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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)
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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)

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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…

Not Even Funny

There were a number of people Dorothy Parker couldn’t abide. That included gifted writers who not only eschewed serious literature, but who instead chose to crank out a lot of mass-market trash.

March 18, 1933 cover by William Steig.

Parker was well acquainted with Tiffany Ellsworth Thayer (1902–1959), and for a time she even associated with the Fortean Society, which Thayer founded in 1931. Inspired by writer Charles Fort, the Forteans promoted the use of scientific methods to evaluate unexplained phenomena such as UFOs, spontaneous human combustion, and other oddities. Parker and fellow New Yorker writers Ben Hecht and Alexander Woollcott were among founding members, doubtless drawn to Fort’s reputation as a skeptic; however one famous skeptic, journalist H.L. Mencken, called Fort’s ideas “Bohemian mush.” It’s hard to say how long Parker stayed connected to the Society, but by 1933 she was fed up with Thayer’s novels, including his latest, An American Girl, which she found to be “the gaudiest flower of pretentiousness.” Here is an excerpt from Parker’s sometime column, “Reading and Writing,” subtitled Not Even Funny…

TIFF WITH TIFFANY…At left, Tiffany Thayer aboard a cruise ship with an unidentified woman, most likely his first wife, a dancer named Tanagra, early 1930s; at right, Dorothy Parker and a first edition of the offending volume. In her review, Parker observed that Taylor “is beyond question a writer of power; and his power lies in his ability to make sex so thoroughly, graphically, and aggressively unattractive that one is fairly shaken to ponder how little one has been missing.” (IMDB/Worthpoint)

Although Thayer founded a society based on scientific reason, his pulp novels were filled with fantasy and prurient imagery. F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that “curious children nosed at the slime of Mr. Tiffany Thayer in the drug-store libraries.”

BELIED LETTRES…Clockwise from top left, Thayer’s 1931 novel Call Her Savage was made into a 1932 film starring Clara Bow, here featured on the book’s dustcover; the same novel repackaged in 1952 for the pulp trade; a 1943 edition of Thayer’s One-Man Show, and a 1951 Avon reprint that toned down the nudity but upped the creep factor. (facebook.com/biblio.com)

…and speaking of creep factor, check out Avon’s 1950 re-issue of Thayer’s 1937 novel The Old Goat, illustration attributed to Edgar Lyle Justis

(biblio.com)

Artists like Justis must have had a ball doing these illustrations, creating images to lure the unsuspecting into purchasing these old titles. Note how the coked-up old man sports not-so-subtle devil horns.

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They Called It a Holiday

E.B. White, James Thurber (see below) and others in the March 18 issue commented on the national banking “holiday” declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an effort to stabilize America’s banking system and rebuild public confidence. This led to the Glass-Steagall Act, signed three months later by FDR. Some observations in “Notes and Comment” by E.B. White, with the usual great spot illustrations by Otto Soglow

SAY CHEESE!…President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Glass-Steagall Act on June 16, 1933, effectively separating commercial banking from investment banking and creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), among other things. (AP)

…meanwhile, Germany’s new chancellor, Adolf Hitler, was busy abolishing civil liberties while pretending to be distressed by the behavior of his brownshirt thugs…an excerpt from Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things”…

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A Familiar Ring

For the second week in a row Ring Lardner lent his wit to The New Yorker’s “Over the Waves,” column, which typically reviewed the latest news and entertainment beamed from the radio tower atop the Empire State Building. Lardner, however, was in California, lamenting the challenges of the time lag. An excerpt:

AND NO WI-FI, EITHER…Ring Lardner (center) detailed the frustrations of listening to New York-based radio entertainers like Eddie Cantor (left) and Rudy Vallée during his stay in California. (Pinterest/The Classic Archives/New York Times)

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Dance Away Those Blues

The pre-Code musical 42nd Street received a brief, albeit mostly positive review from critic John Mosher, who along with the producers of the film knew Depression-weary Americans needed such distractions. Nearly 90 years later (April 10, 2020), another New Yorker film critic, Richard Brody, suggested 42nd Street as one of the best films to stream during the Covid-19 pandemic: “Modern musicals start here, and Busby Berkeley’s genius bursts into full flower,” he wrote.

DANCE ‘TIL YOU DROP…Under pressure to produce a hit after losing his lead dancer (Bebe Daniels) to a broken ankle, Broadway musical director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter, center) mercilessly rehearses her replacement, Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler, in her film debut) before the premiere, vowing “I’ll either have a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl.” Looking on (to the right of Baxter) is Ginger Rogers, who portrayed “Anytime Annie.” (tcm.com)
A LEG UP ON HIS CAREER…42nd Street was a breakthrough film for choreographer Busby Berkeley, who would direct and choreograph a long string of musicals until the 1960s. The film is now considered a classic, preserved in the United States National Film Registry. (IMDB)

…and for trivia buffs, during an opening scene Bebe Daniels is shown reading the February 20, 1932 (anniversary) issue of The New Yorker…

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From Our Advertisers

A convertible LaSalle (a downscale Cadillac brand) looks like a great way to enjoy a drive along the beach…let’s hope it has enough acceleration to outrun the tsunami apparently heading its way…

Walter Chrysler continued to dig into his deep pockets for two-page color spreads, including this one that placed his humble DeSoto in St. Moritz, of all places…

…not to be outdone, the folks at Nash found another exotic locale for their budget-priced sedan…Chicago, that is, at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition…and for an extra touch of class, we have what appears to be a chauffeur attending to this modest motorcar…

…America’s top luxury car maker, Pierce Arrow — a regular advertiser in The New Yorker — decided a quarter-page ad was sufficient to keep their name before the eyes of the well-heeled…at right, an ad from another back page featured cartoonist Don Herold shilling for the makers of imitation liquor flavors…according to the ad, one bottle, obtainable from your druggist, “flavors a gallon” of whatever forsaken hootch you are consuming…

…the folks at Log Cabin relied on the talents of another New Yorker cartoonist, John Held Jr., to make both their product and a signature cocktail a more palatable experience…

…I have to hand it to the folks at Heinz for signing off on an advertisement only a vampire would find appealing…

…the purveyors of Marie Earle beauty products rolled out this modern ad to promote their “Essential Cream”…

…while staid Brooks Brothers remained true to form — no flashy colors or advertising jargon — just straight talk about price increases….

…and then there’s the upmarket Fortnum & Mason, appealing to America’s Anglophiles with one of their famed wicker hampers filled with various goodies selected for “charming and greedy people”…

….for several years R.J. Reynolds employed the services of Carl “Eric” Erickson (1891–1958) to illustrate a series of ads featuring classy, disinterested, continental types smoking their Camel brand cigarettes…despite their less-than-exotic name, the makers of Spud menthol cigarettes hired Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom (1905–1986) to create their own smart set of smokers…

…ads that bore a striking resemblance to Erickson’s Camel work (this example from 1931)…

…and for your consideration, works from 1933 by Carl Erickson and Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…both were noted fashion illustrators…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with Charles Addams, who’d just published his first New Yorker cartoon the previous month, in the Feb. 4, 1933 issue

…that first cartoon was simply signed “Addams”…here he used the familiar “Chas Addams”…a close-up of the signature…

…we continue with a great caricature by Al Frueh to accompany a profile of Rudolf Kommer (as told by Alexander Woollcott)…

…a delightful full page of bank holiday-themed cartoons by James Thurber

Richard Decker offered up a tall tale…

…and we close with Peter Arno, who served up one of his clueless cuckolds…

Next Time: Diary of a Lady…