Disappearing Act

British actor Claude Rains made his American film debut in a 1933 movie where the actor’s face isn’t revealed until the final scene.

Nov. 25, 1933 cover by Gardner Rea.

Although praised by critics in 1933 and today, the New Yorker’s John Mosher had but a paragraph to offer on the The Invisible Man, calling it a “bright little oddity” and an “absurd and diverting film.” Mosher also reviewed the Arctic adventure Eskimo, a film he found to be less than convincing about life on the frozen tundra.

FROM A TEST TUBE, BABY…Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) develops a secret formula that renders him invisible, much to the distress of his former fiancée Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart). Some of you may recall Stuart from 1997’s Titanic, in which she portrayed the 100-year-old Rose. In real life Stuart had a career spanning nearly eighty years. And wouldn’t you know, she died in 2010 at age 100. (IMDB)
NOW YOU SEE HIM…Special effects in 1933 were no mean feat. To create the effect of invisibility, Rains was covered head to foot with black velvet tights and wore whatever clothes he required for the scene. The invisibility scenes were then shot against a black set, the negative areas later manually masked to create the effect of invisibility. (IMDB)

…on to our other film, Eskimo…Mosher had doubts about the authenticity of the Eskimo family portrayed in the movie, suggesting (rather unkindly) that the lead actress, Lotus Long, looked like a client of the noted beautician Elizabeth Arden. The film was well-received by critics, but did poorly at the box office. However, it did receive the first-ever Oscar for Best Film Editing.

ICEBREAKER…Although MGM publicists portrayed Eskimo as a steamy love story set against a backdrop of adventure in the wild, the film was ahead of its time in some ways, including the use of Inuit dialogue, which was translated in English intertitles. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, who also directed 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man, the cast included (top photo, from left), Ray Mala and Lulu Long Wing (older sister of famed Hollywood actress Anna May Wong) with unidentified child actors. Bottom right, Mala with actress Lotus Long. (IMDB)

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Numbers Racket

Little known today, the sliding number puzzle “Imp” was hugely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Plastic versions were produced following World War II—I recall one of them being quietly deployed from my mother’s purse during church, to keep me occupied during lengthy sermons.

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Hammered and Sickled

“The Talk of the Town” commented on a Union Square riot in which American communists attacked a group of Ukrainians protesting the Soviet-imposed mass starvation in their country. Following is an excerpt from a longer piece that also noted the arrival of New York police, who “charged into the Square, riding their horses into the crowd and taking a crack at a head here and there.”

SEE NO EVIL…American Communists attack a group of Ukrainians protesting the Soviet-caused Holodomor famine in 1933, which killed at least four million Ukrainians. (Public domain)

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Party Girl

Elsa Maxwell (1883–1963) was an Iowa girl who grew up to become a gossip columnist and a hostess of high society parties—throughout the 1920s she was known for throwing lavish affairs for Europe’s wealthy and entitled. A 1963 Time magazine obituary noted that Maxwell developed a gift for staging games and diversions for the rich, making a living devising treasure-hunt parties, including a 1927 Paris scavenger hunt that created disturbances all over the city. Excerpts from a profile by Janet Flanner:

GETTING AN EARFUL…Elsa Maxwell hobnobbing with actress Constance Bennett and producer Darryl Zanuck in 1939. (Pinterest)

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Masked Man

Novelist Sherwood Anderson offered his impressions of the late Ring Lardner in a piece titled “Meeting Ring Lardner.” Anderson wrote that although Lardner “seemed surrounded by a little halo of something like worship wherever he went,” he had no satisfaction in his achievements. Anderson recounted Lardner’s encounter with a shy banker, when for a moment Lardner dropped the “mask” that he often wore to shield himself from humanity. Excerpts: 

SPHINX…Sherwood Anderson (right) wrote of Ring Lardner: “You wanted him not to be hurt, perhaps to have some freedom he did not have.” (AP/hilobrow.com)

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Phooey on Huey

When Louisiana Senator and former Governor Huey Long published his autobiography, Every Man a King, the reaction from the press was resoundingly negative; in the Saturday Review, Allan Nevins wrote that Long “is unbalanced, vulgar, in many ways ignorant, and quite reckless.” The New Yorker’s Clifton Fadiman went further, calling him the “Goebbels of Louisiana” and compared the senator to Adolf Hitler. Excerpts:

