Race to the Sky

Almost 90 years after the lights went out on the Roaring Twenties, our collective imagination of New York City still harks back to that time…the sights and sounds of nightclubs and speakeasies and Broadway lights set to the tune of the Jazz Age.

Oct. 12, 1929 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

And no wonder, since that decade made the city what it is today. Changing social mores, along with labor-saving electrical appliances and the ubiquitous automobile, altered the tempo of life. And this quickened pace was also reflected in the built environment, old landmarks reduced to rubble while gleaming skyscrapers rose up in their place seemingly overnight. A Victorian edifice like the Waldorf-Astoria — little more than 30 years old — seemed positively ancient to Jazz Age New Yorkers, who unceremoniously knocked it down to make way for what would become the city’s most iconic landmark.

New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell (aka “T-Square”) sensed that something big was on the horizon with his regular “Sky Line” updates on the city’s “tallest-building-in-the-world” contest. In the Oct. 12, 1929 issue he looked on admiringly as the Chrysler Building’s distinctive dome began to take shape:

IT’LL BE A SURPRISE…The Chrysler Building still lacked its gleaming art deco dome in this photo taken in the fall of 1929. At left is the Chanin Building, completed earlier that year. (adamunderhill.wordpress.com)

Chappell observed that the Chrysler Building’s claim as the world’s tallest would be short-lived, as plans for the Waldorf-Astoria site called for a much taller structure…

DOOMED…The old Waldorf-Astoria hotel (left), completed in 1897, was scarcely more than 30 years old when it was demolished to make way for the Empire State Building. The former governor of New York, Al Smith (inset) led the corporation that knocked down the old hotel and erected the world’s tallest building on the site. Demolition of the hotel began on October 1, 1929 (images at right). In his 2014 book The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark, John Tauranac observes the demolition was an arduous process, as the hotel had been constructed using more rigid material than what was found in earlier buildings. Those materials — granite, wood, and metals such as lead, brass, and zinc — were not in high demand. Most of the wood was deposited into a woodpile on nearby 30th Street or burned in a swamp. Other materials, including the granite and bronze, were dumped into the Atlantic near Sandy Hook, NJ. (New York Historical Society/New York Public Library Digital Gallery)
RISING FROM THE RUBBLE…The Empire State Building under construction in 1930. When completed in 1931, the 1,250 foot (1,454 with antenna) building would claim the title as the world’s tallest. It was something of a definitive victory, as the building held that record for nearly 40 years. (travelandleisure.com)

Although Al Smith’s building seemed assured to win the “world’s tallest” title, another giant was taking shape on the drawing boards…

LAND OF THE GIANTS…City Bank-Farmers Trust Building (left), now known as 20 Exchange Place, was originally designed in 1929 to be the world’s tallest building at 846 feet, but the realities of the Depression brought it down to a more modest 741 feet, making it the fourth-tallest building in New York when it was completed in 1931. At right, the 22-year-old Century Theatre on Central Park West was demolished to make way for Irwin Chanin’s Century Apartments, also completed in 1931. (Museum of the City of New York/nyc-architecture.com)

…while we are on the subject of skyscrapers, the New Yorker reprinted this illustration by Andre De Schaub to fill in a space at the bottom of page 54 in the Oct. 12 issue…

…the drawing originally appeared in the magazine three years earlier, as a cartoon in the October 16, 1926 issue. It included a caption: “High position on Wall Street” (thanks to Michael Maslin’s invaluable Ink Spill for helping me track this one down)…

As the demolition crews picked apart the old Waldorf, E.B. White wondered why more fanfare wasn’t attached to such occasions, whether they be demolitions or ribbon-cuttings…

NEEDS MORE HOOPLA…Al Smith with his wife Catherine Dunn Smith, and two of his grandchildren at the opening ceremony of the Empire State Building, May 1, 1931. President Herbert Hoover officially dedicated the building by pressing a button in the White House that turned on the building’s lights (it was merely symbolic; they were actually turned on by some unknown maintenance worker in New York). (Museum of the City of New York)

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A Novel Idea

My last post featured a brief excerpt of an Oct. 5 theater review by Robert Benchley, who sized up Elmer Rice’s new play, See Naples and Die. Rice pops up again in the Oct. 12 issue, this time as the author of A Voyage to Purilia, the first novel serialized in the New Yorker. The novel was a satire on the silent film industry, set in the fictional land of Purilia. Here is the first page of the piece, with illustrations provided by Peter Arno:

SENDING UP THE SILENTS…Elmer Rice in 1920; his satirical novel about the silent film industry, A Voyage to Purilla, was serialized in the New Yorker in 1929 and published the following year. It was re-published in the 1950s as a science fiction novel. (Wikipedia/Amazon)

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Siren Song

Writer and cultural critic Gilbert Seldes trained his discerning eye on the famed torch singer and speakeasy denizen Helen Morgan, attempting to understand the hard-living singer’s allure…

Helen Morgan, circa 1930. (masterworksbroadway.com)

RIGHT AT HOME…Helen Morgan made the draped-over-the-piano look of a torch singer her signature style. (Pinterest.UK)
LIGHTING UP BROADWAY…Helen Morgan (left) as Julie LaVerne in the original Broadway cast of Show Boat, 1927. It was her best-known role. At right, Morgan in Applause, 1929. (Pinterest/IMDB)

Seldes struggled to understand Morgan’s appeal, which seemed to draw from an assemblage of personas…

PLUMBING EMOTIONAL DEPTHS…Helen Morgan and Rudy Vallee in Sweet Music, 1935. (IMDB)

Seldes concluded that Morgan belonged with other artistic greats in her ability to create a sense of expectancy…

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The Invention of Distracted Driving

Writing in his “Motors” column, Nicholas Trott noted the advent of the car radio, a “new complication” to an “already over-elaborate existence.” Note that Trott viewed the car radio as something to be listened to while parked — car radios were fairly controversial back then, akin to driving while texting today.

EASY TO INSTALL…New Yorker automotive critic Nicholas Trott observed that cars were now being wired to receive radio sets (you still had to buy one and install it yourself). The system above featured battery-powered vacuum tubes, a dash-mounted dial and mono speaker. (hemmings.com)

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From Our Advertisers

To the refined owner of a Pierce-Arrow, a car radio would have been a crass novelty. After all, your driver was there to drive, and listen to your orders…

…unlike the Pierce-Arrow, which took pride in its heritage, the folks at Chrysler were known for their forward-thinking in design and technical innovation…

…on to some of the back page ads, we find appeals to flee the oncoming winter and escape to the golden sands of Waikiki…note the second ad, and its rather democratic invitation…

…and then we have the ads that hoped to catch the eye of the grasping Francophile, with delicacies from Louis Sherry or mock bubbly from the makers of applesauce…the second ad is particularly heartbreaking, the copy writer trying his or her best to conjure the glamour of Champagne from a bottle of apple juice. Zut!…

…fake Champagne isn’t for you? Well Leonard Dove offers us a salesman doing his best to sell a bottle of mock gin…

…returning to the ads, here’s one more from the back pages that references Harold Ross’s original prospectus for his magazine: “The New Yorker will be the magazine which is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.” The ad is for Billy Minsky’s National Winter Garden, where the art of burlesque got its start. Despite the cheapness of the ad and the implied salaciousness, uptown New Yorkers loved “slumming” at Minsky’s burlesque, including artists and writers (Hart Crane even wrote a poem called “National Winter Garden”). No doubt a few New Yorker staffers found their way inside as well…

Clockwise from top left, Billy Minsky’s National Winter Garden; a 1920’s burlesque performer; a ticket for two to the show. (New York Post/Amazon/Pinterest)

…on to the illustrators and cartoonists, a nice street scene by Reginald Marsh

John Held Jr. contributed one of his famed “woodcuts” to the Oct. 12 issue. Held was an old childhood friend of New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross. It was Ross who encouraged Held to deviate from his popular flapper caricatures — he recalled how his friend had produced clever woodcuts in high school, and wanted something similar for his magazine…

A John Held Jr. illustration for Life magazine, 1927. (Library of Congress)

Peter Arno went behind the scenes at a posh nightclub (a setting Arno was very familiar with)…

Helen Hokinson found confusion at the elections…

Perry Barlow offered up this sweet slice of family life…

…and Denys Wortman illustrated the power of the pen…

Next Time: City of Glass…

The Last Hurrah

Avery Hopwood’s 1919 Broadway hit, The Gold Diggers, was among cultural events of the late teens that signaled the dawn of new age; namely, the Jazz Age.

