Not Even Funny

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

March 18, 1933 cover by William Steig.

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

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

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

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

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

(biblio.com)

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

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They Called It a Holiday

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

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

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

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A Familiar Ring

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

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

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Dance Away Those Blues

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

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Decker offered up a tall tale…

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

Next Time: Diary of a Lady…

 

Role Reversal

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

Feb. 11, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

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

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

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

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

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

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Slippery Slope

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

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

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Getting High

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

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

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Ugh, This Guy Again

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

…with a colorful show-stopper of their own…

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

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

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

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

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

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

(abebooks.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time: One Perfect Night…

 

A Slice of Paradise

Lois Long welcomed 1933 by venturing out into the New Year’s nightclub scene…

Jan. 28, 1933 cover by William Steig.

…where she encountered the new Paradise Cabaret Restaurant at Broadway and 49th, where there was no cover charge and not much covering the showgirls, either…

THE GANG’S ALL HERE…Everyone from gangsters to sugar daddies (and a number of New Yorker staffers) took in the sights and sounds of the Paradise Cabaret Restaurant (shown here in 1937). (Pinterest)
THE SPIRIT OF NEKKIDNESS, as Lois Long put it in her “Tables for Two” column, could be found at the Paradise Cabaret Restaurant: clockwise, from top left, marquee on the corner of the Brill Building advertises a 1936 appearance of the comedy team of Dewey Barto and George Mann (photo by George Mann via Flickr); menu cover made it clear that food was not the main attraction at the Paradise; a 1933 poster advertising “a Galaxy of Stars”; a 1943 “Paradise Girls” poster; circa 1930s matchbook; circa 1930s noisemaker. (Flickr/picclick/Pinterest)
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT…known as the “laugh kings” of vaudeville, the comedy team of Barto and Mann rehearse at the Paradise in 1936. Their humor played on their disparities in height — Barto was under 5′ and Mann was 6’6″. If Mann (top right) looks familiar, later in life he portrayed “King Vitaman” in commercials for the breakfast cereal of the same name. As I recall it tasted like Cap’n Crunch. (Wikipedia)

While Mann went on to become King Vitaman, another Paradise performer, 16-year-old Hope Chandler, found the love of her life while performing in next-to-nothing at the Paradise…

SHE WAS ONLY SIXTEEN…Hope Chandler’s photo (right) was featured on the Dec. 20, 1937 cover of LIFE Magazine, which proclaimed the 16-year-old as the “Prettiest Girl in Paradise”. Photo at left was included in the magazine article. (Twitter)

…namely the 22-year-old son of William Randolph Hearst, who spotted Chandler during one of his visits to the Paradise. David Whitmire Hearst married Chandler in 1938 and they lived happily ever until his death in 1986.

YOUNG LOVE…David Whitmire Hearst and his new wife, Hope Chandler, after their wedding ceremony in New York, 1938. They would be married 48 years until David’s death in 1986. Hope would remain active in the Hearst organization until her death at age 90 in 2012. (Tumblr)

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Tragic Opera

Yes, the lovers die at the end of Tristan und Isolde, but for New York opera buffs the real tragedy belonged to Samuel Insull (1859–1938), a Chicago utilities magnate responsible for building a new Chicago Civic Opera House in 1929. When Insull’s opera house went bust in 1932, the Met landed two of its principal stars. Robert Simon reported for the New Yorker:

CHICAGO’S FINEST…Soprano Frida Leider (left) and mezzo-contralto Maria Olszewska were stars of the Chicago Opera from 1928 to 1932. When the company went belly-up, the singers headed for New York to appear in a much-acclaimed performance of Tristan und Isolde. (metoperafamily.org)

Insull was a famed innovator and investor who was a driving force behind creating an integrated electrical infrastructure in the U.S. In 1925 he addressed the financial difficulties of the Chicago opera community with a proposal to build a skyscraper with an opera house on the ground floor — he thought the rental of office space would cover the opera company’s expenses. The building was completed in 1929 — the same year as the market crash — and suddenly his grand plan didn’t look so grand.

Then Insull’s companies went under, and he was charged with fraud and embezzlement. He fled to Europe, but in 1934 he was arrested in Istanbul and brought back to Chicago to stand trial. Although he was acquitted, he was left a broken (and broke) man, his $3 billion utilities empire in shambles.

