Animal Crackers

Above image: Groucho Marx, Margaret Dumont, and Lillian Roth in the Marx Brothers second film, Animal Crackers, 1930

The Marx Brothers were famous for a string of hit films in the 1930s, but some of the comedy on which those films were based went all the way back to the days of vaudeville and 1920s Broadway.

Sept. 6, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

Animal Crackers was their second film (the first was 1929’s The Cocoanuts), and the last to be adapted from one of their stage shows. It was also the last Marx Brothers movie to be filmed at Paramount’s Astoria Studio in Queens before the brothers headed for Hollywood.

MUSICAL CIRCUS…Animal Crackers began as a Broadway stage production in 1928 before moving to film in 1930; from left to right: Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo in a publicity photo for the stage version of Animal Crackers. (www.georgeskaufman.com)

The New Yorker’s John Mosher reviewed the film version, which was playing at the Rialto Theatre:

SO LONG, NEW YORK…Animal Crackers was the second and final Marx Brothers movie to be filmed at Astoria Studios in Queens; from left, Chico, Zeppo, Groucho and Harpo Marx pose for a 1930 publicity photo. (IMDB)

Always partial to European directors, Mosher found Ernst Lubitsch’s Monte Carlo among the better films playing in the late summer.

OH YOU CAD!…Jeanette MacDonald and Jack Buchanan in Monte Carlo. (IMDB)

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Fox in the Hen House

“The Talk of the Town” made light of Mayor Jimmy Walker’s plan to “rid the city of graft.” Ironically, Jimmy himself would be drummed out of office two years later for accepting bribes…

WHAT ME WORRY? Yes maybe. Mayor Jimmy Walker in 1930. (nymag.com)

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From Our Advertisers

We have another lovely illustration from Carl “Eric” Erickson promoting the joys of smoking unfiltered cigarettes…

…these small ads for apartments in the back pages of the magazine promoted the bucolic vistas in Westchester…

Images of Fleetwood Hills from The American Architect, June 1926.

…and European-style living on East 44th Street…

The Beaux-Arts Apartments (which still stand) consisted of buildings on both sides of E. 44th Street. (Museum of the City of New York)

…as for comics, Peter Arno continued this running gag…

…as did Rea Irvin in another tableaux (originally running sideways, full page) featuring the clash of country bumpkins and city elites…

Garrett Price looked in on the burdens of the wealthy…

…and Barbara Shermund caught some small talk at a cafe…

…back to Peter Arno, and a heated game of table tennis…

…and Gardner Rea, witness to modern-day crime reporting…

On to the Sept. 13, 1930 issue…

Sept. 13, 1930: yet another satirical kakemono cover by Rea Irvin.

As I’ve noted many times before, the early New Yorker covered every sport under the sun (and especially elite sports such as yacht racing, tennis and badminton, golf and polo) but to my knowledge never covered a major league baseball game in its then five-year existence. Here, E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” complains about the high price of tickets to polo matches…

…White, a well-known dog lover (and all-around animal lover), offered a rather cruel solution to a problem cat in this feature:

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Oh Never Mind

At first glance I thought this might actually be an article about a baseball game, but alas, it was a column by Ring Lardner (titled “Br’er Rabbit Ball”) that showed little enthusiasm for the game (the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal apparently soured his love for baseball). Excerpts:

Speaking of sports, we move to the advertisements and the helpful folks from Lucky Strike, who wanted to help you get in shape with a smoke…

…and another ad for Flit insecticide by Dr. Seuss, featuring an elephant that looked a lot like the future Horton, and some unfortunate racist imagery…

…yet another Peter Arno repeat with a new caption (is the joke growing stale, folks?)…

…and another in a series of 1930’s images by Ralph Barton

…a maritime dilemma, courtesy Garrett Price

…and apartment shopping with Constantin Alajalov

Next Time: When Lindy Was Lucky…

Aleck and Frank at Taliesin

From the late I.M. Pei to Frank Gehry, America has its share of “starchitects,” but only one architect in the history of the profession could claim to be a true household name: Frank Lloyd Wright. 

