Animal Crackers

Above image: Groucho Marx, Margaret Dumont, and Lillian Roth in the Marx Brothers second film, Animal Crackers, 1930

The Marx Brothers were famous for a string of hit films in the 1930s, but some of the comedy on which those films were based went all the way back to the days of vaudeville and 1920s Broadway.

Sept. 6, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

Animal Crackers was their second film (the first was 1929’s The Cocoanuts), and the last to be adapted from one of their stage shows. It was also the last Marx Brothers movie to be filmed at Paramount’s Astoria Studio in Queens before the brothers headed for Hollywood.

MUSICAL CIRCUS…Animal Crackers began as a Broadway stage production in 1928 before moving to film in 1930; from left to right: Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo in a publicity photo for the stage version of Animal Crackers. (www.georgeskaufman.com)

The New Yorker’s John Mosher reviewed the film version, which was playing at the Rialto Theatre:

SO LONG, NEW YORK…Animal Crackers was the second and final Marx Brothers movie to be filmed at Astoria Studios in Queens; from left, Chico, Zeppo, Groucho and Harpo Marx pose for a 1930 publicity photo. (IMDB)

Always partial to European directors, Mosher found Ernst Lubitsch’s Monte Carlo among the better films playing in the late summer.

OH YOU CAD!…Jeanette MacDonald and Jack Buchanan in Monte Carlo. (IMDB)

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Fox in the Hen House

“The Talk of the Town” made light of Mayor Jimmy Walker’s plan to “rid the city of graft.” Ironically, Jimmy himself would be drummed out of office two years later for accepting bribes…

WHAT ME WORRY? Yes maybe. Mayor Jimmy Walker in 1930. (nymag.com)

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From Our Advertisers

We have another lovely illustration from Carl “Eric” Erickson promoting the joys of smoking unfiltered cigarettes…

…these small ads for apartments in the back pages of the magazine promoted the bucolic vistas in Westchester…

Images of Fleetwood Hills from The American Architect, June 1926.

…and European-style living on East 44th Street…

The Beaux-Arts Apartments (which still stand) consisted of buildings on both sides of E. 44th Street. (Museum of the City of New York)

…as for comics, Peter Arno continued this running gag…

…as did Rea Irvin in another tableaux (originally running sideways, full page) featuring the clash of country bumpkins and city elites…

Garrett Price looked in on the burdens of the wealthy…

…and Barbara Shermund caught some small talk at a cafe…

…back to Peter Arno, and a heated game of table tennis…

…and Gardner Rea, witness to modern-day crime reporting…

On to the Sept. 13, 1930 issue…

Sept. 13, 1930: yet another satirical kakemono cover by Rea Irvin.

As I’ve noted many times before, the early New Yorker covered every sport under the sun (and especially elite sports such as yacht racing, tennis and badminton, golf and polo) but to my knowledge never covered a major league baseball game in its then five-year existence. Here, E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” complains about the high price of tickets to polo matches…

…White, a well-known dog lover (and all-around animal lover), offered a rather cruel solution to a problem cat in this feature:

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Oh Never Mind

At first glance I thought this might actually be an article about a baseball game, but alas, it was a column by Ring Lardner (titled “Br’er Rabbit Ball”) that showed little enthusiasm for the game (the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal apparently soured his love for baseball). Excerpts:

Speaking of sports, we move to the advertisements and the helpful folks from Lucky Strike, who wanted to help you get in shape with a smoke…

…and another ad for Flit insecticide by Dr. Seuss, featuring an elephant that looked a lot like the future Horton, and some unfortunate racist imagery…

…yet another Peter Arno repeat with a new caption (is the joke growing stale, folks?)…

…and another in a series of 1930’s images by Ralph Barton

…a maritime dilemma, courtesy Garrett Price

…and apartment shopping with Constantin Alajalov

Next Time: When Lindy Was Lucky…

All Quiet on the Western Front

Still considered one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, All Quiet on the Western Front opened in New York on April 29, 1930 to strong reviews. Based on a Erich Maria Remarque novel of the same name, the film’s depictions of the horrors of war were so realistic and harrowing that it was banned in a number of countries outside of the U.S.

May 10, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Banned, that is, by nations gearing up for war. In Germany, Nazi brownshirts disrupted viewings during its brief run in that country, tossing smoke bombs into cinemas among other acts of mayhem. Back in the U.S., the New Yorker’s John Mosher attended a screening at a “packed” Central Theatre:

WAR IS HELL…Clockwise, from top left, movie poster for 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front; German soldier Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres), falls into a shell crater with a French soldier and draws his knife; in one of the most moving scenes in cinema, Bäumer is forced to spend the night in the crater, where he vainly tries to safe the life of the Frenchman he has mortally wounded; a German soldier crawls through the mud in a German training camp. (IMDB/Universal).

