The Road to 1931

The New Yorker entered its sixth year in 1931, and despite the deepening Depression managed to stay afloat and even gain new subscribers. Perhaps more than ever folks needed that weekly dose of levity the magazine ably supplied.

Rea Irvin rang out the old and welcomed the new with back-to-back covers for the Dec. 27, 1930 and Jan. 3, 1931 issues. The second cover commemorated the New York Auto Salon, mentioned later in this blog entry.

That isn’t to say the magazine’s contributors donned rose-colored glasses. Rather, they commiserated with their fellow Americans:

CRANKY COUPLETS…Ogden Nash lent his droll verse to the nation’s economic woes. In 1931, while working as an editor at Doubleday, Nash submitted a number of poems to the New Yorker and spent three months working on the magazine’s editorial staff. (poeticous.com)

Over the course of 1930 many Americans, including Ogden Nash, woke to the fact that their business and political leaders were ill-suited to lift them out of the economic mess, and were likely responsible for it in the first place. At the top of the list was President Herbert Hoover, who was profiled in the New Yorker in three installments beginning with the Dec. 27 issue. This brief excerpt gives you a glimpse into a very different White House 89 years ago:

The first installment of the profile was accompanied by a Cyrus Baldridge portrait of the president (left), but the final two installments featured a less-than-flattering Abe Birnbaum rendering that first appeared in the New Yorker in the March 2, 1929 issue:

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Vorse Was a Force

Social critic, labor activist and novelist Mary Heaton Vorse (1874–1966) was no fan of Herbert Hoover or wealthy business tycoons, and in the first decades of the 20th century joined with Lincoln Steffens and other muckraking journalists in advocating for social reform. Vorse, however, also had a background in fiction writing and in observational pieces like the one below (excerpts) in which she commented on the rustic old ladies she found everywhere in the city:

FOR THE CAUSE…Mary Heaton Vorse (left) with fellow activists preparing to leave on a relief expedition to aid striking Kentucky miners, 1932. At right, a 1925 drawing of Vorse by Hugo Gellert. (nysut.org/Smithsonian)

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The Mystic

Before the Beatles made the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi a famed Transcendental Meditation guru in the 1960s, there was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a Russian/Greek/Armenian spiritual teacher of the “Fourth Way,” which promised a path to a higher state of consciousness and full human potential. Gurdjieff also enjoyed living in a French chateau and taking trips to New York to share his wisdom with eager Americans, including famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “The Talk of the Town” had these observations on the visiting mystic:

HE COULD SEE THINGS…George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, in an undated photo.

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Sunny Days

Forget about financial woes or spiritual dilemmas. What are you going to wear next summer? Fashion writer Lois Long (“On and Off the Avenue”) asked the question and looked to the south for some answers:

…numerous ads peppered the Dec. 27 issue urging Manhattan’s snowbirds to dress appropriately for the warmer climes…

…and operators of “PlaneTrains” promised to get them there as quickly as possible…

…and if you were headed to Cuba you could stay at the brand new National Hotel…

…here’s what it looked like three years ago when I was in Havana…I can guarantee you the hotel service was WAY better in 1931…

…whether home or abroad, New Yorkers were celebrating the New Year by “dancing to the melodies of Old Vienna” and smoking like chimneys…

…a popular New Year’s Eve destination was the The Roosevelt Hotel, where Guy Lombardo’s orchestra helped ring in the New Year from 1929 (radio’s first nationwide New Year’s Eve broadcast) to 1959…

I stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel in late December, and found Lombardo still presiding over the bar…

…we also find New Year’s revelry in the cartoons, with Mary Petty

Izzy Klein

Otto Soglow...

…and Leonard Dove

…and for those who stayed home, we have this scene of domestic bliss from Don Herold

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On to the Jan. 3, 1931 issue, we have Howard Brubaker (“Of All Things”) waxing sour on the state of the economy…

…so what a better way to cheer up than to look at shiny new cars, especially the ones almost no one could afford? The New Yorker paid another visit to the New York Automobile Salon at the Grand Central Palace…

…according to the article, 1931 was “a streamline year,” and leading the way was the REO motor car company, which despite its innovative ways would drop its car line altogether in 1936 — a casualty of the Depression…

FLOWING FENDERS…The 1931 REO Royale was a trendsetter, introducing streamlining designs. The Great Depression would cause REO to abandon the manufacture of automobiles in 1936. (historicvehicle.org)

…over at the Chrysler Building, which served as that corporation’s headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s, new cars were on display on the building’s first two floors…

CATHEDRAL OF CARS…The first two floors of the Chrysler Building served as an auto showroom during the building’s first decade. (Wikipedia/thewelcomeblog.com)

