Genesis of Genius

It’s hard to believe in this day and age that a theoretical physicist could enjoy rock star status, but then Albert Einstein wasn’t your everyday theoretical physicist.

Dec. 2, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

A two-part profile of Einstein (1879–1955) by Alva Johnston (with terrific caricature by Al Frueh) examined the life and “idol” status of a man who would define the idea of genius in the 20th century. Although Einstein desired to live an almost reclusive existence at Princeton University, Johnston noted that he had become “fairly reconciled to the occupation of popular idol.”

Einstein was at Princeton thanks to the rise of Adolf Hitler, who came to power in Germany in early 1933 while Einstein was visiting the United States. Returning to Europe that March, Einstein knew he could not return to his home country (indeed, the Gestapo had raided his Berlin apartment and eventually seized all of his property), so when Einstein landed in Antwerp, Belgium on March 28, 1933, he immediately went to the German consulate and surrendered his passport, formally renouncing his German citizenship.

I’M OUTTA HERE…Albert Einstein with a Zionist delegation from France, Belgium, and England upon leaving the SS Belgenland in Antwerp, Belgium, 1933. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

After some time in Europe and Great Britain, in October 1933 Einstein accepted an offer made earlier by from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey to serve as a resident scholar. When he arrived with his wife, Elsa, he said he would seclude himself at the Institute and focus on his teaching and research.

(NY Times, Oct. 18, 1933)
EINSTEIN WASN’T FIDDLIN’ AROUND when he played his cherished violin—he once said that if he hadn’t been a scientist, he would have been a musician. This photo was taken at Einstein’s Princeton home in November 1933—he and fellow members of a string quartet were practicing for a December concert at the Waldorf-Astoria to raise money for German-Jewish refugees. From left to right, sitting: Arthur (Ossip) Giskin, Toscha Seidel, Albert Einstein, and Bernard Ocko; standing: Estelle Manheim (Seidel’s wife), Elsa Einstein and unidentified man. (Leo Baeck Institute)

 * * *

Stop and Go

E.B. White devoted his “Notes and Comment” to Manhattan’s traffic situation, which he found manageable as long as tourists stayed out of the way…

White also noted the perils of Park Avenue, especially the taxi drivers (distracted by those newfangled radios) darting between the islands…

Park Avenue in the 1930s. (geographicguide.com)

…and then there was Fifth Avenue, notorious for traffic jams, made worse on weekends by the tourist traffic…

Fifth Avenue in 1932. (New York State Archives)

…later in “The Talk of the Town” White continued his thoughts on New York taxis, namely the introduction of coin-operated radios installed for use by passengers…

 * * *

Fly Newark

Albert L. Furth took us off the mean streets and into the air when he filed this account about the Newark Metropolitan Airport for “A Reporter at Large.” Furth seemed put off by the cachet of European airports and their many amenities, given that the Newark airport—although admittedly utilitarian—was the busiest in the world. An excerpt:

FREQUENT FLIER…Albert Furth noted that Newark Municipal Airport logged a landing or departure every thirteen-and-a-half minutes. Above, passengers boarding a Boston-bound American Airlines Condor at Newark Airport in 1930. In those simpler times, passengers just walked to the runway and climbed on board. The airport had opened two years earlier on 68 acres of reclaimed swampland along the Passaic River. It was the first major commercial airport in the New York metro area and the first anywhere with a paved runway. (njmonthly.com)

 * * *

Goodnight, Speakeasy

Lois Long was an 17-year-old Vassar student when Prohibition went into effect in 1919, so when she started her career in New York in 1922 the only nightlife she knew revolved around speakeasies. Although she held Prohibition officers in disdain, she also believed that the repeal of the 18th Amendment would lower the quality of New York nightlife—the food, the “adroit service,” and the “genial din” of the speakeasy. Excerpts:

FROM LOUCHE TO LEGAL…Lois Long was saying a sad goodbye to her beloved speakeasies; perhaps the Algonquin Hotel (here, circa 1930) would offer some cheer. (Pinterest)

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From Our Advertisers

Abercrombie & Fitch (then an outfitter for the elite outdoorsman) was offering holiday shoppers everything from multi-tool knives to cocktail shakers…

…while the folks at Clerevu telescopes found a growing market for folks who used their product for anything but stargazing…

…with Repeal just days away, the Pleasant Valley Wine Company of New York hoped folks would pop a few of their corks before the good stuff arrived from France…

…the British were coming to the rescue via the Berry Brothers, who were overseeing the importation of liquor from their offices at Rockefeller Center’s British Empire Building…

