Through the Looking Glass

The next time you complain about a boring Zoom meeting, think about Morris Markey’s visit to New York’s Bell Laboratories in the spring of 1931, when he marveled at what was, perhaps, the “apotheosis” of American industry: a two-way video telephone.

May 9, 1931 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Mass-market television in the U.S. was still two decades away, but what Markey saw demonstrated in 1931 was a glimpse of the future, seeing and conversing with another man three miles away via a long wire that transmitted images from a fantastic array of spinning discs and neon tubes:

TECHNOLOGY’S MATERNITY WARD…The original Bell Labs building at 463 West Street in New York. It was the birthplace of talking movies, television, radar and the vacuum tube. (att.com)
DEFINITELY NOT HI-DEF…At left, this is most likely where Morris Markey sat for the demonstration of early video phone technology. At right (click image to enlarge), a July 1930 article in Popular Science Monthly described how the transmitting apparatus worked. (earlytelevision.org/books.google.com)
BUT WILL IT SELL?…Herbert Hoover, then secretary of commerce, became the world’s first television personality in 1927 when his voice and face (inset) were transmitted to an audience at Bell Laboratories in New York City. At the time, AT&T, Bell’s parent company, was doubtful about television’s moneymaking potential. (edn.com)
SPINNING WHEELS…Whirling metal discs, pictured at left, perforated with tiny holes, cast a series of horizontal beams of light across a viewer’s face (right), which were then transmitted to a receiver. (earlytelevision.org)

Despite its gee-whiz factor, many, including the folks at Bell Labs, seemed doubtful that the technology would come into wider use or be profitable any time soon, if ever. Markey noted that his little demonstration required many millions of dollars in research and development, but he was prophetic in suggesting that such technology might come to be dreaded if it ever came into common use.

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Uplifting Sight

That a bra and girdle maker should become the topmost tenant at the new Empire State Building was not lost on E.B. White, who commented thusly…

…and while viewers wouldn’t actually see a giant bra atop the skyscraper, many were nevertheless interested in getting a closer look at some of the building’s details, as reported in “The Talk of the Town”…

OVER THE MOON?…The moon gained some keen competition from telescope viewers when the Empire State Building climbed its way into the sky. (Pinterest/tech-notes.tv)

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Channelling Marlene

Film critic John Mosher wasn’t over the moon when it came to the acting of Tallulah Bankhead in Tarnished Lady, however he surmised it was likely the director’s fault for trying to exploit Bankhead’s passing resemblance to Marlene Dietrich. Mosher noted that lighting and staging flattering to the German actress just didn’t work with the belle from Alabama.

MIRROR, MIRROR…Tallulah Bankhead (left) might have pondered who was the fairest in the land, but the New Yorker’s John Mosher found her to be no match for German actress Marlene Dietrich (right, in 1931’s Dishonored) when it came to screen presence. (IMDB)

Despite Mosher’s blah review, Paramount touted Bankhead’s successful portrayal of a “tarnished lady” in this ad from the same issue:

Mosher, however, found redemption in another film making the rounds, Warner Brothers’ Svengali starring John Barrymore:

YOU ARE GETTING VERRRY SLEEPY…in 1931’s Svengali, 17-year-old Marian Marsh played the artist’s model Trilby, who is transformed into a great opera star by the sinister hypnotist, Svengali, played by John Barrymore. Also pictured is Bramwell Fletcher, who portrayed Trilby’s love interest, Billee. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

After a long absence Peter Arno’s Whoops Sisters returned to the pages of the New Yorker, not as a cartoon panel but as shills for the Cunard Line…

…whether traveling by boat or train, you might have considered bringing along “Salvo,” an early version of a popular game that today we call “Battleship”…

…Salvo and other Battleship-type games were originally played on pieces of paper like this…

…and here’s an ad for ice cube trays that exploited the popularity of the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” syndicated newspaper feature…

…on to our cartoonists, Ralph Barton rendered Albert Einstein as his latest “Hero”…

…and interpreted the latest headlines in his “Graphic Section”…

…among the delicate set, we got a bit risqué with Gardner Rea

…and nearly apoplectic with Gluyas Williams

Otto Soglow’s Little King, on the other hand, reigned with a steady hand…

…and we end with I. Klein, and a little bauble for the Missus…

Next Time: The Short Life of Two-Gun Crowley…

 

And the Winner Is…

We lead off with a couple of winners from the Feb. 7, 1931 issue, beginning with a cover by Rea Irvin that takes measure of a lighter moment at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Feb. 7, 1931 cover by Rea Irvin.

The 1930 Best of Show winner Pendley Calling of Blarney also took the top honor in 1931, giving the wire fox terrier back-to-back Westminster wins. Overall, terriers have dominated Westminster — wire fox terriers have won Best of Show 15 times, with Scottish terriers a distant second, with eight wins.

TOP DOG…Pendley Calling of Blarney won back-to-back crowns in 1930-31 at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden. The dog’s owner, John Grenville Bates, mercifully retired the pooch after the ’31 win. (Westminster Kennel Club)
STANDARD? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?…Standard poodle Siba won Best in Show at the 144th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Feb. 11, 2020, at Madison Square Garden. (Reuters)

The other winner was Cimarron, the first film to receive more than six Academy Award nominations, winning three including Best Picture (then called Best Production). It was the first Western to win Best Picture, and it would be nearly 60 years until another Western, Dances with Wolves, would take the top honor.

