Body and Soul

After completing a major in French in just three years, 19-year-old Libby Holman became the youngest woman to graduate from the University of Cincinnati in 1923. But it was her unique style of torch-singing — a trademark throaty mumble — that would launch a career on Broadway and a life of seemingly endless scandal.

Nov. 8, 1930 cover by Sue Williams.

After performing in the The Greenwich Village Follies, Holman (1904 – 1971) landed her first big role in 1925 in the Rodgers and Hart production of Garrick Gaieties. But it was a signature song, “Moanin’ Low,” from Clifton Webb’s The Little Show that would make her a star. When Three’s a Crowd (by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz) opened at the Selwyn Theater on October 15, 1930, Holman was well-known to audiences not only for her voice but also for her unconventional lifestyle.

Three’s a Crowd proved to be a hit for Holman, and it gave her another hit song, “Body and Soul,” which was banned from the radio for “obscenity” but nevertheless became one of the year’s most popular songs. So popular, in fact, that it was recorded by Holman as well as by fellow torch singer Helen Morgan and Ziegfeld star Ruth Etting. This was the age of the Great American Songbook, when the song itself, and not necessarily its performer, reigned supreme. So when sheet music was distributed from a popular stage show, any number of entertainers would record it.

NAME THAT TUNE…From top to bottom, Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting and Libby Holman all recorded versions of “Body and Soul,” but Holman would make it one of her signature numbers. (YouTube/ruthetting.com/Wikipedia)

…for the hoofers, there were also a couple of dance versions of “Body and Soul” created by bandleaders Ozzie Nelson and Leo Reisman

GOOD BEAT, EASY TO DANCE TO…Bandleaders Ozzie Nelson and Leo Reisman recorded dance versions of “Body and Soul.” (YouTube)

Openly bisexual, Holman partied hard and swore like a sailor, and during her life she would lose one husband in a suspected murder (Holman herself was briefly a suspect) and another to suicide. She would take her own life in 1971. You can read more about Holman’s colorful, tragic life in the Jewish Women’s Archive.

We temporarily skip to the next issue of the New Yorker (Nov. 15, 1930), which featured Holman in a “Talk of the Town” brief, and some insight into her unique singing style. An excerpt:

The same issue also featured this drawing of the “Three’s a Crowd” cast by Al Frueh in the theater review section:

and finally, a publicity photo of the cast from 1930-31:

A FUN CROWD…Clifton Webb, Libby Holman and Fred Allen in Three’s a Crowd. At right, undated publicity photo of Holman. (performerstuff.com)

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Horsin’ Around

The National Horse Show was a major event on New York’s social calendar, first held at the original Madison Square Garden in 1883 before moving to the second Madison Square Garden in 1890 and again to the third Madison Square Garden in 1926. This account in the Nov. 8, 1930 New Yorker noted how the horse show’s patrician air contrasted with the rodeo held at MSG the previous week.

NOT FOR GOAT-ROPERS, THIS…The coaching parade on display at the 1927 National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden. (National Sporting Library & Museum)
SOON WE’LL BE FIGHTING EACH OTHER…The National Horse Show began including a military competition in 1925. This photo from the Nov. 6, 1930 New York Times featured some international guests at the 1930 show. (NY TIMES)

Along with the above photo, the Times included this partial lists of guests to the Horse Show Luncheon, a who’s who of New York society. Indeed, the National Horse Show’s 1887 directory provided the basis for the first New York Social Register.

DRESSING UP FOR THE HORSES…Champion horsewoman Mary Elizabeth Whitney (left) with actors Loretta Young and William Powell at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, Nov. 5, 1937. Standing behind Mary Elizabeth is her husband, Jock Whitney, a noted ambassador, art collector, philanthropist and investor. (Christian Anderson Collection)
HIGH STEPPIN’…After a brief stint in Florida, the National Horse Show moved to Kentucky in 2011. Perhaps a tad less formal, it nevertheless remains an important society event. Above, noted horsewoman Misdee Wrigley Miller rides World Grand Champion Grande Gil at the 2012 National Horse Show. (Doug Shiflet)

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A Lesson in Poetry 

In a casual for the Nov. 8 issue, E.B. White instructed readers on how to “Tell a Major Poet From a Minor Poet.” An excerpt.

And in his “Notes and Comment,” White suggested that criticism of the press was a major no-no for a sitting U.S. President:

Christmas shopping suggestions began to trickle into Lois Long’s section on fashion, house and home, including this bit of advice that reminds us just how distant 1930 is from our own time:

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Film critic John Mosher took in the latest offering from silent film star Harold Lloyd, who was making his second foray into the talkies with his portrayal of a hapless shoe salesman in Feet First

NICE TEETH…Theater card for 1930’s Feet First featuring Barbara Kent and Harold Lloyd. (IMDB)
GETTING A LEG UP…Top, Harold Lloyd practices the art of shoe salesmanship with a pair of dummy legs in Feet First; below, Lloyd once again finds himself in a precarious situation high above a city street. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

The National Horse Show was on the minds of several advertisers in the New Yorker, including these fashion merchants targeting the patrician set…

…speaking of the well-heeled, with winter approaching travel agencies enticed those with means to take a steamer through the Panama Canal to California, or for the more adventurous, a three-continent tour package…

…and of course Hawaii beckoned snowbirds, who could make their way across the Lower 48 by train and then hop a boat to the islands…

…the makers of Chesterfield cigarettes were on board with the travel theme…

…while the folks at Marlboro stuck with their dopey handwriting and jingle contests to push their smokes…

…as the luxury market grew ever tighter in the Depression, the sellers of finer things sought to distinguish their wares from competitors. L.P. Hollander kicked off a series of wordy ads regarding the provenance of their hats, gloves and other accessories (in short, they ain’t cheap copies)…

…no doubt the folks at L.P. Hollander were looking down their noses at the likes of Russeks, which offered copies of Lucien Lelong gowns. Apparently old Lucien was okay with this, as this “Radiogram” purportedly attests…

…Lucien pops again in another ad, this one for his perfume line…

…and for reference, here’s a photo of Monsieur Lelong, circa 1940…

…on to our cartoonists, the Nov. 8 issue featured these great spot illustrations by Constantin Alajalov, the first, running along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” referenced the horse show at Madison Square Garden…

Alice Harvey listened in on a radio soap…

William Crawford Galbraith found some admirers of art…

Barbara Shermund continued to share her sharp observations of parlor hijinks…

Garrett Price illustrated the challenges of modern design…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and a stomach-turning moment…

Next Time: The High Place…

Minding the Gap

Tens of thousands of commuters daily cross the George Washington Bridge, but in the din of modern commuting few give nary a thought to a span that was once considered a modern marvel.