Mosher found the film’s adaption from the novel wanting in places, but overall praised the acting and the quality of the picture…

…and just in case some audiences were put off by the blood and guts, Universal promoted other themes on its lobby cards…

(IMDB)

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More Than a Stunt

In her profile of aviator Elinor Smith (1911-2010), writer Helena Huntington Smith took great pains to distinguish Elinor from other “lady fliers” who were little more than passengers in various flying exploits. Like Amelia Earhart, Elinor Smith had the bona fides of a true aviator: in 1927 Smith become the youngest licensed pilot in the world at age 16, learning stunt flying at an early age. At age 17, she smashed the women’s flying endurance record by soloing 26½ hours, and in the following month set a woman’s world speed record of 190.8 miles per hour. In March 1930 she set a women’s world altitude record of 27,419 feet (8,357 m), breaking that record in 1931 with a flight reaching 32,576 feet. Smith would continue to fly well into old age. In 2000 she flew NASA’s Space Shuttle vertical motion simulator and became the oldest pilot to succeed in a simulated shuttle landing. In 2001 (at age 89) she would pilot an experimental flight at Langley AFB. An excerpt from the profile:

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS…Elinor Smith’s flying career would extend from age 16 and into her 90s. At left, Smith poses in Long Island with the Bellanca monoplane she used to beat the solo flight record in 1929. Right, portrait of Smith circa 1930s. (findagrave.com)

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I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia

Theatre critic Robert Benchley was over the moon regarding a performance of Lysistrata staged by the Philadelphia Theatre Association. Benchley suggested the Philadelphians had “put New York to shame” in staging such a “festival of beauty and bawdiness…never seen on an American stage before.”

NO MORE HANKY PANKY…Left, actress Miriam Hopkins in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, as photographed by Edward Steichen; at right, Sydney Greenstreet with unidentified actress from the 1930 Philadelphia production of Lysistrata. (timeline.com)

Benchley praised the seemingly advanced tastes of Philadelphia audiences as he continued to the lament the fact that the City of Brotherly Love had beaten New York to the punch with the staging of the play. He needn’t have worried much longer; the play would open on Broadway on June 5, 1930, at the 44th Street Theatre.

LOVER COME BACK…Production photograph for Norman-Bel Geddes’s staging for Lysistrata, titled “the women of Greece return to their men.” (hrc.utexas.edu)

While we are on the subject of theater, Constantin Alajálov provided this lovely illustration of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for the New Yorker’s theater review section…

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Make ‘Em Dance, Boys

The author Robert Wilder contributed this interesting casual about the appearance of gangster Al Capone at a Chicago nightclub. Excerpts:

LIGHT ON HIS FEET…Al Capone in 1930. (Wikipedia)

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You Say You Want a Revolution?

Alva Johnston offered his thoughts on how America could stage its own “Red Revolution,” given that Russia and several European countries had already experienced communist uprisings of their own, and also given that New York Police Commissioner Grover Whalen, always in search of problems that didn’t exist, had announced a new “Red Scare” in his fight against communism.

Tongue firmly in cheek, Johnston suggested how American know-how could be brought to bear in inciting a Red Terror. An excerpt:

YANKEE INGENUITY…Alva Johnston, left, offered some innovative ideas for a uniquely American “Red Revolution.” At right, soldiers stand behind a barricade during Germany’s communist Spartacist uprising of January 1919. (Wikipedia)

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Speaking of Revolutionaries

Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello is one of America’s most-visited historical sites, but in 1930 it was still something of a regional curiosity, having only been acquired in 1923 for the purposes of turning it into a public museum. Although Jefferson is well known today for his various inventions at Monticello, E.B. White was just learning about this side of the president in his weekly “Notes and Comment” dispatch:

THIS OLD HOUSE…Left, a combination of neglect and Civil War vandalism left Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello enmeshed in weeds and in a state of near collapse by the 1870s. At right, students of the University of Virginia pose outside Monticello in 1930. (UVA/Hulton Archive)

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Play Ball?

We are well into the spring of 1930, yet the New Yorker stood firm in its complete lack of baseball coverage. As I’ve noted before, the magazine covered virtually every sport from horse racing to rowing to badminton, and even lowered itself to regular features on college football and professional hockey, but not a line on baseball, save for an occasional note about the antics of Babe Ruth or the homespun goodness of Lou Gehrig. There were signs, however, that baseball was being played in a city blessed with three major league teams; we do find game times in the “Goings On About Town” section, as well as occasional baseball-themed filler art, and a comic panel in the May 10 issue by Leonard Dove:

From Our Advertisers

We begin with an endorsement for Chase & Sanborn coffee by the soprano Alma Gluck, wife of famed violinist and composer Efrem Zimbalist Sr. Originally I thought she was enjoying coffee with a sister in law named “Mrs. Zimbalist,” but as reader Frank Wilhoit astutely points out, the “Alma Gluck” (celebrity) and “Mrs. Zimbalist” (housewife) are alternate personae of the same individual. And now that I look at the ad again, the clothes and hair styles are identical. I will try to locate a clearer image of the ad…

…and from the makers of White Rock we have a group of swells and their airborne friends enjoying some bubbles that are doubtless mixed with illegal hootch…

Dr. Seuss continued to offer his artistry on behalf of Flit insecticide…

…and on to our comics, Peter Arno illustrated the hazards of the road…

…while Leonard Dove explored the hazards high above the streets of Manhattan…

Constantin Alajálov explored an odd encounter in a park…

I Klein mused on the tricks of mass transit…

…and two from Barbara Shermund, who looked in on one tourist’s plans for a trip to Mussolini’s Italy…

…and some helpful advice at a perfume counter…

Next Time: Red Alert…

 

 

 

American Royalty

Although the United States declared its independence from British Empire nearly 250 years ago, the royal family and all of its requisite trappings persist in the American imagination like a phantom limb.

Oct. 5, 1929 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

E.B. White observed as much in the “Notes and Comment” section of the Oct. 5 issue, in which he offered his views regarding the “pother” over the wedding of Calvin Coolidge’s son, John, to Florence Trumbull, the daughter of Connecticut Governor John Harper Trumbull

White could have looked no further than the pages of the New Yorker for further evidence to his claims. The bourgeois yearnings of its readers were reflected in countless advertisements laced with anglophilic pretensions. Here are examples from 1929 issues we have previously examined:

LIVE LIKE A BARON…Ads from the New Yorker of the 1920s often featured illustrations of regal, priggish types such as the couple above, deployed to sell everything from apartments and ginger ale…
…to no-frills automobiles and menthol cigarettes. No product was too pedestrian for the royal treatment.

