hindsight we can read about these developments with a degree of alarm, since Hitler was months away from taking control of Germany…

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Showing His Colors

On to lighter matters, critic John Mosher enjoyed an eight-minute animated Walt Disney short, Flowers and Trees—the first commercially released film made in full-color Technicolor…

SEEING GREEN…Walt Disney’s Flowers and Trees won the very first Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1932. (intanibase.com)

…Mosher also took in light entertainment of the live-action variety with Marion Davies and Billie Dove providing some amusement in Blonde of the Follies, although the picture could have used a bit more Jimmy Durante, billed as a co-star but making an all-too-brief appearance…

WHERE’S THE DUDE WITH THE SCHNOZ?…Billie Dove (left) starred with headliner Marion Davies in Blondie of the Follies, but another co-star, comedian Jimmy Durante, was mostly absent from the picture. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Lord & Taylor announced the return of Edwardian styles as the latest in fashion among the younger set, once again proving what goes around comes around, ad infinitum

…except when it comes to “college styles”…I don’t see this look returning to our campuses anytime soon…

…the end of Prohibition was still a year away, but at least in New York it was all but over…I like the Hoffman ad and its winking line “with or without”…

…as a courtesy to readers (and to fill a blank space) the New Yorker    “presented” a full page of signature ads touting a variety of specialty schools and courses…the Carson Long Military Academy (right hand column) closed in 2018 after 182 years of “making men”…

…on to our cartoonists and illustrators, we begin with this Izzy Klein illustration in the opening pages…

Rea Irvin gave us a nervous moment at the altar…

…and Richard Decker showed us one groovy grandma…

…on to the Sept. 17 issue (which we dipped into at the start)…and what a way to begin with this terrific cover by Peter Arno

Sept. 17, 1932 cover by Peter Arno.

…in his “Notes and Comments,” E.B. White offered some parting words for the departing (and scandal-ridden) Mayor Jimmy Walker

THAT’S ALL FOLKS…Deposed New York Mayor Jimmy Walker skipped town shortly after he left office and caught a boat to Europe. He is seen here at his wedding to Betty Compton in Cannes, April 1933. (Library of Congress)

…and Howard Brubaker added his two cents regarding Walker and his replacement, Joseph McKee, who served as acting mayor until Dec. 31, 1932…

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Heady Role

The British actor Claude Rains earned his acting chops on the London Stage before coming to Broadway, where in 1932 he appeared in The Man Who Reclaimed His HeadE.B. White was subbing for regular critic Robert Benchley, and concluded that Rains should have used his own head before agreeing to appear in such silly stuff…

NO MORE HEAD JOKES, PLEASE…Although he got a late start on his Hollywood career, Claude Rains (1889—1967) became one of the silver screen’s great character stars. (Playbill)

…and speaking of the silver screen, we turn to critic John Mosher and his review of the 1931 German film

WOMEN IN REVOLT…The New York Times (in 2020) describes 1931’s  “expression of anti-fascism and a lesbian coming-out story.” The film was a success throughout Europe, but was later banned as “decadent” by the Nazi regime. Above, Ellen Schwanneke, left, and Hertha Thiele in Mädchen in Uniform. (Kino Lorber)

Mädchen in Uniform was almost banned in the U.S., but Eleanor Roosevelt spoke highly of the film, resulting in a limited US release (albeit a heavily-cut version) in 1932–33.

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From Our Advertisers

I’m featuring this detail from an Elizabeth Arden ad because the illustrator’s style is so distinct…if someone knows the identity of the artist, please let us know (on other drawings I’ve seen a signature that looks like “coco”)…

…invented in 1918, this “cheese food” made from milk, water, whey, milk protein concentrate, milkfat, whey protein concentrate and sodium phosphates — among other things — was acquired by Kraft in 1927 and marketed in the 1930s as a nutritious health food…I have to say I haven’t seen any Velveeta ads in the New Yorker as of late…

…”Pier 57, North River!” barks the successful-looking man to the admiring cabby who’s thinking “lucky dog!”…

…on the other hand, Peter Arno (kicking off our Sept. 17 cartoons) gave us a Milquetoast who wasn’t getting anywhere near the French Line, or First Base…

…and speaking of the mild-mannered, James Thurber offered up this fellow…

Helen Hokinson’s “girls” were perhaps wondering if their driver was among the Commies at Union Square…

John Held Jr. entertained with another “naughty” Victorian portrait…

Robert Day, and wish unfulfilled at the zoo…

…and we close with Richard Decker, and trouble in the Yankee dugout…

Next Time: A Picture’s Worth…

A New Outlook

New York Governor Al Smith and the man who succeeded him in that office, Franklin D. Roosevelt, were both Democrats, but when it came to personalities, they were more like oil and water.

Sept. 3, 1932 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

A popular governor (1923 to 1928) from working-class roots, Smith thought he could ride that popularity to the White House, but lost to Herbert Hoover in the ’28 presidential elections. He then hoped to be of some use to his gubernatorial successor FDR, but was more or less snubbed by his fellow Democrat – the regal Roosevelt branded himself as a reformer, and didn’t want Smith’s deep Irish Tammany connections to sully that reputation. Smith did find something to do, however, by becoming president of the corporation that built and operated the Empire State Building.

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP…Al Smith (pointing) extolls the wonders of the Empire State Building at the May 1, 1931 grand opening. (chrismurphy.com)

But after the building’s dedication, Smith took another shot at the White House, this time against Roosevelt in the 1932 Democratic presidential primaries. Smith lost the nomination in a bitter convention battle (he eventually endorsed FDR) but kept busy with another venture: editor of the New Outlook magazine…

SECULAR SHIFT…The Outlook began publication as The Christian Union (1870–1893). The issue at left is from July 1, 1893, when the magazine became The Outlook to reflect its shift from religious subjects to social and political issues. That magazine went bankrupt and became the New Outlook in 1932; the issue at right is from October 1933, a year after Al Smith became editor. The magazine folded in 1935. (Wikipedia/Abe Books)

…which Smith used as a platform to attack his Democratic rival, and, particularly the New Deal policies following Roosevelt’s successful election to the White House. The election was still a couple months away when E.B. White offered these observations about Smith’s new publishing venture:

Otto Soglow provided this interpretation of Smith’s new job for “Notes and Comment”…

…while other cartoonists made hay over the Roosevelt/Smith rift:

COMIC APPEAL…Cyrus Cotton “Cy” Hungerford produced daily cartoons for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 50 years, including this gem at left that aptly illustrated the political circus that featured Al Smith as its star attraction; during his 32 years as editorial cartoonist for The Kansas City Star, Silvey Jackson (S. J. or Sil) Ray amassed a portfolio of roughly 10,000 cartoons, including the one at right that depicts the ghosts of past Outlook contributors and editors including Teddy Roosevelt, Lyman J. Abbott and Henry Ward Beecher. (Museum of the City of New York/kchistory.org)

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Nein Bitte

The German artist George Grosz (1893–1959) was perhaps best known for his bitter caricatures and paintings of Berlin’s Weimar years (roughly 1918 to 1933). In June 1932 he accepted an invitation to teach the summer semester at the Art Students League of New York, then briefly returned to Germany before emigrating to the U.S. with his family in January 1933.

