Risky Business

The Irish American gangster JackLegsDiamond was often referred to as the “clay pigeon of the underworld” due to surviving several attempts on his life.

Nov. 1, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

In his “Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey checked up on the fleet-footed bootlegger, adored by the public for his various brushes with the law and escapes from sure death. In his opening paragraph, Markey referred to one of the attempts on Diamond’s life: On October 12, 1930, he survived being shot five times at Manhattan’s Hotel Monticello:

Markey’s column attempted to remove some of the glamour from Diamond’s flamboyant life, a life that would be cut short about a year later in an Albany rooming house…

OUT WITH THE BOYS…Legs Diamond leaves the federal court in New York with his attorney and a couple of cronies on Aug. 8, 1931, after being convicted of owning an unlicensed still and conspiring to violate Prohibition laws. (digitalcommonwealth.org)
BEDFELLOWS…Legs Diamond had a number of mistresses, but the best known was Marion “Kiki” Roberts, who was with Diamond shortly before he was slain. (The Mob Museum/Pinterest)
DEADLY TRIO…Clockwise, from top left, Legs Diamond is comforted by his wife, Alice Kenny Diamond, after being shot three times at a roadhouse near Cairo, NY, on April 27, 1931. His enemies finally succeeded in killing him on Dec. 18, 1931, shooting him three times in the back of the head in an Albany rooming house. Alice would be shot and killed less than two years later, possibly by Diamond’s enemies to keep her quiet. And sadly, the New Yorker’s “Reporter at Large” columnist Morris Markey would also meet a violent end, dying of a gunshot wound to the head in 1950. Whether it was by his hand or another’s, it was never determined. (Albany Archives/NY Times)

An afternote: Enemies would finally catch up to Legs Diamond and kill him on Dec. 18, 1931. Diamond’s wife, Alice Kenny Diamond, would be shot and killed less than two years later. Diamond’s mistress and former Ziegfeld Follies performer Marion “Kiki” Roberts would return to the stage and cash in on her notoriety. In 1937 it was reported she was the big draw in a touring “Crazy Quilt” burlesque revue. And according to the writer William Kennedy, who wrote about Diamond in his 1975 novel Legs, the last record of Kiki Roberts was in Boston in the 1940s, where “she was still appearing as ‘Jack (Legs) Diamond’s Lovely Light o’ Love.’ ”

Here is newsreel footage of Diamond’s mistress Marion “Kiki” Roberts, shortly after the gangster’s death. In this brief interview with a Boston reporter (and with her mother at her side) Roberts advises girls to “live good clean lives and obey their parents wishes.” Note how it appears she is reading from cue cards.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

A precursor to the helicopter, the autogyro was considered by many to be the next logical step in aircraft development, and especially in the development of smaller craft that could serve as safe, affordable transportation options for commuters. The New Yorker’s E.B. White, an aviation enthusiast, demonstrated to readers the wonders of this aircraft:

EASY AS PIE…A Cierva Autogiro C30 takes flight circa 1933. (findmypast.co.uk)

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Baker’s Big Show

Nineteen-year-old American-born French entertainer Josephine Baker became an instant symbol of Jazz Age Paris when she starred in La Revue Nègre in October 1925. Her erotic dance routines wowed Paris audiences, and she quickly moved on to the famed Folies Bergère. In 1930 she opened a new show at the Casino de Paris that also featured her pet cheetah, Chiquita. The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner was there to take it all in:

HEAR THE THUNDER…Nineteen-year-old Josephine Baker took Paris by storm when she appeared in La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in October 1925. (harleminmontmartre.paris/artphotolimited.com)
HEAR ME ROAR…The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner was wowed by Josephine Baker’s newest show at the Casino de Paris that also featured her pet cheetah, Chiquita. (pictorem.com/vam.ac.uk/artphotolimited.com)

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Grim Reminder

Despite the deepening Depression across the country, few mentions of it were made in the pages of the New Yorker. Howard Brubaker, in his “Of All Things” column, offered this not-so-gentle reminder:

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From Our Advertisers

We feature Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, a Swiss-born American socialite shilling for Pond’s cold cream. At the time of this ad she was the mother of six-year-old Gloria Vanderbilt (who would become a famous fashion designer and artist and the mother of CNN’s Anderson Cooper)…

POOR LITTLE RICH GIRLS…Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and her husband, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt with daughter Gloria, circa 1924-25. Reginald died in 1925, and a famous custody battle over little Gloria (who recently died at age 95) would take place in 1934. At right, portrait of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt by Dorothy Wilding, 1933. (Perkins Library, Duke University)

…the makers of Ybry lipstick apparently did not have the budget to garner a patrician endorsement, so they settled for this illustration by New Yorker cartoonist Barney Tobey

…and we have another lovely color ad from R.J. Reynolds, once again linking cigarettes to athletic prowess…

…on to our cartoons, we mark election season with Carl Rose

Barbara Shermund explored the generation gap…

Peter Arno gathered his sugar daddies for a game of chess…

Kemp Starrett introduced us to an unlikely life of the party…

Alan Dunn examined the influences of popular cinema…

Mary Petty gave us an Ivy League perspective of the Great Depression…

…and Arno again, with a cartoon that was featured along with the New Yorker’s “Wayward Press” column…

Next Time: Body and Soul…

 

Ghosts of Gotham

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

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

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

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

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

(Pinterest)

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

(Pinterest)

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

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

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

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

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Not Exactly Whale Watching

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

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

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

(Perfume Bottles Auction)

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

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

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Denys Wortman

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 25, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

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

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

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More from Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbara Shermund illustrated the startling views afforded by rail travel…

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

Next Time: Risky Business…

Will It Play In Peoria?

Cecil B. DeMille was known for his epic films (e.g. The Ten Commandments, 1923 and 1956) and cinematic showmanship, but in 1930 he puzzled his audiences with a very weird pre-Code musical, Madam Satan.

Oct. 11, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt.

The film centered on a wealthy couple, Angela and Bob Brooks (played by Kay Johnson and Reginald Denny). Bob is unfaithful to his wife (a common pre-Code theme), and she attempts to lure him back by disguising herself as a mysterious devil woman at a masquerade ball held aboard a dirigible. Quite a plot indeed. Here’s what the New Yorker’s John Mosher had to say about it.

PAJAMA GAMES…Lillian Roth, Roland Young, and Kay Johnson in Madam Satan. At right, Reginald Denny falls for the charms of his wife (Kay Johnson), disguised as a devil woman at a masked ball held aboard a giant dirigible. (IMDB/cecilbdemille.com)
AIRHEADS…Via a giant mooring mast, partygoers board a dirigible for the masquerade ball in Madam Satan. Curiously, developers of the Empire State Building (which was under construction) envisioned a similar use for the mast that would top out their tower. In reality, winds that whipped around high towers would have prevented this type of boarding. (twitter.com)
SOMEONE CALL THE FAA…At right, the lavish masquerade ball aboard a giant dirigible in Madam Satan. At right, the dirigible is damaged by lightning in a scene that foreshadowed the Hindenberg disaster of 1937. (cecilbdemille.com/precode.com)
SEEMS PLAUSIBLE…In a silly ending to a silly film, partygoers float on parachutes away from the damaged dirigible. (twitter.com)

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Let Them Eat Cake

Somerset Maugham regarded his comic novel, Cakes and Ale, to be his favorite. The book took aim at snobs as well as at the legacy of one overrated, late-Victorian writer — a character many believe was based on the recently departed Thomas Hardy (Maugham denied the inspiration). The New Yorker had this to say about Cakes and Ale:

THROW HARDY INTO THE DUSTBIN…Somerset Maugham as photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1934. (Wikipedia)

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He Meant What He Said

Howard Brubaker, in his “Of All Things” column, found humor in the words of a rising figure in German politics, you know who…

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Throw Him a Softball

The famed French artist Henri Matisse paid a visit to New York City, and according to this account in “The Talk of Town,” seemed to be seeking some peace of mind…

