A Visit to Minskyville

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

May 28, 1930 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

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

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

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

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

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Not a Gearhead

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

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

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Rat-a-tat

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and this terrific cartoon…

Gardner Rea demonstrated the perils of summoning the dead…

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

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

Next Time: Jimmy’s Jam…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Boardwalk

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

May 14, 1930 cover by Bela Dankovsky.

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

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

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

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

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Potemkin Park

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

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

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

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Intermural Murals

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

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

(MoMA)

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

(MoMA)

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Boop’s Boo-Boo

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

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

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From Rags to Rackets

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

Leonard Dove found spirits dwelling among dusty bones…

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

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

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

…on to May 21, 1932…

May 21, 1932 cover by Helen Hokinson.

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

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

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No Immaculate Conception, This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

…”I presented Mister Peet to Mister Rogers”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garrett Price offered up a stereotype in a courtroom setting…

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

Next Time: A Visit to Minskyville…

 

High Anxiety

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

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

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

Profile illustration by Hugo Gellert

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

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

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

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Vintage Whines

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

White concluded the entry with this observation…

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

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

(vinepair.com)

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

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

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News Stooges

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

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

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Rising Stars

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denys Wortman gave us another side of motherhood…

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

…and Helen Hokinson

James Thurber gave us a dog in distress…

Robert Day illustrated the dilemma of two bootleggers…

…and Barbara Shermund takes us out…

Next Time: Under the Boardwalk…

 

The Grand Garbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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She’s Back

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

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

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Notes, and More Notes

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

(Courtesy H.H. Franklin Club)

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

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

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

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

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

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

…here is a more detailed look at the above…

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

Gardner Rea sketched this hereditary pratfall…

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

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

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

Next Time: The Quiet Man…

 

Back to the Nightlife

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

April 9, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Other Lois

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

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The Brothers Mills

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

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

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Car Wars

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Wikimedia Commons)

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

…and Thurber’s cartoon contribution to the issue…

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time: The Shipping News…

 

 

 

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Dirge for a Dirigible

There was a time when dirigibles were considered the future of transatlantic transportation. In the 1930s they could carry more passengers than any other type of aircraft while offering amenities usually associated with ocean liners such as private cabins, dining rooms and large observation decks. They were also faster than those water-borne vessels.

March 26, 1932 cover by Bela Dankovsky.

Dirigibles, however, were challenging to operate — with crew members outnumbering passengers — and sometimes they fell from the sky. Such was the fate of the USS Shenandoah during a 1925 publicity flight over Ohio. On board was the Navy’s Lt. Cmdr. Charles Emery Rosendahl (1892 – 1977), who had to act quickly when the airship encountered a severe thunderstorm. Hitting a violent updraft that carried it beyond the pressure limits of its gas bags, the airship was torn apart. For the March 26 “Profile,” writer Henry Pringle recounted Rosendahl’s experience:

HE LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT…Clockwise, from top left, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Rosendahl, USN, circa 1930; the USS Shenandoah in pieces near Caldwell, Ohio; the airship in better days; close-up view of the wreckage. (Wikipedia/airships.net)
IT WAS A GAS…Like other other early dirigibles, the USS Shenandoah was designed for war (fleet reconnaissance) rather than passenger service. It was the first rigid airship to use a safer gas, helium, rather than hydrogen to gain lift. However, helium was scarce at the time, and the Shenandoah used almost all of the world’s reserves to fill its gas cells, which held 2,100,000 cubic feet. (fly.historicwings.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON THE CATWALK…Lt. Cmdr. Charles Rosendahl hurried through this area while the USS Shenandoah was being torn apart in mid-air. Rosendahl was ordered out of the control car by the airship’s pilot, Cmdr. Zachery Landsdowne, to check on the Shenandoah’s oil and gas tanks. It was an order that ultimately saved Rosendahl’s life: Eight crew members in the control car, including Landsdowne, perished. In all, 14 crew members lost their lives. (airships.net)

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Untouchable Unmentionables

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White mused about one Boston store’s promotion of a line of women’s underwear as “Gandhi panties,” apparently inspired by the loincloth worn by Indian liberator Mahatma Gandhi:

THE SIMPLE LIFE…Mahatma Gandhi held numerous hunger strikes during his years of protest against India’s caste system and British Imperial rule. He is pictured here in jail in September 1932 during the second of his fasts, protesting the British government’s decision to separate India’s electoral system by caste. (history.com)

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Hearst Wurst

Film critic John Mosher was not happy with the happy ending (or much else) in the William Randolph Hearst-backed Polly of the Circus, which starred Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies, along with emerging star Clark Gable, who portrayed a small-town minister who risked his career for love with a trapeze artist.