Writing under the pseudonym “Guy Fawkes,” Robert Benchley commented further on the Coolidge-Trumbull nuptials in the “Wayward Press” column:

HEY CAL, IT’S A WEDDING, NOT A FUNERAL…The former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge was known as “Silent Cal” for good reason, given his reserved demeanor that rarely produced a smile (although he apparently had a dry wit). He poses here at the wedding of his son, John. Left to right are Grace Goodhue Coolidge, President Coolidge, Florence Trumbull Coolidge, John Coolidge; Maud Pierce Usher Trumbull, and Gov. John Trumbull. (patch.com)
NOT EXACTLY KING’S ROAD…Onlookers line the street near the Congregational church in Plainview, Conn., hoping for a glimpse of the bride and groom, who were united in a simple ceremony. (AP)
CUTE COUPLE…Florence Trumbull and John Coolidge during their engagement, 1928. (crackerpilgrim.com)

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Modest Mussolini

We go from famous faces to infamous ones, namely the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, aka Il Duce, who received the adoration of his public while trying to remain inconspicuous at the cinema. “Talk” recounted…

NOW PICTURE HIM UPSIDE DOWN…A 1929 postcard image of the once-revered Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Sixteen years later he would be shot by his own people and strung up by his feet from the roof of a Milan gas station. (worthpoint.com)

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Going Down

“Talk” also commented on the growing trend for high-rise apartments to provide swimming pools and other amenities below street level:

TAKING THE PLUNGE DOWN UNDER…Few indoor swimming pools were available to New Yorkers during the 1920s. Two of the nicer ones were found underground at the Shelton Hotel (above) and the Park Central. Sadly, both pools no longer exist. In 2007 the Shelton’s pool was removed and the cavernous space was divided into three levels. I’m not sure when Park Central’s disappeared, but it’s fate was doubtless similar to the Shelton’s.(daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/hippostcard.com)

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How About a Catch?

As I’ve noted on previous occasions, the New Yorker of the 1920s all but ignored major league baseball. The magazine gave regular coverage to seemingly every sport, from hockey and college football to polo and yacht racing, but regular coverage of baseball was nonexistent, even when the Yankee’s Murderers’ Row (Ruth, Gehrig among others) won back-to-back World Series titles in 1927-28.

Still no coverage in the Oct. 5 issue, but the sport did get a brief mention in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column…

…and the issue was filled with baseball imagery, including the cover…

The Oct. 5 issue was filled with baseball-related items, but no actual coverage of the games. Images from the issue included, from left, the cover by Theodore Haupt; a filler sketch by Constantin Alajalov; and a Johan Bull illustration of umpire Bill Klem for the issue’s “Profile” section.

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In a Sentimental Mood

Robert Benchley checked out George White’s latest version of his Scandals revue at the Apollo Theatre, and found the sometimes risqué show to be in a sentimental mood…

BETTER SENTIMENTAL THAN DEPRESSED…The chanteuse Frances Williams (pictured on the show’s sheet music and at right) likely provided the only spark to the 1929 edition of George White’s Scandals. (amazon/psychotronicpaul.blogspot.com)

Benchley also looked in on Elmer Rice’s latest, See Naples and Die, featuring veteran English actress Beatrice Herford and the up-and-coming Claudette Colbert

VETERAN AND ROOKIE…Veteran English actress Beatrice Herford and the up-and-coming Claudette Colbert headlined Elmer Rice’s See Naples and Die. Colbert (pictured at right in a 1928 Broadway publicity photo) would go on to massive stardom in the 1930s. (Alchetron/Wikipeda)

Benchley applauded the veteran Herford’s performance, but found the otherwise reliable Colbert miscast as a wisecracking, Dorothy Parker type (Benchley, as we know, was close friends with Parker, so he knew what he was talking about)…

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An (Ugly) American in Paris

Off to Paris, we find correspondent Janet Flanner joining with Parisians in deriding the behavior of American tourists, who were on a course to drain every last drop from the ÎledeFrance before departing for the bone-dry USA:

DRINKING IN THE SIGHTS…American tourists at a Parisian café, circa 1920s. (tavbooks.com)

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Party Pooper

With her infant child (Patricia Arno) at home, it is doubtful Lois Long was seeing as much nightlife as she did during her first weeks at the New Yorker, when “nights were bold.” And indeed, her nightlife column “Tables for Two” would end for good in June 1930. Her Oct. 5 column took a cursory spin through the various nighttime offerings, ending on this note regarding a fan letter and a message from comedian Jimmy Durante:

THE GREAT SCHNOZZOLA Jimmy Durante brought a smile to the face of Lois “Lipstick” Long. 

