The Bombshell

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

Oct. 28, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

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

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

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

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

TAKE A BOW, CLARA…Bombshell satirized the stardom years of silent era sex symbol Clara Bow, who was director Victor Fleming’s fiancée in 1926 (photo at left is of the couple on the set of 1926’s Mantrap); in Bombshell Jean Harlow portrayed a sex symbol who, like Bow, wanted to live a normal life. In real life, Bow made her last film in 1933 and retired to a ranch at age 28.
A STAR IS BORED…In Bombshell, movie star Lola Burns (Jean Harlow) dislikes her sexy vamp image and wants to live a normal life, but her studio publicist E. J. “Space” Hanlon (Lee Tracy) insists on feeding the press endless provocative stories about her. Clockwise, from top left: Lee Tracy and Louise Beavers in a scene with Harlow; Harlow and Una Merkel, who portrayed Lola’s assistant, Mac; Harlow in a scene with Mary Forbes, C. Aubrey Smith, and Franchot Tone; Harlow in a scene with Ruth Warren and Frank Morgan—the latter portrayed Lola’s pretentious, drunken father. (IMDB)

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

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Second City Sanctimony

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

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

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

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Big, Bad Earworm

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

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

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

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

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

 * * *

Polymath

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

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

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Dear Papa

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardner Rea gave us a toff absorbed in historical fiction…

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

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

Next Time: Radio City…

 

As Millions Cheer

New Yorkers bid farewell to Prohibition, repealed by the 21st Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933.

Proposed by the 72nd Congress on February 20, 1933, the 21st Amendment to end national prohibition needed ratification from at least thirty-six states—by the end of October twenty-nine had ratified the amendment, and with passage seeming imminent…

Oct. 21, 1933 cover by Harry Brown.

…Manhattan’s venerable grocer turned national wine and spirits distributor Park & Tilford began shipping tens of thousands of cases of “potables” to New York, according to “The Talk of the Town.” Excerpt:

ON THE OFF WAGON…Parched, jubilant Americans ride on carts loaded with liquor prepared for distribution at the end of Prohibition. (Still from Universal News)

Edward Angly, who at the time was a journalist at the Herald-Tribune, tempered the celebratory mood in “A Reporter at Large” by considering the supply and demand issues (and higher prices) consumers would likely face upon ratification.

In early 1934 the Washington Post reported cocktail prices ranged from twenty-five cents (roughly $5.50 today) to forty cents. Whisky by the drink was selling from fifteen cents for blends to twenty-five cents for bonded varieties. One of the “higher priced” stores quoted a price of $3.80 for a quart of Four Roses (roughly eighty bucks today) while you could grab a quart of Crab Orchard straight Bourbon whisky for $1.40.

Until supplies could satisfy demand, distillers were encouraged to perform a “modern loaves-and-fishes miracle” and rectify their small stocks by cutting them with colored and flavored straight alcohol.

YOU CAN COME OUT NOW…With the end of Prohibition, bootleggers considered other career options. (floridamemory.com)

Who else would feel the pinch? In addition to the thousands of speakeasies that would close shop, legions of bootleggers would have to go legit or find another line of vice to keep themselves fed and occupied.

…before I close out this lead story, I came across this obituary for Edward Angly in the Dec. 8, 1951 edition of The New York Times. Note that this clip also features the funeral notice for New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross.

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Name Your Fears

Irish writer and critic Ernest Boyd was for a time connected to the consular service and probably had a pretty good sense of what was to come in Europe. Turning to verse he pondered the origin of the Hitler curse.

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Fat and Happy

Premiered to record-breaking crowds at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, The Private Life of Henry VIII was a smash hit in both the UK and the US and established Charles Laughton as a box office star. Although the film played fast and loose with the historical record, it was a critical success for director/producer Alexander Korda. The New Yorker’s John Mosher was among those praising the British film.

SINKING HIS TEETH INTO A ROLE…Charles Laughton’s portrayal of Henry VIII in The Private Life of Henry VIII is credited with creating the popular image of the king as a fat, lecherous glutton. Top photo features Wendy Barrie as Jane Seymour (wife #3); below, Binnie Barnes as Katherine Howard (wife #5). (moma.org/tcm.com)
HAIL TO THE KING…Opening night in London for The Private Life of Henry VIII, Oct. 24, 1933. From left are Elsa Lanchester, who portrayed wife #4 Anne of Cleves; Merle Oberon (who portrayed wife #2 Anne Boleyn), producer/director Alexander Korda, and Charles Laughton. ( Science & Society Picture Library / National Portrait Gallery, London)

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Kid’s Stuff

In her latest “Tables for Two” column, Lois Long bemoaned the state of ballroom dancing, which seemed to be appealing more to juvenile tastes.

SUITABLE FOR ADULT AUDIENCES…Lois Long recalled the cool allure of dancers Leonora Hughes (at left, with dance partner Maurice Mouvet in 1924) and Irene Castle (in a 1929 photo). Both photographs by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair. (Conde Nast)

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From Our Advertisers

Let it pour indeed, as advertisers anticipated the end of Prohibition…

…Brooklyn-based Piel’s joined other brewers in targeting women as a new growth market, and as in previous New Yorker ads also appealed to those who fancied themselves among the smart set…

…looking for signs of optimism after four years of economic depression? Look no further than luxury shoemaker Nettleton…

…while Nettleton held steady on its prices, the makers of Steinway pianos posted this gentle reminder about rising material costs, but what can you expect if you are purchasing “The Instrument of the Immortals”…

…the Architect’s Emergency Committee continued its campaign to promote the hiring of unemployed architects…in this ad the committee went back to the profession’s ancient origins, Marcus Vitruvius’ Virtues of an Architect

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with more adventures of The Little King, courtesy Otto Soglow

William Crawford Galbraith was still stuck on his theme of seductive women either paired with sugar daddies or clueless suitors…

…speaking of clueless, James Thurber gave us this party pooper…

Gardner Rea checked the economic temperature of the upper crust…

…and we close with William Steig, and an enterprising paperboy…

Next Time: The Bombshell…

The Wild West

Kino Lorber)

We first encountered Mae West back in 1926 when The New Yorker commented on her risqué Broadway play, Sex. Although the play was the biggest ticket in town, it eventually attracted a police raid that landed West in jail on morals charges. Sentenced to ten days for “corrupting the morals of youth,” she could have paid a fine, but for West a short stint on Welfare Island was worth its weight in publicity gold.