DUELING ARIAS…New York’s rival in the opera scene, the Chicago Civic Opera erected this skyscraper in 1929 with the help of Samuel Insull; a door at the Cook County jail in Chicago is opened for Insull in May 1934, his $3 billion utilities empire in shambles. He was unable to raise the $200,000 bail in fraud charges, which were eventually dismissed; New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in 1909. (classicchicagomagazine.com/Wikipedia)
FAME TO INFAMY…Insull’s appearances on the cover of Time said it all: left to right: issues from November 29, 1926; November 4, 1929; and May 14, 1934. (classicchicagomagazine.com)

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From Land to Sea

The National Auto Show left town to be followed by the annual Boat Show at the Grand Central Palace, featuring boats that were priced to meet the needs of some Depression-era buyers:

CRUISIN’ CRUISETTE…You could buy an Elco Cruisette for just under $3,000 in 1933, but that was roughly equivalent to $64,000 today, so it was still out of reach for most Americans in the 1930s. (Pinterest)

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From Our Advertisers

Yes, the boat show was in town, but automobile manufacturers were still making their points to potential customers including Chrysler, one of the New Yorker’s biggest advertisers in the early 1930s…here’s a two-page spread for the Dodge 8…

…Chrysler’s DeSoto line claimed a luxurious interior that would inspire even regular folks to put on the “haughty air” of a French Duchess…

…on the other hand, the folks at Cadillac went for understatement with this announcement of a limited edition V-16…

…with 16 cylinders under the hood, this thing could really tear down the road, but it was the Depression, and even though this edition was limited to just 400 cars, only 125 were sold…

 

(supercars.net)

…it really bothers me that the Savoy Plaza Hotel (1927) was knocked down in 1965 and replaced by the monolithic GM Building…and look, in 1933 you could get a single room for five bucks a night…

…maybe you’d rather take to the seas on the Hamburg-American Line…

The SS Reliance in 1937. Gutted by fire in 1938, she was scrapped in 1941. (Wikipedia)

…or you could chase away the winter blues in a steaming bath that the folks at Cannon Towels called “almost the ultimate in mortal content”…

…and no doubt a few lit up a Camel or two during their soak…note the tagline “I’d walk a mile for a Camel!”…it was a slogan the brand used for decades…

…I still remember these from when I was a kid…

…on to our cartoons, and we begin with William Crawford Galbraith, still up to his old tricks…

Gilbert Bundy gave this exchange between old mates…

Alan Dunn showed us what happens when you hire a chatty governess…

…in the spirit of the 2022 Winter Olympics, one from George Shellhase

…and we close with James Thurber, and the trials of married life…

Next Time: Belle Geste…

 

Modernism Lite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mea Cuppa

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

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

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Country Cousins

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

TIME FOR SOME VIDDLES!…Mary Sumnick chats with presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt during his Sept. 29, 1932 visit to the Sumnick farm. (douglascohistory.org)
ENOUGH FOR A FOOTBALL TEAM…A lengthy article in the Dec. 4, 1932 New York Times described life on the Sumnick farm and their upcoming visit with President Roosevelt in the spring. Gus and Mary and their 11 children all planned to make the trip. (NYT)

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The Gang’s All Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vroom-Vroom

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

DECISIONS, DECISIONS… The 1933 National Automobile Show offered a number of affordable options to car buyers including these shiny new Pontiacs on display at the Grand Central Palace. (libwww.freelibrary.org)
BUT LOOK OVER HERE…General Motors also displayed its models at the first “Motorama” held in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom in 1933. (waldorfnewyorkcity.com)

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

…to the high-end Cadillac…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garrett Price pondered the wisdom of children…

Gluyas Williams was back with the latest industrial crisis…

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

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

Next Time: March of Time…

 

Not for the Kiddies

Over the years Tod Browning’s 1932 pre-code film Freaks has been called everything from grotesque and exploitive to sympathetic and compassionate. Now a cult classic, the film’s closing scenes are regarded by some critics as among the most terrifying ever put to film.