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From Our Advertisers

With the latest Paris fashions splattered across newstands all over Manhattan, retailers scrambled to get “replicas” to consumers…Macy’s had “couturier bags”…

…the Hollander Dressmaking Department was ready to make a perfect copy of Patou’s “Quiproquo”…

…and this Chanel frock could be had in misses’ sizes for $145 (roughly equivalent to about $2K today)…

…Philip Morris hadn’t yet discovered the “Marlboro Man,” and were still hawking their cigarettes through a “distinguished handwriting contest.” The latest winner was Edmund Froese

…who would go on to become a popular mid-century landscape painter…

Port of New York, by Edmund Froese (undated)

…another artist in the midst of our ads is Carl “Eric” Erickson, who created these lovely images for R.J. Reynolds that would induce people to take up the habit with a Camel…

…and then we have some rather unlovely ads from the back pages, including these two that would not go over well with today’s readers…

…or this from Dr. Seuss, still sharpening his skills with Flit insecticide…

…or this ad from Abercrombie & Fitch, wrong on so many levels…

…on to happier things, here’s an illustration by Reginald Marsh that ran along the bottom of “Talk of the Town”…(click to enlarge)

Alan Dunn found love in the air above the streets of Manhattan…

…and Leonard Dove revealed the hazards of apartment rentals…

Next Time: Race to the Sky…

New York 1965

I’ve always been fascinated by past visions of the future, especially those of the early and mid-20th century—despite the horrors of world war and economic depression, we were still able to envision endless possibilities for human progress.

June 29, 1929 cover by Ray Euffa (1904-1977), who contributed just one cover for the New Yorker. A resident of the East Village, she had a successful career as both a New York artist and teacher (see end of post for another example of her work).

In this spirit, the landmark 1929 Regional Plan of New York and its Environs was created. Rather than planning for individual towns and cities, it viewed them as a single, interdependent and interconnected built environment. Authored by a Regional Plan Association formed in 1922, the plan encompassed 31 counties in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. The goal of the plan was to transcend the region’s political divisions and view it more in terms of its economic, socio-cultural, transportation, and environmental needs. The New Yorker made note of the new plan, but decided to take a humorous approach by putting Robert Benchley on the assignment:

Had he actually read the plan, Benchley would have found an ambitious vision for the city in the year 1965, including the remaking of Battery Park that would have included a massive obelisk to greet seafaring visitors to the city (click all images below to enlarge)…

THINKING BIG…Images from the 1929 Regional Plan of New York and its Environs included, clockwise, from top left, a proposed art center for Manhattan, as envisioned by Hugh Ferriss; a proposal for a terminal and office building in Sunnyside Yards, Queens; a proposed monument for Battery Park, from a bird’s eye perspective; and as the monument would appear at street level. (Regional Planning Association–RPA)
HOW-TO GUIDE FOR THE FUTURE…Zoning principles, including setback guidelines for tall buildings (left) were included in the regional plan. At right, a suggestion for setbacks on an apartment group, as rendered by architect George B. Ford. (RPA)

Benchley noted that the plan “looks ahead to a New York of 1965,” and hoped that he would not live to see a city of 20 million people (New York City had a metro population of 20.3 million in 2017; and Benchley got his wish—he died in 1945. He was not, however, stuffed and put on display)…

A BIT MUCH?…Clockwise, from top left, a “monumental building” was proposed in the regional plan as a dominant feature of the civic center, dwarfing the historic city hall; the old city hall today, fortunately backed by a blue sky and not by a “death-star” building; a proposal for the Chrystie-Forsyth Parkway; a “future tower city,” as envisioned by E. Maxwell Fry. (RPA)
THE STUFF OF DREAMS…Clockwise, from top left: The regional plan proposed separation of pedestrians and motor vehicles by assigning them to different levels along the street; ten years later, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, General Motors would build a full-scale model of this concept as part of their Futurama exhibit; the city of 1960, as envisioned by designer Norman Bel Geddes for the Futurama exhibit; Futurama visitors view the world of tomorrow—a vast scale model of the American countryside—from chairs moving along a conveyer. (RPA/The Atlantic/Wikipedia/General Motors)

Benchley concluded his article with less ambitious hopes for the future…

THE REALITY…A view of New York City’s East 42nd Street, looking to the west, in 1965. (AP)

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Another vision of the future could be found in the growing air transport options available to those who could afford it. “The Talk of the Town” reported:

ROOM WITH A VIEW…Interior and exterior views of the Sikorsky S-38 flying boat. (Frankin Institute, Philadelphia/Calisto Publishers)
NO FRILLS…Seaplane ramp at Flushing Bay’s North Beach Airport in 1929. (Courtesy of Alan Reddig)

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With the 1929 stock market crash on the horizon, it is instructive to read these little “Talk” items and understand that, then as now, we have no clue when the big one is coming…

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Over at the Polo Grounds 

As I’ve previously noted, the New Yorker in the 1920s covered every conceivable sport, but paid little attention to Major League Baseball (except for the occasional amusing anecdote about a player, usually Babe Ruth). But even the New Yorker couldn’t ignore the city’s latest sensation, the Giants’ Mel Ott (1909-1958), who despite his slight stature (for a power hitter, that is), he became the first National League player to surpass 500 career home runs.

READY FOR SOME HEAT…Mel Ott in 1933. He batted left-handed but threw right-handed. (Baseball Hall of Fame)

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David McCord (1897-1997) contributed nearly 80 poems to the New Yorker between in 1926 and 1956, but earned his greatest renown in his long life as an author of children’s poetry. Here is his contribution to the June 29 issue:

PICKETY POET…David McCord and one of his poems for children. (nowaterriver.com)

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From Our Advertisers

We find more color in the pages of the New Yorker thanks to advertisers like C & C Ginger Ale, who for all the world tried to make their product appear as exciting and appealing as Champagne, or some other banned substance…

…or for quieter times, Atwater Kent encouraged folks to gather ’round the radio on a lazy afternoon and look positively bored to death…

…while Dodge Boats encouraged readers to join the more exhilarating world of life on the water…

Our final color ad comes from the makers of Jantzen swimwear—this striking example is by Frank Clark, who collaborated with his wife Florenz in creating a distinct look and style for Jantzen…