AN OPPOSITE VIEW…Henri Matisse struck a thoughtful pose atop a Manhattan apartment at 10 Mitchell Place in 1930. The Queensboro Bridge can be glimpsed in the background. (ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

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Still Barred From the Bar

We are still about three years away from the official repeal of the 18th Amendment, but as we know the partying continued in houses and speakeasies across the great city. E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” wistfully recalled the days when good booze was legal:

White did find some cheer in the pro-wet platforms of the two major parties…

A GIMLET IN EVERY POT…The major political parties in 1932’s U.S. presidential race were represented by incumbent Herbert Hoover (Republican) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democratic). Both favored repeal of the 18th Amendment. Pictured at the center, a New Yorker cocktail, the object of E.B. White’s longing. (Wikipedia)

And while we are on the subject, we have this Wallace Morgan illustration of a lively speakeasy with the ironic caption, “The Saloon Must Go!” — referencing an old Anti-Saloon League Slogan.

You didn’t have to go to a speakeasy if you wanted a glass of wine. During Prohibition American winemakers found a lucrative loophole by selling perfectly legal concentrated grape juice (called “wine bricks”) to home brewers and bootleggers alike.

According to an article in the Smithsonian, winemakers marked the wine bricks with warnings that they were “for non-alcoholic consumption only.” However, the package would also bear a note explaining how to dissolve the brick in a gallon of water, and yet another “warning” instructing the buyer not to leave the jug in a cool cupboard for 21 days, lest it turn into wine.

Here’s an ad in the Oct. 11, 1930 New Yorker that not-so-subtly offered a selection of varietals…

Here’s what a wine brick looked like:

A wine brick from San Francisco’s Vino Sano company. The label reads: “Each Brick dissolve in one gallon of water. To prevent fermentation, add 1-10% Benzoate of Soda.” Yeah right. (vinepair.com)

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From Our Advertisers

No doubt Prohibition caused more than a few people to take up smoking. Women adopted the habit in droves during the Roaring Twenties, and by the Depression it seemed everyone was lighting up. Advertisers explored various ways to market cigarettes, and long before the Marlboro Man made the scene, that brand pushed its product through a series of dopey handwriting and essay contests,,,

…the makers of Luckies used a combination of sex and bogus health claims to sell their products…

…cigarettes were not confined to ads by tobacco companies; here they are accessories to fine furs…

…even the New Yorker’s spot illustrations (this by Frank McIntosh) featured smokers…

…as did cartoons, such as this one by Barbara Shermund in the Oct. 4 issue…

…and we have one more ad, this one from Chrysler, which acknowledged the new world of the Great Depression, but only through use of careful euphemisms (the New Yorker editorial side practiced much of the same)…

…on to our cartoons, beginning with an exploration of city vs. country life, by Alice Harvey

…a depiction of what commuter flying was actually like in 1930, thanks to Leonard Dove

…a glimpse at modern parenting, with Helen Hokinson

…humor in a gentleman’s drawing room, courtesy Peter Arno

…and 89 years later, a hilarious update on the subject by Edward Steed in the Sept. 9, 2019 issue…

…and finally, the joys of urban life brought to us by Alan Dunn

Next Time: Ghosts of Gotham…

Leatherheads

One thing you won’t see in today’s New Yorker magazine is extensive coverage of college football (more likely you’ll see an indictment of the game). In the magazine’s first years, however, that sport was enthusiastically embraced.

Oct. 4, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

A writer identified by the alias “Linesman” assessed the early season’s prospects, and noted the return of Yale’s Albie Booth (1908–1959) to the field. Booth became famous during the previous season for his spectacular play against Army: he led Yale to an upset victory by scoring all of the team’s points (two rushing touchdowns, a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown, and three extra point kicks). Newsreels featuring the game sported the caption, “Booth 21, Army 13.”