July 16, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

What disturbed so many about Freaks was Browning’s use of actual sideshow performers with real disabilities to tell the story of a conniving trapeze artist who plots to seduce and then kill a dwarf performer to gain his inheritance. The film was not well-received by audiences and many critics. The Kansas City Star’s John Moffitt wrote, “There is no excuse for this picture. It took a weak mind to produce it and it takes a strong stomach to look at it.” However, the New Yorker’s John Mosher, along several other New York critics, gave the film a rather favorable review:

ONE OF US…Although audiences and critics found Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks grotesque and exploitive, today many regard the film as a rare (for its time), sympathetic portrayal of persons with disabilities. Clockwise, from top left, Browning with some of the members of his Freaks cast; French-American actress Rose Dione portrayed Madame Tetrallini, operator of the sideshow; Daisy and Violet Hilton with actor Wallace Ford in a scene from Freaks. Born fused at the pelvis, the sisters were joined at their hips and buttocks and shared blood circulation; limbless sideshow performer Prince Randian, who wore a one-piece wool garment over his body, appeared in the film as “The Living Torso.” (IMDB)
IT HAD A PLOT, ACTUALLY…Freaks told the story of a conniving trapeze artist named Cleopatra (portrayed by Russian actress Olga Baclanova, bottom right) who plots to seduce and then kill a dwarf performer, Hans (portrayed by Harry Earles) to gain his inheritance. Top photo: assembled “freaks” chant their acceptance of Cleopatra at the wedding feast of Hans and Cleopatra; bottom left, the kind-hearted seal trainer Venus (portrayed by Leila Hyams) consoles Frieda (Daisy Earles), who worries about Hans (Daisy and Harry Earles were members of a famous quartet of sibling entertainers known as The Doll Family. The quartet also appeared as members of The Munchkins in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.)(IMDB)
SURPRISE…Leila Hyams (1905 – 1977) was something of a surprising presence in the controversial film Freaks, given that she was a popular leading lady in the 1920s and 30s. Known for both her comedic and dramatic talents, she retired from films in 1936; another unlikely cast member was Henry Victor (1892 – 1945) whose physique didn’t necessarily support his role as circus strongman. (dangerousminds.net)
TRUE GRIT…Perhaps only a Russian actress in 1932 had the grit to transform herself from an exotic blonde temptress to a grotesque “human duck” for the movie Freaks. In the film, Olga Baclanova (1893 – 1974) portrayed a conniving trapeze artist named Cleopatra. Near the end of film the “freaks” capture Cleopatra, gouge out her right eye, remove her legs and tongue and melt her hands to look like duck feet. For critics and audiences, the horror was just too much. As for Baclanova — who was a popular silent film actress known as the “Russian Tigress” — her heavy accent did not translate well to talking films, and she left the movie business altogether in 1943. (muni.com/IMDB)

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Tennis Anyone?

Helen Moody was the top women’s singles tennis player for nearly a decade in the 1920s and 30s, winning Wimbledon eight times, including a match in 1932 against her rival Helen Jacobs. However to sportswriter John Tunis, the women had reached such a level in their play that it had become robotic and tedious to watch. At least James Thurber livened things up with some keen illustrations.

RACKETEERS…Helen Jacobs (left) and Helen Moody (right, in a 1929 photo) were tennis rivals known for their explosive matches. Except, apparently, for the one attended at Wimbeldon in 1932 by John Tunis. (nickelinthemachine.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Sensing that the end of Prohibition was near, the makers of Budweiser reminded readers of the good ol’ days of beer drinking and such…

…if you could afford something better than beer, then you might have contemplated a trip on the SS Manhattan, which along with her sister ship SS Washington were the largest liners ever built in the US…

TO AND FRO…Beginning in August 1932 the SS Manhattan operated the New York – Hamburg route until 1939, when instead of taking passengers to Germany the ship began taking Jewish refugees and others away from Nazi-occupied Europe. It was turned into a troopship in 1941 and never returned to commercial service. The SS Manhattan was sold for scrap in 1965. (cruiselinehistory.com)

…if your thing wasn’t traveling to Germany to see that country being transformed into the Third Reich, you could instead become a Bermuda “Commuter”…

…back home, William Steig joined other New Yorker cartoonists who earned extra money off of the big tobacco companies…

…which segues into our cartoonists, beginning with Victor Bobritsky’s illustration for “Goings On About Town”…

Otto Soglow offered more Little King adventures…

…and Carl Rose gave us a man striding into a factory, apparently a rare sight in 1932…

…on to July 23…

July 23, 1932 cover by Antonio Petruccelli (1907 – 1994). This is the first of six covers Petruccelli created for the New Yorker from 1932 to 1938. He also did numerous covers and illustrations for Fortune, Colliers and other publications.

…and we have another John Mosher film review, in which he refers to Freaks as a “dainty prelude” to another film about the lives of entertainers, in this case George Cukor’s What Price Hollywood, a pre-Code drama starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman with a storyline that anticipated 1937’s A Star Is Born — namely, a famous but fading male star who helps an ingénue rise to stardom while he descends into a pit of alcoholic despair.