…indeed it was Florenz Clark who came up with Jantzen’s signature red diving girl. In 1919, while doing sketches at a swim club for divers practicing for the 1920 Olympics, she came up with the iconic red diving girl logo. This is the version of the logo from the late 1920s:

(jantzen.com)

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Our illustrations and comics come courtesy of Reginald Marsh, who sketched scenes along the shores of Battery Park…

Peter Arno plumbed the depths of a posh swimming club…

R. Van Buren explored a clash of the castes…

I. Klein sent up some class pretensions…

…and John Reehill looked in on a couple who seemed more suited to land-based diversions…

…and finally, we close with a 1946 work by our cover artist, Ray Euffa, titled, City Roofs:

(National Gallery of Art)

Next Time: Georgia on My Mind…

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bird’s Eye View

The New Yorker’s E.B. White was an aviation enthusiast who rhapsodized about his flights into the clouds, but also had prescience to see the darker side of this modern thrill ride.

October 6, 1928 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Writing in the “Reporter at Large” column for the Oct. 6, 1928 issue, White described his visit to Curtiss Field, where he inquired about a pilot who could fly him over New York City. He was told someone named Bill would take him up.

EARLY BIRD…This Fairchild FC-2 Cabin Monoplane, with strut-supported wing, was probably similar to the plane E.B. White rode in his flight over New York City. (Quora)

After a half hour wait, a man in a gray felt hat and sack suit offered White a cigarette and said, “You want to fly over New York?” Although the man didn’t look like a pilot, White followed him to a “little cabin monoplane.” Without saying another word the man took the plane up into the air, much to White’s surprise:

FLYBOY…E.B. White (left) with friend and New Yorker colleague James Thurber in 1929. (University of Virginia)

White described the various sites from 800 feet up, including Coney Island, a view at once beautiful and foreboding…

AMUSING SIGHT…Aerial view of Coney Island in 1920. (Pinterest)

…and the thrill of the approaching city skyline as his plane soared up the Bay toward Manhattan:

Lower Manhattan looking northeast from the Bay in July 1927. This is approximately the view described by E.B. White as his plane approached Manhattan. (Favrify.com)
A closer view of lower Manhattan as it would have appeared to E.B. White on his 1928 flight over New York City. (Fairchild Aerial Survey photo, 1928)

Once over the city, White could not help but contain his exuberance, soaring high above the towering spires and teeming crowds below:

And yet as I noted earlier, his observations were tinged with melancholy and foreboding. In describing his flight over Coney Island, for example, White concluded that “the world in general seems sadly beautiful, it is so soon to be gone entirely.”

Perhaps he referred to the rapid changes seen daily in the city during the 1920s, when nothing seemed permanent. Or did this bird’s eye view suggest something else to White? Twenty years later, in his 1948 essay “Here is New York,” White would write:

A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.

Unlike 1928, White had the hindsight of World War II, of entire cities leveled by waves of heavy bombers, or in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just a single bomb. The foreshadowing of 9/11 is contained in his words as well.

Back on the ground at Curtiss Field, White would finally learn the identity of the man who didn’t look like a pilot, but had just flown him over the city:

Another Vantage Point

With buildings rising ever higher in Manhattan, you could get a pretty good view of the surrounding city by taking an elevator to the rooftop of the latest skyscraper. The Oct. 6 “Talk of the Town” found a good perch atop the 680-foot-tall Chanin building on the southwestern corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street.

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP…The Chanin Building at Lexington and 42nd. Sloan & Robertson Architects, 1928. (Favrify.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Something you never see in the New Yorker anymore, or in most magazines for that matter, are ads promoting various brands of gasoline. This one touts the benefits of Tydol, produced by the (now defunct) Tide Water Oil Company of New York:

For our Oct. 6 cartoon, here is one of Rea Irvin’s occasional multi-panel, two-page comic spreads, this one exploring the ordeal of a man who couldn’t think of the word for a type of natural plastic used in the 1920s (click to enlarge image):

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The Oct. 13, 1928 issue featured a notable short story by Thyra Samter Winslow, a writer who contributed nearly a dozen pieces to the New Yorker in 1927 and 1928.

October 13, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Her short story on page 25, “But for the Grace of God,” was a “key transitional work” for the magazine, according to Ben Yagoda in his book About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made. He writes: “Realistic fiction thrives in periods of social ambiguity and flux, and the attention to class was on of the factors working to propel New Yorker writing from two-dimensional sketches to fleshed out short stories.” Yagoda observes that Winslow’s story, “in its carefully selected details, its mild epiphany, and its attention to the potency of class…is an accomplished and poignant piece of short fiction.” Excerpts:

GROUNDBREAKER…Thyra Samter Winslow, circa 1920s. She wrote more than 200 pieces for New York magazines between 1915 to 1955, as well as Hollywood screenplays, early television scripts, and several books. She was married to New Yorker staff writer Fillmore Hyde. (playinginthepages.blogspot.com)

You can read more about Thyra Samter Winslow in Savannah Fry’s excellent blog, Playing the Pages.

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The New Yorker continued its stubborn refusal to report on baseball in its sports section, even though the Yankees were in the process of taking their second consecutive World Series title with a 4-0 sweep over the favored St. Louis Cardinals. The magazine did, however, mention the game in the Oct. 13, 1928 “Talk of the Town” — not on how it was played, but rather on how the championship money was distributed among players and assistants:

Money matters in the game of sport were more informal 90 years ago, with players themselves divvying up money to other players, trainers, mascots and batboys. For example, in 1927 Yankees batboy Eddie Bennett received $700 for the one-eighth World Series share voted him by the team. This sum earned over the four days of the series nearly equalled a batboy’s pay for a full year.

