One Perfect Night

Once again The New Yorker marked its anniversary — the eighth — with a repeat of its very first cover, a tradition that would last until 1993. Unlike previous years, E.B. White made no special mention of the occasion in his “Notes and Comment,” no doubt feeling confident about the magazine’s prospects despite the challenges of the Depression. In 1933 The New Yorker could count on nearly 117,000 readers.

Feb. 18, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

And so we look to another of the magazine’s star contributors, humorist and stage critic Robert Benchley, who was rarely impressed with Broadway’s middlebrow fare. It was in such an environment that Benchley found himself separating the wheat from the chaff, listing a selection of scenes from various plays that together might represent a “perfect night” of entertainment:

A BROADWAY BUFFET…Clockwise, from top left, Robert Benchley recommended Jack Haley’s bedroom scene and Ethel Merman’s rendition of “Eadie Was a Lady” in Take a Chance as worthy of a look; he also found George M. Cohan’s telephone call to police HQ in Pigeons and People memorable, and Beatrice Lillie was apparently a delight in the dressing room scene from Walk a Little Faster. (playbill.com)
TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC in Cole Porter’s musical Gay Divorce were Claire Luce and Fred Astaire, dancing to the hit song “Night and Day.” It was Astaire’s last Broadway show before he headed to Hollywood for even greater stardom; Jack Pearl and Barbara Newberry in Pardon My English; Eva Le Gallienne as the White Queen and Josephine Hutchinson as Alice in the 1932-33 production of Alice in Wonderland at Le Gallienne’s own Civic Repertory Theatre; Alice (Hutchinson) encounters Tweedledee (Burgess Meredith) and Tweedledum (Landon Herrick) in Alice in Wonderland. (Pinterest/gershwin.com/blog.mcny.org)

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Spring Cleaning

While passing by the Vanderbilts’ “Triple Palace” on 51st and Fifth Avenue, E.B. White (“Notes and Comment”) noted signs of neglect at the famed mansion:

HOME  SWEET HOME…At top, Alva Vanderbilt engaged Richard Morris Hunt to build a “Petite Chateau” on the northwest corner of 52nd Street; below, the drawing room. The Triple Palace was demolished in 1947-49. (mcny.org/Wikimedia Commons)

The Triple Palace site today:

(daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)

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Going Round and Round

No one was landing quad flips at New York’s Ice House in 1933, but for ice skating enthusiasts it was the place to be for both figure skating competitors as well as for those just interested in a leisurely skate to the strains of a live orchestra. “The Talk of the Town” explains in this excerpt:

CHILLING SIGHT…Top and below, the Ice House was located on the top floor of a four-story building attached to Madison Square Garden. (Pinterest)

In both Europe and America ice skating in the 19th and early 20th century was something of an elaborate ritual in urban areas; skating rinks included tea rooms as well as places to dance or ice skate to the gentle rhythms of a live orchestra…

TEA COSY…The Biltmore Hotel Ice Gardens offered guests a warm place to watch the cold weather fun of the hotel’s outdoor ice skating rink, circa 1915. (mcny.org)

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The Jig Is Up

Jigsaw puzzles have been around since the late 1700s (they were handmade then), but their popularity really took off in the 20th century with advancements in manufacturing and especially during the Depression when folks sought affordable forms of entertainment they could enjoy at home. The 1930s also saw jigsaw puzzles become more complex. “The Talk of the Town” observed:

In 1933 the Long Island City-based puzzle manufacturer Einson-Freeman introduced a line of puzzles that included clues to solving mysteries described in an accompanying novelette…

(worth point.com)

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Small But Deadly

Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column, which ran from 1925 to 1951, was a series of brief, satirical comments on the events of the day, including some that to modern eyes point to the catastrophic events that awaited Brubaker’s world (reader Frank W. notes that “the ‘aged piano-player’ was Ignacy Paderewski, who had served as Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of WWI, and who was the nearest thing the Poles had to a national-unity figure”):

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Her Protégé

When Mae West adapted her 1928 Broadway play Diamond Lil into the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong, the puritanical backers of the Hays Code (which would be enforced in 1934) demanded that the film make no reference to the “scandalous” play. But because it was still the pre-Code era, West’s film featured many double entendres and her famous (and famously misquoted) quip, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” That line was spoken to Cary Grant — whom West would later claim as her discovery even though Grant had drawn considerable attention in the previous year for his work opposite Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus. For the record, Grant, who would be paired again with West in 1933’s I’m No Angel, would later credit West, and She Done Him Wrong, for giving his career a major boost. New Yorker critic John Mosher lauded the film for the much-needed laughs it provided to Depression-weary audiences.

