A Backward Glance

With the 1920s ending with a crash, few seemed interested in looking back to that decade. Indeed, just days into the 1930s the Jazz Age seemed to belong to a distant, frivolous past.

Jan. 11, 1930 cover by Julian De Miskey.

Or at least that is how popular historian Alvin F. Harlow (1875-1963) saw it, penning this somewhat cynical, tongue-in-cheek retrospective on the “great events” of the previous year…

FLASHBACK…Historian Alvin F. Harlow (top left) recalled some of the “great events” of 1929, including (clockwise, from top right) “damnfool” dance marathons; “comic strip droolery” (clip is from Dixie Dugan, 1929); gang warfare; reckless air navigation and wayside wieneries. (jstor.org/News dog Media/nitrateville.com/Chicago/U of Washington/Nathan’s)

…Harlow continued to list the various ways folks sought relief “from the monotony of existence” in 1929…

TOO THIN?…Miss Austria, Lisl Goldarbeiter, was crowned the first Miss Universe at the “International Pageant of Pulchritude” in Galveston, Texas in 1929. The pageant actually was one of year’s big events, garnering worldwide attention. (bashny.net)

…as well as the persistence of superstition and quackery…

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A Byrd Takes Wing

In 1928 and 1929 the name Richard Byrd popped up quite a bit in the pages of the New Yorker, and for good reason. In 1928 Byrd — already known for his exploits at the North Pole — began his first expedition to the Antarctic, a land that was as remote to explorers in the 1920s as the moon was to us in the 1960s. On Nov. 28-29, 1929, Byrd — along with pilot Bernt Balchen, co-pilot/radioman Harold June, and photographer Ashley McKinley — flew a Ford Trimotor to the South Pole and back in 18 hours, 41 minutes. It was such a feat that Byrd was promoted to the rank of rear admiral by a special act of Congress on December 21, 1929, making the 41-year-old Byrd the youngest admiral in the history of the United States Navy. In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White was still awaiting details of the heroic adventure:

ROUGHING IT…Once the expedition arrived by ship on the Antarctic coast, planes were assembled at the “Little America” base camp on the Ross Ice Shelf. This image shows Richard Byrd and his dog Igloo unpacking crates. The ships that brought the plane and other supplies can be seen in the background. (library.osu.edu)
LIKE A MOONSHOT…Clockwise, from top left, a Ford Trimotor (named Floyd Bennett after the recently deceased pilot of a previous expedition) was one of three planes brought on the expedition. It sits assembled and ready to go before its historic flight over the Pole; flying over the pass near Liv’s Glacier enroute to the Pole; Richard Byrd in the library of Little America prior to the flight, with a stone from Floyd Bennett’s grave. Byrd dropped the stone, wrapped in a small American flag, over the South Pole in honor of the pilot of his 1926 North Pole expedition; the geological party (Byrd is second from right) upon returning to Little America, January, 1930; Little America in 1928, soon to be covered in snow. (library.osu.edu)

In his “Wayward Press” column, Robert Benchley commented on Byrd’s promotion, and took a shot at the New York Times (the Gray Lady was a favorite New Yorker target) for monopolizing the news of the South Pole expedition:

SNOWFALL OF A DIFFERENT SORT…Adm. Richard Byrd received a hero’s welcome in 1930 when he returned to the U.S. from Antarctica. Here he is shown being feted at a ticker tape parade in Boston. (library.osu.edu)

E.B. White also touted an endorsement by the venerable magazine The Nation, which included both Adm. Byrd and the New Yorker in its Honor Roll for 1929:

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Bitter and Sweet

“The Talk of the Town” looked in on English light opera actress Evelyn Laye (1900-1996), who had just arrived in town to make her Broadway debut in the American première of Noël Coward’s Bitter Sweet. “Talk” discovered that Laye “had her own notions” about how a stage actress should conduct herself:

MOSTLY SWEET…Postcard image of Evelyn Laye, circa 1933. (tuckdb.org)

Although Laye refused star billing in Bitter Sweet, she had no problem appearing in this two-page ad for Lux soap in the New Yorker’s Jan. 18. issue, hers the only full-page portrait in the ad:

…and so we segue into the ads for Jan. 11, where we find all sorts of diversions in the back pages, including an appeal to revelers for the Greenwich Village Ball (top left corner). The ad copy reads “come when you like, with whom you like—wear what you like…” and asks the question “Unconventional? Oh, to be sure—only do be discreet!”

…for reference, here is an invitation from the 1932 Greenwich Village Ball, with a list of patrons printed on the inside cover, including the “King of Greenwich Village Bohemians,” Maxwell Bodenheim, and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s two sisters Norma and Kathleen

(hobohemiadotblog.wordpress.com)

…ads for private airplanes were a regular feature in the New Yorker, aviation companies assuming that at least some readers had the means to consider such a purchase…the copy in this ad emphasized the ease of flying — here is a sample from the fifth paragraph: “You take off…leave the ground in 6 seconds…climb so swiftly you are 500 feet as you pass over the fringe of the flying field…and 500 feet higher before you finish lighting a cigarette…”

…here’s a better view of the Ireland Amphibion…

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

…but for those who remained firmly on the ground, respite could be found in a nice, quiet (and affordable) office, a place where one could, perhaps, start rebuilding from the ashes of the market crash…

…and for those with a little extra scratch, they could treat themselves to the patrician comforts of a nice bathroom…

…on to our comics, we have a nice little culture clash courtesy of Barbara Shermund

Carl Rose illustrated a clash of a different sort…

John Held Jr. was back with one of his slightly naughty “engravings” — these were favorites of founding editor Harold Ross, with his rustic tastes…

W.P. Trent explored the strange ways of social status…

Jack Markow looked in on life on the skids, a theme that would become more frequent as the Depression deepened…

…and after thirty installments throughout 1929, Otto Soglow’s manhole series — a one-panel gag featuring dialogue from unseen workers Joe and Bill…

…came to an end when Joe and Bill finally emerged…

Next Time: Death Avenue Revisited…

In Search of Yuletide Cheer

E.B. White’s “Notes and Comment” column led off the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town,” and as such helped set the tone for what was to follow in the magazine.