GOOD LUCK CHARM…Yankee batboy Eddie Bennett in the 1920s. Although a spinal injury as an infant left him hunchbacked, Bennett would serve as Yankee batboy for 12-years — a period that would include seven pennants and four World Series titles. (sabr.org)

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Although European-inspired modern furniture was all the rage among certain members of the New York smart set, writer Joseph Fulling Fishman (best known for his writing on contemporary prison conditions) offered a dissenting view in the Oct. 13 edition. An excerpt:

In the art review section, critic Murdock Pemberton also seemed a bit perplexed by modern design, in this case by the work of Ukrainian-born avant-garde artist Alexander Archipenko. His Archipentura was an electronic machine that displayed pre-loaded images of a female undressing by rolling painted canvas through a complex system of sprockets and belts. He intended the machine “to do for painting what the motion picture did for photography.” Pemberton observed:

THINK DIFFERENTLY…Alexander Archipenko (right, circa 1920), intended his intended his Archipentura machine (pictured in front and side views) “to do for painting what the motion picture did for photography.” (Wikipedia/Archipenko Foundation)

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From Our Oct. 13 Advertisers

Yet another endorsement for cigarettes from the posh set. This time Melachrino Cigarettes got in on the action with this endorsement by Augusta Barney Harriman.

For our cartoon, Peter Arno once again looked in on the mannerisms of the upper class, contrasting a lithe young flapper with the imposing presence of a battle-axe. Note how the young woman uses the archaic British “mater” in reference to her mother…

Next Time: The Prohibition Portia…

This Thing Called Baseball

In the early years of the New Yorker, baseball as a sport was almost entirely ignored by the magazine, which otherwise gave exhaustive coverage to polo, yacht racing, tennis, and golf. There were also articles on badminton, rowing, and even auto racing, and college football received a lot of enthusiastic ink. But none for baseball. With the Sept. 22, 1928 issue I think I finally understand why.

Sept. 22, 1928 issue by Adolph K. Kronengold.

It has to do with the New Yorker’s parochial view of the world, so aptly illustrated by Saul Steinberg on the magazine’s March 29, 1976 cover, in which anything beyond the Hudson was essentially terra incognita:

A lot of New York Yankee fans came from “out there,” according to James Thurber in a “Talk of the Town” segment titled “Peanuts and Crackerjack.” Thurber wrote of his experience at a pennant race game between the Yankees and the Philadelphia A’s. The game of baseball was described as something for the out-of-towners who were “a bit mad,” a mass spectacle in which the game itself was of minor importance. In short, it wasn’t cool to be a Yankees fan if you counted yourself among Manhattan’s smart set:

This “Talk” item was written when the Yankees were on the verge of winning their second consecutive World Series championship over the favored St. Louis Cardinals. The 1928 team featured the famed “Murderer’s Row” lineup with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In all, nine players from the ’28 team would be elected to the Hall of Fame, a major league record. But as of the Sept. 22 issue neither the 1927 or ’28 Yankees merited a line in the New Yorker’s sports pages.

ONE FOR THE OUT-OF TOWNERS…The Yankees’ Earle Combs leads off with base hit against the Philadelphia A’s in a key AL pennant race game on Sept. 9, 1928. A record crowd of 85,265 attended the game, won by the Yankees, who gained half-game lead over the A’s with the victory. (baseballhistorycomesalive.com)

Thurber wrote that one could learn much about those in attendance at the game by the way they received Yankee star Babe Ruth:

Thurber proved his point about out-of-towners by noting the origin of license plates in the “army of parked cars” outside of the stadium. He also noted the appearance in the game of an ancient Ty Cobb, who hit a weak fly ball while a few old-time fans looked on in reverence:

A GAME WAS PLAYED, TOO…Babe Ruth celebrated the Yankees 1928 World Series win by dressing as a cowboy and riding the hood of a car. To the left is fellow slugger Lou Gehrig. (sbnation.com)
WHERE YOU COULD READ ALL ABOUT IT…The Oct. 10, 1928 edition of the Daily News splashed its front page with photographs of the Yankee’s triumphant title win. (NY Daily News)

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An Eye-dropping Art Collector

The Sept. 22 issue A.H. Shaw profiled “De Medici in Merion” Dr. Albert Barnes, who made his fortune by developing in 1901 (with German chemist Hermann Hille) a silver nitrate-based antiseptic marketed as Argyrol. In the days before antibiotics, Argyrol was used to treat eye infections and prevent newborn infant blindness caused by gonorrhea. The profile featured this rather fearsome illustration by Hugo Gellert:

The lengthy piece detailed Barnes’ coming of age, and how his promotion of Argyrol helped bankroll his famed art collection. A brief excerpt:

IT FUELED A FORTUNE…Invented in 1901, Argyrol eye drops would finance one of the world’s greatest private art collections. Although was no longer marketed in U.S. after 1996, it is still available today, as seen at right in this Vietnamese product. (todocoleccion / ydvn.net)
HMMM, THAT LOOKS FAMILIAR…Henri Matisse views his 1917 painting The Music Lesson during a 1933 visit to the Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion Township, near Philadelphia. (The Morgan Library & Museum)
HE LIKED DOGS, TOO…Dr. Albert Barnes and his dog Fidèle with Matisse’s Red Madras Headdress, in 1942. (Barnes Foundation Archives)

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A One-eyed Monster Comes to Life

It’s always interesting to note the mentions of emerging technology in the early New Yorker, including this bit in Howard Brubaker’s column “Of All Things” about the successful broadcast of a “radio-television play.” Brubaker mused about what this new invention might called:

The first television broadcast in July 1928 was not exactly must-see TV. For two hours a day, General Electric’s experimental station W2XB broadcast the image of a 13-inch paper mache Felix the Cat, simply rotating on a turntable.