May 3, 1930 cover by Rose Silver.

Twice as long as any previous suspension bridge when it opened in 1931, the George Washington Bridge’s main span of 3,500 feet (1,100 m) would be the world’s longest until it was surpassed by San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in 1937. The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” (entry most likely by E.B. White) checked on the bridge’s progress for the May 3 issue:

MEN OF STEEL…Some 107,000 miles of wire were used in cables made by John A. Roebling’s Sons Company for the George Washington Bridge — the same firm also supplied wire for the Brooklyn Bridge 60 years earlier (John Roebling and his son, Washington, also designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge). Clockwise, from top, employees of John A. Roebling’s Sons pose atop cable bundles; bottom right, the bridge’s four main cables were each composed of a single strand carried back and forth across the river 61 times. Each strand itself is a bundle of 434 individual wires; bottom left, worker poses atop completed cable. (Flickr/Pinterest)
BY ANY OTHER NAME…Known as the Hudson River Bridge during its construction, the George Washington Bridge opened to traffic in 1931. During the first full year of operation in 1932 more than 5.5 million vehicles used the original six-lane roadway — today it is the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge, carrying more than 100 million vehicles per year. Although the steel towers are iconic today, the original plan called for them to be clad in stone. (Wikipedia)

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A Cabin in the Sky

Other signs of modern life were being seen in Midtown, where an “Aircraft Salon” hosted by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce was taking place at Madison Square Garden.

Nicholas Trott was on hand to take in the exhibits, noting that advances in aviation included the use of metal bodies (instead of fortified cloth) and greater attention to interior decoration:

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED…An attendee of the New York Aircraft Salon received a special postal stamp, and an autograph from aviator Cy Caldwell, at the Madison Square Garden show. (Joe Krantz)

Trott noted that designs of passenger compartments, still in their infancy, suggested something between automobile and nautical motifs:

SORRY, NO HEADPHONES…Clockwise, from top left, a Curtiss Condor 18 and its interior appointments; a Fokker Trimotor featured dining in its cabin. As peaceful as the scene appears, the noise from the motors must have been unbearable. (Wikipedia/dutch-aviation.nl)

Trott also commented on the debate surrounding metal vs. fabric in the construction of airplanes. Before 1930 most planes were constructed of wood covered with fabric (which were much lighter than metal craft). Although as early as 1920 the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics declared metal to be superior to wood, only five percent of aircraft in 1930 were of all-metal construction.

DON’T CALL ME WOODY…This eight-passenger Consolidated Fleetster was a rare example of metal construction in early 1930. The wings, however, were still fashioned from wood. (Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce 1931 Aircraft Yearbook)

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Road to Nowhere

The New Yorker’s enthusiasm for modern marvels did not extend to the West Side Highway, a project that would extend from the late 1920s to the early 1950s. Here is E.B. White’s take on the opening of the highway’s first section:

White’s observations were somewhat prescient — constructed in tight confines, the road’s on-ramps proved too narrow and the turns too tight for use by large trucks. The roadway also lacked proper maintenance, and just two decades after it was completed a section of the highway collapsed under the weight of an asphalt-laden truck. The roadway was demolished between 1977 and 1989. Read more here about the West Side Highway’s surprising history at the Museum of the City of New York.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN, TAKEN…Left, West Side Express Highway and Piers 95-98, photographed by Berenice Abbott from 619 West 54th Street on Nov. 10, 1977; West Side Highway Ramp at 23rd Street reveals Art Deco ornamentation. Detail of photo by Jan Staller, 1978. (Museum of the City of New York)

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For Pet Lovers

Our latest installment of James Thurber’s “Our Pet Department” column…

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Hate Couture

The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent, Janet Flanner, using the pen name “Hippolyta,” contributed this profile of François Coty (1874-1934), a French perfumer and businessman. Flanner’s profile (the introduction included below) described Coty’s rags-to-riches rise in the perfume industry, and touched on his life as a sometime journalist and politician.

What doesn’t come across in the profile is Coty’s extreme right-wing stance on politics and his virulent anti-Semitism, which was often expressed in his newspaper, Figaro. Three years after Flanner’s profile Coty would co-found Solidarité Française, a fascist, paramilitary organization, and a year after that he would be dead of an aneurysm.

François Coty circa 1930. (aperfumeblog.com)

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From Our Advertisers

The New Yorker’s bottom line reaped benefits from the big aviation show at Madison Square Garden…

…and even if you weren’t selling airplanes or flying lessons, you could still get in on the action…

…also from the fashion world, this colorful entry from Onyx Hosiery…

…and this weird ad from Saks, advertising shoes and a party dress but dominated by a caricature of designer Joseph Hergesheimer

…on to our cartoons…Helen Hokinson paid a visit to the aviation show…

…on the domestic front, Garrett Price examined the challenges of home decor…

Al Frueh offered an ironic twist on a room with a view…

Peter Arno once again found humor in the partying life…

…as did Gardner Rea…

Next Time: All Quiet on the Western Front…

 

 

 

 

We Smiled As We Danced

In his 2006 book, Flapper, Joshua Zeitz refers to the New Yorker’s Lois Long as the epitome of the 1920s flapper, an “absolutely a wild woman” who wrote about Jazz Age nightlife “with a wicked sort of sexual sense of humor.”

Feb. 8, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt (the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show was in town…)

This Vassar-educated daughter of a Congregational minister began her New Yorker career in the summer of 1925, at age 23. She took over Charles Baskerville’s rather dry column, “When Nights are Bold,” renamed it “Tables for Two,” and using the pen name “Lipstick” plunged into the nightlife scene with considerable brio.