SHOWING HIM THE ROPES…The nearly forty-year-old Mae West was 11 years older than Hollywood newcomer Cary Grant when they appeared together in 1933’s She Done Him Wrong. The film was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Picture), and in 1996 was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. (filmreference.com)

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From Our Advertisers

The folks at Packard took a new advertising tack by demonstrating the durability of their luxury automobile…

…hopefully the Packard was riding on “Double Eagle” tires by Goodyear…however, this is an odd illustration to emphasize a child’s safety, when the kid’s posh mum seems more concerned about her appearance than anything else…also, does she plan to drive home with the windshield down?…

…Log Cabin continued its series of ads featuring New Yorker cartoonists…here Peter Arno lends one of his dirty old walruses to the cause of syrupy waffles and pancakes…

…on to our cartoonists, we have Arno again, keeping up appearances among high society…

Gluyas Willams demonstrated his knack for illustrating the foibles of his fellow citizens…

Helen Hokinson looked in on a man aspiring to become the next T.S. Eliot…

…the growing popularity of the gangster film knew no bounds, according to Perry Barlow

…and we close with James Thurber, and a speakeasy standoff…

Next Time: Deskey’s Deco…

A Visit to Minskyville

During the 1930s few people could afford the luxury of a Broadway show, but a trip to “Minskyville” was in reach of nearly anyone looking to escape the gloom of the Depression, at least for a few hours.

May 28, 1930 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

The Minsky family — brothers Billy, Herbert, Morton and Abe — built the beginnings of a New York burlesque empire, writes actress, author and documentarian Leslie Zemeckis: “Abe, the eldest, started showing racy films in a nickelodeon theater on the Lower East Side. His father — believing that if his son was gonna be a perv, he might as well make real money at it — bought the National Winter Garden theater on Houston Street near Second Avenue (where a Whole Foods stands today), and gave Abe the sixth floor to run his burlesque shows.” Alva Johnson paid a visit to Houston Street and environs for the “A Reporter at Large” column:

LITTLE EGYPT, aka Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, top left, both titillated and scandalized crowds at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (really?); clockwise, from center top, three of Minsky Brothers – Billy, Morton and Herbert; the Minsky Brothers owned several burlesque theaters in New York, including Minsky’s Oriental on 51st Street and Broadway, where ‘stripper  Julie Bryan was a top draw in 1936; Billy Minsky brought the Minsky brand to Broadway when he leased the Republic Theater on 42nd Street in 1931; the last two images are by Margaret Bourke-White, backstage at the Republic Theater in 1936. (Wikipedia/Daily News/Estate of Margaret Bourke-White)
NEED A CAREER?…Well, in the 1930s an aspiring dancer or comedian could earn some chops on the burlesque stage. Gypsy Rose Lee (aka Rose Louise Hovick), left,who became the world’s most famous stripper (as well as an actress, author and playwright), was one of the biggest stars of Minsky’s Burlesque; breaks between burlesque performances were commonly filled by comedians, including Abbott and Costello (pictured above in their 1930s burlesque days), who first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Burlesque Theater on 42nd Street, at right.

According to Zemeckis, “burlesque caught on among the recent immigrants of the Lower East Side. The shows were cheap, the humor broad, and the allure of beautiful, barely-clothed women transcended language barriers.” But if striptease wasn’t your thing, Minskyville offered plenty of other diversions:

ONE LUMP OR TWO?…Minskyville’s entrepreneurs (top images) added a modern twist to the study of head bumps and cranium size — called Phrenology — with the electronic “Psycograph” (sic); at bottom, Prof. William Heckler’s Trained Flea Circus at Hubert’s Museum on West 42nd Street attracted some gents itching to see Heckler’s fleas in action; according to Alva Johnston, Minskyville’s penny arcade peepshows (such as the one at bottom right) would take your penny or nickel in exchange for photos of a woman old enough to give your grandpa the glad eye. (Museum of Questionable Medical Devices/sideshowworld.com)
LET’S SEE THAT AGAIN…Folks who didn’t want to look at forty-year-old photos of bathing beauties could check out the most popular attraction at Minskyville’s penny arcades — a clip from the famed Long Count Fight, a 1927 rematch between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champ Jack Dempsey, which Tunney won in a unanimous decision despite being knocked down in the seventh round. It was, and is, the subject of endless debate. (www.wbaboxing.com )