SEEING RED…Clockwise, from top left, George Grosz depicted Berlin as a hellscape awash in blood and corruption in Metropolis (1917); by contrast, Grosz celebrated the energy and freedom of New York in his 1915–16 work Memory of New York; Grosz in New York, circa 1932; after emigrating to the US in 1933, Grosz abandoned his harsh caricatures and corrupted cityscapes in favor of nudes and landscapes. He returned to the subject of the New York skyline a number of times, including his 1934 painting Lower Manhattan. (MoMA/Flickr)

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From Our Advertisers

Back in the day when it was still acceptable to drape dead animals around your neck, Gunther Furs offered these ensembles…the coat at left would cost the equivalent of $17,000 today…

…this 1932 photo gives us some idea of how these coats might have appeared…

FUR SURE…Models in 1932 wearing (from left) wool coat with fur collar and armbands; wool coat with blue fox collar by Lanvin; and wool coat with caracal collar and sleeve trimming by Mainbocher. Photo by Edward Steichen. (pleasurephotoroom.wordpress.com)

…perhaps you could wear one of the coats on a breezy day atop Ten Park Avenue…even this posh address felt the need to emphasize its affordability in those depressed times…also note the advertisement at the bottom for a “Milk Farm”…

…the 1930s saw a weight-loss fad that included dairy as a dietary must; one such “milk farm” was the Rose Dor Farm just up the Hudson from New York…

HUMP DAY…Top, Rose Dor Farm trainer Steve Finan directs mat exercises calculated to reduce hips and remove “widow’s humps” in the 1930s. Below, note the choice of footwear for the workout. (vintag.es)

…back to our apartment hunting, The Lombardy was built in the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst for his movie star mistress Marion Davies…unlike Ten Park Avenue, it wasn’t on Park, but the ad makes sure to note its close proximity, and the illustration assured that the clientele were sufficiently dour in their good taste…also note the ad for the Fraternity Clubs Building, which was going co-ed…

The New York Times reported in August 1932 that “the ninety rooms of the fourth and fifth floors of the building have been redecorated and furnished with a ‘feminine touch'”…

NO ANIMAL HOUSE…The Fraternity Clubs Building, erected in 1923, went co-ed in 1932. The Renaissance Revival-style building was designed by the firm Murgatroyd & Ogden. Today it serves as the Jolly Madison Towers hotel. (New York Public Library via Daytonian in Manhattan)

…time to step out for a smoke with another Old Gold ad illustrated by Peter Arno

…in contrast to Arno’s defiant vamp, this woman enjoyed her smoke with a sense of ease…

…if you’ve never heard of Richard Himber, he made a name for himself in New York beginning with his days in vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley. Described in a Wikipedia entry as “American bandleader, composer, violinist, magician and practical joker,” Himber ran a band-booking agency before forming an orchestra of his own at the Essex House that performed over NBC Radio…

…our last ad is a most unlikely one from the Sterling Engine Company of Buffalo, New York, definitely an outlier among the other New Yorker ads…

…our cartoonists include Perry Barlow on the campaign trail…

…along with Alain (Daniel Brustlein)

Carl Rose gave us two zoo animals who were less than keen to become movie stars…

…and we close with William Steig, who showed us one of his Small Fry coming of age…

…but before we close, here’s a brief nod to Halloween, 1932, and some popular costumes for the grown-ups, including a Minnie Mouse costume that is unintentionally creepy…

…Hollywood liked to get in on the fun by releasing studio “pin-ups” featuring stars of the day…

BOO…Paramount stars all pose with the same prop Jack ‘o Lantern circa 1931-32. From left, the original “It Girl” Clara Bow, who would retire from movies in 1933 at age 28 and become a rancher; Robert Coogan and Jackie Cooper were child stars of the film Sooky; Nancy Carroll’s latest film, Hot Saturday, was released a few days before Halloween 1932. The film also starred Cary Grant in his first leading role. (vintag.es/twitter/Pinterest)

Next Time: The Red House…

Rebecca and the Zombies

As we recently saw in the 1932 film Freaks, there were some truly weird motion pictures produced in Hollywood during the pre-Code era, including four that were reviewed in the July 30 and August 6 editions of the New Yorker.

July 30, 1932 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

According to critic John Mosher, some of those films were not intended to be viewed as such, including Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (reviewed in the Aug. 6 issue), which Mosher found more gruesome than the Bela Lugosi vehicle White Zombie:

THE HORROR…After seeing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, critic John Mosher concluded that too much sweetness and sunniness could be creepier than a bunch of zombies. Pictured above is Marian Nixon as Rebecca and Ralph Bellamy as her suitor, Dr. Ladd. (IMDB)
THE BELA BUNCH…Following up on his 1931 hit Dracula, Bela Lugosi inexplicably chose to star in the low-budget horror film White Zombie. Considered to be the first feature-length zombie movie, it served as a model for subsequent zombie pictures. Clockwise, from top left, white Haitian voodoo master “Murder” Legendre (Lugosi) leads his crew of zombies; Legendre toasting his evil intentions; coach driver (Clarence Muse), warns his passengers about zombies on the highway (although the film is set in Haiti — actually a Hollywood studio lot — Muse was the only Black actor with a speaking part, albeit quite brief); as was common in those days, John T. Printz, a white actor, portrayed the Black character Ledot, a former witch doctor; Legendre (Lugosi) transforms Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) into a zombie and orders her to kill her fiancé. Also pictured is Robert Frazer, who portrayed a plantation owner. Filmed is just eleven days, the majority of the cast in White Zombie were actors whose careers had waned since the silent era. (IMDB)

In the July 30 issue Mosher had another encounter with the strange, this time two documentaries that were very much products of their time.