…let’s look at an assortment of one-column ads…the center strip features an ad promoting Angna Enters’ appearance for “one evening only” at The Town Hall (123 West 43rd Street)…Enters (1897–1989) was an American dancer, mime, painter and writer who likely performed her piece Moyen Age…

FEEL THAT STRETCH…Angna Enters performing Moyen Age, circa early 1930s. (NYPL)

…we begin our cartoons with Gardner Rea, and a dedicated bell ringer…

Otto Soglow showed us a softer side of The Little King…

Peter Arno revealed the human side of the posh set…

…and we close the Dec. 2 issue with this classic from James Thurber

…on to Dec. 9, 1933, and a cover by an artist we haven’t seen in awhile, Ilonka Karasz

Dec. 9, 1933 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

…and we open with this comment by E.B. White, who along with critic Lewis Mumford had once voiced displeasure over the massive Rockefeller Center project. However, while viewing the floodlit tower by night, he decided that he would have to eat his words, observing how “the whole thing swims up tremendously into the blue roxyspheres of the sky”… 

MEA CULPA…E.B. White gained a new perspective on Rockefeller Center, pictured here in December 1933. (Wikipedia)

…we continue with White, who also offered his thoughts on something heretofore unthinkable—a proposal to start putting beer in cans… 

…it would happen about a year later…on Jan. 24, 1935, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company, in partnership with the American Can Company, delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale to drinkers in Richmond, Virginia…

(seletyn.com)

…and despite White’s doubts, apparently ninety-one percent of the first drinkers of the product approved of the canned beer, although when Krueger’s launched their ad blitz they had to include instructions (and a new tool) to open the darn things…

(seletyn.com)

 * * *

Dreamscapes

Critic Lewis Mumford offered his thoughts on a recent exhibit by a young surrealist named Salvador Dali

MIDDLEBROW SURREALIST…The Triangular Hour by Salvador Dali, 1933. (wikiart.org)

…and we move along to moving pictures, where John Mosher was showing some appreciation for Joan Crawford (1906–1977) in the pre-Code film Dancing Lady

SHE HAD IT ALL…Audiences and critics alike were wowed by Joan Crawford’s performance in Dancing Lady, which featured a star-studded and eclectic cast. Clockwise from top left, Clark Gable plays a Broadway director who becomes Crawford’s love interest; Crawford displays her dancing talent in a Broadway rehearsal; Dancing Lady featured an early film appearance by The Three Stooges, pictured here with Gable and the Stooges’ leader at the time, Ted Healy; Crawford with Stooge Larry Fine—in the original film, Fine completes his jigsaw puzzle only to discover (to his disgust) that it’s a picture of Adolf Hitler. The Hitler scene was removed by the Production Code; its enforcers claimed it insulted a foreign head of state. (IMDB)

In addition to Crawford, the star-studded cast included Clark Gable, Fred Astaire (in his film debut), Franchot Tone (who was married to Crawford from 1935-39 and made seven movies with her), The Three Stooges, Nelson Eddy, and Robert Benchley, who played a reporter in the film.

Dancing Lady was the film debut of Astaire, making Crawford the first on-screen dance partner of the famed hoofer…

(IMDB)

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More From Our Advertisers

We begin with this full-page advertisement from Heinz, which went to great lengths and expense to make their ad appear to part of the New Yorker’s editorial content, even featuring a Perry Barlow cartoon of a boy making a mess with their product…

…another New Yorker contributor who occasionally went over to the advertising side was Alexander Woollcott, here shilling for Chrysler… 

…Kayser, purveyor of women’s hosiery and underthings, was going for some humorous holiday cheer, but the effect is a bit unsettling…

…liquor-related ads began to proliferate with the end of the Prohibition…this one from Martini & Rossi…

…Continental Distilling was hoping to grab its share of gin sales with its Dixie Belle American gin…

…from the same folks who brought us Fleishmann’s yeast (and kept The New Yorker afloat in its early lean years) came this American dry gin…

…Ruppert’s Beer was back with another full-page color ad by Hans Flato

…on to our cartoons, and Santa again, this time besieged by an aggressive tot as rendered by Helen Hokinson

Carl Rose found an unlikely customer at a newsstand…

…here is the last of four cartoons Walter Schmidt published in the New Yorker between 1931 and 1933…

Peter Arno left his glamorous world of nightclubs and high society parties to look in on life at a boarding house…

…and we close with the delightful Barbara Shermund

Next Time: Going With the Flow…

The Radio City

The NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza have wowed visitors and performers alike for nearly 90 years. Today we look back at the remarkable foresight of the studios’ designers, who created spaces that would one day accommodate a new medium called television, which was still in its experimental stages.

Nov. 4, 1933 cover by Robert Day, who contributed a total of eight covers to The New Yorker.