Sept. 7, 1929 cover by Sue Williams.

So it seems appropriate that the play, when adapted to the screen in 1929 as a Technicolor talkie, would also signal the end of that age. As the New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher observed in his review of The Gold Diggers of Broadway, the themes that seemed new and daring a decade earlier had been played out, the “general humors” of the picture having “become very familiar”…

The film featured Nancy Welford, Winnie Lightner and Ann Pennington as three chorus girls who try to entice a wealthy backer to invest money in their struggling Broadway show. The film was a big hit, and it made a star of Winnie Lightner (1899-1971), who played the boldest “Gold Digger” of the trio.

PROSPECTORS…Clockwise from top left, Ina Claire as the original “Gold Digger” with Bruce McRae in the 1919 Broadway play The Gold Diggers; lobby card for the 1929 film Gold Diggers of Broadway; image from the film’s “Tiptoe Thru the Tulips” song-and-dance number; Winnie Lightner works her charms on Albert Gran in a scene from the film. (Wikipedia/IMDB/TCM-YouTube)
IT’S FUN MAKING PICTURES…Helen Foster, Ann Pennington, Nancy Welford and William Bakewell in a publicity photo from 1929’s Gold Diggers of Broadway. (IMDB)

Lightner wasn’t the only actor to steal the show. The film also proved a winner for crooner Nick Lucas (1897-1982), who performed two hit songs written for the movie — “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine” and “Tiptoe through the Tulips.” Yes, that second song was the very same tune Tiny Tim rode to fame nearly 40 years later.

TIPTOE THROUGH HISTORY…At left, Nick Lucas sings what would be become his signature song “Tiptoe through the Tulips” to Lilyan Tashman in the Gold Diggers of Broadway. At right, forty years later, Lucas sang the song on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson (apparently using the same guitar) on the occasion of singer Tiny Tim’s televised wedding to Victoria Mae Budinger (“Miss Vicky”). Tiny Tim (inset) also made “Tiptoe through the Tulips” his signature song, although his was a campier version, sung in a falsetto, vibrato voice accompanied by his trademark ukulele. (YouTube)

Here’s a clip from the film, featuring Nick Lucas, Lilyan Tashman, and a cast of singers and dancers performing “Tiptoe through the Tulips”…

The Gold Diggers of Broadway was a “pre-code” film, that is, a film made during a brief period of the early sound era (roughly 1929 through mid-1934) when censorship codes were not enforced and many films openly depicted themes ranging from promiscuity and prostitution to amoral acts of violence.

A LEG UP ON THE CENSORS…Warner Brothers publicity photo of Dorothy Mackaill, who played a secretary-turned-prostitute in 1931’s Safe in Hell. (Wikipedia)

Those unenforced codes had their origins in the early 1920s. In response to outcries from preachers and politicians alike over the immortality of Hollywood (both on- and off-screen), the president of Paramount Pictures, Adolph Zukor  — fearing that cries for censorship would cut into his profits — called a February 1921 meeting of his studio rivals at Delmonico’s restaurant on 5th Avenue. At the meeting Zukor (1873-1976) distributed a set of 14 rules that would guide every Paramount production (Zukor’s studio at that time was actually known as Famous Players-Lasky). The rules covered everything from “improper sex attraction” to “unnecessary depictions of bloodshed.”

It was also Zukor’s idea to appoint the former U.S. Postmaster General, Will Hays, as President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. It would be Hays’ job to enforce the code and generally “clean up” Hollywood. However, until mid-1934 both Hays and the code served mostly as publicity ploys to keep the preachers and politicians off the backs of studio execs.

Zukor was profiled by Niven Busch, Jr. in the Sept. 7 issue (with portrait by George Shellhase). In his opening paragraph, Busch commented on “Pop” Zukor’s efforts to stave off the censors:

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Delmonico’s Redux

The famed Delmonico’s restaurant that provided the setting for Adolph Zukor’s “14 rules” meeting in 1921 closed its doors in 1923, a victim of Prohibition (more people dined at home, where they could still drink). Writing in the Sept. 7 “Talk of the Town,” Bernard A. Bergman described plans for the long-awaited opening of a new Delmonico’s in a skyscraper bearing the same name…

RICH DESSERTS…Dinner in honor of French Navy Admiral Paul Campion at the old Delmonico’s in 1906. (Wikipedia/Library of Congress)
AND SALAD DAYS…Delmonico’s wait staff pose for a photograph in 1902. (Museum of the City of New York)

A former Delmonico’s chef, Nicholas Sabatini, hoped to bring back some of old waiters and cooks from the restaurant’s glory days, but it seemed most were far too long in the tooth. It is unclear if he ever got his dream off the ground, or if the grill room was able to crank out fare comparable to that of the old Delmonico’s. Probably not…

THE KITCHEN IS CLOSED…The 1928 Hotel Delmonico, as shown in a 1937 photograph. It was purchased by Donald Trump in 2002 and converted into luxury condominiums. It would not host a great restaurant, but the Beatles would stay there in 1964. (New York Public Library)

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Relax. You’re in Omaha

This “Notes and Comment” entry in the Sept. 7 “Talk of the Town” described travel on the Union Pacific’s Overland Limited, and the “mystic dividing line” that  separated laid-back Westerners from buttoned-up Easterners:

MIND YOUR MANNERS, AT LEAST UNTIL YOU LEAVE CHICAGO…Tinted photo postcard depicting the dining car on a Union Pacific train that traveled the Chicago to Denver route in the 1920s. (myutahparks.com)

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Write What You Know

The Wisconsin-born Marion Clinch Calkins (1895 – 1968) often wrote humorous rhymes for the New Yorker under the pen name Majollica Wattles. While many writers reveled in the party atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties, Calkins worked as a vocational counselor and social worker at New York’s Lillian Wald’s Henry Street Settlement. This experience doubtless led her to more serious writing after the 1929 market crash — her critically acclaimed book, Some Folks Won’t Work (1930), is considered a seminal document on the Great Depression.