Oct. 14, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

Fast forward seven years, and West is one of the nation’s biggest box office attractions and starring in her third film, I’m No Angel. Depression-era audiences responded enthusiastically to West’s portrayals of a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who in the end gains both fortune and social acceptance. Although puritanical forces continued to be outraged by West’s antics, New Yorker film critic John Mosher found her act to be “a safe parody on indecency.”

SHIMMY TO SUCCESS…Clockwise, from top left: At the beginning of I’m No Angel, Tira (Mae West) shimmies and sings in a circus sideshow; studio poster for the film— In the early 1930s, West’s films were key in saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy; a wealthy sideshow customer (William B. Davidson) arranges a private rendezvous; Tira has her day in court despite attempts by her ex-boyfriend, Slick Wiley (Ralf Harolde), to discredit her. (IMDB)
SHE GETS HER MAN…Cary Grant starred opposite Mae West for the second and final time in I’m No Angel. Eleven years junior to West, Grant portrayed Tira’s fiancé, Jack Clayton. (TCM)

And finally, a much-talked about scene from the movie featured West putting her head (rather sensually) into the mouth of a lion. In reality it appears to be a camera trick: West was actually placing her head to the side of the lion’s mouth. Still, a gutsy move by West. As for the lion, it was no picnic either.

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Comic Relief

Eugene O’Neill surprised critics and audiences alike when he premiered Ah, Wilderness! at Broadway’s Guild Theatre on October 2, 1933. Among the critics was Wolcott Gibbs, who concluded that O’Neill should stick to his usual themes of disillusion and despair. An excerpt:

PASS THE CORN, PLEASE…Around the table in the original 1933 Broadway production of Ah, Wilderness! are (from left) George M. Cohan (Nat Miller), Eda Heinemann (Lily), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Richard), Gene Lockhart (Sid), Marjorie Marquis (Mrs. Nat Miller), Walter Vonnegut, Jr. (Tommy) and Adelaide Bean (Mildred). (Photograph by Vandamm for Stage magazine, November 1933)
ERRORS OF COMEDY…Wolcott Gibbs (left) found Eugene O’Neill’s attempt at comedy to be nothing more than a recycling of corny old saws. However, Ah, Wilderness! proved successful in its first Broadway production and in the touring company that followed. It remains to this day a staple of community repertory. (The New Yorker/Playbill/Britannica)

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Hell in a Handbasket

If Eugene O’Neill couldn’t offer up some woe, then leave it to E.B. White of all people to supply reason for despair. In his 1982 review of a collection of White’s poems and sketches,

For the Oct. 14 issue White bemoaned the loss of the American elm (of the 77 million elms in North America in 1930, more than 75 percent were lost to Dutch elm disease by 1989), the dangers of pesticide use, and other maladies. Excerpts:

APPLE OF HIS EYE…E.B. White had reason to be concerned about the widespread practice of spraying lead arsenic on fruit trees. This 1930 photograph shows an Oregon orchardist and his child spraying apple trees with the stuff. (oregonhistoryproject.org)

White’s New Yorker colleague John O’Hara raised some concerns of his own, namely the likelihood of another world war in this prescient piece titled “Dynamite is Like a Mill Pond.” Excerpts:

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE…John O’Hara pondered the likelihood of another world war and an unlikely bedfellow: Soviet Russia. Photo circa 1938. (AP via loa.org)

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Pooh-Poohing Mr. Milne

In his review of A.A. Milne’s latest novel, The Red House Mystery, Clifton Fadiman seemed to recall Dorothy Parker’s own revulsion to Milne’s juvenile style (“Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up” Parker once wrote of The House at Pooh Corner). Excerpts:

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From Our Advertisers

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…with a name like “Spud” you really had to stretch to prove you were a choice of the smart set…here they claimed their product was “quite at home among royalty”…

…here’s another great example of class appropriation, a white-tie dinner featuring a couple of toffs eating canned soup…

…and we give our eyes a break with a bit of elegance from Lord & Taylor, featuring the art of modern living…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with James Thurber

…curious to know Thurber’s favorite songs?—then check out this Thurber Thursday post from Michael Maslin’s Inkspill...

…we continue with William Steig’s look at a “Lady With Mirror”…

…and discover the calm after a storm in this domestic scene by Kemp Starrett

…visit the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago, with George Price

…for reference, Price’s cartoon depicted the Federal Building at the Century of Progress…

…and is often the case with this blog, we give Peter Arno the last word…

Next Time: As Millions Cheer…

As Thousands Cheer

ABOVE: Broadway's As Thousands Cheer (1933) featured evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (Helen Broderick) trying to persuade Mahatma Gandhi (Clifton Webb) to end his hunger strike and join her act. (NYPL)

Broadway gave Depression audiences a lift with As Thousands Cheer, a revue featuring satirical sketches that skewered the lives and affairs of the rich and famous and served as a precursor to sketch shows like Saturday Night Live.

Oct. 7, 1933 cover by Peter Arno.

With a book by Moss Hart and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the revue was a big hit, playing for nearly a year on Broadway in its initial run.

TOON TIME…Marilyn Miller led a chorus of cartoon characters in a sketch titled “The Funnies” in As Thousands Cheer; leading the revue were Miller, Clifton Webb and Helen Broderick, here featured on the cover of the Playbill. The production would be Marilyn Miller’s last—one of Broadway’s biggest stars known for playing sunny characters, her personal life was filled with illness and tragedy, and she would go to an early death in 1936. (playbill.com)

Wolcott Gibbs took his turn as Broadway reviewer, and pronounced As Thousands Cheer “the funniest thing in town.”

Not everything was roses in As Thousands Cheer: In a poignant star turn, Ethel Waters sang—at Irving Berlin’s request—his famous tune “Supper Time,” a Black woman’s lament for her lynched husband. The revue was the first Broadway show to give an African-American star (Waters) equal billing with whites, however she was segregated from her co-stars and did not appear in any sketches with them. Her co-stars even refused to bow with her at the curtain call until Irving Berlin intervened. According to the James Kaplan biography Irving Berlin, “The show had a successful tryout at Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre in early September, although opening night was marred by an ugly incident all too in tune with the times: the stars Clifton Webb, Marilyn Miller, and Helen Broderick refused to take a bow with Ethel Waters. To his everlasting credit, Berlin told the three that of course he would respect their feelings—only in that case there needn’t be any bows at all.