JUST READ THE NAUGHTY BITS…Top image: With the backing of William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies was able to bill her latest MGM film as a “Marion Davies Production.” Davies had star billing over Clark Gable in Polly of the Circus, but as his star rose in the 1930s, Davies saw her fortunes (and Hearst’s) drain away during the Depression years. Bottom image: the Reverend John Hartley (Gable) and trapeze artist Polly Fisher (Davies) “look for something hot” in the Book of Ruth. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Electric refrigerators for home use had been around for less than decade in 1932, but as more companies got into the business, the drive to distinguish one’s product from the competitor’s became keen…the distinctive “Monitor Top” GE refrigerators were touted by Rex Cole in both their ads and in the design of their showrooms…

…Allen-Ingraham, on the other hand, demonstrated how their “dual-automatic” Westinghouse could bring harmony to a party of bootleg-swilling old gents…

…the makers of Electrolux invoked the inevitable march of time and progress in promoting their “automatic” refrigerator…

…on to sundry things, the upscale British department store Fortnum & Mason employed this simple ad to demonstrate the superiority of old money over the preening lower orders…

…and in the back pages we find these cheap ads for corsets, a prep school and a shorthand lessons…

…the makers of Listerine reminded readers of the connection between their old line of antiseptic products and their new line of cigarettes…

…the Santa Fe Railroad invited travelers to the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles…

…while the Missouri Pacific line promoted the wonders of Kansas City, the “Heart of America”…

…makers of the autogiro — part airplane, part helicopter — continued to promote the advantages of this supposedly easy to fly contraption…in the 1930s the autogiro was seen as the future of personal air travel, some predicting that the craft would join the automobile in many a garage…

…on to our cartoons, Alice Harvey found one man who was ready for the autogiro lifestyle…

…and Peter Arno gave us an old walrus ready to take advantage of an unsuspecting host…

……and Helen Hokinson’s “girls” also found themselves involved in a scandalous situation…

…on to the April 2, 1932 issue…

April 2, 1932 cover by Julian de Miskey.

…where this time critic John Mosher took a look at a new film (and a new film genre) — Tarzan, the Ape Man, starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan.

Weissmuller (1904-1984) was well known in the 1920s as a five-time Olympic Gold Champion swimmer, so the 28-year-old was a familiar face when he stepped into the title role. The Irish-born O’Sullivan (1911-1998) had appeared in seven films in 1930-31 before she was cast as Jane Parker in Tarzan, the Ape Man. Mosher found the film silly, but entertaining nonetheless.

THAT PRE-CODE LOOK…Before decency codes were strictly enforced in Hollywood, many early 1930s films featured scenes that were pretty racy for those times. Both Maureen O’Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller were scantily clad for their roles in 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man. (IMDB/fanpop.com/manapop.com/YouTube)

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Cancel Me, Kate

“That’s Why Darkies Were Born” was a popular song in those days of casual racism, written by Ray Henderson and Lew Brown for George White’s Scandals of 1931. It was recorded by a number artists including Paul Robeson (see below) and Kate Smith — it was one of Smith’s biggest records and also the reason she was recently “cancelled” in some sports venues.

In 2019 the New York Yankees announced that Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” would no longer be played at Yankee Stadium, citing not only Smith’s version of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” but also her past performances of the song “Pickaninny Heaven.” The Philadelphia Flyers followed the Yankees example, covering up and later removing a statue of Smith outside the Wells Fargo Center.

