Not Worth a Dime

First performed in Berlin in 1928, The Threepenny Opera was Bertolt Brecht’s socialist critique of capitalist society and was a favorite (somewhat ironically) of that city’s bourgeois “smart set.” However when it landed on the Broadway stage in 1933, it famously flopped, and closed after just twelve performances.

April 22, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

The first American production, adapted by Jerrold Krimsky and Gifford Cochran, opened April 13, 1933, at the Empire Theatre, featuring Robert Chisholm as Macheath (“Mack the Knife”) and Steffi Duna as his lover, Polly. Critic Robert Benchley found value in the play’s “modernistic” music, but seemed puzzled by its enigmatic production, an opinion shared by other contemporary critics.

HANGING IN THERE…Scenes from the 1928 Berlin premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s musical, The Threepenny Opera. At left, Macheath (tenor/baritone Harald Paulsen) is spared the noose during the closing act, much to the relief of his lover, Polly (soprano Roma Bahn); at right, in a deus ex machina moment, a messenger arrives at the hanging and announces that Macheath has been pardoned by the queen. (British Library)

Some critics today defend the 1933 American production, noting that the Krimsky–Cochran adaptation was quite faithful to the Brecht original. Perhaps something was lost in translation, or maybe the world in which the play was conceived no longer held much relevance to Depression-era Americans.

THE FINAL CURTAIN fell after just twelve performances of the first American production of The Threepenny Opera at Broadway’s Empire Theatre. The production featured Robert Chisholm as Macheath and Steffi Duna as Polly. (discogs.com/bizzarela.com)

Benchley half-heartedly concluded that the play was probably worth seeing, for no other reason than to experience something different for a change.

By 1933 the world that had conceived The Threepenny Opera was long gone—Brecht fled Nazi Germany two months before his play opened in New York, fearing persecution for his socialist leanings. Things were quickly going “from bad to worse” under Adolf Hitler’s new regime, as Howard Brubaker observed in his “Of All Things” column:

 * * *

Look Ma, No Net!

Karl Wallenda (referred to as “Carl” here) was born to an old circus family in Germany in 1905, and by 1922 he would put together a family-style high-wire act (with brother Herman) that would come to be known as “The Flying Wallendas.” They debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1928, notably without their safety net, which had been lost in transit. So they performed without it, much to the acclaim of the adoring crowd. They soon became known for their daring high-wire acts, often performed without safety nets. E.B. White filed this (excerpted) report for “The Talk of the Town.”

In the years that followed Karl developed some of troops’ most startling acts, including the famed seven-person chair pyramid. They performed this incredibly dangerous stunt until their appearance at the Detroit Shrine Circus in January 1962; the wire’s front man, Dieter Schepp, faltered, causing the pyramid to collapse. Schepp, who was Karl’s nephew, was killed, as was Richard Faughnan, Karl’s son-in-law. Karl injured his pelvis, and his adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down.

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME…The Wallenda family practices the seven-person pyramid just prior to the Shrine Circus in Detroit, where the group fell, killing Dieter Schepp (far right, bottom row) and Dick Faughnan (second from left, on bottom). (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

Karl’s own luck finally ran out on March 22, 1978, on a tightrope between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. High winds, and an improperly secured wire, caused the 73-year-old Wallenda to wobble, and then fall, one hundred feet to the ground. He was dead on arrival at a local hospital.

THE SHOW ENDED for Karl Wallenda on March 22, 1978, on a tightrope between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The 73-year-old high-wire legend fell one hundred feet to his death. (esquire.com)

 * * *

Safer Entertainments

Lois Long continued to file nightlife reports in her “Tables for Two” column, reveling in the sights and sounds (and rhythms) of the Cotton Club’s orchestra, led by Duke Ellington…but the real attraction was Ellington’s unnamed drummer, whom I assume was the great Sonny Greer

JAZZ GREAT Sonny Greer wowed Lois Long and the rest of the crowd at Harlem’s Cotton Club in April 1933. (jazz.fm)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Given the news Howard Brubaker shared earlier in this post, I wouldn’t use the word Gemütlichkeit (basically, warmth and friendliness) to describe the state of things in Nazi Germany…

…a better option would be a trip to the British Isles or France on the White Star lines, nicht wahr?…

…RCA’s mascot, Nipper, appeared to contemplating fatherhood in this two-page ad for the company’s new “baby sets”…

…Camel took a break from its magician-themed “It’s Fun to be Fooled” ads to run another elegant Ray Prohaska-illustrated spot…

…on to our cartoons, Carl Rose demonstrated the economic benefits of legal beer…

E. Simms Campbell showed us a woman seeking a bit of motherly wisdom…

Whitney Darrow Jr (1909–1999), who began his 50-year career at The New Yorker on March 18, 1933, offered this look at childhood’s hard knocks…

James Thurber drew up an odd encounter at a cocktail party…

Peter Arno served up a proud patriarch…

…and William Steig explored the perils of somnambulism…

…on to our April 29, 1933 issue with a cover by Garrett Price…although we’ve already seen many cartoons by Price, we haven’t seen many covers (he did two covers in the magazine’s first year, 1925). Price would ultimately produce 100 covers for The New Yorker, in addition to his hundreds of cartoons…

April 29, 1933 cover by Garrett Price. Note the little train illustration along the spine.

…for the record, here is Price’s first New Yorker cover from Aug. 1, 1925…

…there was more troubling news from Nazi Germany, this time from Paris correspondent Janet Flanner in her “Letter from Paris” column…Flanner would later gain wider fame as a war correspondent…

THUGS…SA members stick a poster to the window of a Jewish store in Berlin on April 1, 1933. The poster is inscribed, “Germans, Defend yourselves, Do not buy from Jews”. (Bundesarchiv, Berlin)

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From Our Advertisers

Camel followed up its elegant ad from the previous issue with another “Fun to be Fooled” spot, this time presented as a multi-panel comic strip…

…Powers Reproduction was a frequent advertiser in the early New Yorker, touting the “realism” of their color photography, but in this case the model looked more like a department store mannequin…

Otto Soglow continued to ply a lucrative sideline illustrating ads for Sanka decaf…

…as we segue to our cartoonists, the opening section featuring work by both James Thurber and George Price

Gardner Rea’s snake charmer expressed her belief that all men are created equal…

…here is a cartoon by a new artist, Howard Baer, who contributed to The New Yorker between 1933 and 1937…

…and another by newcomers Whitney Darrow Jr.

…and E. Simms Campbell

Barbara Shermund continued to rollick with her modern women…

…and we end with the ever-reliable Peter Arno

Before we close I want to remember Roger Angell, who died last week at age 101. A literary legend and a great baseball writer to be sure, but also one of the last living links to the first days of The New Yorker. Rest in Peace.

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe, for The New Yorker.

Next Time: Bohemian Rhapsody…

 

 

Beer Thirty

There’s a good reason why Americans celebrate National Beer Day on April 7.

April 15, 1933 cover by William Steig.

It was on that day in 1933 that the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect; after nearly 13 years of Prohibition, folks were allowed to buy and drink low-alcohol content beer. The act not only promised to wet their whistles on the hot summer days ahead, but it also signaled the eventual doom of 18th Amendment. E.B. White opened his column with musings on the Easter holiday, but soon turned his attention to the big news of the day.