July 19, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

In a profile titled “The Prodigal Father,” Alexander Woollcott wrote about Wright’s “return” to American acceptance after nearly two decades of scandal and tragedy. Woollcott took great pains to defend Wright’s reputation, marred by his extramarital affair with Mamah Cheney, her murder in 1914 along with six others (including her children) at Wright’s Wisconsin home, Taliesin, and his subsequent remarriage, divorce, and remarriage that followed.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN…Clockwise, from top left, Reginald Marsh illustration for the profile; Frank Lloyd Wright, circa 1930; Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, completed in 1923. Designed in the Maya Revival Style Wright favored throughout the 1920s, it was damaged by the 1923 Great Tokyo Earthquake just months after opening. It was demolished in 1967, however the iconic central lobby wing and the reflecting pool were disassembled and rebuilt near Nagoya. (Library of Congress/dezeen.com)

Woollcott also wrote of his visit to Taliesin (the third version of the house, after the first two were destroyed by fires). It’s a shame these two headstrong fellows never met — it would have been a lively conversation, no doubt. One thing that does stand out about this profile is that it is a rare hagiography from a man renowned for his savage wit.

AN ADMIRER…Alexander Woollcott praised the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright in his profile. He doesn’t mention actually meeting Wright. It would have been fascinating to see these headstrong individuals match wits.
MAYA OH MAYA…Clockwise, from top left, Frank Lloyd Wright favored the Maya Revival Style in the 1920s, which is evident in the Alice Millard House in Pasadena (1923) and the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles (1919-21). At bottom, the third version of Taliesin (built in 1925) that Woollcott would have visited. (Wikipedia/Taliesin Preservation)

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No Surprise Endings, Please

Although sometimes confused with Alexander Woollcott because of his first name, the timid, taciturn Wolcott Gibbs was a force at the New Yorker in his own right, perhaps even more so as he served the magazine from 1927 to 1958 as a jack-of-all-trades: copy editor, feature writer, theater critic, and overall wordsmith. So when the editors of The Writer’s Digest posed a question regarding the New Yorker’s policy for submissions, it was Gibbs who was tapped to compose a response, which was a particular challenge given the magazine didn’t have a clear set of editorial requirements. So Gibbs conjured up an “Answers-To-Hard-Questions Department,” and signed it “Mr. Winterbottom.” Some excerpts:

IN HIS ELEMENT…Wolcott Gibbs, left, relaxes at the Algonquin Hotel in 1937. At right is his New Yorker colleague Dorothy Parker. (Time)

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Munitions of Bremen

The German Ocean liner SS Bremen was one of the most technologically advanced ocean liners of its day, known for its speed and luxury. Author Eric Hodgins climbed aboard to file a report for the New Yorker, and in the excerpt below marveled at the “mechanical perfection” of the ship’s engine room:

PLOUGHSHARES INTO SWORDS…More than the length of three football fields, the streamlined SS Bremen, launched in 1928, was designed to have a cruising speed of  27.5 knots (50.9 km/h). After a 1941 fire, the ship was largely dismantled, its steel used to manufacture war munitions. (Wikipedia/greatoceanliners.com)

You can get some idea of the ship in this clip from the 1936 German comedy Spiel an Bord (Game on Board). Location shooting took place in Bremerhaven, New York, and on the Atlantic crossing of the SS Bremen (at about :53 there is an image of a Nazi flag salute that I don’t believe was in the original film, but that flag undoubtedly flew on this ship in 1936)…

In 1941, while docked in Bremerhaven, a disgruntled crew member set fire to the ship, completely gutting its luxurious interior. During the war the ship was stripped of its steel for use in munitions, and in 1946 what remained was destroyed by explosives.