TIMES CHANGE…At left, in a still image from a 1920s home movie, Lois Long relaxes on a beach; at right, Long with newborn daughter Patricia Arno in 1929. (PBS/Patricia Arno)

Two years later she would marry cartoonist Peter Arno, and in 1929 would give birth to a daughter, Patricia. During this time the almost weekly “Tables” column would appear infrequently as Long turned her attentions to her family and her fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue.” But as I’ve noted before, Long, along with many of her New Yorker colleagues, had grown weary of the Roaring Twenties many months before they were over. She would put an end to the “Tables” column in June 1930; the good times, as Long noted in her Feb. 8 column, had lost their “verve”…

BRITS AND TWITS…Lois Long recalled the nightlife entertainments of the past and present in one of her last “Tables for Two” columns. Photo at left (from left to right), Beatrice Lillie, Nelson Keys, and Gertrude Lawrence in Andre Charlot’s Revue of 1924. At right, the comedy trio Eddie Jackson, Jimmy Durante and Lou Clayton. (Museum of the City of New York/Herbert Mitchell Collection)

…Long found Don Dickerman’s latest themed restaurant, the Daffydil, to be a mildly amusing distraction…

HE WAS AN ARRRTIST…Greenwich Village personality and pirate aficionado Don Dickerman (left) failed to make a living as an artist, but found success with his various themed restaurants including the Pirate’s Cove, the Blue Horse, the Heigh-Ho (where Rudy Vallee started out), the County Fair and the Daffydil (which was financed by Vallee). At right, singing at the Daffydil were the California Collegians, a group that included actor Fred MacMurray (tallest in the photo). (Restaurant-ing through history)

…and she also looked to Harlem for some nighttime diversions, but the ex-flapper just wasn’t up for a rowdy scene…

FOR THE YOUNG AT HEART…Dancing the Lindy Hop at the Savoy in Harlem, circa 1930. (Pinterest)

…ten years later, in the New Yorker’s fifteenth anniversary issue (Feb. 17, 1940), the 38-year-old Long would look back to the Roaring Twenties in the column “That Was New York,” reprising her signature “Lipstick” as she recalled the days when “Harlem was a thrill” and “we smiled when we went dancing in 1925 even though there wasn’t a candid camera within miles. In those days people frequently laughed out loud in public.” She concluded the piece with this observation:

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Rise of the Débutantes

New York’s débutantes and the New Yorker had something of a symbiotic relationship during the magazine’s early days, beginning with a piece written by 22-year-old Ellin Mackay for the Nov. 28, 1925 issue that served as a manifesto of sorts for a new kind of débutante. Mackay’s essay explained why modern women were abandoning the forced social matchmaking of débutante balls in favor of the more egalitarian (and fun) night club scene.

Mackay’s piece provided a huge boost to the New Yorker’s circulation, the magazine barely staying afloat at the time. Nevertheless, its writers couldn’t resist taking occasional shots at the seemingly frivolous existence of debs, including E.B. White, who called out a one Katrinka Suydam in his “Notes and Comment” column for Jan. 4, 1930:

Perhaps White came across Suydam’s name in the Sept. 7, 1929 New York Times:

What he probably didn’t expect was a reply from Suydam herself, an act that seemed to impress the magazine’s editors, who printed the proud débutante’s letter in full on page 32:

Suydam would go on to marry Frederick Roelker later that June. Note in this excerpted wedding write-up how the couples’ European and colonial pedigrees were carefully detailed in the first paragraphs, distinguishing their union from couplings enjoyed by the unwashed masses…

Katrinka Suydam’s wedding as reported in the June 12, 1930 issue of the New York Times.

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Skirt Stakes

In 1930 hemlines plummeted along with the stock market. E.B. White, in “Notes,” welcomed the return of “mystery” to women’s fashions:

THEY DROPPED WITH THE MARKET…Women’s spring fashions with lowered hemlines on display in the April 1930 issue of Good Housekeeping. (fashion-era.com)

Frederick Lewis Allen, on the other hand, was having difficulty understanding the modern woman, circa 1930, based on what he was seeing in the display windows along Fifth Avenue. Excerpts:

NO NONSENSE WOMEN…Window displays on Fifth Avenue included (left) this “Travel Smartly in Tweed” window display for Franklin Simon (1929-30); and right, a window at Lord & Taylor, 1933. (Harry Ransom Center/Museum of the City of New York)

Allen noted that the “snooty” mannequins on display along Fifth Avenue represented a certain type who wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bus…

Whether or not he liked the Altman girls, the 39-year-old Allen felt like an “old fogey” in the presence of these “no nonsense” women:

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Get A Room

Marion Sturges Jones pondered the life of another kind of modern woman, namely that of Virginia Woolf, who had recently published the extended essay A Room of One’s Own. Jones discovered that finding such a room was easier said than done…

IN HER ROOM…Virginia Woolf at Monk’s House in East Sussex, 1932; dust jacket of the first edition of A Room of One’s Own. (kaykeys.net/Beinecke Library, Yale)

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The Way You Really Look

Franklin P. Adams penned a profile of the legendary songwriter and stage producer Jerome Kern, who created dozens of Broadway musicals and Hollywood films and wrote a substantial chunk of the American songbook (more than 700 songs) with such hits as “Ol’ Man River”, “A Fine Romance”, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, and “The Way You Look Tonight.” Peter Arno provided this less-than-flattering caricature of the man…

…and this is how Kern actually looked, circa 1930…

(bloggingtonybennett.com)

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At the Talkies

Speaking of showbiz, New Yorker film critic John Mosher offered high praise for William Powell’s latest film, Street of Chance. Although Powell is often linked professionally to actress Myrna Loy thanks to their six Thin Man films (1934 – 1947), from 1930 to 1932 he also appeared with Kay Francis in six films, including Street of Chance. Both Powell and Francis would become major stars of the 1930s, and between 1930 and 1936 Francis would be the number one female star at Warner Brothers and the highest-paid American film actress. Francis was no stranger to wild living — she was a longtime friend of Lois Long’s (see above) and also shared an apartment with her at 381 Park Avenue before Long married Peter Arno. Mosher’s review:

TOUGH ODDS…William Powell and Kay Francis in Street of Chance (1930). Francis was a longtime friend of New Yorker columnist Lois Long. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We have an advertisement from the aforementioned County Fair, one of the themed restaurants operated by Greenwich village artist and personality Don Dickerman, who illustrated his own ads…

…I’m not sure who drew this Arno-esque illustration below for the Holmes Electric Protective Company, but I can tell you that the name Holmes was synonymous with home security in 1930…in 1857 Edwin Holmes bought a patent for an electric burglar alarm (invented in 1853 by Augustus Pope) and went on to successfully commercialize and popularize the electromagnetic burglar alarm. Holmes is also credited with creating the first large-scale alarm network in the United States…

…but I do know that Abe Birnbaum contributed this drawing (in “Talk of the Town”) of the beloved Colony restaurant owner Eugene Cavallero