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Not a Gearhead

“The Talk of the Town” noted that young Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. preferred arts and literature over things that went zoom:

SOMEDAY THIS WILL ALL BE YOURS, RIGHT?…Walter P. Chrysler Sr. and Walter P. Chrysler Jr. share a father-son moment in 1930. Junior Chrysler devoted much of his life to building a multimillion-dollar collection of paintings (some of which were later found to be forgeries) and made substantial forays into collecting stamps, rare books and glassworks. He also produced a movie, The Joe Louis Story, released in 1953. (chrysler.org)

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Rat-a-tat

Today most movie lovers associate Scarface with the 1983 Brian DePalma film (starring Al Pacino), but the original Scarface in 1932 was far more influential in that it helped define the American gangster film genre. Directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Hawks and Howard Hughes, the screenplay was penned by early New Yorker contributor Ben Hecht. Mild by today’s standards, the film’s violent scenes caused it to be banned by many theaters around the country. Along with 1931’s Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, Scarface is regarded as among the most significant gangster films. Here is what critic John Mosher thought of it:

JUST IN CASE YOU GET THE WRONG IDEA…Also known as Scarface: The Shame of the Nation, this 1932 gangster film opened with some cautionary words (top left). Clockwise, from top right, gangster “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) is flanked by his cronies during a hit on a rival; Tony (Muni) shows his softer side with his dear sister Francesca (Ann Dvorak). United Artists promotional poster (note how Boris Karloff was billed with a reference to his 1931 Frankenstein role). (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water, out comes another line of wool swimsuits. I honestly can’t imagine how they must have felt, especially when wet and clinging to your skin after you left the water…

…the ad below from DuPont was just the sort of thing that drove New Yorker fashion critic Lois Long nuts…a couple of downscale royals shilling their fashion lines to an unsuspecting public…the paychecks from DuPont must have been substantial enough for these bluebloods to publicly embrace synthetics…

TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE…Here is the real Countess Borea de Buzzaccarini Regoli, left, and the Princess de Rohan, who played to America’s insatiable thirst for nobility while shilling for a chemical company. (Wikimedia)

…if you had the money and the steady nerves, you could have hopped aboard an almost 32-hour flight to the West Coast assured that a “coordinated mechanism” of men and machine would get you there in one piece…

…perhaps you could have steadied your nerves by dragging on a Tally-Ho — for some weird reason the Lorillard Tobacco Company (who also made Old Gold) thought some folks might prefer an oval-shaped cigarette (I include the remainder of the back-page ads for context)…

…despite the Depression, the New Yorker was holding its own in sales and subscriptions, but it never hurt to place a house ad every now and then to convince a few who might be holding out…

…on to our cartoons, Garrett Price showed us the result of a bad hand…

James Thurber offered up this spot illustration in the opening pages…

…and this terrific cartoon…

Gardner Rea demonstrated the perils of summoning the dead…

…the departed soul mentioned in Rea’s cartoon was prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright Edgar Wallace (1875-1932), who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals in his relatively short life. He is most famous today as the co-creator of the film King Kong…

…and we end with this gem from Kemp Starrett, and some high-jinks…

Next Time: Jimmy’s Jam…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Stage to Screen

There’s good reason why one of Broadway’s finest theatres is named after Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne; no couple has lit up the stage quite like this husband-wife team.

Sept. 19, 1931 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

Some say Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were modern successors, but they only appeared together on Broadway once (a 1983 revival of Noël Coward’s Private Lives, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre of all places), and they shared a tempestuous, on-and-off relationship that sharply contrasted with Lunt and Fontanne, who were inseparable both on and off the stage during their 55-year marriage. And unlike Burton and Taylor, Lunt and Fontanne appeared in just a handful of films, including a 1931 adaptation of their 1924 Broadway play, The Guardsman. John Mosher filed this review:

INSEPARABLE…Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne pose for photographer Nickolas Muray in this 1924 portrait for Vanity Fair magazine. They married in 1922, and were inseparable until Lunt’s passing in 1977. (Conde Nast)
NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY!…These were Pre-Code times, so MGM played up the film’s “saucy” and “unconventional” themes. (IMDB)
I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO YOUR FACE…Although Lunt and Fontanne appeared together numerous times on Broadway, the 1931 film adaptation of their 1924 stage play, The Guardsman, would be their only film appearance together. (Museum of the City of New York/IMDB)
STAGE TO SCREEN…at top, Lunt and Fontanne in 1924’s The Guardsman on Broadway; below, a scene from the 1931 film adaptation featuring, from left, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Maude Eburne and Zasu Pitts; at right, Fontanne reviews fashions for the film designed by Adrian Adolph Greenburg. Lunt and Fontanne would be nominated for Academy Awards as Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role, respectively. (Museum of the City of New York/IMDB)