HE LOST HIS SHIRT, TOO…

Despite some “sagging moments,” John Mosher mostly lavished praise on the film, which was showing at the Globe Theatre:

THAT’S NO WELCOME WAGON…Clockwise, from top left, Yancey and Sabra Cravat (Richard Dix and Irene Dunn) join the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush with their son, Cim (Junior Johnston); a less-than-friendly greeting at a boomer town; wagons line up for the big land grab; a young prostitute, Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor), outwits Yancey for a piece of prime property. (IMDB)
OH DEAR, THERE’S THAT LOOK AGAIN…Yancey (Richard Dix) takes it upon himself to establish order in the boomer town of Osage. On the bed are Yancey’s son, Cim (Junior Johnston) and wife Sabra (Irene Dunn). (IMDB)

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Handy Painter

It is hard to imagine the struggles of one-handed painter José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), who despite his handicap was able to complete huge murals in true fresco style (paint applied quickly on fresh, wet plaster), including five socially-themed frescoes at the Joseph Urban-designed New School. The murals included controversial depictions of Lenin and Stalin, but it wasn’t until the 1950s — during the McCarthy era — that school officials felt compelled to cover the images with a curtain. More protests followed, this time from faculty and students, and the curtains fell along with Joe McCarthy. “The Talk of the Town” looked in on the artist at work:

HE LOOKS FAMILIAR…José Clemente Orozco’s “The Struggle in The Occident”, 1930-1931, one of five frescoes at the New School. (Pinterest)

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Prescience of Mind

News reporter and author Elmer Davis submitted this humorous piece to the New Yorker doubtless thinking how preposterous, and therefore humorous, the following notion would be (a brief excerpt):

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Funny Cigarettes

In the early years of broadcast radio (and later TV) tobacco companies rightly saw a huge gold mine in radio show sponsorships. So when CBS radio executives accepted a sponsorship from Lorillard (the makers of Old Gold), they realized they had a challenge on their hands. “Talk” explained:

COUGH ME A MELODY…The makers of Old Gold cigarettes had CBS in their clutches in this September 1933 ad featuring bandleader Fred Waring and singer Babsie. (period paper.com)

…The above “Talk of the Town” item referred to the famous Murad ads illustrated by the New Yorker’s own Rea Irvin

…while other advertisers were scaling back a bit due to the Depression, lovely full-color ads continued to flow from tobacco companies (and oil companies)…

…Pierce-Arrow was also known for its sumptuous ads, but they wouldn’t save the luxury car maker from going under by the mid-1930s…

…Some less expensive black and white ads, such as this hand-lettered ad from Stein & Blaine, could be quite charming…

…speaking of charm, this ad from Arthur Murray could have used a little of it…note the stern visage of the woman, described as “typical of Arthur Murray’s staff of expert teachers”…

…on to our Feb. 7 cartoons, we have one of Peter Arno’s stock characters, the Sugar Daddy, in an awkward moment at a costume party…

…Arno’s party looked a lot more lively than this affair, illustrated by William Crawford Galbraith...

…and Carl Rose gave us this pair, who seem to having the best time of all…

Mary Petty eavesdropped on a guileless young woman…

…and Gardner Rea paid a visit to the Met…

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On to our Feb. 14 issue, and Gardner Rea once more…

Feb. 14, 1931 cover by Gardner Rea.

The Feb. 14 issue featured a profile of actress Katharine Cornell (1893-1974), written by cultural critic Gilbert Seldes. The caricature of Cornell is by Al Frueh. Excerpts:

Promotional photograph of Katharine Cornell as Elizabeth Barrett in the original 1931 Broadway production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. It was her most famous role(Theatre Magazine, March 1931)

Cornell is considered one of the greatest actors of American theater, known for her eloquence and romantic stage presence. Seldes concluded:

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Strange Bedfellows

In his column “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker referred to an exchange between American capitalists and Soviet Russians that resulted in the rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union. That actual story behind this effort is pretty amazing.

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Sneak Peek

Film critic John Mosher was so excited about Charlie Chaplin’s latest film that he offered this teaser to readers…

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From Our Advertisers

We have this ad from the developers of the Empire State Building, which was being readied for a May 1931 opening…

…the Empire State Building was erected on the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The new Waldorf-Astoria, also completed in 1931, was located more than 15 blocks away from its original site. Both the Empire State Building and the Waldorf Astoria would become Art Deco landmarks, and both shared the distinction of holding world records: the Empire State was the world’s tallest building (a record it would keep until 1970), and the Waldorf would claim the title of the world’s tallest hotel (until 1963)…

…on to our cartoonists, we have Ralph Barton contributing one of his last illustrations to the theater review section…

Richard Decker references a recent change in New York telephone numbers with this prison scene…

…Decker was referring to this bit of news, here interpreted by E.B. White in his Feb. 14 “Notes and Comment.”

James Thurber returned with his second-ever stand-alone cartoon for the New Yorker

Garrett Price mined a theme that would become common in New Yorker cartoons: the tycoon vs. meek employee…

Nancy Fay gave us a glimpse of the seamier side of family life…

R. Van Buren goes even darker with this entry…

…and we end on a high note, with Alan Dunn

Next Time: Super Tramp…

Ghosts of Gotham

Since I am posting this on the night before All Hallow’s Eve, let’s take a quick look back 89 years at Halloween 1930 through the pages of the Oct. 25, 1930 issue of the New Yorker

…which featured a short story (excerpted below) by Sally Benson, who would write a series of shorts for the New Yorker in 1941-42 that were later published in her book, Meet Me in St. Louis. Note how Prohibition laws seemed to pose no obstacle to the Bixbys’ party plans:

Benson’s Meet Me in St. Louis would be adapted into a popular 1944 film starring Judy Garland. One of the film’s highlights featured the Halloween hijinks of Tootie and Agnes Smith (Margaret O’Brien and Joan Carroll).