In case a film about the hardships on the Alaskan tundra wasn’t enough to entice moviegoers, Universal Pictures served up this lobby card featuring a topless Nuwuk woman to promote Igloo…

Igloo lobby card. (Pinterest)

…in a similar vein, husband and wife filmmakers Martin E. and Osa Johnson offered up some topless images to accompany the action promised in Congorilla. It’s a familiar National Geographic-style trope — an over-the-counter magazine or film in the 1930s wouldn’t dare show a European woman topless (there were decency laws after all!) but these folks were “primitive,” and therefore weren’t subject to the Hays Code or other decency standards.

Congorilla lobby card. (IMDB)

The Johnson’s documentary was partly staged, including this scene with “child-like pygmies” that is just plain weird (um, didn’t “modern” jazz have its roots in Africa?):

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Life of the Party

James Thurber penned this unusual July 30 profile, a parody of artistic genius- types who are loved and admired despite also being a drunken assholes. I include the opening paragraph, and the concluding paragraph, which follows a decision by Elliot Vereker’s literary friends to put him on a boat to France; during a farewell party he roundly insults them all.

MIRROR, MIRROR…James Thurber and his “Profile” subject, Elliot Vereker. Some critics suggest Vereker’s character was the result of some self-reflection on Thurber’s part.

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From Our Advertisers

William Steig continued illustrating these full-page ads for Old Gold (no surprise that tobacco companies were doing quite well during the Depression)…

…as we’ve seen, a number of New Yorker cartoonists earned extra money illustrating ads for a variety of companies, but one cartoonist, Peter Arno, also collaborated with artists, playwrights and musicians including Paul Whiteman…no doubt this collaboration was inspired in Arno’s youth, as noted New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin explains in this Inkspill entry

…and we have another in the continuing series of Lucky Strike ads encouraging smokers to inhale its “pure” tobacco, the better to draw in all that addictive nicotine…

…on to our cartoons…William Steig got a clever two-page layout with the caption, “Tell him to put plenty of sauerkraut on it”…

Carl Rose offered his thoughts on the slate of wishy-washy candidates in the upcoming 1932 elections…

Helen Hokinson explored the simple ways of rural living…

Barbara Shermund looked in on the charmed lives of her modern women…

Robert Day gave us an athlete with a big surprise ahead (and not a happy one…I made this same mistake years ago in a junior high track meet)…

...James Thurber explored the junior edition of his “War Between Men and Women”…

…and Kemp Starrett illustrated a Boy Scout who lost his troop along with some of his innocence…

…and we continue with the Aug. 6 issue, cover artist Constantin Alajalov choosing the 1932 Summer Olympics as his theme:

August 6, 1932 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Alva Johnston penned the first part of a two-part “A Reporter At Large” feature on Knickerbocker Village. Yet to be built when this article was written (construction began in 1933 and was completed in 1934), Knickerbocker Village was the first apartment development in the U.S. to receive federal funding. It came from the Congress-authorized Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which gave loans to private developers like Fred French for the construction of low-income housing in slum-clearance areas.

CLEARANCE SALE…Tenements in Lower East Side were razed in 1933 to make way for Knickerbocker Village. The site was known as “Lung Block,” because of its high tuberculosis mortality rate. Developer Fred French, who also created Manhattan’s Tudor City, received federal funding to replace slums with more healthful housing. However, the 1,590 small apartments in Knickerbocker Village were eventually occupied by white collar, middle-income residents. Rather than provide better housing for former tenement dwellers, the project displaced them to other slum areas in the city. (Ewing Galloway/NYT)
STILL STANDING…Knickerbocker Village today. The complex was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In 2019, the City Council passed a bill that keeps Knickerbocker Village relatively affordable for the next 50 years in exchange for a $3 million annual tax abatement. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

The new Waldorf-Astoria touted its Starlight Roof’s many attractions, including, no doubt, escape from the heat and dust of the city streets…

ON TOP OF THE WORLD…View of the Waldorf-Astoria’s famed Starlight Roof and the cover of its wine list, circa 1934. (Pinterest)

…I find these Ethyl ads endlessly fascinating, not only for pushing leaded gasoline on the public, but for class-shaming them into using their product…

…on to our cartoons, Richard Decker showed how not all Prohibition supporters were teetotalers…

William Steig gave us one man’s reaction to August weather…

Barbara Shermund drew a man drawing a line on his place of birth…

…and we end with a cartoon by Wallace Morgan…there is a joke here related to the attire of the two women, but I am at a loss (any suggestions?)…

Next Time: Silence is Golden…

 

On Detention

Twentieth century New York saw a lot of paradise paved (see Moses, Robert), but there is one spot in New York that saw paradise reclaimed — not from a parking lot but from an eleven-story prison that once stood at 10 Greenwich Avenue.

June 18, 1932 cover by William Crawford Galbraith.

The Jefferson Market Garden in Greenwich Village was once the site of a women’s prison designed to be a more humane corrections facility, but between its opening in 1932 and its closing in 1971 the Women’s House of Detention went from noteworthy to notorious.

It was designed by a firm known for its Art Deco buildings — Sloan and Robertson — and although it still looked rather stark and institutional on the inside, attempts were made to gussy it up with artworks commissioned by the WPA. The New Yorker’s E.B. White found a certain “sanitary elegance” to the place.

WELCOME INMATES!…When the Women’s House of Detention opened in 1932 it focused on more humane practices, including vocational training and other reform measures. Clockwise from top right, a 1938 photo shows how the prison once loomed over the Sixth Avenue El;

by the late 1960s the jail had become squalid, overcrowded and violent. He wrote: “I can still hear the desperate pleas of inmates shouting through the windows as I walked home from school every day.”

BIG, BAD HOUSE…Clockwise from top, left, protestor outside the New York Women’s House of Detention at the Prisoners’ Rights and “Free the Panther 21” demonstration in 1970; illustrious inmates at the prison included Ethel Rosenberg (pictured Aug. 8, 1950), Angela Davis, and Valerie Solanas (who shot Andy Warhol in 1968); demonstrators outside the prison in 1970; 1956 publicity still taken by the Department of Corrections. (Diana Davies via Smith College/

In the late 1960s Village residents began holding town hall meetings to discuss the removal of the overcrowded prison, many complaining of the friends and families of inmates who lingered outside day and night, yelling up to their loved ones behind bars. The protests were successful; the prison closed in 1971 and was demolished three years later.

A BIT OF EARTH…Top photo is an overhead view of the Jefferson Market Garden, planted on the site of the former Women’s House of Detention. Below, a verdant pathway takes a turn through Jefferson Market Garden. Photos courtesy of amny.com and Jefferson Market Garden.