GOOD THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES…Top and left, only 5 feet 6 inches tall and 144 pounds, Albie Booth nevertheless could do it all on offense – running, passing, kicking. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966. Bottom, left, Fordham’s famed “Seven Blocks of Granite,” in 1936. In the days before he became a legendary coach, Vince Lombardi  served as one of those seven blocks (he is third from the left). (footballfoundation.org/yaledailynews.com/AP)

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Foul Ball

While the New Yorker geared up to cover the college football season (as well as everything from Badminton to yacht racing), it continued to ignore professional baseball, mentioning its existence only in passing, such as this observation shared by Howard Brubaker in “Of All Things”…

Footnote: Simeon Fess (1861-1936) was a Republican Senator from Ohio known as an apologist for a very unpopular Republican Party.

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Not For The Kiddies

The Office Wife was a romantic drama featuring such “pre-Code” themes as infidelity and workplace hanky panky. The film was the talking picture debut of Joan Blondell, who would become a big star in the 1930s and enjoy a long career that would include numerous appearances on television through the 1970s. Here are excerpts from John Mosher’s review of the film:

SHE TALKS! SHE BATHES! At top, Anne Murdock (Dorothy Mackaill) practices her charms in The Office Wife. Below, Anne’s younger sister Katherine (Joan Blondell) has a soak in the tub. It would be Blondell’s talking picture debut. (11east14thstreet.com/classicmoviefavorites.com)
SEX SELLS…Warner Brothers played up the salacious aspects of The Office Wife to generate interest among movie theater operators. (Pinterest)

While Joan Blondell was on the verge of a meteoric rise, one of the silent era’s biggest stars and sex symbols, Clara Bow (known as the “It Girl,”) was seeing her popularity wane in the sound era. After Her Wedding Night (reviewed here by Mosher) she would make just four more films before she would retire from the pictures at the ripe age of 28.

DOWN BUT NOT OUT…From left, Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher, Ralph Forbes and Clara Bow observe the hijinks of Charles Ruggles in 1930’s Her Wedding Night. Bow’s enormous popularity would quickly wane in the era of talking pictures. (IMDB)

*   *   *

Twin Peaks

Architecture critic George Chappell chronicled the latest changes to the skyline surrounding Central Park, most notably Emery Roth’s landmark San Remo and El Dorado.

THIS TOWN AIN’T BIG ENOUGH FOR THE TWO OF US…New York’s original Hotel Majestic (left) stood for just 35 years before it was razed to make way for its bigger Art Deco successor, at right. (Pinterest/Wikipedia)
FRATERNAL TWINS…Architect Emery Roth designed both the San Remo at 145 Central Park West (left) and the El Dorado at 300 Central Park West. (Wikipedia/mapio.net)

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From Our Advertisers

“Cultural hotels” of the 1920s and 30s catered to college students as well as young professionals engaged in music or the visual arts. Two of these hotels shared the Barbizon name, and one in particular on East 63rd Street served as a combination charm school and dorm for young women who wanted a safe New York retreat while they pursued school or professional opportunities. For decades it would be home to many celebrities including Candice Bergen, Joan Crawford, Cybill Shepherd, Joan Didion, and Grace Kelly…

CULTURAL SIBLINGS…Opened in 1927, The Barbizon at 140 East 63rd Street (left) served for many decades as a female-only residential hotel, housing many celebrities before they became famous including Candice Bergen, Joan Crawford, Cybill Shepherd, Joan Didion, and Grace Kelly. At right, the Barbizon-Plaza, which opened in May 1930, was noted as the first music-art residence center in the U.S. (newyorkitecture.com/Museum of the City of New York)

…of course not everyone could afford the excitement of life among the rich and famous…some had to settle for lesser thrills…

…on the other hand, these posh tots appeared to be destined for the Barbizon crowd…you can even sense that feeling of entitlement in their vacant little eyes…

…and for something completely different, another weird Flit ad, with Dr. Seuss

…on to our cartoons, another day in the country with Rea Irvin

Alan Dunn found a young couple living above one of the city’s “skyscraper churches,” the result of valuable Manhattan church property being developed into a combinations of churches and hi-rise apartments…

…an example of a “skyscraper church” is Calvary Baptist Church at 123 West 57th…

(Wikipedia)

…closer to the street, we have a couple of high society waiters with low opinions of man’s best friend, courtesy Garrett Price

Barbara Shermund looked in on some gossip (paying special attention to the smoking habits of the smart set)…

…and we end with Robert Love’s sole contribution to the New Yorker

Next Time: Will It Play In Peoria?…

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: The Flying Misanthrope…

Hell’s Angels

Among the films in 1930 that marked a new era in motion pictures was Howard Hughes’s epic war film Hell’s Angels. 