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME, REALLY…Huey Long’s 1933 autobiography, Every Man a King, was excoriated by the press, which largely viewed the senator as a fascistic demagogue. Long was assassinated in 1935. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

Christmas was coming, and parents with the means could consider buying a “Skippy” brand racer for their little tykes. The cartoon character at the top of the ad—Skippy—was the star of one of the most popular American comic strips of its day…

…written and drawn by Percy Crosby (1891–1964) from 1923 to 1945, the Skippy comic was a big influence on later cartoonists including Charles Schulz (Peanuts) and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)…note the football gag below later made famous by Schulz’s Lucy and Charlie Brown…

…on to some of our one-column ads…Raleigh cigarettes were promoted to the growing women’s market, while Dunhill touted a “cocktail pipe” that allowed women to get in on the fun of pipe smoking…and with Disney’s Three Little Pigs penetrating every nook and cranny of America, the makers of Stahl-Meyer sausages decided to join in the fun…

…I include this razor ad mainly for the bold typography…advertisers were in a transitional phase, experimenting with new forms and more white space, but still holding on text-heavy pitches…

…in the case of Goodyear, if you wanted to inspire confidence in your product, you propped an old codger in a rocking chair and offered some homespun wisdom…

…here is a closer look at the old-timer’s advice…

…another tobacco ad, this one displaying the glorious blooms of a tobacco plant…how could something so lovely be bad for you?…

…a small back page ad announced a big-time book for James Thurber, including a satirical blurb from Ernest Hemingway

…and that makes a nice segue to our cartoons, with Thurber again…

Otto Soglow demonstrated the unexpected effectiveness of hair tonic…

Perry Barlow gave us a look at the posh and precocious set…

…and we close with George Price, and 1933’s version of Black Friday…

Next Time: Genesis of a Genius…

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)

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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…

The Bombshell

Much like Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, Jean Harlow occupied a brief period in Hollywood history, but her star shone long after her untimely death.

Oct. 28, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

Adam Victor’s The Marilyn Encyclopedia draws all sorts of weird parallels between the actresses: both raised by strict Christian Scientists, both married three times, both left school at sixteen to marry their first husbands, both acted opposite Clark Gable in the last film each ever made. Most importantly, Monroe idolized Harlow, so it was no coincidence that she sported her own version of “platinum blonde” hair.

ART IMITATES LIFE…In 1958 Marilyn Monroe posed as Jean Harlow for photographer Richard Avedon in a Life magazine feature. (Flickr)

The term “Bombshell” was affixed to the 22-year-old Harlow after the 1933 film’s release, and was later used to describe Monroe and other sex symbols of the 1950s and early 60s.

Harlow’s character in Bombshell, Lola Burns, satirized the stardom years of the silent era sex symbol Clara Bow, who was director Victor Fleming’s fiancée in 1926. Although critical reviews were mostly positive, New Yorker critic John Mosher found the film “mossy with verbiage.”

TAKE A BOW, CLARA…Bombshell satirized the stardom years of silent era sex symbol Clara Bow, who was director Victor Fleming’s fiancée in 1926 (photo at left is of the couple on the set of 1926’s Mantrap); in Bombshell Jean Harlow portrayed a sex symbol who, like Bow, wanted to live a normal life. In real life, Bow made her last film in 1933 and retired to a ranch at age 28.

A STAR IS BORED…In Bombshell, movie star Lola Burns (Jean Harlow) dislikes her sexy vamp image and wants to live a normal life, but her studio publicist E. J. “Space” Hanlon (Lee Tracy) insists on feeding the press endless provocative stories about her. Clockwise, from top left: Lee Tracy and Louise Beavers in a scene with Harlow; Harlow and Una Merkel, who portrayed Lola’s assistant, Mac; Harlow in a scene with Mary Forbes, C. Aubrey Smith, and Franchot Tone; Harlow in a scene with Ruth Warren and Frank Morgan—the latter portrayed Lola’s pretentious, drunken father. (IMDB)

Harlow would die at age 26 on June 7, 1937. Her heavy drinking didn’t help, but neither did the misdiagnosis she received as her kidneys were rapidly failing. While filming Saratoga with Clark Gable, Harlow was stricken with what she believed was the flu, and her persistent stomach pain was misdiagnosed as a swollen gallbladder. Just two days before her death another doctor finally diagnosed her kidney disease, but in 1937 nothing could be done—kidney dialysis would not be available for another decade, and transplants would not be an option until the mid-1950s.