THINK THIS WILL BE ENOUGH?…Workers at a New York brewery unload thousands of crates of beer, getting ready for the return of legal beer in April 1933. (allthatsinteresting.com)
FRONT PAGE NEWS…The New York Times proclaimed the return of legal beer in this April 7, 1933 edition.
BLONDE’S BOMBSHELL…While on the other side of the Lower 48, actress Jean Harlow christened the first legal bottle of beer at midnight in Los Angeles, April 6, 1933. (Los Angeles Public Library)

In his “A Reporter at Large column,” Morris Markey looked in on a former speakeasy owner who was more than happy to go legit, and who also predicted the demise of his fellows who still lingered in the underground liquor trade. An excerpt from “Now That There’s Beer”…

CHEERS!…The first truckload of beer to leave New York exits the Jacob Ruppert Brewery in New York in 1933. (allthatsinteresting.com)

The subject of Markey’s column explained why speakeasies would soon be a thing of the past. Markey also observed that theatre owners would soon feel the pinch as folks would forgo movies for summer evenings at a beer garden.

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No Laughing Matter

Writers and editors at The New Yorker did their best to keep things as light and witty as possible, but sometimes the headlines could not be ignored, and tragedy was acknowledged, albeit briefly. “The Talk of the Town” had this to say about history’s deadliest airship disaster:

NATURE’S FURY…The U.S. Navy’s 785-foot dirigible, the USS Akron, plunged into the Atlantic Ocean during a violent storm shortly after midnight on April 4, 1933, claiming the lives of 73 crewmen. Clockwise, from top left, the Akron on a routine flight; men in a rear control car; servicemen in the dirigible’s engine room; April 23, 1933 photo of wreckage recovered off the coast of New Jersey. Because the ship had no life vests and one rubber raft, only three crew members survived the disaster, which heralded the end the Navy’s dirigible fleet. (howstuffworks.com/AP/Daily Mail)

In his “Of All Things” column, Howard Brubaker had this to add:

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Alex at the Movies

It wasn’t every day you got to read a movie review by Alexander Woollcott, but he did just that in the opening lines of his “Shouts and Murmurs” column, calling Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross an “unpleasing mess drooled on to the brobdingnagian bib” of the director.

Woollcott, who doubtless related to Nero’s bacchanalian ways, singled out Charles Laughton’s campy performance as the Roman emperor.

ANIMAL HOUSE…Charles Laughton camped it up as the Emperor Nero in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross. (IMD

Besides Laughton’s performance, the pre-Code film is perhaps best known for Claudette Colbert’s revealing milk bath scene, which took several days to shoot—the powdered cow’s milk eventually turned sour, making it a very unpleasant experience for all involved.

IT STINKS…that was Alexander Woollcott’s assessment of The Sign of the Cross. Clockwise, from top left, studio poster for the film; Claudette Colbert’s famous bath scene; an actress portraying a Christian being thrown to the lions (as well as crocodiles and gorillas) was the famed burlesque dancer Sally Rand, who left little to the imagination in her uncredited appearance; an orgy scene. Although Paramount marketed the film to churches, it was attacked by the Catholic Legion of Decency: a re-release of the film was censored after the Hays Code went into effect in 1934—a “lesbian dance,” violent gladiator scenes and sequences with naked women being attacked by crocodiles were cut and wouldn’t be restored until a 1993 video release. (Wikipedia/IMDB)

As for film critic John Mosher, the remaining Hollywood fare was even worse—like The Sign of the Cross, these pictures used faith-based themes, a seemingly new trend in Hollywood scenarios, to poor effect.

Gabriel Over the White House starred Walter Huston as a politically corrupt president who, after a near-fatal car accident, comes under the divine power of the Archangel Gabriel and the spirit of Abraham Lincoln…

I SEE DEAD PEOPLE…Walter Huston and Karen Morley in Gabriel Over the White House. (TCM)

…the pre-Code drama Destination Unknown also summoned supernatural forces to tell the tale of a stranded ship saved by a stowaway who turns wine into water and heals a crippled man.

NEEDING A MIRACLE…Pat O’Brien and Betty Compson in Destination Unknown. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Considering that Adolf Hitler gave Nazi paramilitary units control of German streets in January 1933, the words “Appeasing refuge” don’t readily come to mind…

…if you liked all things German but wanted to avoid getting a jackboot to the groin, you could remain stateside, drink some 3.2 beer, and chew on some Liederkranz…

…actually this looks more preferable, especially as rendered by fashion illustrator Leslie Saalburg

…before Zillow or Craigslist you could look for some digs in the New York American, which merged with the New York Journal in 1937…

…the makers of leaded gasoline urged on a stereotypical country doctor, even though the stork seemed to have things under control…

…on to our cartoonists, Garrett Price illustrated the limits of legal beer…

…while Chon Day explored the same problem at this tea room…

…here’s a trio of The New Yorker’s early women cartoonists…Barbara Shermund

Mary Petty

…and Alice Harvey

…and we close with Al Frueh, and some brave firefighters…

Next Time: Not Worth a Dime…

An Instant Star

George Cukor’s 1932 pre-Code film A Bill of Divorcement would make Katharine Hepburn an instant star in her screen debut…

Oct. 8, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

… but New Yorker critic John Mosher seems to have missed the boat in spotting this new talent, who would go on to be — at least according to the American Film Institute, “the greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema.” In A Bill of Divorcement, Hepburn portrays a young woman who fears she has inherited the same psychiatric problems that plague her father (John Barrymore). Mosher wrote:

A LOT ON HIS MIND…In A Bill of Divorcement, John Barrymore portrays a man who escapes from a mental hospital after 15 years of confinement, seeking to return to wife and family; his daughter, Sydney (Katharine Hepburn), fears she has inherited his psychiatric problems, while Sydney’s mother, Meg (Billie Burke) wants to start a new life with another man. (IMDB)

Although Mosher offered a rather tepid response to Hepburn’s debut role, critic Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called the film “intelligent, restrained and often stirring.” Of Hepburn he wrote: “Miss Hepburn’s characterization is one of the finest seen on the screen and the producers have been wise in not minimizing the importance of her part because Mr. Barrymore is the star of the film.”

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On Shaky Ground

E.B. White noted the sad state of the Pulitzer Fountain, which had stood at the Plaza since 1916. Although Joseph Pulitzer’s sons had put up funds to restore the landmark, the city had yet to act on a plan.

Fortunately the fountain still stands, thanks to restorations in 1933-35, 1971 and 1985-90. As to White’s concerns, the city finally accepted the Pulitzers’ offer, and after delays due to labor disputes it was completed in June 1935. The original limestone basin was rebuilt in Italian marble, and a limestone balustrade and columns that surrounded the fountain were demolished.

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG…The Pulitzer Fountain after it was completed in 1916. (New York Public Library)

White also mused about the nature of Long Island, soon to be transformed under Robert Moses’ system of parkways that would stretch across the island’s vast expanses.