THE DAYS BEFORE VIAGRA ADS…A 13-inch Felix the Cat figure (top) was used to test an early television broadcast from General Electric’s experimental station W2XB in Schenectady, N.Y. Rotating on a record player turntable, the Felix figure was broadcast using a mechanical scanning disk, and was received as a 2-inch high image (below left) on an electronic kinescope. At bottom right, a 1928 television from General Electric that received alternating sound and picture. (NBC / Imgur / tvhistory.tv)

Then on September 11, 1928, W2XB (with WGY radio providing audio) broadcast a 40-minute one-act melodrama, The Queen’s Messenger. Northern State University’s Larry Wild writes that because TV screens were so small, only an actor’s face or hands could be shown. “The play had only two characters. A female Russian spy and a British Diplomatic Courier. Four actors were used. Two for the character’s faces, and two for their hands.”

The Queen’s Messenger was the first television drama, received by 3-inch televisions (most likely similar to the General Electric Octagon TV set pictured at left) that were set up in various places in the New York City area. At right, actors on the set of The Queen’s Messenger. The crude, flickering image marked the beginning of a revolution. (General Electric)

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From Our Advertisers

Advertisers were always looking for clever angles to capture the attention of the New Yorker’s upscale readers, including the use of subtle and not-so-subtle racist cues to get their points across. Two examples from the Sept. 22 issue have the makers of Oshkosh trunks helpfully pointing out that their product is not intended for African “natives”…

…or the folks from Longchamps restaurants, who depict the joyless life of a blubber-eating Eskimo as an appropriate juxtaposition to the succulent delicacies awaiting readers at their five New York locations:

We might associate rumble seats with the carefree joys of the Roaring Twenties, but in reality passengers in these jump seats received little protection from the elements (or flying gravel), and the ride was no doubt jarring atop the rear axle. No wonder you needed a special coat:

Our cartoons for Sept. 22 include this whimsy from Gardner Rea

…and this cartoon by Al Frueh, which depicts the deserted surroundings of the Flatiron Building on Yom Kippur. Robert Mankoff, who served as the New Yorker’s cartoon editor from 1997 to 2017, observed in the Cartoon Desk (Sept. 26, 2012) that “the rapid growth of Jewish-owned businesses in New York made the cartoon relevant in a way that it’s not today. Through modern, politically correct eyes, the cartoon may seem anti-Semitic, but I don’t see it that way. It just depicts the reality of those times, exaggerated for comic effect.”

Next Time: The Tastemakers…

 

Hit of the Century

NINETY YEARS AGO, when former Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur sat down to write The Front Page, they might have sensed they had a Broadway hit in the making, but probably had no idea their play would still grace a Broadway stage well into the 21st century.

August 25, 1928 cover by Leonard Dove.

The Front Page made a big splash on the Great White Way when it premiered on August 14, 1928 at Times Square Theatre. Featuring a story about tabloid newspaper reporters on the police beat, the play’s wisecracking, rapid-fire dialogue (which would become a staple of Hollywood’s screwball comedies), was a big hit with audiences, and with E.B. White, who reviewed the play in the Aug. 25, 1928 New Yorker:

DREAM TEAM…The Front Page was written by former Chicago reporters Ben Hecht (left) and Charles MacArthur (center) and produced by Jed Harris (at right, in a 1928 photo used on the cover of Time magazine). Hecht, an occasional New Yorker contributor, would go on to a successful career as a screenwriter, director, producer and playwright. Like Hecht, screenwriter/playwright MacArthur was friends with members of the Algonquin Round Table. He was married to actress Helen Hayes, with whom he adopted a son, James MacArthur (“Danno” on TV’s Hawaii 5-0). Harris was responsible for some of Broadway’s most successful productions in the ’20s and ’30s including Uncle Vanya, Our Town and The Crucible. (IMDB, Kentucky Digital Library, Time)
TROUBLE IN WINDY CITY…Set entirely in a dingy press room of Chicago’s Criminal Courts Building, The Front Page featured reporters who passed the time playing poker and exchanging wisecracks—until a convicted killer escapes jail and makes things lively. Worried about his chances for re-election, the crooked Mayor, played by George Barbier, far left, confronts three reporters — Murphy (Willard Robertson), Endicott (Allen Jenkins), and McCue (William Foran). In the background is Claude Cooper, as the crooked Sheriff Hartman. (Theatre Magazine, August 1928) 

White was so taken by the play, in fact, that he found it to be nearly perfect, like a scientific instrument of exacting precision. And considering how many times the play has been adapted to stage and screen (most recently on Broadway in 2016), he was probably right. It still plays pretty well after all these years:

WISE GUYS…Promotional photographs of Osgood Perkins as Walter Burns (left) and Lee Tracy as Hildy Johnson in the 1928 Broadway production of The Front Page. (Theatre Magazine, August 1928) 
ENTER, STAGE RIGHT…Escaped prisoner Earl Williams (George Leach) surprises reporter Hildy Johnson (Lee Tracy) in The Front Page. (Theatre Magazine, August 1928) 

The play was restaged four more times on Broadway — 1946, 1969, 1986 and 2016 — the 2016 production starred Nathan Lane as Walter Burns, John Slattery as Hildy Johnson and John Goodman as Sheriff Hartman. Film adaptions included The Front Page in 1931 and His Girl Friday (directed by Howard Hawks) in 1940 — the latter added a twist to the play by changing the Hildy character to a woman, played by Rosalind Russell as the ex-wife of Walter Burns (Cary Grant). The play returned to the big screen in 1974 as The Front Page, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon as Hildy and Walter Matthau as Walter Burns.