However, before we jump in, let’s look at Robert Day’s cover for the Nov. 4 issue, which featured a familiar character who made his first appearance on the cover of issue #12 (May 9, 1925), and returned four years later looking much older in the dog days of August…

Cover of issue #12 (May 9, 1925) by Rea Irvin introduced our street sweeper, who returned Aug. 3, 1929 by the hand of Gardner Rea.

Day’s cover, however, was also a nod to the annual gathering of autumn leaves—an occasional cover theme that began with Peter Arno’s contribution to the Nov. 27, 1926 issue (below, left) and most recently expressed in Adrian Tomine’s cover for the Nov. 7, 2022 issue (with timely pandemic reference)…

Back to Radio City, Morris Markey recounted the technological wonders of the new NBC studios in his “A Reporter at Large” column, “Marconi Started It.” Markey noted the “fabulous quality” of the facilities, wired for the day when television would arrive. Excerpts:

GEE WHIZ…Morris Markey could be assured that some folks would be “goggled-eyed” by NBC studios, including the technophiles at Popular Mechanics. (westmb.org)

WHERE HISTORY WAS MADE…Studio 8H was the world’s largest radio studio when it opened in 1933. It would be converted for television in 1950. (westmb.org)

Markey marveled at NBC Studios’ various design innovations, including a revolving control room dubbed the “Clover Leaf”…

(Modern Mechanics, Jan. 1931)

Almost 90 years later, the studios continue to serve the broadcast needs of the 21st century, including Studio 8H…

LIVE FROM NEW YORK…Studio 8H was the world’s largest radio studio when it opened in 1933. Converted to television in 1950, it has been home to Saturday Night Live since 1975. Above, SNL stage manager Gena Rositano, in 2015. Below, longtime SNL director Don Roy King at the controls for Studio 8H, also in 2015. (Dana Edelson/NBC via Directors Guild of America)

 * * *

Leopold!

Conductor Leopold Stokowski was no stranger to Studio 8H. From 1941 to 1944 he led the NBC Symphony Orchestra in that venue. One of the leading conductors of the early and mid-20th century, Stokowski (1882–1977) began his musical career in New York City in 1905 as the organist and choir director at St. Bartholomew’s Church, but by 1915 he was conducting the famed Philadelphia Orchestra. Robert Simon reported on Stokowski’s return to New York for a performance at Carnegie Hall. A brief excerpt:

I GET AROUND…Portrait Of Leopold Stokowski by Edward Steichen, Dec. 1, 1933. Married three times and once romantically linked to Greta Garbo, he was married to wife #3, Gloria Vanderbilt, for ten years.(Condé Nast)

Stokowski had the distinct honor of being satirized in a 1949 Looney Tunes cartoon, “Long-Haired Hare,” in which Bugs Bunny disguised himself as the conductor and entered the stage to the astonished whispers of the orchestra…Leopold! Leopold!…

MAESTRO…Bugs Bunny as Stokowski in “Long-Haired Hare.”

Stokowski was no stranger to animation. The conductor appeared in silhouette in Disney’s Fantasia (1940), leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in the film’s score. He even shook hands with Mickey Mouse.

 * * *

Bigga Badda Wolfa

The New Yorker took a look at the popular records of the day, and in addition to tunes by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallée there was yet another release of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”…Ethel Shutta was the latest of seemingly dozens of artists to cash in on the Disney hit…

I’LL HUFF AND I’LL PUFF…Those who couldn’t get enough of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” could turn to Ethel Shutta’s rendition of the hit song on Columbia records. (discogs.com)

 * * *

Page-Turner

Writer Kay Boyle wasn’t afraid of wolves or any other subject for that matter, according to book reviewer Clifton Fadiman

TOSSING A SALACIOUS SALAD…Kay Boyle, photographed by George Platt Lynes, 1941. (The Kay Boyle Papers, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University)

 * * *

A Grapeful Nation

As New Yorkers counted the days until the end of Prohibition, The New Yorker did its part to get readers back up to speed by enlisting the talents of one of the world’s great wine experts, Frank Schoonmaker, who had the enviable job of filing a series of wine reports for the magazine. His first installment of “News From the Wine Country” featured the Champagne region. Excerpts:

THAT FIZZY FEELING…Bottling the good stuff in the Champagne region, circa 1930. (wineterroirs.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Christmas was just around the corner, and F.A.O. Schwarz was READY with its 64-page catalog…

…White Rock anticipated the end of Prohibition with an ad featuring a miniature colonel who apparently needed a stiff drink to prepare for his wife’s return from abroad…