“They took their bows with Waters at the next show.”

NEWSMAKERS…Each sketch in As Thousands Cheer was preceded with a newspaper headline. Clockwise, from top left, in the sketch headlined JOAN CRAWFORD TO DIVORCE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR, Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb portrayed the stars arguing over publicity rights to their divorce; Webb as 94-year-old John D. Rockefeller; the headline FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT INAUGURATED TOMORROW featured Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover on their last day in the White House, portrayed by Leslie Adams and Helen Broderick; Ethel Waters singing Irving Berlin’s “Supper Time.” (New York Public Library)

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A Final Byline

E.B. White opened his column with a tribute to Ring Lardner, who died at age 48 of a heart attack and other complications. In the months before his death Lardner had contributed a number of comical “Over the Waves” radio reviews.

JOURNALIST AT HEART…Ring Lardner (1885-1933) worked for several newspapers before settling at the Chicago Tribune in 1913—it became the home newspaper for his syndicated column, In the Wake of the News. (Chicago Tribune)

Lardner’s first contribution to The New Yorker came shortly after the magazine’s founding. “The Constant Jay” was published in the April 18, 1925 issue: Readers appreciated his subtle wit, including this oft-quoted gem:

“The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong—but that’s the way to bet.”

Lardner also liked to poke fun at himself and his aw-shucks view of things. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of his final New Yorker contribution, “Odd’s Bodkins:”

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Macy Modernism

As Lewis Mumford observed in his “Skyline” column, Macy’s was the first department store to embrace a modern approach to interior design, but as Marilyn Friedman notes in her book, Making America Modern: Interior Design in the 1930s, Macy’s modernism was a bit toned down to blend into more traditional settings. A case in point was Macy’s 1933 Forward House exhibition, which Mumford described as “a brilliant piece of modern showmanship.”

EASY ON THE EYES…”Living room in the Suburban House of Forward House” at R.H. Macy & Co., New York, 1933, from The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator, October 15, 1933. ​(www.artdeco.org)

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Fishing for Commies

Geoffrey Hellman profiled New York House Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr (1888–1991), a staunch anti-communist perhaps best known for establishing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. I feature this brief excerpt mainly for the great caricature by Abe Birnbaum.

MINDING THE HOME FRONT…Hamilton Fish, Jr making a speech in Los Angeles, 1935. Fish served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1920 to 1945 and during that time was a prominent opponent of intervention into foreign affairs. (UCLA Special Collections)

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All Wet

Eleven years before Esther Williams made her first aqua-musical, Ruby Keeler took the dive under Busby Berkeley’s direction in Footlight Parade. E.B. White served as film critic for the Oct. 7 issue, and found Footlight to be a feast for the male gaze, as well as mindless entertainment.

TAKING THE PLUNGE…Clockwise, from top left: According to E.B. White, there was no gainsaying “the general aahhhhh” of the semi-nude waterfall scene in Footlight Parade; promotional poster left no doubt as to what audiences might expect from the film; Busby Berkeley displayed his craft in water-based choreography; Ruby Keeler portrayed a dancer turned secretary who is transformed back into a dancer—just add water. (IMDB)

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A Dog’s Life

Doubtless drained from writing The Waves, Virginia Woolf followed up with some historical fiction, namely Flush: A Biography, a book about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel. Clifton Fadiman had this to say about the unusual biography:

VIRGINIA WOOF…Frontispiece for Flush: A Biography. Virginia Woolf used the tale of a dog to explore social themes ranging from feminism to class conflict. (Heritage Auctions)

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From Our Advertisers

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…with legal beer flooding the market brewers were particularly keen to attract female drinkers of all ages…and apparently social classes…

…a couple of ads from the back pages, the first touting the smart-set writing of columnist and foreign correspondent Alice Hughes for the New York American, and the second an advertisement for Chase & Sanborn coffee, which relayed the story of a marriage on the brink due to stale coffee…

…I include this ad for the heroic scale of the ocean liner, particularly as depicted by the people in the background…

…we bounce on to our cartoons with Otto Soglow’s Little King…

James Thurber continued to explore the unrest among our domestic youth…

…speaking of America’s youth, this gathering (courtesy Gardner Rea) appeared to have trouble finding some…

Helen Hokinson found fun with flounder…

Rea Irvin turned the tables on a life-drawing class…

…and we close with Richard Decker, over the moon with a stranded chorine…

…and in a nod to the approaching holiday, imagery from a 1933 Fleischer Studios animated short film, Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party

Next Time: The Wild West…

College Days

For its Sept. 23, 1933 issue The New Yorker continued its serialization of James Thurber’s autobiography, My Life and Hard Times

Sept. 23, 1933 cover by Abner Dean.

Part Seven, titled “College Days,” included Thurber’s reminiscences of an economics class and the challenges one “Professor Bassum” faced in keeping a star football tackle academically eligible:

DEAR OLD ALMA MATER…James Thurber attended The Ohio State University from 1913 to 1918. Clockwise, from top left, the football team during Thurber’s time featured some smart players as well, including All-American quarterback/halfback Gaylor “Pete” Stinchcomb (left) and All-American halfback Chic Harley (right); Thurber’s drawing of the dim-witted tackle Bolenciecwez from My Life and Hard Times; OSU University Hall circa 1910; Thurber drawing of an OSU botany professor who “quivered with frustration” over Thurber’s inability to see through a microscope. (Ohio State/Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with the makers of White Rock, who touted the international appeal of their home-grown product, here enjoyed by an old warrior and his much-younger mistress who were busy keeping the colonies in line in Southeast Asia…

…speaking of colonial exploitation, here’s Frank Buck keeping his nerves steady smoking Camels as he lugs “tons of rhinos, tigers, and gorillas across the Pacific” to live out their lives in cramped, fetid cages…

…hey there New York sophisticates of 1933, we have just the place for you, where only the BEST PEOPLE are apartment hunting, far from the din of immigrants, the unemployed, and other undesirables…