Margaret O’Brien and Joan Carroll go trick-or-treating in 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis.

As for the Bixbys in Benson’s short story, their party probably looked something like this…

(Pinterest)

…among the college crowd, Halloween revels were a bit less formal…

(Pinterest)

…Hollywood also got in on the act, each studio issuing pinup-style images of major female stars to newspapers and magazines …

Clockwise, from top left, Bessie Love (ca. 1920s), a still from a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon, Anita Page, Joan Crawford, Clara Bow, and Myrna Loy.

…the pages of the Oct. 25 issue contained other references to the holiday, including these spot drawings…

…and there were also ads offering both parties and party treats to those seeking some Halloween fun…

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Not Exactly Whale Watching

On to our issues, the Oct. 15, 1930 edition featured a strange account (in “The Talk of the Town”) of a man who travelled the country with an embalmed whale carcass, which apparently drew large crowds wherever it was displayed.

Oct. 15, 1930 cover by Peter Arno. As I noted in my previous post, it seemed everyone was lighting up in the 1930s.

The account is disgusting on a number of levels (the last line: “People simply love whales”). During my research I learned that these “whale tours” continued into the 1970s.

SAVE THE WHALES…in this case, by pumping the animal with gallons of formaldehyde.

For further reading, author Lydia Pyne offers some history on this strange phenomenon at Not Even Past.

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From Our Advertisers

The owners of the new Barbizon-Plaza Hotel at 106 Central Park South tried their best to lure the smart set (especially artists and musicians) to this “habitat” designed especially for them. Unfortunately, artists and musicians were as broke as everyone else, and the property was foreclosed on in 1933…

…and we have another appeal to the smart set, this one from the publishers of Vogue magazine (now a sister publication to the New Yorker, as both are now owned by Condé Nast)…

…and one more appeal to fashionable sorts, this time perfume in a bottle shaped like an art deco skyscraper…

…here is what one version of the bottle looked like in 1928, similar to ad above. According to the blog Cleopatra’s Boudoir, the We Moderns perfume was sold from 1928 to 1936 in bottles made in Czechoslovakia. The bottle below was made from glass, enamel (label), and the early plastic Bakelite (cover and base)…

(Perfume Bottles Auction)

…on to our color ads, I like this one because RCA induced the inventor of wireless radio, Guglielmo Marconi, to endorse their “Radiola”…

…and we have a beautiful illustration by Ellis Wilson for Dodge Boats…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Denys Wortman

…here’s the art of Rea Irvin in a full pager…

Helen Hokinson kept up the tradition of New Yorkers looking down on those backward Bostonians…

Alan Dunn, illustrating the sunlamp fad of the 20s and 30s…

…and Jack Markow, checking on the progress of the Empire State Building…

On to the Oct. 25 issue, and the Broadway opening of the comedy Girl Crazy…

Oct. 25, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

…which featured Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman introducing the many hits from George Gershwin’s score including “I Got Rhythm” and ‘Embraceable You.” The plot was simple: a young New York playboy is banished by his family to a dude ranch in Arizona to keep him out of trouble…where of course he finds trouble. The orchestra for the Broadway performance included such talents as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, and Gene Krupa.

THEY SEEM SANE ENOUGH…Above, poster for the Broadway musical Girl Crazy. Below, Ginger Rogers poses with fellow stage actors. (gershwin.com)

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More from Our Advertisers

Ads from the Oct. 25 issue included this recurring one from the promoters of the Empire State Building, marking progress through various historical vignettes…

…the ad accurately depicted the building’s progress, measured against these images below…

…and we have more radio ads…no endorsement from Marconi here, but the makers of Fada claimed their receiver was far less annoying than their rivals…

…while Atwater Kent touted the convenience of its new “Quick-Vision Dial”…

…as I’ve previously noted, backgammon was all the rage in 1930, so much so that this clothier even advertised a special frock for the game…

…and what would the 1930s be without smoking tied to athletic prowess…

…and remembering friends and family in California in 2019 as they battle wildfires across that great state…

…on to our cartoons, Garrett Price introduced us to a man with a peculiar taste in pet canaries…

Barbara Shermund illustrated the startling views afforded by rail travel…

…and Peter Arno leaves us in a moment of religious ecstasy…

Next Time: Risky Business…

Red Alert

The New Yorker had a number of favorite punching bags, among them one Grover Whalen (1886–1962), a product of Tammany Hall politics who in 1928 was appointed New York City Police Commissioner by another Tammany alumnus, Mayor Jimmy Walker.

May 17, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

Ironically, a mayor known for openly flouting prohibition laws had placed into office a man who would become known as a ruthless enforcer of those laws (excepting Mayor Walker, of course). Whalen was also known for fighting crimes that didn’t necessarily exist, including those committed by “Reds” organizing protests by the city’s growing numbers of unemployed.