Dec. 14, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt. Opening image: Construction workers line up for pay beside the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York in 1931. (NY Daily News)

For the Dec. 14 issue White attempted to strike a positive note in the aftermath of the stock market crash, offering a few nuggets of hope for the holiday season:

HEAVYWEIGHTS…Both President Herbert Hoover and retired prizefighter Gene Tunney offered signs of stability to a nation reeling from economic collapse. At right, Gene and Mary Tunney return to New York on the ocean liner Vulcania after 14 months in Europe. (Wikipedia/AP)

Alexander Woollcott, however, described his financial woes in his “Shouts and Murmurs” column, where he parodied newspapers that listed charity cases during the Christmas season:

BOOK-END POOR…Alexander Woollcott, in a 1939 portrait by Carl Van Vechten. (Wikipedia)

Paris correspondent Janet Flanner noted how the ripples of the market crash were being felt in Paris: Americans no longer had wads of cash to lavish on booze, jewelry, antiques and real estate:

DON’T RAIN ON OUR PARADE…The Place de la Nation, Paris, 1930. (thevintagenews.com)

Flanner added that despite the past boorish behavior of American tourists, the level of schaudenfreude among the French was remarkably low…

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Sinful Diversions

For yet another sign that the Roaring Twenties were decidedly over, it appeared that even “Sex” had run its course. Theater critic Robert Benchley noted that Mae West’s scandalous 1926 play inspired a spate of shows that had little new to offer, save for amping up the salacious content: A Primer for Lovers, The Amorous Antic, and Young Sinners. Audiences were unimpressed. A Primer for Lovers closed after just 24 performances, The Amorous Antic after just eight. Only Young Sinners would survive into the spring season.

JUST LOOK WHAT YOU STARTED…”Sex” was panned by critics as vulgar, but Broadway audiences in 1926 loved it. After 375 performances police arrested Mae West on obscenity charges, which landed her in a prison workhouse for ten days. (boweryboyshistory.com)
Actress Phoebe Foster (left) found success on Broadway, but not so much in The Amorous Antic, which closed after just eight performances. Dorothy Appleby (right) had better success with Young Sinners, which ran for 289 performances through August 1930. (IMDB)

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Final Bows

Theater was changing in other ways too. In the late 19th and early 20th century audiences patronized various playhouses based more on their reputation and tradition than on a particular play. E.B. White, in the “Talk of the Town” noted the imminent passing of one such house, the Knickerbocker Theatre, slated for demolition in 1930. The 33-year-old theater was Broadway’s first to display a moving electric sign (1906).

A HOUSE OF GOOD REPUTE…The Knickerbocker Theatre at 1396 Broadway was built in 1896 and demolished in 1930. (Internet Broadway Database)

White noted that smaller venues like the Knickerbocker, with their own distinct character and clientele, were falling victim to big theater-owning corporations that introduced more homogeneity into the play-going scene. In White’s estimation just two old-timers remained:

Both buildings still stand. The New Amsterdam, constructed in 1902–03, is now the oldest theater on Broadway. In the 1910s and 1920s it hosted the Ziegfeld Follies on its main stage and the racier Ziegfeld Midnight Frolics on the building’s rooftop. The Music Box was constructed in 1921 by composer Irving Berlin and producer Sam H. Harris to house Berlin’s Music Box Revues.

DISNEYFIED…The New Amsterdam, constructed in 1902–03, still stands today, now operated by the Disney Company, which signed a 99-year lease with the city in 1993. When it was built it was the largest theater in New York, with a seating capacity of 1,702. (Wikipedia)
IRVING’S PLACE…The Music Box Theatre at 239 West 45th Street was constructed in 1921 by composer Irving Berlin and producer Sam H. Harris to house Berlin’s Music Box Revues. It was later co-owned by Berlin’s estate and the Shubert Organization until Shubert assumed full ownership in 2007. (Wikipedia)

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Stocks Down, Arno Up

Peter Arno could be found all over the Dec. 14 issue: an ad promoting his new book Peter Arno’s Parade, a blurb in the book section touting the same…this ad for Peck & Peck featuring his handiwork…

…in the comics, a full pager with the economy as a theme…

…and this submission that was doubtless inspired by Arno’s own home life and his brief, tempestuous marriage to New Yorker colleague Lois Long

…here’s a couple of comics featuring Milquetoast characters…this one by Garrett Price

…and another by Leonard Dove

…and two submissions from one of my favorite cartoonists, Barbara Shermund, so ahead of her time…

 

Helen Hokinson examined a physician’s bedside manner…

…and I. Klein offered his take on the new economy…

 * * *

We move right along to the Dec. 21, 1929 issue, where things seemed to turn a bit more sour…

Dec. 21, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

Elmer Rice’s serialized novel, A Voyage to Purilia, finally concluded in its 11th installment in the New Yorker…and E.B. White took on a more choleric disposition in his “Notes and Comment”…

Lois Long contributed a “Tables for Two” column, a feature that had become infrequent and would soon be shelved as she turned her full attentions to her fashion column “On and Off the Avenue.” In this installment of “Tables” we get her first mention of the market calamity…

Robert Benchley finally found something to like on Broadway, because Billie Burke was the star attraction…

SHE”S THE GOOD ONE…Billie Burke in 1933. Most of us know her today for her performance as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. (Wikipedia)

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Violin Prodigy 2.0

The New Yorker raved about the 12-year-old violinist Yehudi Menuhin when he wowed audiences at the Berlin Philharmonic earlier in the year. So when the 10-year-old Ruggiero Ricci expertly fiddled with the Manhattan Symphony, well…

YEAH, I GOT THIS…Ruggiero Ricci, about 1930, by then a touring professional. At age 6 Ricci began lessons with Louis Persinger, who also taught another San Francisco prodigy, Yehudi Menuhin. (Text and image, The New York Times)

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Namesake

Despite the market crash, the skyline continued to change at a rapid pace, and as we enter the 1930s the city would add some of its most iconic buildings to the skyline. George Chappell, the New Yorker’s architecture critic, had this to say about the magazine’s “namesake”…