EAT ME…Hundreds of truck farms dotted Long Island in the early 20th century, especially known for their potatoes. (Newsday)

…and we have more from White, also serving as the magazine’s theater critic and taking in the latest installment of Earl Carroll’s Vanities…I include this mainly to note the young vaudevillian Milton Berle’s first appearance on a big stage…

BEFORE UNCLE MILTIE…Milton Berle (1908–2002) made his first appearance on a big stage with Earl Carroll’s 1932 Vanities. It is also noteworthy that in that same year Chicago native Vincente Minnelli (see program cover) was getting his first breaks on Broadway as a stage and costume designer. (tralfaz.blogspot.com/Playbill)

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Delirious Nights

Although Lois Long was primarily focused on her fashion column, she continued to file an occasional “Tables for Two” that gave readers a glimpse into New York nightlife, including the star-studded (Walter Chrysler, Howard Hughes, among others) opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room…

DANCING WITH THE STARS…Lois Long reported on the star-studded opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room, which featured a series of Saturday night supper dances; images of the Sert Room left and right; at center, the New York Times’ account of the club’s opening, Oct. 2, 1932. (geographicguide.com/NYT/jstor.org)

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From Our Advertisers

Simon & Schuster promoted George Gershwin’s Song Book, illustrated by New Yorker regular Constantin Alajalov

…signed first editions go for up to $8000 these days…

(raptisrarebooks.com)

…meanwhile, Farrar & Rinehart trumpeted the release of Evelyn Waugh’s latest novel (his third)…Black Mischief satirized the ways Europeans attempted to impose their customs and beliefs on other cultures…

…Squibb helped the New Yorker’s bottom line with three separate ads scattered throughout the magazine…back in the day the Squibb brand was associated with everything from toothpaste…

…to aspirin and shaving cream…founded in 1858, it merged with Bristol Meyers in 1989 to form one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Bristol Myers Squibb, which today is mostly known for manufacturing dozens of prescription pharmaceuticals and biologics…

…Squibb & Sons were the primary tenant (the top 12 floors) of New York’s landmark Squibb Building when it opened its doors in 1930…

(Museum of the City of New York)

…moving on, here are a couple of ads that show us one thing that has definitely changed in the past 89 years…when was the last time you wore a fur coat to a football game?…

…cigarette manufacturers had plenty of money to advertise during the depths of the Depression, but apparently so did the folks at Wamsutta Mills…Wamsutta sheets are no longer made in New Bedford — part of the circa 1847 mill complex is now loft-style housing…however, the Wamsutta brand still exists in the U.S. through Bed, Bath & Beyond and internationally as part of a Brazilian textile conglomerate…

…Micarta was a substance developed by Westinghouse in the early 20th century for use with electrical equipment…produced from a combination of linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass and other materials processed under heat and pressure, Westinghouse found a new use for this laminate — serving trays designed by George Switzer…you can read more about Micarta trays at Driving for Deco…reader Chris notes that Micarta is “still available in a wide range of grades and designer colors and is popular with hobbyists and craftsmen the world over”…

…in the Oct. 29 issue, E.B. White made this observation about Micarta trays…

…on to our cartoons, William Steig’s “Small Fry” learned about the birds and the bees…

Gardner Rea visited some tobacco researchers challenged to keep pace with advertising claims…

Barbara Shermund looked into the love lives of the modern woman…

…and Peter Arno got playful at the pipe organ…

…on to our Oct. 15, 1932 issue…

Oct. 15, 1932 cover by William Steig.

…where we check in on John O’Hara (1905–1970), who defined the short story at the New Yorker (and contributed more shorts to the magazine than any other writer). For the Oct. 15 issue O’Hara submitted a profile titled “Of Thee I Sing, Baby.” The profile is unusual because it is told as a story rather than as a biography, and the subject, a chorus girl, is not identified by her real name. A brief excerpt:

WRITING MACHINE…John O’Hara (pictured here in 1945) contributed more short stories to the New Yorker than any other writer. (Library of Congress)

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William Steig (1907–2003) was both a writer and illustrator, and every bit as prolific as O’Hara, publishing more than 50 books during his long life and career, including his very first, which received this mention at the end of the Oct. 15 book review section:

…on to our Oct. 15 advertisers, we have the makers of Chesterfields pairing their product with the sophistication of Paris fashions…

Carl “Eric” Erickson illustrated a number of ads for R.J. Reynolds’ Camel cigarettes in the late 1920s and early 1930s…here he employed his signature sophisticated style for the French Line…

…RCA promoted the next great advance in radio technology — “bi-acoustic” sound that added “two more octaves” to radio broadcasts…it would take thirty more years to roll out something we take for granted today — stereo…

…on to our cartoons, Robert Day joined a misdirected fox hunt…

Richard Decker gave us one man’s simple solution to a perilous situation…

…and we close with a classic from James Thurber

Next Time: City On a Hill…

A Picture’s Worth

James Thurber made a rare appearance in the “Reporter at Large” column — usually the purview of the departing Morris Markey — to offer a glimpse into the life of Albert Davis and his extensive collection of theatrical and sports photographs.

Sept. 24, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

A publicist by trade, Davis (1865-1942) collected thousands of photographs, clippings, programs, scripts and playbills from hundreds of productions mainly from the 1890s to the 1920s. In this excerpt, Thurber took a look into Davis’s rarefied world:

PLAYING MAKE-BELIEVE…Among the photographers collected by Davis was Joseph Byron, who captured this scene from the 1912 play The High Road by American playwright Edward Sheldon. Pictured are actors Frederick Perry and Minnie Maddern Fiske. (monovisions.com)
OSCAR THE FIRST…Theatre impresario Oscar Hammerstein (left) at Manhattan Opera House, which opened December 3, 1906. Hammerstein was the first person with whom Davis traded photographs. He was also the father of famed lyricist and musical comedy author Oscar Hammerstein II. (monovisions.com)
WHEN ALL PERFORMANCES WERE LIVE…Images of performers from the Davis collection included actor Bert Williams (ca. 1895); sharpshooter Annie Oakley (ca.1886); and actor Theodore Drury as Escamillo in Carmen (ca. 1905). (Harry Ransom Center)

Thurber pointed out that the collection was quite valuable, and its sale could reap a considerable sum for Davis. It seems Davis intended to present the collection to his university’s library, a wish more or less fulfilled.

Davis’s collection also contained hundreds of sports figures, mostly from the world of boxing.

TOUGH GUYS…Omaha-born Max Baer (left) defeated German champion Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in 1933 and took the heavyweight title in 1934; Paul Berlenbach (right) was a light-heavyweight champ from 1923 to 1926. An interesting footnote: Baer acted in 20 films, and one of his three children, Max Baer Jr., portrayed Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies. (Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports)
PEDDLERS…Bicycle racers at the Hartford Wheel Club’s bicycle tournament pose for an 1889 photograph in Stamford, Connecticut. (Stark Center)

Endnote: Davis wanted his collection to go to a university library, and so it finally did: it resides at the University of Texas at Austin — the theatrical photos and memorabilia are at the Harry Ransom Center, and the sports-related items are housed at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.

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Is It Beer-Thirty Yet?

Brewer, politician and owner of the New York Yankees baseball franchise  Jacob Ruppert Jr. (1867–1939) inherited the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company and the Yankees upon his father’s death in 1915. It was Ruppert who purchased the contract of Babe Ruth (from the Red Sox in 1919) and built famed Yankee Stadium (1923), moves that helped propel a middling franchise to the top of the major leagues. Alva Johnston profiled Ruppert in the Sept. 24 issue; here is the opening paragraph:

LOOK WHAT I JUST BOUGHT…Jacob Ruppert purchased the contract of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox in 1919; Ruppert also inherited the Knickerbocker brewery at 92nd Street and 3rd Avenue (demolished in 1969). (historywithkev.com/brookstonbeerbulletin.com)

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Pol Mole

With the 1932 presidential election just weeks away, E.B. White’s focus was on an apparently elusive mole that decorated the left side of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s face, or possibly the right, or perhaps not at all…

REPRESENTING THE LEFT AND THE RIGHT…E.B. White mused on FDR’s apparently shifting mole, which appeared on the right cheek on the cover of Vanity Fair, on the left on the cover of Life, and not at all on the campaign button. (picclick.com/Britannica/2Neat.com)

This wouldn’t be the last time someone discussed FDR’s dermatology. Health experts today still debate whether a pigmented lesion above FDR’s left eyebrow was a melanoma—some even speculate that it led to his death at age 63, although the official cause of FDR’s death on April 12, 1945 was cerebral hemorrhage associated with high blood pressure. Incidentally, most photographs show the cheek mole on the right side.