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From Our Advertisers

In my readings of recent issues I’ve noted numerous references to hot weather, and for good reason. The summer of 1930 would see record high temperatures and diminished rainfall that would usher in the “Dust Bowl” era of the 1930s. The Wallach Brothers adjusted by offering this “Dixie Weave Suit”…

…the hot weather also called for a tall glass of sparkling soda (mixed with your favorite bootleg beverage, of course)…

…smokers could keep cool by puffing on a Spud, the first menthol cigarette…

…or you could stick with your Luckies, endorsed by none other than this generic, genial doctor and some bogus survey…

…on to our cartoons…I. Klein showed us a downside of Edison’s invention…

…and Leonard Dove gave us two gentlemen on the skids, a frequent sight in Depression-era New York…

…after a long absence, we see suddenly see a flurry of activity from the pen of Ralph Barton, including this rare sequential cartoon…

…and with the hot summer New Yorkers took to the waters, at Coney Island with Denys Wortman

…and Southampton, with Helen Hokinson

Next Time: For the Byrds…

 

A Happy Fourth!

The July 5, 1930 New Yorker made a subtle nod to the Fourth of July holiday with this cover by Julian De Miskey. The title images above are of actress Alice White and child actor Jackie Coogan getting into the Independence Day spirit in the 1930s.

July 5, 1930 cover by Julian De Miskey.

On Solid Ground

With massive skyscrapers going up all over the city, some New Yorkers apparently feared that the weight of those buildings would cause the earth’s surface to crack. “The Talk of the Town” offered some factual information to allay those fears:

Not guaranteeing the science on this, but here’s an image I gleaned from Reddit…

Dark gray lines are fault lines (why the brown soil drops in those places). The gray areas are bedrock known as Manhattan Schist, which one can see above ground in Central Park. The reddish brown at lower right is marble. The green area is either gneiss or sill rock.

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War and Apple Pie

E.B. White had some fun at the expense of “Major” Frank Pease, president of the Hollywood Technical Directors Institute, an anti-communist activist organization. Despite the title of his organization, no film director had ever heard of Pease until he began issuing press statements labeling the 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front as anti-American and anti-military. White responded:

MINOR MAJOR…”Major” Frank Pease, left, thought the depiction of the horrors of war in All Quiet on the Western Front was anti-American. Pease himself never rose above the rank of private, but claimed he was a retired major in the U.S. Army. (Wikipedia/IMDB).

In one of my recent posts, the New Yorker’s John Mosher reviewed the film, All Quiet on the Western Front.

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Speaking of Un-American

City Hall organizers of a welcome home ceremony for Admiral Richard Byrd — back from his South Pole adventures — arranged to have a woman sing The Star Spangled Banner, but according to “The Talk of the Town,” not just any woman would do…

DISSED…Italian-American soprano Dusolina Giannini was born in Philadelphia, but deemed not American enough to sing at New York’s City Hall for Admiral Richard Byrd. (YouTube)

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Five Alarm Fireworks 

“The Talk of the Town” discussed at some length the challenges July 4 posed to New York’s firefighters. An excerpt:

Also in the “Talk” section, some spot illustrations by Abe Birnbaum, who apparently had returned from a trip to Paris. The first image appeared in the June 28 issue, the second the July 5 issue:

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Just Say No

Helena Huntington Smith turned in a profile on American birth control activist Margaret Sanger (1879-1966). Sanger popularized the term “birth control” and opened the first family planning clinic in the United States. She established several organizations that eventually evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The opening paragraphs of Smith’s profile:

Margaret Sanger circa 1930. At right, portrait for the profile by Ralph Barton.

Controversial 89 years ago as well as today, Sanger remains a target of both the right and left, labeled variously as a baby killer and a racist. Sanger was vocal in her opposition to abortion, maintaining that birth control would not only prevent abortions, but would give many women the ability to control family size and end their cycle of poverty. Sanger also spoke out against racism, but the case is more muddled here: She became involved in the eugenics movement through her belief that society needed to limit births by those least able to afford children, including those deemed “unfit” to raise them.