ROOMY…The New Yorker Hotel, at 481 Eighth Avenue. When the 43-story Art Deco hotel opened 1930, it contained 2,500 rooms, making it the city’s largest for many years. (Wikipedia)

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Art critic Murdock Pemberton continued his quest to make sense of the upstart Museum of Modern Art…

…and the American artists showcased there…

…I would add Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Lyonel Feininger, and Rockwell Kent (also displayed at the exhibition) but then again, I have the advantage of hindsight…

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From Our Advertisers

We have more New Yorker cartoonists augmenting their income through advertising, including (once again) Rea Irvin for Knox Hatters…

Raeburn Van Buren for G. Washington’s instant coffee (also a client of Helen Hokinson’s)…

…and Helen Hokinson for Frigidaire…

…and on to cartoons for Dec. 21, Hokinson again…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and another peek into marital bliss…

Next Time: The Curtain Falls…

 

 

 

A Glimpse of the Future

Just nine days after the stock market crash, three women opened a new museum on Fifth Avenue that would play a major role in defining the type of city that would emerge from the other side of the Depression and World War II.

Nov. 23, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt.

These visionary women would borrow works from modernists of the past century — the post-impressionists —  to stage the first-ever exhibit of the Museum of Modern Art. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, along with her friends Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan, had rented six rooms on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building, and on Nov. 7, 1929, they opened the doors to the museum’s first exhibition, simply titled Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh. The New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton was on hand for the opening:

THE FOUNDERS…Mary Sullivan, Lillie Bliss and Abby Rockefeller, known socially as “the daring ladies,” founded the Museum of Modern Art in 1929. (virginiafitzgerald.blogspot.com/MoMA)
OLD AND NEW…The 12th floor of the Heckscher Building (now called the Crown Building) at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street served as the first location of the Museum of Modern Art. The 1921 building was designed by Warren and Wetmore, the same architects who designed Grand Central Terminal. Note in the foreground the rooftop of the Vanderbilt mansion, demolished in 1926 to make way for the Bergdorf Goodman department store; at right, a page from the new museum’s brochure. (Museum of the City of New York/MoMA)

The gallery rooms in the Heckscher were modest — although Abby’s husband was John D. Rockefeller Jr., she had to find funding on her own (he was opposed to the museum, and to modern art). In his review, Pemberton noted the “inferiority complex” that had already set in at the new museum, which took a preemptive swipe at the Met in its pamphlet (pictured above):

AMBITIOUS…Although the museum was small and had no curatorial departments, MoMA produced a 157-page exhibition catalogue for its first show. (Image and text courtesy MoMA)
MODEST BEGINNINGS…MoMA’s first gallery spaces on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building were indeed modest, as these photos of the first exhibition attest. (MoMA)
HOW THEY LOOKED IN COLOR…Works featured in MoMA’s first exhibition included The Bedroom (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh, and Pines and Rocks (c. 1897), by Paul Cézanne. (Art Institute of Chicago/MoMA)

Pemberton attempted to set MoMA straight regarding the Met’s reputation:

HOME AT LAST…After moving three times over the course of ten years, the Museum of Modern Art finally found a permanent home in Midtown in 1939. Although Abby Rockefeller’s husband, John D. Rockefeller Jr., was initially opposed to the museum, he eventually came around and donated the land for the 1939 museum (designed by Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone) and became one of the museum’s biggest supporters. (MoMA)

Less than three years later, the museum would point to the world to come in 1932’s Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock. The exhibition showcased an emerging architectural style that would dominate the New York skyline in the postwar years.

Top, model of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye from MoMA’s 1932 Modern Architecture: International Exhibition; below, model and photographs of works by Walter Gropius. Both architects would have major influences on the postwar New York skyline. (MoMA)

A footnote: The Museum of Modern Art hosts a remarkable website that features photographs of 4,875 exhibitions (plus images of catalogs and other materials) from 1929 to the present.

*  *  *

That’s Entertainment?

Theater critic Robert Benchley was looking for something to take his mind off the economic collapse, but he wasn’t finding it on Broadway. He found the drama Veneer to be depressing, and apparently so did a lot of other theatergoers; it closed the next month after just 31 performances at the Sam Harris Theatre:

NO LAUGHS HERE, EITHER…Joanna Roos and Osgood Perkins during a 1930 performance of the Chekhov play Uncle Vanya at the Cort Theatre. Roos was also in 1929’s Veneer, and she was singled out for praise by critic Robert Benchley, who otherwise found the play depressing. (New York Public Library)

Benchley also found little cheer in the play Cross Roads, which also closed the next month after just 28 performances at the Morosco Theatre:

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD…Actress Sylvia Sidney bawled out her lines in Cross Roads. (Photoplay, 1932)

Benchley finally found something to laugh about at the Alvin Theatre, which featured the musical comedy Heads Up! Tellingly, it ran much longer than its more somber competition: 144 performances…

CLOWNS…Victor Moore, left, and Ray Bolger delivered comic relief in Heads Up! Both actors provided much-needed levity on the Broadway stage during the Depression. (movie-mine.com/Pinterest)

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Ideas for a Post-Crash Christmas

Creighton Peet (1899-1977) was best known as an author of books for young people with titles ranging from Mike the Cat (1934) to How Things Work (1941). A regular contributor to the New Yorker from 1925 to 1957, in the Nov. 23 issue Peet offered up some suggestions for a post-crash Christmas in a short piece titled “Helpful Hints for Marginaires.” An excerpt:

The recent market crash was also on the mind of Howard Brubaker. In his weekly column, “Of All Things,” he looked for divine guidance…

CAN YOU PUT IN A GOOD WORD? James Cannon Jr. was a bishop of the southern Methodist Church and a relentless advocate of Prohibition. (encyclopediavirginia.org)

…in the wake of recent elections, Brubaker also made this observation about voting rights in the South…

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Solace of the Silver Screen

Americans would turn to the movies for a much-needed distraction from their economic woes, and critic John Mosher found a couple of mild diversions starring Greta Garbo and Clara Bow