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Words Were Their Bond

What a treat it must have been for a New Yorker reader to turn to pages 15-16 and find Dorothy Parker’s “A Young Woman in Green Lace,” followed by Parker’s dear friend and confidant Robert Benchley’s “Filling That Hiatus” on pages 17-18.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley (far right) with their employers in 1919: Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield, Vogue editor Edna Chase, and publisher Condé Nast. (publicdomainreview.org)

Benchley and Parker’s friendship began when he was hired as Vanity Fair’s managing editor in the winter of 1919 (and would become Parker’s office mate the following May). That same year they were among the founders of the famed Algonquin Round Table.

“A Young Woman in Green Lace” reveals how Parker regarded some of the modern women of those times, this next-generation flapper, a bit childish and snobbish, wishing she were back in “Paree.” In the story a man presses his charms as the woman descends into drunkenness and drops her Continental facade:

Where disillusion creates a darkly comic mood in Parker’s piece, in Benchley’s world disillusion provided a nice opening for some silliness. In ”Filling That Hiatus” Benchley addressed a seldom-discussed dinner-party etiquette situation in which both your right- and left-hand partners become engaged in conversation with someone else. He concluded:

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His Country, Too

It is always with a tinge of sadness that I write about Morris Markey, who from the start wrote for virtually every department at the New Yorker and was best known for his “A Reporter at Large” feature. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Markey won his greatest recognition for the book This Country of Yours, published after he left the New Yorker. That magazine’s review was brief, and read thusly:

The book is mostly forgotten today, as is Markey, who was found shot to death on July 12, 1950 at his home in Halifax, Virginia. He was just 51 years old. There was insufficient evidence as to whether the wound behind his right ear was the result of accident, homicide, or suicide.

As a farewell, here is what the Times (Sept. 10, 1932) had to say about Markey’s book:

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From Our Advertisers

With cold weather arriving during the Depression’s worst year, fashions continued to borrow from the past for a more conservative look (these are two ads from Jay-Thorpe and B. Altman)…

…as for the gentleman, fashion continued to emphasize a genteel look (although there is a bit of the Little Tramp about this fellow)…

…then as now, folks turned toward the rustic to find a bit of comfort in uncertain times…

…and if they could afford it, the comforts of the stolid, solid Lincoln motorcar…

…the folks at Lucky Strike continued to ask this question…

…and with the help of Syd Hoff, the makers of Log Cabin syrup ran this parody ad (in the Oct. 1 issue) of the Lucky Strike campaign…Hoff was among the newest members of the New Yorker cartooning cast…

…as was William Steig, who featured one of his “Small Fry” to tout the benefits of decaf coffee…

…our cartoon from the Sept. 24 issue is by Richard Decker

…on to Oct. 1, 1932…

Oct. 1, 1932 cover by Peter Arno.

…where film critic John Mosher took in the latest from Marlene Dietrich and came away less than dazzled by Blonde Venus

Now something of a cult film, reviews were mixed when Blonde Venus was released in 1932. The New York Times’ critic Mordaunt Hall went even further than Mosher, calling the film a “muddled, unimaginative and generally hapless piece of work, relieved somewhat by the talent and charm of the German actress…”

WELL HELLO THERE…Cary Grant made his film debut in 1932 in This Is the Night—he went on to appear in eight films that year, including Blonde Venus with Marlene Dietrich. (MoMA)

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Unlucky in Luck

In its early years the New Yorker paid little attention to baseball, but “The Talk of the Town” did appreciate a human interest story from the field every now and then, and Yankee batboy Eddie Bennett filled that bill — this was the second time Bennett was featured in the column…

LUCKY EDDIE…Top, Eddie Bennett in 1921, the year he became the Yankees’ batboy; below, with slugger Babe Ruth in 1927; at right, newspaper profile the year after the 1927 World Series. As an infant Bennett twisted his spine in a carriage accident that stunted his growth and gave him a misshapen back.(Library of Congress/New York Times/Brooklyn Citizen)

Throughout the 1920s Bennett was a famed good luck charm for the Yankees, but when a taxicab struck him in 1932 his batboy career ended. According to the New York Times (April 2, 2021) “Three years later, Mr. Bennett was found dead in a furnished room on West 84th Street. Autographed photos from Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt, both pitchers for the Yankees, hung on the walls…Balls and bats signed by Ruth and Lou Gehrig decorated the room. An autopsy found that Mr. Bennett had died of alcoholism. He was 31.”

For 85 years, Bennett rested in an unmarked grave at St. John’s Cemetery in Queens, but last November he was remembered with a new marker and a simple ceremony. You can read more about it in this Times article.

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Original Verse

Ogden Nash was working as an editor at Doubleday when he submitted some rhymes to the New Yorker. Harold Ross (New Yorker founder/editor) saw the submissions and asked for more, apparently stating “they are about the most original stuff we have had lately.” Here is one of the later submissions:

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From Our Advertisers

If you were of the male persuasion and a member of the smart set you probably dressed down in something like this for a day with your dressage buddies…

…the modern woman of the 1930s could also be a successful business woman in this “successful” frock (how that translated into reality was another thing)…what is also interesting about this ad is how it features both an illustration and a photograph of the same outfit—it’s as though they’ve acknowledged that the attenuated figure in the illustration, although eye-catching, does not resemble an actual body type…

…here was see an early use of the word balloon in an advertisement featuring real people—I wonder if this was inspired by the comics, or by Bernarr Mcfadden’s “composographs” featured in his New York Evening Graphic?…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with a strange bit of bedside manner courtesy Gardner Rea

Robert Day introduced us to a modest suspect…

Barbara Shermund continued to explore the travails of modern women…

…while this woman (via Perry Barlow) seems quite content with her lot…

…Mayor Jimmy Walker was out, but not down, like these fellows presented by Alan Dunn

…and we close with Peter Arno, announcing some upcoming nuptials…

Next Time: An Instant Star…

 

 

Rebecca and the Zombies

As we recently saw in the 1932 film Freaks, there were some truly weird motion pictures produced in Hollywood during the pre-Code era, including four that were reviewed in the July 30 and August 6 editions of the New Yorker.

July 30, 1932 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

According to critic John Mosher, some of those films were not intended to be viewed as such, including Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (reviewed in the Aug. 6 issue), which Mosher found more gruesome than the Bela Lugosi vehicle White Zombie:

THE HORROR…After seeing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, critic John Mosher concluded that too much sweetness and sunniness could be creepier than a bunch of zombies. Pictured above is Marian Nixon as Rebecca and Ralph Bellamy as her suitor, Dr. Ladd. (IMDB)
THE BELA BUNCH…Following up on his 1931 hit Dracula, Bela Lugosi inexplicably chose to star in the low-budget horror film White Zombie. Considered to be the first feature-length zombie movie, it served as a model for subsequent zombie pictures. Clockwise, from top left, white Haitian voodoo master “Murder” Legendre (Lugosi) leads his crew of zombies; Legendre toasting his evil intentions; coach driver (Clarence Muse), warns his passengers about zombies on the highway (although the film is set in Haiti — actually a Hollywood studio lot — Muse was the only Black actor with a speaking part, albeit quite brief); as was common in those days, John T. Printz, a white actor, portrayed the Black character Ledot, a former witch doctor; Legendre (Lugosi) transforms Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) into a zombie and orders her to kill her fiancé. Also pictured is Robert Frazer, who portrayed a plantation owner. Filmed is just eleven days, the majority of the cast in White Zombie were actors whose careers had waned since the silent era. (IMDB)

In the July 30 issue Mosher had another encounter with the strange, this time two documentaries that were very much products of their time.