Still Some Fight Left in Him

Although boxer Gene Tunney had retired from the ring, he was still making headlines fighting off a different foe: the paparazzi.

Tunney’s engagement to Connecticut socialite and Carnegie heiress Polly Lauder was front-page news across the country, and photographers were eager to capture a photo of the couple, who up until the announcement had enjoyed a mostly secret romance. James Thurber, writing for the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” described the couple’s attempts to elude a persistent press:

MAYBE IT’S QUIETER OVER HERE…21-year-old Polly Lauder Tunney and 31-year-old Gene Tunney after marrying in Rome on Oct. 3, 1928. The marriage would last 50 years. (NY Times)

In September 1928 the couple took separate trips to Rome and married in a small ceremony on Oct. 3. Unfortunately, they attracted the attentions of Rome’s original paparazzi: According to the New York Times “the scene after the wedding looked mighty like a riot as clothes were torn and cameras smashed in a melee of photographers jostling to capture images of the couple.”

After traveling in Europe they returned to the U.S. and made their home in North Stamford, Connecticut, where they restored an 18th century farmhouse and raised Hereford cattle and sheep. They would be married 50 years until Tunney’s death at age 81 in 1978. Polly continued to live at her home in Stamford until her death in 2008 at age 100.

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Dorothy Recuperates

Dorothy Parker’s “Constant Reader” signature at the end of the book review section was absent during part of the summer of 1928 as she was recuperating from an appendectomy. Fortunately her rapier wit remained intact when she returned in the Aug. 25 issue…

Dorothy Parker in 1928 (natedsanders.com)

…where she found the strength to skewer The Lion Tamer, the latest novel by romance writer E.M. Hull:

I’D RATHER BE IN SURGERY…E.M. Hull’s The Lion Tamer. Dodd, Mead and Co. 1928. (yesterdaysgallery.com)

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Long Before Starbucks

If you were a New Yorker in the 1920s, this cartoon by Rea Irvin would make perfect sense, because nearly everyone knew that Alice Foote MacDougall was the queen of New York’s coffee scene, a one-woman Starbucks of her day.

According to Jan Whitaker, writing for the blog Restaurant-ing Through History, MacDougall kept a carefully crafted persona. In numerous magazine stories crafted by her publicity agent, “she was widely known as the poor widow with three children who built a coffee wholesaling and restaurant empire on $38.”

MacDougall was actually from a distinguished New York City family, and her coffee wholesaling career began in 1909 after her husband’s death. Whitaker writes: “In the 1920s she was said to be the only woman expert in coffee grading and blending in the U.S. She opened her first eating place, The Little Coffee Shop, in Grand Central Station in New York in December 1919. Waffles were the specialty in her homey café which was decorated with a plate rail and shelves holding decorative china. (Evidently tips were good, because MacDougall had the nerve to charge her waitresses $10 a day to work there.) By 1927 she had signed a $1 million lease for her fifth coffee house, Sevillia, at West Fifty-seventh Street. Her places became known for their Italian-Spanish scene setting. The reason, she said, was that it provided a way to disguise long, narrow spaces.”

BEANS TO RICHES…Alice Foote MacDougall, ca. 1910. At right, Sevillia, at West Fifty-seventh Street, in the late 1920s. (restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com)
TIN GOLD…Canisters of Alice Foote MacDougall’s famed coffee, ca. 1927. (ruby lane.com)

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The Friendly Skies

E.B. White made another appearance in the Aug. 25 issue, this time with a poem describing his recent flight from London to Paris aboard an Imperial Airways trimotor biplane. If White seems to rhapsodize a bit here (especially to jaded fliers of the 21st century), it is understandable, considering that White’s flight to France was only 25 years removed from the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. It was still something miraculous:

TOP, the Imperial Airways “Calcutta” trimotor flying boat on the Mediterranean, 1928. Below, the “Calcutta” moored on the River Thames in 1928. (Claude Boullevraye de Passillé / AP)

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Missing the Boys of Summer

The New Yorker continued to ignore the sport of baseball in its pages, even though it enthusiastically covered almost everything else: college football, hockey, tennis, golf, lacrosse, polo, rowing and yacht racing. Strange because the New York Yankees had one of the winningest lineups in baseball (Murderer’s Row, with sluggers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig), had won the 1927 World Series, and were poised to win it again in 1928. Unless I missed something, the first mention of baseball in the 1928 New Yorker was this bit in Howard Brubaker’s Aug. 25 “Of All Things” column:

The Yankees would sweep the favored St. Louis Cardinals in the ’28 World Series.

From Our Advertisers

This creepy advertisement from the Aug. 25 issue comes courtesy of the Clark Lighting Company. The tagline, “Clark Always Works,” has a double meaning, the ad copy suggesting that a woman is so simple (described here as a “little minx”) that she will be captivated by the very flick of a lighter:

Our cartoon is by Peter Arno, who was making light of a diet fad from the late 19th and early 20th century (hence the woman’s age and dress) made famous by Horace Fletcher, who was known as the “Great Masticator” for his diet that involved chewing each mouthful of food a minimum of 100 times. The cartoon’s caption reads: “Now masticate, Ermyne!”

Next Time: Dorothy Parker Goes to the Movies…