…if you wanted to hang out with the best people, you could get yourself exact copies of the latest Paris fashions from Saks Fifth Avenue…

…or if you were on a tighter budget, you could check out the wares at Wanamaker’s, who trumpeted their “fashion-firsts” on this ad on page 41 followed by a double-spread on the following pages…

James Thurber lent his talents to the makers of Fisher car bodies…in the early days of automobile production Fisher made car bodies for a number of GM cars as well as for Packard, Studebaker, Hudson and other manufacturers…in 1926 it was absorbed by GM as an in-house coach-building division…

…on to our cartoons, we take a boat ride with Robert Day

…discover the perils of historical research with Barbara Shermund

Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein offered a new perspective on portrait painting…

Helen Hokinson found a Red among the blue bloods…

…and a wee conundrum in the hat department…

Gardner Rea pulled out all stops in this patriotic tableau…

…on to the Sept. 30, 1933 issue…

Sept. 30, 1933 cover by William Cotton.

…in which journalist Robert Wohlforth contributed a profile on poet and writer James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938), a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance most widely known today for the lyrics of the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” A brief excerpt with illustration by Hugo Gellert:

LIFT EVERY VOICE...James Weldon Johnson, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1932. (Library of Congress)

 * * *

Mexican Morass

E.B. White took on the movie review duties and landed himself a doozy—Sergei Eisenstein’s Thunder Over Mexico. The famed Soviet filmmaker had come to the U.S. in 1930 to make a film for Paramount, but when the deal fell through American socialist author Upton Sinclair and others invited Eisenstein to make an artistic travelogue exploring the themes of life and death in Mexico. More than thirty hours of film was shot before the project was abandoned and Eisenstein returned to the USSR. The footage was later cut into three films, including Thunder Over Mexico. White was less than pleased with the film’s “butchered” edits.

LIFE AND DEATH IN MEXICO…Avant-garde Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein shot more than 30 hours of film in Mexico without producing a final product. An independent Hollywood producer, Sol Lesser, later produced two short features and a short subject culled from the footage—Thunder Over Mexico, Eisenstein in Mexico, and Death Day; these were released in 1933-34. Clockwise, from top left, poster for the film, the film featured scenes of cinematic beauty as well as brutal violence; Eisenstein visiting Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo; Eisenstein directing a scene from the film. (IMDB/www.otago.ac.nz)

 * * *

Dreaming in Color

In this “Talk of the Town” entry, attributed to James Thurber, we learn of various wonders at the National Electrical Exposition at Madison Square Garden, including a “Clavilux Color Organ” designed for home use. Excerpts:

EINE KLEINE LICHT MUSIK…Danish musician Thomas Wilfred (top) constructed his first Clavilux in 1919. Sitting at a large console, Wilfred could control infinite color projections. His first public performance was in New York in 1922 (top right), featuring an abstract light show audiences compared to an aurora borealis. Bottom right, the Clavilux Junior was developed for home use, operated with special glass records, each hand-painted with a distinct composition that would create the projected image. (cdm.link/Yale University Art Gallery)

This YouTube video offers some idea of the effect:

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More From Our Advertisers

Warm, idealized images of American life, in the vein of Norman Rockwell, were popular among advertisers seeking to reassure Depression-era consumers…here we have the avuncular scientist working to ensure that your Packard is not only reliable as transportation, but also a place of solace…

…this same idea was conveyed by the makers of Goodyear tires…

…this ad on page 55 for Guerlain’s Shalimar Powder somewhat recalls the art deco style of Tamara de Lempicka

…but flip the page and you are brought back to reality with Shefford’s “Snappy Cheese”…

…you needed to lay off the cheese, however, if you wanted to take up a Ry-Krisp diet, endorsed here by Sylvia Ulback, better known at the time as “Sylvia of Hollywood” — in 1933 she was one of the most famous voices on radio…

STRETCH FOR SUCCESS…Norwegian-born Sylvia Ulback (1881–1975) was a Hollywood fitness guru from 1926 until 1932. Known as Sylvia of Hollywood, she abandoned the Tinseltown scene after publishing a “tell all” book about her clients titled Hollywood Undressed (1931). From 1933 to 1936 she appeared on the radio show, Mme. Sylvia, a 15-minute beauty and celebrity broadcast sponsored by Ry-Krisp, and she also published three health and fitness books, including 1939’s Streamline Your Figure. (youmustrememberthispodcast.com)

…on to our cartoons, Alan Dunn discovered a budding Picasso…

…another cryptic cartoon by James Thurber was featured in the “Talk of the Town” section…

Whitney Darrow Jr gave this dowager an off-stage surprise…

E. Simms Campbell put a snag in an old yarn…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and an old walrus feeling his oats…

Next Time: As Thousands Cheer…

The Shape of Things to Come

Above: Maurice Passworthy (Kenneth Villiers) and Catherine Cabel (Pearl Argyle) prepare for a trip to the moon in Things to Come.

In his 1933 science fiction novel The Shape of Things to Come, H.G. Wells foresaw how an international economic depression could eventually lead to world war.

Sept. 2, 1933 cover by William Steig.

The book also predicted that such a war would feature whole cities destroyed by aerial bombing and the eventual development of weapons of mass destruction. However, New Yorker book critic Clifton Fadiman found Wells’ other predictions to be fanciful, “scientific-romantic” notions, such as a post-war Utopia (headquartered in Basra, Iraq, of all places) ruled by super-talents that would advance scientific learning in a world without nation-states or religion. And naturally everyone would speak English.

YOU MAY SAY I’M A DREAMER…H.G. Wells envisioned a world of war, pestilence and economic collapse that would eventually give way to an English-speaking Utopia free of nation-states and religion. (Wikipedia)

Three years later Wells would adapt his book to the screen in 1936’s Things to Come, produced by Alexander Korda and starring Raymond Massey as a heroic RAF pilot John Cabal and Ralph Richardson as “The Boss,” a man who stands in the way of Cabal’s utopian dreams.