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From Our Advertisers

From 1920 to 1930, automobile ownership in America nearly tripled from eight million to 23 million. Along with that growth came the rise of oil giants such as Texaco, which in 1928 became the first U.S. oil company to sell its gasoline nationwide under one single brand name. So they had no problem taking out a three-page ad in the July 5 New Yorker…

…while Americans were ready to guzzle gas, British automaker Austin touted both fuel economy and compactness in its American entry…

…for several decades in the 20th century tobacco companies employed physicians to promote their deadly products…Fatima was one of the first…

…the makers of Old Gold, however, were pioneers in associating cigarette smoking with sporting activities and tales of derring-do…here the rapid spread of the Old Gold brand across the country is equated to the record-breaking feats of a young female pilot, Elinor Smith

…I don’t know if Smith herself smoked, but she almost lived 100 years, and flew well into her her 90s…we looked at Smith’s feats in a recent post

Elinor Smith’s flying career would extend from age 16 to her 90s. In March 1930 she set the women’s world altitude record.

…Carl G. Fisher bought a big chunk of the East End of Long Island in 1926 with the intent of turning it into the “Miami Beach of the North.” Fisher would build more than two dozen Tudor-style buildings at Montauk before losing his fortune in the 1929 market crash. This ad appears to be an attempt to draw renewed interest in the development, appealing to Anglophilic pretensions that sometimes afflicted New Yorker readers…

…speaking of Anglophilia, a cartoon by Denys Wortman offered an example…

Barbara Shermund examined an aspect of society’s pecking order…

…and referenced a gay stereotype…

Garrett Price looked in on a misunderstanding at the museum…

Peter Arno discovered that a bite is worse than a bark in this case…

…and Leonard Dove gave us a double entendre courtesy of a mild-mannered building supervisor seeking to remove a draft block (or bung) from a chimney flue…

Next Time: Transatlantic Dreaming…

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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Garbo Speaks

Imagine your favorite Hollywood actress, maybe someone like Meryl Streep or Judi Dench. You’ve followed their careers and watched most of their movies, but you’ve never heard their voices.

March 22, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

That’s what it was like for Greta Garbo fans before March 1930, when she spoke her first onscreen words in the 1930 MGM drama Anna Christie, which was adapted from a 1922 play by Eugene O’Neill. 

SWEDISH SPHINX…Greta Garbo’s mask-like qualities on display in this publicity still for Anna Christie. (IMDB)

The New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher, not always a fan of Garbo’s silent work (although she had plenty of fans), found a “special kind of glamour” in her first talking picture, even tossing out the word “legend” to describe this Swede who avoided publicity like a bad cold…

No doubt a few moviegoers saw the movie just to finally hear that voice, which Mosher described as “a surprise…a deep, low voice, a boy’s voice really, rather flat, rather toneless, yet growing more attractive as the picture advances”…

Director William H. Daniels (seated, left) with unidentified cameraman filming a scene from Anna Christie with actors Greta Garbo and Clarence Brown; at right, the actors contemplate the microphone hovering above them. Note how the camera in the first photo is contained in a soundproof case. (IMDB) click image to enlarge

Publicized with the tag line “Garbo talks!,” Anna Christie premiered in New York City on Feb. 21 and became the highest-grossing film of 1930. Later that year a German language version would be filmed featuring Garbo but with a different director and supporting cast.

SOUND DEBUT…Clockwise, from top left, Greta Garbo and Marie Dressler in Anna Christie; an MGM ad touting the film as one of the best pictures of the year (it would be the year’s highest-grossing, and Garbo would receive an Academy Award nomination); studio portraits of Garbo used in the film’s promotion. (IMDB)

And if you want to hear Garbo deliver those famous first lines — “Give me a whisky, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby” — here it is, in a scene about sixteen minutes into the film…

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Chicken and Cocktails
En route to the South Seas, the French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) paid a visit to New York City, and by all accounts had a good time there. His visit was described by Murdock Pemberton in “The Talk of the Town”…