In case a film about the hardships on the Alaskan tundra wasn’t enough to entice moviegoers, Universal Pictures served up this lobby card featuring a topless Nuwuk woman to promote Igloo…

Igloo lobby card. (Pinterest)

…in a similar vein, husband and wife filmmakers Martin E. and Osa Johnson offered up some topless images to accompany the action promised in Congorilla. It’s a familiar National Geographic-style trope — an over-the-counter magazine or film in the 1930s wouldn’t dare show a European woman topless (there were decency laws after all!) but these folks were “primitive,” and therefore weren’t subject to the Hays Code or other decency standards.

Congorilla lobby card. (IMDB)

The Johnson’s documentary was partly staged, including this scene with “child-like pygmies” that is just plain weird (um, didn’t “modern” jazz have its roots in Africa?):

 *  *  *

Life of the Party

James Thurber penned this unusual July 30 profile, a parody of artistic genius- types who are loved and admired despite also being a drunken assholes. I include the opening paragraph, and the concluding paragraph, which follows a decision by Elliot Vereker’s literary friends to put him on a boat to France; during a farewell party he roundly insults them all.

MIRROR, MIRROR…James Thurber and his “Profile” subject, Elliot Vereker. Some critics suggest Vereker’s character was the result of some self-reflection on Thurber’s part.

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

William Steig continued illustrating these full-page ads for Old Gold (no surprise that tobacco companies were doing quite well during the Depression)…

…as we’ve seen, a number of New Yorker cartoonists earned extra money illustrating ads for a variety of companies, but one cartoonist, Peter Arno, also collaborated with artists, playwrights and musicians including Paul Whiteman…no doubt this collaboration was inspired in Arno’s youth, as noted New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin explains in this Inkspill entry

…and we have another in the continuing series of Lucky Strike ads encouraging smokers to inhale its “pure” tobacco, the better to draw in all that addictive nicotine…

…on to our cartoons…William Steig got a clever two-page layout with the caption, “Tell him to put plenty of sauerkraut on it”…

Carl Rose offered his thoughts on the slate of wishy-washy candidates in the upcoming 1932 elections…

Helen Hokinson explored the simple ways of rural living…

Barbara Shermund looked in on the charmed lives of her modern women…

Robert Day gave us an athlete with a big surprise ahead (and not a happy one…I made this same mistake years ago in a junior high track meet)…

...James Thurber explored the junior edition of his “War Between Men and Women”…

…and Kemp Starrett illustrated a Boy Scout who lost his troop along with some of his innocence…

…and we continue with the Aug. 6 issue, cover artist Constantin Alajalov choosing the 1932 Summer Olympics as his theme:

August 6, 1932 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Alva Johnston penned the first part of a two-part “A Reporter At Large” feature on Knickerbocker Village. Yet to be built when this article was written (construction began in 1933 and was completed in 1934), Knickerbocker Village was the first apartment development in the U.S. to receive federal funding. It came from the Congress-authorized Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which gave loans to private developers like Fred French for the construction of low-income housing in slum-clearance areas.

CLEARANCE SALE…Tenements in Lower East Side were razed in 1933 to make way for Knickerbocker Village. The site was known as “Lung Block,” because of its high tuberculosis mortality rate. Developer Fred French, who also created Manhattan’s Tudor City, received federal funding to replace slums with more healthful housing. However, the 1,590 small apartments in Knickerbocker Village were eventually occupied by white collar, middle-income residents. Rather than provide better housing for former tenement dwellers, the project displaced them to other slum areas in the city. (Ewing Galloway/NYT)
STILL STANDING…Knickerbocker Village today. The complex was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In 2019, the City Council passed a bill that keeps Knickerbocker Village relatively affordable for the next 50 years in exchange for a $3 million annual tax abatement. (Wikipedia)

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

The new Waldorf-Astoria touted its Starlight Roof’s many attractions, including, no doubt, escape from the heat and dust of the city streets…

ON TOP OF THE WORLD…View of the Waldorf-Astoria’s famed Starlight Roof and the cover of its wine list, circa 1934. (Pinterest)

…I find these Ethyl ads endlessly fascinating, not only for pushing leaded gasoline on the public, but for class-shaming them into using their product…

…on to our cartoons, Richard Decker showed how not all Prohibition supporters were teetotalers…

William Steig gave us one man’s reaction to August weather…

Barbara Shermund drew a man drawing a line on his place of birth…

…and we end with a cartoon by Wallace Morgan…there is a joke here related to the attire of the two women, but I am at a loss (any suggestions?)…

Next Time: Silence is Golden…

 

Help Wanted

Above image: The 1937 painting, titled "Employment Agency," was by Isaac Soyer (1902-1981). Like Reginald Marsh, he was considered a social realist painter who painted scenes of working class life.

 *

Nineteen thirty-two was a tough year for most Americans, as the Depression approached rock bottom and jobless numbers continued to mount as one out of every four workers was unemployed.

July 2, 1932 cover by William Steig.

Despite the Depression, the New Yorker was on solid footing, although judging by these next two issues advertising had fallen off. Other indications things weren’t so rosy included the occasional broadsides penned by E.B. White in his “Notes and Comment” column that opened “The Talk of the Town.” White anticipated Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, calling for “direction from above” and the creation of a peacetime army that would give purpose to the unemployed.

White filed his column while the nation was experiencing a summer of unrest, men and women across the country joining demonstrations demanding relief from the federal government, which under President Herbert Hoover mostly refused to provide funds for the jobless and homeless.

Writing for The Conversation, James N. Gregory, professor of history at the University of Washington, developed a mapping project that has recorded 389 hunger marches, eviction fights and other protests in 138 cities during 1932.

THE UNWANTED…Clockwise, from top left, a man advertises his worth on a sandwich board, ca. 1930; unemployed gather in front of an employment agency, ca. 1930; long line of jobless and homeless men wait outside to get free dinner at a New York municipal lodging house, 1932; even with the New Deal times remained tough for many rural folks — in 1936 Los Angeles Police Chief James E. Davis declared a “Bum Blockade” to stop the mass emigration of poor families fleeing from the Dust Bowl states of the Midwest. (rarehistoricalphotos.com/dailybulletin.com/AP)

White’s column was prescient in many ways, including the need for Americans to laugh during tough times: Abbott & Costello, Burns & Allen, Laurel & Hardy and the Three Stooges, among many other acts, enjoyed their heydays during the Depression and war years.

SWORDS, NOT PLOUGHSHARES were offered to those protesting in the summer of ’32. Above, tanks and mounted troops advance to break up a Bonus Marchers’ camp of veterans protesting lost wages in Washington D.C. on  July 28, 1932. Below, the marchers at the Capitol. (PhotoQuest/The Conversation)

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

As noted earlier, advertising had fallen off a bit in the New Yorker, but those who still had means to market their wares included the folks at Goodyear, who continued their campaign of comparing their tires to “masterpieces”…

…this B. Altman ad presented a “fashion artist” who was doing quite well despite the Depression…

…on to our cartoonists, the top of page 2 and the bottom of page 3 in the “Goings On About Town” were decorated by Julian de Miskey

William Steig put one of his “Small Fry” in a barber’s chair…

James Thurber continued to plumb the depths of courtship…

…as did Barbara Shermund

…while Peter Arno was perfecting one his classic tropes…

…on to July 9, 1932…

July 9, 1932 cover by Virginia Andrews.

…where we look at John Mosher’s review of Red Headed Woman, a romantic comedy about an ambitious secretary (Jean Harlow) who tries to sleep her way into high society.