A PLACE TO SEE AND BE SEEN…From the 1920s to the 1960s New York’s smart set dined at the Colony. Rian James, in Dining In New York (1930) wrote “the Colony is the restaurant of the cosmopolite and the connoisseur; the rendezvous of the social register; the retreat of the Four Hundred.” Critic George Jean Nathan said the Colony was one of “civilization’s last strongholds in the department of cuisine.” Photo at left of the dining room around 1940; at right, owner Eugene Cavallero consults with a chef. (lostpastremembered.blogspot.com)

…on to our comics, we have this full-pager from Al Frueh

…another full-pager from Rea Irvin

…this terrific party scene courtesy Garrett Price

…two by the marvelous Barbara Shermund (check out Michael Maslin’s latest post on Shermund)…

and we sign off with the inimitable Peter Arno

Next Time: Prophet of Doom…

 

Son of Hammerstein

The Hammerstein name looms large in the history of both stage and screen, an extended family of theater impresarios and composers descended from the German-born Oscar Hammerstein I (1846 – 1919).

Sept. 14, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

It was Oscar’s son, Arthur Hammerstein (1872 – 1955), who would bring the nostalgic musical Sweet Adeline to the Broadway stage, with music by Jerome Kern. Arthur’s nephew, Reginald Hammerstein, directed, and Reginald’s brother, Oscar Hammerstein II, provided the lyrics (and would later collaborate on such Broadway hits as Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music). Sweet Adeline opened on Sept. 3, 1929 at Arthur’s Hammerstein Theatre (known today as Ed Sullivan Theater), and the New Yorker’s Robert Benchley was on hand for opening night…

The title of the musical was a pun on the famous barbershop quartet song first published in 1903 — a time that seemed quaint to Jazz Agers. To get a sense of how rapidly American society had changed in the 1920s, in the paragraph above, Benchley referred to the musical’s setting (1898) as “old-time.” I’m not sure we would refer to 1987 as “old-time,” but who knows? Benchley continued…

OLD-FASHIONED FUN…Clockwise, from top left, the famed 1920s torch singer Helen Morgan (pictured on sheet music for one of her songs from the musical) starred as “Addie” in 1929’s Sweet Adeline; Arthur Hammerstein in undated photo; stage and screen actress and vaudeville comedian Irene Franklin portrayed a burlesque queen in the musical, while comedic actor Charles Butterworth played the part of a “young rounder.” (YouTube/findagrave.com/Wikipedia/lbarsanti.wordpress.com)

As for the performances by Helen Morgan (who more or less invented the torch singer’s boozy, draped-over-the-piano style), Benchley noted that her personality was “almost oppressively lush at times”…

A note regarding Helen Morgan: She began her career singing in Chicago speakeasies before moving to New York in the mid-1920s, where she continued to sing in nightclubs (including one attached to her name, Chez Morgan) while also performing on Broadway. Morgan became a heavy drinker, and was often drunk during performances (hence Benchley’s comment regarding her “lush personality”). Cirrhosis of the liver would claim Morgan’s life in 1941. The same disease would claim Benchley four years later.

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While we are the topic of Broadway, the Sept. 14 “Talk of the Town” featured a brief profile of John Murray Anderson, (1886 – 1954) who was celebrating the success of his own Broadway musical revue Almanac

HE WORE MANY HATS…John Murray Anderson made his Broadway debut in 1919 as writer, director, and producer of The Greenwich Village Follies, which had a five-year run. At left, a cover for sheet music from a 1920 production. At right, postcard image of the Follies from 1922. (Pinterest)

In this excerpt, “Talk” recounted how Anderson finally hit it big in 1919 with his  Greenwich Village Follies. It noted that he had a “genius”…

Clockwise from top left, Almanac featured comedians Roy Atwell and Jimmy Savo; singer and comedian Trixie Friganza; and actress Eleanor Shaler. (royatwell.net/American Vaudeville Museum/secondhandsongs.com/Pinterest)

…and a bit more about Anderson…

In Michael Maslin’s terrific book, Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist, Maslin notes that Arno “was whisked onto the Manhattan theater scene by Murray Anderson, whose twenty-nine scene Almanac opened to excellent reviews at the two-year-old Erlanger Theater, just off Times Square.” Maslin cites the famed New York columnist O.O. McIntyre, who wrote “Arno was one of several ‘conspirators’ responsible for Broadway backdrops whose ‘exaggerated whimsicalities…in black and white…when unfolded usually get what Variety calls a belly laugh.'”

At left, Peter Arno contributed this advertisement for Camel cigarettes in the Playbill edition for Almanac; top right, John Murray Anderson at work; cover for sheet music from the revue. (attemptedbloggery.blogspot.com / Wikipedia)

And in the following issue of the New Yorker (Sept. 21), Peter Arno contributed this drawing for the theater review section (it doesn’t look like an Arno, but then again his style at this time seemed to fluctuate almost weekly)…

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Flapper Joan

No stranger to Broadway herself, the young actress Joan Crawford was making a name for herself in Hollywood and garnering consistently positive reviews from the New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher, who found that the 25-year-old actress— who portrayed a fun-loving flapper in Modern Maidens — could shine even in the midst of an average screenplay:

THEY’RE NOT ACTING…At top, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Crawford in MGM’s Our Modern Maidens (1929). The film led to a widely publicized romance and marriage between the co-stars; below, publicity photo for the film, with (from left) Josephine Dunn, Crawford, and Anita Page. (IMDB/joancrawfordbest.com)

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Silence is Golden

Cultural critic Gilbert Seldes contributed a casual titled “In a Loud Voice With the Tongues of Angels,” joining the chorus of voices at the New Yorker skeptical of (but resigned to) the advent of sound motion pictures. Excerpts:

SOMETHING HAS COME BETWEEN US…a microphone moves in close on Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis in a scene from 1932’s 20,000 Years In Sing Sing. (cinecollage.net)

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Das Speedboat

“The Talk of the Town” reported on the fuss created by the German passenger liner Bremen after it completed its maiden voyage to New York. It set a new world record in the process — four days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes later —and captured the westbound “Blue Riband” from the famed Mauretania with an average speed of 27.83 knots (the Blue Riband was an unofficial honor bestowed on the fastest passenger liners crossing the Atlantic)…

LOWRIDER…Top, the low, streamlined profile of the Bremen against the backdrop of the New York skyline. Center and below, among its many unique features, the Bremen had a catapult on the upper deck between the two funnels that launched a small seaplane, which facilitated faster mail service ahead of the ship’s arrival. (YouTube/nnapprentice.com)
(Ebay community post)