 *  *  *

How Dry I Ain’t

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a canny politician, seemingly able at times to please both sides of a divisive issue. This was the case in 1932, when teetotaling New Yorkers touted FDR’s long record of supporting such causes as the Anti-Saloon League, while city dwellers such as E.B. White knew better…

LIBERAL LIBATION…Franklin D. Roosevelt was an enthusiastic drinker, especially of his famed martinis. (thrillist.com)

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

In the days before air conditioning, most folks had to rely upon whatever cooling breezes they could channel into their homes, and apparently in Tudor City they could find some relief from the East River, at least when the wind was blowing from that direction…

…if the wind wasn’t in your favor, you could switch on an electric fan, an appliance that didn’t come into common use until the 1920s…this ad also demonstrated the power of the dictum “sex sells,” even if applied subtly…

…it would be awhile before air-conditioning became common, but in 1932 you could at least keep your goodies cool with a GE refrigerator, its radiating coils offering a novel way to disperse this smoker’s emissions…

…we jump to our cartoons, with Kemp Starrett in some mixed company…

Garrett Price illustrated the peril one faced when driving through Chelsea, where one could encounter freight trains at street level…

…for almost one hundred years this street-level freight line on 11th Avenue — known as “Death Avenue” — claimed the lives and limbs of hundreds of (mostly poor) New Yorkers…

HEADS UP!…the Hudson River Railroad at 11th Avenue and West 41st Street. (forgotten-ny.com)

…happily, we move on to June 25, 1932…

June 25, 1932 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

…which featured a profile of Samuel Klein (1886-1942), founder of Union Square’s discount department store S. Klein, famous for its “bargain bins.” The profile included this column-busting caricature of Klein as rendered by Abe Birnbaum

YOU COULDN’T MISS IT…The S. Klein Department Store was a Union Square fixture from 1910 to its closing in 1975. At right, undated photo of founder Samuel Klein. The building is long gone, the Zeckendorf Towers now occupying the site. (theclio.com/bklyn.newspapers.com)

…and we roll right into our advertisements, and this spot from the makers of B.V.D.s, who found a new market for men’s shorts and continued the 1920s trend toward a more casual, androgynous look among “modern debs”…

…you likely wouldn’t catch Helena Rubinstein wearing B.V.D.s., busy here shaming women into using her line of beauty products…

…on to our cartoons, we have this spot illustration by James Thurber

…and another travelogue image from Rea Irvin

Douglas Ryan gave us an unlikely Shakespeare lover (unless the boxer was Gene Tunney)…

…and we end with a bit of Prohibition humor from Gardner Rea

Next Time: Help Wanted

Summer Indulgences

Writing under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes, Robert Benchley (1889-1945) tried to keep the newspaper industry honest through regular criticism in his “Wayward Press” column.

June 11, 1932 cover by Helen Hokinson.

As the summer of ’32 approached, Benchley recalled the barrage of sensational headlines that dominated the month of May — everything from Amelia Earhart’s solo crossing of the Atlantic to John Curtis’ false confession in the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Here is the opening paragraph:

THE NOBLE AND IGNOBLE marked a busy May 1932. On May 20–21, Amelia Earhart became the first woman—and the only person since Charles Lindbergh—to fly nonstop and alone across the Atlantic. She is shown here after arriving in Culmore, Northern Ireland after her solo flight; At top, right, John Hughes Curtis, a bankrupt shipbuilder from Norfolk, Virginia, who falsely claimed he was in contact with the actual kidnappers of the Lindbergh baby, leading investigators on a wild goose chase; bottom right,  Jimmy Walker’s days as mayor of New York were numbered as investigations into corruption continued. (pioneersofflight.si.edu/Wikipedia)

*  *  *

News From Texas

Lois Long filed another installment of “Tables for Two,” noting that folks at Broadway and Seventh Avenue “still own most of the motorcars that sally out of town,” with some of those cars ending up at Texas Guinan’s new La Casa Guinan on Merrick Road.

TEXAS TEA…Following the market crash of 1929, Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan left Manhattan’s speakeasy life and in time started a new club near Valley Stream, Long Island. Formerly known as Hoffman’s, Guinan renamed the club La Casa Guinan in 1932. (liherald.com)

 *  *  *

Dud Stud

Writing under his pseudonym Audax Minor, George F. T. Ryall reported on the latest news from the track, namely the race at Belmont that produced a surprise winner.

FAIR FAIRENO scored his first major victory of 1932 in the Belmont Stakes. Unfortunately, Faireno fared less well with the fillies — he was found to be completely sterile when tried at stud.(americanclassicpedigrees.com)

*  *  *

Appreciating ZaSu

ZaSu Pitts (1894 – 1963) began her acting career in silent dramas, but moved on to comic roles with the advent of sound, most famously pairing up with Thelma Todd in a string of comedy shorts. Producer Hal Roach saw the duo as a female version of Laurel and Hardy, although Pitts and Todd’s characters were smarter and more streetwise. Pitts was also known for playing many secondary parts in B films, mostly portraying fretful spinsters. According to critic John Mosher, this typecasting did not do justice to the Pitts’ obvious talents, which were on display in 1932’s Strangers of the Evening.

UNSUNG HEROINE is how critic John Mosher described actor ZaSu Pitts, seen at left in a circa 1930 publicity photo. Anticipating Lucy and Ethel from I Love Lucy, Pitts teamed up with Thelma Todd in a string of comedy shorts in the early 1930s. Pitts was featured in dozens of films in her 50-year career, including appearances in 18 films in 1932 alone. (IMDB)

Mosher was also a big fan of Greta Garbo, her recent appearance in Grand Hotel prompting a raft of superlatives from the usually reserved critic. But in her latest outing, As You Desire Me, the enigmatic star seemed to drift a bit closer to earth.