THAT’S WHY YOU WERE CANCELLED…One of Kate Smith’s biggest early hits was her performance of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” In 2019 the Philadelphia Flyers organization covered and later removed a statue of Smith outside the Wells Fargo Center. (mprnew.org)

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From Our Advertisers

We have more inducements to travel, this time abroad and in style aboard the French Line…

…or if you were looking for something a bit more exotic, Intourist could book you passage to the Soviet Union…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with this great spot illustration by Victor De Pauw, who contributed to the New Yorker from 1928 to 1948…

William Crawford Galbraith offered some insight into the cultural tastes of the upper orders…

…while Alan Dunn illustrated the Depression’s domestic woes…

…and we have what I believe is the first appearance of William Steig’s “Small Fry” children identified as such…many more would follow, later to be collected into a popular book by the same name…

…and another by Steig of a person contemplating his life’s desire…

…and we end with James Thurber, with all of his familiar themes tied up in one drawing…

Next Time: A Return to the Nightlife…

 

The Final Curtain

Nearly a century after his passing, many still regard Florenz Ziegfeld Jr as the most important and influential producer of Broadway musicals. His theatrical revues, filled with leggy chorines and wisecracking comics, set a standard for everything from Busby Berkeley productions to the Fats Waller stage celebration Ain’t Misbehavin’.

March 19, 1932 cover by Madeline S. Pereny, who gave us a glimpse of the annual International Flower Show at Grand Central Palace.

But when Robert Benchley checked out Ziegfeld’s latest revue, Hot-Cha, which opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre on March 8, 1932, he found it tiresome, and no amount of expensive scenery could keep the show from ending on a “particularly sickening thud.” What Benchley couldn’t know, however, was that Hot-Cha would be the last original musical-comedy produced by Ziegfeld, who in just four months would punch his last ticket.

NOT SO HOT-CHA!…Florenz Ziegfeld’s final revue brought out the stars, but it wasn’t enough to dazzle drama critic Robert Benchley. Clockwise, from top left, program for the revue; Lupe Velez, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and June Knight in Hot-Cha; Benchley was more critical of Bert Lahr’s material than of the comedian himself — many years later Lahr’s son, John Lahr, would follow in Benchley’s footsteps and serve as the New Yorker’s drama critic; Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza were among the highest-paid dance acts in the 1930s and 40s, but Benchley had simply lost his appetite for yet another tango. (playbill.com/Pinterest/Smithsonian/Wikimedia)

Selections from the Ziegfeld Theatre program promised a stageful of talents, including 75 “Glorified Girls”…

…and Ziegfeld (1867–1932) would be back in May for a revival of Show Boat, which once again proved to be a hit, but a bout of pleurisy would claim his life on July 22, 1932. As Benchley alluded in his review, these lavish shows led to equally lavish expenses, and Ziegfeld, having lost much of his money in the stock market crash, would leave his actress wife Billy Burke with substantial debts. The plucky Burke, however, marched on with a successful acting career that included her appearance as Glinda the Good Witch in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.

SECOND ACT…Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and his wife, actress Billie Burke, pose for an Edward Steichen photo, 1927. At right, Burke as Glinda the Good Witch in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.

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Everyone’s a Critic

The March 19 issue also featured drama criticism from Alexander Woollcott in his “Shouts and Murmurs” column. In this case, Woollcott had a bone to pick with the famed playwright Eugene O’Neill, as well as with Guild Theatre’s coughing patrons, who called to mind a chorus of frogs:

SHSSS!…Alexander Woollcott would have preferred an empty Guild Theatre to one filled with “bronchial” patrons. (goodreads.com)

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Down in Old Mexico

The New Yorker’s latest “Out of Town” feature assured travelers that Mexico was a safe destination, and advised men to pack “spring suits and a dinner jacket” if they planned to visit Mexico City. The author of this piece (signed “P.L.”) cautioned travelers “to get insulated against liquid lightning before getting flip with the national drinks: pulque and tequila. Bootleg liquor is no preparation for the havoc these work even on the sternest drinker.”

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Sweating With the Stars

The March 19 “A Reporter at Large” column carried the simple title “Exercise.” Written by journalist Russell Lord* (1895-1964), this excerpt revealed some high-powered clients of one of the world’s first celebrity trainers:

GUY LOMBARDO’S DOOR IS ON THE LEFT…Izzy Winter’s health and exercise “institute” was tucked away on the second floor of the Roosevelt Hotel. Patrons passed through the hotel’s lobby to access an “honest sweat.” Izzy is pictured at right. (Roosevelt Hotel/Yale University)

In Lord’s conclusion, he noted that after a workout patrons were treated to a doze under a sunlamp and a cigarette…

* In his day, Russell Lord was a noted agricultural writer and editor of the agricultural literary journal The Land, which promoted ecologically responsible agricultural practices.