Harlow (1911-1937) was already famed as a “platinum blonde,” which made her turn as a redhead a major selling point for the pre-code film. Although based on a novel by Katharine Brush, it was Anita Loos’ humorous treatment of the script that made the film more than just a sex romp.

SEEING RED…Jean Harlow seduces her wealthy boss William “Bill” Legendre Jr. (Chester Morris) and breaks up his marriage to his wife Irene (Leila Hyams, photo at right). (IMDB)
In many ways Jean Harlow embodied Lorelei Lee, the ambitious gold-digger Anita Loos created for her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. When Loos (left) adapted Katharine Brush’s (right) novel for the 1932 film Red-Headed Woman, MGM made hay of the whole arrangement, seen in this 1932 publicity photo (center) of Harlow and Loos.

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Speaking of redheads, we have this one encouraging us to become addicted to Camel cigarettes and then “leave them if you can”…

…Longchamps was a chain of restaurants in Manhattan that brought a taste of Continental refinement to middle class New Yorkers…

…the terrific Driving for Deco blog site tells us that wholesaler Henry Lustig opened his first Longchamps restaurant in 1919 at Madison and 78th, specializing in an American version of French cuisine at affordable prices. During the mid to late 1930s the chain rapidly expanded, opening seven restaurants within five years. Four of these restaurants were known for interior designs by Winold Reiss…

HIGH STYLE, LOW PRICES…Clockwise, from top left, the 1931 Continental Building was home to this Longchamps restaurant at Broadway and 41st Street (circa 1937); entrance on 42nd Street to the Longchamps in the Chanin Building, circa 1935; late 1930s matchbook cover from Longchamps; interior design by Winold Reiss in the Chanin Building location. (nyneon.blogspot.com/drivingfordeco.com)

…on to our cartoons with Rea Irvin and another view of French elegance…

…and we close with Barbara Shermund, evesdropping on her Manhattan demimonde…

Next Time: Not For the Kiddies…

Jimmy’s Jam

New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker (1881-1946) was commonly referred to as “Beau James for his flamboyant lifestyle and his taste for fine clothes and Broadway showgirls.

June 4, 1932 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Mayor Walker was also a product of the powerful Tammany Hall machine that traded in political favors and outright bribery. When he took office in 1926, the economy was riding high, and few seemed to care that hizzoner was aloof, partying into the night (while openly flouting Prohibition laws), and taking numerous pleasure trips to Europe. He easily won reelection in 1929, but when the stock market crashed later that year his hijinks began to wear a bit thin, and reform-minded politicians like State Senator Samuel H. Hofstadter began looking into corruption in New York City. The actual investigation was led by another reformer, Samuel Seabury. The New Yorker’s E.B. White looked in on the proceedings and its star witness, Mayor Walker.

I DO NOT LIKE THIS, SAM I AM…Clockwise, from top left, Mayor Jimmy Walker was full of wisecracks during his testimony before Samuel Seabury, far left; Seabury’s role in the high-profile commission landed him on the cover of Time (Aug. 17, 1931); Tammany Hall’s support was writ large for Walker in the 1920s; Vivian Gordon was a surprise witness in the Seabury investigation, telling investigators police received bonuses for falsely arresting women on prostitution charges. After her testimony Gordon was found strangled in Van Cortland Park, leading many to believe Walker’s corruption played a role in her death. (Daily News/Time/archives.nyc/Pinterest)

Public opinion really started to turn on Walker with the death of star witness Vivian Gordon (see caption above). The final blow came from New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, who like Walker was a Democrat but unlike Walker was not a Tammany product. Roosevelt was also running for president, and rightly seeing Walker as a liability, asked the mayor to resign, which he did on Sept. 1, 1932. That event was still three months away when E.B. White wrote these concluding lines:

SEE YA, SUCKERS…Eight days after he resigned from office, New York Mayor Jimmy Walker headed for Paris, where his mistress, Ziegfeld star and film actor Betty Compton, awaited with open arms. Clockwise, from top left, Compton and Walker on their wedding day in Cannes, France, April 19, 1933; and a 1920s photo portrait of Compton; Walker’s first wife,  Janet Allen Walker, had sued for divorce a month earlier (March 10, 1933) claiming Jimmy had deserted her in 1928 and they had not lived together since; Walker and Compton on the deck of SS Normandie, June 17, 1936. (legacy.isle-of-wight-fhs.co.uk/IMDB/Pinterest/NYC Municipal Archives)

Eight days after Walker resigned from office he caught a boat for Paris, where his mistress, Ziegfeld star and film actor Betty Compton (1904-1944), awaited him. They married the following year in Cannes.

 *  *  *

Out of the Shadows

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were Jazz Age fixtures, cutting wide swaths through literary and society worlds filled with wild drinking and various infidelities. Francis Scott (1896-1940) was a chronicler of that age, most notably with The Great Gatsby, but Zelda (1900-1948) also took pen in hand, contributing short pieces to various magazines in the 1920s. By 1930 their self-destructive ways caught up with them both, and Zelda was admitted to a sanatorium in France that spring; it was the beginning of a long road of treatments that would end in her death nearly two decades later.

ALL THAT JAZZ…Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (pictured here in 1926) embodied the riotous days of the Roaring Twenties. (beinecke.library.yale.edu)

In 1932, during her stay at the Phipps Clinic (Johns Hopkins), Zelda experienced a burst of creativity, writing an entire autobiographical novel — Save Me the Waltz — in just six weeks. Sadly, it was not well-received (by critics or by her husband), and fewer than 1,400 copies of the novel were sold — a crushing blow to Zelda. However, during that same time she published a short story in the New Yorker titled “The Continental Angle.” Here it is:

TALENTED AND TROUBLED…Zelda Fitzgerald in 1931, a year before she entered the Phipps Clinic and had a burst of creativity. (citizen-times.com)

A footnote: On the occasion of my birthday last April, my dear friends Sally and Lydia stopped by and presented me with these two cocktail glasses and a recipe for a White Lady, which apparently was named for our dear Zelda.

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Yet another stylish and very modern-looking ad from Cody, thanks to the artistry of American fashion illustrator Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…

…while later on in the issue French illustrator Lyse Darcy gave his subject an Art Deco look to promote Guerlain’s face powder…

…Darcy was famed for his Guerlain ads from the 1920s to the 1950s…

From left to right, 1929, 1938, 1957…

…Powers Reproduction turned to star power to promote their latest color engraving techniques…

…the actor Marguerite Churchill (1910-2000) had a film career spanning 1929 to 1952, and was John Wayne’s first leading lady in 1930’s The Big Trail

…and we head back to the city, Tudor City, to be precise, where apparently it was common in the 1930s to spot a gent in formalwear relaxing with his pipe…

…on to our cartoons, we have James Thurber contributing some spots…

Rea Irvin continued to visit the world’s “Beauty Spots”…

Garrett Price showed us a couple looking for the “We Want Beer” parade…

…which happened three weeks earlier, on May 14, 1932…the parade was organized by none other than Mayor Jimmy Walker, who believed prohibition was making life difficult for New Yorkers…

(brookstonbeerbulletin.com)

Barbara Shermund introduced two men with bigger issues than beer on their minds…

John Held Jr. continued to plumb the depths of the naughty Nineties…

…and some more naughtiness, courtesy Gardner Rea

Next Time: Summer Indulgences…

 

 

High Anxiety

The New Yorker profiled authors, composers, civic and world leaders and other notables in its early years, but every so often it would turn the spotlight on a member of the working class.

May 7, 1932 cover by William Steig, the first of 117 covers he would contribute to the magazine over his long life and career.