But in September 1929, Calkins was still in a humorous vein, and published this satirical piece on the role of an ideal housewife in the Sept. 7 issue. Excerpts:

CALL ME CLINCH…Marion Clinch Calkins circa 1905 and 1945. She wrote under the name of Clinch Calkins because she wanted her authorship to be gender-neutral. (evansvillehistory.net/NEH)

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Information Please

The New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton did not suffer fools gladly, and whenever the local museums seemed less than up to snuff, he was there to provide some correctional advice…

NEED AN AUDIO GUIDE? STILL WORKING ON THAT…The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s H.O. Havemeyer Collection, 1930. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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From Our Advertisers

Despite the advances made by women in the 1920s, they still lived under a patriarchy, especially when it came to the patrician classes. And so the young bride of Gifford Pinchot II was identified only as a “Mrs.” in the headline for this Pond’s cold cream ad…

…Mrs. Gifford Pinchot II was actually Janine Voisin (1910-2010). She must have had more than a healthy complexion, as she lived 100 years…

Janine Voisin Pinchot in 1933. (history.blogberth.com)

Another woman known for her beauty in the 1920s was the model Marion Morehouse (who was married to poet E.E. Cummings from 1934 until his death in 1962). Considered by some to be the first “supermodel,” I include an image of Morehouse below (right) to demonstrate how artists exaggerated the female form in fashion ads of the day…

…the body wasn’t the only thing subject to exaggeration, or hyperbole, as this ad from Harper’s Bazar attested in defining the exclusivity of its readership…

…the New York Sun also appealed to social mores in an attempt to sell more newspapers…

…the Curtiss Robin Flying Service touted their latest achievement — the St. Louis Robin being refueled during its flight to a new world’s endurance record of 420 hours — greatly surpassing the record of 150 hours set by the Army’s “Question Mark” airplane at the beginning of 1929…

…our cartoonists from the Sept. 7 issue include Gluyas Williams, who had some fun at the expense of Alice Foote MacDougall, who was the “Starbucks” of her day, at least in New York…

…MacDougall turned her coffee business into a restaurant empire in the 1920s. She opened several restaurants in Manhattan, all decorated in a signature style meant to evoke European cafés…

EURO AMBIENCE…Interior of Alice Foote MacDougall’s Firenze, 6 West 46th Street, New York City, 1925. (New York Historical Society)

…other cartoons included this commentary on public advertising by Leonard Dove

Peter Arno’s unique take on the seafaring life…

Helen Hokinson eavesdropped on some tween talk…

…and Alan Dunn gave us some perspective on the fast pace of city life…

Next Time: From Stage to Screen…

 

 

The Last Summer

Winding down the last summer of the 1920s — an unusually hot one — one detects subtle changes in the New Yorker’s mood; weary from the decade-long party known as the Roaring Twenties, a bit more mature, and more confident in its voice thanks to the regular writings of James Thurber, E.B. White and Lois Long and copious cartoons and illustrations by such notables as Peter Arno and Helen Hokinson that gave the magazine a distinctively modern feel as it headed into the 1930s.

Aug. 10, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt; Aug. 17 cover by Peter Arno.

The exuberance associated with the rapidly changing skyline was still there, however, as the Aug. 17 “Talk of the Town” speculated on the race for the world’s tallest building. The article not only anticipated an architect’s sleight of hand, but also a Zeppelin docking station that in the end would top the world’s tallest building:

As it turned out, William Van Alen did not have to compete against himself, the commission for One Wall Street instead going to Ralph Walker, who would design a beautiful art deco landmark that, at 50 stories, would not vie for the title of the world’s tallest building. Unbeknownst to the New Yorker, and perhaps Van Alen, the challenger would instead be 40 Wall Street, which would hold the crown as world’s tallest for about a month. Thanks to some sleight of hand (see caption below) the Chrysler building would quickly surpass 40 Wall Street and hold the title for just eleven months, bested in the end by the Empire State Building (which would sport a “Zeppelin superstructure”).

COMPENSATING FOR SOMETHING?…40 Wall Street (left) vied with the Chrysler Building for the title of the world’s tallest building. The 927-foot 40 Wall Street would claim the title in late April 1930. One month later, the Chrysler building would sprout a needle-like spire (secretly constructed inside the building) bringing its total height to 1,046 feet. The builders of 40 Wall Street cried foul and claimed that their building contained the world’s highest usable floor, whereas the Chrysler’s spire was strictly ornamental and inaccessible. Less than a year later the point was made moot when the Empire State Building soared above them both. (Wikipedia/The Skyscraper Museum)
ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION…Clockwise, from top left, progression of designs for the Chrysler Building; the building’s architect, William Van Alen; drawing from Popular Science Monthly (Aug. 1930) revealed the inner workings of the spire’s clandestine construction; Zeppelin docking station for the Empire State Building as imagined in a composite (faked) photograph. At 1,250 feet, the wind-whipped mooring mast proved not only impractical, but downright dangerous. In September 1931 a dirigible briefly lashed itself to the mast in 40 mph winds, and two weeks later the Goodyear Blimp Columbia managed to deliver a stack of Evening Journals to a man stationed on the tower. Contrary to the faked photograph, no passengers ever transferred from the tower to a Zeppelin. (Skyscraper City/Wikipedia/NY Times)

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What, Me Worry?

The famously flamboyant New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker lived the easy life during his initial years as Hizzonner, riding a booming economy, partying with the rich and famous (while flaunting Prohibition laws), carousing with his mistress (Ziegfield dancer Betty Compton) and sleeping until noon. When reform-minded Fiorello La Guardia challenged Walker’s reelection bid in 1929, Walker left the dirty work to his Tammany Hall cronies and continued to charm the public, and the New Yorker. The Aug. 17 “Talk of the Town” observed:

IT’S EASY BEING ME…Mayor Jimmy Walker accompanied actress Colleen Moore to the October 1928 premiere of her latest film, Lilac Time. (konreioldnewyork.blogspot.com)
I HAVE MY EYE ON YOU…Reform-minded Fiorello La Guardia (right) detested Jimmy Walker and his Tammany cronies, but that wasn’t enough to get him elected in 1929. The Great Depression would soon turn the tables. (Wikipedia)

Howard Brubaker, in his Aug. 17 “Of All Things” column, suggested that La Guardia had a zero chance of getting elected. Just three years later, Walker would resign amid scandal and flee to Europe. La Guardia, on the other hand, would be elected to the first of his three terms as mayor in 1933, riding the wave of the New Deal.

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Peek-A-Boo

Politics might have been business as usual, but in the world of fashion the vampish hat styles associated with flappers were giving way to a new rolled-brim look that seemed to suggest an aviator’s helmet. In her Aug. 17 fashion column “On and Off the Avenue,” Lois Long reported:

FACING THE FUTURE…Vampish hats of 1928, pictured at top, gave way to the rolled-brim or flare look of 1929. (Images gleaned from magazine/catalog images posted on Pinterest)

Long seemed to welcome the idea that women should once again bare their foreheads…

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Twain Wreck

Jumping back to the Aug. 10 issue, “The Talk of the Town” reported on the possible remodeling or demolition of a house once occupied by Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. The house in question was a lavish old mansion built by Henry Brevoort, Jr. in 1834, at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 9th Street. Twain lived in the house from 1905 to 1908, and it was there that Twain’s biographer Albert Paine conducted interviews with the author and wrote the four-volume Mark Twain, a Biography; The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. When millionaires abandoned their Fifth Avenue mansions in the 1920s and high-rise apartments took their place, there was pressure to either convert an old mansion like the Breevoort house at 21 Fifth Avenue to apartments or demolish it altogether.

LOOKING GOOD AFTER A CENTURY…At left, Berenice Abbott took this photograph of No. 21 Fifth Avenue in 1935. At right, in a close-up shot from the same period, the 1924 plaque from the Greenwich Village Historical Society is visible on the side of the house. (Museum of the City of New York/Greenwich Village Historical Society)
A NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT…A proposed 1929 remodeling (left) moved the front door of the old Brevoort mansion to the center and lowered it to street level. At right, today the 1955 Brevoort apartment house occupies the site. (daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)

The Greenwich Village Historical Society did what it could to save the house, and in 1924 affixed a bronze plaque to a side wall noting that both Twain and Washington Irving were once occupants. When the house was slated for demolition in 1954, the Society appealed to New Yorkers to raise the $70,000 needed to move the building, but only a fraction of that amount was secured. No. 21 was demolished in 1954 along with the rest of the houses on that block.