August 23 cover by Gardner Rea.

Originally shot as a silent, Hughes (1905-1976) retooled the film, and over a period of three years (1927-30) poured much of his own money into making what many consider to be Hollywood’s first sound action movie. The film also introduced audiences to 19-year-old Jean Harlow (1911-1937), handpicked by Hughes to replace Norwegian actress Greta Nissen in the lead role (Nissen’s accent posed a problem for the talkies). The film would make Harlow an instant star, propelling her to worldwide fame as the “Platinum Blonde” sex symbol of the 1930s.

Beset by delays due to Hughes’s incessant tinkering, the movie was famously expensive. For example, a total 137 pilots were used in just one flying scene at the end of the film. In addition to monetary costs, the filming also claimed the lives of three pilots and a mechanic, and Hughes himself would fracture his skull during a stunt flying attempt.

PRE-CODE…Before Will Hays imposed his moral code on Hollywood, films in the early thirties were frank with sexual references, as the image at left attests. When Howard Hughes switched the filming of Hell’s Angels to sound, he replaced Norwegian actress Greta Nissen with 19-year-old Jean Harlow (seen with co-star Ben Lyon). Harlow’s first major film appearance would make her an overnight star; at right, Frank Clarke and Roy Wilson flying an S.E.5A (front) and a Fokker D.VII (back, note camera) in the filming of Hell’s Angels. (Wikipedia)

The New Yorker’s John Mosher found the action scenes enticing, but the acting left something to be desired…

COSTLY VENTURE …This Sikorsky S-29A (left), repainted to represent a German Gotha bomber, would crash into the California hills during filming (right), killing mechanic Phil Jones, who failed to bail out along with the pilot. (Northrop Grumman)
GEE WHIZ…The media often reported on the progress of the film, such as in this May 1930 article in Modern Mechanics that detailed a $1 million sequence in which a fighter dives his plane into the top of a Zeppelin, causing it to explode and crash to earth. (Modern Mechanix)

We skip ahead briefly to the Aug. 30 issue, in which “The Talk of Town” featured a mini profile of Howard Hughes and his film. Note how Hughes’s extravagance is described through his frequent use of long-distance telephone calls:

A STAR IS BORN…19-year-old Jean Harlow and Ben Lyon in Hell’s Angels (1930); at right, Harlow and Howard Hughes at the premiere of the film. (IMDB/Pinterest)

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A Whale of a Movie

Critic John Mosher also took in a film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a very loose adaptation that excluded the novel’s central character, Ishmael, and invented a love story for the maniacal Capt. Ahab…

HAVE A LITTLE FAITH…From left, Noble Johnson as Queequeg, John Barrymore as Ahab, and Walter Long as Stubbs in 1930’s Moby Dick. At right, top, the whale puts the hurt on a boat; bottom, John Bennett as Faith, a contrived love interest for the old salt. (IMDB)

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Daily Dazzle

“The Talk of the Town” gushed over the lobby of the new Daily News Building, likening it to the glitz of a Broadway revue:

A HOME FOR CLARK KENT…The Daily News Building served as the model for the headquarters of the fictional Daily Planet, the building where Superman worked as mild-mannered Clark Kent; at right, an image from 1941 of the lobby, dominated by the  world’s largest indoor globe.
A LOBBY FOR LEARNING…The lobby includes an array of clocks, top left, that give the time in various global destinations. (aatlasobscura.com)

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A Busboy’s Dream

Charles Pierre Casalasco left his life as a busboy in Corsica and studied haute cuisine in Paris before arriving at the shores of Manhattan in the early 1900s. He became a renowned headwaiter who by 1929 garnered enough financial backing from New York’s most powerful families to construct the exclusive Hotel Pierre. Writing under her pseudonym, “Penthouse,” New Yorker columnist Marcia Davenport described the building’s apartments to eager readers:

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…The 41-story, 714-room Hotel Pierre officially opened in October 1930 to great fanfare. The party would be short-lived, as the deepening Depression would force the hotel into bankruptcy just two years later. At right, photo of the Rotunda, before a 2017 remodeling. (New York Public Library)

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So Much For Title IX

Then as now, women athletes were held to a separate set of standards, not only judged for their athletic abilities, but also for their “sex appeal,” as John Tunis suggests more than a few times in his profile of English tennis champion Betty Nuthall (1911-1983). Excerpts:

HOW’S THAT BACKHAND?…Betty Nuthall greets American tennis star Bill Tilden in September 1930; on the cover of Time after winning the 1930 U.S. Open. (Digital Commonwealth/Time)

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Free Expression

Robert Myron Coates (1897 – 1973) was a writer of experimental, expressionistic novels who later became a longtime art critic for the New Yorker (he is credited with coining the term “abstract expressionism” in 1946). In the Aug. 23 issue he contributed the first installment of “Dada City,” here describing street life in Harlem. Excerpts:

STREET LIFE…Scenes around Harlem’s 125th Street, clockwise from top left: the Apollo Theatre marquee punctuates a busy street scene in 1935; NW corner of 125th and Broadway, 1930; Regal Shoes storefront, 1940s, photo by Weegee; 125th and St. Nicholas Avenue in 1934. (Skyscraper City/Museum of the City of New York)
AMERICAN ORIGINAL…Robert M. Coates’s The Eater of Darkness (1926) has been called the first surrealist novel in English. (Goodreads)

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From Our Advertisers

New Yorkers who were still enduring the brutal summer of 1930 could find relief, if they could afford it, on a New York Airways flight…

…or if you had the means, you could take your yacht out to sea, like this chap in a coat and tie who calmly steers with one hand while offering a box of chocolates to his guests with the other…

…our sailor wasn’t the only one dressed to nines…here are two ads offering suggestions to young folks returning to college or prep school…

…for comparison, this is how a group of college students at Columbia University dress today…

(Columbia University)

Dr. Seuss continued to crank out drawings on behalf of Flit insecticide…

…and on to cartoons, yet another rerun (the sixth) of this Peter Arno drawing with a new caption (Dorothy Dix was a popular advice columnist)…

…and another look at country life courtesy Rea Irvin (originally printed sideways on a full page)…

…and another country scene, this time among the toffs, thanks to Garrett Price

…back in the city, some parlor room chatter as depicted by Barbara Shermund

…downtown, I. Klein looked at the economic challenges of peep shows…

…and we close with this reflection on city life, by Reginald Marsh

Next Time: Marble Halls…

Transatlantic Dreaming

When Apollo astronauts landed on the moon fifty years ago, many skeptics asked the question, “What good does this accomplish?”

July 12, 1930 cover by Constantin Alajálov.

New Yorker writer Morris Markey posed the same question 89 years ago about transatlantic flights, then limited to a handful of daredevils chasing various speed and distance records. Crossing the ocean in an airplane, Markey observed, was “one of the most difficult things imaginable.” He concluded that despite the heroics of a few pilots, “we are still not much nearer to transoceanic commercial service…”

TESTING THE LIMITS…In photo at left, Charles Kingsford Smith (second from left) and the crew of his airplane, Southern Cross, pause before embarking on their east-west crossing of the Atlantic in  June 1930; photo at right: Dieudonné Costes (right) with Maurice Bellonte in Boston in 1930. On September 1-2, 1930, they flew the “Point d’Interrogation” from Paris to New York, the first heavier-than-air aircraft to reach New York in the more difficult westbound direction between the North American and European mainlands. (National Library of Ireland/Wikipedia)
BIG THINKERS…Germany’s massive Dornier Do-X made its first test flight on July 12, 1929. A few months later, it carried a world-record 169 passengers on a 40-minute flight, an astonishing number given that the largest planes at that time rarely carried more than 20 passengers. In 1930, the Do-X took off on an international publicity tour through Europe, down the west coast of Africa, across the Atlantic to Brazil and up to New York before returning to Berlin. (Mashable)

Markey went on to detail the various obstacles facing transatlantic fliers, including fairly good odds that a plane, laden with fuel and supplies for such a journey, would crash on takeoff. He noted that a little over half of the attempts succeeded, while the others seemed doomed from the start.

