Fear of Flying

The early New Yorker loved two things about modern life — college football and air travel. Tragedy would bring them together on the last day of March 1931.

April 11, 1931 cover by Peter Arno. A brilliant cover, contrasting the skinny, lightly clad runner with one of Arno’s stock characters from the Taft era —  a millionaire with a walrus mustache.

The New Yorker’s sportswriter John Tunis was especially keen on Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame football team, which played an annual rivalry game against Army at Yankee Stadium. Tunis’s colleague, E.B. White, was the flying enthusiast, never missing a chance to hop aboard a plane and marvel at the scene far below. In the Nov. 30, 1929 issue, White was eager to join passengers on a test of the Fokker F-32, and suggested that flying was becoming so routine that one could be blasé about its risks:

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?…Title card from a silent Paramount newsreel reporting on a November 1929 test flight of the Fokker F-32 at Teterboro, possibly the same flight enjoyed by E.B. White. At right, a celebration of the plane’s arrival in Los Angeles. (YouTube/petersonfield.org)

All of that exuberance came crashing down in a Kansas wheat field on March 31, 1931. It was Rockne’s fame — which the New Yorker and countless other magazines and newspapers helped to spread — that put the coach on a TWA flight to Hollywood, where director Russell Mack was filming The Spirit of Notre Dame. Rockne stopped in Kansas City, where he visited his two oldest sons, before boarding a Fokker F-10 destined for Los Angeles. About an hour after takeoff one of the airplane’s wings broke to pieces, sending Rockne and seven others to their deaths.

(University of Notre Dame) click image to enlarge

The accident rattled E.B. White. In his April 11, 1931 “Notes and Comment,” White pondered the eulogies Rockne received from President Herbert Hoover and others, calling into question the fame a college football coach could attain while achievements of college faculty go unheralded. White also seemed to have lost some of his faith in the progress of aviation, suggesting that the autogiro (a cross between an airplane and a helicopter) might be the safest way to proceed into the future:

Knute Rockne, in undated photo. (University of Notre Dame)

Ironically, it was thanks to Rockne’s fame that the aviation industry began to get serious about safety. A public outcry over the crash led to sweeping changes in everything from design to crash investigation, changes that have made flying one of the safest forms of transportation today.

SAFETY FIRST…The crash that claimed the life of Knute Rockne resulted in a public outcry for greater safety in the air. This article in the July 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics suggested parachutes for passengers and for the plane itself. (modernmechanix.com)

As for the cause of crash, it was determined that the plywood covering one of the Fokker F-10’s wings had separated from the wing’s supporting structure — the wing had been bonded together with a water-based glue that likely deteriorated as the result of rainwater seeping into the wing.

Unfortunately, the investigation into the crash was hampered by souvenir-seekers, who carried away most of the large parts of the plane even before the bodies were removed. So much for honest Midwestern values, at least in this case.

(clickamericana.com)

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Give My Regards

Back in Manhattan, Dorothy Parker was writing a eulogy of her own, bidding farewell to her interim role as theater critic. Parker subbed for Robert Benchley during his extended European vacation, and often noted that it was just her luck  to be stuck with a string of plays that likely comprised one of Broadway’s worst spring line-ups.

In an earlier column Parker had alluded to the fact that Benchley was in Europe, no doubt staying part of the time with their mutual friends, Gerald and Sara Murphy, at their fashionable “Villa America” at Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera.

SIGHT FOR SORE EYES…Dorothy Parker was glad to have her old friend Robert Benchley back at the theater desk, she having endured a “rotten time” reviewing a long string of bad plays. (dorothy parker.com)

Hopeful to review at least one play of redeeming value before her friend returned, Parker was to be sorely disappointed as evidenced in her final review column. Of the terribly dated Getting Married, a play written by George Barnard Shaw way back in 1908, Parker was more afraid of Getting Bored, especially when Helen Westley (portraying Mrs. George Collins) entered the stage to deliver a 15-minute monologue…

Things got no better with the second play Parker reviewed, Lady Beyond the Moon, a “dull, silly, dirty play” that was frequently interrupted by various sounds from the restless audience — “comments, titters and lip-noises…” The play must have been terrible, because it closed after just fifteen performances.