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…Top image: Waitress and aspiring actress Mary Evans (Constance Bennett) has the good fortune to meet film director Maximillan Carey (Lowell Sherman) when she serves him one night at the Brown Derby. Bottom: Mary and her polo player boyfriend Lonny Borden (Neil Hamilton) look down with pity at the down-on-his-luck Maximillan in What Price Hollywood? (Wikipedia/IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Originally published by Adam Budge, Inc. in 1910 and later by Joseph Judd Publishing and others, Arts & Decoration magazine hoped to stay alive in the Depression with a promise that its August 1932 issue would be “compellingly readable”…

…and here is the cover of that issue…Arts & Decoration would hang on for another ten years before folding in 1942…

…one of the stars of Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 was actress and dancer Patricia Boots Mallory (1913 – 1958), who posed for this portrait to demonstrate the wonders of color reproduction…

…and here’s Boots Mallory in a scene from the 1932 film Handle With Care with comedian Elmer “El” Brendel (standing) and actor James Dunn

…not everyone could be a movie star, but you could pretend to be one in this swell new (and low-priced) DeSoto…Walter Chrysler must have laid out some big bucks for this two-page color spread…

…for those with greater means you could skip the roads altogether and fly the friendly skies of Ludington Airlines…the airline was founded by wealthy New York socialite Charles Townsend Ludington and his brother Nicholas…

…founded in 1929, Ludington Airlines was the first airline with flights every hour on the hour and the first to carry passengers only (others carried mail, an important source of revenue). The airline offered service between Washington, D.C. and New York City — with stops in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Virginia, Nashville and Knoxville, Tennessee — using seven Stinson tri-motor 6000 aircraft in its fleet, each carrying up to ten passengers…the airline went bankrupt in 1933 (mostly due to the lack of mail revenue) but left behind an astonishing record — in its first two years it flew more than 3.4 million miles and carried 133,000 passengers, a record at the time…

A Stinson SM-6000 airliner similar to the type flown by Ludington Airlines from 1929 to 1933.

…back to earth, sort of, we have this Lucky Strike ad with the famed “Do You Inhale?” campaign that oozed innuendo and no doubt prompted a few young men to take up the habit posthaste…

…on to cartoons, beginning with this spot art by James Thurber

Gardner Rea showed us a man getting his nickel’s worth of sin and repentence…

…and we end with the delightfully unrepentant Peter Arno

Next Time: Rebecca and the Zombies…

A Visit to Minskyville

During the 1930s few people could afford the luxury of a Broadway show, but a trip to “Minskyville” was in reach of nearly anyone looking to escape the gloom of the Depression, at least for a few hours.

May 28, 1930 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

The Minsky family — brothers Billy, Herbert, Morton and Abe — built the beginnings of a New York burlesque empire, writes actress, author and documentarian Leslie Zemeckis: “Abe, the eldest, started showing racy films in a nickelodeon theater on the Lower East Side. His father — believing that if his son was gonna be a perv, he might as well make real money at it — bought the National Winter Garden theater on Houston Street near Second Avenue (where a Whole Foods stands today), and gave Abe the sixth floor to run his burlesque shows.” Alva Johnson paid a visit to Houston Street and environs for the “A Reporter at Large” column:

LITTLE EGYPT, aka Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, top left, both titillated and scandalized crowds at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (really?); clockwise, from center top, three of Minsky Brothers – Billy, Morton and Herbert; the Minsky Brothers owned several burlesque theaters in New York, including Minsky’s Oriental on 51st Street and Broadway, where ‘stripper  Julie Bryan was a top draw in 1936; Billy Minsky brought the Minsky brand to Broadway when he leased the Republic Theater on 42nd Street in 1931; the last two images are by Margaret Bourke-White, backstage at the Republic Theater in 1936. (Wikipedia/Daily News/Estate of Margaret Bourke-White)
NEED A CAREER?…Well, in the 1930s an aspiring dancer or comedian could earn some chops on the burlesque stage. Gypsy Rose Lee (aka Rose Louise Hovick), left,who became the world’s most famous stripper (as well as an actress, author and playwright), was one of the biggest stars of Minsky’s Burlesque; breaks between burlesque performances were commonly filled by comedians, including Abbott and Costello (pictured above in their 1930s burlesque days), who first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Burlesque Theater on 42nd Street, at right.