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Up In Smoke

Another “Talk” item explored the decline of cigar and pipe smokers thanks to the rise of cigarette advertising (and women smokers) in the 1920s…

…as an aside, it appeared golfer Walter Egan was still a pipe smoker, as this illustration by Johan Bull for the issue’s “Tee and Green” column attested…

…”Talk” laid the blame (or the credit) on Lucky Strike’s successful ad campaigns that that particularly made a “big impression” on women…

…and to begin our advertising section, a Lucky Strike ad from the same issue:

…the Liggett & Myers tobacco company, on the other hand, promoted their Fatima brand as a higher quality, and slightly more expensive, alternative…

…in this ad for The Shelton Looms we find the elongated style popular in fashion ads of the era…the illustration is by LeBrun, but also evokes the style of Carl “Eric” Erickson, known for his Camel ad illustrations of the same period…

…and now a couple of ads from the back pages: the ad at left promoted a “country style” supper club near Washington Square. I haven’t found a record (yet) for the County Fair, but I believe it was one of the themed restaurants Don Dickerman operated around Greenwich Village before the Depression (Dickerman, an illustrator, also provided the art for the ad)…the ad on the right—for Odorono deodorant— appeared regularly in the back pages of the New Yorker, illustrated by the magazine’s own Julian De Miskey. The ads featured vignettes of unfortunate young women whose B.O. was so bad that it caused all potential suitors to flee…

…on to our cartoons, Al Frueh (artist of the first two cartoons in the New Yorker’s first issue)…contributed another of his familiar multi-panel “silent” cartoons…

…I like the modern feel of this cartoon by William Crawford Galbraith

…and we close with a couple of cartoons under the moonlight, by Bruce Bairnsfather…

…and Peter Arno.

Next Time: Looking Ahead to 1979…

 

That Moderne Feeling

A defining moment for Art Deco design in America occurred at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art during a 1929 exhibition that showcased everything from household furnishings to garden design.

March 9, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt. Between 1927 and 1933, Haupt would illustrate 45 covers for the New Yorker.

Before we delve into the Met’s exhibition, The Architect and the Industrial Arts, a quick note about the New Yorker’s Theodore Haupt-illustrated cover, which referenced the annual Six-Day Cycling Race that was taking place at the Madison Square Garden Velodrome. The event, which began at the old Madison Square Garden in 1891 and lasted until 1950, featured a beer garden (after Prohibition) in the center of the oval and drew such celebrities as Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck and Peggy Joyce. It was said that Crosby even paid the hospital bills of riders who fell during the race.

THIS MIGHT TAKE AWHILE…The Six-Day Cycling Race at the Madison Square Garden Velodrome, 1932. (Victoria & Albert Museum)

The March 9 issue was lively with another contribution from Groucho Marx (“Press Agents I Have Known”) and an Alexander Woollcott-penned profile of playwright and screenwriter Charles Gordon MacArthur (husband of stage actress Helen Hayes and father of James “Book ’em Danno” MacArthur).

But as the blog title suggests, it was also filled with articles and ads that told of a city embracing all things new and modern, including a piece by architecture critic George S. Chappell on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s eleventh Exhibition of Contemporary American Design, titled The Architect and the Industrial Arts. It was curated by the Met’s Richard F. Bach, who organized 15 annual exhibitions of contemporary industrial art at the museum between 1917 and 1940.

The 1929 exhibition of Art Deco works was the biggest yet, inspired by the Art Moderne movement in Europe and particularly the 1925 Paris Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels). The Met exhibition, wrote Chappell, “should not be missed”…

PORTAL TO THE FUTURE…Entrance to The Architect & the Industrial Arts exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, designed by Joseph Urban. The above exhibition poster (seen mounted on the doorway in the photo) was by W.A. Dwiggins. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Ornaments created by W.A. Diggins for the exhibition catalogue included, from left, “Conservatory,” for a section on  Joseph Urban; ornament on a page devoted to curator Richard F. Bach; “Backyard Garden” for a section on Ely Jacques Kahn; and an ornament that graced the acknowledgements page. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, via paulshawletterdesign.com)
NOT YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S GARDEN…Mosaic semi-circular bench designed by Austin Purves, Jr. was featured in architect Ely Jacques Kahn’s “Backyard Garden” display by at the The Architect & the Industrial Arts exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Pencil Points Magazine, January 1929)

Chappell found the exhibit to be “stimulating,” although he hoped designers in the future would “curb cleverness” and focus more on fundamentals:

DINING IN STYLE…A dining room designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen for The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
VISIONARIES…The Cooperating Committee for 1929 The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition were, standing, left to right, architects Raymond Hood, Eugene Schoen and Ely Jacques Kahn. Seated, left to right, architects Ralph T. Walker, John Wellborn Root, Jr. and Eliel Saarinen; ceramist, painter and graphic artist Leon V. Solon; and architect, illustrator and scenic designer Joseph Urban. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
COZY…Ralph Walker’s “Man’s Study for a Country House” at the The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition. (architectsandartisans.com)
ALL BUSINESS…Raymond Hood’s “Business Executive’s Office” featured at The Architect and the Industrial Arts exhibition. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Writing in the February 1929 Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curator Richard S. Bach posed bold questions for this new age: “What is the tempo of our day? What are the dominant elements of our culture, our activities, our thinking? Is this a speed age or are we sedate? Have we time to be dignified and stately about frills or are we air-minded? Do we wait for months, as once all did, for the silkworm to complete his labors before beginning to make thread from his cocoon…or (do we) make a few bales of vegetable silk out of chemically treated wood fiber between breakfast and lunch as a regular chore of a business week-day? And is this the mechanistic millennium which shrivels the soul and makes mockery of imagination, or are these fabulous industries, these automatic instruments of production, the means of bringing within range of vision the real potentialities of our crowded lives and of interpreting our aspirations and achievements?

Pumping Iron Into the Sky

The architecture firm Starrett & van Vleck saw the “real potentialities of our crowded lives” when they designed a new Art Deco skyscraper to house the Downtown Athletic Club. Writing in Lost City NewsMary Hohlt cites the architect Rem Koolhaas, who sees the Downtown Athletic Club as “the ideal of a hyper-reality in the burgeoning urban form of hyper-density and congestion.” The Club is “the everything-at-your-fingertips self-improvement incubator for men…It is a place for men to indulge on self-improvement; to better themselves in a place only the constructed, hyper-reality of Manhattan can provide.”