I ♥ NEW YORK…Henri Matisse arriving in New York City on the S. S. Mauretania, December 15, 1930. He described the city as “majestic.” (artistandstudio.tumblr.com)
NICE PLACE, THIS…Henri Matisse sitting on the brick roof terrace of 10 Mitchell Place (formerly Stewart Hall), the Queensboro Bridge glimpsed in the background. The photo was taken in 1930 by his son, Pierre Matisse, who was living in New York. At right, 10 Mitchell Place today. A framed photograph of Matisse sitting on the rooftop hangs on the wall of the building’s lobby. (Henri-matisse.net/Ephemeral New York)
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The Last Page
The death of author D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) was reported to New Yorker readers by Janet Flanner, the magazine’s Paris correspondent, who briefly detailed the writer’s rather sad decline…

FLEETING DAYS…D. H. Lawrence (right) with fellow writer Aldous Huxley at Bandol, in the South of France, 1929. (Topham Picturepoint)

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What Depression?

Nearly five months into the Great Depression, yet little evidence in the New Yorker of the catastrophe that was unfolding across the land. And true to form, the approach to the topic was made with humor, via E.B. White in “Notes and Comment”…

KNOW ANY GOOD JOKES?…At left, unemployed New York dockworkers; at right, folks enjoying the New York Public Library’s outdoor reading room in Bryant Park, 1930s. (Lewis Hine/National Archives and Records Administration/New York Public Library)

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Cathedrals of Commerce

E.B. White also observed the changing skyline, and how the towering skyscrapers were quickly overshadowing the once prominent steeples of the city’s churches…

REACHING TO THE HEAVENS…Clockwise, from top left, Trinity Church Wall Street and St. Patrick’s have been eclipsed by the towers of Mammon, but St. John’s and Riverside still dominate their surroundings today. (Wikipedia/St. John’s/Riverside)

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The Other House of Worship

Perhaps a certain skyscraper ennui settled in, as architecture critic George S. Chappell was not all that impressed by the “huge” Lincoln Building (which today still seems huge)…

SIZE DOESN’T MATTER…Although the new Lincoln Building proved to be a massive addition to the New York skyline, its style seemed outdated in contrast to its flashy new neighbor, the Chrysler Building — one of its gargoyles, at right, seems poised to devour the Lincoln Building. (nyc-architecture.com)

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From Our Advertisers

We have a bit more evidence of the Depression in the ads, including this one from Abercrombie & Fitch, with two sporting gents opting to go fishing to take their minds off the markets…

…if fishing wasn’t your thing, perhaps you just wanted to escape into the “quiet” of the wide streets in the East Seventies…

…or relax with a smoke, which artist Carl Erickson made look so appealing with his Camel ad illustrations…

…or take the humorous route to a relaxing smoke, with this ad for Murad as illustrated by Rea Irvin

…on to our cartoonists, Garrett Price captured the mood of the times…

…while Alfred Krakusin captured an altogether different mood…

...Leonard Dove examined the path to stardom…

I. Klein pondered modern art…

William Crawford Galbraith found an unlikely victim of religious zeal…

Mary Petty gave us a glimpse of a doctor’s office…

…and Leonard Dove again, this time at ringside…

Next Time: Noblesse Oblige…

 

Learning To Be Modern

On March 1, 1930, the Empire State Building was still just a bunch of sketches and blueprints, as was much of the yet-to-be-built modern cityscape of Manhattan. But as the Depression slowly worked its gnarled fingers into the American landscape, some still dreamed of the sleek, streamlined world to come.

March 1, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

The New Yorker’s architecture critic, George S. Chappell, kept readers apprised of changes on the city’s skyline, as well as of the trends in modern design that were being displayed at various exhibitions including one held annually by the city’s Architectural League. Chappell observed:

A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE…Opening pages of the Architectural League’s 45th Annual Exhibition, featuring an image of the Empire State Building. Construction had just begun on the iconic building at the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. (mullenbooks.com)

The exhibition featured a variety of projects, from the Aluminaire House in Long Island to Boardman Robinson’s murals in Pittsburgh to Bertram Goodhue’s Nebraska State Capitol featuring Lee Lawrie’s sculptures and friezes…