In the May 10, 1930 issue, New Yorker writer Alva Johnston penned a tongue-in-cheek assessment of America’s “Red Revolution” (see previous post). In the following issue (May 17), Morris Markey took a few swipes at Whalen’s “Crimson Menace” in his “A Reporter At Large” column:

FLYING HIGH…Mayor Jimmy Walker (second from left) and his new Police Commissioner Grover Whalen (far right) visit Mitchell Field on Long Island in 1928; portrait of Whalen circa 1930. (Amazon/WNYC)

Whalen’s career as police commissioner came to an end around the time Markey’s column appeared. Whalen was under fire for how his police responded to an International Unemployment Day demonstration, where 1,000 baton-wielding police went to work on a crowd of more than 35,000 demonstrators. The New York Times reported: “From all parts of the scene of battle came the screams of women and cries of men with bloody heads and faces.”

IDLE HANDS…The International Unemployment Day demonstration in Union Square on March 6, 1930, turned ugly  when 1,000 baton-wielding police went to work on the protestors, identified by the then-staid New York Times as “Reds.” (Pinterest)

And in the May 24 issue, E.B. White took his own swipe at Whalen in his “Notes and Comment”…

In ensuing years Whalen found more peaceful pursuits, serving as New York City’s official greeter of dignitaries and organizer of ticker tape parades. In 1935 he was named president of the New York World Fair Corporation and became the face of the forward-looking 1939 New York World’s Fair.

DAWN OF A NEW DAY was the opening slogan for the 1939 World’s Fair. At left, preparing to lower the fair’s time capsule into it’s 5,000-year resting place are A.W. Robertson, Westinghouse Electric Company’s chairman of the board (left) and Grover Whalen, president of the New York World’s Fair; at right, the fair’s iconic symbols, the Trylon and Perisphere. (heinzhistorycenter.org/Flickr-Ricksoloway)

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It’s In The Stars

E.B. White led off his “Notes and Comment” with thoughts on the latest trends in product endorsement, including the use of astrology to boost the sales of toothpaste and perfume:

A FORTUNE IN TOOTHPASTE…The makers of Forhan’s Toothpaste promote their Astrology Hour radio show in the Akron Beacon Journal, May 1931. At right, 1931 ad for Perfum Astrologique. (newspapers.com)
THAT WAS THEN…White actors Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll portrayed Amos ’n’ Andy on the radio from 1928 to 1960. Here they shill for Pepsodent toothpaste on circa 1930 stand-up cards. (thetimes.co.uk)

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More Advice on Troublesome Pets

The May 17 issue featured James Thurber’s latest advice on pet care in the “Talk of the Town” section…

…and this two-page illustration by Reginald Marsh ran along the bottom of “Talk.”

click image to enlarge

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A Fighter for Rights

The May 17 issue featured the first installment of a two-part profile on social reformer Samuel Untermyer (1858-1940) titled “Little Giant.” The profile’s author, Alva Johnston, praised Untermyer’s legacy, and chided New Yorkers for not giving him his proper due. Known for defending the public trust against powerful corporations, he laid the groundwork in the U.S. for the Federal Reserve Law, the Clayton Anti-Trust Law, the Federal Trade Commission Bill and the Securities and Exchange Act. A fierce defender of Jewish rights, Untermyer served as attorney for Herman Bernstein, who filed suit against automaker Henry Ford for anti-semitic articles published in Ford’s Dearborn Independent. 

Johnston concluded his two-part profile with these words:

BRING IT ON…Samuel Untermyer was known as a fierce defender of the public trust. At right, illustration that accompanied the New Yorker profile. (findagrave.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Julian De Miskey picked up some extra work with this illustration for Macy’s…

…while in cartoons, Barbara Shermund discovered the challenges of exercise by radio…

Helen Hokinson looked at the challenges of city driving…

Gardner Rea explored the mysteries of street food…

…and Peter Arno greeted one Manhattan couple at sunrise…

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On to the May 24, 1930 issue, with a lovely cover by Madeline Pereny…

May 24, 1930 cover by Madeline Pereny.

As construction continued on the Museum of the City of New York, the New Yorker’s architecture critic George Chappell liked what was taking shape:

THE STORY OF A CITY…The Museum of the City of New York opened its doors at 104th Street and Fifth Avenue in early 1932. (nyctourist.com/www.ennead.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Travel by train in the States wasn’t always miserable as this ad attested…

…a bit of color courtesy the Lenthéric salon…

Fontaine Fox, best known for his long-running Toonerville Folks comics, contributed this cartoon on behalf of Talon Slide Fasteners, or “zippers” as they came to be known in the late 1920s and early 30s, when they were still something of a novelty…

…I believe this is the first-ever image of the Empire State Building in the New Yorker, an artist’s rendering since the building wouldn’t be completed until the spring of 1931…note how this ad links the building’s site location to New York history and specifically the Astor family…

…here is how the Empire State Building looked in June 1930…

(New York Public Library)

…the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was torn down to make way for the Empire State Building, and that provides a nice segue to our cartoons…this one by Garrett Price featured a modest work crew contemplating the razing of a building that recalled the old hotel…

…across the pond, one of Helen Hokinson’s ladies was busy trying to procure a banned book…

…while William Crawford Galbraith gave us a young woman in search of a love song (with the help of a seriously timid man)…

Barbara Shermund found some bedside humor…

…and Peter Arno took us back to the nightlife, with our familiar gold-digger and sugar daddy…

…and finally, over the course of 12 issues (Feb. 8 to May 10, 1930) Abe Birnbaum provided illustrations of New York’s “Restaurant Royalty.” These usually ran in or near “The Talk of the Town” section. Please click to enlarge.

