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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

 

The Unspeakables

For all its embrace of the modern city and its technological wonders, the New Yorker mostly despaired of the changes wrought by the introduction of sound to motion pictures.

June 1, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

Granted, early sound technology was primitive, with directors, actors and crew members adapting on the fly to the demands of a new medium that required absolute silence on film sets and cumbersome microphones that severely limited the movements of actors. Screenwriters, accustomed to writing brief intertitles in silent films, now had to write expository dialogue, and actors had to rely less on exaggerated facial expressions and body movements and more on the spoken word. And it helped if you didn’t have a speech impediment or heavy accent.

Writing for “The Reporter at Large” column (titled “The Unspeakables”), Hollywood correspondent Jean-Jacques lamented that the talkies were “here to stay”…

BARNLIKE STAGES were erected on both coasts to produce early silent films. Clockwise, from top left, Fox’s World Paragon Studios in Ft. Lee, NJ, circa 1917; interior of the studio; several films in production, side-by-side, at Edison’s Bronx studio, circa 1915; Fox studios in Los Angeles, 1920s. (moviemice.com/Wikipedia)

Jean-Jacques recalled the professions that would now be lost to the talkies, including the “mood musicians” who played their instruments on silent film sets in order to evoke emotions from the actors…

IN THE MOOD…During the silent era “mood musicians” were hired to play their instruments on film sets in order to evoke emotions from the actors. (Pinterest)
THE SILENCE of SOUND…In the early days of the talkies the entire set had to be silent, and special care had to be taken to ensure loud cameras were housed in soundproof boxes such as those pictured above. Instead of the introduction of sound expanding the capabilities of filmmaking, it was often limited by the bulky gear used to capture that sound. Therefore, many films consisted of “stage” musical numbers that were static shots. (Caption and image at left courtesy Colorado College. Image at right from cinecollage.net)

The writer also noted the challenges that faced “the old scenario writer…hemmed in by a multitude of new rivals…

WE HAVE WAYS OF MAKING YOU TALK…Dorothy Arzner (left) poses with “It Girl” Clara Bow in a publicity shot for The Wild Party, Bow’s first talking picture. Bow is famously quoted as saying (in 1930) “I hate talkies. They’re stiff and limiting. You lose a lot of your cuteness, because there’s no chance for action.” Arzner tried to remedy that problem: she is credited with inventing the boom mike, which allowed for greater movement by the actor. (Paramount Pictures/Wikimedia Commons)

Jean-Jacques recounted the frustrations experienced by one old-time actor dealing with the limitations of bulky sound equipment…

This actor was not alone, A number of major silent film stars including Charlie Chaplin, Louise Brooks, and Clara Bow did not embrace the novelty of sound pictures. Motion Picture Classic magazine (September 1930) quoted Bow as saying, “I hate talkies … they’re stiff and limiting. You lose a lot of your cuteness, because there’s no chance for action, and action is the most important thing to me.” According to the article, a visibly nervous Bow had to do a number of retakes in The Wild Party because her eyes kept wandering up to the microphone overhead.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN…A number of major silent film stars including (from left) Louise Brooks, Charlie Chaplin and Clara Bow did not embrace the novelty of sound pictures. (Wikipedia)

Jean-Jacques signed off his New Yorker piece with the hope that someday pictures and sound would be combined into a worthy new art form…

Perhaps Jean-Jacques had to look no further than Manhattan’s Rialto Theatre to find that first glimmer of hope, for it was there that the Marx Brothers were tearing up the screen in their first talking picture, The Cocoanuts, reviewed in the magazine’s “The Current Cinema” column…

If the New Yorker was looking for snappy dialogue in motion pictures, there was plenty of it in The Cocoanuts, including this snippet between Groucho Marx, playing Mr. Hammer—an unscrupulous manager of a bankrupt Florida hotel—and wealthy hotel guest Mrs. Potter, played by Margaret Dumont…

Hammer: Do you know that property values have increased since 1929 one thousand per cent? Do you know that this is the biggest development since Sophie Tucker? Do you know that Florida is the show spot of America and Cocoanut Manor the black spot of Florida?

Mrs. Potter:  You told me that yesterday.

Hammer: I know but I left out a comma.

Or this gem…

Hammer, to Mrs. PotterJust think – tonight, tonight when the moon is sneaking around the clouds I’ll be sneaking around you. I’ll meet you tonight under the moon. Oh, I can see it now – you and the moon. Wear a neck-tie so I’ll know you.