…we segue to our advertisements, many from car companies touting their displays at the New York Automobile Salon. Like REO, Marmon was noted for various innovations, including the introduction of the rear-view mirror. It also manufactured a stunning 16-cylinder automobile that was on display at the 1931 Salon. But also like REO, the Depression proved too much for Marmon, and it was defunct by 1933…

SLEEK…The 1931 Marmon Sixteen. (RM Auctions)

…another car company that would fall to the Depression was the luxury brand Pierce Arrow. Without a lower-priced car in its lineup to provide cash flow, the company ceased operation by 1938…

…by contrast, the Chrysler Corporation had several low-priced models to help it survive the lean years and enable it to produce its luxury model, the Imperial…

ANOTHER FIRST…Chrysler was also known for its innovative ways. A custom version of the Chrysler Imperial Eight included a dictaphone. (hemmings.com)

…the Hudson Motor Car Company is long gone, but in 1930 it was the third largest carmaker after Ford and Chevrolet, and instead of luxury it touted the affordability of its cars, especially its low-priced Essex line, priced $1,000 less than its predecessor from ten years earlier. The $595 Essex would be comparable to a $9,000 to $10,000 car today (by comparison, the 1931 Marmon or Imperial would set you back somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000, roughly equivalent to a $46,000 – $78,000 range today)…

…so let’s say the Depression has wiped you out and you can’t even afford an Essex…well you could try to “smoke your way back to normalcy”…

…or be like this pair, who seem content with their Chesterfields…

…of course the movies were another means of escape from the cruel world, and Paramount’s Publix Theatres promised plenty of sex to ease troubled minds…

PRE-CODE WORLD…During a brief period of the early sound era, many films used both sex and violence to attract audiences to theaters. The Publix Theatres ad above implied that these three films had plenty of sex, or “it” — clockwise, from top left, Fredric March ran around in his skivvies in The Royal Family of Broadway (1930); Mary Brian and Ina Claire portrayed acting sisters Gwen and Julie Cavendish in The Royal Family of Broadway; David Manners and Ruth Chatterton shared an embrace in The Right to Love (1930); and Marlene Dietrich lured a schoolmaster into a life of madness and despair in The Blue Angel (1929-30).

…and we close with our cartoonists…Reginald Marsh heralded the new year with this two-page spread depicting the heavens glorifying dental hygiene…

Leonard Dove inked two cartoons featuring table talk…

E. McNerney continued the New Yorker tradition of cartoons featuring rich old men and their gold diggers…

Gardner Rea pondered the value of kitsch in a regal setting…

A.S. Foster looked in on a crowd of John Does at a speakeasy…

…and Lillian Reed took us shopping with a very specific request…

Next Time: Requiem For the Flapper…

 

Noblesse Oblige

Just three years before she would enter the White House as First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was familiar to some New Yorkers for her social work, but was known to most as the wife of the Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This week we look at two issues, March 29 and April 5, 1930, both with covers by Rea Irvin.

In a profile featured the April 5 New Yorker, Helena Huntington Smith looked at the life of a woman who was a niece to former President Theodore Roosevelt and a fifth cousin (once removed) to her husband Franklin. A somewhat reluctant mother (who nevertheless had six children) in a marriage that was mostly a political arrangement, Eleanor devoted considerable time and energy to social causes. Below is a brief excerpt, accompanied by an illustration of Eleanor by Cyrus Baldridge.

ALBANY DAYS…Clockwise, from top left: Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933; Gov. Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor, and their youngest son, John, in Albany in 1930; FDR being sworn in as Governor of New York, January 1929. (Wikipedia/Albany Group Archive)
IN HER ELEMENT…Eleanor Roosevelt with boy and girl scout volunteers at the University of Kentucky, July 1934. (eleanorroosevelt.org)

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No Laughing Matter

In a surprising twist, James Thurber took a hand at writing the “A Reporter at Large” column (titled “Cop Into College Man”) in the March 29 issue, visiting a new “Police College” in New York City. In this engaging piece, Thurber seemed thoroughly engrossed in the operation…

…and particularly in the mugshots of some of the city’s most notorious criminals, including gangster Jim Flanagan, “debonair in a Bangkok hat”…

…and in the college’s museum, filled with all manner of deadly implements…

PREPPING FOR PERPS…The April 1930 edition of Popular Science featured the opening of New York’s new Police College. (Modern Mechanix)

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Pluto’s Salad Days

In was something of a sensation in February 1930 when Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997) discovered the then-planet Pluto at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. Howard Brubaker in “Of All Things” (March 29) had this to say about the achievement:

JUST A SPECK…Clyde Tombaugh poses with the telescope through which he discovered the planet Pluto at the Lowell Observatory on Observatory Hill in Flagstaff, Ariz., 1931. At right, images of the planet (specks indicated by arrows) were all the proof Tombaugh needed to confirm his discovery. (AP/NASA)

Thanks to a 2015 flyby by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, we now have a better idea of what Pluto, now classified as a “dwarf planet,” actually looks like…

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Dandy Doodle Mayor

Fillmore Hyde, author (and four-time national amateur squash tennis champion), penned this ditty in the March 29 issue in tribute to New York City’s dandyish mayor…

HAT’S OFF…Mayor Jimmy Walker.