ILL-ADVISED…With only 70 hours of flying experience, Montana rancher Urban F. Diteman (left, with his airplane “Golden Hind”) took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, bound for London. He was never seen again; at right, the William Randolph Hearst-sponsored “Old Glory,” a Fokker F.VIIa single-engined monoplane that was used in 1927 on an attempted transatlantic flight from Old Orchard Beach, Maine to Rome, Italy. The overloaded plane and its crew were lost approximately 700 miles east of Newfoundland, where only a section of wing was recovered. (dailymontana.com/Wikipedia)

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Glare of the New

Architecture critic George Chappell enthusiastically followed the construction of the world’s tallest building, but in its completion he found the Chrysler Building’s now-iconic spire to be little more than a stunt, and suggested that a covering of masonry might be in order:

MAYBE SOME VINYL SIDING?…George Chappell wasn’t too crazy about the Chrysler’s chrome dome, and also worried about the amount of steel that would clad the exterior of the Empire State Building, right, which is composed of limestone, chrome bars and aluminum panels. (Wikipedia)

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Bottoms Up

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White pondered the drinking habits of his fellow citizens in the tenth year of Prohibition:

MAKE THAT A DOUBLE…Finding refreshment in the dark days of Prohibition. (junkee.com)

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Good Old Summertime

Along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” a Reginald Marsh interpretation of Coney Island fun and games…

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Still the Same

Lois Long, who painted a picture of Jazz Age nightlife like no other in her “Tables for Two” column, teased her readers by disguising her identity, often claiming she was a frumpy old lady. With her “Tables” column now relegated to the dustbin, the fashionable and young Long maintained her pose, referring to herself as an “old war horse” in her fashion column “On and Off the Avenue.”

Problems of the Rich

John Mosher reviewed the 1930 American Pre-Code comedy Holiday, which told the story of a young man torn between his wild lifestyle and the tradition of his wealthy fiancée’s family. Films that explored the “problems” of the rich seemed particularly popular in the Depression years…

POOR LITTLE RICH GIRLS…Mary Astor and Ann Harding in Holiday. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Pond’s Cold Cream continued its campaign of endorsements by society women, including Philadelphia socialite, philanthropist and champion horsewoman Elizabeth Altemus

Altemus (1906-1988) was a prominent owner/breeder of Thoroughbred racehorses for more than 50 years. Her first marriage was to Jock Whitney, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, and president of the Museum of Modern Art. By the looks of this 1937 portrait of Altemus, the cold cream certainly didn’t do her any harm…

Mary Elizabeth Altemus Whitney in 1937. (geni.com)

…speaking of cold cream, when Kleenex was introduced in the early 1920s, it was marketed solely as a hygienic way to remove cold cream. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the makers of Kleenex began to suggest it could also be used as a tissue in place of a handkerchief. Of course it was also a great way to dramatically expand consumption of its brand, and help usher in a new age of disposable products…

…as the Depression deepened, ads for automobiles began to change with the times, most manufacturers emphasizing the affordability of their cars over performance or prestige, as this sad little ad from Packard attested….

…in three consecutive issues (June 5, 12 and 19) Peter Arno featured the same drawing with a different caption that gave readers a very brief courtship story…

Alan Dunn offered a glimpse of life among the newsboys…

Leonard Dove found Americans browsing newsstands along the Seine…

Helen Hokinson looked in on an existential crisis…

Perry Barlow was Out West at a dude ranch…

Barbara Shermund eavesdropped on a couple of debs…

Garrett Price gave us an awkward encounter among the yachting crowd…

…and finally William Crawford Galbraith, and a case of domesticus interruptus

Next Time: Aleck & Frank at Taliesin…