SELF-IMPROVEMENT INCUBATOR…the Downtown Athletic Club by Starrett & van Vleck, 1930. (4.bp.blogspot.com) click to enlarge

Hohlt writes that Koolhaas sees the Downtown Athletic Club as a sterile place: “Towering in the sky, the Club removes men from the rest of the world and allows them a kind of aesthetic improvement that cannot be passed on.” E.B. White took a less jaded view in this “Talk of the Town” segment:

STILL A WINNER…Famous for serving as the site of the annual awarding of the Heisman Trophy, the Downtown Athletic Club closed in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks. The club was within a “frozen zone” closed to the public during the long clean-up that followed, and could not withstand the financial impact of such a long closure. It reopened in 2005 as a residential tower. (newyorkitecture.com)

Another New Yorker who saw the “real potentialities of our crowded lives” was insurance salesman Milton A. Kent, who in 1928-29 erected a brick and terra-cotta Art Deco tower that could park 1,000 cars using an automatic elevator system.

MONUMENT TO THE CAR…The May 1928 issue of Modern Mechanix featured this cutaway illustration of Milton Kent’s high-rise, automated parking garage. (boweryboyshistory.com) click image to enlarge

Once again E.B. White was on hand to render this observation for “Talk”…

HUMAN SCALE…Kent’s fantastic garage still stands at West 61st Street, but today it serves as—you guessed it—an apartment building. (boweryboyshistory.com)

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Death of a Can-Can Dancer

The sad death of Louise Weber, aka La Goulue, was announced in Janet Flanner’s “Letter from Paris” column. Weber was a can-can dancer at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and a model for some of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s most famous cabaret paintings. Flanner wrote of La Goulue’s rise to fame…

JUST FOR KICKS… Louise Weber, aka La Goulue, circa 1890, and an 1891 poster by Toulouse-Lautrec advertising the performers La Goulue and “No-Bones” Valentin at the new Paris dance hall Moulin Rouge. (Wikipedia)

…and her sad downfall into a life of poverty among the rag-pickers:

SAD DECLINE…La Goulue, her face freshly powdered, sat on the steps of her small trailer for an unknown postcard photographer in the 1920s. This image is a detail of the original photograph, held at the Wheaton College Permanent Collection.

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From Our Advertisers

An advertisement on page 45 for Mohawk carpets featured two Cockney charwomen admiring the new carpets at the General Motors headquarters:

A corresponding note: Shreve & Lamb’s 1927 General Motors Building was the hub of Columbus Circle’s Automobile Row. A hideous 2012 remodel, which clad the entire structure in reflective glass, has rendered the former landmark unrecognizable:

Museum of the City of New York/nyc-architecture.com

Getting back to all things “moderne,” these facing ads on pages 8-9 offered some new looks for spring…

…and in the cartoons, a tongue-in-cheek vision of a modern high-rise by Al Frueh, prompted by the news that Florenz Ziegfeld planned to build a 44-story building in his native Chicago. Thanks to the market crash later in the year, it was never realized.

In drawings sprinkled across pages 24-25, Helen Hokinson examined various approaches to tax season, including these two examples…

…and finally, Peter Arno caught a theatre performer with his pants down…

Next Time: Babbitt Babble…

 

 

 

Million Dollar Mermaid

Our sense of what is old and what it is new becomes skewed during periods of rapid change, and such was the case in 1920s New York when large swaths of the old city were swept away and replaced by massive towers that seemingly rose overnight. Places like the Hippodrome Theatre, a 1905 Beaux-Arts confection barely 24 years old, seemed positively ancient in those heady times.

Feb. 9, 1929 cover by Helen Hokinson. Feb. 16, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

For the most part the New Yorker was enthusiastic about the changing skyline, as its namesake was claiming the crown as America’s premier city; but occasionally a melancholy note would be struck when a familiar institution appeared in decline or fated for the wrecking ball. In the Feb. 9, 1929 “Talk of the Town,” E.B. White wistfully recalled the old days of the Hippodrome, once the largest theatre in the world and the pride of turn-of-the-century New York:

FOR THE MASSES…The Hippodrome, built in 1905, provided entertainment to millions of New Yorkers who couldn’t afford a ticket to a Broadway play. The brainchild of Frederick Thompson and Elmer S. Dundy, entrepreneurs of Coney Island’s Luna Park, the Hippodrome was torn down in 1939 after more than a decade of decline. (1905 photo courtesy Library of Congress)
A REALLY BIG SHOOO…One of the first performances at the Hippodrome was a four-hour spectacle: A Yankee Circus on Mars (advertised on the theatre’s marquee in photo above). The 1905 production included 280 chorus girls, 480 soldiers, a parade of cars driven by elephants, an equestrienne ballet, acrobats, and a cavalry charge through a lake. (Image from Harper’s Weekly via daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)
The Hippodrome’s main theatre could accommodate 5,300 patrons in seats that were four inches wider than normal theatre seats. The dome over the “Roman style” auditorium encompassed an acre. (Broadway Magazine 1905 via daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)

The Hippodrome held such a place in the heart of the New Yorker that the magazine offered further reminiscences in the Feb. 16 issue, this time penned by managing editor Harold Ross:

For demonstrations of diving and “mermaid spectacles,” the Hippodrome stage featured an eight-foot high steel tank in four sections, with a front of plate glass. Manned diving bells were also used to raise and lower “mermaids” during performances.

OLD TIMEY FX…Illustration from Nature magazine (left) depicts a diving bell used in the Hippodrome’s swimming and diving tank to raise and lower performers. At top, circa 1910 advertisement; at bottom, the “Court of the Golden Fountain” in the the theatre’s 1905-06 presentation of A Society Circus. (les-sources-du-nil.tumblr.com/flickr/NYC Architecture)

Ross wrote about the Hippodrome’s “diving girls,” who would dive into a tank of water from a height of 90 feet, sometimes at a serious cost to their health:

HIPPODROME’S HEYDAYS…In the early 1900s Australian swimmer and diver Annette Kellerman (left, in an image from her 1918 book, How to Swim) was a famed performer at the Hippodrome, as was illusionist and stunt performer Harry Houdini, shown here in 1918  with Jennie the Elephant in a performance of the vanishing elephant trick. (Monash University/americaslibrary.gov/wildabouthoudini.com)
MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID…famed around the world by that moniker, swimmer and later actress Annette Kellerman is considered the originator of the one‐piece bathing suit, which she models at left in a photo taken around 1907. At right, advertisement for Kellerman’s 1916 film A Daughter of the Gods (now lost), in which Kellerman achieved another first: the first complete nude scene by a major star. The William Fox Studio made much of Kellerman’s figure, promoting her as the perfect woman by “comparing” her measurements to the likes of Cleopatra and Venus de Milo. (Wikipedia/consumingcultures.net)

Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was a big draw at the Hippodrome, and helped popularize the sport of synchronised swimming after her 1907 performance of the first water ballet in theatre’s giant plate glass tank. In that same year she shocked Bostonians by appearing on a local beach in a “daring” one‐piece bathing suit (shown above), and was arrested for indecency. This was at a time when a woman’s standard bathing apparel consisted of a blouse, skirt, stockings and swimming shoes.