FUTURE TENSE…Clockwise, from top left, H.G. Wells visits with actors Pearl Argyle and Raymond Massey on the set of Things to Come—Swiss designer René Hubert created the futuristic costumes; in the year 1970 RAF pilot John Cabal (Massey) lands his sleek monoplane in Everytown, England, proclaiming a new civilization run by a band of enlightened mechanics and engineers; city of the future as depicted in Things to Come; poster for the film’s release. (IMDB)

An afternote: A 1979 Canadian science fiction film titled The Shape of Things to Come was supposedly based on Wells’ novel but bore little resemblance to the book. The film is a considered a turkey, lovingly mocked by the same audiences that gave Plan 9 from Outer Space a second life.

WE MEAN YOU NO HARM…Actor Jack Palance—wearing what appears to be a jug from a water cooler— headed a cast that included Barry Morse and Carol Lynley in 1979’s The Shape of Things to Come. 

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Fine Dining

Director George Cukor turned a hit Ferber-Kaufman Broadway play into a hit movie by the same title when Dinner at Eight premiered in September 1933. While the film received high marks from leading critics, New Yorker film reviewer John Mosher found it a bit routine, if well-crafted:

BLONDE ON BLONDE…Judith Wood (left) portrayed the character Kitty Packard in the 1932 stage production of Dinner at Eight; Jean Harlow took on the role for the 1933 film version. (IMDB)

Mosher, however, continued to admire the acting chops of veteran Marie Dressler

FUNNY LADIES…Clockwise, from top left: Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler square off in Dinner at Eight; movie poster highlights the “Blonde Bombshell” Harlow along with a star-studded cast; a scene with Harlow, Wallace Beery and Edmund Lowe; to avoid wrinkling her gown between takes, Harlow reviewed her lines in a special stand-up chair. (IMDB/pre-code.com)

 * * *

Madame Secretary

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins was the first woman in the U.S. to serve as a cabinet secretary, but she was a lot more that—she was the driving force behind FDR’s New Deal. Here are excerpts from a two-part profile written by Russell Lord, with illustration by Hugo Gellert.

TRIAL BY FIRE…Frances Perkins watched in horror as young women leapt to their deaths in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire—146 perished on that day Perkins recalled as the moment the New Deal was born her mind. In the wake of the fire Perkins, an established expert on worker health and safety, was named executive secretary of the NYC Committee on Safety. (trianglememorial.org/francesperkinscenter.org)

Even if some men couldn’t come around to a woman moving through the circles of power, Perkins had many admirers including prominent Tammany Hall leader “Big Tim” Sullivan.

Perkins’ appointment to FDR’s cabinet made the Aug. 14, 1933 cover of TIME magazine. (TIME/thoughtco.com)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Even the staid executives at Packard were getting into the modern advertising game, where sometimes the product itself was not even pictured…

…our cartoonists include Robert Day

George Price

…and baring it all, Peter Arno

…on to Sept. 9, and what I believe is Alice Harvey’s first New Yorker cover…

Sept. 9, 1933 cover by Alice Harvey.

…and where “The Talk of the Town” paid a visit to the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island, a favorite haunt of those magnificent men and women and their flying machines:

SHIFTING SANDS…Opened in 1927 to attract upscale crowds to Coney Island away from the rabble of the Midway, the elegant Half Moon Hotel started strong but teetered on the doorstep of bankruptcy during the Depression; it gained notoriety in 1941 when mob turncoat Abe Reles fell to his death from a sixth floor window while under police protection. The hotel was demolished in 1996. (Pinterest)

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Huey In The News

In his column “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker offered this brief take on Huey Long’s visit to a Long Island party, where one guest apparently socked the controversial “Kingfish,” giving the former Louisiana governor (and then senator) a shiner.

A CHIP ON HIS SHOULDER?…Controversy followed Huey Long wherever he went. At left is a New York Times account of Long’s alleged black eye incident on Long Island. He would be assassinated two years later at the Louisiana State Capitol; Long circa 1933. (NYT/Wikipedia)

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As a follow-up from the previous issue’s Packard ad, this two-page spread showed us what those 1200 men were gawking at…check out that 12-cylinder model on the left, which appears to be better than 20 feet long…

…according to this ad, you could thank Camel cigarettes for getting the mail through the gloom of night…

…if you needed a cigarette to steady your nerves, you also needed fresh coffee to avoid being ostracized by your friends…

…summer-stock barn theatres were popular across America in the 1930s…this ad (illustrated by Wallace Morgan) hailed the end of the summer season and the return of “Winter Broadway”…

…on to our cartoons, out in the countryside we also find William Crawford Galbraith, here continuing to ply one of his favorite themes, namely pairing shapely seductresses and showgirls with clueless suitors…

Helen Hokinson gave us one woman who believed “what happens in the Riviera, stays in the Riviera”…

…and we close with Gardner Rea, and a scout troop on a mission…

Next Time: Rumors of War…

Tugboat Annie

New Yorkers were enduring the dog days of August, and those who couldn’t escape the heat by fleeing to the country or the beach could find cool respite at the movies.

August 19, 1933 cover by Gardner Rea.

It was doubtless in an air-conditioned theatre where critic John Mosher enjoyed the craft of older actors, in this case Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler in Tugboat Annie. Although the film didn’t quite live up to Beery and Dressler’s 1930 smash hit, Min and Bill, Mosher found Beery to be a “beautiful foil” to Dressler, who thankfully wasn’t just another “fluffy little pink young thing.”

ON GOLDEN POND…Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler portrayed a comically quarrelsome older couple who operate a tugboat in MGM’s Tugboat Annie. It would be one Dressler’s last film roles—she would die the following year; at right, a young Robert Young with Dressler in a scene from the film—Young would go on to television fame playing two beloved characters: the father in Father Knows Best (1954-60) with fellow film star Jane Wyatt, and the kindly, avuncular doctor on Marcus Welby M.D. (1969–76). (IMDB)

Another seasoned performer Mosher admired was Mary Boland, although her latest film, Three Cornered Moon, was crowded with “too many young people”…

BRAT PACK…Mary Boland (left) with Wallace Ford, Claudette Colbert, and Hardie Albright in Three Cornered Moon (IMDB)