Next Time: The Little King…

 

 

 

 

Paramount on Parade

Before we launch into the latest offering from Tinseltown, a note about the cover artist for the April 26, 1930 issue.

April 26, 1930 cover by Barney Tobey.

Barney Tobey (1906-1989) was known for gently humorous cartoons that appeared in the New Yorker for more than fifty years. He also contributed four covers, the first of which appears above. In the Sept. 21, 1998 issue, illustrator Richard Merkin offered this remembrance:

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Star-spangled Banter

All-star musicals were all the rage in the early sound era, as they gave studios the opportunity to showcase contract players (who were virtually owned by the studios) doing things they usually didn’t do on screen. Following the success of MGM’s Hollywood Revue of 1929, Paramount Studios released Paramount on Parade in April 1930, much to the liking of New Yorker critic John Mosher, who also praised the film’s accompanying cartoon, 1929’s The Prisoner’s Song:

You can watch The Prisoner’s Song here (and ponder how far animation has advanced)…

Mosher also praised a number of Paramount’s contract players, and especially actors Jack Oakie and Maurice Chevalier

MUCH ADO…A great crowd gathers for the premiere of “Paramount on Parade” at the New York’s Rialto Theatre in April 1930. (cinematreasures.org)
SEEING STARS…Clockwise, from top left, Helen Kane (possibly the inspiration for the cartoon character “Betty Boop”) and Jack Oakie do a little footwork; Clara Bow, Hollywood’s “It Girl,” pops through a Navy recruitment poster at the beginning of her song and dance number (with Stuart Erwin and Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher); one of Hollywood’s top actresses in 1930, Kay Francis, portrays “Carmen” in the revue; Ruth Chatterton entertains doughboys Stuart Erwin, Fredric March, Jack Oakie, and Stanley Smith in Paramount on Parade. (IMDB)
BOOP GIVES A BOP…Helen Kane (left) and child star Mitzi Green in a sketch from Paramount on Parade. (IMDB)

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Lost In the Crowd

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White lamented the fact that the world’s tallest building appeared less than lofty, since neighboring skyscrapers were nullifying its grandeur:

DOWN IN FRONT…E.B. White found the streetview of the world’s tallest building wanting after it was completed in 1930; the iconic Flatiron Building, however, enjoys some elbow room even today. (spectator.co.uk/walksofnewyork.com)

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Full of Hot Air

That was another opinion shared by E.B. White, this time regarding the Empire State Building’s top promotor, former New York Governor Al Smith, who spoke of plans to attach a mooring mast to the top of his skyscraper (which would eclipse the Chrysler as the world’s tallest in 1931):

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View From the Top

The New Yorker featured a profile of Aloysius Anthony Kelly (1893?-1952), better known as the Roaring Twenties most famous pole-sitter, “Shipwreck” Kelly. He achieved his greatest fame in the 1920s and 1930s, sitting for days at a time on elevated perches — often atop buildings — throughout the U.S.

Kelly’s fame was already on the wane when this profile appeared, and by 1934 he was reportedly working as a dance hall gigolo. Kelly’s last flagpole stunt was at a 1952 event sponsored by a Lion’s Club in Orange, Texas — he suffered two heart attacks while sitting atop their 65-foot flagpole. After climbing down he announced, “This is it. I’m through.” He died one week later after he was struck by car on West 51st Street in Manhattan.

LOFTY AMBITIONS…Alvin ‘Shipwreck’ Kelly atop a flagpole near College Park, Maryland, in October 1942. At right, undated photo circa 1940s. (CSU Archives/Digital Commonwealth)

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Brand X

Folks were still abuzz about the discovery of a ninth planet in the solar system, soon to be dubbed “Pluto” by an English schoolgirl. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” observed…

…and Kindl illustrated the problem a new planet posed for astrologers…

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I Beg Your Pardon

Will Rogers was a beloved comedian with a few rope tricks up his sleeve, but I’ve never known him for working blue. However, one critic for the New Yorker (“A.S.”– not sure who this is) found Rogers’ new radio show both humorless and gauche…

CAN YOU TAKE A JOKE?…In photo above, Will Rogers debuts his new radio show in April 1930. It would become the most popular Sunday evening radio show, and Rogers would prove to be the second biggest motion picture box office draw in the U.S. before his death in 1935. (Will Rogers Memorial Museum)

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Before He Got Axed

Ten years before he was murdered by one of Stalin’s NKVD agents, Leon Trotsky published an autobiography that was written in his first year of exile in Turkey. The review is signed “G.H.” so I am assuming the author is Geoffrey Hellman, who contributed for decades to the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” Excerpts from the review:

RED ALERT…Leon Trotsky wrote his autobiography, My Life, while exiled in Turkey. (Wikimedia)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Bozart rugs and fabrics invited New Yorker readers to “introduce a breath of summertime indoors”…

…while Macy’s urged the same by gracing a sunroom or terrace with one of their Marcel Breuer-inspired chairs…

…Colonial Airways touted an early form of radar — an “invisible pilot” — as the latest safety feature in its airplanes…

…the Douglas L. Elliman company promoted its yet unbuilt River House, which would feature a pier where residents could dock their yachts…

The 26-story River House in the 1930s. Originally, the Art Deco building featured a pier where residents could dock their yachts, but that feature was lost with the construction of FDR Drive in the early 1950s, effectively sealing the building off from the water. The building has been home to author Barbara Taylor Bradford, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and actress Uma Thurman. (observer.com)