Unlike some of the unfortunate Hippodrome divers who later lost their eyesight due to cranial pressure from high dives, Kellerman went on to a long and active life (she died in 1975, at age 88). Known throughout the world as Australia’s “Million Dollar Mermaid” (and portrayed by Esther Williams in a 1952 movie by the same name), Kellerman appeared in more than a dozen films between 1909 and 1924. She also launched her own line of swimwear and wrote several books on swimming, beauty and fitness.

ALL WET…At top, Annette Kellerman swimming underwater in a gold sequined dress, possibly from  Queen of the Sea (1918, now lost). Thirty-four years later Esther Williams (below) would portray Kellerman in Million Dollar Mermaid. (historycouncilnsw.org.au/gsgs/movieactors.com)

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City of Lights

While E.B. White got misty-eyed about the old Hippodrome in the Feb. 9 issue, his fellow New Yorker writer and friend James Thurber was thrilling on the new skyscrapers lighting the city’s skyline:

BEJEWELED CROWN…The New York Central Building depicted in a 1929 promotional painting by Chesley Bonestell. (albanyinstitute.org)

Thurber noted that “100,000 candlepower” would light the golden crown of the New York Central Building, the tallest structure in the Grand Central complex. Over at the new Chanin Building, a whopping 25 million candle-power would be trained on its art deco crown.

YOU CAN’T MISS IT…At left, the nearly 700-foot-tall Chanin Building joined the race for the sky in 1928-29. At right, a 1929 drypoint etching by Australian-born artist Martin Lewis depicted the magical glow of the Chanin Building from the viewpoint of a tenement dweller on a fire escape. (favrify.com/ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

Advertisers in the New Yorker reflected the mood of this new city of skyscraper canyons. From the Feb. 16 issue:

Ralph Ingersoll and Thurber also wrote in the Feb. 16 “Talk” about plans for “Rockefeller City…”

…and as we know, this was to become the famed Rockefeller Center, a complex of 19 buildings covering 22 acres between 48th and 51st streets. Led by by John D. Rockefeller Jr., the complex was conceived as an urban renewal project to revitalize Midtown (hard to imagine today). The land was originally envisioned as a site for a new Metropolitan Opera house, but when financing fell through the land’s owner, Columbia University, leased it to Rockefeller. Of the anticipated effect of the project, Ingersoll and Thurber wrote:

And for the record, the Feb. 9 issue featured another name that would shape the future of the city—J. Pierpont Morgan was the subject of a lengthy two-part profile penned by John K. Winkler.

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Shouts & Murmurs

The Feb. 16 marks a significant date on the New Yorker calendar—the first appearance of Alexander Woollcott’s famed “Shouts & Murmurs” column:

Writing in the “Double Take” section in the July 18, 2012 issue of the New Yorker, Jon Michaud notes that “Shouts & Murmurs” was Woollcott’s personal column, appearing weekly in the magazine for five years. Perhaps no person other Harold Ross himself could be more associated with the earliest origins of the magazine —  Woollcott was a colleague of Ross’s at Stars and Stripes during the First World War, and introduced Ross to his first wife, Jane Grant, who was also a considerable influence on the early magazine.

Michaud writes that Woollcott used the column “to opine on, lampoon, and attack the culture and society of the day. In his distinct and at times excessive style, he reviewed books, wrote spoofs, distributed gossip, and generally rankled as many people as he could.” Woollcott ended the column in December 1934, but it was revived in 1992 as a regular venue for many notable humorists, and continues to this day.

A REAL CHARACTER…Alexander Woollcott, in his idea of casual wear. He once informed his friend and New Yorker colleague Corey Ford: “Ford, I plan to spend three days at your house in New Hampshire next week.” Not overly pleased to be hosting such a demanding guest, Ford uttered a meek “That will be swell.” “I’ll be the judge of that,” Woolcott warned him. (From Elizabeth Olliff, “An Evening at the Algonquin.”)

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Up In Smoke

Jumping back to the Feb. 9 “Talk of the Town,” we have this complaint from the magazine regarding celebrity cigarette endorsements. Although the magazine derived a lot of revenue from cigarette ads, Harold Ross insisted on a strict separation between editorial and advertising, allowing his writers free reign to bite the hands that fed them, if they so wished:

Here’s the offending ad, which was featured in the Feb. 23 issue:

In the Feb. 9 issue, Groucho Marx couldn’t resist getting in on the endorsement action…

…nor could Ross’s old friend George Gershwin, who touted the health benefits of Lucky Strikes in the Feb. 16 issue…

In other ads from the Feb. 16 issue, we find that for all of the technological advances in the 1920s, a decent car heater still eluded automakers. Hence…

…on the other hand, we also have this very up-to-date product—the forerunner of today’s rolling airplane luggage…

…and if you happened to be flying south, you might have first checked in with Helena Rubinstein to make sure you had the right “face fashions”…

And finally our cartoons, all from the Feb. 9 issue. This first is a six-panel series by Al Frueh that originally ran diagonally, top to bottom, across a two-page spread. It took a shot at the self-promoting police commissioner, Grover Whalen, who was not a friend to the New Yorker due to his ham-fisted approach to Prohibition enforcement…

…and Leonard Dove took a shot at some posh folks outside of their urban element…

…and finally, Alan Dunn examined the wages of beauty…

Next Time: Modern English Usage…

This Thing Called Baseball

In the early years of the New Yorker, baseball as a sport was almost entirely ignored by the magazine, which otherwise gave exhaustive coverage to polo, yacht racing, tennis, and golf. There were also articles on badminton, rowing, and even auto racing, and college football received a lot of enthusiastic ink. But none for baseball. With the Sept. 22, 1928 issue I think I finally understand why.