 * * *

Second City Sanctimony

The New Yorker rarely missed an opportunity to take a dig at the square-toed ways of the Second City and its flagship newspaper, the Tribune. In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White (who enjoyed gin martinis) found the newspaper’s sanctimonious stance tedious:

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, aka “A Century of Progress,” received scant attention from The New Yorker, unless it provided opportunities for parody. Musicologist Sigmund Spaeth (1885-1965), well-known in the 1930s and 40s for his NBC radio programs, offered this take on the Windy City’s exposition:

WONDERS NEVER CEASE…In addition to its more high-minded attractions, the Chicago World’s Fair also featured such sideshow attractions as Ripley’s Odditorium, which featured “The Fireproof Man” among other novelties. (pdxhistory.com)

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Big, Bad Earworm

It seems quaint that nearly 90 years ago one of the most popular songs in America was “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” To Frank Sullivan, there was no escaping “that lilting tune”…

SIMPLER TIMES…”Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” was a huge hit during the second half of 1933. One of the most well-known Disney songs, it was covered by numerous artists and musical groups.

Sullivan concluded that a trip to Vladivostok might be the only way to escape the catchy melody…

Briefly jumping to the Nov. 4 issue, “The Talk of Town” took a closer look at the song and the 1933 Disney Silly Symphonies cartoon in which it was featured—Three Little Pigs. Written by Frank Churchill and Ann Ronell, the song launched a market for future Disney tunes, with Irving Berlin securing the sheet music rights over Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies. 

WE’RE IN THE MONEY…The 1933 Disney Silly Symphonies cartoon Three Little Pigs helped to launch the Disney juggernaut nearly 90 years ago.

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Le Corbusier, aka Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887–1965), was known as a pioneer of modern architecture and design in the early and mid-20th century, but as this review by Lewis Mumford suggested, he was also a talented modernist painter.

WAYS OF SEEING…Le Corbusier’s early paintings followed the ideas of something he called “purism”—at left is an example from 1920, Still Life. Later on his work become more abstract, including Menace, at right, from 1938. The horse head in the painting seems to reference Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting, Guernica. (Wikipedia/Art Basel)

 * * *

Dear Papa

Following the high praise Ernest Hemingway received in 1926 for The Sun Also Rises, Dorothy Parker feared for the novelist’s next book: “You know how it is—as soon as they all start acclaiming a writer, that writer is just about to slip downward.” Seven years later Parker’s colleague Clifton Fadiman detected some slippage, finding Hemingway’s latest output a bit stale. Rather than pen a negative review, Fadiman shared his concerns by way of an open letter:

PHONING IT IN…Clifton Fadiman (right) found Ernest Hemingway’s Winner Take Nothing to be “stuck fast in yesterday.” (AP/Wikipedia/Pinterest)

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From Our Advertisers

Until the 1920s all car bodies were framed in wood, preferably ash, but by the end of the 1930s all-steel car bodies became the standard…Packard made the switch beginning around 1938…

…ah, the good old days when you could smoke in the “rarefied atmosphere” of an airplane, the pilot so close by you could tap him on the shoulder…

…Brooklyn’s Hittleman-Goldenrod Brewery opened in late 1933 promising beer in the finest English tradition…sadly, it closed in 1937…

…the Waldorf-Astoria announced the re-opening of its Empire Room with entertainment by Xavier Cugat and his tango orchestra, featuring the dancer Margo…this was just the sort of “juvenile” entertainment Lois Long detested (see my previous post)…

…according to this ad, “His Lordship” drank a pot of decaf Sanka at midnight “and never winked an eye all night”…it doesn’t mention that he probably also wet the bed…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Peter Arno and the woes of the monied classes…

…on to Helen Hokinson, and the charms of the precocious…

Gardner Rea gave us a toff absorbed in historical fiction…

Alain (aka Daniel Brustlein) offered up a flautist who found beauty in his routine life…

…and we close with Perry Barlow, and motherhood among the smart set…

Next Time: Radio City…


The Wild West

Kino Lorber)

We first encountered Mae West back in 1926 when The New Yorker commented on her risqué Broadway play, Sex. Although the play was the biggest ticket in town, it eventually attracted a police raid that landed West in jail on morals charges. Sentenced to ten days for “corrupting the morals of youth,” she could have paid a fine, but for West a short stint on Welfare Island was worth its weight in publicity gold.