According to Zemeckis, “burlesque caught on among the recent immigrants of the Lower East Side. The shows were cheap, the humor broad, and the allure of beautiful, barely-clothed women transcended language barriers.” But if striptease wasn’t your thing, Minskyville offered plenty of other diversions:

ONE LUMP OR TWO?…Minskyville’s entrepreneurs (top images) added a modern twist to the study of head bumps and cranium size — called Phrenology — with the electronic “Psycograph” (sic); at bottom, Prof. William Heckler’s Trained Flea Circus at Hubert’s Museum on West 42nd Street attracted some gents itching to see Heckler’s fleas in action; according to Alva Johnston, Minskyville’s penny arcade peepshows (such as the one at bottom right) would take your penny or nickel in exchange for photos of a woman old enough to give your grandpa the glad eye. (Museum of Questionable Medical Devices/sideshowworld.com)
LET’S SEE THAT AGAIN…Folks who didn’t want to look at forty-year-old photos of bathing beauties could check out the most popular attraction at Minskyville’s penny arcades — a clip from the famed Long Count Fight, a 1927 rematch between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champ Jack Dempsey, which Tunney won in a unanimous decision despite being knocked down in the seventh round. It was, and is, the subject of endless debate. (www.wbaboxing.com )

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Not a Gearhead

“The Talk of the Town” noted that young Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. preferred arts and literature over things that went zoom:

SOMEDAY THIS WILL ALL BE YOURS, RIGHT?…Walter P. Chrysler Sr. and Walter P. Chrysler Jr. share a father-son moment in 1930. Junior Chrysler devoted much of his life to building a multimillion-dollar collection of paintings (some of which were later found to be forgeries) and made substantial forays into collecting stamps, rare books and glassworks. He also produced a movie, The Joe Louis Story, released in 1953. (chrysler.org)

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Rat-a-tat

Today most movie lovers associate Scarface with the 1983 Brian DePalma film (starring Al Pacino), but the original Scarface in 1932 was far more influential in that it helped define the American gangster film genre. Directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Hawks and Howard Hughes, the screenplay was penned by early New Yorker contributor Ben Hecht. Mild by today’s standards, the film’s violent scenes caused it to be banned by many theaters around the country. Along with 1931’s Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, Scarface is regarded as among the most significant gangster films. Here is what critic John Mosher thought of it:

JUST IN CASE YOU GET THE WRONG IDEA…Also known as Scarface: The Shame of the Nation, this 1932 gangster film opened with some cautionary words (top left). Clockwise, from top right, gangster “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) is flanked by his cronies during a hit on a rival; Tony (Muni) shows his softer side with his dear sister Francesca (Ann Dvorak). United Artists promotional poster (note how Boris Karloff was billed with a reference to his 1931 Frankenstein role). (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water, out comes another line of wool swimsuits. I honestly can’t imagine how they must have felt, especially when wet and clinging to your skin after you left the water…

…the ad below from DuPont was just the sort of thing that drove New Yorker fashion critic Lois Long nuts…a couple of downscale royals shilling their fashion lines to an unsuspecting public…the paychecks from DuPont must have been substantial enough for these bluebloods to publicly embrace synthetics…

TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE…Here is the real Countess Borea de Buzzaccarini Regoli, left, and the Princess de Rohan, who played to America’s insatiable thirst for nobility while shilling for a chemical company. (Wikimedia)

…if you had the money and the steady nerves, you could have hopped aboard an almost 32-hour flight to the West Coast assured that a “coordinated mechanism” of men and machine would get you there in one piece…

…perhaps you could have steadied your nerves by dragging on a Tally-Ho — for some weird reason the Lorillard Tobacco Company (who also made Old Gold) thought some folks might prefer an oval-shaped cigarette (I include the remainder of the back-page ads for context)…

…despite the Depression, the New Yorker was holding its own in sales and subscriptions, but it never hurt to place a house ad every now and then to convince a few who might be holding out…

…on to our cartoons, Garrett Price showed us the result of a bad hand…

James Thurber offered up this spot illustration in the opening pages…

…and this terrific cartoon…

Gardner Rea demonstrated the perils of summoning the dead…

…the departed soul mentioned in Rea’s cartoon was prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright Edgar Wallace (1875-1932), who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals in his relatively short life. He is most famous today as the co-creator of the film King Kong…

…and we end with this gem from Kemp Starrett, and some high-jinks…

Next Time: Jimmy’s Jam…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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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)

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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 Grand Garbo

Joan Crawford was an MGM star by the 1930s, and according to many critics, an absolute scene-stealer in 1932’s Grand Hotel. However, the New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher saw Garbo, and only Garbo, in this Academy Award-winning pre-code drama.