“The Man With The Squeegee,” a profile written by journalist (and later, playwright) Russel Crouse, detailed the life and work of Stanley Norris, a son of Polish immigrants who daily defied death as a window cleaner on Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

Profile illustration by Hugo Gellert

Below is an excerpt that includes a couple of Norris’ harrowing experiences high above the city streets:

LOOK MA, NO HANDS!…Just two leather straps separate this brave window washer from oblivion in March 1936; a lone worker confronts his task in 1935; window washers in 1930; window washers on the 34th street side of the building, January 1932. There are 6,400 windows on the Empire State Building, and each worker averaged 76 panes per day. (retronaut.com/cnn/considerable.com/reddit)

During the 1930s one out of every 200 window cleaners in New York City fell to their deaths annually. In the previous decade, more than 80 fell to their deaths. In another excerpt, Norris recalled one of those unfortunate deaths.

 *  *  *

Vintage Whines

E.B. White enjoyed both wine and spirits, but like many of his fellow Americans he was growing sick and tired of Prohibition, and in his “Notes and Comment” looked abroad for a better way to live.

White concluded the entry with this observation…

…which referenced the sad grape “bricks” folks could order by mail…

Grape growers sold these bricks with a warning that they were not to be used for fermentation — a warning that kept them within the law. Naturally both seller and consumer understood that the end product would likely be something stronger than grape juice.

(vinepair.com)

Where White did procure his cocktails is revealed later in “Notes” — he tells us of an encounter with a night-club host while out walking with his wife, Katharine White, and toddler Joel.

SOMETIMES E.B. JOINED THEM…Katharine White taking baby Joel for a stroll with the White’s beloved Scotty Daisy in New York City, 1931. (brainpickings.org)

 *  *  *

News Stooges

In “The Wayward Press” column, Robert Benchley (writing under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes) took the newspapers to task for their tasteless reporting on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and their general sullying of a once proud profession (Benchley himself was an experienced journalist):

TRAGEDY SELLS…The kidnapping of Charles and Ann Lindbergh’s infant son, Charles Jr., dominated headlines across the country in the spring of 1932. This March 3 edition of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Evening Independent ran this headline just two days after the boy’s disappearance. The body of Charles Jr. was found on May 12, 1932. (Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Rising Stars

The pre-Code drama So Big!, based on Edna Ferber’s 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, featured two iconic Hollywood actors, but in 1932 only one of them, Barbara Stanwyck, was a bankable star. The film also featured the soon-to-be-famous Bette Davis, who had a much smaller role but was nevertheless grateful to be cast in a prestigious Barbara Stanwyck film. For critic John Mosher, the film proved to be a breakout role for Stanwyck.

SO BIG!…Barbara Stanwyck (left) was a marquee attraction in 1932, but Bette Davis would soon emerge as another major star in the Warner Brothers universe. (IMDB)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Clothes spun from cotton have been around for thousands of years, but this B. Altman advertisement suggests they were relatively novel for summer wear, at least among the upper orders. Both men and women wore wool bathing suits up until the 1930s, so perhaps there was something new about this cool, casual material…

…no doubt the landed gentry helped keep the Davey Tree Surgeons in business during the Depression, but in those lean times it didn’t hurt to reach out to those with modest means…

…they did something right, because this 141-year-old company still thrives today, the ninth-largest employee-owned company in the U.S…

…launched in 1906, the RMS Mauretania was beloved for her Edwardian elegance and style, but as sleeker ships came into service in 1930, the Mauretania was removed from Atlantic crossings and relegated to running shorter cruises from New York to Nova Scotia and Bermuda…

OLD RELIABLE…The RMS Mauretania was the world’s largest and fastest ship after it left the Port of Liverpool in 1906. The liner was scrapped in 1935-37, much to the dismay of many of its former passengers, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Wikipedia)

…with Mother’s Day around the corner, one company suggested a silver cigarette box as a suitable gift…

…on to our cartoons, Otto Soglow marked the upcoming holiday with this choreographed group…

Denys Wortman gave us another side of motherhood…

…other women were busy organizing political gatherings, per Garrett Price

…and Helen Hokinson

James Thurber gave us a dog in distress…

Robert Day illustrated the dilemma of two bootleggers…

…and Barbara Shermund takes us out…

Next Time: Under the Boardwalk…

 

The Shipping News

I’m always a bit wistful when writing about travel in the 1930s, and no mode of transportation from that decade seems more bygone than that of the great ocean liners.

April 16, 1932 cover by Sue Williams.

During the Depression many of the shipping lines looked for new ways to make up for lost passenger revenue, and this included catering to those of more modest means by introducing revised cabin classes and other amenities. E.B. White explained:

NOT A WATER SLIDE IN SIGHT…The French Line’s S.S. Normandie (left) and Italy’s M.S. Vulcania proudly plied the seas in the 1930s.
Let’s take a look inside at what White might have glimpsed on his tour aboard a 1930s liner…all of these images are of the less-pricey “tourist class” cabins…Stateroom #282 on the S.S. Normandie offered modern decor and a shower…
…the Italian Line’s M.S. Vulcania tourist class berth #409 offered two beds with a bath…
…also from the Italian Line, “Four Berth Cabin #443, Tourist Class” on the S.S. Augustus…
All cabin images courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.
…as for “tourist class” dining, if you were on the S.S. Normandie, here is what awaited you…
…what you would not have seen in this room: flip flops, tee shirts, or all-you-can eat buffets…
 *  *  *
Casting Stones
Architectural critic Lewis Mumford did not suffer fools, or foolish architecture, gladly, and when it came time for the American Institute of Architects’ annual Medal of Honor, he found that even good taste could not compensate for poor design:

DEFICIENT was how Lewis Mumford described the conception of 120 East End Avenue. Nearly eighty years later, in a 2009 “Streetscapes” column, New York Times writer Christopher Gray called the building “impeccably reserved,” and noted that it served as the home of famed philanthropist Brooke Astor during her six years of marriage to Vincent Astor. (Ruby Washington, NYT)
RARE PRAISE was offered by Mumford, however, to Clarence Stein’s Phipps garden apartments, a reminder that in addition to being an architecture critic, Mumford was also a city planner, concerned not only for aesthetics and function but also for how a building or buildings worked within the context of neighborhood and city. (cornell.edu)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with this understated advertisement from Tiffany & Company. You don’t see the word “silversmiths” in their marketing anymore (they are now “artisans”) but they still have a lot of silver things to offer…

…including some items you couldn’t buy in 1932, like this silver coffee can for $1,550…

(tiffany.com)

…speaking of silver, Gorham Sterling boasted that its sterling silverware was owned by miss etiquette herself, Emily Post, although here she is still quaintly referred to as “Mrs. Price Post”…

…if you were looking for sterling qualities in an automobile, Packard offered a range of “Aristocrats of the Metropolis”…

…to treat that Packard right, you’d want to give it the best in fuels, in this case leaded Ethyl Gasoline…

…the makers of Ethyl ran a series of these illustrated ads (above) that compared lesser fuels to downscale choices in life. However, I don’t quite get the final two illustrations in this ad…the first panel depicts a man who is apparently lost, therefore lacking confidence and therefore choosing to put mere “Gas” into his outdated sedan. Also the wife is missing. I mean, who wants to be seen with this guy? On the other hand, the confident man who chose Ethyl is seen casually chatting with an attendant as the precious fuel flows into his sporty roadster. His lovely wife and child seem delighted to watch the amber fuel spin in a little side gauge. Yes, life was good when you switched to Ethyl…