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Fame and Infamy

I include this snippet from John Mosher’s film column to note the first reference in the New Yorker to the March 1, 1932 kidnapping of the baby of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh…the lives and various doings of the Lindberghs were frequent subjects in the early days of the magazine…

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From Our Advertisers

We’ll start by sampling some of the wares in the back pages…looks like Ziegfeld got a big bang for his small investment with his Hot-Cha ad…

…while Ziegfeld ran a cheap ad for his lavish production, the R.F. Simmons Company decided to go big with this ad for…drum roll please…watch chains…

…the makers of Cliquot Club Ginger Ale also did their best to promote a mundane product, claiming their beverage had a “piquant personality”…yeah, especially with a splash or two of some bootleg whisky…

…the makers of Spuds were staying with their stupid “Mouth-Happy” theme, assuring menthol cigarette smokers they will be the life the party…a party filled with old gasbags, that is…

…R.J. Reynolds continued to push their Camels on the growing market of women smokers, demonstrating the effects of a fresh cigarette with this image of a rosy-cheeked nurse…

…DeSoto (a division of Chrysler) gave Depression-era readers something to smile about with this full-color, two-page advertisement featuring a sunny beach scene and an affordable automobile…

…on to our cartoons, here’s Carl Rose’s perspective on the Disarmament Conference taking place in Geneva, Switzerland…

…while the Otto Soglow’s Little King had his own way of projecting power…

…on the domestic scene, Barbara Shermund’s modern women were channeling  René Descartes

…and William Steig showed us a couple debating an equally weighty matter…

…and via Richard Decker, some well-groomed polar explorers…

…two of Helen Hokinson’s “girls” stopped by the International Flower Show at Grand Central Palace…

…and we end with another classic from James Thurber

Next Time: Dirge for a Dirigible…

MoMA Sees The Future

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

Feb. 27, 1932 cover by Leonard Dove.

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

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

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

Mumford concluded his review with this bold observation:

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

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Out of the Trenches

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

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

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

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Love and War

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

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

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kemp Starrett gave us a little paddy wagon humor…

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Helen Hokinson illustrated a tender moment between father and son…

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

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Next Time: The Milne Menace…

 

Winter Games

E.B. White was not known for his sports reporting, but when the Third Winter Olympic Games opened in Lake Placid, New York, on Feb. 4, 1932, it was White who represented the New Yorker at the first-ever winter games in the U.S.

Feb. 20, 1932 — seventh anniversary cover by, of course, Rea Irvin!

Famed caricaturist Emery Kelen (1896-1964) provided the artwork for White’s account of the games…

…which was featured in the “A Reporter at Large” section under the title, “Midwinter Madness.” White opened the piece with some observations on Godfrey Dewey, head of the Lake Placid Club, and son of Melvil Dewey, inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. It seems that Dewey wanted the Olympic posters printed in the simplified Dewey system of spelling:

BEFORE BOB COSTAS…Opening ceremonies were a far simpler affair. Clockwise, from top left, the III Winter Olympic Games officially opened on Feb. 4; Sonja Henie of Norway and Karl Schäfer of Austria were gold medal winners in ladies’ and men’s singles figure skating; the rather uninspired official poster for the event; as a pusher in the four-man bobsleigh team, Edward Eagan (center) won the gold medal with the USA I team. Twelve years earlier Eagan had been crowned Olympic champion in the light heavyweight boxing competition at Antwerp. He was the first and only person to win gold at both the summer and winter games. Note the leather helmets and the fact that, unlike today, the sled is actually a real sled. (olympic.org/Wikipedia)

True to form, White set the stage for the games by describing his train journey to Lake Placid. At the games he observed dogsled teams — dogsled racing was one of nine sports featured at the III Winter Olympics — and marveled at the derring-do of the ski-jumpers.