April 23, 1932 cover by E.B. White. Although White’s friend and early office mate James Thurber had been contributing drawings for more than a year, it was White who would land the first cover — his only one (Thurber’s first cover would come in 1936). Maria Popova (brainpickings.org) shares this excerpt from a 1969 Paris Review interview, during which White explained to George Plimpton: “I’m not an artist and never did any drawings for The New Yorker. I did turn in a cover and it was published. I can’t draw or paint, but I was sick in bed with tonsillitis or something, and I had nothing to occupy me, but I had a cover idea — of a sea horse wearing a nose bag. I borrowed my son’s watercolor set, copied a sea horse from a picture in Webster’s dictionary, and managed to produce a cover that was bought. It wasn’t much of a thing. I even loused up the whole business finally by printing the word ‘oats’ on the nose bag, lest somebody fail to get the point.”

Greta Garbo’s previous films hadn’t exactly wowed Mosher, but the gossip he was hearing even before he screened Grand Hotel suggested it was not to be missed. Mosher touted the unseen film (in the April 16 issue), expressing his hope that the rumors would prove true — he feared Garbo would quit the business altogether and leave the country if she didn’t land a hit. His fears were laid to rest:

Adapted from the 1929 German novel Menschen im Hotel by Vicki BaumGrand Hotel is considered the first all-star epic. The brainchild of MGM’s production head Irving Thalberg, the film proved a triumph for director Edmund Goulding, who somehow managed to direct five leading roles into one film classic.

GRAND OPENING…The April 12, 1932 opening of Grand Hotel at Broadway’s famed Astor Theatre was much anticipated by critic John Mosher and pretty much everyone else. (ny.curbed.com)
STELLAR CAST…Set at a luxurious Berlin hotel, Grand Hotel brought together the stories of five seemingly unrelated lives. Clockwise, from top left, crooked industrialist Preysing (Wallace Beery), trades innuendos with an ambitious stenographer, Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford); Baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore), a once wealthy man fallen on hard times, supports himself by stealing from vulnerable marks like the depressed ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), and also teams up with a gravely ill accountant (Lionel Barrymore, John’s real brother, not pictured here); hotel entrance from the film; MGM movie poster deftly juggled the film’s five big stars; advertisement from the April 16, 1932 New Yorker made much of the film’s star power. (Wikipedia/IMDB)
THE OTHER BIG STAR in Grand Hotel was the luxurious Art Deco set created by Cedric Gibbons. Centered on the hotel’s reception desk, the set allowed filming in 360 degrees. (IMDB)

And let’s not forget that it was in this film Garbo famously uttered “I want to be alone” — it ranks number 30 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes. In 2007 Grand Hotel was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

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She’s Back

Lois Long aka “Lipstick” turned in yet another “Tables for Two,” even though she had abandoned that column as a regular feature two years earlier. Unlike those earlier columns, Long seemed to have had her fill of the night life, but occasionally she found a diversion or two worth mentioning. She also offered her thoughts about the decline of civilization, indicated by such behaviors as dining at the early hour of 7 p.m. — “rawboned” she called it…

NIGHT LIGHTS…Singer Kate Smith and comedic performer Beatrice Lillie managed to keep Lois Long awake in the wee hours of nightclub entertainments. (katesmith.org/The Poster Corp)

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Notes, and More Notes

Despite his cover contribution, and his continued presence in the “Notes and Comment” section, the year 1932 is regarded as one of E.B. White’s leanest as a full-time writer for the New Yorker. According to Scott Elledge in E.B. White: A Biography, White published only a few “Talk” pieces or signed contributions. With a toddler about the house (Joel White had just turned 1 the previous December), White and wife Katharine enjoyed what Elledge describes as perhaps “the happiest of their years together, “able to enjoy fully their professional and private lives in the city they both loved.” So perhaps that explains this particular “Notes” entry for the April 23 issue. Still, it’s good stuff:

(Note Otto Soglow’s Tammany-themed spot cartoon — the political machine was still chugging along, but its days were numbered)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with this colorful ad from McCutcheon’s to brighten our day…

…the Franklin Automobile Company responded to competition from other luxury car makers by introducing its own 12-cylinder model, the only American car to be powered by a 12-cylinder air-cooled engine (according to the H.H. Franklin Club)…