ECLECTIC…Model of the Aluminaire House erected in full scale for the 45th Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York; Boardman Robinson’s The History of Trade murals in Kaufmann’s Department Store, Pittsburgh; detail of one of Boardman’s 10 murals displayed at Kaufmann’s; Lee Lawrie’s “The Sower,” a 19-foot-tall bronze statue mounted on top of Bertram Goodhue’s Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. In 1937 Lawrie would install his “Atlas” sculpture in front of Rockefeller Center. (archleague.org/archive.triblive.com/capitol.nebraska.gov)

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And Now For Something Old

While George Chappell contemplated the world to come, “The Talk of Town” looked back in time to Greenwich Village’s oldest drugstore…

FORM FOLLOWED FUNCTION…Quackenbush Pharmacy in 1930. Manager James Todd at right. (Library of Congress)

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Pet Project

The March 1 issue featured James Thurber’s second installment of “Our Pet Department”…

And while Thurber was doling out pet advice, his pal E.B. White was worrying over changes to the design of the Shredded Wheat box…

HORSELESS CARRIAGES replaced animal power on the packages of Shredded Wheat, much to the dismay of E.B. White. (oldshopstuff.com)

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A Prince of a Guy

A refugee from the Bolshevik Revolution, the Georgian Prince Matchabelli (Guéorgui Vassilievitch Matchabelli) was penniless when he landed on American shores in 1924. Two years later he launched a perfume business with three scents  — Ave Maria, Princess Norina, and Queen of Georgia — sold in bottles that were said to be small replicas of the Prince’s lost Georgian crown. “The Talk of the Town” paid the royal perfumer a visit for the March 1 issue:

HIS CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT…A bottle of Princess Norina perfume from 1926, and its creator, Prince Matchabelli. (Pinterest/Wikipedia)

Those who were around the late 1970s and 1980s no doubt recall the Prince Matchabelli Windsong Perfume commercials and the catchy tune that kind of stuck in your head (for better or worse)…

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Low Life Revue

Ben Hecht continued his exploration of the hardboiled world of journalists, bootleggers, nightclub singers and other lowlifes in his screenplay for Roadhouse Nights, a film that was apparently enjoyed by New Yorker film critic John Mosher. As for Hecht, an erstwhile member of the Algonquin Round Table and occasional contributor to the New Yorker in the 1920s, the film was just one of many to follow in a Hollywood career that the former Chicago journalist held in some disdain (see recent New Yorker article by David Denby)…

IT’S MOIDER, I SAY…Helen Morgan, Eddie Jackson Jimmy Durante, Fred Kohler, and Lou Clayton in 1930’s Roadhouse Nights. (IMDB)

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The Winds of Wynn

Ed Wynn wowed theater critic Robert Benchley in his portrayal of “Simple Simon” at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Wynn was one of the most popular comedians of his time, but is best known today for his portrayal of “Uncle Albert” in the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins

AGELESS…Ed Wynn in Simple Simon, 1930; at right as Uncle Albert in 1964’s Mary Poppins. (secondhandsongs.com/Pinterest)

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He Was No Palooka

The March 1 and 9 issues of the New Yorker gave considerable ink to Niven Busch Jr’s success story of a middleweight prizefighter. Titled “K.O. Middleweight,” the two-part article was about Stanislas Kalnins, who went by the name K.O. Keenen because it would go over better with the large majority of Irishmen at the fights. Peter Arno provided the art for the piece:

From Our Advertisers

We have another ad from the Franklin motorcar company touting its air-cooled engines, which thanks to the Depression were not long for the world…

…Saks shamelessly appealed to the “poor” little rich girl in this ad aimed at aspiring debutantes…

…Lenthric perfumes offered this all-French ad to those seeking Continental refinement…

…and this ad from Talon, advertising zippers before the word “zipper” came into common use…

Garrett Price was the latest New Yorker cartoonist to pick up some extra cash from G. Washington instant coffee…

…while John Held Jr. even lent his image (along with some drawings) to promote Chase and Sanborn’s coffee…