MONKEYING AROUND…A self-described “King of the Serials,” Buster Crabbe’s career included nine sound serials, including Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers (1936-40). In Tarzan the Fearless Crabbe’s sole appearance as Tarzan was played opposite Jacqueline Wells (aka Julie Bishop). The media at the time made hay of a so-called rivalry between Crabbe and Johnny Weissmuller, who defined the Tarzan role in twelve films from 1932 to 1948. Both men were Olympic athletes: Crabbe won the 1932 Olympic 400-meter freestyle swimming championship, while Weissmuller was the undefeated winner of five Olympic gold medals. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

The folks at Hoffman Beverages continued to offer up ways to enjoy an adult refreshment, including a tongue-in-cheek “code” to be used until the repeal of Prohbition…

…with the return of legal (3.2) beer, brewers were aggressively targeting women as a new growth market…

…a selection of one-column ads from the back pages touted imported beers and an old “Pennsylvania Dutch” quaff, intermixed with apartment ads and a women’s deodorant called SHUN…

Otto Soglow, who would become rich and famous with his The Little King strip, also did well as an illustrator for various products, including Rheingold beer…

…another way to stay cool was to dine at Longchamps, thanks to their “scientific air-conditioning system”…

…on the subject of keeping cool, back in the day you had to regularly top off the radiator on hot days, and if you added lead to your gasoline you could also get rid of those annoying hot engine knocks…

…It would be four years before Dr. Seuss would publish his first children’s book, so he continued to pay the bills with illustrated ads for Flit insecticide…ah the good days when spraying poison above a child’s head seemed perfectly reasonable…

…another one-column ad from the back pages says a lot about how advertisers perceived a New Yorker reader—even dog food demanded snob appeal…

…on to our cartoons we return to Otto Soglow and his take on the old William Tell trope…

Peter Arno delivered some surprising news to dear old mom…

Henry Anton gave us a sign man unconvinced that sex sells…

Gluyas Williams gave us his latest take on “Fellow Citizens” (this originally appeared sideways on p. 17)…

…and Garrett Price shared this observation, from the mouth of babes…

…on to Aug. 26…

Aug. 26, 1933 cover by Perry Barlow.

…where we find Ring Lardner, who since March had been injecting humor into the “Over the Waves” radio column.

In this installment, Lardner outlined his ideal radio program. An excerpt:

UP TO OLD GAGS?…Ring Lardner gave the comedy duo Jack Pearl (right) and Cliff Hall a generous four minutes in his fantasy radio show—if they did their old routines. (Wikimedia)

Lardner concluded his dream program:

Sadly, Ring Lardner would be gone in less than a month—he died of a heart attack on Sept. 25, 1933, at the tender age of 48.

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On Second Thought

Previously, film critic John Mosher had been lukewarm to the up-and-coming Katharine Hepburn. No more. Her appearance in Morning Glory drew praise from all over, including the Academy, which gave the young star her first Oscar.

A STAR IS BORN…Katharine Hepburn with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (left) and Adolphe Menjou in Morning Glory (1933). Hepburn would win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, the first of four she would receive in that category—a record for any performer. (IMDB)

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Life With Clarence

Following “The Talk of the Town” section was this illustrated contribution by Clarence Day

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While folks were cooling down at the movies Barbara Stanwyck did her best to heat up the screen…

…the frank discussion of sex in Baby Face made it one of the most notorious films of the year and no doubt hastened the implementation of the Hays Code…

LIGHT MY FIRE…Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face.

…in case anyone had forgotten during Prohibition, Budweiser reminded them who was the king of beers with this inside front cover ad…

Irvin S. Cobb was back on behalf of Hupmobile, the struggling carmaker hoping that a bit of humor would boost sales…

…this ad from Reo not only lacked humor, it lacked the car itself…

…too bad, because the 1933 Reo Royale was a beauty…

…more color ads from our cigarette manufacturers Camel…

…and Chesterfield…

…why, it’s Barbara Stanwyck again, this time in color, thanks to the folks at Powers Reproduction…

…and Otto Soglow again for Rheingold beer…

…and on to the cartoons, with Soglow’s Little King…

Carl Rose demonstrated the perils of attending theatre in a barn…

Robert Day found a Hebrew lifeguard at Coney Island…

…and we end with another by Day, with a twist on America’s Pastime and a subtle plug for the National Recovery Administration…

Next Time: The Shape of Things to Come…

The Flying Season

New Yorkers witnessed flying milestones and mishaps in the summer of 1933—after Wiley Post landed at Bennett Field, he became the first person to fly solo around the world, and famed Italian aviator Italo Balbo would bring a squadron of 24 Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flying boats across the Atlantic and triumphantly land them on the Hudson River. So before we get to the Aug. 5 issue…

Aug. 5, 1933 cover by Julian de Miskey.

…let’s look in on Morris Markey, who described all of the skyward thrills in his “A Reporter at Large” column in the August 12 issue. Markey also offered a “bold prophecy” that the ticker-tape parades and “hysterical cheers” could not go on forever.

ROUND AND ROUND HE GOES…Clockwise, from top left, Wiley Post under the wing of the famed Lockheed Vega monoplane Winnie Mae in 1933; Post next to the Winnie Mae in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1934, his achievements recorded on the fuselage; miners from Flat, Alaska, bring the Winnie Mae upright for repairs—the plane nosed over after hitting a patch of mining tailings; Post climbs out of the Winnie Mae at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, after completing the first solo flight around the world. Post set a new record of 15,596 miles (25,099 kilometers) in 7 days, 18 hours, 49 minutes. (NASM/Oklahoma Historical Society/U of Alaska-Fairbanks/AP)

Markey wrote admiringly of the Italians and their oddly beautiful flying boats as they descended, 24 in all, on the Hudson River. Things did not go so well for Scottish aviator James Mollison and his wife, Amy Johnson, who had set many flying records in the 1930s.