…introducing a 12-cylinder luxury car was not a good move in 1932 — one of the worst years of the Depression — and the company folded by 1934…but what a swell-looking car…

(Courtesy H.H. Franklin Club)

…one innovation that would stick around, however, was the lighted refrigerator, something to brighten those dim days of 1932, that is if you could even afford an electric fridge…

…named to evoke the luxury automobile, the British-made Rolls Razor made its debut in the back pages of the New Yorker with this panel cartoon ad featuring a hapless suitor and his girlfriend’s nosy kid brother…

…the razor came in a rigid case enclosed by two detachable lids; one carried a sharpening stone and the other a leather strop. When a lid was removed, the razor’s oscillating a handle drove a shaft along the frame, pushing the solid, hollow ground blade forward against the stone or dragging it against the strop…

…and here’s an ad you don’t see often in the New Yorker…one featuring children…

…on to our cartoonists, we have more kids via William Steig’s Small Fry…

James Thurber continued to ply his cartooning craft with one of his favorite subjects:

…here is a more detailed look at the above…

John Held Jr. continued to take us back to those saucy days of yore…

Gardner Rea sketched this hereditary pratfall…

E. McNerney gave us a woman whose beau was in alliance with architecture critic Lewis Mumford

Alan Dunn looked in on the fast-paced world of business…

…and Leonard Dove takes us out on a droll note…

Next Time: The Quiet Man…

 

Back to the Nightlife

Although she served as the New Yorker’s fashion editor for decades, and even laid the groundwork for fashion criticism in general, Lois Long will always be known as one of the pivotal early writers who shaped the magazine’s voice and image.

April 9, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

The New Yorker’s stated mission to be both “witty and sophisticated” was fulfilled in Long’s “Tables for Two” column, in which she — perhaps more than any other writer of the Roaring Twenties — vividly captured the decadence of New York’s speakeasy nightlife. Long wrote the weekly “Tables” column from September 1925 to June 1930, when she dropped the column to focus on her weekly fashion review “On and Off the Avenue” (she was also married to cartoonist Peter Arno, and they had a one-year-old daughter, Patricia, which doubtless put a cramp in her nightlife routines).

SALAD DAYS…Lois Long relaxes on a beach in this still image from a 1920s home movie; it was a time when hopping speakeasies until 4 a.m. — and writing about it — was her forte. (PBS)

In the midst of divorcing Arno in early 1931, Long embarked on a six-part series titled “Doldrums,” lamenting the state of New York nightlife, which she found to have very little life. However, in June of that year, her divorce was almost finalized, she filed another “Tables for Two” column. And now here we are, nearly a year later, with another “Tables” column, again with the familiar pen name “Lipstick,” now finding herself too old (at age 30) for the nightlife at the Pennsylvania Grill and the New Lido Club. Some excerpts:

HE DID IT ALL…Moonlighting from his Ziegfeld gig on Broadway, the versatile Buddy Rogers (top left) was also acting as bandleader at the Pennsylvania Grill — the popular stage and screen actor happily fronted various bands for the publicity, which he received from both Lois Long and from an ad in the back pages of the New Yorker; clockwise, from top right, the Hotel Pennsylvania; the hotel’s Grill restaurant; among the celebs spotted by Long was Broadway/gossip columnist Ed Sullivan, who would go on to other things; and Jeannette Loff, who “sang nicely” for those who danced along with the band. (Wikipedia/edsullivan.com/bizarrela.com)

About Buddy Rogers, Long wrote he “has a gleaming smile for the world and his-well-not-exactly wife,” a reference to famed silent film star Mary Pickford, also in the audience, and also married to actor Douglas Fairbanks (Pickford and Rogers had been carrying on a not-so-secret romance since 1927).

PICKY PICKFORD…Mary Pickford in 1932. (Culver Pictures)

Long also paid a visit to the Folies Bergère, which was basically a road show produced by the famed Parisian theater of the same name. She found the performances second-rate, and didn’t quite see the appeal of the cross-dressing comedian Jean Malin, whom we’ve seen in this blog before doing his Mae West schtick.

UNDER COVER…Program for the New York version of the Folies Bergère from 1933; at right, Jean Malin with and without (inset) his costume. (Ebay/Pinterest)

A perusal of the 1933 Folies Bergère program suggests this was not family-friendly fare…

Long concluded her column with the familiar signature, and perhaps a sigh…

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The Other Lois

We aren’t quite finished with Lois Long. I happened to notice this ad in the back pages of the issue — although the folks at Van Raalte believed fishnet stockings (first introduced in the 1920s) were all a civilized girl could desire, Long maintained a skeptical distance in her “On and Off the Avenue” fashion column:

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The Brothers Mills

The “Talk of the Town” introduced readers to the Mills Brothers (Donald, Herbert, Harry and John Jr.), and if you haven’t heard of them, your parents or grandparents sure thought they were swell. Perhaps the most popular vocal group of all time, you can still hear them today, especially in old Christmas carol compilations.