…Mrs. Hamilton Fish Jr, aka Grace Chapin, was married to the New York congressman from 1920 until her death in 1960, apparently enjoying many Camels along the way…her husband would go on living another 31 years and take three more brides before expiring at age 102…

…another cautionary tale from Chase & Sanborne about the perils of undated coffee…

…and with the holidays approaching, a jolly ditty from Jones Dairy Farm, home to little piggies who merrily dash toward their inevitable slaughter…

…and we jump to another back-page ad, this from the stately Plaza, where you could get a single room for five bucks a night…

…turning to the cartoons, we find George Price hitting his stride with multiple cartoons in consecutive issues…

…and taking a look at the recent elections…

…on to James Thurber, and continuing struggles on the domestic front…

…and that brings us to our next issue…

Nov. 11, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

…in which E.B. White had a thing or two to say about the latest edition of the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden.

HORSE SENSE AND SENSIBILITY…The National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden was a major event on New York’s social calendar; top and bottom right, scenes from the 1936 show; bottom left, undated scene circa 1960. (Stills from YouTube)

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Versatile Verse

Phyllis McGinley (1905–1978) was the author of children’s books and poetry, the latter genre most notably for The New Yorker. However, she attracted a wide audience for her light verse in other publications ranging from Ladies Home Journal to The Saturday Review.

LIGHT TOUCH…Phyllis McGinley in an undated photo. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her book Times Three—the first writer of light verse to receive the prize. (wnyc.org)

 * * *

Oil and Water

Art and architecture critic Lewis Mumford found two very different visions of America in the works of contemporaries John Marin and Edward Hopper. Marin’s watercolors were featured at An American Place, while Hopper’s oil paintings and etchings were shown down the street at the Museum of Modern Art.

SIDE BY SIDE…Lewis Mumford found different visions of New York and the world at An American Place and MoMA galleries. At left, John Marin’s watercolor From the Bridge, N.Y.C. (1933); at right, Edward Hopper’s Room in New York, also from 1933. (Artists Rights Society/Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery)

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More From Our Advertisers

Okay, so I’ll buy the part about PBR’s ability to soothe “jaded nerves,” but I doubt it gave this guy “fresh energy” and “a sound, healthy body”…

…After thirteen long years, winemakers emerged from their cellars to glimpse the light of a new day…

…and yes, after thirteen long years, some folks would be yearning for their DRY SACK Sherry…

…the name Elizabeth Hawes was synonymous with high fashion in the late 1920s and 1930s—she owned one of the most exclusive couture houses in New York…

…an outspoken advocate of dress reform, Hawes (1903–1971) was referred to by one historian as “the Dorothy Parker of fashion criticism.” After attacking the fashion industry with her 1938 book, Fashion Is Spinach (Hawes wrote: “I don’t know when the word fashion came into being, but it was an evil day…”), she closed her fashion house and in 1942 took a job as a machine operator at a wartime plant in New Jersey. She became a union organizer, a champion of gender equality, and a critic of American consumerism.

IN A LEAGUE OF HER OWN…Elizabeth Hawes — writer, fashion designer and political activist, poses for a photograph in 1941. (Mary Morris Lawrence)

…speaking of consumerism, ooooh look! A radio “you can slip in your pocket,” depending of course on the size of your pocket…

…transistors would not come along until the late 1950s, so the Kadette still depended on tubes, and you had to plug it in somewhere, so no running down the beach with headphones, at least for awhile…

The Kadette Junior. (radiolaguy.com)

…it must have been a rare treat to sail on a ship like the SS Santa Rosa—situated between the ship’s two funnels, the dining room had an atrium stretching up two-and-a-half decks and featured a retractable roof…

…on to more cartoons, and more George Price

…moving along, we received some big news from one of Helen Hokinson’s “girls”…

…an aside I’ve been meaning to include…in 1952, just three years after Helen Hokinson’s untimely death, a cartoonist for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Franklin Folger, debuted a cartoon called “The Girls.” The cartoon was eventually syndicated and appeared in more than 150 newspapers worldwide before Folger retired it in 1977. Perhaps I am missing something, but I cannot find a single reference to Folger’s obvious appropriation of Hokinson’s “girls”…some examples of Folger’s work from the early 1960s and another from H.H. for comparison:

…and onward to Peter Arno, and the trials of portrait artists…

…and we close with two by Barbara Shermund

…rendered in different styles…

Next Time: Coach Arno…

College Days

For its Sept. 23, 1933 issue The New Yorker continued its serialization of James Thurber’s autobiography, My Life and Hard Times

Sept. 23, 1933 cover by Abner Dean.