…if you were a person of substantial means you could also contemplate air conditioning for your home, something that almost no one possessed in 1932. Indeed, air-conditioning for the home was only introduced in 1932, when H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman sold an individual room air conditioner that sat on a window ledge. According to Popular Mechanics (Jan. 1, 2015), the units “were only enjoyed by the people least likely to work up a sweat—the wealthy. (The large cooling systems cost between $10,000 and $50,000. That’s equivalent to $120,000 to $600,000 today.)”…

…in addition to being rich, the pilot of this plane also happened to be cultured and fascinating, and a smoker of Rameses II cigarettes…

…and here’s another activity reserved for the very few — overseas telephone calls. At $30 for three minutes to London, it would be equivalent to about $600 today (consider that your average stenographer was pulling in maybe $15 a week in 1932, a sales clerk less than $10)…

…that sales clerk, however, likely could afford a jar of Pond’s and aspire to have a “celebrated English complexion” like Lady Mary Katherine Clive Pakenham…

…Born into the Anglo-Irish Longford family, Pakenham (1907-2010) was a British writer and historian best known for memoirs of her family and time as a debutante in 1926…

THOSE DOWDY DEBS… Lady Mary Katherine Clive Pakenham’s memoir of life as a debutante, Brought Up and Brought Out (1938), recounted 1926 as a “bumper dowdy year” for debutantes, the men she encountered “practically deformed…Some were without chins. Some had no foreheads. Hardly any of them had backs to their heads.” (Cecil Beaton Studio Archive)

…we continue with the fashionable by way of Lord & Taylor and an illustration that looks very New Yorker-esque but I can’t quite identify the artist, not yet anyway…maybe Barbara Shermund?

…I do, however, know this is by our dear Barbara

Richard Decker presented an odd moment in a manor house…

Otto Soglow’s Little King was up to his old tricks…

Robert Day discovered an unlikely hitch-hiker…

James Thurber illustrated some easy speaking in a speakeasy…

…and with the “cylinder wars” in full force among the automakers, one young lad made sure Ford was telling the truth about their new “eight”…with Peter Arno

Next Time: The Grand Garbo…

The Final Curtain

Nearly a century after his passing, many still regard Florenz Ziegfeld Jr as the most important and influential producer of Broadway musicals. His theatrical revues, filled with leggy chorines and wisecracking comics, set a standard for everything from Busby Berkeley productions to the Fats Waller stage celebration Ain’t Misbehavin’.

March 19, 1932 cover by Madeline S. Pereny, who gave us a glimpse of the annual International Flower Show at Grand Central Palace.

But when Robert Benchley checked out Ziegfeld’s latest revue, Hot-Cha, which opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre on March 8, 1932, he found it tiresome, and no amount of expensive scenery could keep the show from ending on a “particularly sickening thud.” What Benchley couldn’t know, however, was that Hot-Cha would be the last original musical-comedy produced by Ziegfeld, who in just four months would punch his last ticket.

NOT SO HOT-CHA!…Florenz Ziegfeld’s final revue brought out the stars, but it wasn’t enough to dazzle drama critic Robert Benchley. Clockwise, from top left, program for the revue; Lupe Velez, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and June Knight in Hot-Cha; Benchley was more critical of Bert Lahr’s material than of the comedian himself — many years later Lahr’s son, John Lahr, would follow in Benchley’s footsteps and serve as the New Yorker’s drama critic; Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza were among the highest-paid dance acts in the 1930s and 40s, but Benchley had simply lost his appetite for yet another tango. (playbill.com/Pinterest/Smithsonian/Wikimedia)

Selections from the Ziegfeld Theatre program promised a stageful of talents, including 75 “Glorified Girls”…

…and Ziegfeld (1867–1932) would be back in May for a revival of Show Boat, which once again proved to be a hit, but a bout of pleurisy would claim his life on July 22, 1932. As Benchley alluded in his review, these lavish shows led to equally lavish expenses, and Ziegfeld, having lost much of his money in the stock market crash, would leave his actress wife Billy Burke with substantial debts. The plucky Burke, however, marched on with a successful acting career that included her appearance as Glinda the Good Witch in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.

SECOND ACT…Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and his wife, actress Billie Burke, pose for an Edward Steichen photo, 1927. At right, Burke as Glinda the Good Witch in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.

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Everyone’s a Critic

The March 19 issue also featured drama criticism from Alexander Woollcott in his “Shouts and Murmurs” column. In this case, Woollcott had a bone to pick with the famed playwright Eugene O’Neill, as well as with Guild Theatre’s coughing patrons, who called to mind a chorus of frogs:

SHSSS!…Alexander Woollcott would have preferred an empty Guild Theatre to one filled with “bronchial” patrons. (goodreads.com)

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Down in Old Mexico

The New Yorker’s latest “Out of Town” feature assured travelers that Mexico was a safe destination, and advised men to pack “spring suits and a dinner jacket” if they planned to visit Mexico City. The author of this piece (signed “P.L.”) cautioned travelers “to get insulated against liquid lightning before getting flip with the national drinks: pulque and tequila. Bootleg liquor is no preparation for the havoc these work even on the sternest drinker.”

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Sweating With the Stars

The March 19 “A Reporter at Large” column carried the simple title “Exercise.” Written by journalist Russell Lord* (1895-1964), this excerpt revealed some high-powered clients of one of the world’s first celebrity trainers:

GUY LOMBARDO’S DOOR IS ON THE LEFT…Izzy Winter’s health and exercise “institute” was tucked away on the second floor of the Roosevelt Hotel. Patrons passed through the hotel’s lobby to access an “honest sweat.” Izzy is pictured at right. (Roosevelt Hotel/Yale University)

In Lord’s conclusion, he noted that after a workout patrons were treated to a doze under a sunlamp and a cigarette…

* In his day, Russell Lord was a noted agricultural writer and editor of the agricultural literary journal The Land, which promoted ecologically responsible agricultural practices.

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Fame and Infamy

I include this snippet from John Mosher’s film column to note the first reference in the New Yorker to the March 1, 1932 kidnapping of the baby of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh…the lives and various doings of the Lindberghs were frequent subjects in the early days of the magazine…

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From Our Advertisers

We’ll start by sampling some of the wares in the back pages…looks like Ziegfeld got a big bang for his small investment with his Hot-Cha ad…

…while Ziegfeld ran a cheap ad for his lavish production, the R.F. Simmons Company decided to go big with this ad for…drum roll please…watch chains…

…the makers of Cliquot Club Ginger Ale also did their best to promote a mundane product, claiming their beverage had a “piquant personality”…yeah, especially with a splash or two of some bootleg whisky…

…the makers of Spuds were staying with their stupid “Mouth-Happy” theme, assuring menthol cigarette smokers they will be the life the party…a party filled with old gasbags, that is…

…R.J. Reynolds continued to push their Camels on the growing market of women smokers, demonstrating the effects of a fresh cigarette with this image of a rosy-cheeked nurse…

…DeSoto (a division of Chrysler) gave Depression-era readers something to smile about with this full-color, two-page advertisement featuring a sunny beach scene and an affordable automobile…

…on to our cartoons, here’s Carl Rose’s perspective on the Disarmament Conference taking place in Geneva, Switzerland…

…while the Otto Soglow’s Little King had his own way of projecting power…

…on the domestic scene, Barbara Shermund’s modern women were channeling  René Descartes

…and William Steig showed us a couple debating an equally weighty matter…

…and via Richard Decker, some well-groomed polar explorers…

…two of Helen Hokinson’s “girls” stopped by the International Flower Show at Grand Central Palace…

…and we end with another classic from James Thurber

Next Time: Dirge for a Dirigible…