Oct. 14, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

Fast forward seven years, and West is one of the nation’s biggest box office attractions and starring in her third film, I’m No Angel. Depression-era audiences responded enthusiastically to West’s portrayals of a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who in the end gains both fortune and social acceptance. Although puritanical forces continued to be outraged by West’s antics, New Yorker film critic John Mosher found her act to be “a safe parody on indecency.”

SHIMMY TO SUCCESS…Clockwise, from top left: At the beginning of I’m No Angel, Tira (Mae West) shimmies and sings in a circus sideshow; studio poster for the film— In the early 1930s, West’s films were key in saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy; a wealthy sideshow customer (William B. Davidson) arranges a private rendezvous; Tira has her day in court despite attempts by her ex-boyfriend, Slick Wiley (Ralf Harolde), to discredit her. (IMDB)

SHE GETS HER MAN…Cary Grant starred opposite Mae West for the second and final time in I’m No Angel. Eleven years junior to West, Grant portrayed Tira’s fiancé, Jack Clayton. (TCM)

And finally, a much-talked about scene from the movie featured West putting her head (rather sensually) into the mouth of a lion. In reality it appears to be a camera trick: West was actually placing her head to the side of the lion’s mouth. Still, a gutsy move by West. As for the lion, it was no picnic either.

 * * *

Comic Relief

Eugene O’Neill surprised critics and audiences alike when he premiered Ah, Wilderness! at Broadway’s Guild Theatre on October 2, 1933. Among the critics was Wolcott Gibbs, who concluded that O’Neill should stick to his usual themes of disillusion and despair. An excerpt:

PASS THE CORN, PLEASE…Around the table in the original 1933 Broadway production of Ah, Wilderness! are (from left) George M. Cohan (Nat Miller), Eda Heinemann (Lily), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Richard), Gene Lockhart (Sid), Marjorie Marquis (Mrs. Nat Miller), Walter Vonnegut, Jr. (Tommy) and Adelaide Bean (Mildred). (Photograph by Vandamm for Stage magazine, November 1933)

ERRORS OF COMEDY…Wolcott Gibbs (left) found Eugene O’Neill’s attempt at comedy to be nothing more than a recycling of corny old saws. However, Ah, Wilderness! proved successful in its first Broadway production and in the touring company that followed. It remains to this day a staple of community repertory. (The New Yorker/Playbill/Britannica)

 * * *

Hell in a Handbasket

If Eugene O’Neill couldn’t offer up some woe, then leave it to E.B. White of all people to supply reason for despair. In his 1982 review of a collection of White’s poems and sketches,

For the Oct. 14 issue White bemoaned the loss of the American elm (of the 77 million elms in North America in 1930, more than 75 percent were lost to Dutch elm disease by 1989), the dangers of pesticide use, and other maladies. Excerpts:

APPLE OF HIS EYE…E.B. White had reason to be concerned about the widespread practice of spraying lead arsenic on fruit trees. This 1930 photograph shows an Oregon orchardist and his child spraying apple trees with the stuff. (oregonhistoryproject.org)

White’s New Yorker colleague John O’Hara raised some concerns of his own, namely the likelihood of another world war in this prescient piece titled “Dynamite is Like a Mill Pond.” Excerpts:

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE…John O’Hara pondered the likelihood of another world war and an unlikely bedfellow: Soviet Russia. Photo circa 1938. (AP via loa.org)

 * * *

Pooh-Poohing Mr. Milne

In his review of A.A. Milne’s latest novel, The Red House Mystery, Clifton Fadiman seemed to recall Dorothy Parker’s own revulsion to Milne’s juvenile style (“Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up” Parker once wrote of The House at Pooh Corner). Excerpts:

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

The makers of Camels took to the water to prove how their cigarettes supported “healthy nerves,” whether in the deep sea or on the high dive…

…with a name like “Spud” you really had to stretch to prove you were a choice of the smart set…here they claimed their product was “quite at home among royalty”…

…here’s another great example of class appropriation, a white-tie dinner featuring a couple of toffs eating canned soup…

…and we give our eyes a break with a bit of elegance from Lord & Taylor, featuring the art of modern living…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with James Thurber

…curious to know Thurber’s favorite songs?—then check out this Thurber Thursday post from Michael Maslin’s Inkspill...