Part Seven, titled “College Days,” included Thurber’s reminiscences of an economics class and the challenges one “Professor Bassum” faced in keeping a star football tackle academically eligible:

DEAR OLD ALMA MATER…James Thurber attended The Ohio State University from 1913 to 1918. Clockwise, from top left, the football team during Thurber’s time featured some smart players as well, including All-American quarterback/halfback Gaylor “Pete” Stinchcomb (left) and All-American halfback Chic Harley (right); Thurber’s drawing of the dim-witted tackle Bolenciecwez from My Life and Hard Times; OSU University Hall circa 1910; Thurber drawing of an OSU botany professor who “quivered with frustration” over Thurber’s inability to see through a microscope. (Ohio State/Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with the makers of White Rock, who touted the international appeal of their home-grown product, here enjoyed by an old warrior and his much-younger mistress who were busy keeping the colonies in line in Southeast Asia…

…speaking of colonial exploitation, here’s Frank Buck keeping his nerves steady smoking Camels as he lugs “tons of rhinos, tigers, and gorillas across the Pacific” to live out their lives in cramped, fetid cages…

…hey there New York sophisticates of 1933, we have just the place for you, where only the BEST PEOPLE are apartment hunting, far from the din of immigrants, the unemployed, and other undesirables…

…if you wanted to hang out with the best people, you could get yourself exact copies of the latest Paris fashions from Saks Fifth Avenue…

…or if you were on a tighter budget, you could check out the wares at Wanamaker’s, who trumpeted their “fashion-firsts” on this ad on page 41 followed by a double-spread on the following pages…

James Thurber lent his talents to the makers of Fisher car bodies…in the early days of automobile production Fisher made car bodies for a number of GM cars as well as for Packard, Studebaker, Hudson and other manufacturers…in 1926 it was absorbed by GM as an in-house coach-building division…

…on to our cartoons, we take a boat ride with Robert Day

…discover the perils of historical research with Barbara Shermund

Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein offered a new perspective on portrait painting…

Helen Hokinson found a Red among the blue bloods…

…and a wee conundrum in the hat department…

Gardner Rea pulled out all stops in this patriotic tableau…

…on to the Sept. 30, 1933 issue…

Sept. 30, 1933 cover by William Cotton.

…in which journalist Robert Wohlforth contributed a profile on poet and writer James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938), a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance most widely known today for the lyrics of the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” A brief excerpt with illustration by Hugo Gellert:

LIFT EVERY VOICE...James Weldon Johnson, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1932. (Library of Congress)

 * * *

Mexican Morass

E.B. White took on the movie review duties and landed himself a doozy—Sergei Eisenstein’s Thunder Over Mexico. The famed Soviet filmmaker had come to the U.S. in 1930 to make a film for Paramount, but when the deal fell through American socialist author Upton Sinclair and others invited Eisenstein to make an artistic travelogue exploring the themes of life and death in Mexico. More than thirty hours of film was shot before the project was abandoned and Eisenstein returned to the USSR. The footage was later cut into three films, including Thunder Over Mexico. White was less than pleased with the film’s “butchered” edits.

LIFE AND DEATH IN MEXICO…Avant-garde Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein shot more than 30 hours of film in Mexico without producing a final product. An independent Hollywood producer, Sol Lesser, later produced two short features and a short subject culled from the footage—Thunder Over Mexico, Eisenstein in Mexico, and Death Day; these were released in 1933-34. Clockwise, from top left, poster for the film, the film featured scenes of cinematic beauty as well as brutal violence; Eisenstein visiting Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo; Eisenstein directing a scene from the film. (IMDB/www.otago.ac.nz)

 * * *

Dreaming in Color

In this “Talk of the Town” entry, attributed to James Thurber, we learn of various wonders at the National Electrical Exposition at Madison Square Garden, including a “Clavilux Color Organ” designed for home use. Excerpts:

EINE KLEINE LICHT MUSIK…Danish musician Thomas Wilfred (top) constructed his first Clavilux in 1919. Sitting at a large console, Wilfred could control infinite color projections. His first public performance was in New York in 1922 (top right), featuring an abstract light show audiences compared to an aurora borealis. Bottom right, the Clavilux Junior was developed for home use, operated with special glass records, each hand-painted with a distinct composition that would create the projected image. (cdm.link/Yale University Art Gallery)

This YouTube video offers some idea of the effect:

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More From Our Advertisers

Warm, idealized images of American life, in the vein of Norman Rockwell, were popular among advertisers seeking to reassure Depression-era consumers…here we have the avuncular scientist working to ensure that your Packard is not only reliable as transportation, but also a place of solace…

…this same idea was conveyed by the makers of Goodyear tires…

…this ad on page 55 for Guerlain’s Shalimar Powder somewhat recalls the art deco style of Tamara de Lempicka