…and then we have our more unfortunate ads, such as this one from Macy’s that shows grandpa passing along his racist tendencies to a grandchild…

…and this sad appeal from the makers of Lucky Strike to keep puffing and avoid that hideous double chin…

…our cartoons include Garrett Price and thoughts of spring…

Barbara Shermund eavesdropped on tea time…

Alice Harvey found an awkward moment in a hosiery department…

Peter Arno revisits a familiar theme — chorus girls and sugar daddies…

…and Otto Soglow looked in on a fat cat’s moment of pride…

Next Time: Minding the Gap…

 

 

 

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Hot Jazz in Stone and Steel

With the Chrysler Building nearing completion and the Empire State Building beginning to rise from the old Waldorf-Astoria site, the New York City skyline was taking on the iconic form most of us now associate with the city.

April 12, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Dubbed “hot jazz in stone and steel” by modernist architect Le Corbusier, the Chrysler Building’s gleaming spire beckoned the New Yorker’s E.B. White and real estate journalist David G. Bareuther (New York Sun) to its summit for a closer look…

BARE BONES…The spire in place atop the Chrysler building, the dome awaiting its metal skin. (skyscraper.org)
WHAT LIES BENEATH…The stainless steel spire still gleams atop the Chrysler Building; beneath the spire, a maze of scaffolding — navigated by E.B. White and David G. Bareuther for their “Talk of the Town” piece, supports the upper portions of the building’s dome. (yahoo.com/nygeschichte.blogspot.com)
THE HIGH LIFE…The Chrysler Building’s exclusive Cloud Club was located on the 66th, 67th, and 68th floors. At one time it was the highest lunch club in the world. It closed in 1979. (decopix.com)

If you want to get a sense of what E.B. White and David Bareuther experienced during their climb through the Chrysler’s dome, take a look at this video featuring American radio personality “Opie” (Gregg Hughes) and Hidden Cities author Moses Gates…

The article also noted that an “observation balcony” would be available for visitors to the 71st floor (actually an enclosed room inside the dome), but I’m sure the expectations for revenue fell quite short, given the competition it would soon receive from the much larger, higher, open air observation deck of the Empire State Building…

REACHING FOR THE STARS…When the Chrysler Building officially opened in 1931, visitors could go up to the 71st-floor observatory (in the dome) and view the city through its triangular windows. The observatory closed in 1945. (nygeschichte.blogspot.com)

…a bit of a digression, but I couldn’t help but notice the observatory’s resemblance to this set from the 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

(silent-volume.blogspot.com)

…and here is a terrific graphic from Popular Science (August 1930) demonstrating how the spire, which was assembled inside the dome, was raised into its final position…

…and finally, some great archival footage documenting the achievement…

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Tragic Theater

We continue our forays into the built environment of 1930 New York by looking at what was lost, including two beloved Broadway theaters. “The Talk of the Town” lamented the decline of the Garrick…

FINAL CURTAIN…Built in 1890 and originally named Harrigan’s Theatre, The Garrick closed as a playhouse in 1929. After a short run of burlesque, the building was demolished in 1932.

…and the Casino…

You can read more about the Casino at one of my favorite blogs, Daytonian in Manhattan.

HEYDAY…Clockwise, from top left, circa 1910 postcard image of The Casino Theatre at Broadway & 39th; an audience on the Casino’s roof garden glimpses the performance below; interior of the Casino; the British musical comedy Floradora would become one of Broadway’s greatest hits — the New York production opened in 1900 and ran for 552 performances. (Museum of the City of New York )

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From Jazz to Gothic

We return our gaze to the skies with three more new buildings reviewed by architecture critic George S. Chappell in his “Sky Line” column. He began with the Manhattan Towers Hotel, which thanks to the Depression would soon fall on hard times, going into foreclosure by October of 1931 and becoming a favorite gangster hideout (read more about the hotel at Daytonian in Manhattan)…

GOD AND MAMMON…Clockwise, from top left, the Manhattan Congregational Church in 1927. The church was torn down in 1928 and replaced by the Manhattan Towers Hotel at Broadway and 76th; the completed hotel, designed to wrap around the three-story Jones Speedometer Building, seen in the lower right of the photo; the first five floors of the building were dedicated to church use; after falling into disrepair, in 1980-83 the 626-room hotel was converted into 113 cooperative apartments. Note that the Speedometer Building still stands, sadly shorn of its ornamentation. (New York Public Library/Daytonian in Manhattan)

…Chappell also found much to admire in the new Fuller and Squibb buildings…

FULLER HOUSE…Clockwise, from top left, the 1929 Fuller Building was the third home of the George A. Fuller Company (its second home was the 1903 Flatiron Building); detailed views of the building’s tiled pinnacle and unique glass display windows that distinguish the building’s first six stories; an advertisement from the March 2, 1929 New Yorker that touted these gallery spaces for “superior merchandise”; detail of a coffered panel on an elevator door. (deskgram.net/nyc-architecture.com)
Clockwise, from top left, entrance to the Squibb Building, now known as 745 Fifth Avenue; the cool white marble of the building’s base so admired by critic George Chappell; today, the building at dusk, the slender profile of 432 Park Avenue rising in the background. (pinterest.com/OzBibliophile/paramount-group.com/landmarkbranding.com)