…this artist for Spud cigarettes borrowed Carl Erickson’s style from his famed Camel ads (see examples below)…

…examples of Carl “Eric” Erickson’s Camel ads from the late 1920s…

…and here we have another New Yorker cartoonist, Rea Irvin, helping the makers of Murad cigarettes move their product…

…Irvin also illustrated this cartoon for the March 1 issue…

Reginald Marsh contributed these cartoons, no doubt based on a recent winter stay in sunny Havana (I’ve been to Sloppy Joe’s, and still looks pretty much like this)…

…back stateside, Peter Arno looked in on a cultural exchange…

…and we close with two from the issue by Barbara Shermund

Next Time: The Non-linear Man…

The Year of the Thurber

When the fifth anniversary issue of the New Yorker hit the newstands in February 1930, the magazine was also setting down another milestone: its first-ever publication of a James Thurber cartoon.

Feb. 22, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

Inserted into the top corner of page 25 (next to a short fiction piece by Emily Hahn), was Thurber’s first installment of his spoof on newspaper pet columns titled “Our Pet Department.”

Seeming a bit quizzical about his debut as a cartoonist, in February 1930 Thurber wrote to his friend Minnette Fritts Proctor (for whom he held lifelong romantic yearnings) that his drawings were “now coming into a strange sort of acclaim… The New Yorker is going to run a series of my animal pictures…and a concern wants me to do ads for it. Imagine!…I’m enclosing a few (pictures), which you can throw away. They’ll alarm you.”

PET WHISPERER…James Thurber, already well established as a writer at the New Yorker, made his debut as a cartoonist for the magazine in its fifth anniversary issue. The brilliant “Our Pet Department” would run through the spring in the 14 installments. (thurberhouse.org)

Animals of all sorts would pop up in Thurber’s cartoons throughout the 1930s (click image below to enlarge)

Clockwise from top left, cartoons from the following issues: Jan. 30, 1932; April 6, 1935; July 14, 1934; and Feb. 13, 1937.

…and his famous dogs would make frequent appearances, including on their own cover in 1946 to coincide with that year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show…

Office mate, co-author and friend E.B. White, on the other hand, assumed his usual duty of marking the magazine’s anniversary in “Notes and Comment”…

FOOD FOR THOUGHT…As E.B. White pointed out in his “Notes and Comment,” there was another, earlier New Yorker published nearly a century earlier in the 1830s by Horace Greeley, who described his periodical as “A Weekly Journal of Literature, Politics, Statistics and General Intelligence.” Greeley published his New Yorker from 1834 to 1841. (rickgrunder.com)

…and contemplated his own magazine’s contributions to the advancement of civilization…

…and as E.B. White continued his tradition of marking the magazine’s anniversary, so too did Rea Irvin continue to mark the passage of time with a tip of the hat from Eustace Tilley…

…and most prominently the New Yorker marked each anniversary with a repeat of the original Rea Irvin cover (later with some slight alterations), a tradition that continued unbroken until 1994, when a series of parodied versions of Eustace Tilley began to appear on the cover. The classic Tilley cover reappeared in the 2000s and ran frequently during that decade, but sadly made its last appearance in 2011 (see below covers from the first issue and anniversary covers from 2011 and 2019). I hope to see the Irvin cover return next year, and most certainly for the 100th anniversary in 2025. You can read more about cover’s history in Michael Maslin’s indispensable Ink Spill.