Writing in the Atlantic (Feb. 10, 2014), Philip Bump described the 1932 Games as looking “way more fun and dangerous” than today’s games, “like a group of guys who set up a competition in the woods behind their house. The Jackass Games, really.” They were a lot smaller, too. The 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea featured entrants from 92 countries participating in 102 events over 15 disciplines. By contrast, just 17 countries participated the 1932 games.

HOVERING HANS…Norwegian Olympic skier Hans Vinjarengen took Bronze at the 1932 games. At right, ski jump at Lake Placid. (olympic.com/Wikipedia)

And we close with this gif of an unidentified ski jumper at the ’32 games…

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Seeing Red

The Mexican painter Diego Rivera was sympathetic to the Soviet cause (with a Trotsky twist), but to the party faithful, painting a mural for some money-grubbing capitalists was unforgivable, as “The Talk of the Town” related…

NO GOODNIK…Left, Diego Rivera at work on Allegory of California at the San Francisco Stock Exchange Luncheon Club, 1931. At right, the mural still graces the stairwell of the building, now called “City Club.” (sfhistory.org).

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Thank Heaven For Little Smiles

It is a challenge to find an image of Maurice Chevalier without his sunny smile, but as “The Talk of the Town” revealed, even the French crooner needed a break from all that mirth…

GRIN AND BEAR IT...Maurice Chevalier headlined an evening of song and dance at the Fulton Theatre in February 1932. (playbill.com)

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Survivor

The last surviving artist of the old Currier & Ives print shop, Louis Maurer (1832 – 1932) celebrated his 100th birthday, and “The Talk of the Town” was there to fete the old man…

AMERICANA’S FINEST…Louis Maurer poses with one of his works on the centenary of his birth. (findagrave.com)

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Silence is Golden

One of the older actors working in Hollywood, British actor George Arliss (1868 – 1946) was best known for his role in Disraeli (1929), and he is also credited with promoting the career of 23-year-old actress Bette Davis, who would have her breakout role in The Man Who Played God. This remake of a 1922 silent (that also featured Arliss) told the story of a concert pianist, Montgomery Royale, who believes his career is over when he loses his hearing. However, he finds a new purpose when he uses his lip-reading skills to help others, including himself when he calls off his engagement to Grace (Davis) after learning she is in love with another man. Critic John Mosher was impressed by Arliss, but found the film sanctimonious and wished the actor would play a baddie for a change.

TWO-TIMER…George Arliss appeared in both silent (1922) and talking (1932) versions of the The Man Who Played God. The latter film featured 23-year-old Bette Davis (second from left) in her breakout role. (IMDB)

DRAMA KING…Concert pianist Montgomery Royale (George Arliss) considers suicide when he loses his hearing. Arliss was the first British actor to win an Academy Award for his role as PM Benjamin Disraeli in 1929’s Disraeli. (IMDB)

While Mosher found The Man Who Played God a bit too preachy, Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) was way too campy to be taken seriously as a horror film. Thanks to his newfound Dracula fame, Bela Lugosi headlined the film, which debuted another young star, Arlene Francis (1907 – 2001), who would find her greatest fame in television from 1949 to 1983, most notably on the long-running quiz show What’s My Line?

HORROR MONSTER SHOW…or so the producers of Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) claimed. Still image from the movie featured Bela Lugosi (left), Noble Johnson and Arlene Francis. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Planning a visit to England? Don’t be mistaken for a clod-kicking Yankee and get yourself over to Lord & Taylor’s…

…and with spring in the air make sure little sis has the right duds to look like a 40-year-old woman…

…if you’re taking the train, you wouldn’t dare sit with the proles (I mean, look at that woman eating god-knows-what from a wrapper, and some filthy urchin wandering the aisles, and what the hell does Mr. Creepo have in that box?), so why settle for plain old gas when you can sweeten it with some lead?…

…nothing better than traveling out into the fresh air to breathe in some nice fresh tobacco smoke…it’s naturally fresh, so it’s just as good as mountain air, maybe even better

…this poor chap can’t breathe well at all, or so he claims, and that’s why he needs Vapex…

…which puts him right to sleep because it contains 70 percent alcohol, so why not take a couple of chasers with that snort…you’ll get used to the menthol flavor (it’s in your Spud cigarettes after all) and before long it’s nighty-night, oh hell I’ll just drink this and put a little ether on my pillow…yeah that’s the ticket…