GET OFF MY BACK…Critic John Mosher was a big fan of Greta Garbo, but her appearance in As You Desire Me was a bit of a letdown. Maybe it was the blonde wig. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Chelsea’s London Terrace opened in 1930 as largest apartment building in the world, and it was a world unto itself, noted for its “Garden Quiet” as this ad claimed…

…and its terraces continue to provide respite from the clamor below…

NOW AND THEN…London Terrace today and in 1930. (londonterracestories.com)

…next is another testimonial ad from Pond’s Cold Cream, this time featuring “Mrs. John Davis Lodge,” aka Francesca Braggiotti (1902-1998), an Italian dancer and actor who married fellow actor John Davis Lodge in 1929 (they co-starred in the 1938 film Tonight at Eleven)…

…A member of a prominent political family, John Davis Lodge (1903-1985) later served as governor of Connecticut, a U.S. House representative, and ambassador to Spain, Argentina, and Switzerland…

SECOND ACT… Francesca Braggiotti married fellow actor John Davis Lodge in 1929, but gave up the acting life when her husband entered politics in the 1940s. At left, the couple in 1938; at right, a 1931 portrait of Braggiotti by Arnold Genthe. The couple had two children, one of whom is Lily Lodge, co-founder of Actors Conservatory in NYC. (Wikipedia/geni.com)

…on with the rest of the ads, we have this one from the maker of Camels, R.J. Reynolds, who took a shot at rival American Tobacco, and their “toasted” Lucky Strikes…

…and we get a dose of retrofuturism thanks to Charles Kaiser and his illustrations of life unbounded with the autogiro, a predecessor to the modern helicopter…

…and it makes a nice segue to our cartoons, beginning with Robert Day

…and the next series are of a scandalous nature, beginning with Otto Soglow’s comment on Mayor Walker’s corruption charge, and an “unnamed” whistleblower…

…and we have scandalous whispers for a dowager at Versailles, with Rea Irvin

…and we let our imaginations run wild with Helen Hokinson here…

…and again here…

…and we end with another James Thurber classic…

Next Time: On Detention…

Under the Boardwalk

Kay Boyle was thirty and still cutting her teeth as a writer and political activist when the New Yorker published her short story “Black Boy,” told through an unnamed narrator who recalls a childhood visit to the seaside.

May 14, 1930 cover by Bela Dankovsky.

The narrator remembers the days when she rode her horse along the beach while her grandfather watched from a rolling chair, pushed along the boardwalk by various young Black boys. In the following excerpts, the grandfather asks one of the boys for his name, but is it clear he doesn’t really want to get to know him, and through his teasing suggests he isn’t even worthy of an identity. Later in the story the girl befriends the boy, who dwells beneath the boardwalk and dreams of a better life. When the grandfather learns of this budding friendship, he warns about the possibility of harm coming from the boy (two excerpts):

THE LONG, CHAOTIC LIFE of writer and activist Kay Boyle (1902–1992) ranged from fights against racism and fascism in the 1930s to protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and against nuclear weapons into the 1990s. (1941 photograph by George Platt Lynes, courtesy The Kay Boyle Papers, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University)

The final paragraphs describe how the girl falls from her horse, and the shocking consequences of the boy coming to her aid.

SEPARATE AND NOT EQUAL…Kay Boyle employed a boardwalk setting in her 1932 short story “Black Boy” to underscore the stark divisions between races in American society. Clockwise, from top left, a 1914 postcard from Atlantic City; on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, circa 1905; sheet music for a popular 1905 song; a dour-looking group being pushed along the Atlantic City Boardwalk, circa 1905. (seesaw.typepad.com/bygonely.com/reddit.com)

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Potemkin Park

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White questioned the need, and appropriateness, of a wood and plaster Federal Hall replica in Bryant Park, which at the time was a neglected patch of land behind the New York Public Library and a favorite spot for the city’s homeless, their numbers rapidly growing during one of the worst years of the Depression (unemployment hovered near 25 percent).

To add insult to injury, the area around the replica was fenced off and required an admission fee of 25 cents. White commented:

ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION…This flimsy Federal Hall replica erected in Bryant Park in 1932 symbolized some of the problems that beset New York City in one of the worst years of the Depression. Under Mayor Jimmy Walker, the committee in charge of the replica was filled with corrupt Tammany cronies who quickly depleted the committee’s funds. It is no surprise that the replica was unpopular, especially with its admission fee of 25 cents, roughly equivalent to $5 today (consider that sales clerks in 1932, if they were lucky to have a job, earned perhaps $15 a week). (Museum of the City of New York)

 *  *  *

Intermural Murals

Art critic Murdock Pemberton approached the Museum of Modern Art’s newest exhibition of American muralists with a bit of suspicion, although he was correct in surmising that the Rockefeller Center was shopping for muralists, but as we now know it was not an American, but a Mexican artist (Diego Rivera) who would enter that scene and stir things up.

Among other works, MoMA visitors viewed Ben Shahn’s study for a three-part composition titled “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti”…

(MoMA)

…and a work by the New Yorker’s own Reginald Marsh titled “Post-War America”…

(MoMA)

 *  *  *

Boop’s Boo-Boo

We return to E.B. White and his musings regarding actress and singer Helen Kane (1904–1966), who filed a $250,000 (equivalent to nearly $5 million in 2021) infringement lawsuit against cartoonist Max Fleischer and Paramount Studios, claiming that the popular Betty Boop character was based on Kane’s personality and image.

BOOP SCOOP…Comparison between Helen Kane and the cartoon star Betty Boop was published in Photoplay’s April 1932 issue, one month before Kane’s lawsuit was filed. The suit was settled two years later, the court finding insufficient evidence to support Kane’s claim. (Wikipedia)

 *  *  *

From Rags to Rackets

Lois Long lived at the center of the 1920s speakeasy scene, but while she partied she also kept a critical eye on her surroundings, and when she later moved on to fashion criticism (“On And Off The Avenue”) she maintained the same combination of enthusiasm and shrewdness as she took aim at the “lusty fellows of the fashion rackets”…

JUST BROWSING, THANKS…Lois Long kept a skeptical eye on the New York fashion “racket” in the 1930s. Above, an unidentified model sporting a red velvet ensemble during a fashion show in 1933. (New York Daily News)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with yet another insecticide-themed cartoon from Dr. Seuss, this time using the experimental medium of television to get his point across…

…R.J. Reynolds continued to push their Camels on the growing market of women smokers, here mixing their product with a basket of fruit to suggest freshness and vitality…

…the folks at B. Altman touted their new outdoor furniture line, placing it in a setting available to a very select few New Yorkers…

…we kick off the cartoons with Peter Arno at his best…

Alice Harvey gave voice to one woman’s thoughts on children…

Leonard Dove found spirits dwelling among dusty bones…

James Thurber gave us his take on the housewife eating bonbons trope…I’m not suggesting that Thurber was the first to illustrate this stereotype, but I’m not finding any references to housewives and bonbons predating the 1950s…something for a dissertation out there, if it hasn’t already been done…

William Steig continued his exploration into the world of the Small Fry, offering up a rare image of baseball in the early New Yorker

…and we close the May 14 issue with I. Klein, and one sidewalk salesman looking for a bonafide endorsement…

…on to May 21, 1932…

May 21, 1932 cover by Helen Hokinson.