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Charles Edward Chambers was an American illustrator probably best known for his Chesterfield ads, although he also illustrated stories for a number of popular magazines from the early 1900s until his death in 1941. The Aug. 10 “Talk of the Town” looked in on his work with model Virginia Maurice:

QUICK…THROW THAT MAN A CIGARETTE!…Examples of Charles Edward Chambers’ Chesterfield ads from 1929 featuring model Virginia Maurice. Note that Maurice is wearing the latest “rolled brim” hat style in the upper image. (Pinterest)
HIS NONSMOKING SECTION…A 1919 Harper’s cover illustration by Charles Edward Chambers. (Wikipedia)

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Mama’s Boy

Lou Gehrig rivaled Babe Ruth as a top Murderer’s Row slugger for the 1929 Yankees, yet he couldn’t be more opposite in his lifestyle. A teetotaler and nonsmoker, Gehrig was completely devoted to mom (pictured below in 1927). Niven Busch Jr. submitted this profile of Gehrig for the Aug. 10 issue. Excerpts:

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After appearing as Al Jolson’s dying son in The Singing Fool (1928), the child actor Davey Lee returned to the screen for yet another Jolson weeper, 1929’s Say It With Songs. Once again portraying Jolson’s son—this time crippled and rendered dumb after being hit by a truck—he miraculously recovers at the end of the film. The New Yorker wasn’t having any of this sentimental treacle, especially served up for a second time…

LET’S PRAY FOR A BIG BOX OFFICE…Davey Lee and Al Jolson in Say It With Songs. (IMDB)

…and the magazine hoped for something a bit less somber from Jolson in the future, suggesting that he “give the tragic muse the air”…

In the same issue of the New Yorker, this advertisement touted Jolson’s recording of “Little Pal” from Say It With Songs (note the blackface image of Jolson—his unfortunate trademark back in the day)…

…happily, there were other movies that offered less schmaltzy diversions, including Norma Shearer’s comedy-drama The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, in which Shearer portrayed the jewel thief Fay Cheyney…

OH BASIL YOU ANIMAL…Theatre card for The Last of Mrs. Cheyney. (IMDB)

…often cast as a heavy in silent films, it was the “talkies” that made William Powell a star, his pleasant voice more suited to a hero or leading man than a villain. In The Greene Murder Case, Powell portrayed amateur detective Philo Vance, a role that he played in another 1929 release, The Canary Murder Case (originally filmed as a silent in 1928), both based on mystery novels by S.S. Van Dine. Powell would portray Philo Vance in three more films from 1930 to 1933 until he took on the role of another amateur detective, Nick Charles, in 1934’s The Thin Man (a role he would reprise five times from 1936 to 1947)…

WHODUNNIT? YOUDUNNIT!…William Powell as detective Philo Vance, Florence Eldridge as Sibella Greene, and Jean Arthur as Ada Greene in 1929’s The Greene Murder Case. (IMDB)
KEEPING IT QUIET…William Powell as Philo Vance and Louise Brooks as “the Canary,” a scheming nightclub singer, in The Canary Murder Case. Brooks was a huge star in the silent era and the iconic flapper. According to IMDB, the film was shot as a silent in 1928, but producers decided to rework it as a more profitable “talkie.” When Brooks refused to return from Germany (where she was filming Pandora’s Box) to dub the movie, Paramount spread the word that Brooks’ voice was not suited to sound film, although later productions made by Brooks proved this to be wrong. Actress Margaret Livingston ultimately supplied Brooks’ voice for Canary. 

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From Our Advertisers

We look at some advertisements from the August 17 issue, including this one from Past Blue Ribbon. Note that nowhere in the ad is the word “beer” used, this being a “near-beer” with less than 1% alcohol content by volume. In addition to making cheese (a Velveeta-like product), Pabst hoped to keep its company alive by selling this “brew” during the unusually hot summer of 1929…

…and with that blazing sun advertisers also promoted a number of face creams and powders to those “enjoying the sunny outdoor life,” including this two-page spread from Richard Hudnut and Poudre Le Débutclick to enlarge

…the outdoor life could also be enjoyed in a convertible Packard 640, a car that was a cut above a Lincoln or Cadillac, and was considered by some to be America’s answer to the Rolls Royce…

A 1929 Packard 640 Convertible. This particular model can be had today for about $130,000. (Hemmings Motor News)

…I found this ad in the back pages interesting for its crude design yet overt appeal to snobbishness with this haughty pair…

…and here is what the Park Lane looked like when it opened in 1924…

Circa 1924 advertisement from the Sargent lock and hardware company touting its fixtures in the new Park Lane hotel apartments. At right, circa 1924 image from The American Architect depicting the Park Lane’s dining room. The building is long gone, razed some time in the 1960s to make way for an office tower. (Pinterest)

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This week’s featured illustration is by Constantin Alajalov, who depicted a summer scene from the Southampton Beach Club…click to enlarge…

…our cartoonists from the Aug. 10 issue include Helen Hokinson, who looked at the challenges of Americans abroad…

I. Klein observed the changing mores of movie houses (a couple of “damns” were apparently uttered in the talking pictures of 1929)…

…and Leonard Dove offered up a double entendre of sorts…

…cartoons for the Aug. 17 issue included a peek behind the scenes at a motivational speaker courtesy Peter Arno

Kindl had some fun with the juxtaposition of a matron and a flapper hat…

…and for reference, the cloche hat called a “Scalawag” was featured in this ad by Knox in the March 30, 1929 New Yorker

Garrett Price portrayed the antics of an ungrateful trust fund brat, who probably did not have that million dollars after the market crash…

…and this fellow, depicted by Mary Petty, who doubtless would be less nonchalant come Oct. 28, or what we know as “Black Monday”…

Next Time: Hooray for Hollywood…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ride of the Century

Train travel in the U.S. was at the height of its glory in the late 1920s—you could hop on train in New York City and travel to virtually anywhere in the country, even to some of the remotest towns in America’s vast hinterlands.

July 27, 1929 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

The New Yorker’s managing editor, Ralph Ingersoll (1900-1985) writing in “The Talk of Town,” climbed aboard the locomotives of outbound 20th Century and an inbound Empire State trains to survey the latest technology in rail travel. What one gleans from reading this account is how much this mode of travel has declined (in the U.S.) over the past 90 years:

ROMANCE OF THE RAILS…Clockwise, from top left: Hudson locomotives served the Century and Empire State express trains; silent film star Gloria Swanson waves farewell from the observation platform as the Century pulls out of Grand Central during the 1920s; lounge car on the 20th Century Limited during the 1920s; the 20th Century ready to depart Grand Central, circa 1930. (steamlocomotive.com/newyorksocialdiary.com/cruiselinehistory.com)

In terms of speed and safety, it seems little has changed since 1929, and perhaps things have actually gotten worse…

CELEBRATED LINE…The 20th Century was widely celebrated in popular culture through the 1950s. Five years after Ingersoll’s article, Howard Hawks directed the screwball comedy, 20th Century. Clockwise, from top left, the film’s stars, Carole Lombard and John Barrymore in a scene from the film; the stars pose for a publicity shot; with director Hawks along with some of the cast and crew. (austinfilm.org/greenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com)

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From 1928 until his death in 1950, the journalist Alva Johnston (1888-1950) wrote on a diverse range of topics for the New Yorker, including this “Reporter at Large” piece on the proliferation of barrooms in private residences, hidden from the prying eyes of Prohibition agents and sometimes furnished with the bits and pieces that once graced some of New York’s finest watering holes, including the famed Hoffman House:

POPULAR WATERING HOLE…Clockwise, from top left: The Hoffman House Hotel at Madison Square in 1885; the Hoffman House bar, which prominently displayed William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s painting Nymphs and Satyr. According to Alva Johnston’s article, the painting was the second-most popular decorative motif in New York’s finer drinking establishments; artist’s rendering of the barroom; and Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr. (Museum of the City of New York/Wikipedia)

Johnston noted the clever tricks homeowners used to conceal their secret bars:

DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER…Alva Johnston described how one library’s walls “had literature on one side, gin and rye on the other.” (Huffington Post)

Johnston concluded his piece on an ironic note, pointing out that the finest cocktail sets could be obtained at Kresge department stores, which were owned by one of the biggest supporters of Prohibition, S.S. Kresge:

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The Sound of Peggy Wood

The Brooklyn-born Peggy Wood (1892-1978) made her stage debut in 1910 and was an established Broadway star before she made her first talking picture, Wonder of Women (a film believed to be lost). A member of the Algonquin Round Table, she was well acquainted with the New Yorker crowd. And the magazine in turn was very impressed with her acting talents, even if the picture she was in proved a bit of a downer:

RECOGNIZE HER NOW?…Clockwise, from top left: theatre card for the 1929 film, Wonder of Women; Leila Hyams and Lewis Stone in a tender moment from the film (for some reason Stone was romantically paired with much younger women in several films around that time); Peggy Wood in the 1920s; Wood as Mother Abbess in 1965’s The Sound of Music; Stone and Wood in a scene from Wonder of Women, with child actor Wally Albright, who was four years old at the time. With his waifish demeanor and curly hair, Albright was highly sought after in films needing a cute kid. He appeared in seven films in 1929 alone. In the 1930s he would appear in several Our Gang/Little Rascal shorts, and would pop up in bit roles through the 1940s and early 50s. Unlike so many other child stars, he seems to have led a normal adult life. He won the Men’s National Track and Ski Championship in 1957, and later started a successful trucking firm. (IMDB/Pinterest)

…the review continued, suggesting that Wood’s acting alone carried the picture…

…if you weren’t into weepers like Wonder of Women, you could have instead checked out The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu at the Rialto Theatre…

LIKE A SIDESHOW ACT…New York’s Rialto Theatre donned a masked front and door entry wrappers for the premiere of The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu; promotional poster; Jean Arthur and Warner Oland in the film. Oland was not the least bit Asian. A Swedish-American actor, his work in the hit film led to three more Fu Manchu movies. Oland would then go on to play another Asian character, Charlie Chan, in a string of popular movies in the 1930s until his death in 1938. (cinematreasures.org)

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Just Sad

Yet another note in “Talk of the Town” describing the plight of African Americans in segregated America, without a hint of empathy:

Potters Field on Hart Island, New York, circa 1890. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

Last week B. Altman offered rugged coats for those brave souls riding in rumble seats. This week Altman rolled out some stylish wear for the enterprising pilot of 1929…

…and while you were up there, you could calm those nerves with a Chesterfield (a two-page ad that appeared regularly in the New Yorker)…

,,,back on the ground, the makers of Most toothpaste reminded readers to brush those tobacco stains off their teeth, apparently even while they’re smoking…

…here is another sampling of drawings by Garrett Price, rendered after a recent trip to Paris…

…our cartoons come from Leonard Dove (note the backward signature)…

…here we have A. Edwin Macon’s take on modern furniture…

Helen Hokinson looked in on a visit to an eye doctor…

Perry Barlow’s take on the wonders of radio…

Rea Irvin depicted how timing is everything in an ice delivery…

…and Peter Arno peeked in on habits of the idle rich…

Next Time: The Art of Peace…

 

 

 

 

Not Your Grandpa’s Tammany Hall

For more than a century, a political organization known as the Tammany Society ruled New York City politics with an iron fist. Founded in 1786 (and named for Tamanend, a chief in the Lenni-Lenape nation), by the mid 19th century it rapidly expanded its political control by earning the loyalty of the city’s fast-growing immigrant population, particularly the Irish.

July 13, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

The Tammany Society proved an efficient machine for controlling state Democratic politics as well as New York City elections. Through its use of patronage to reward loyal precinct leaders, it also became a center for big-time graft. Most of us know a bit about Tammany thanks to school history books that focused on the deep corruption of William “Boss” Tweed, who was brought down by the press and by Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870s. Tammany Hall would survive the scandal, and in the 1920s would still pull the strings of politicians including Gov. Al Smith and New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker.

Tammany had several homes, but during its most notorious years it was located in a circa 1812 hall (then called a “wigwam”) and later in an 1868 building on 14th Street, between Third and Fourth avenues. The July 13, 1929 “Talk of the Town” noted the recent demolition of that old hall and the opening of a new headquarters on 17th Street:

POLITICAL BAGGAGE…Top, a stereoscope card featuring the 1868 Tammany Hall; below, Thomas Nast cartoons depicting the corruption of Tammany Hall and the downfall of Boss Tweed. (Wikimedia Commons/Smithsonian)

“Talk” found the new building unimpressive; it seemed to signal that the old political machine was losing some of its luster:

EVOLUTION OF THE WIGWAM, as depicted on a poster circa 1920. (nypdhistory.com)
Top left: The old Tammany Hall, decorated for the 1868 Democratic National Convention. Bottom left, the old hall was located at 141 E 14th Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenues. It was demolished in 1927 to make way for expansion of the Consolidated Edison building (right).  (NYPL Digital Gallery/mediahistoryny.files.wordpress.com/Wikipedia)

Indeed, “Talk” found the building to be a somewhat austere, hosed-down affair, far removed from its grander past:

I LIKE YOUR NEW HAT…The 1929 Tammany Hall (top left) is currently undergoing a major renovation. Although the interior is being dramatically altered, including the addition of a glass dome, the landmarked exterior will mostly be preserved. When completed, the building—a mix of office and retail—will be known as 44 Union Square. (bkskarch.com)

For further evidence that the more austere Tammany Hall was nevertheless alive and well in 1929, another “Talk” item noted the organization’s continued influence behind the scenes in local politics:

The 1930s marked the beginning of the end for Tammany Hall, when reform-minded Democrats such as President Franklin Roosevelt and New York’s Republican Mayor Fiorello La Guardia (supported by Roosevelt on a “Fusion” ticket) dismantled Tammany’s system of patronage. The Tammany Society abandoned its headquarters in 1943 when it found it no longer had the funds to maintain the hall. Bought by a local affiliate of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, it later housed the New York Film Academy and the Union Square Theatre until 2016, when it underwent extensive remodeling to make way for new office and retail space.