…for others, why even bother pretending Prohibition is still a thing?…

…and look at this swell cocktail set you could stock in your Bantam Bar, designed by the New Yorker’s own John Held Jr

…on to our cartoons, we have Held again with another look at those naughty Victorian days…

Rea Irvin continued his commentary on the “improving” economy…

...Richard Decker gave us a master of understatement…

William Steig captured a special father-son moment…

Barbara Shermund continued to explore the ways of her modern women…

…given the recent kerfuffle over Dr. Seuss, Carl Rose confirms just how acceptable racist stereotypes were back in the day…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and one sugar daddy finding himself on the skids, temporarily at least…

Next Time: MoMA Sees The Future…

 

Back in the USSR

The year 1932 was a tough one for many Americans, barely scraping by in the deepening Depression. But to the suffering millions in the Soviet Union, America’s economic woes looked like a walk in the park.

Jan. 30, 1932 cover by Rose Silver.

The year marked the beginning of a catastrophic famine that swept across the Soviet countryside, thanks to the government’s bone-headed and heartless forced collectivization that caused more than five million people to perish from hunger. Those events, however, were still on the horizon when Robin Kinkead, a New York Times Moscow correspondent, ventured out into Moscow’s frigid streets in search of a lightbulb. Here is his story:

WE HAVE PLENTY OF NOTHING FOR EVERYONE…In 1930s Moscow, and in the decades beyond, much of life consisted of standing in line for everything from bread to light bulbs.

MAGIC LANTERN…Russian peasants experience electricity for the first time in their village. (flashback.com)

STALIN CAST A LARGE SHADOW over his subjects, even when they sought a bit of light in the darkness. Stalin and Lenin profiles served as glowers in this Soviet lightbulb, circa 1935. The first series of these bulbs were presented to the delegates of Soviet parliament of 1935, just in case they forgot who was in charge — or who might liquidate them at any moment, for any reason, or for no reason. (englishrussia.com)

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One of Theirs

Miguel Covarrubias was one of the first artists to contribute to the fledgling New Yorker, and his linear style was well known to readers when he opened his latest show at New York’s Valentine Gallery. It featured works he had created during a 1931 sojourn in the East Indies. Critic Murdock Pemberton found the palette reminiscent of Covarrubias’ earlier work during the Harlem Renaissance:

GLOBETROTTER…A frequent contributor to the early New Yorker, Miguel Covarrubias traveled the world in search of inspiration. His 1932 exhibition at New York’s Valentine Gallery featured his latest work, a series of “Balinese paintings” including In Preparation of a Balinese Ceremony, at right. (sothebys.com)

MAN OF MANY TALENTS…An early Covarrubias contribution to the New Yorker in the March 7, 1925 issue.

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From Our Advertisers
Listerine had been around since the late 1860s, but it wasn’t marketed as a mouthwash until 1914. The brand really took off in the 1920s when it was heavily advertised as a solution for “chronic halitosis” (bad breath), so in 1930 its makers went one step further by adding a few drops of their product to one of the chief causes of bad breath. The folks at Listerine were also keen to the growing market of women smokers — note the fifth paragraph: “They seem to appeal especially to women”…

…when you run out of ideas to amuse your grandchild, drop your top hat and walking stick and let him take you for a swing on a GE fridge door…wow, admire its “all-steel sturdiness” as it slowly tips toward the unsuspecting lad…

…on to our cartoons, Rea Irvin showed readers what he thought of the latest “rosy” economic predictions…

…but with the economy still deep in the dumps, building continued to boom, per Robert Day

Perry Barlow gave us a fellow needing a break from the daily gloom…

Richard Decker unveiled this crime-fighting duo…

Alan Dunn tempered the flames of passion…

…and we close this issue with one of James Thurber’s most famous cartoons…

…on to Feb. 6, 1932…

Feb. 6, 1932 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

…and we head straight to our advertisers……and yet with another sad Prohibition-era ad, this from the makers of Red & Gold Vintages, who promised to dress up your bootleg rotgut with many fine flavorings…

New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross couldn’t care less about the advertising department as long as it paid the bills and kept its nose out of editorial, but I wonder if a cig dropped from his puritanical (if profane) lips when he glanced at this ad…