…where we find E.B. White sharing his thoughts on the Lindbergh kidnapping and its tragic result…

BAD NEWS ON THE DOORSTEP…News of the death of Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s kidnapped baby transfixed the country in the spring of 1932. (New York Times)

 *  *  *

No Immaculate Conception, This

It must have been hard to be Lewis Mumford, so knowledgable in the arts, architecture and city planning, and yet rather helpless in encouraging thoughtful growth in a place that spouted buildings like mushrooms and paved roads (thanks to Robert Moses) almost as fast as cars could drive across them. These excerpts offer some of Mumford’s thoughts on the matter:

For Mumford’s second point, he soundly denounced a plan to place an obelisk in Battery Park. The 1929 proposal called for an 800-foot obelisk at the junction of Broadway and Greenwich Street:

OVER COMPENSATING, PERHAPS…Designed by architect Eric Gugler, the proposed granite obelisk for Battery Park would have been windowless, 80 feet square at its base and rising to a height of 800 feet. Thankfully it was never, ahem, “erected.” (NYC Urbanism @nycurbanism) 

Mumford also addressed the matter of the Central Park Zoo, and its proposed relocation:

Happily for Mumford, and for former Gov. Al Smith (see caption), the zoo would be revitalized and remain in Central Park.

MIRACLES OF MOSES…Although Lewis Mumford would often be at odds with the powerful park commissioner Robert Moses, it was Moses who ensured that the Central Park Zoo would remain in the park. The remodeled zoo opened with great fanfare on December 2, 1934, and Moses’ old friend and political mentor Al Smith was designated honorary zookeeper. Smith, who lived just across from the zoo at 820 Fifth Avenue, visited almost daily. Structured as a quadrangle with a sea lion pool at its center, the Central Park Zoo is pictured above in August 1942. (nycgovparks.org)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Many advertisers played to the Anglophilic tendencies of New Yorker readers, particular ones selling garments to the sporting gentry who aped their British cousins in such pursuits as polo and dressage…here we have “play clothes” from the menswear company Rogers Peet…

…and this swell get-up (below) from Henri Bendel…both Peet and Bendel were well-known in the 1930s. Cole Porter even referred to both companies in his songs…here is the refrain from “I Introduced” (from the 1919 show Hitchy-Koo):

…”I presented Mister Peet to Mister Rogers”…

and even more famously Porter wrote these lines in his 1934 song “You’re the Top”:

…”You’re a Bendel Bonnet / a Shakespeare Sonnet”…

…Rogers Peet closed its doors in the 1980s, and Bendel folded in 2019…

…even during the Depression, almost anyone could spring for a ten-cent bar of Lux soap, and over the years it was famous for its splashy ads (two-page spreads in the New Yorker were common) and dozens of celebrity endorsements…Lux isn’t as dominant in the U.S. today, but it remains a major international brand, now sold and marketed by the British multinational Unilever, especially in Asia…back to 1932, the Lux ad below featured Lupe Velez — known as “The Mexican Spitfire,” she was a big star in the 30s but is perhaps best known today for her sad, tragic death in 1944…the Lux ad also displayed the Aber Twins — a Ziegfeld act that featured Arlene and Charlene Aber who weren’t really twins but sisters born 18 months apart…

…if you lived in New York in the 1920s and early 30s you probably would have known about the sometime artist/designer Don Dickerman and his themed Greenwich Village restaurants — especially The Pirate’s Den — which inspired this line of highball glasses (yeah, Prohibition was still around, but who cared?)…sadly these glasses didn’t help save The Pirate’s Den, which thanks to the Depression went bankrupt in 1932…

…speaking of Prohibition, Anheuser-Busch took advantage of laws that allowed for the production of near-beer containing one-half percent alcohol…

…if you couldn’t drink you could still eat to your heart’s content, that is if you were this fat cat and not some starving fellow in a bread line…

…on to our cartoons, Helen Hokinson took us pet shopping…

Garrett Price offered up a stereotype in a courtroom setting…

…and reminiscent of humor in the vein of Ralph Barton, Rea Irvin launched a series of the world’s “beauty spots”…

Next Time: A Visit to Minskyville…

 

High Anxiety

The New Yorker profiled authors, composers, civic and world leaders and other notables in its early years, but every so often it would turn the spotlight on a member of the working class.

May 7, 1932 cover by William Steig, the first of 117 covers he would contribute to the magazine over his long life and career.

“The Man With The Squeegee,” a profile written by journalist (and later, playwright) Russel Crouse, detailed the life and work of Stanley Norris, a son of Polish immigrants who daily defied death as a window cleaner on Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

Profile illustration by Hugo Gellert

Below is an excerpt that includes a couple of Norris’ harrowing experiences high above the city streets:

LOOK MA, NO HANDS!…Just two leather straps separate this brave window washer from oblivion in March 1936; a lone worker confronts his task in 1935; window washers in 1930; window washers on the 34th street side of the building, January 1932. There are 6,400 windows on the Empire State Building, and each worker averaged 76 panes per day. (retronaut.com/cnn/considerable.com/reddit)

During the 1930s one out of every 200 window cleaners in New York City fell to their deaths annually. In the previous decade, more than 80 fell to their deaths. In another excerpt, Norris recalled one of those unfortunate deaths.

 *  *  *

Vintage Whines

E.B. White enjoyed both wine and spirits, but like many of his fellow Americans he was growing sick and tired of Prohibition, and in his “Notes and Comment” looked abroad for a better way to live.

White concluded the entry with this observation…

…which referenced the sad grape “bricks” folks could order by mail…

Grape growers sold these bricks with a warning that they were not to be used for fermentation — a warning that kept them within the law. Naturally both seller and consumer understood that the end product would likely be something stronger than grape juice.

(vinepair.com)

Where White did procure his cocktails is revealed later in “Notes” — he tells us of an encounter with a night-club host while out walking with his wife, Katharine White, and toddler Joel.