Sept. 22, 1928 issue by Adolph K. Kronengold.

It has to do with the New Yorker’s parochial view of the world, so aptly illustrated by Saul Steinberg on the magazine’s March 29, 1976 cover, in which anything beyond the Hudson was essentially terra incognita:

A lot of New York Yankee fans came from “out there,” according to James Thurber in a “Talk of the Town” segment titled “Peanuts and Crackerjack.” Thurber wrote of his experience at a pennant race game between the Yankees and the Philadelphia A’s. The game of baseball was described as something for the out-of-towners who were “a bit mad,” a mass spectacle in which the game itself was of minor importance. In short, it wasn’t cool to be a Yankees fan if you counted yourself among Manhattan’s smart set:

This “Talk” item was written when the Yankees were on the verge of winning their second consecutive World Series championship over the favored St. Louis Cardinals. The 1928 team featured the famed “Murderer’s Row” lineup with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In all, nine players from the ’28 team would be elected to the Hall of Fame, a major league record. But as of the Sept. 22 issue neither the 1927 or ’28 Yankees merited a line in the New Yorker’s sports pages.

ONE FOR THE OUT-OF TOWNERS…The Yankees’ Earle Combs leads off with base hit against the Philadelphia A’s in a key AL pennant race game on Sept. 9, 1928. A record crowd of 85,265 attended the game, won by the Yankees, who gained half-game lead over the A’s with the victory. (baseballhistorycomesalive.com)

Thurber wrote that one could learn much about those in attendance at the game by the way they received Yankee star Babe Ruth:

Thurber proved his point about out-of-towners by noting the origin of license plates in the “army of parked cars” outside of the stadium. He also noted the appearance in the game of an ancient Ty Cobb, who hit a weak fly ball while a few old-time fans looked on in reverence:

A GAME WAS PLAYED, TOO…Babe Ruth celebrated the Yankees 1928 World Series win by dressing as a cowboy and riding the hood of a car. To the left is fellow slugger Lou Gehrig. (sbnation.com)
WHERE YOU COULD READ ALL ABOUT IT…The Oct. 10, 1928 edition of the Daily News splashed its front page with photographs of the Yankee’s triumphant title win. (NY Daily News)

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An Eye-dropping Art Collector

The Sept. 22 issue A.H. Shaw profiled “De Medici in Merion” Dr. Albert Barnes, who made his fortune by developing in 1901 (with German chemist Hermann Hille) a silver nitrate-based antiseptic marketed as Argyrol. In the days before antibiotics, Argyrol was used to treat eye infections and prevent newborn infant blindness caused by gonorrhea. The profile featured this rather fearsome illustration by Hugo Gellert:

The lengthy piece detailed Barnes’ coming of age, and how his promotion of Argyrol helped bankroll his famed art collection. A brief excerpt:

IT FUELED A FORTUNE…Invented in 1901, Argyrol eye drops would finance one of the world’s greatest private art collections. Although was no longer marketed in U.S. after 1996, it is still available today, as seen at right in this Vietnamese product. (todocoleccion / ydvn.net)
HMMM, THAT LOOKS FAMILIAR…Henri Matisse views his 1917 painting The Music Lesson during a 1933 visit to the Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion Township, near Philadelphia. (The Morgan Library & Museum)
HE LIKED DOGS, TOO…Dr. Albert Barnes and his dog Fidèle with Matisse’s Red Madras Headdress, in 1942. (Barnes Foundation Archives)

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A One-eyed Monster Comes to Life

It’s always interesting to note the mentions of emerging technology in the early New Yorker, including this bit in Howard Brubaker’s column “Of All Things” about the successful broadcast of a “radio-television play.” Brubaker mused about what this new invention might called:

The first television broadcast in July 1928 was not exactly must-see TV. For two hours a day, General Electric’s experimental station W2XB broadcast the image of a 13-inch paper mache Felix the Cat, simply rotating on a turntable.

THE DAYS BEFORE VIAGRA ADS…A 13-inch Felix the Cat figure (top) was used to test an early television broadcast from General Electric’s experimental station W2XB in Schenectady, N.Y. Rotating on a record player turntable, the Felix figure was broadcast using a mechanical scanning disk, and was received as a 2-inch high image (below left) on an electronic kinescope. At bottom right, a 1928 television from General Electric that received alternating sound and picture. (NBC / Imgur / tvhistory.tv)

Then on September 11, 1928, W2XB (with WGY radio providing audio) broadcast a 40-minute one-act melodrama, The Queen’s Messenger. Northern State University’s Larry Wild writes that because TV screens were so small, only an actor’s face or hands could be shown. “The play had only two characters. A female Russian spy and a British Diplomatic Courier. Four actors were used. Two for the character’s faces, and two for their hands.”

The Queen’s Messenger was the first television drama, received by 3-inch televisions (most likely similar to the General Electric Octagon TV set pictured at left) that were set up in various places in the New York City area. At right, actors on the set of The Queen’s Messenger. The crude, flickering image marked the beginning of a revolution. (General Electric)

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From Our Advertisers

Advertisers were always looking for clever angles to capture the attention of the New Yorker’s upscale readers, including the use of subtle and not-so-subtle racist cues to get their points across. Two examples from the Sept. 22 issue have the makers of Oshkosh trunks helpfully pointing out that their product is not intended for African “natives”…

…or the folks from Longchamps restaurants, who depict the joyless life of a blubber-eating Eskimo as an appropriate juxtaposition to the succulent delicacies awaiting readers at their five New York locations:

We might associate rumble seats with the carefree joys of the Roaring Twenties, but in reality passengers in these jump seats received little protection from the elements (or flying gravel), and the ride was no doubt jarring atop the rear axle. No wonder you needed a special coat:

Our cartoons for Sept. 22 include this whimsy from Gardner Rea

…and this cartoon by Al Frueh, which depicts the deserted surroundings of the Flatiron Building on Yom Kippur. Robert Mankoff, who served as the New Yorker’s cartoon editor from 1997 to 2017, observed in the Cartoon Desk (Sept. 26, 2012) that “the rapid growth of Jewish-owned businesses in New York made the cartoon relevant in a way that it’s not today. Through modern, politically correct eyes, the cartoon may seem anti-Semitic, but I don’t see it that way. It just depicts the reality of those times, exaggerated for comic effect.”

Next Time: The Tastemakers…