MUM’S THE WORD…Greta Garbo and Lew Ayres in The Kiss. The film was a rare silent in the new age of the talkies (although it did feature a Movietone orchestral score and sound effects). Audiences would have to wait until 1930’s Anna Christie to hear the voice of Garbo. (IMDB)
PLEASE PASS THE BITTERS, DEAR…Greta Garbo and Anders Randolf trapped in a loveless marriage in The Kiss. (IMDB)

For a few laughs, moviegoers could check out Clara Bow’s second talkie, The Saturday Night Kid. A sex symbol of the Roaring Twenties, Bow’s career began to wane with the advent of the talkies and the onset of the Depression. Her kind would be eclipsed by a new type of sex symbol — the platinum blonde — embodied by the likes of Jean Harlow, who also appeared in The Saturday Night Kid, her first credited role…

SIBLING RIVALRY…Sisters Mayme (Clara Bow) and Janie (Jean Arthur) vie for the affections of next door neighbor William (James Hall) in a scene from The Saturday Night Kid. (doctormacro.com)
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER…Jean Arthur, Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Leone Lane in a publicity photo for The Saturday Night Kid. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with a couple of ads featured on back-to-back pages of products that no longer exist — the first promotes the use of Ethyl gasoline to increase performance and eliminate engine knock. Ethyl (tetraethyl lead) — a big contributor to soil, air and water lead pollution — was removed from gasoline beginning in the 1970s…the Marmon Motor Car Company introduced a more affordable (under $1,000) car to New Yorker readers in 1929, but it was too late for the struggling company, which due to the Depression folded in 1933…

…this seems an unusual ad for the New Yorker, but then again perhaps the White Company hoped to reach well-heeled readers who were also owners of companies in need of such things, although it is doubtful a lot of truck-buying was taking place after the crash…

…the 1920s are considered a golden age for American road-building, but if you wanted to travel across country, the national highway system was limited to just a few, mostly two-lane routes…

…with their frayed nerves, folks were doubtless smoking like chimneys…the makers of Fatima cigarettes acknowledged the pain felt by the market crash, while nevertheless justifying the higher cost of their brand…

…the holiday season was fast-approaching, and Bergdorf Goodman was ready to set the mood…

…on the lower end of the scale, the California Fruit Growers offered up this dandy “juice extractor” as the gift to delight a loved one (with illustration by Don Herold)…

…I suppose given its quasi-medicinal (digestif) qualities, Cointreau was able to sell their product at 6% alcohol content to dry Americans (although the full- strength Cointreau, not legally available to Americans, was rated at 40%)…at right, another back page ad from Reuben’s restaurant, with more handwritten endorsements from stars including singer Helen Kane (Boop-Boop-a-Doop), cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and Paramount Studio co-founder Jesse Lasky

Helen Hokinson’s society women were featured in two separate ads in the Nov. 23 issue…

…and the folks at Frigidare got an extra plug thanks to Leonard Dove

Lois Long’s “On and Off the Avenue” column began to grow in length as the holiday season approached, peppered with spot drawings including these two by Julian De Miskey and Barbara Shermund

…and I. Klein offered his own take on the holiday shopping scene…

Rea Irvin reprised his folk-satirical approach to life at the Coolidge house…

John Reynolds found more humor in the clash of cultures…

Helen Hokinson contributed this very modern rendering of writer’s block…

…and Peter Arno looked in on the challenges of commuting…

…and a quick note regarding a recent issue of the New Yorker (Dec. 3, 2018)…the cover featured a reprint of a Matias Santoyo cover from April 2, 1927…very cool…

Next Time: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Writer…

 

 

 

Back to Business

Two weeks had passed since the “Black Tuesday” collapse of share prices on the New York Stock Exchange, but the New Yorker went about business as usual, E.B. White opening his “Notes and Comment” with a complaint — not about the economy — but about a marketing ploy that had New York University shilling magazines on behalf of Funk & Wagnalls.

Nov. 16, 1929 cover by Peter Arno. No doubt Arno drew inspiration from his own domestic situation (with wife and New Yorker columnist Lois Long and their infant daughter Patricia Arno).

White mocked the contents of a letter from NYU that promised a “free” education to subscribers of Funk & Wagnalls’ middlebrow Literary Digest. 

EASY-CHAIR EDUCATION…Founded in 1890 by Isaac Funk (of Funk & Wagnalls fame), the Literary Digest offered readers condensed articles from various American and European publications. The weekly magazine surpassed the one million circulation mark in 1927, but declined precipitously in 1936 after its famed (and usually reliable) presidential poll picked Alf Landon over FDR. It folded in 1938. (Pinterest)

White detailed how NYU’s director of public information promised untold riches to potential Literary Digest subscribers…

YOU CAN BE FAMOUS, FOR JUST PENNIES A DAY…E.B. White mocked an NYU letter that promoted its “hook-up” with the Literary Digest, wryly suggesting that recognition in NYU’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans was within reach of magazine subscribers. The photo above (circa 1935) shows the Hall of Fame’s colonnade, which half-encircled the university library (both designed by Stanford White) and housed 98 bronze busts. A financially strapped NYU sold its University Heights Campus, along with the Hall of Fame and library, to the City University of New York in 1973. (WPA photo via boweryboyshistory.com)

…and the not so subtle revelation that the “free” education came with a price:

Here’s Julian De Miskey’s illustration that accompanied White’s “Notes”…

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The Lighter Side of Bankruptcy

Evidence of the recent stock market crash was scant in the Nov. 16 issue, save for this blurb from Howard Brubaker

…and this short piece by Margaret Fishback, who took a characteristically lighthearted approach to the devastating news:

Fishback (1900-1985), a widely published poet and prose author from the late 1920s to the 1960s, was also a successful advertising copywriter for Macy’s and a number of other companies.