…we continue with William Steig’s look at a “Lady With Mirror”…

…and discover the calm after a storm in this domestic scene by Kemp Starrett

…visit the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago, with George Price

…for reference, Price’s cartoon depicted the Federal Building at the Century of Progress…

…and is often the case with this blog, we give Peter Arno the last word…

Next Time: As Millions Cheer…

As Thousands Cheer

ABOVE: Broadway's As Thousands Cheer (1933) featured evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (Helen Broderick) trying to persuade Mahatma Gandhi (Clifton Webb) to end his hunger strike and join her act. (NYPL)

Broadway gave Depression audiences a lift with As Thousands Cheer, a revue featuring satirical sketches that skewered the lives and affairs of the rich and famous and served as a precursor to sketch shows like Saturday Night Live.

Oct. 7, 1933 cover by Peter Arno.

With a book by Moss Hart and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the revue was a big hit, playing for nearly a year on Broadway in its initial run.

TOON TIME…Marilyn Miller led a chorus of cartoon characters in a sketch titled “The Funnies” in As Thousands Cheer; leading the revue were Miller, Clifton Webb and Helen Broderick, here featured on the cover of the Playbill. The production would be Marilyn Miller’s last—one of Broadway’s biggest stars known for playing sunny characters, her personal life was filled with illness and tragedy, and she would go to an early death in 1936. (playbill.com)

Wolcott Gibbs took his turn as Broadway reviewer, and pronounced As Thousands Cheer “the funniest thing in town.”

Not everything was roses in As Thousands Cheer: In a poignant star turn, Ethel Waters sang—at Irving Berlin’s request—his famous tune “Supper Time,” a Black woman’s lament for her lynched husband. The revue was the first Broadway show to give an African-American star (Waters) equal billing with whites, however she was segregated from her co-stars and did not appear in any sketches with them. Her co-stars even refused to bow with her at the curtain call until Irving Berlin intervened. According to the James Kaplan biography Irving Berlin, “The show had a successful tryout at Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre in early September, although opening night was marred by an ugly incident all too in tune with the times: the stars Clifton Webb, Marilyn Miller, and Helen Broderick refused to take a bow with Ethel Waters. To his everlasting credit, Berlin told the three that of course he would respect their feelings—only in that case there needn’t be any bows at all.

“They took their bows with Waters at the next show.”

NEWSMAKERS…Each sketch in As Thousands Cheer was preceded with a newspaper headline. Clockwise, from top left, in the sketch headlined JOAN CRAWFORD TO DIVORCE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR, Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb portrayed the stars arguing over publicity rights to their divorce; Webb as 94-year-old John D. Rockefeller; the headline FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT INAUGURATED TOMORROW featured Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover on their last day in the White House, portrayed by Leslie Adams and Helen Broderick; Ethel Waters singing Irving Berlin’s “Supper Time.” (New York Public Library)

 * * *

A Final Byline

E.B. White opened his column with a tribute to Ring Lardner, who died at age 48 of a heart attack and other complications. In the months before his death Lardner had contributed a number of comical “Over the Waves” radio reviews.

JOURNALIST AT HEART…Ring Lardner (1885-1933) worked for several newspapers before settling at the Chicago Tribune in 1913—it became the home newspaper for his syndicated column, In the Wake of the News. (Chicago Tribune)

Lardner’s first contribution to The New Yorker came shortly after the magazine’s founding. “The Constant Jay” was published in the April 18, 1925 issue: Readers appreciated his subtle wit, including this oft-quoted gem:

“The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong—but that’s the way to bet.”

Lardner also liked to poke fun at himself and his aw-shucks view of things. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of his final New Yorker contribution, “Odd’s Bodkins:”

 * * *

Macy Modernism

As Lewis Mumford observed in his “Skyline” column, Macy’s was the first department store to embrace a modern approach to interior design, but as Marilyn Friedman notes in her book, Making America Modern: Interior Design in the 1930s, Macy’s modernism was a bit toned down to blend into more traditional settings. A case in point was Macy’s 1933 Forward House exhibition, which Mumford described as “a brilliant piece of modern showmanship.”

EASY ON THE EYES…”Living room in the Suburban House of Forward House” at R.H. Macy & Co., New York, 1933, from The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator, October 15, 1933. ​(www.artdeco.org)

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Fishing for Commies

Geoffrey Hellman profiled New York House Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr (1888–1991), a staunch anti-communist perhaps best known for establishing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. I feature this brief excerpt mainly for the great caricature by Abe Birnbaum.