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Your Two Cents Worth

“Talk” also commented on the introduction of a new two-cent stamp that featured an image of Thomas Edison’s Mazda lamp, marking the celebration of 50 years of electric light. The magazine cheekily suggested that in the world of technological progress, there was nothing new under the sun:

(eBay)

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Americans in Paris

The New Yorker featured this humorous bit by a writer identified as “Guido” (I assume it is one of E.B. White’s many pseudonyms), who looked in on the chatter of various Parisian cafés and bars:

VOLSTEAD CAN’T GET US HERE…Enjoying the good life at a Parisian brasserie, circa 1920s. (National Geographic)

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Hit and Miss

The New Yorker generally reveled in the good times Florenz Ziegfeld brought to the stage, but his latest effort, Show Girl, proved a bit of a disappointment (more evidence, in my view, that folks were tiring of the decade-long party known as the Roaring Twenties):

TAP-DANCING ON THE GRAVE OF THE ROARING TWENTIES…Although the New Yorker seemed less than enthused by Flo Ziegfeld’s latest effort, Show Girl, Ruby Keeler (top left) brought her tap shoes and her ‘A’ game to the performance. Clockwise, from top right, Keeler has some fun with the comedy trio Clayton, Jackson and Durante; program cover for Show Girl; the popular Albertina Rasch Girls with Harriet Hoctor in the “An American in Paris” scene of Show Girl, 1929. (Pinterest/jacksonupperco.com/eBay/songbook1.wordpress.com)

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One of a Kind

New Yorker sportswriter Niven Busch, Jr. provided a nice write-up on golfer Bobby Jones, the most successful amateur ever to compete in the sport. An attorney by trade, the unassuming Jones had just won his third U.S. Open (he would win again in 1930). In all he would play in 31 majors, winning 13 of them and finishing in the top 10 an incredible 27 times. After retiring at age 28 in 1930 he helped design the Augusta National Golf Club and co-founded the Masters Tournament. An excerpt:

AND HE DID IT WEARING A NECKTIE…Although a lawyer by trade, the amateur golfer Bobby Jones was one of golf’s greatest champions. He pictured here after winning the 1929 U.S.Open in Mamaroneck, New York. (golf digest.com)

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An Odd Bit

Looking around the July 13 issue, let’s see what nighttime diversions were being touted by the New Yorker in their “Going on About Town” section (note the warning on the last item):

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Pond’s cold cream continued to roll out endorsements from high society with this testimonial from Jane Kendall Mason (1909-1980), the newlywed wife of George Grant Mason, an executive with Pan American Airways in Cuba.

In 1925, the 17-year-old Jane made her formal debut in Washington society. After a visit with Grace Goodhue Coolidge, the first lady famously declared that Jane was “the most beautiful girl ever to enter the White House.”

After their marriage, the Masons became friends with Ernest and Pauline Hemingway, and introduced the Hemingways into Cuban society. Jane could hunt, fish, and hold her liquor, and, according to Ernest Hemingway, she was the most uninhibited person he’d ever met. So naturally they had a torrid, tempestuous, two-month affair that ended with Jane’s attempted suicide (she leapt from a balcony that was not high enough to do the job).

Hemingway supposedly used Jane as a model for the cruel-hearted Margot Macomber in The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber, in which the title character—trapped in a sad marriage to a wealthy but spineless American (George?)—accidently shoots her husband in the head while on safari. She is also considered to be the model for the sex-obsessed Helene Bradley in Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not— a character also married to a rich but spineless husband.

Carlos Gutierrez (who served as a boat guide for Ernest Hemingway) and Jane Mason aboard “Sloppy” Joe Russell’s boat Anita in 1933. (Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, JFK Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

…and we segue into our cartoons, featuring a mother and child (drawn by Kindl) probably flying on one of those Sikorskys…

Rollin Kirby looked in on a tailor’s shop (this is one of only two drawings published by Kirby in the New Yorker)…

…a note on Kirby, a three-time Pulitzer winner: outraged by the passage of Prohibition laws, Kirby created one of his most famous characters, “Mr. Dry,” which he introduced to readers of the New York World in January 1920…

Rollin Kirby’s miserly, foreboding “Mr. Dry” made his first appearance in the pages of the New York World on Jan. 17, 1920, shortly after Prohibition laws went into effect in the United States. Mr. Dry also made an appearance at the end of 1920, to throw some water on America’s Christmas cheer. (bottlesboozeandbackstories.blogspot.com)

You can read more about Rollin Kirby and Mr. Dry here.

Roland Baum peeked in on a reluctant stargazer…

…and to close, this little filler drawing of a hot dog vendor by Constantin Alajalov…

Next Time: On the Flatfoot Beat…

Georgia on My Mind

Although artist Georgia O’Keeffe has long been celebrated for her desert imagery and interpretations of natural forms, during the 1920s her heart was very much in New York City.

July 6, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt.

And New York City was where it all began for O’Keeffe (1887-1986). In January 1916, the famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) was shown a portfolio of charcoal drawings by O’Keeffe’s friend, Anita Pollitzer. Stieglitz was so impressed that he immediately made plans to exhibit the drawings—without O’Keeffe’s permission. The longtime art critic for the New Yorker, Robert Coates, told the story in the opening lines of his July 6 profile piece on the artist:

O’Keeffe moved from Texas to New York in 1918, and she and Stieglitz would marry in 1924, a marriage that would last until his death in 1946 (despite the fact he took a longtime lover, 22-year-old Dorothy Norman, in 1927).

TWO OF A KIND…Alfred Stieglitz, left, photographed by Paul Strand at Lake George, New York, in 1929. Exhausted and depressed, Stieglitz had retreated to the lake for the summer after learning that his exhibition space in the Anderson Galleries, which he called “The Room,” would be demolished along with the gallery building.  ∞  Center, a photo Stieglitz had attached to a July 10, 1929 letter to O’Keeffe, who had begun spending summers painting in New Mexico. Below the photograph he wrote, “I have destroyed 300 prints to-day. And much more literature. I haven’t the heart to destroy this…”    O’Keeffe in a 1929 photograph by Stieglitz, after her return from New Mexico. (aperture.org/Yale Beinecke Library/flashbak.com) click to enlarge

Following O’Keeffe’s first exhibition at the 291 gallery, Stieglitz established a firm hold over the display and sale of her work:

During the 1920s O’Keeffe found much inspiration on the streets of Manhattan, and particularly in the proximity of the Shelton Hotel, where she lived from 1925 to 1936. The Shelton, which opened in Midtown in 1924 as the tallest hotel in the world, provided a perfect vantage point for O’Keeffe to observe city life:

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER…Georgia O’Keeffe was captivated by her adopted city, particularly views from and around New York’s Shelton Hotel, where she lived from 1925 to 1936. Top row, from left: New York Street with Moon (1925)  ∞  New York Street No. 1 (1926)  ∞  Shelton Hotel New York No. 1 (1926)    The Shelton with Sunspots (1926)    East River From the Shelton (1926)  ||  Bottom row, from left: New York Night (1929)    Radiator Building – Night, New York (1927)    East River From the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel (1928)  ∞  Ritz Tower, Night (1928). (museothyssen.org/okeeffemuseum.org/curiator.com/virginia.edu/isak.typepad.com/ theartstack.com (2)/ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/artnet.com) click to enlarge

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During the early decades of the 20th century Martin Couney (1870-1950) was renowned for his baby incubator exhibits at various world’s fairs and for his long-standing display of incubating babies at New York’s Coney Island, wedged between the usual sideshow attractions of freaks and burlesques. Couney charged visitors 25 cents to view the infants (in order that their parents would not have to pay for their medical care). “The Talk of the Town” looked in on Couney…

I’M NOT A DOCTOR. I JUST PLAY ONE IN REAL LIFE…Clockwise, from top left, Incubator display building on Coney Island circa 1920s; Martin Couney with babies in undated photo; Couney’s early infant incubators in operation at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, 1898; the infant Beth Allen in a Coney Island incubator, 1941. (NPR/New York Public Library Digital Collections/Beth Allen)

Although many physicians at the time reviled Couney as a showman and a quack (he was most likely not a trained medical doctor), he nevertheless saved the lives of thousands of infants who would have died if left to the care of hospitals that were slow to catch on to this lifesaving device (they weren’t widely adopted until after Couney’s death in 1950). The “Talk” article credited Couney for saving “about six thousand lives.” Many of those babies went on to live long and healthy lives:

SEEING IS BELIEVING…Beth Allen (pictured, at left, in 2016, and as an infant in the photo montage above) was born three months premature in Brooklyn in 1941. Her mother initially rejected putting Beth in one of Couney’s Coney Island incubators, but her father persuaded Martin Couney to talk to his wife, who acquiesced. At right, Lucille Horn (pictured with daughter Barbara in 2015) was given little hope by doctors when she was born premature in 1920. The hospital staff told her father that they didn’t have a place for her, and that she had no chance of survival. Nevertheless, her father grabbed a blanket to wrap her in, hailed a taxicab and took her to Couney’s infant exhibit at Coney Island. Barely 2 pounds in 1920, she lived to age 96. (AP/NPR StoryCorps)

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The Electric Company

The 1920’s saw an explosion of labor-saving electric appliances, ranging from electric fans and irons to vacuum cleaners and refrigerators. The decade also saw a massive proliferation of electric lights, and the huge power plants that would be needed to keep everything running. “Talk” looked in on the Edison Company’s East River power plant to see how it all worked:

STILL HUMMING…Edison’s East River power plant (now ConEd), entered service in 1926 and is still in operation today (with a number of updates and additions over the years). At right, a 1920s view of the Broadway lights (newtownpentacle.com/Museum of the City of New York)

The opening of the Edison plant on the East River was a big deal in 1926. According to the ConEd website, “the six-story boilers installed at Fourteenth Street and East River were so large that a luncheon for nearly 100 people was served inside one of them before the renovated station went into operation… during the opening day ceremony in 1926, Queen Marie of Rumania flipped the switch to start the 100,000 horsepower turbine generator.”

“Talk” also offered some interesting insights into the plant’s complex operations, including an unusual storm warning system:

YOU GET THE IDEA…A Philadelphia Electric Company control room in the 1920s. New York’s was undoubtedly much larger. (IEEE Computer Society)

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From Our Advertisers

Fleischmann Yeast was a regular advertiser in the New Yorker for a good reason: Raoul Fleischmann (of the New York yeast and baking giant) hated the baking business but loved hanging out with the Algonquin Round Table crowd, which included New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross. When the fledging magazine nearly went belly up in 1925, Fleischmann kicked in the money (and on a number of occasions thereafter) to keep it going. Hence the “free” advertising he received for his product, touted not as a baking aid, but rather as a cure for constipation and other intestinal turmoils. In this ad, a physician who “treated German Royalty” endorsed the generous consumption of yeast cakes…

…a  footnote on the Fleischmann ad: Dr. Kurt Henius (1882-1947) was a doctor of medicine and a professor on the Friedrich-Wilhelms (now Humboldt) University medicine faculty at the Charité hospital in Berlin, Germany. Because he was Jewish, he was dismissed from the university in 1935, and in 1939 he fled from the Nazis to safety in Luxembourg, where he died in 1947.

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During prohibition we see plenty of ads in the New Yorker for ginger ale and sparkling water, but this one for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer caught my eye. This is, of course, “near-beer,” with an alcohol content of 0.5%…

According to Forbes magazine, the few breweries that managed to survive during Prohibition made everything from ceramics and ice cream to the barely alcoholic near beer. Pabst also turned to making cheese, which was aged in the brewery’s ice cellars. The brand, “Pabst-ett,” was sold to Kraft in 1933 at the end of Prohibition…

(Courtesy Pabst Blue Ribbon)

…and this colorful ad comes courtesy of Texaco. Did you ever see two young people more enamored with petroleum products?…

…before we get to the comics, here is a two-page illustration in the July 6 issue by Constantin Alajalov (click to enlarge)…

…this peek into the world of trolley car conductors appears to be by Reginald Marsh

…and finally, Peter Arno revealed the thankless work of one stuntman…

Next Time: Not Your Grandpa’s Tammany…

 

Something Old, Something New

While the Empire State Building developers were preparing to reduce the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to rubble, another venerable relic of the Victorian age, the Murray Hill Hotel, was still clinging to the earth at its prime location next to the Grand Central Depot.

June 15, 1929 cover by Sue Williams.

The hotel’s survival was due in part to its owner, Benjamin L. M. Bates (1864-1935), who seemed as much a part of the hotel as its heavy drapes and overstuffed chairs. Bates, who started out at the hotel as assistant night clerk, was profiled in the June 15, 1929 issue by Joseph Gollomb (with portrait by Reginald Marsh) Some excerpts:

The hotel was just 26 years old when Bates bought it in 1910. But by the Roaring Twenties Murray Hill Hotel seemed as ancient as grandmother’s Hepplewhite…

Clockwise, from top, left, The Murray Hill Hotel in September 1946, just months before it was demolished; the hotel’s ornate spiral fire escape, seen at the right in a 1935 photograph of 22 East 40th Street by Berenice Abbott; the hotel’s office and foyer. The hotel featured 600 rooms and two courtyards. (Museum of the City of New York (1 & 2)/Wikipedia)

…but to the very end it continued to be a popular gathering spot for New York notables, including Christopher Morley’s prestigious literary society, the Baker Street Irregulars…

FAMILIAR HAUNT…Three members of the exclusive literary group, the Baker Street Irregulars — Fletcher Pratt, Christopher Morley and Rex Stout —swap stories at the Murray Hill Hotel in 1944. (Wikipedia)

…with the hotel’s prime location near Grand Central Depot (and its replacement, Grand Central Station), the party couldn’t last forever, and the Murray Hill Hotel yielded to the wrecking ball in 1947…

THEN AND NOW, the Murray Hill Hotel, circa 1905. The adjacent 25-story Belmont Hotel, erected in 1904-06 and a skyscraper for its time, would be razed in 1931. Note the old Grand Central Depot in the background, which would be replaced in 1913 by Grand Central Station. At right, a Google Maps view of the same location today.

Some parting notes about the Murray Hill Hotel: In 1905, delegates from 58 colleges and universities gathered at the hotel to address brutality in college football and reform the sport. They formed the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, which would later become the NCAA.

The hotel was also the site of a massive explosion in 1902, when workers constructing a subway tunnel under Park Avenue accidentally set a dynamite shed ablaze. Every window along Park Avenue and 40th Street was blown out, and the blast opened a pit, 10 feet deep and 30 feet wide, in front of the building. Five people were killed by the blast—three of them at the Murray Hill Hotel.

AFTERMATH…The Murray Hill Hotel’s cafe following the 1902 explosion. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Irwin S. Chanin, fresh from erecting his Art Deco masterpiece, the Chanin Building, was now setting his sights on the Century Theatre, barely 20 years old but already obsolete due to its poor acoustics and inconvenient location. The “Talk of the Town” takes it from there…

BIGGER PLANS…The Century Theatre, located at 62nd Street and Central Park West, opened on November 6, 1909. Plagued by poor acoustics and an inconvenient location, it was demolished in 1931 and replaced by the Irwin S. Chanin’s Century Apartments building. (The New-York-Architect, November 1909/David Shankbone via Wikipedia)

As the Century Theatre marked its last days, an older and more successful theater in the Bowery went up in flames. The Thalia Theatre (also known as “Bowery Theatre” and other names) was a popular entertainment venue for 19th century New Yorkers and for the Bowery’s succession of immigrant groups. A series of buildings (it burned four times in 17 years) housed Irish, German and Yiddish theater and later Italian and Chinese vaudeville. The 1929 fire marked the end of the line. “Talk” noted its passing…

UP IN SMOKE…The Bowery’s Thalia Theatre (building with columns) went up in flames on June 5, 1929. The photo was taken in 1928, one year before the final fire. Note the elevated train tracks in front of the building. (Manhattan Unlocked)

While we are on the subject of the changing skyline, I will toss in this cartoon from the issue by Reginald Marsh…the caption read: “I tell you, Gus, this town ain’t what it used to be.”