A WAY WITH WORDS…Margaret Fishback wrote a number of poetry and prose books, including Safe Conduct: When to Behave–and Why, a book of etiquette illustrated by the New Yorker’s Helen Hokinson. During the 1930s Fishback was reputed to be the world’s highest-paid female advertising copywriter. (necessaryfiction.com/Wikipedia)

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We Stand Corrected

A correction of sorts was offered by Robert Benchley (aka “Guy Fawkes”) regarding one of his recent “Wayward Press” columns, in which the fatal crash of famed aviator Wilmer Stultz’s stunt plane was misattributed to drunkenness:

Following the above intro, Benchley included this letter from a representative of the Roosevelt Flying Corporation, John McK. Stuart, in which Stuart explained the real reason for the pilot’s fatal crash, and the source of a vicious rumor:

The cause of the crash, as reported in the New York Times, was attributed to two young men who begged for a ride on Stultz’s stunt plane, a Waco Taperwing, in the early afternoon of July 1, 1929. An investigation of the wreckage found shoes from both passengers jammed under a bar connected to the rudder, rendering it inoperable. In his letter, Stuart explained:

Apparently Stultz’s passengers had braced themselves during stunt maneuvers by jamming their feet under the rudder bar. According to the Times, after a couple of rolling stunts the plane began to climb again from about 200 feet when it rotated nose down and plunged into the ground. Both passengers were killed instantly. Stultz died shortly thereafter at a Long Island hospital.

BRIEF FLIGHT THROUGH LIFE…Clockwise, from top left, Wilmer Stultz (1900-1929) in undated photo; coverage of the fatal crash in the July 2, 1929 New York Times; Stultz, Amelia Earhart, and Lou Gordon feted in front of City Hall, New York City, following their successful flight across the Atlantic in June 1928. Stultz was the pilot of the Fokker Trimotor “Friendship,” aboard which Earhart became the first woman passenger to cross the Atlantic by airplane. Gordon served as the flight’s on-board mechanic. (Boston Public Library/New York Times/Amazon)

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Cowardly Attack

The acclaimed English playwright and composer Noël Coward was much beloved by the New Yorker, so it pained Robert Benchley to write an unflattering review of Coward’s operetta, Bitter Sweet:

IN THE SOPRANO KEY…British musical star Evelyn Laye (1900-1996) played the leading role of Sari in Noël Coward’s Broadway production of Bitter Sweet. (From The Bygone)

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Hat Shop Heroine

Another operetta — Mlle. Modiste — was getting a Broadway revival at Jolson’s 59th Street Theatre. Its star, Fritzi Scheff (1879-1954), was the subject of a short profile penned by Alison Smith. The operetta, written expressly for Scheff, premiered on Broadway in 1905 at the Knickerbocker Theatre, and enjoyed many revivals. Smith found that after nearly 25 years, Scheff still embodied the role of the hat shop girl who dreamed of being an opera singer. An excerpt:

From left, Fritzi Scheff in Mlle. Modiste (1905); Al Frueh’s caricature of Scheff for the profile; Scheff circa 1910. (Wikipedia/IMDB)

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Best of Both Worlds

Although the Gothic style was quickly falling out of fashion in the age of Art Deco, architecture critic George S. Chappell found much to admire in Schultze & Weaver’s new Hotel Lexington, part of the hotel construction boom in New York’s Midtown:

STILL ATTACHED TO THE EARTH…The Lexington today, now a Marriott property, at 511 Lexington Avenue and 48th Street. (ohrllc.com)

Chappell also admired the “smart” new Stewart Building, calling it the perfect setting for “feminine luxuries”…

Sadly, the Stewart Company folded just months after the opening of its new building, an early victim of the Depression. Bonwit Teller took over the building in 1930 and stayed until 1979. It was demolished in 1980 to make way for Trump Tower.

BYGONE ELEGANCE…Stewart and Company’s metal and ceramic 5th Avenue entrance, detail, 1929; Stewart Millinery Shop, 1929 (image from Vogue); detail from ornamental frieze above the 8th story, 1929. The building was demolished in 1980 to make way for Trump Tower. Neither the frieze nor the ornate ironwork were saved. (Museum of the City of New York/Vogue via drivingfordeco.com)

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A Survivor’s Tale

The New Yorker hailed Soviet writer Valentine Kataev’s debut novel, The Embezzlers, as “the first hearty and sane laugh that has been heard over the noise of Russian propaganda.” Published in 1926 and translated into English in 1929, the novel was a satire of bureaucracy in the new Soviet state. Remarkably, Kataev (1897-1986) was able to write challenging, satirical works throughout his long life and career without running afoul of Soviet authorities, or falling victim to Stalin’s terror campaigns:

SATIRICAL SOVIET…Valentine Kataev circa 1930. His 1926 debut novel, The Embezzlers, was a satire of Soviet bureaucracy. (russkiymir.ru)

Another title receiving a favorable review, Is Sex Necessary? — a spoof of popular sex manuals and how-to books — was co-written by the New Yorker’s James Thurber and E.B. White, with illustrations provided by Thurber.

HE CAN DRAW, TOO…Although James Thurber had yet to publish one of his drawings in the New Yorker, the book Is Sex Necessary? featured 42 of them, including the illustration at right that demonstrated the male greeting posture, and below, the posture of a man who could not discern the difference between love and passion. (brainpickings.org)

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Old News

Writer (and later screenwriter) David Boehm temporarily took over the history column “That Was New York” from playwright Russell Crouse and contributed the first in a series of articles featuring clippings from 18th century newspapers (with illustration by Julian De Miskey):

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From Our Advertisers

The Depression was coming, but you wouldn’t know it by the ads that appeared in the Nov. 16 issue, which featured the latest in resort wear, and holiday fashions for the maid…

…the Jay Thorpe store assumed some readers had $1,250 to spare for this coat and muff (equivalent to about $18,000 today), while Udall and Ballou jewelers offered a brooch for $9,000 (or nearly $130,000 today)…

…Saks offered a “simple little tailored bag” for $5, although the one pictured in the ad would set you back $500 ($7,200 today)…

…in this clever ad for Kayser silk hosiery, illustrator Ian Oliver drew a shelf from negative space to allow the model some room to lean…

…makers of the Ronson cigarette lighter found a new use for their product, adapting it to serve as a perfume atomizer…I wonder how many women accidentally lit their hair on fire, or took a shot of perfume to the eyes when they wished to have a smoke…