MINDING THE HOME FRONT…Hamilton Fish, Jr making a speech in Los Angeles, 1935. Fish served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1920 to 1945 and during that time was a prominent opponent of intervention into foreign affairs. (UCLA Special Collections)

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All Wet

Eleven years before Esther Williams made her first aqua-musical, Ruby Keeler took the dive under Busby Berkeley’s direction in Footlight Parade. E.B. White served as film critic for the Oct. 7 issue, and found Footlight to be a feast for the male gaze, as well as mindless entertainment.

TAKING THE PLUNGE…Clockwise, from top left: According to E.B. White, there was no gainsaying “the general aahhhhh” of the semi-nude waterfall scene in Footlight Parade; promotional poster left no doubt as to what audiences might expect from the film; Busby Berkeley displayed his craft in water-based choreography; Ruby Keeler portrayed a dancer turned secretary who is transformed back into a dancer—just add water. (IMDB)

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A Dog’s Life

Doubtless drained from writing The Waves, Virginia Woolf followed up with some historical fiction, namely Flush: A Biography, a book about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel. Clifton Fadiman had this to say about the unusual biography:

VIRGINIA WOOF…Frontispiece for Flush: A Biography. Virginia Woolf used the tale of a dog to explore social themes ranging from feminism to class conflict. (Heritage Auctions)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

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…a couple of ads from the back pages, the first touting the smart-set writing of columnist and foreign correspondent Alice Hughes for the New York American, and the second an advertisement for Chase & Sanborn coffee, which relayed the story of a marriage on the brink due to stale coffee…

…I include this ad for the heroic scale of the ocean liner, particularly as depicted by the people in the background…

…we bounce on to our cartoons with Otto Soglow’s Little King…

James Thurber continued to explore the unrest among our domestic youth…

…speaking of America’s youth, this gathering (courtesy Gardner Rea) appeared to have trouble finding some…

Helen Hokinson found fun with flounder…

Rea Irvin turned the tables on a life-drawing class…

…and we close with Richard Decker, over the moon with a stranded chorine…

…and in a nod to the approaching holiday, imagery from a 1933 Fleischer Studios animated short film, Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party

Next Time: The Wild West…

Rumors of War

Above: Scores of German tanks lined up at a harvest festival near Hanover, produced in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany began rapidly rearming shortly after Hitler came to power in January 1933.

The year 1933 marked a shift in the political winds, starting with Adolf Hitler’s rise to the chancellorship of Germany in 1933. By October he withdrew from the League of Nations and the Geneva Peace Conference, all the while clandestinely building up his war machine.

Sept. 16, 1933 cover by Harry Brown. The scene depicts the West Side’s infamous “Death Avenue,” where New York Central Railroad freight trains mixed with a jumble of automobiles, wagons and pedestrians amid factories and warehouses. Beginning in the 1850s “West Side Cowboys” rode in front of trains as a safety precaution. Still, there were hundreds of casualties until the rail was elevated in 1934—today’s High Line.

While some sounded alarms, most people, along with their nations, turned inward, focusing on domestic issues—FDR was busy with his New Deal agenda, Britain was dealing with its own economic woes, and Germany, Italy and Japan were keeping their populations in line by stoking the flames of nationalism. Few paid much attention to a 420-page book titled What Would Be the Character of a New War?, which accurately predicted the nature of the war to come. New Yorker critic Clifton Fadiman offered this sobering assessment (wryly titled “To the Gentler Reader”) of the work:

The book’s prescient warnings could be attributed in part to the experiences of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 19 authors—nearly half of them soldiers from Great Britain, Sweden, Germany and France, the others mostly scientists along with a statesman or two. In her Oct. 22, 1933, New York Times Book Review article, Florence Finch Kelly noted the authors’ general agreement as to the “utter uselessness” of international peace agreements. “This book is a sign-post that blazons in unmistakable language the distance the world has traveled—backward—during the last dozen years,” she wrote, concluding “the world very greatly needs this book…For it is the most ghastly, the most horrifying book about war that has ever been written.”