…but flip the page and you are brought back to reality with Shefford’s “Snappy Cheese”…

…you needed to lay off the cheese, however, if you wanted to take up a Ry-Krisp diet, endorsed here by Sylvia Ulback, better known at the time as “Sylvia of Hollywood” — in 1933 she was one of the most famous voices on radio…

STRETCH FOR SUCCESS…Norwegian-born Sylvia Ulback (1881–1975) was a Hollywood fitness guru from 1926 until 1932. Known as Sylvia of Hollywood, she abandoned the Tinseltown scene after publishing a “tell all” book about her clients titled Hollywood Undressed (1931). From 1933 to 1936 she appeared on the radio show, Mme. Sylvia, a 15-minute beauty and celebrity broadcast sponsored by Ry-Krisp, and she also published three health and fitness books, including 1939’s Streamline Your Figure. (youmustrememberthispodcast.com)

…on to our cartoons, Alan Dunn discovered a budding Picasso…

…another cryptic cartoon by James Thurber was featured in the “Talk of the Town” section…

Whitney Darrow Jr gave this dowager an off-stage surprise…

E. Simms Campbell put a snag in an old yarn…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and an old walrus feeling his oats…

Next Time: As Thousands Cheer…

She Wore the Pants

It’s hard to fathom that a woman wearing trousers used to cause such a stir, but for international film star Marlene Dietrich it was an opportunity for the publicity that invariably came with defying the norms of fashion and sexuality in 1930s.

July 22, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

In May 1933 Dietrich was headed to Paris on a steamer, relaxing on the deck in a white pantsuit. Prior to her arrival, the Paris chief of police announced she would be arrested if she showed up in pants. However when Dietrich arrived at the Gare Saint Lazare wearing a man’s suit and overcoat, she stepped off the train, grabbed the chief of police by his arm, and walked him off the platform.

The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner reported on Dietrich’s comings and goings in her regular column “Letter From Paris”…

TAKING PARIS BY STORM…Clockwise, from top left: Marlene Dietrich in Paris, 1933, accompanied by her husband, Rudolf Sieber; Dietrich on the SS Europa, Cherbourg, France, May 1933; Dietrich arriving at the Gare Saint Lazare station, May 20, 1933 (this photo is often paired with an erroneous caption claiming that Dietrich is being arrested by French authorities. On the contrary, she owned them the moment she stepped onto the platform); Dietrich signing autographs in Paris, 1933. (bygonely.com/Smithsonian/Twitter/Pinterest)

 * * *

Bullish On Office Space

Despite the Depression, millions of square feet of office space were being added to the massive Rockefeller Center complex, including the Palazzo d’Italia at 626 Fifth Avenue. “The Talk of the Town” reported:

THE BIG SHORT…Attached to the International Building at its northwest corner, the Palazzo d’Italia was originally planned as a nine-story building, a fact that impressed the fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini because it beat the six-story height of the French and British Buildings. In the end Benito only got six as well. (Wikipedia/Pinterest)

* * *

Urban Jungle

Astoria Studios in Queens was built in 1920 for Famous Players-Lasky and is still home to New York City’s only studio backlot. In 1933 it served as a tropical setting for The Emperor Jones, featuring Paul Robeson in the title role. “The Talk of the Town” looked in on the movie’s faux jungle:

35TH STREET JUNGLE…Paul Robeson in a scene from The Emperor Jones. (flickr.com)

Loosely based on a Eugene O’Neill play and financed with private money, the film was made outside of the Hollywood studio system and distributed by United Artists.

EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES…Brutus Jones (Robeson) schemes with colonial trader Smithers (Dudley Digges) on his plan to become emperor in The Emperor Jones. (moma.org)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Yes, it’s advertising so we don’t expect it to be realistic, but I can guarantee no one is going to look like that after a ride to the beach in a rumble seat…

…Hupmobile enlisted humorist Irvin S. Cobb to help boost its sagging sales…

Irvin S. Cobb (1876–1944) wrote for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and was once the highest paid staff reporter in the United States. (carnegiecenterlex.org)

…with the return of legal beer the makers of Budweiser struck a patriotic note in promoting their “King of Bottled Beer” to thirsty New Yorkers…

…the makers of Pabst Blue Ribbon claimed the title of “Best of the Better Beers” with this ad featuring a woman who appeared on the verge of going overboard…

…if beer wasn’t your thing, you could try your hand at mixing a “30-Second Highball” per this Prohibition-themed ad…

…delving into the back pages one finds all sorts of curiosities, including this mail-order “charm school” operated by Margery Wilson