…while you had the lighter handy, you could light up an Old Gold, and thanks to the lack of truth-in-advertising standards, you could do it believing that you were also warding off a winter cold…

…from the back pages we have these gems from Brunswick records, and Reuben’s restaurant, which featured written testimonials from famous clientele including the “It Girl” actress Clara Bow, cartoonist Harry Hershfield, and playwright Noël Coward

Dr. Seuss offered his latest take on the uses of Flit insecticide, here sprayed directly into a user’s face for maximum benefit…

…our cartoons come courtesy of Gardner Rea, who looked in on an act of charity…

Reginald Marsh illustrated a new use for broadcast radio…

Barbara Shermund put the “idle” in “idle rich”…

Garrett Price gave us this lovely illustration of a casual reader…

…and Helen Hokinson went shopping with one of her society women…

Next Time: A Glimpse of the Future…

 

 

 

An Inconvenient Truth

The New Yorker offices at 25 West 45th Street were a long walk from Wall Street, but the panic that gripped the city beginning on Oct. 24 spread quickly through the borough. What the panic was about, however, wasn’t exactly clear.

Nov. 2, 1929 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

There was fear in the air, and a hint of doom, when E.B. White submitted his “Notes and Comment” section for the Nov. 2 issue. Having filed his column sometime between October 24 (“Black Thursday”) and October 29, 1929 (“Black Tuesday”), he weighed the mood of his city against the reassurances offered by politicians, bankers and pundits…

TELLERS OF TALES…As the New York Stock Exchange headed toward collapse, President Herbert Hoover, Thomas Lamont (head of the Morgan Bank) and prominent journalist Arthur Brisbane offered assurances that all was well. (Wikipedia/bhg.com)

…and expressed schadenfreude over “a fat land quivering in paunchy fright” and some satisfaction in confirming his suspicions that “our wise and talky friends” on Wall Street really didn’t know what they were talking about:

THEY MADE A MESS OF THE ECONOMY, TOO…Sweeping the floor of the New York Stock Exchange after the Wall Street crash of 1929. (Wikipedia)

It seems White might have believed the worst was over, and that Wall Street would get back to its gambling spirit…

TALES OF TWO CITIES…The Brooklyn Daily Eagle proclaimed panic in its late edition on “Black Thursday,” Oct. 24; however, a day after the “Black Tuesday” crash of Oct. 29, The New York Times offered a more optimistic outlook for the days ahead.

In “The Talk of Town” we find the first use of the word “Depression” in the New Yorker as it is related to the economic collapse…

BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF A BUST…Crowds gather on Wall Street following news of the stock market crash. (mrclark.aretesys.com)

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Mr. Blue Sky

On the subject of stocks, “Talk” also featured this mini profile (written by Robert Coates) of Roland Mulville Smythe (1855-1930), who specialized in buying and selling old and obsolete stocks.  Nicknamed “No Telephone” Smythe for his dislike of the device, he began his trade in obsolete securities and banknotes sometime around 1880…

MARKET GLEANER…Title page of Roland Smythe’s 1929 book, Valuable Extinct Securities. The notation beneath his portrait reads “No Telephone.” (worthpoint.com)

Coates told the story of a Yonkers doctor who used what he thought were worthless stock certificates (from an abandoned coal mine) to paper the walls of his study. Thanks to Smythe’s meticulous record-keeping, when a new lode was discovered at the mine, the doctor learned his wallpaper was worth $14,000 (equivalent to about $200,000 today)…

WALL STREET JUNKER…Share bought by Roland M. Smythe in 1899 and signed by him on the reverse side. At right, unusual obituary headline for an unusual man. (scripophily.org)

…Coates concluded by describing Smythe’s aversion to the telephone, and his talent for bowling…

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Rise of the Machine

Ironically, the National Business Show was staging a big exhibition in Midtown while the economy was collapsing Downtown. James Thurber was on hand at the Grand Central Palace to take in the wonders of the machine age…

NOT MY TYPE…Manufacturers of the Underwood typewriter staged a typing competition at the 1929 National Business Show at the Grand Central Palace. From left are George Hossfield, Stella Willins (with her typewriter “Timmy”), Irma Wright and Albert Tangora. Hossfield, the men’s champion, could type 157 words a minute. The women’s champion — and the world’s champion typist of the 1930s — Willins once typed 128 words a minute for an entire hour without a mistake. She could type 240 words per minute from memorized lines. (oztypewriter.blogspot.com)

…Thurber seemed as impressed by the machines as by the “very prettiest girls” who were on hand to demonstrate them…

LOOKS COMPLICATED…At left, National Cash Register touted its business machines in this ca. 1930 ad; at right, a woman demonstrates a mimeograph machine in the 1920s. (Pinterest)
SHOCK OF THE NEW…At left, these young operators contemplate the operation of an IBM Type 80 horizontal Hollerith card sorter. The woman appears less than thrilled by the mechanical beast; at right, a woman operates a IBM 405 Alphabetic Accounting Machine, ca. 1934. It could process 150 cards a minute and keep track of multiple sums while printing data on continuous-sheet forms. (officemuseum.com/computerhistory.org)

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What a Strange Trip It’s Been

This brief “Talk” entry by Alfred Richman related a story from a traveling salesman just returned from Moscow. Among the highlights of his visit was a Soviet movie that “featured” America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford, in the title role…

In the 1920s, silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were perhaps the most famous couple in the world. That included in the Soviet Union, where moviegoers preferred American films over their own avant-garde fare (while on the other hand, the New Yorker found Soviet films to be far more advanced than Hollywood’s). While vacationing in Moscow in 1926, Pickford and Fairbanks visited a Russian film studio with director Sergei Komarov, who cleverly captured enough footage of the two to weave them into a silent comedy titled A Kiss from Mary Pickford (Potseluy Meri Pikford). The film was a spoof on Hollywood fame, finding humor in a loveless man’s chance meeting (and kiss) with Mary Pickford, and his sudden and unexpected attractiveness to the opposite sex.

