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…

Brave New Year

The imposing of image of a fat, fearsome banker greeted readers of the Jan. 4, 1930 issue of the New Yorker, an apt symbol for the dawn of a new decade in a country whose fate seemed wholly in the hands of the old moneymen.

Jan. 4, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

However bleak the outlook, the show still had to go on, and automakers did their best to entice crowds to the National Automobile Show at the Grand Central Palace. The New Yorker’s Nicholas Trott wrote of a “tentative modernism” on display at the show as automobile styles continued to transition from “horseless carriages” to something that looked decidedly modern. Trott’s column, illustrated by Peter Arno

…made note of the modern angles of Art Deco that were creeping into the designs…

DAZZLING DASHES…Clockwise, from top left, the 1930 Essex sported an Art Deco instrument panel, as did the 1930 Hudson Great Eight Sedan. (hemmings.com/Free Library of Philadelphia)

…Trott also noted the increasing popularity of eight-cylinder cars (as evidenced in ads featured later in this blog post)…

TEMPLE OF TRANSPORTATION…Top left, postcard image of the Grand Central Palace exhibition building, circa 1916. At right and below, new automobiles on display at the Palace in the early 1930s. (Wikipedia/NY Daily News)

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Flappers Get Flappy

Automobile designs weren’t the only changes seen on the streets of New York. In “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White lamented the introduction of “ear flaps” on women’s hats…

THEY FLOP, JUST LIKE THE STOCK MARKET…A selection of women’s hats from a 1930 Chicago Mail Order Company catalog. (elfsacks.com)

…while on the other hand, in “The Talk of the Town” White welcomed the addition of a namesake hotel to the New York skyline…

NAMESAKE…The 43-story Hotel New Yorker at 481 Eighth Avenue, by architects Sugarman and Berger, opened on January 2, 1930, with more than 2,500 rooms starting at $3.50 a night. At left, the hotel following its completion; top right, construction on the hotel began just 22 months earlier; bottom right, the Terrace Room nightclub was a popular spot for dancing in the 1930s and 40s. (The New Yorker Hotel/americanfoodroots.com)

…White noted that the “New Yorker” name seemed to be popping up everywhere…

A NEW LEASE ON LIFE…The hotel as it appears today. With the decline of train travel (the hotel was near Penn Station), the Hotel New Yorker closed in 1972 and was purchased by the Unification Church in 1975. Subsequently much of the original Art Deco detailing was lost, and the hotel’s famed Louis Jambor murals were painted over. Beginning in the mid-1990s the New Yorker Hotel Management Company launched a $100 million capital improvement project (top right). Fortunately, the Art Deco doors of the Manufacturers Trust Company offices (below) were preserved, as was company’s lobby. (Wikipedia/Daytonian in Manhattan)
…and White marveled at the building’s massive scale…
WHAT LIES BENEATH…Popular Science (April 1930) offered a view into the bowels of Hotel New Yorker, 78 feet below street level. (tparents.org)
According to Tom Miller’s excellent blog Daytonian in Manhattan, the New Yorker was the largest hotel in city: “it boasted 2,500 rooms, murals by renowned artist Louis Jambor, the largest barber shop in the world (42 chairs and 20 manicurists), 155 chefs and cooks for the five restaurants. Employing 92 telephone operators, the hotel had one of the largest switchboards in the country…Its basement power plant was the largest private plant in the United States. The Great Depression apparently never heard of the New Yorker Hotel as satin-gowned movie stars and top-hatted politicians crossed its marble-floored lobby.” (Inventor Nikola Tesla spent the last ten years of his life in near-seclusion in Suite 3327).
The Unification Church purchased the building in 1975,  removing Art Deco details and painting over the Jambor murals. In 1994 the New Yorker Hotel Management Company launched what would be a $100 million capital improvement project. Miller writes that during the renovation “the original marble floors were exposed from under yards of threadbare carpeting.” And happily, “when the doors to the old Manufacturer’s Trust Company were opened, the old 1929 lobby was intact…the Jambor murals (in the Trust’s lobby) survived. The Art Deco terrazzo floors remained. And the tiled corridor to Penn Station still stretches diagonally beneath 8th Avenue, now used as storage for security reasons.”
EPHEMERAL ART…Murals by renowned artist Louis Jambor, seen in this photo of the ballroom in the 1940s. The murals were painted over in the 1970s after the hotel was acquired by the Unification Church. (The New Yorker Hotel)
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Ways of Seeing

Art critic Murdock Pemberton (1888-1982) continued to ponder the meaning of the new Museum of Modern Art, which was staging its second-ever exhibition in its galleries on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building on Fifth Avenue:

ARE WE NOT MODERN? Charles Demuth’s My Egypt, (oil on composition board, 1927) was among works featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s second exhibition, Paintings by Nineteen Living Americans. From left, cover of the exhibition catalog, a page from the catalog featuring Demuth’s painting, and as the work appears in color. (MoMA/WikiArt)

No doubt Pemberton, who came from humble Kansas roots, found it difficult to warm up to a gallery founded in November 1929 by three society women — Mary Sullivan, Lillie Bliss and Abby Rockefeller

…and wryly suggested that perhaps another museum could be founded, “The Modernest Modern Museum,” for those who lacked clout or patronage with MoMA’s well-heeled board of directors…

Pemberton’s grumblings caught the attention of Alfred Barr Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, who sought a correction (printed in the back pages of the Jan. 4 issue) regarding some of Pemberton’s earlier observations of the museum. No doubt Barr was feeling some Rockefeller heat as well:

HERE’S MUD IN YOUR EYE…Murdock Pemberton, apparently endorsing Taylor’s Port in 1937. (observer.com)

For some insight into Pemberton’s populist views (the old meaning of the word, not the new one), the critic’s granddaughter, Sally Pemberton, had this to say in a 2012 New Yorker interview:

“Being from humble roots in Kansas and having worked to help support his family since he was a young boy, Murdock had a love-hate relationship with the upper echelon of society. He visited “plush hung galleries” and saw how museums treated art and artists in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, and he wanted art to be more accessible. He asked that the Met set aside a room for the work of living artists. He called for art to be displayed in libraries and universities, and in some cases to be sold in department stores. He wrote about what a wonderful thing it was when the W.P.A. put murals in post offices around the country and how that changed the American public’s perception of art.”

Ms. Pemberton is the author of Portrait of Murdock Pemberton: The New Yorker’s First Art Critic.

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From Our Advertisers

More ink for the newly opened Hotel New Yorker in this advertisement on page 47…

…and with the automobile show in town, the magazine was filled with numerous splashy car ads…Franklin with its air-cooled engine, Hupmobile with its powerful eight, and Pierce-Arrow—America’s answer to Rolls Royce—would all fall victim in the 1930s to the Great Depression…

…the magazine also featured numerous ads beckoning the well-heeled to warmer southern climes, including society snowbirds seeking respite at Palm Beach…

…this ad from Flit (drawn by Dr. Seuss) seemed to recall the old filler joke from the first issues of the New Yorker, a riddle told backwards:

POP: A man who thinks he can make it in par.
JOHNNY: What is an optimist, pop?

Peter Arno offered his talents in this illustration for the theater review section…

…and this cartoon peek into society night life…

…glimpses of domestic life were provided by Perry Barlow

Garrett Price

Alice Harvey

…and Leonard Dove

Next Time: A Backward Glance…