Hell’s Angels

Among the films in 1930 that marked a new era in motion pictures was Howard Hughes’s epic war film Hell’s Angels. 

August 23 cover by Gardner Rea.

Originally shot as a silent, Hughes (1905-1976) retooled the film, and over a period of three years (1927-30) poured much of his own money into making what many consider to be Hollywood’s first sound action movie. The film also introduced audiences to 19-year-old Jean Harlow (1911-1937), handpicked by Hughes to replace Norwegian actress Greta Nissen in the lead role (Nissen’s accent posed a problem for the talkies). The film would make Harlow an instant star, propelling her to worldwide fame as the “Platinum Blonde” sex symbol of the 1930s.

Beset by delays due to Hughes’s incessant tinkering, the movie was famously expensive. For example, a total 137 pilots were used in just one flying scene at the end of the film. In addition to monetary costs, the filming also claimed the lives of three pilots and a mechanic, and Hughes himself would fracture his skull during a stunt flying attempt.

PRE-CODE…Before Will Hays imposed his moral code on Hollywood, films in the early thirties were frank with sexual references, as the image at left attests. When Howard Hughes switched the filming of Hell’s Angels to sound, he replaced Norwegian actress Greta Nissen with 19-year-old Jean Harlow (seen with co-star Ben Lyon). Harlow’s first major film appearance would make her an overnight star; at right, Frank Clarke and Roy Wilson flying an S.E.5A (front) and a Fokker D.VII (back, note camera) in the filming of Hell’s Angels. (Wikipedia)

The New Yorker’s John Mosher found the action scenes enticing, but the acting left something to be desired…

COSTLY VENTURE …This Sikorsky S-29A (left), repainted to represent a German Gotha bomber, would crash into the California hills during filming (right), killing mechanic Phil Jones, who failed to bail out along with the pilot. (Northrop Grumman)
GEE WHIZ…The media often reported on the progress of the film, such as in this May 1930 article in Modern Mechanics that detailed a $1 million sequence in which a fighter dives his plane into the top of a Zeppelin, causing it to explode and crash to earth. (Modern Mechanix)

We skip ahead briefly to the Aug. 30 issue, in which “The Talk of Town” featured a mini profile of Howard Hughes and his film. Note how Hughes’s extravagance is described through his frequent use of long-distance telephone calls:

A STAR IS BORN…19-year-old Jean Harlow and Ben Lyon in Hell’s Angels (1930); at right, Harlow and Howard Hughes at the premiere of the film. (IMDB/Pinterest)

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A Whale of a Movie

Critic John Mosher also took in a film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a very loose adaptation that excluded the novel’s central character, Ishmael, and invented a love story for the maniacal Capt. Ahab…

HAVE A LITTLE FAITH…From left, Noble Johnson as Queequeg, John Barrymore as Ahab, and Walter Long as Stubbs in 1930’s Moby Dick. At right, top, the whale puts the hurt on a boat; bottom, John Bennett as Faith, a contrived love interest for the old salt. (IMDB)

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Daily Dazzle

“The Talk of the Town” gushed over the lobby of the new Daily News Building, likening it to the glitz of a Broadway revue:

A HOME FOR CLARK KENT…The Daily News Building served as the model for the headquarters of the fictional Daily Planet, the building where Superman worked as mild-mannered Clark Kent; at right, an image from 1941 of the lobby, dominated by the  world’s largest indoor globe.
A LOBBY FOR LEARNING…The lobby includes an array of clocks, top left, that give the time in various global destinations. (aatlasobscura.com)

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A Busboy’s Dream

Charles Pierre Casalasco left his life as a busboy in Corsica and studied haute cuisine in Paris before arriving at the shores of Manhattan in the early 1900s. He became a renowned headwaiter who by 1929 garnered enough financial backing from New York’s most powerful families to construct the exclusive Hotel Pierre. Writing under her pseudonym, “Penthouse,” New Yorker columnist Marcia Davenport described the building’s apartments to eager readers:

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…The 41-story, 714-room Hotel Pierre officially opened in October 1930 to great fanfare. The party would be short-lived, as the deepening Depression would force the hotel into bankruptcy just two years later. At right, photo of the Rotunda, before a 2017 remodeling. (New York Public Library)

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So Much For Title IX

Then as now, women athletes were held to a separate set of standards, not only judged for their athletic abilities, but also for their “sex appeal,” as John Tunis suggests more than a few times in his profile of English tennis champion Betty Nuthall (1911-1983). Excerpts:

HOW’S THAT BACKHAND?…Betty Nuthall greets American tennis star Bill Tilden in September 1930; on the cover of Time after winning the 1930 U.S. Open. (Digital Commonwealth/Time)

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Free Expression

Robert Myron Coates (1897 – 1973) was a writer of experimental, expressionistic novels who later became a longtime art critic for the New Yorker (he is credited with coining the term “abstract expressionism” in 1946). In the Aug. 23 issue he contributed the first installment of “Dada City,” here describing street life in Harlem. Excerpts:

STREET LIFE…Scenes around Harlem’s 125th Street, clockwise from top left: the Apollo Theatre marquee punctuates a busy street scene in 1935; NW corner of 125th and Broadway, 1930; Regal Shoes storefront, 1940s, photo by Weegee; 125th and St. Nicholas Avenue in 1934. (Skyscraper City/Museum of the City of New York)
AMERICAN ORIGINAL…Robert M. Coates’s The Eater of Darkness (1926) has been called the first surrealist novel in English. (Goodreads)

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From Our Advertisers

New Yorkers who were still enduring the brutal summer of 1930 could find relief, if they could afford it, on a New York Airways flight…

…or if you had the means, you could take your yacht out to sea, like this chap in a coat and tie who calmly steers with one hand while offering a box of chocolates to his guests with the other…

…our sailor wasn’t the only one dressed to nines…here are two ads offering suggestions to young folks returning to college or prep school…

…for comparison, this is how a group of college students at Columbia University dress today…

(Columbia University)

Dr. Seuss continued to crank out drawings on behalf of Flit insecticide…

…and on to cartoons, yet another rerun (the sixth) of this Peter Arno drawing with a new caption (Dorothy Dix was a popular advice columnist)…

…and another look at country life courtesy Rea Irvin (originally printed sideways on a full page)…

…and another country scene, this time among the toffs, thanks to Garrett Price

…back in the city, some parlor room chatter as depicted by Barbara Shermund

…downtown, I. Klein looked at the economic challenges of peep shows…

…and we close with this reflection on city life, by Reginald Marsh

Next Time: Marble Halls…

The Non-linear Man

As Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke to the “Lost Generation” of writers and artists in the 1920s, John Dos Passos (1896-1970) drew upon the ethos of that period to usher in a new style of writing for the 1930s — modern, experimental, and deeply pessimistic.

March 8, 1930 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Dos Passos’ book The 42nd Parallel would be the first of three books from 1930 to 1936 that would comprise his landmark U.S.A. Trilogy. The book critic for the New Yorker (identified as “A.W.S.”) sensed that this work of avant-garde historical fiction represented a significant marker in the modernist movement, likening it to the work of the great 20th century composer Igor Stravinsky:

A WRITER FOR DEPRESSING TIMES…The 42nd Parallel was the first book in a trilogy published by John Dos Passos between 1930 and 1936. At right, Dos Passos in the early 1940s. (22.hc.com/hilobrow.com)

Dos Passos also painted throughout his life, nearly 600 canvases including this early work from his days in Spain in the 1920s…

John Dos Passos’ watercolor painting of the the Spanish countryside, circa 1922. A modernist writer, Dos Passos also painted in the style of the avant-garde. His nearly 600 paintings throughout his lifetime show influences of Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism. (johndospassos.com)

…and he joined his literary and artistic talents in 1931 when he translated and illustrated Blaise Cendrars’ long poem Le Panama et Mes Sept Oncles. Dos Passos became good friends with Cendrars, and in the book’s  foreword acknowledged his debt as a writer to the French poet…

(johndospassos.com)

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Don Could Also Write And Draw

Like Dos Passos, Don Herold (1889-1966) could express himself through both words and pictures, albeit in a much less serious vein. In the March 8 issue Herold wrote about the indignity of having to disrobe for a medical examination. An excerpt:

Also an illustrator and cartoonist, Herold made his debut in the New Yorker with this cartoon in the June 1, 1929 issue:

Herold began working as an illustrator around 1910, and enjoyed a long career with a number of publications, including the humor magazine Judge:

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Measuring Up

When the Chrysler Building was completed in May 1930, it officially became the world’s tallest building (a record it ceded 11 months later to the Empire State Building). Being the tallest gave the building the distinction of being something to be measured against, including the durability of a musical recording pressed into a material called “Durium”…

…and when advertisers were in need of something large for comparison, they also turned to the new skyscraper to drive home their selling point…

…new skyscrapers also were used to lend distinction to their tenants, such as Liberty Magazine in the new Daily News Building…

…below a 1940 postcard image of the Daily News Building, then known simply as “The News Building,” and a view of the lobby’s famous globe in 1941…

(Wikipedia)

…on to the rest of our ads, here’s a baldly misogynistic one from Longchamps restaurants…

…and as Prohibition wore on into the Thirties, we have sad little back page ads for cocktail “flavours” and Benedictine “Dessert Sauce”…

…on to our comics, Gardner Rea explored the subject of family planning…

Art Young illustrated the perils of modern art…

Otto Soglow took a stroll with a somnambulist…

Leonard Dove inked this awkward moment between the Old and New Worlds…

…and Peter Arno went to the movies…

Next Time: The Lion Roars…