…as noted in the Listerine ad above, tobacco companies were eager to tap the growing market of women smokers…actress Sue Carol egged on the sisterhood in this ad…Carol would have a brief acting career (including 1929’s Girls Gone Wild — not quite as racy as the 1990s DVD series) before becoming a successful talent agent…

…as noted in my previous “Dream Cars” post, women were also a fast growing market for automobiles, and manufacturers — desperate for Depression-era sales — scrambled to show women all of the swell gadgets that would make driving a snap (as if men didn’t need these gadgets too)…

…and here we have an ad from Kodak that demonstrated the ease of its home movie camera, which could go anywhere, say, like the horse races in Havana…

…Havana then was a playground for wealthier Americans, and many resided at a grand hotel operated by another rich American…

…but if you remained in town, you should at least know how to get tickets to the latest show (this drawing is signed “Russell”…could it be the noted illustrator Russell Patterson?)…

…on to our cartoons, Rea Irvin again commented on the latest predictions for economic recovery…

…but Alan Dunn found one woman who wanted an adventure, not a job…

…perhaps she should hang out with one of Barbara Shermund’s “New Women,” who had a flair for the dramatic…

…as for those seeking a new life, Mary Petty considered the costs…

Richard Decker took us to the high seas, where a thirsty yachtsman hailed a passing smuggler…

Otto Soglow probed the sorrows of youth…

…and William Crawford Galbraith, the joys…

…and James Thurber introduced his classic dog in a big way on this two-page spread…

…and on to one more issue, Feb. 13, 1932…

Feb. 13, 1932 cover by S. Liam Dunne.

…we begin with a nerd alert — the Feb. 13 cover represented one of the magazine’s biggest departures from the original Rea Irvin nameplate, here heavily embellished within S. Liam Dunne’s design. Departures in previous issues were more subtle, Irvin himself experimented with an elongated version in the third issue (below, left). For the April 17, 1926 issue, Katharine and Clayton Knight’s* stylish illustration (center) was the first to overlap part of the nameplate, and Sue Williams’ Nov. 17, 1928 cover (right) was the first to embellish the Irvin font.

*A note on Katharine Sturges Knight and Clayton Knight. The April 17, 1926 cover (center) was the only design by the Knights published by the New Yorker. The original picture was drawn on wood by Katharine and then cut by Clayton. Their son, Hilary Knight, is also an artist, best known as the illustrator of Kay Thompson’s Eloise book series.

…on to the advertisements, kicking off with this subtle appeal from the makers of the unfortunately named “Spud” menthol cigarettes…here a young woman experiences Spud’s “mouth-happiness” while attending the annual Beaux Arts Ball at the new Waldorf-Astoria…

…if you’re wondering why the Spud ad featured a guy in a powdered wig puffing on a cigarette, well the theme of the 1932 ball was “A Pageant of Old New York.” Every year had a different costume theme, and the ladies and gentlemen of the ruling classes delighted in dressing up for the occasion…

PLAYING DRESS-UP…Program for the 1932 Beaux Arts Ball, and two of the attendees, Frank Sanders and Frances Royce. (Pinterest)

…if stuffy events weren’t your thing, you could chuck the fancy duds and head to the sunny beaches of Bermuda…

…I include this Coty advertisement for its modern look — it easily could have appeared in a magazine from the 50s or even 60s…the artwork is by American fashion illustrator Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…

…the auto show has left town, but for some reason the makers of 12-cylinder models continued to shill their products in the New Yorker…Auburn (the middle ad) built beautiful, upscale vehicles, but the Depression would drop it to its knees by 1937…Pierce Arrow would succumb the following year…Lincoln, the highest-priced of these three, would hang on thanks to the largess of parent Ford…

New Yorker cartoonist John Held Jr. picked up some extra bucks by designing this ad for Chase and Sanborn’s…

…and on to our other cartoonists/illustrators, Reginald Marsh wrapped this busy dance hall scene around a section of “The Talk of the Town”…

Otto Soglow was back with his Little King, and the challenges of fatherhood…

Leonard Dove gave us a knight lost on his crusade…

Richard Decker explored the softer side of gangster life…

…and we sign off with Peter Arno, and a little misunderstanding…

Next Time: Winter Games…