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Back for More

Also for the March 29 issue art critic Murdock Pemberton was back at the Museum of Modern Art — a new institution he met with skepticism when it opened in late 1929, but a place that was definitely growing on him as a destination to revel in the work of some of the world’s top modern artists, including the American Max Weber (1881-1961), whose retrospective was supposed to the big draw of MoMA’s latest show, but Pemberton seemed more impressed by French artist Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) and particularly by the Swiss-German Paul Klee (1879-1940).

AMERICAN CUBIST…Max Weber’s The Cellist, 1917, oil on canvas, was featured in Weber’s 1930 retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art; at right, Weber seated in front of Interior with Music (1930). (Brooklyn Museum/Smithsonian)
Aristide Maillol’s Crouching Woman, bronze, 1930. (MoMA)

Pemberton wrote that Klee’s show gave you “quite a feeling”…

Catalogs from Max Weber’s retrospective and Paul Klee’s exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. (MoMA)

…and when he compared Klee’s work to that of the other artists, Pemberton saw something “more potent even than electricity…signposts toward a glorious future”…

A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE…From left, Paul Klee’s Actor’s Mask, 1924, oil on canvas mounted on board; Josef Albers’ 1929 photographic portrait of Klee, 1929; Klee’s In the Grass, 1930, oil on canvas. (MoMA/Guggenheim.org)
 A week later, writing for the April 5 issue, Pemberton penned this piece for “The Talk of Town” about the work habits of artist John Marin

OLD MAN AND THE SEA…John Marin in 1921, in a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz; Marin’s Bathers, 1932, oil on canvas. (mfa.org/Dallas Museum of Art)

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Who Needs a Vet?

The April 5 issue featured James Thurber’s latest installment of “Our Pet Department…

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Spend It Quickly

April 5’s “Talk” also featured this item about Al Capone’s release from prison in Philadelphia, lavishing money and gifts on prison employees as he made his exit from Eastern Penitentiary…

…it was no wonder, because officials at the prison didn’t treat Capone like some ordinary prisoner…

SALUTARY CONFINEMENT…Arrested outside a Philadelphia movie theater for carrying a concealed, unlicensed .38 caliber revolver, Al Capone was sentenced to a year in Eastern State Penitentiary. His last seven months were served in a cell (right) with fine furniture, oriental rugs, paintings, and a console radio, among other frills. (easternstate.org)

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This Al Could Sing

Upon the DVD release of Al Jolson’s 1930 film, Mammy, Dave Kehr of the New York Times wrote that Jolson was “Simultaneously one of the most significant and most embarrassing show business figures of the 20th century.”

That was not view of most audiences 89 years ago, when Jolson reigned as one of America’s most famous entertainers. In his review of Mammy for the April 5, 1930 issue of the New Yorker, critic John Mosher admitted that he didn’t care for minstrel shows depicted in the film, but not for any of the reasons we would cite today…

UGH…Clockwise from top left, Al Jolson and Lois Moran in Mammy; a studio promotional poster; Jolson as a minstrel performer in the film. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We have more racial stereotypes, this time to sell Stetson shoes…

Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) continued to pay the bills by illustrating ads for Flit insecticide…

…while professional golfer Walter Hagen picked up some extra cash by launching his own line of golf underwear…

…Walter has been gone for 50 years, but you can still get his branded clothing from Dick’s Sporting Goods…

Julian De Miskey picked up some extra work illustrating this house ad for the New Yorker

…and then we have this spot from the American Austin Car Company, which produced cars licensed from the British Austin Motor Company from 1930 through 1934…interestingly, the ad doesn’t feature the car itself…

…which looked like this…

(theoldmotor.com)

…on to our comics, Alan Dunn looked in on a devoted listener of S. Parkes Cadman’s Sunday radio broadcast…Cadman (1864-1936) was a British-born clergyman whose NBC radio broadcasts reached millions of listeners across America…

…signs of spring were noted by Otto Soglow

Don Herold shared an observation on stage entertainments…

…William Crawford Galbraith found unrequited love at the circus…

…while Barbara Shermund found a more agreeable pairing at a Manhattan cocktail party…

Garrett Price found humor in the growing numbers of the down and out…

…and Peter Arno turned in this epic two-pager that illustrated the challenges of filming in nature…

Next Time: Hot Jazz in Stone and Steel…