SOMETIMES E.B. JOINED THEM…Katharine White taking baby Joel for a stroll with the White’s beloved Scotty Daisy in New York City, 1931. (brainpickings.org)

 *  *  *

News Stooges

In “The Wayward Press” column, Robert Benchley (writing under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes) took the newspapers to task for their tasteless reporting on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and their general sullying of a once proud profession (Benchley himself was an experienced journalist):

TRAGEDY SELLS…The kidnapping of Charles and Ann Lindbergh’s infant son, Charles Jr., dominated headlines across the country in the spring of 1932. This March 3 edition of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Evening Independent ran this headline just two days after the boy’s disappearance. The body of Charles Jr. was found on May 12, 1932. (Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Rising Stars

The pre-Code drama So Big!, based on Edna Ferber’s 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, featured two iconic Hollywood actors, but in 1932 only one of them, Barbara Stanwyck, was a bankable star. The film also featured the soon-to-be-famous Bette Davis, who had a much smaller role but was nevertheless grateful to be cast in a prestigious Barbara Stanwyck film. For critic John Mosher, the film proved to be a breakout role for Stanwyck.

SO BIG!…Barbara Stanwyck (left) was a marquee attraction in 1932, but Bette Davis would soon emerge as another major star in the Warner Brothers universe. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Clothes spun from cotton have been around for thousands of years, but this B. Altman advertisement suggests they were relatively novel for summer wear, at least among the upper orders. Both men and women wore wool bathing suits up until the 1930s, so perhaps there was something new about this cool, casual material…

…no doubt the landed gentry helped keep the Davey Tree Surgeons in business during the Depression, but in those lean times it didn’t hurt to reach out to those with modest means…

…they did something right, because this 141-year-old company still thrives today, the ninth-largest employee-owned company in the U.S…

…launched in 1906, the RMS Mauretania was beloved for her Edwardian elegance and style, but as sleeker ships came into service in 1930, the Mauretania was removed from Atlantic crossings and relegated to running shorter cruises from New York to Nova Scotia and Bermuda…

OLD RELIABLE…The RMS Mauretania was the world’s largest and fastest ship after it left the Port of Liverpool in 1906. The liner was scrapped in 1935-37, much to the dismay of many of its former passengers, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Wikipedia)

…with Mother’s Day around the corner, one company suggested a silver cigarette box as a suitable gift…

…on to our cartoons, Otto Soglow marked the upcoming holiday with this choreographed group…

Denys Wortman gave us another side of motherhood…

…other women were busy organizing political gatherings, per Garrett Price

…and Helen Hokinson

James Thurber gave us a dog in distress…

Robert Day illustrated the dilemma of two bootleggers…

…and Barbara Shermund takes us out…

Next Time: Under the Boardwalk…

 

The Quiet Man

One of the challenges of writing these posts is giving proper due to the many writers and artists who helped shape the New Yorker universe, and especially to those we’ve almost forgotten.

April 30, 1932 cover by Theodore Haupt.

One writer who deserves our special attention is John Mosher, film critic for the New Yorker from 1928 to 1942 and a pioneer of the New Yorker short story. In her 2000 book Defining New Yorker Humor, Judith Yaross Lee notes how the “burlesque” prose of the early magazine was displaced by Mosher’s quieter humor, which lent support to Dorothy Parker’s ironic mode and E.B. White’s “travails of the Sufferer.” Mosher’s prose, writes Lee, “helped New Yorker humor combine broad comic conception and ironic realistic narration.”

In addition to regular film reviews and occasional profiles, Mosher penned nearly fifty short stories, or “casuals” as they were called. It was also Mosher who “discovered” writer John O’Hara when in 1929 he found one of O’Hara’s pieces in a “slush pile” of unsolicited submissions.

Without further ado, here is one of Mosher’s shorts, “Wake Up, You’re Forty” (Mosher turned forty in 1932) from the April 30 issue. It demonstrates Mosher’s ironic narrative style, skillfully deployed to describe a comically minor event:

THE STORYTELLER…John Mosher’s New Yorker short stories (1925 to 1940) were collected in Celibate at Twilight, illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist Mary Petty. It included tales about life on Fire Island, where Mosher and his partner, broker Philip Claflin, became the first gay property owners in the vacation village of Cherry Grove. Visitors included Mosher’s close friend Edith Lewis as well as Willa Cather, Janet Flanner, Wolcott Gibbs, and James Thurber. (neglectedbooks.com/findagrave.com)
Aerial view of Cherry Grove, circa 1960. (pineshistory.org)

On Sept. 3, 1942, Mosher died of heart failure in New York City at the young age of 50. He was remembered by his New Yorker colleagues in this eulogy found on page 72 of the Sept. 12, 1942 issue:

*  *  *

Going Up!

The “Talk of the Town” took a look at the innovative double-decker elevators being installed in the new Cities Service Building (now 70 Pine Street) in Lower Manhattan. Although the Cities Service building didn’t have the fame of the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building, when completed the 952-foot Cities Service Building stood as the third tallest in the world.

STILL STANDING TALL…The Cities Service Building (now 70 Pine Street) in Lower Manhattan after its completion in 1932; center, a miniature model of the building, incorporated between the eastern entrance portals on Pine and Cedar Streets; at right, a clipping from the January 1932 Popular Science magazine detailing the unique double-decker elevator design. (MCNY/Wikipedia/Popular Science)

 *  *  *

Electric Patriotism

E.B. White kicked off his “Notes and Comment” with some observations about the newly-renovated Union Square and its electrified American flag:

PATRIOT GAMES…Then as now, Americans have always disagreed on what constitutes a tasteful patriotic display. At top, Union Square (circa 1930) arranged around Henry Kirke Brown’s 1856 statue, George Washington; in 2011 a U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Office (below) at Broadway and Seventh Avenue, was fitted with a giant electric flag of red, white and blue LED lights. (Dick Ebert)

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From Our Advertisers

Lord & Taylor rolled out some new ads illustrated by Melisse, aka Mildred Oppenheim

…apparently giddy about their new campaign, Lord & Taylor ran a second one-column ad in the back pages…

…apparently Melisse was a big draw in the 1930s, based on this Dec. 12, 1931 advertisement in the New York Sun (photo added by me, via strippersguide.blogspot.com)…

…travel companies continued their appeals to the well-heeled and included exotic destinations such as Zoppot…

…which today is known as Sopot, Poland…its Sofitel Grand Hotel (aka the Kasino Hotel) continues to serve as a spa resort…

TAKING THE WATERS…Sopot’s Grand Hotel (aka the Kasino Hotel) continues to serve as a spa resort — it is seen in the background of this 1950 photo (top); below, hotel interior in 1927. The hotel has hosted the famous — Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker — and the infamous, including Adolph Hitler. More recent guests to the hotel included Prince, Shakira, Vladimir Putin and The Weeknd.  (Wikipedia/sofitelgrandsopot.com)