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One Giant Leap

Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic without stopping in 1927, but it would take four more years before anyone could accomplish the same feat across the Pacific. Don Moyle and Cecil Allen took up the challenge, hoping to fly their plane, Clasina Madge, 4,400 miles from Japan to Seattle to win a $25,000 prize from a Japanese newspaper. The lads took off from Tokyo in early September, but then went missing. E.B. White wrote:

As it turned out, Moyle and Allen were caught in a storm between Japan and Alaska that forced them to land on a small, uninhabited island in the Aleutian chain. Stranded for more than a week, the flyboys were finally able to make contact through a U.S. Coast Guard patrol and report they were safe.

THESE ARE MY BOYS…at left, Cecil Allen and Don Moyle standing with financial backer John Buffelin and Buffelin’s daughter, Clasina Madge, the namesake for their hopefully record-setting airplane; At right, Moyle and Allen with a Japanese official, possibly before one of their attempts, or perhaps they are looking at their consolation prize (see below). (University of Washington)

Moyle and Allen sent word that they would return to Washington and prepare for another attempt. They flew back home by way of Nome, Alaska, where they landed on Sept. 21, 1931. Five days later they reached Fairbanks, and after weather delays finally made it to Tacoma, Washington, on Oct. 6. There they learned that Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr. had already won the $25,000 prize, having arrived from Japan the day before. The Tokyo newspaper did, however, give Moyle and Allen $2,500 for their efforts.

SPOILERS…at left, Hugh Herndon, Jr. and Clyde Pangborn pose next to their crash-landed plane in the hills of East Wenatchee, Washington, after becoming the first to fly non-stop across the northern Pacific Ocean. The 41-hour flight from Japan won them the 1931 Harmon Trophy and $25,000 from a Japanese newspaper. The crash-landing of their plane was deliberate — before the flight it was modified to carry 930 gallons of fuel. They had jettisoned the landing gear after takeoff to save fuel. (historylink.org/imagesofoldhawaii.com)

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Thurber Gets Serious

We know James Thurber as a humorist, both for his writings and his cartoons. In the Sept. 19 issue, however, Thurber offered this touching remembrance of a subway newsstand proprietor, who he later learns is killed in the crossfire of a robbery. Here are the opening passages:


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Did You Miss Me?

After a long absence (in Europe, presumably),  returned to his “Shouts and Murmurs,” column, offering this “Triple Warning” that included his observations of H.G. Wells, who wondered if all his musings for the future would fall to swarms of lowly insects…

WORK CAN WAIT…Alexander Woollcott relaxes in front of a Paris bar, late 1920s. Photo by James Abbe. (artsy.net)

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From Our Advertisers

With the arrival of fall come new fashions…these “wearables” below are suggested by B. Altman as suitable attire for attending a football game…

…smart fashions for young people weren’t confined to New York…this is how students at the University of Michigan dressed for a 1930 homecoming game against Illinois…

…well, times have changed, but folks still wear fur of a sort…

Jan 1, 201USA TODAY Sports

…wearing a real fur these days will draw the ire of animal rights advocates almost everywhere, but in 1931 few had problems with turning leopards and seals into coats for fashionable young women…

…then as now, folks enjoyed their pork sausage…the Jones Family of Wisconsin apparently saw a market for their products among New Yorker readers…

…after 131 years in business, the Jones Family and their sausages are still going strong…as is their farmhouse logo (the old farmhouse is real and still stands)…

…another back pages ad promoted Helen Hokinson’s first cartoon collection, So You’re Going to Buy a Book!

…the collection including Hokinson’s beloved dowagers, but it also featured this gem…

(attemptedbloggery.blogspot.com)

…on to our cartoons from the Sept. 19 issue, we begin with William Steig and a couple of would-be renters…

E. McNerney explored the trials of teenage life…

Leonard Dove drew a crowd in a packed subway car…

Otto Soglow displayed the playful side of his Little King…

…and Rea Irvin found an actor upstaged by an unlikely rival…

Next Time: Big Fish, Little Fish…