…Wilson (1896–1986) acted in numerous silent pictures (including the 1916 D. W. Griffith epic Intolerance) and in the early 1920s was a writer, director and producer…

Margery Wilson in Eye of the Night (1916). She was among pioneering women filmmakers of the 1920s. (columbia.edu))

…it must have been a hot summer in New York with the abundance of air-conditioner ads…here’s one from Frigidaire for a unit that despite its size (and enormous cost) could cool only one room…

…this next air-conditioner ad from G-E seems poorly conceived…you would think an air-conditioned office would make the boss and his secretary a bit happier than they appear here…maybe they just got the bill from General Electric…

…we begin our cartoons with another pair of sourpusses, courtesy Mary Petty

George Price offered up this bit of art for the opening pages…

William Steig headed to the country to escape summer in the city…

William Crawford Galbraith’s bathers kept cool by examining the flotsam from distant shores…

Charles Addams explored various themes before he launched his “Addams Family” in 1938…

…and we move on to July 29 with a terrific cover by Barbara Shermund

July 29, 1933 cover by Barbara Shermund.

…in this issue Geoffrey T. Hellman penned a profile of Egyptologist Herbert E. Winlock, who made key discoveries about the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and served as director of the Metropolitan Museum from 1932 to 1939, where he was employed his entire career. Excerpt:

CAN YOU DIG IT…Early 1920s photo of the Metropolitan Museum’s Theban expedition team. Herbert E. Winlock is in the back row, second from left. His wife, Helen Chandler Winlock, is in the front row, far right. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

 * * *

Chilling With U.S. Grant

In those days before air-conditioning was widely available or used, “The Talk of the Town” dispatched an investigator to sample indoor temperatures at various public places, finding the coolest spot at Grant’s Tomb:

WHERE THE COOL PEOPLE HANG OUT…Clockwise, from top left: The tomb of Per-neb at the Metropolitan Museum registered a cozy 80 degrees, while in the same museum it was a balmy 84 by Emanuel Leutze’s famed painting Washington Crossing the Delaware; the New York Aquarium in Battery Park was a bit cooler at 79 (pictured is the Sea Lion Pool); while Grant’s Tomb was downright chilly at 70. (Met Museum/Wildlife Conservation Society/grantstomb.org)

 * * *
Node of Gold
Apparently the famed crooner Bing Crosby had a minor node on one of his vocal cords, and when he consulted a specialist he was advised against removing it, lest he alter his voice in a way that would affect his career. Indeed, the node seemed to add an “appealing timbre” to his signature sound, so Crosby had his voice insured by Lloyd’s of London for $100,000 with a proviso that the node could not be removed. Howard Brubaker made this observation in “Of All Things”…

LUMP IN HIS THROAT…Bing Crosby with Marion Davies in the 1933 film Going Hollywood. (IMDB)

…Brubaker also shared this prescient observation from American astronomer Vesto Slipher

…Slipher (1875–1969) would live long enough to confirm his statement…the first full-disk “true color” picture of the Earth was captured by a U.S. Department of Defense satellite in September 1967:

(USAF/Johns Hopkins University)

 * * *

More From Our Advertisers

This ad was on the inside front cover of the July 29 issue, a rather jarring image following that lovely Barbara Shermund cover…

…the hugely popular P.G. Wodehouse was back with more silly antics from the British upper classes…

…while some New Yorkers could take a break from their reading and hit the dance floor atop the Waldorf-Astoria…

…and tango to the stylings of bandleader Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat and band atop the Waldorf-Astoria. (cntraveler.com)

…this ad for the French Line, illustrated by Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom, offered a precious scene of a page-boy lighting a woman’s cigarette, a sight unimaginable today for a number of reasons…

…and we close with a cartoon by Gardner Rea, doggone it…

Next Time: The Flying Season…

The Night the Bed Fell

James Thurber was well established as a New Yorker writer and cartoonist by 1933, but his fame would grow with the publication of the autobiographical My Life and Hard Times, serialized in The New Yorker beginning with the July 8 issue.

July 8, 1933 cover by William Cotton.

And what a beginning. “The Night the Bed Fell In” recounts the comically absurd events that took place in the wee hours at the Thurber family home in Columbus, Ohio. Beginning with his father’s decision to sleep in the attic, the story introduces a cast of characters including cousin Briggs Beall and his mother, Clarissa. Excerpts:

Briggs’ mother also had fears of impeding calamity…

ALL IN THE FAMILY…Clockwise, from top left, James Thurber (center, back row) with his family circa 1915; the Thurber house that provided the setting for “The Night the Bed Fell In”; Thurber’s illustration of cousin Briggs Beall; cover of the 1933 first edition of My Life and Hard Times. (thurberhouse.org)

Need more Thurber? Longtime New Yorker cartoonist and author Michael Maslin recounts a 1986 pilgrimage to the Thurber house in this Ink Spill entry from 2018. You should also check out Maslin’s regular Thurber Thursday feature for more insights into the world of this beloved humorist.