SOLID GOLD…the jazz and pop vocal quartet, the Mills Brothers, made more than 2,000 recordings that sold more than 50 million copies. They garnered dozens of gold records. (Remarkable Ohio)

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Car Wars

As the Great Depression slowly crushed some of the smaller automobile manufacturers, the Big Three (Ford, GM and Chrysler) were duking it out the advertising pages, much to the amusement of E.B. White, who filed this in his “Notes and Comment” section:

FLOATS LIKE A BUTTERFLY…While Ford and GM fought over cylinders, Walter Chrysler outflanked them with his “Floating Power” Plymouth. (americanbusinesshistory.org)

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From Our Advertisers

E.B. White provides us a nice segue into our advertising section, where desperate automakers vied for the attention of cash-strapped Americans, including the makers of the luxury brand Lincoln, who hoped to convince the upper-middles that this 8-cylinder model was every bit as good as their 12-cylinder monster…

…the Lincoln Eight would still set you back a cool $2,900, roughly equivalent to a car costing $60k today…if I had a time machine I would opt for this sweet little Auburn, a bargain from a company that made some bonafide classics before the Depression plowed it under…

…Hudson would manage to hang around until the 1950s, when it merged with Nash to form American Motors, but I include this ad to remind readers that in 1932 many roads were like this, especially when you cruised beyond the city limits and headed upstate…

…the ads in the New Yorker are rife with social class cues, even unintended ones, like this illustration from Arrow shirts that suggested “old Cuthbert” was out of step with the more nattily dressed, when in fact old Cuthbert might have been old money and couldn’t have given a damn about his collar, let alone the opinions of the grasping new money crowd…

…this advertisement caught my eye initially because it was from the Theatre Guild, an organization not known to be flush with enough dough to spring for full-page spreads, but there’s more…

John Hanrahan, who also served as the New Yorker’s policy council, be­came the publisher of Stage magazine in 1932, so he likely got a break from the New Yorker’s advertising department, and deservedly so: it was Hanrahan who helped put the fledgling New Yorker on a firm financial footing during some of its toughest years.

According to Lucy Moore’s book, Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties (excerpt found on Erenow) “the New Yorker was ‘the outstanding flop of 1925.’ Advertisers failed to materialize. Circulation dipped below 3,000. In early May, (Harold) Ross, (Raoul) Fleishmann, Hawley Truax and the professional publisher John Hanrahan met at the Princeton Club and decided to cut their losses. The initial investment of $45,000 had gone and Fleishmann was owed another $65,000. It was costing between $5,000 and $8,000 a week to keep the magazine afloat. As they walked away from the meeting, Fleishmann overheard Hanrahan say, ‘I can’t blame Ross for calling it off, but it surely is like killing something that’s alive.’ Hanrahan’s words struck Fleishmann deeply, and when he saw Ross later that afternoon he told him that he was willing to try and raise outside capital to help the New Yorker survive.”

As for Stage magazine, it managed to survive the Depression, but ceased publication in 1939. Here is the final issue:

(Wikimedia Commons)

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with this nice spot illustration by James Thurber

…and Thurber’s cartoon contribution to the issue…

William Steig gave us another of his “Small Fry,” coming dangerously close to being too cute for the New Yorker

Leonard Dove showed us some speakeasy owners appreciating an addition to the decor…

…this Otto Soglow contribution was a spot illustration, but had a lot to say about the approval ratings of President Herbert Hoover in 1932…

…those celebrated Southern manners, Mary Petty found, could be tedious in tender moments…

…and we close with the great Peter Arno, who gave us a peep into an awkward moment…

Next Time: The Shipping News…

 

 

 

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MoMA Sees The Future

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

Feb. 27, 1932 cover by Leonard Dove.

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

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

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

Mumford concluded his review with this bold observation:

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

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Out of the Trenches

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

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

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

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Love and War

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

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

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kemp Starrett gave us a little paddy wagon humor…

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Helen Hokinson illustrated a tender moment between father and son…

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

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Next Time: The Milne Menace…