In my previous post we saw how H.G. Wells envisioned the next war, with destruction raining from the sky. So too was the conclusion of Inter-Parliamentary Union. Fadiman observed:

I LOVE A PARADE…Clockwise from top left: Adolf Hitler is cheered as he rides through the streets of Munich on Nov. 9, 1933; Hideki Tojo would be promoted to major general in 1933 and would go on to become minister of war and prime minister of Japan; the technologically advanced Heinkel He 111 was secretly produced as part of the clandestine German rearmament in the early 1930s; when he wasn’t busy murdering his own people, Josef Stalin (pictured here on Nov. 7, 1933) was implementing his Five-Year Plan. (The Atlantic via AP/Wikipedia)

The rumblings heard in Germany were also on the mind of Howard Brubaker, who made these observations in his column, “Of All Things.”

 * * *

Dining For Success

The Society for the Advancement of Better Living offered its own New Deal for Depression America—you could eat your way to better life. E.B. White noted the non-ideological nature of this new movement, where commies and capitalists could break bread together…

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?…Hearty appetites make strange bedfellows, according to E.B. White. Clockwise, from top left, Helena Rubinstein, Dr. Royal Copeland, Robert Morss Lovett, C. Hartley Grattan, Suzanne La Follette, and Henry Goddard Leach. (Vanity Fair/Wikipedia/U of Nebraska)

 * * *

Bread & Circuses

“The Talk of the Town” looked in on the game of college football, which some college presidents annually decried for becoming a “great spectacle.” If they could have only known what was to come…

THE HOME TEAM…Clockwise, from top left: Columbia University’s Baker Stadium in the 1920s; Columbia’s president in 1933, Nicholas Murray Butler, considered something of a blowhard in his day; Columbia’s Hall of Fame coach Lou Little in 1930; Columbia taking on archival Cornell in 1930. The Columbia Lions were a power in the 1930s—in 1933 the Lions won the Rose Bowl, beating Stanford 7–0. (Columbia University)

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From Our Advertisers

The fine folks at Martini & Rossi were doing their part to get Americans ready for the end of Prohibition…

…meanwhile, the makers of Her Majesty’s perfume summoned the old and the new while also showing support for the New Deal (the NRA logo)…this image, however, doesn’t conjure up visions of “Tomorrow’s World”…

…and frankly neither does this tire, here linked to the wonders on display at Chicago’s Century of Progress…

…on to our cartoons, we have two by James Thurber, beginning with this cryptic drawing…

…and later in the issue, a more familiar Thurber at play…

Helen Hokinson’s “girls” surmised a scandal aboard an incoming liner…

Henry Anton gave us a kindly pawn shop owner with a money back guarantee…on a pair of brass knuckles…

Izzy Klein conjured up a ghost who’d found a use for an executive’s wire recorder…

…and we close with Alan Dunn, and the perils of interior design…

Next Time: Music and Murder…

The Shape of Things to Come

Above: Maurice Passworthy (Kenneth Villiers) and Catherine Cabel (Pearl Argyle) prepare for a trip to the moon in Things to Come.

In his 1933 science fiction novel The Shape of Things to Come, H.G. Wells foresaw how an international economic depression could eventually lead to world war.

Sept. 2, 1933 cover by William Steig.

The book also predicted that such a war would feature whole cities destroyed by aerial bombing and the eventual development of weapons of mass destruction. However, New Yorker book critic Clifton Fadiman found Wells’ other predictions to be fanciful, “scientific-romantic” notions, such as a post-war Utopia (headquartered in Basra, Iraq, of all places) ruled by super-talents that would advance scientific learning in a world without nation-states or religion. And naturally everyone would speak English.

YOU MAY SAY I’M A DREAMER…H.G. Wells envisioned a world of war, pestilence and economic collapse that would eventually give way to an English-speaking Utopia free of nation-states and religion. (Wikipedia)

Three years later Wells would adapt his book to the screen in 1936’s Things to Come, produced by Alexander Korda and starring Raymond Massey as a heroic RAF pilot John Cabal and Ralph Richardson as “The Boss,” a man who stands in the way of Cabal’s utopian dreams.

FUTURE TENSE…Clockwise, from top left, H.G. Wells visits with actors Pearl Argyle and Raymond Massey on the set of Things to Come—Swiss designer René Hubert created the futuristic costumes; in the year 1970 RAF pilot John Cabal (Massey) lands his sleek monoplane in Everytown, England, proclaiming a new civilization run by a band of enlightened mechanics and engineers; city of the future as depicted in Things to Come; poster for the film’s release. (IMDB)

An afternote: A 1979 Canadian science fiction film titled The Shape of Things to Come was supposedly based on Wells’ novel but bore little resemblance to the book. The film is a considered a turkey, lovingly mocked by the same audiences that gave Plan 9 from Outer Space a second life.