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…At left, Soviet film poster for Sergei Komarov’s A Kiss From Mary Pickford, featuring Russian actors Anel Sudakevich and Igor Ilyinsky (in the center photos) with various cameos by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks; at top, Soviet movie posters featuring Fairbanks and Pickford; bottom right, the couple feted by Russian fans, who presented Pickford with the headdress. The year 1929 would mark the end of such films in the Soviet Union — as Stalin began forced collectivization, he declared that Soviet cinema should only satisfy “the basic demands of the proletarian collective farm mass viewer.” Remarkably, Komarov and the actors Sudakevich and Ilyinsky would survive the years of Stalinist terror that would follow, even living to old age. (IMDB/transmediale.de/Facebook fan site)

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Fire and Ice

Back stateside, New Yorker film critic John Mosher took in the talking film debut of the hugely popular stage actress Lenore Ulric (1892-1970). Known on Broadway for her portrayals of fiery women, she tried, it seems unsuccessfully, to bring some of that heat to Frozen Justice, which was set in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush…

FEMME FATALE…Lenora Ulric, who made less than 20 films, was known for her work on the stage. At left, Ulric taking a break from her Broadway work in the early 1930s; center, magazine ad for Frozen Justice; at right, Ulric as the half-Eskimo Talu in Frozen Justice. (Pinterest/IMDB)

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Right Ho, Plummie (CORRECTION: Not So, Plummie)

I incorrectly attributed this poem in the Nov. 2 issue to British humorist P.G. Wodehouse

…thankfully, an alert reader kindly pointed out that “Ode to Peter Stuyvesant” isn’t by Wodehouse, but by another person with the initials PGW — Philip G. Wylie.

HE COULD BE FUNNY, TOO…Short story writer, screenwriter and satirist Philip G. Wylie in an undated photo. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with the back pages, where toaster wars were being waged by the makers of the “Toastmaster” and Thomas Edison’s “Automaticrat”…

…for some in the posh set, the days of fine dining at places like Maillard’s (with this all-French ad) would be coming to an end thanks to the market crash…actually, Maillard’s itself would come to an end in the 1930s, thanks to the Depression…

…stage, film (and later television) actress and dancer Queenie Smith was the latest celeb to tout the wonders of Lux Toilet Soap…

Queenie Smith circa 1930. (IMDB)

…here’s an unusual way to sell shock absorbers…I’m wondering if this is supposed to be a sugar daddy and a chorus girl trying to make hay in the back seat of a car without Houdaille shocks…

…a couple more ads from the back pages, the ones on the left appeal to women’s fitness, while the ad on the right tries its best to push a product that was fast going the way of the horse and buggy. Spats — devised in the late 19th century to protect one’s shoes and socks — went out of fashion in the 1930s, no doubt because most streets were now paved and you didn’t have to worry about a passing wagon splashing mud and horseshit all over your shoes and ankles…

…and indeed, now you could have Goodrich Zippers, in smart new colors…

…and speaking of colors, a couple of richly toned ads for Arrow Shirts…

…and Camel cigarettes…

…on to our illustrators and cartoonists…spot drawings — sprinkled throughout the magazine — were often a foot in the door for aspiring contributors (Peter Arno and Charles Addams are just two examples). Below is a collection of spot drawings from the Nov. 2 issue, mostly from established artists including Barbara Shermund, Alice Harvey, Julian De Miskey, Gardner Rea, Johan Bull and I. Klein. The New Yorker also recycled old cartoons for spots, including the illustration below (third row, second one down) by Shermund of the young woman on telephone, which originally appeared in the July 16, 1927 issue with the caption, “Hold the line a minute, dear—I’m trying to think what I have on my mind.”

Arno continued to provide illustrations for Elmer Rice’s serialized novel, A Voyage to Purilia

…and Julian De Miskey illustrated G. Marston’s entry for the ongoing “That Was New York” column…

…our cartoons come from Barbara Shermund

Gardner Rea, having a political moment…

…for reference, a photo of Mayor Jimmy Walker

/brookstonbeerbulletin.com

Shermund again, on the joys of parenthood…

Peter Arno’s take on Jazz Age chivalry…

…and perhaps the timeliest entry of all, from Leonard Dove

Next Time: Not Much to Cheer About…

 

City of Glass

The New Yorker, via the pen of E.B. Whitelooked to the metropolis of the future in the Oct. 19, 1929 issue — to a city of glass towers that were ready to move from drafting table to reality. That is, until the stock market crash, just days away, which would put a heavy damper on those visions.

Oct. 19, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

White reported in “The Talk of the Town” that several “all-glass” buildings were in the works, including “four apartment houses of glass” designed by Frank Lloyd Wright:

The 1926 Pinaud cosmetics factory designed by Ely Jacques Kahn and Albert-Buchman was poised to get a three-story addition (by Kahn) constructed entirely of glass block, but the market crash likely killed the project. The Depression probably didn’t help Wright’s project either, which would have constituted his first buildings in New York City, and the first with all-glass exteriors.

BEST-LAID PLANS…The 1926 Pinaud factory (left), now home to The School of Visual Arts, did not get its Ely Jacques Kahn-designed glass block addition in 1929; center and at right, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1929 design for three skyscrapers surrounding St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. A single tower of similar design was eventually built in 1956—not in NYC—but out on the prairies in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Click images to enlarge. (collectingvintagecompacts.blogspot.com; 6sqft.com)

Thanks to the Depression, and World War II, Gotham would have to wait 23 years for its houses of glass…

LATE ARRIVALS…Left, the 1952 Lever House, by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois of SOM; right, the 1959 Seagram Building, by Mies van der Rohe. (Shorpy/ArchDaily)

and let’s not forget one of the most important post-war modernist statements to rise near the East River…

INTERNATIONAL STYLE…The 505-foot-tall United Nations Secretariat Building, constructed between 1947 and 1952. The building was designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. (United Nations)

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Rising From the Ashes

While most architects were looking to the future, some still gazed into the past, and in the case of Whitney Warren, rather bitterly. It was Warren who designed a new library in Louvain, Belgium, to replace one that was burned to ground by invading German troops during World War I. Around three hundred thousand books and a thousand manuscripts were destroyed in the fire, not to mention thousands of civilians who died during the invasion and occupation. The New Yorker seemed ready to forgive, but given the scale of the atrocity just 15 years earlier, one could understand Warren’s obstinance:

And to add insult to injury, the second library designed by Warren was also destroyed by the Germans in the World War II. What stands today is a restoration of that building.