…we move back to the States, where car companies continued to vie for scarce consumer dollars…Buick hired an artist to create this generic image of a successful-looking businessman, hoping to convince readers to invest in their automobile…

…the makers of LaSalle, a downscale version of Cadillac, wanted readers to imagine that owning their car would put them in the same company as the fashionably blasé patrician class…

…Hudson also made an appeal to class with this full-color ad designed to pique the Anglophilic tendencies of many readers…

…the makers of the luxurious Packard usually marketed to older monied folks who sought mechanical quality, refinement and reliability, so this ad was a bit of a surprise…

…and speaking of youth, with have an ad from Ciné-Kodak that begins on a lively note…

…but then includes this guilt-inducing bummer…

Otto Soglow kept things lighter with his latest ad for Sanka…

…which brings us to the cartoons, and Soglow’s Little King

Robert Day gave us a cordial shoppe owner spying opportunity…

James Thurber explored the spirit realm…

Peter Arno found misunderstanding at the manor house…

…and Kemp Starrett found a real fixer-upper…

William Steig let one of his “Small Fry” speak his mind…

…and we close with Alan Dunn, and the pressures of modern love…

Next Time: High Anxiety…

The Shipping News

I’m always a bit wistful when writing about travel in the 1930s, and no mode of transportation from that decade seems more bygone than that of the great ocean liners.

April 16, 1932 cover by Sue Williams.

During the Depression many of the shipping lines looked for new ways to make up for lost passenger revenue, and this included catering to those of more modest means by introducing revised cabin classes and other amenities. E.B. White explained:

NOT A WATER SLIDE IN SIGHT…The French Line’s S.S. Normandie (left) and Italy’s M.S. Vulcania proudly plied the seas in the 1930s.
Let’s take a look inside at what White might have glimpsed on his tour aboard a 1930s liner…all of these images are of the less-pricey “tourist class” cabins…Stateroom #282 on the S.S. Normandie offered modern decor and a shower…
…the Italian Line’s M.S. Vulcania tourist class berth #409 offered two beds with a bath…
…also from the Italian Line, “Four Berth Cabin #443, Tourist Class” on the S.S. Augustus…
All cabin images courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.
…as for “tourist class” dining, if you were on the S.S. Normandie, here is what awaited you…
…what you would not have seen in this room: flip flops, tee shirts, or all-you-can eat buffets…
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Casting Stones
Architectural critic Lewis Mumford did not suffer fools, or foolish architecture, gladly, and when it came time for the American Institute of Architects’ annual Medal of Honor, he found that even good taste could not compensate for poor design:

DEFICIENT was how Lewis Mumford described the conception of 120 East End Avenue. Nearly eighty years later, in a 2009 “Streetscapes” column, New York Times writer Christopher Gray called the building “impeccably reserved,” and noted that it served as the home of famed philanthropist Brooke Astor during her six years of marriage to Vincent Astor. (Ruby Washington, NYT)
RARE PRAISE was offered by Mumford, however, to Clarence Stein’s Phipps garden apartments, a reminder that in addition to being an architecture critic, Mumford was also a city planner, concerned not only for aesthetics and function but also for how a building or buildings worked within the context of neighborhood and city. (cornell.edu)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with this understated advertisement from Tiffany & Company. You don’t see the word “silversmiths” in their marketing anymore (they are now “artisans”) but they still have a lot of silver things to offer…

…including some items you couldn’t buy in 1932, like this silver coffee can for $1,550…

(tiffany.com)

…speaking of silver, Gorham Sterling boasted that its sterling silverware was owned by miss etiquette herself, Emily Post, although here she is still quaintly referred to as “Mrs. Price Post”…

…if you were looking for sterling qualities in an automobile, Packard offered a range of “Aristocrats of the Metropolis”…

…to treat that Packard right, you’d want to give it the best in fuels, in this case leaded Ethyl Gasoline…

…the makers of Ethyl ran a series of these illustrated ads (above) that compared lesser fuels to downscale choices in life. However, I don’t quite get the final two illustrations in this ad…the first panel depicts a man who is apparently lost, therefore lacking confidence and therefore choosing to put mere “Gas” into his outdated sedan. Also the wife is missing. I mean, who wants to be seen with this guy? On the other hand, the confident man who chose Ethyl is seen casually chatting with an attendant as the precious fuel flows into his sporty roadster. His lovely wife and child seem delighted to watch the amber fuel spin in a little side gauge. Yes, life was good when you switched to Ethyl…

…if you were a person of substantial means you could also contemplate air conditioning for your home, something that almost no one possessed in 1932. Indeed, air-conditioning for the home was only introduced in 1932, when H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman sold an individual room air conditioner that sat on a window ledge. According to Popular Mechanics (Jan. 1, 2015), the units “were only enjoyed by the people least likely to work up a sweat—the wealthy. (The large cooling systems cost between $10,000 and $50,000. That’s equivalent to $120,000 to $600,000 today.)”…

…in addition to being rich, the pilot of this plane also happened to be cultured and fascinating, and a smoker of Rameses II cigarettes…

…and here’s another activity reserved for the very few — overseas telephone calls. At $30 for three minutes to London, it would be equivalent to about $600 today (consider that your average stenographer was pulling in maybe $15 a week in 1932, a sales clerk less than $10)…

…that sales clerk, however, likely could afford a jar of Pond’s and aspire to have a “celebrated English complexion” like Lady Mary Katherine Clive Pakenham…

…Born into the Anglo-Irish Longford family, Pakenham (1907-2010) was a British writer and historian best known for memoirs of her family and time as a debutante in 1926…

THOSE DOWDY DEBS… Lady Mary Katherine Clive Pakenham’s memoir of life as a debutante, Brought Up and Brought Out (1938), recounted 1926 as a “bumper dowdy year” for debutantes, the men she encountered “practically deformed…Some were without chins. Some had no foreheads. Hardly any of them had backs to their heads.” (Cecil Beaton Studio Archive)

…we continue with the fashionable by way of Lord & Taylor and an illustration that looks very New Yorker-esque but I can’t quite identify the artist, not yet anyway…maybe Barbara Shermund?

…I do, however, know this is by our dear Barbara

Richard Decker presented an odd moment in a manor house…

Otto Soglow’s Little King was up to his old tricks…

Robert Day discovered an unlikely hitch-hiker…

James Thurber illustrated some easy speaking in a speakeasy…

…and with the “cylinder wars” in full force among the automakers, one young lad made sure Ford was telling the truth about their new “eight”…with Peter Arno

Next Time: The Grand Garbo…