SHOW ‘EM HOW IT’S DONE…Zeppo, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx in their first sound movie, The Cocoanuts, 1929. (vitaphonedreamer.wordpress.com)
BAMBOOZLER… Mrs Potter (Margaret Dumont), inspects Mr Hammer’s (Groucho Marx) Florida property “deals” in The Cocoanuts. (British Film Institute)

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For Sentimental Reasons

Additional evidence that the New Yorker was not always ready to embrace change came from its many articles, particularly in “The Talk of the Town,” that seemed to favor the preservation of buildings that defined the character of certain neighborhoods, including the early 19th century rowhouses that lined Washington Square North…

THEN AND NOW…At left, photo dated 1921 of Washington Square, north side of square looking east from 5th Avenue. Corner house in foreground is No. 12. The far end at right shows Nos. 3, 2, 1. At right, roughly the same block today. (Museum of the City of New York/1homedesigns.com)

At left, photo dated 1936 (by Berenice Abbott) of Washington Square North, nos. 21-25, between Fifth Avenue and MacDougal Street. At right, nos. 19-26 today. (Museum of the City of New York/Wikimedia Commons)

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The Wittier Kaufman

Editor and playwright Beatrice Kaufman worked and played within the orbit of the famed wits of the Algonquin Round Table, but was not a regular member like her husband, playwright and director George S. Kaufman. But Beatrice Kaufman didn’t the need the Algonquin to display her wit. Indeed, according to Michael Galchinsky (writing for the Jewish Women’s Archive), she was regarded as one of the wittiest women in New York in the 1930s and 40s. Here is an example of her work in the June 1 issue of the New Yorker:

THE WITTIEST OF THEM ALL…Editor, writer and playwright Beatrice Kaufman (left, in undated photo). At right, comedian Julius Tannen (left) frolics with Beatrice and her husband, Broadway playwright/producer George S. Kaufman in Atlantic City in the 1920s. (thepurplediaries.com/spartacus-educational.com)

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Rags to Riches

The life of Fred F. French was something out of dime novel; born in dire poverty, he became a self-made real estate tycoon and a schrewd builder of some of Manhattan’s biggest land developments. French was the subject of a profile written by Robert M. Coates, an art critic who would be a longtime contributor to New Yorker. An excerpt, with illustration by Al Frueh:

MONUMENTS TO FRED…Fred French’s New York City buildings included, clockwise from left, the 38-story Fred F. French Building (1927) at 45th Street and 551 Fifth Avenue (designated a National Landmark); Knickerbocker Village (1934) on the Lower East Side; and the East Side’s Tudor City apartment complex (1927-1932). (Pinterest/thelodownny.com/Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

Let’s start with a couple of lovely color ads, which appeared with greater frequency in the magazine…here we have a snatch of the good life, courtesy General Electric…

…and perhaps a less homespun image of the good life, from the makers of Dodge boats…

…and here we have another example of the modern world rushing in, this time in the form of instant coffee crystals…

…and another taste of the modern from Harper’s Bazar magazine, featuring an illustration by French artist and illustrator Charles Martin

…and just for kicks, another example of Martin’s work from an earlier time…

Image from Sports et Divertissements by Charles Martin, 1914. (Wikipedia)

…and here is a back page ad for costume bag maker Whiting & Davis, with an endorsement by Joan Crawford, who was already a pretty big star by 1929. My guess is that Whiting & Davis paid more for the endorsement than they did for the ad…I included a photo of Crawford (at left) from 1929 just to show that she did have a lighter side…

…this ad from the makers of Flit insecticide begs the question: was our beloved Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel) a racist? Well…

…although Geisel was a liberal Democrat and a supporter of the New Deal, during World War II he also supported the internment of Japanese Americans, as is evident from this unfortunate 1942 cartoon…

Dr. Seuss 1942 cartoon with the caption ‘Waiting for the Signal from Home’ (slideshare.net)

…later in life Geisel became a staunch environmentalist and anti-war protestor. In 1961 he wrote The Sneetches, which promoted racial equality. Perhaps Geisel lived to regret those earlier drawings…

…and on to our illustrators and cartoonists, beginning with this sketch by Garrett Price, apparently inspired from a recent trip to France (it was featured along with several other small sketches in the “Profile” section)…

Barbara Shermund had some fun with a double entendre…

…and popped up again with this look at the stock market…

C.W. Anderson found humor in the strange shapes of modernist furniture…

Otto Soglow commented on the glitzy hype of Broadway…

…and cartoonist/humorist Don Herold made his comics debut in the New Yorker with this entry…

…and finally, a bonus image I came across while researching the advent of sound motion pictures. The photo, from the silent era, shows two cameramen shooting a parade, possibly for a newsreel. Note how their only support consists of two wooden planks wedged into an open window…

(moviemice.com)

Next Time: A Bridge Too Far…