…From the Chrysler Building to the Fuller and Squibb, these new buildings, their architects, and the city’s ever-changing skyline were famously celebrated at the January 1931 Beaux Arts Ball…

HEADS IN THE CLOUDS…the Chrysler Building’s architect, William Van Alen (center), flanked by, from left to right, Stewart Walker (The Fuller Building), Leonard Schultze (The Waldorf-Astoria), Ely Jacques Kahn (The Squibb Building), Ralph Walker (1 Wall Street), D.E. Ward (The Metropolitan Tower), and Joseph H. Freelander (Museum of the City of New York). The New York Times referred to the group as “a tableau vivant of the New York Skyline.” (Van Alen Institute)

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Quiet on the Set

The early days of sound movies created numerous challenges for directors who not only had to adjust the action to accommodate cumbersome microphones, but also to keep out unwanted noises or bad enunciation. “The Talk of the Town” explained…

CLOSETED…In the early days of the talkies, cameras had to be soundproofed in cabinets so their noisy motors would not be picked up by primitive sound equipment. (coloradocollege.edu/Library of Congress)

Peter Arno illustrated the predicament of filming in nature in this cartoon from the April 5, 1930 issue…

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One of Ours

In the story of the New Yorker, Alexander Woollcott and Marc Connelly were there at the beginning as founding members of the Algonquin Round Table and advisory editors to the first issues of the magazine. Basking in the success of his latest play, The Green Pastures (for which he would receive a 1930 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), he was the subject of a April 12, 1930 profile, titled “Two-Eyed Connelly,” which was written by Woollcott. Some excerpts, and a caricature by Al Frueh

FAMILIAR WITH THE SUBJECT…Alexander Woollcott, left, explored the life of his old friend Marc Connelly in the April 12 profile. (goodreads.com/Fine Art America)

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The Party is Really Over

Lois Long’s column “Tables for Two,” which in the 1920s was a must-read for those interested in Jazz Age night life, appeared intermittently in its last year, and its April 12 installment was not even written by Long, but by a writer who signed the column “F.D.” — I assume this is Fairfax Downey, who tried his best to capture Long’s style…

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From Our Advertisers

Warner Brothers opened their pocketbooks to publicize John Barrymore’s latest film, The Man From Blankey’s, which the studio described as a “Modern High Hat Comedy”…

WHEN ALCOHOLISM WAS FUNNY…Loretta Young, John Barrymore and Angella Mawby in The Man from Blankley’s. (IMDB)

…Thanks to William Randolph Hearst and his King Features Syndicate, Robert Ripley, the P.T. Barnum of the funny pages, soared to fame in the 1930s with his “Believe It or Not” panel…here he begins his 14-year run on the radio…

HELLO SUCKERS…Robert Ripley in 1930 with a drawing of “the Horned Man of South Africa.” (RIPLEY ENTERTAINMENT INC.)

…and here’s an ad for another questionable but very American diversion — Fred Harvey’s “Indian Detours”…

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE…The Fred Harvey Company was renowned for its chain of eating houses hosted by the famed “Harvey Girls” along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad between 1876 and 1968. To encourage train travel (and Harvey business) in the Southwest, the Harvey company developed “Indian Detours.” The photo at left is of an “Indian Building” in Albuquerque, which featured displays of art and “live exhibits” that included Native Americans from many tribes around New Mexico. (santafeselection.com)
EASY RIDER…1929 Cadillac Harvey Indian Detour Car outside La Fonda, Santa Fe. (Palace of the Governors photo archive)

…if you preferred to travel abroad, Texaco wanted you to know that you could still gas up with their product, even in distant Singapore…

…we begin our cartoons with the spare stylings of Gardner Rea

…and Otto Soglow

…we find one of Helen Hokinson’s ladies on her way to fitness…

William Crawford Galbraith showed us an enterprising young man…

Art Young illustrated the challenges of the lecture circuit…

…and one of my all-time favorite Peter Arno cartoons…

Next Time: The Circus Comes to Town…

 

The Wild Kingdom

A host of nature programs from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom to Planet Earth owe their origins to a few intrepid filmmakers who 100 years ago gave Americans some of their first glimpses of life in exotic, remote regions of the world.

Feb. 1, 1930 cover by Julian De Miskey.

Among the first to do it were a couple from Kansas, Osa and Martin Johnson, who together explored unknown lands and brought back footage of the wildlife and peoples of the African continent, the South Pacific Islands and British North Borneo. Their first film, Among the Cannibal Isles of the South Seas (1918), was followed by several more, including Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, which was released in early 1930.

The New Yorker film critic John Mosher was as eager as any audience to take in the adventures of the Johnsons, or even of someone who was inspired by the Johnsons, in this case a “Miss O’Brien” who had just released a “diverting diary” called Up the Congo. Mosher wrote about it in the Jan. 25 issue:

CONTACT…Image of a family from an unidentified Pygmy tribe posing with a European explorer in a 1921 Collier’s New Encyclopedia entry; a group of Mbuti posing with explorer Osa Johnson in 1930. (Wikipedia)

I can find no record of the film Up the Congo, however the exploits of the Johnsons are well documented thanks to the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, which has a treasure trove of photos and other information on the explorers.