 * * *

The Naked Truth

Once upon a time a Baptist and a Presbyterian got together and created a magazine promoting nudism. The Baptist, Ilsley Silias Boone (1879–1968), was founding father of the American Sunbathing Association—later reorganized as the American Association for Nude Recreation. His ally in advancing the cause of nudism, Presbyterian minister Henry Strong Huntington Jr (1882-1981), was the first president of the International Nudist Conference. “The Talk of the Town” laid bare the world of these randy clergymen.

DON’T GET UP…Baptist minister Ilsley Silias Boone (top, left) partnered with Presbyterian minister Henry Strong Huntington Jr on The Nudist (right). The magazine was published from 1933 to 1963. Later issues were published under the title Sunshine & Health. (flickr.com)

 * * *

His Kind of Town

In his “Shouts & Murmurs” column, Alexander Woollcott recounted his trip to Chicago, ostensibly to see the Century of Progress (the 1933 World’s Fair) but was sidelined along the way by various diversions, including a visit with poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. An excerpt:

WAYLAID…Alexander Woollcott stopped by to see the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay before finally making his way to Chicago’s Century of Progress, which featured such spectacles as this Chrysler exhibition. Photo of Woollcott was taken upon his return from Europe in January 1933. Photo of Millay is by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. (Wikipedia/eBay/chicagology.com)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Prohibition wouldn’t be officially repealed until Dec. 5, 1933, but that didn’t stop New Yorkers from enjoying their favorite adult beverage, including this pair. What on earth is that man on the left doing? It appears he’s opening a bottle of White Rock (glimpsed between his legs), but why with his back turned?…

…the folks at Packard were consistent in promoting the durability and longevity of their premium automobiles…

…and it’s no coincidence that the makers of Goodyear tires featured a 1933 Packard to tout the durability of their product…

…speaking of durability, the ever-reliable Gardner Rea kicks off our cartoons…

Mary Petty eavesdropped on the latest social event…

…the battle of the sexes continued in James Thurber’s world…

Barbara Shermund shared the lamentations of a modern woman…

…and Garrett Price, likely inspired by a recent trip abroad, gave us this homesick tourist…

…and the cover of the July 15, 1933 issue…

July 15, 1933 cover by Garrett Price.

…in which Thurber continued his tales from My Life and Hard Times with “The Car We Had to Push”…also in the issue was a profile of “Bolshevik Businessman” Peter Bogdanov, written by foreign correspondent William C. White. An excerpt:

From 1930 to 1934 Bogdanov (1882–1939) headed the Amtorg Corporation, which helped the struggling Soviet economy establish valuable business and diplomatic relations with the United States. It is no surprise that like many who helped the Soviet cause, Bogdanov was eventually arrested on trumped-up charges and executed by Stalin’s henchmen. In March 1956 he was posthumously “rehabilitated.”

WORKING TOWARD AN EARLY RETIREMENT…Peter Bogdanov, circa 1920s. (Wikipedia)

 * * *

On the Lighter Side

While millions in the Soviet Union were dying of famine and other Stalin-inspired atrocities, Americans were keeping their Depression-era spirits up at the movies, including critic John Mosher, who called the latest Mickey Mouse cartoon “a beautiful thing”…

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED…Mickey Mouse hobnobs with celebrities of the day including Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo in his latest picture, Gala Premiere. (IMDB)

 * * *

More From Our Advertisers

I once had a relative in New Jersey who drank a tall can of Schaefers every day, on orders from his doctor…

…the makers of Coca-Cola continued to tout their product in full-page New Yorker ads…

…recalling the Packard ad from the previous issue, the cheapest Packard model would set you back $2,150…you could instead get this swell Plymouth Six for just $455 and head down to the waterfront, where, according to this salesman, “men are men”…

…and while on the waterfront you might be able to bum a smoke and maybe some caviar from a sailor named Hugh…

…and now we take a stroll in the park with Otto Soglow’s “Little King”…

…and find romance along with other hot dishes at the automat, courtesy Whitney Darrow Jr

…adrift with Carl Rose, and a man unlucky in love…

Peter Arno played hide and seek with an escaped con…

…and we end where we began, with James Thurber at his best…

Next Time: She Wore the Pants…

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)

 * * *

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.

 * * *

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:

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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.”

 *  *  *

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)

 *  *  *

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)

 *  *  *

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)

 *  *  *

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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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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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?):

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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.

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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)

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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…