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Down for the Count

There was a bit of a sensation in the June newspapers when a European count was arrested for running a bootlegging ring among socially prominent circles. A headline in a June 8, 1929 edition of the New York Times shouted: LIQUOR RING PATRONS FACING SUBPOENAS; Socially Prominent Customers Are Listed in Papers Found in de Polignac Raids. COUNT SAILS FOR PARIS. Goes, After Nearly Losing Bail Bond, Smilingly Calling the Affair ‘Misapprehension.’

What the Times so breathlessly recounted were the activities of Count Maxence de Polignac (1857–1936), who owned one of France’s most prominent Champagne houses, Pommery & Greno.

The Times reported that an undercover federal agent, William J. Calhoun, led a raid that netted the Count and 34 others in a liquor ring connected to many Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue residents. Calhoun’s agents interrupted the Count’s morning bath (at his suite in the Savoy-Plaza Hotal) to make the arrest. They seized more than “seven cases of champage and liquors” in the suite, which the count said were for his personal use. Denying all charges, de Polignac was nevertheless arrested. Thanks to a guarantee provided by his friends at the Equitable Surety Company, he made the $25,000 bail and quickly set sail for Paris. “Talk” reported…

IT WAS JUST A LITTLE SIDE BUSINESS…Count Maxence de Polignac owned the house of Pommery & Greno, one of the largest Champagnes firms in France. (Wikipedia/tcreims.com)

“Talk” concluded the dispatch with some notes on Calhoun’s character as a federal agent…

…and a final bit of trivia, Count Maxence de Polignac was the father of Prince Pierre of Monaco, Duke of Valentinois, who in turn was the father of Rainier III of Monaco, who famously married the actress Grace Kelly. Grace Kelly, by the way, was born in November 1929, just months after her grandfather-in-law’s run in with Prohibition authorities.

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Underwhelmed

Once again “Talk” looked in on aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, and his dispassionate approach to matters of fame…

GOODWILL, OR WHATEVER…Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church in Springfield, Mass., features a series of 24 stained-glass windows representing historic personages with the theme, “The Light of Christ in the Life of Civilization.” Charles Lindbergh’s pane represents “Goodwill.” (tm01001.blogspot.com)

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Mr. Monroe Outwits a Bat

James Thurber submitted a humorous piece on a husband and wife at a weekend cabin retreat. The husband encounters a bat, and feigns to dispatch it while his wife remains behind closed doors. A brief clip:

E.B. White and James Thurber, circa late 1920s.

Thurber’s office mate and friend, E.B. White, penned a piece on the opening of the Central Park Casino (“Casino, I Love You”) in which he pretended to be a hobo loitering outside the Casino’s recent grand re-opening. Some excerpts…

White’s character confuses Urbain Ledoux with Casino designer Joseph Urban. Ledoux was known to New Yorkers as “Mr. Zero,” a local humanitarian who managed breadlines for the poor. White’s character continues to name off the notables present at the event…

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with a Pond’s cold cream ad featuring Janet Newbold (1908-1982), who was known in some circles as “the most beautiful woman in New York”…

MIRROR, MIRROR…Left, an iconic photo of Janet Newbold by Erwin Blumenfeld, “Woman and Mirror,” was published in Harper’s Bazaar in November 1941. “Janet Newbold Wearing A Sari,” photo by John Rawlings, was published in Vogue in 1947. Thrice married, her last marriage (in 1948) was to James S. Bush, uncle of U.S. President George H.W. Bush. (Harper’s Bazaar/Vogue)

…some of the more colorful ads in the June 15 issue included this entry by Jantzen…

…and this ad for the REO Flying Cloud, a name that suggested speed and lightness, and changed the way cars would be named in the future (e.g. “Mustang” rather than “Model A”)…

…and if you think gimmicky razors are something new, think again…

…this ad announcing Walter Winchell’s employment with the New York Daily Mirror is significant in that in marks the beginning of the first syndicated gossip column. Winchell’s column, On-Broadway, was syndicated nationwide by King Features. A year later he would make his radio debut over New York’s WABC…

…for our June 15 cartoons, Isadore Klein confirms that stereotypes regarding American tourists haven’t changed much in 90 years…

…a quick footnote on Klein. In his long and colorful career, he would contribute cartoons to the New Yorker and many other publications. He also drew cartoons for silent movies, including Mutt and Jeff and Krazy Kat, and later worked for major animation studios including Screen Gems, Hal Seeger Productions, and Walt Disney. He was a writer and animator for such popular cartoons as Mighty MouseCasper, Little Lulu and Popeye.

I. Klein (1897–1986) holding the National Cartoonists Society “Silver T-Square.” He received the honor from his fellow members on April 22, 1974. (michaelspornanimation.com)

…Belgium-born artist Victor De Pauw depicted President Herbert Hoover picnicking, as viewed through his security detail…

…and a quick note on De Pauw…well known during his lifetime, he illustrated seven covers for the New Yorker and drew many social and political cartoons for magazines such as Vanity Fair, Fortune and Life. He also had a career as a serious painter, and some of his work can be found at the Museum of Modern Art…

Victor de Pauw (1902-1971) and one of his New Yorker covers from Nov. 20, 1943. (Smithsonian/Conde Nast)

Helen Hokinson looked in on two of her society women in need of some uplift…

…and Leonard Dove looked in on another enjoying a soak…

Moving along to the June 22, 1929 issue, “The Talk of the Town” offered more news on the city’s changing skyline…

June 22, 1929 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

…and noted that the slender 1906 “Chimney Corner” building at Wall and Broadway had a date with the wrecking ball…

FAILED THE TEST OF TIME…At left, 18-story “Chimney Building” was demolished in 1929 along neighboring properties to make way for the Irving Trust Building (now 1 Wall Street), an Art Deco masterpiece by architect Ralph Walker. Note the scale of the two buildings relative to the church spire. (skyscraper.org/architectsandartisans.com)

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Apartheid on the Seas

“Talk” also featured this sad account of a theatrical company setting sale for England and discovering that racial discrimination did not end at the docks of New York Harbor. It is also sad that the New Yorker didn’t seem to have any problem with this injustice, and rather saw it as nothing more than fodder for an amusing anecdote…

THESE AREN’T THE GOOD OLD DAYS…Percy Verwayne, Frank H. Wilson and Evelyn Ellis were part of the cast in the original Broadway production of Porgy in 1927. The play, by Dorothy and DuBose Heyward, was the basis for the libretto in the George Gershwin’s 1935 Porgy and Bess.

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The profile for June 22 featured 100-year-old John R. Voorhis (1829-1932), Chairman of New York City’s Board of Elections. A fixture of the Tammany Hall Democratic political machine, in 1931 Tammany members created a special title for the old man—Great Grand Sachem. He died the next year at age 102.

John Voorhies in 1900, when he was a bouncy youth of 71.

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From Our Advertisers

Another colorful entry from the makers of Jantzen swimwear to celebrate the summer season…

…famed composer George Gershwin urged his fans to light up a Lucky Strike…

…and with help from the New Yorker’s Rea Irwin, Knox Hatters offered yet another example of the faux pas one might suffer without the proper headgear…

…for our June 22 cartoons, Helen Hokinson caught up with some American tourists…

John Reynolds found a bit of irony in one carnival barker’s claim…

…and Peter Arno revealed a less than glamorous face behind a radio broadcast…

A final note: The split image that heads this blog post is from a terrific New Yorker video: Eighty Years of New York City, Then and Now.

Next Time: New York, 1965…