WE MEAN YOU NO HARM…Actor Jack Palance—wearing what appears to be a jug from a water cooler— headed a cast that included Barry Morse and Carol Lynley in 1979’s The Shape of Things to Come. 

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Fine Dining

Director George Cukor turned a hit Ferber-Kaufman Broadway play into a hit movie by the same title when Dinner at Eight premiered in September 1933. While the film received high marks from leading critics, New Yorker film reviewer John Mosher found it a bit routine, if well-crafted:

BLONDE ON BLONDE…Judith Wood (left) portrayed the character Kitty Packard in the 1932 stage production of Dinner at Eight; Jean Harlow took on the role for the 1933 film version. (IMDB)

Mosher, however, continued to admire the acting chops of veteran Marie Dressler

FUNNY LADIES…Clockwise, from top left: Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler square off in Dinner at Eight; movie poster highlights the “Blonde Bombshell” Harlow along with a star-studded cast; a scene with Harlow, Wallace Beery and Edmund Lowe; to avoid wrinkling her gown between takes, Harlow reviewed her lines in a special stand-up chair. (IMDB/pre-code.com)

 * * *

Madame Secretary

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins was the first woman in the U.S. to serve as a cabinet secretary, but she was a lot more that—she was the driving force behind FDR’s New Deal. Here are excerpts from a two-part profile written by Russell Lord, with illustration by Hugo Gellert.

TRIAL BY FIRE…Frances Perkins watched in horror as young women leapt to their deaths in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire—146 perished on that day Perkins recalled as the moment the New Deal was born her mind. In the wake of the fire Perkins, an established expert on worker health and safety, was named executive secretary of the NYC Committee on Safety. (trianglememorial.org/francesperkinscenter.org)

Even if some men couldn’t come around to a woman moving through the circles of power, Perkins had many admirers including prominent Tammany Hall leader “Big Tim” Sullivan.

Perkins’ appointment to FDR’s cabinet made the Aug. 14, 1933 cover of TIME magazine. (TIME/thoughtco.com)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Even the staid executives at Packard were getting into the modern advertising game, where sometimes the product itself was not even pictured…

…our cartoonists include Robert Day

George Price

…and baring it all, Peter Arno

…on to Sept. 9, and what I believe is Alice Harvey’s first New Yorker cover…

Sept. 9, 1933 cover by Alice Harvey.

…and where “The Talk of the Town” paid a visit to the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island, a favorite haunt of those magnificent men and women and their flying machines:

SHIFTING SANDS…Opened in 1927 to attract upscale crowds to Coney Island away from the rabble of the Midway, the elegant Half Moon Hotel started strong but teetered on the doorstep of bankruptcy during the Depression; it gained notoriety in 1941 when mob turncoat Abe Reles fell to his death from a sixth floor window while under police protection. The hotel was demolished in 1996. (Pinterest)

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Huey In The News

In his column “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker offered this brief take on Huey Long’s visit to a Long Island party, where one guest apparently socked the controversial “Kingfish,” giving the former Louisiana governor (and then senator) a shiner.

A CHIP ON HIS SHOULDER?…Controversy followed Huey Long wherever he went. At left is a New York Times account of Long’s alleged black eye incident on Long Island. He would be assassinated two years later at the Louisiana State Capitol; Long circa 1933. (NYT/Wikipedia)

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More From Our Advertisers

As a follow-up from the previous issue’s Packard ad, this two-page spread showed us what those 1200 men were gawking at…check out that 12-cylinder model on the left, which appears to be better than 20 feet long…

…according to this ad, you could thank Camel cigarettes for getting the mail through the gloom of night…

…if you needed a cigarette to steady your nerves, you also needed fresh coffee to avoid being ostracized by your friends…

…summer-stock barn theatres were popular across America in the 1930s…this ad (illustrated by Wallace Morgan) hailed the end of the summer season and the return of “Winter Broadway”…

…on to our cartoons, out in the countryside we also find William Crawford Galbraith, here continuing to ply one of his favorite themes, namely pairing shapely seductresses and showgirls with clueless suitors…

Helen Hokinson gave us one woman who believed “what happens in the Riviera, stays in the Riviera”…

…and we close with Gardner Rea, and a scout troop on a mission…

Next Time: Rumors of War…