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Drama Queen

Chinese opera star Mei Lanfang (1894-1961) was known as “Queen of Peking Opera” for his graceful stage portrayals of young and middle-aged women. Considered one of China’s greatest “Dan” performers (Dan is the general name for female roles), Mei had many admirers outside of China including Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, who welcomed Mei to Hollywood when he toured the U.S. in 1930. The New Yorker paid Mei a visit during his stay at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, recounted in these excerpts from “The Talk of the Town”…

QUEEN OF PEKING OPERA, Mei Lanfang, circa 1920, and as a “Dan” in Chinese opera, circa 1930s. (people.chinesecio.com/Wikimedia)

HE’S A FAN…Charlie Chaplin greets Mei Lanfang during a 1930 visit to Hollywood. At right, Mei with his family in the early 1940s. (thatsmags.com/Wikipedia)

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A Kitty With Claws

“The Talk of the Town” also featured Kitty Marion (1871-1944) in a mini-profile. The German-born Marion moved to London at age 15, where she gained some prominence as a music hall singer. She found greater fame, however, as an activist, first standing up for the rights of fellow women performers and later crusading for voting rights. In response to attacks on women protestors by police officers, Marion embraced militant activism, throwing bricks through the windows of offices and handling a number of arson and bombing attacks that were intended to harm property, not people. Arrested numerous times (and enduring 232 force-feedings while on hunger strikes) she emigrated to the U.S. after World War I and joined forces with birth control advocate Margaret Sanger.  The New Yorker takes it from there…

TRANSATLANTIC ACTIVIST…A British Criminal Record Office mugshot of Kitty Marion, circa 1912; cover of Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review, November, 1923; Marion handing out copies of the Review on the streets of New York, 1915. (Wikipedia/Smith College/British Library)

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Going Deep With Noguchi

It’s hard to imagine modern decor without the influence of Isamu Noguchi, but before he inspired everything from coffee tables to lamps, he was a noted sculptor, and in 1930 he was best known for his portrait busts. New Yorker art critic Murdock Pemberton observed:

TWO HEADS ARE BETTER…Left to right, Isamu Noguchi’s portraits of architect/inventor Buckminster Fuller (1929, chrome-plated bronze) and the painter Marion Greenwood (1929, cast iron). Despite being three years short of the age requirement for a Guggenheim Fellowship, Noguchi was nevertheless awarded the grant to study stone and wood cutting and to gain “a better understanding of the human figure.” It appears the grant paid off handsomely. (noguchi.org/Smithsonian)
MODERN MASTER…Collection of Noguchi lamps available from the Noguchi Museum. At right, 1947 coffee table by Herman Miller, inspired by a 1939 Noguchi design. (noguchi.org/Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Pond’s Cold Cream continued to roll out endorsements from  society figures, including a “Mrs. John Davis Lodge” (Francesca Bragiotti), described in this advertisement as possessing “starry wide dark eyes, hair golden as Melisande’s, and tea-rose skin”…

…for reference, Francesca Bragiotti’s wedding portrait, as featured in Vogue magazine, 1929…

…Doubleday Doran targeted the appropriate audience for its publication of The Second New Yorker Album, with cover illustration by Peter Arno

…and we have another lovely Camel ad from illustrator Carl “Eric” Erickson, who conjured up more Continental imagery as an inducement to take up a bad habit…

…in a recent post we looked at Don Dickerman, who operated themed restaurants in Greenwich Village. In the Feb. 22 issue he promoted his four restaurants in a series of ads (illustrated by Dickerman himself) that ran on four consecutive pages (72-75)…

…and Barbara Shermund illustrated this ad for Frigidare…

…Peck & Peck touted the “mannish lines” of its “Hillbilly” suits…

…no doubt influenced by trendsetters like Marlene Dietrich.

…and lest we forget that it’s 1930, a “Cowboys and Indians” mentality was rife in the advertising business, as seen in this ad from Mendel Trunx, proud of 20th century progress (“we’ve come a long way…”) and yet…well, read on…

…the mentality was still alive and well 30 years later, as seen in this ad from 1962…

…and coincidently, in the same issue we have this scene illustrated by Peter Arno mixing “Redskins” and luggage, in this case, a matron who means to summon the aid of a “red cap” baggage handler…

…other cartoons included this dramatic scene courtesy William Crawford Galbraith

…a rustic, slightly naughty woodcut by John Held Jr

…a peek at fashion trends by Helen Hokinson

…a look at social mores…from Alan Dunn

…and Alice Harvey

…and we end with Barbara Shermund, and a moment of art appreciation…

Next Time: Famous Friends…