As for the third play Parker reviewed, the misnamed Right of Happiness, the audience had every excuse “for displayed impatience,” yet conducted itself “like a group of little lambs.” Right of Happiness, observed Parker, “fittingly concluded the horrible little pre-Easter season…” The play closed after just eleven performances.

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Turning Up the Heat

If anyone thought he had a right to happiness it would have been New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, who was preparing to face a grilling from Judge Samuel Seabury. Walker loved the nightlife and left most of his duties to a bunch of Tammany Hall cronies whose activities drew the attention of reformers like Seabury and Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his “A Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey observed:

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Walking Tall

Raymond Hood (1881-1934) might have been short in stature, but he stood tall among the architects of some of New York’s most iconic skyscrapers — Rockefeller Plaza, American Radiator, Daily News, McGraw Hill (Sadly, both his career and his life were cut short when he died in 1934 at age 53 from complications related to rheumatoid arthritis). Allene Talmey, a former reporter for the New York World and managing editor of Conde Naste’s original Vanity Fair, gave Hood his due (see brief excerpt) in a New Yorker profile, with a portrait by Cyrus Baldridge:

LANDMARKS…The 1931 McGraw-Hill Building and the 1929-30 Daily News Building. (MCNY/Wikipedia)
And of course, Hood’s 30 Rock. I took this last December before everything shut down.

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From Our Advertisers

Speaking of big and tall, Al Smith and his gang took out this full page ad to announce the availability of office rentals in the world’s tallest building. Thanks to the Depression, only 23 percent of the available space in the Empire State Building was rented out in its first year. Thankfully, the building was also an instant tourist attraction, with one million people each paying a dollar to ride elevators to the observation decks in 1931, matching what the owners made in rent that year…

…for those who could afford more than a dollar ride up the Empire State’s elevators, the cooling breezes of coastal California beckoned…

…those with even greater means and leisure time could hop on a boat to Europe…note that you could still cruise on the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship…also note that the illustration of the posh couple was rendered by Helen Wills (1905-1998), better known at the time as the top women’s tennis player in the world…

HELEN, MEET HELEN…American tennis star Helen Wills in 1932, and a self-portrait from the same year. Wills was the world’s top women’s tennis player for nine of the years between 1927 and 1938. She played tennis into her 80s, and sketched and painted all of her life. (Wikipedia/invaluable.com)

…Guess who’s coming to dinner?…hopefully not William Seabrook, who had just released his latest book on his adventures as an explorer…in Jungle Ways, Seabrook devoted an entire section to cannibalism in the French Sudan and how to cook human flesh; apparently he tried some himself…but then again by most accounts he was a weird dude who dabbled in occultism and possibly believed in zombies…Seabrook’s 1929 book, The Magic Island, is credited with introducing the concept of zombies to popular culture…

…speaking of weird, an ad for Michelsen’s “Bay Rum” body rub…

…when Marlboro cigarettes were introduced in the mid-1920s, they were marketed as “luxury” cigarettes and sold mostly at resorts and hotels. In the late 1920s, however, they were marketed as a “lady’s cigarette,” with ads in the New Yorker featuring handwriting and penmanship contests to promote the brand. This ad from November 1930 featured the “second prize” winner of their amateur copywriting contest…

…it appears marketing tactics changed a bit in 1931…still the dopey contest, but instead of real photos of winners, like the schoolmarmish “Miss Dorothy Shepherd” above, this ad featured a rather tawdry image of a model, more gun moll than schoolmarm…

…on to our cartoonists…Ralph Barton, who was with the New Yorker from Day One, had been increasing his contributions to the magazine after a notable absence from spring 1929 to summer 1930…beset by manic-depression, he would take his own life in May 1931, so what we are seeing are Barton’s last bursts of creativity before his tragic end, reviving old favorites like “The Graphic Section”…

Barbara Shermund entertained with some parlor room chatter…

Leonard Dove looked in on a couple of frisky old duffers…

William Crawford Galbraith, and a crashing bore…

John Held Jr gave us one of his “naughty” engravings…

…and two by our dear Helen Hokinson, stuck in traffic…

…and enjoying cake and ice cream, with a dab of culture…

Next Time: An Unmarried Woman…

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…