A TALE OF TWO LIBRARIES…Clockwise, from top left, a comparison of the Louvain university library in 1913, and after its destruction by the Germans in 1914 (the postcard photo at top right became almost instantly famous around the world). At bottom, left, the replacement designed by Warren, which was also destroyed by the Germans in World War II. Inset, Whitney Warren, circa 1915. (Associated Press/Wikipedia)

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Belles Lettres? Non!

E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” noted a new trend in the world of letters: celebrity authors. White lamented that the job of writing books and newspaper articles was being usurped by politicians, actors and athletes:

ASPIRING SCRIBBLERS…Former New York Gov. Al Smith, slugger Babe Ruth (dictating to his “ghost” writer) and former President Calvin Coolidge all got in on the act of book publishing. (Amazon/ourgame.mlblogs.com)

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Where Babies Come From

For his “A Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey, paid a visit to the Lying-In Society of New York, a maternity hospital now known as Rutherford Place. I include a few excerpts below to give some idea how times have changed in the past 89 years…

THE EASY PART…Fathers admire their newborns in this circa 1920s photo. At right, the building that housed the Lying-In Society of New York. Inset, one of the cherubs carved into the building’s facade. (Wikipedia)

…imagine, if you will, the scent of ether (then commonly used as an anesthetic) and other drugs as you entered the hospital (no air-conditioning or HVAC to whisk those odors away!)…

NIGHTY NIGHT…Anesthesiologist administers ether and nitrous oxide to a patient before surgery in a Washington hospital, 1922. (Everett Collection)

…not to mention the sweat of anxious fathers banished from delivery or recovery rooms…

WELCOME TO THE WORLD…Nurse learning to care for infants, Philadelphia General Hospital, c. 1930; nurses caring for infants at Long Hospital, Indiana University, in the 1920s. Note row of cribs fastened to the wall, which seemed to be a standard design back then. (upenn.edu/comet.soic.iupui.edu)

…or hospital stays for mothers that averaged 10 days…

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Should Have Stayed Home

Dorothy Parker was dealing with a “baby’ of her in own, in this case a grown man with the conversational skills of brick wall. She related her experience in a casual titled, “But the One on the Right…” An excerpt:

Dorothy Parker, happily at home, in 1924. (New York Public Library)

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More Applause for Helen

The New Yorker continued to shine an approving light on the work of nightclub singer Helen Morgan, this time in her first talking picture, Applause:

FALLING STAR…Helen Morgan (foreground, right) portrayed a fading burlesque star named Kitty Darling in 1929’s Applause, Morgan’s first all-talking picture. (MOMA)

On a sad note, Morgan’s real life had parallels to the film, including the abandonment of a child and a death due to alcohol and drugs — in the film Kitty overdoses on sleeping pills before a show; in real life Morgan would collapse onstage during a Chicago performance of George White’s Scandals of 1942. She would die of cirrhosis of the liver at age 41.

IMITATING LIFE…Helen Morgan as Kitty Darling in Applause. Her best days behind her, Darling becomes an alcoholic who lives in the past. Sadly, Morgan’s real life had parallels to the movie. (art fuse.org)

There was no such applause from the New Yorker for another talkie, the screen adaptation of the popular Ziegfeld Broadway stage show Rio Rita:

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT…Lobby Card for Rio Rita, featuring John Boles and Bebe Daniels. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

The Stewart fashion shop on Fifth Avenue featured a series of attractive, modern ads, these two appearing in the Oct. 19 and 26 issues…

According to the terrific website Driving for Deco, “Stewart and Company broke away from the traditional department store layout. Instead of aisle after aisle of display cases the new store comprised many shops. These “shops” were not individually owned as in a present day mall. They were rooms or alcoves devoted to specific merchandise. The design of the shops and floors fell to several different interior design firms…”

Clockwise, from top, artist rending of the Stewart women’s shoe department; Stewart and Company building at 721 5th Avenue; Stewart Millinery Shop. (Vogue/Museum of the City of New York, all via drivingfordeco.com)

The Depression brought an end to Stewart and Company, which went out of business in the spring of 1930. Later that year Bonwit Teller opened in the former Stewart Building. They would close their doors to business 49 years later.

Sadly the building was demolished in 1980 to make way for a monument to a massive ego: Trump Tower.

Demolition of the former Stewart & Company building in 1980. The Rene Paul Chambellan bas-relief sculptures on the building’s facade were supposedly destined to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Developer Donald Trump thought the removal of the sculptures was cost-prohibitive, so they were smashed by jackhammers. (drivingfordeco.com)

…back to the ads, we have another image of a building that is now but a ghost (I am writing this on Halloween)…

The Mayflower Hotel, left, a 1926 building designed by Emery Roth, was demolished in 2005 to make way for Robert A.M. Stern’s luxury condominiums, 15 Central Park West. (nymag.com)

…speaking of luxury, these posh types seem to be almost lulled to sleep by RCA’s “Radiola Super-Heterodyne”…

…and I throw in this ad from Milgrim for its use of the word “patrician” to appeal to the aristocratic yearnings of some New Yorker readers…

…perhaps those patricians would have preferred a move to “aristocratic” Scarsdale, as the middle ad below suggests, or perhaps they would have chosen something more “unusual” in East Orange…

…for reference, here is a Google street view image of 75 Prospect in East Orange, New Jersey…

…and if you were of the upper classes, you probably would have wanted the latest in toothbrushes and “French” mouthwashes…

…on to our illustrators and cartoonists, I. Klein looked in on the elections…

Peter Arno illustrated the plight of a hapless silent film actor…

…and Helen Hokinson eavesdropped on a canine faux pas…

Next Time…Prelude to a Crash…

 

 

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…