The ad in the Feb. 1, 1930 New Yorker promoting Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson included an interesting “added attraction”…a film about Einstein’s theory of relativity that had caused a Jan. 8 “riot” at the American Museum of Natural History. That particular screening was intended for members of the Amateur Astronomers Association, but word got out and three times the invited number showed up at the museum, breaking down the lobby gates. Hard to imagine a mob today clamoring to view a science film…

Although the Johnsons made their movies under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History, much of the footage was staged or edited to maximize the thrills (Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom did this in the 1960s and 70s, as did producers of Disney’s nature films from the 50s and 60s. The practice continues to this day on cable television).

The Johnsons also didn’t hesitate to gun down animals in the course of their movie-making…

YEP, THAT’S JUXTAPOSITION…Osa Johnson poses with a Photoplay magazine, a dead rhino, and a tribesman, circa 1930. (columbia.edu)

According to a 2011 review from Wild Film History, “in stark contrast to the conservation-themed wildlife films of today, the Johnsons approached their subjects armed with both camera and rifle, with the production including provoked behaviour, staged confrontations and animals shot to death on film. Relying heavily on cutting in kills from professional marksmen, numerous hunting scenes culminate in a heart-stopping sequence where, with the use of clever editing, the adventurous Mrs Johnson appears to bring down a charging rhinoceros with one well-aimed shot.”

Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson is presented as if the Johnsons were showing their film to a few friends in their New York City apartment. The film is a “silent with sound,” that is, scenes in the field are silent, but the cocktail party “home movie” opening has sound, including “mood music” Osa provides by turning on the radio as the film begins. For all of their film experience, the acting between Osa and Martin is wooden, as is Martin’s narration. The critic John Mosher, however, enjoyed the ride, writing in his Feb. 1 column:

If you are curious, you can watch some of the film here, including the opening home movie scene with Osa and Martin in cocktail attire…

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My Kinda Town

The New Yorker occasionally enjoyed taking potshots at the Second City, as well as some good-natured jabs at a few of its former residents who were also denizens of the Algonquin Round Table. Here is E.B. White in the Feb. 1 “Notes and Comment”…

WINDY WITS…Chicagoans Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht and Ring Lardner were well-known to the New Yorker crowd. (Wikipedia)

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Not In This Century

This item from the Feb. 1 “Talk of the Town” is noteworthy for placing its admiration of technical achievement over any concerns for a child’s welfare. Today the couple would be arrested for this…

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The Perils of Aging

Irish-American actress and writer Patricia Collinge (1892-1974) wrote a series of short stories for the New Yorker, including this piece for the Feb. 1 issue written when she was 37 years old. It is a sad story about an older actress (37) who hoped to land the part of a younger woman. Some excerpts…

…the actress in the story is led to believe the part was intended for a woman of 28, and is crushed to learn that the agent was looking for “a young twenty-two”…

OH TO BE YOUNG…At left, Gladys Cooper, Alexandra Carlisle and 20-year-old Patricia Collinge in the Drury Lane production of Everywoman (1912); at right, Collinge in 1941. Unlike the sad actress in her short story, Collinge’s career spanned more than 60 years.

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Coming Around

In previous issues art critic Murdock Pemberton expressed skepticism about the new Museum of Modern of Art, founded by wealthy society women in November 1929. Pemberton held egalitarian views about art, and wondered if the old money set could create a venue for true modern artists. His review of “Painting in Paris,” MoMA’s third exhibition, seemed to allay his concerns…


PAINTING IN PARIS was the title of the Museum of Modern Art’s third exhibition featuring works by Georges Braque, Georges Rouault, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Robert Delauney, Fernand Leger, Henri Matisse and Andre Derain among others. Image above is from the original exhibition at MOMA’s first home in the Heckscher Building at 730 Fifth Avenue. (MOMA)
Images above in color, from left, Pablo Picasso’s Green Still Life Avignon (1914) and Seated Woman (1927); Georges Braque’s Still life (1927). (MOMA/WikiArt)
Pemeberton expressed enthusiasm for the show’s new works that contained few traces of the familiar…

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The King’s Speech

King George V was not known for his public speaking, but when he addressed the third meeting of the London Naval Conference it was a big deal, even to American listeners who for the first time heard his voice over broadcast radio, still a very new medium in 1930…

ON THE AIR…The voice of King George V (pictured here in 1923) was broadcast across the Atlantic for the opening of the London Naval Conference at St. James’s Palace in 1930. The third in a series of five meetings, the conference was formed with the purpose of placing limits on the naval capacity of the world’s largest naval powers. (Wikipedia/Churchill Archives Centre)

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Good Clean Fun?

In his theater review column, Robert Benchley lamented the state of burlesque shows at the National Winter Garden, where “leviathans of an earlier day” were being displaced by “agile wisps” in third-rate Broadway productions…

ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS…from left, Viola Clifton, a fuller-figured 1890s burlesque dancer; center and right, Margaret Bourke-White photos from Minsky’s National Winter Garden, 1936. Theater critic Robert Benchley wrote that he missed the “leviathans” of an earlier age, who were replaced by girls who were nothing but “agile wisps.”(mashable.com/theguardian.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Just a couple of ads from the Feb. 1 issue, including this entry from the Shelton Looms offering advice on how one should appear among the Havana social set…

…and this ad from Harper’s Bazaar, also appealing to the smart set…

…our cartoons include this two-page illustration by Rea Irvin

Alan Dunn’s look into the challenges of running a power plant…

…at the opera with Perry Barlow

Gardner Rea and some bedroom hinjinks…

…man vs. mouse, by Peter Arno

…and this by Leonard Dove, seemingly anticipating the work of Charles Addams

Next Time: We Smiled As We Danced…