DESCENDED LIKE FLIES…Twenty-four Savoia-Marchetti flying boats left Italy in 1933 to fly in formation to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and back, with stops along the way including New York. The squadron was led by Italo Balbo, who has featured on the cover of Time, 26 June 1933. (Wikipedia)
GOING IN STYLE, Clockwise, from top left, twenty-four Italian Savoia-Marchetti S.55X flying boats left the west coast of Italy to fly in formation to the Chicago World’s Fair, with a stop on the Hudson River (top right). The Italians were famed for sleek designs, including the Macchi-Castoldi 72, pictured here circa 1931. It was then the fastest plane in the world; James Mollison and his wife, Amy Johnson recover from their injuries after a nonstop flight from Wales to the U.S. Unable to locate the Bridgeport (Conn.) Municipal Airport—which he circled five times— he ultimately crash- landed into a field. Both were thrown from the aircraft but survived—they were later congratulated by New York society with a parade on Wall Street. (warbirdsnews.com/Wikimedia)

Markey’s “bold prophecy” would sadly come to pass; after all of the parades and hoopla, these wonderful airplanes would soon take on more sinister roles as machines of death. Italo Balbo, seen as a possible successor to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, would die in 1940, shot down by Italian anti-aircraft batteries that mistook his plane for a British fighter. Amy Johnson would die months later in a crash near the mouth of the Thames (possibly by friendly fire). Two years after his record-breaking flight, Wiley Post and American humorist Will Rogers would perish in a 1935 crash near Point Barrow, Alaska.

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Depression Diversions

New Yorkers could escape Depression woes and the summer heat with a visit to the cinema. These listings in the Aug. 5 issue were headed by the Busby Berkeley musical extravaganza Gold Diggers of 1933… 

DEPRESSION’S FEVER DREAM…Choreographer Busby Berkeley chased those Depression blues away with his lavish musicals, including Gold Diggers of 1933, featuring Ginger Rogers among a bevy of stars. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Fledgling airlines including  Eastern Air Transport and American Airways (forerunners of Eastern Air Lines and American Airlines) were giving passenger trains a bit of competition with relatively quick flights to destinations including Washington D.C. and Atlantic City—the D.C. round trip cost $20, roughly equivalent to $455 today…

…introduced in 1933, the Curtiss YC-30, called the Condor in civilian use, could seat 15. It could also be fitted out as 12-passenger luxury night sleeper…

YOU COULD REST EASY on the Curtiss Condor in 1933. (U.S. Air Force)

…Packard and Cadillac both produced premium automobiles, but where Packard emphasized durability and longevity…

…the folks at Cadillac went for pure sob appeal…

…I wonder how many people still wore pince-nez in 1933, especially while drinking beer…

…the makers of Hoffman ginger ale weren’t waiting for the official end of Prohibition to tout their popular mixer…

…with the launch of FDR’s New Deal, advertisers were quick to jump on the bandwagon…

…as did one of our cartoonists, Otto Soglow

…and now on to the Aug 12 issue…

Aug. 12, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

…which featured another installment of James Thurber’s My Life and Hard Times—”The Night the Ghost Got In”…

James Thurber’s illustration for “The Night the Ghost Got In” that appeared in his book My Life and Hard Times. The scene depicts his brother Herman, and his fear of ghosts. The caption read: “He always half suspected that something would get him.”

Meanwhile, Thurber’s colleague, film critic John Mosher, was finding joy through Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies

DELIGHTFUL DIVERSION…Critic John Mosher was “one exalted” over Walt Disney’s latest Silly Symphony, titled Old King Cole.

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This giant two-page spread from the makers of Dodge sought to prove you could have both durability and affordability in their six-cylinder model (the cheapest Packard listed at $2,150—you could almost buy four Dodges for that price)…

…another Chrysler corporation product, the family-friendly Plymouth, could be had for even less—$445—it was apparently just the kind of car a penny-pinching ingenue needed for getting to her casting calls…

Ann Lee Doran (1911–2000) went on to a long career as a character actress, perhaps best known for portraying James Dean’s mother in Rebel Without a Cause…

Anne Lee Doran (at far right) in 1941’s Penny Serenade. Also pictured, from left, are Edmund Elton, Edgar Buchanan, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. (IMDB)

…when you finished brushing your teeth, you could put this other Pepsodent product on your face…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with this two-page spread by Gardner Rea

Gluyas Williams referenced the Camel cigarette ads from 1933 that revealed the secrets of popular magic tricks…

…an example from the June 3, 1933 issue of the New Yorker

Eli Garson paid a visit to the optometrist…

…in the wake of the scandal-ridden mess left behind by deposed Mayor Jimmy Walker, the upcoming November election was bound up by three candidates, none of whom seemed poised to get a majority vote…Robert Day offered up this scenario…

Carl Rose discovered that even in the boonies, everyone’s a critic…

…and we close with Peter Arno, and another classic…

Next Time: Tugboat Annie…

She Wore the Pants

It’s hard to fathom that a woman wearing trousers used to cause such a stir, but for international film star Marlene Dietrich it was an opportunity for the publicity that invariably came with defying the norms of fashion and sexuality in 1930s.

July 22, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

In May 1933 Dietrich was headed to Paris on a steamer, relaxing on the deck in a white pantsuit. Prior to her arrival, the Paris chief of police announced she would be arrested if she showed up in pants. However when Dietrich arrived at the Gare Saint Lazare wearing a man’s suit and overcoat, she stepped off the train, grabbed the chief of police by his arm, and walked him off the platform.

The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner reported on Dietrich’s comings and goings in her regular column “Letter From Paris”…

TAKING PARIS BY STORM…Clockwise, from top left: Marlene Dietrich in Paris, 1933, accompanied by her husband, Rudolf Sieber; Dietrich on the SS Europa, Cherbourg, France, May 1933; Dietrich arriving at the Gare Saint Lazare station, May 20, 1933 (this photo is often paired with an erroneous caption claiming that Dietrich is being arrested by French authorities. On the contrary, she owned them the moment she stepped onto the platform); Dietrich signing autographs in Paris, 1933. (bygonely.com/Smithsonian/Twitter/Pinterest)

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Bullish On Office Space

Despite the Depression, millions of square feet of office space were being added to the massive Rockefeller Center complex, including the Palazzo d’Italia at 626 Fifth Avenue. “The Talk of the Town” reported:

THE BIG SHORT…Attached to the International Building at its northwest corner, the Palazzo d’Italia was originally planned as a nine-story building, a fact that impressed the fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini because it beat the six-story height of the French and British Buildings. In the end Benito only got six as well. (Wikipedia/Pinterest)

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Urban Jungle

Astoria Studios in Queens was built in 1920 for Famous Players-Lasky and is still home to New York City’s only studio backlot. In 1933 it served as a tropical setting for The Emperor Jones, featuring Paul Robeson in the title role. “The Talk of the Town” looked in on the movie’s faux jungle:

35TH STREET JUNGLE…Paul Robeson in a scene from The Emperor Jones. (flickr.com)

Loosely based on a Eugene O’Neill play and financed with private money, the film was made outside of the Hollywood studio system and distributed by United Artists.

EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES…Brutus Jones (Robeson) schemes with colonial trader Smithers (Dudley Digges) on his plan to become emperor in The Emperor Jones. (moma.org)

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From Our Advertisers

Yes, it’s advertising so we don’t expect it to be realistic, but I can guarantee no one is going to look like that after a ride to the beach in a rumble seat…

…Hupmobile enlisted humorist Irvin S. Cobb to help boost its sagging sales…

Irvin S. Cobb (1876–1944) wrote for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and was once the highest paid staff reporter in the United States. (carnegiecenterlex.org)

…with the return of legal beer the makers of Budweiser struck a patriotic note in promoting their “King of Bottled Beer” to thirsty New Yorkers…

…the makers of Pabst Blue Ribbon claimed the title of “Best of the Better Beers” with this ad featuring a woman who appeared on the verge of going overboard…

…if beer wasn’t your thing, you could try your hand at mixing a “30-Second Highball” per this Prohibition-themed ad…

…delving into the back pages one finds all sorts of curiosities, including this mail-order “charm school” operated by Margery Wilson

…Wilson (1896–1986) acted in numerous silent pictures (including the 1916 D. W. Griffith epic Intolerance) and in the early 1920s was a writer, director and producer…

Margery Wilson in Eye of the Night (1916). She was among pioneering women filmmakers of the 1920s. (columbia.edu))

…it must have been a hot summer in New York with the abundance of air-conditioner ads…here’s one from Frigidaire for a unit that despite its size (and enormous cost) could cool only one room…

…this next air-conditioner ad from G-E seems poorly conceived…you would think an air-conditioned office would make the boss and his secretary a bit happier than they appear here…maybe they just got the bill from General Electric…

…we begin our cartoons with another pair of sourpusses, courtesy Mary Petty

George Price offered up this bit of art for the opening pages…

William Steig headed to the country to escape summer in the city…

William Crawford Galbraith’s bathers kept cool by examining the flotsam from distant shores…

Charles Addams explored various themes before he launched his “Addams Family” in 1938…

…and we move on to July 29 with a terrific cover by Barbara Shermund

July 29, 1933 cover by Barbara Shermund.

…in this issue Geoffrey T. Hellman penned a profile of Egyptologist Herbert E. Winlock, who made key discoveries about the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and served as director of the Metropolitan Museum from 1932 to 1939, where he was employed his entire career. Excerpt:

CAN YOU DIG IT…Early 1920s photo of the Metropolitan Museum’s Theban expedition team. Herbert E. Winlock is in the back row, second from left. His wife, Helen Chandler Winlock, is in the front row, far right. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 * * *

Chilling With U.S. Grant

In those days before air-conditioning was widely available or used, “The Talk of the Town” dispatched an investigator to sample indoor temperatures at various public places, finding the coolest spot at Grant’s Tomb:

WHERE THE COOL PEOPLE HANG OUT…Clockwise, from top left: The tomb of Per-neb at the Metropolitan Museum registered a cozy 80 degrees, while in the same museum it was a balmy 84 by Emanuel Leutze’s famed painting Washington Crossing the Delaware; the New York Aquarium in Battery Park was a bit cooler at 79 (pictured is the Sea Lion Pool); while Grant’s Tomb was downright chilly at 70. (Met Museum/Wildlife Conservation Society/grantstomb.org)
 * * *
Node of Gold
Apparently the famed crooner Bing Crosby had a minor node on one of his vocal cords, and when he consulted a specialist he was advised against removing it, lest he alter his voice in a way that would affect his career. Indeed, the node seemed to add an “appealing timbre” to his signature sound, so Crosby had his voice insured by Lloyd’s of London for $100,000 with a proviso that the node could not be removed. Howard Brubaker made this observation in “Of All Things”…

LUMP IN HIS THROAT…Bing Crosby with Marion Davies in the 1933 film Going Hollywood. (IMDB)

…Brubaker also shared this prescient observation from American astronomer Vesto Slipher

…Slipher (1875–1969) would live long enough to confirm his statement…the first full-disk “true color” picture of the Earth was captured by a U.S. Department of Defense satellite in September 1967:

(USAF/Johns Hopkins University)

 * * *

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This ad was on the inside front cover of the July 29 issue, a rather jarring image following that lovely Barbara Shermund cover…

…the hugely popular P.G. Wodehouse was back with more silly antics from the British upper classes…

…while some New Yorkers could take a break from their reading and hit the dance floor atop the Waldorf-Astoria…

…and tango to the stylings of bandleader Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat and band atop the Waldorf-Astoria. (cntraveler.com)

…this ad for the French Line, illustrated by Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom, offered a precious scene of a page-boy lighting a woman’s cigarette, a sight unimaginable today for a number of reasons…

…and we close with a cartoon by Gardner Rea, doggone it…

Next Time: The Flying Season…

Rebirth of a Nation?

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

May 27, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

Writer of Lost Causes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Thurber kicks off the cartoons with this sad clown…

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

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

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

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

…on to the June 3, 1933 issue…

June 3, 1933 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

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

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

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

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The Stars Align

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

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

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

ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE…Ten-year-old Rose Marie Mazzetta, known in 1933 as the child performer Baby Rose Marie, sings a number atop a piano in a scene from International House. Thirty years later Rose Marie would appear on The Dick Van Dyke Show as television comedy writer Sally Rogers (pictured here with co-stars Dick Van Dyke and Morey Amsterdam. (WSJ/LA Times)
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The New Germany, Part II
The June 3 “Out of Town” column took a look at life in Berlin as well as the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The piece is signed “A.L.”, leading me to believe it might be A.J. Liebling (author of one of my faves, Between Meals), but he didn’t start at The New Yorker until 1935. At any rate the article seems to dismiss the crackdown on Berlin’s cultural life as a mere inconvenience.

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

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From Our Advertisers

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardner Rea gave us this helpful switchboard operator…

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

George Price was getting into familiar domestic territory…

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

Next Time: Making Hays…