Robeson’s Othello

In 1930s America there were few if any opportunities for black actors to perform in mainstream stage or screen productions unless they conformed to racial stereotypes. An exception was Paul Robeson.

June 21, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

In 1930 Robeson (1898-1976) won rave reviews for his performance in Shakespeare’s Othello. That performance, however, took place in London, not New York, which London correspondent Anthony Gibbs took pains to point out in his dispatch for the June 21, 1930 New Yorker.

English actress Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona and Paul Robeson as Othello in London’s Savoy Theatre production of Othello in 1930. Although only 22 at the time, Ashcroft was an established Shakespearean actress. The 32-year-old Robeson was already famous as both an athlete and actor. He was twice named a consensus All-American in football (Rutgers) and was the class valedictorian. He also received a law degree from Columbia while playing in the NFL. In 1930 he was already known to London audiences, having previously appeared in a 1928  London production of the American musical Show Boat. (theshakespeareblog.com)
CENTER STAGE…Left to right: Maurice Browne (Iago), Paul Robeson (Othello) and Peggy Ashcroft (Desdemona) in Othello at the Savoy Theatre, 1930. Maurice Browne was also the play’s producer; his over-the-top portrayal of Iago and his wife’s incompetent stage direction hurt the production, but Robeson nevertheless received high praise for his performance. (britishstageandscreen.tumblr.com)

Although the performance was a triumph for Robeson, the production itself was a mess. The play’s producer, Maurice Browne, enlisted his wife, Ellen van Volkenburg, to direct (Peggy Ashcroft later called her “a pretentious dud”). Writing in The Guardian (Sept. 3, 2003), Samantha Ellis observes: “Recognising that his Othello transcended the ropey production, the audience gave Robeson 20 curtain calls. He reprised the role all over the world and never lost his pleasure in it. For Robeson, it was more than just a part: it was, as he once said, “killing two birds with one stone. I’m acting and I’m talking for the negroes in the way only Shakespeare can.”

Robeson’s Othello would not make it to New York until 1943. It would run for almost 300 performances, setting an all-time record run for a Shakespearean play on Broadway.

 *  *  *

Restoring Order

In the aftermath of Grover Whalen’s disastrous (and sometimes violent) run as New York City Police Commissioner, E.B. White and his fellow New Yorkers welcomed the steady hand of Edward P. Mulrooney (1874-1960) to the helm:

THE COMMISH…Edward P. Mulrooney in a 1930s portrait by Edward Steichen. (Conde Nast)

 *  *  *

The Commander

American author and lecturer Virgilia Peterson Ross profiled Evangeline Cory Booth (1865 – 1950), who would become the fourth General of the Salvation Army in 1934. She was the first woman to hold that post. An excerpt:

Ralph Barton returned to provide this caricature for the profile, one of the last works he would create for the New Yorker before his untimely death…

HEIRESS TO A LEGACY…William Booth, an English Methodist preacher who founded The Salvation Army and became its first General, poses with his grand-daughter Evangeline Cory Booth in this 1908 postcard image. (National Portrait Gallery)

 *  *  *

Home of the Dome

Architecture critic George “T-Square” Chappell was gladdened by the sight of scaffolding atop St. Bartholomew’s Church, which would finally get its dome to complete architect Bertram Goodhue’s vision…

NOW YOU SEE IT…Clockwise, from top left, St. Bartholomew’s Church at 325 Park Avenue, sans dome, in 1928; the church with dome in the 1950s; interior and exterior views of dome. (nyago.com/bostonvalley.com)

…Chappell also commented on the emergence of the Chrysler Building’s blindingly shiny dome and interior appointments…

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT…The Chrysler Building’s gleaming spire emerged in all its glory in June 1930. At right, an elevator in the building’s lobby. (Wikipedia)

 *  *  *

Below the Belt

It wasn’t Dempsey-Tunney, but the bout between Max Schmeling (1905-2005) and Jack Sharkey (1902-1994) was the next best thing for boxing fans. The World Heavyweight Championship had been vacant since Gene Tunney’s retirement in 1928, and Sharkey and Schmeling had emerged as the sport’s No. 1 and 2 contenders.

The bout ended in a controversial decision: Although Sharkey won the first three rounds, he was disqualified after he landed a punch below the belt late in the fourth round. Schmeling became the first boxer to win the World Heavyweight Championship on a foul. The New Yorker’s Niven Busch Jr. (with illustration by Johan Bull) offered these thoughts on the fight’s disappointing outcome:

LOW BLOW…Although Jack Sharkey (far right) led after three rounds, a low blow in the fourth delivered the World Heavyweight Championship to German boxer Max Schmeling (left). Sharkey would claim the title two years later in a rematch with Schmeling. Although boxing isn’t the healthiest pursuit, both men lived into their 90s; Schmeling died in 2005 just shy of his 100th birthday. (Wikipedia/boxrec.com/thefightcity.com)

 *  *  *

One Of Ours

The New Yorker included this brief review of a collection of short fiction pieces by Dorothy Parker, herself a literary critic of some renown at the New Yorker

DOROTHY’S LAMENTATIONS…The New Yorker’s Dorothy Parker published this collection of short fiction in 1930.

…and on to our advertisers, this ad appeared on the opposite page of the review…

…speaking of ads, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes continued to sponsor gimmicky penmanship and writing contests to promote their deadly product…

…while promoters of the Empire State Building (still under construction) continued to draw on the historical significance of the building’s Midtown location…

…on to our cartoons, Garrett Price pondered the very real challenge of guiding a massive Zeppelin to the planned mooring mast atop the Empire State…

…a portent of what would happen to the Hindenburg just seven years later…

…the New Yorker made clever use of typesetting for this I. Klein entry…

John Murray Anderson found humor in contrasting the grand with the mundane…

Kindl eavesdropped on the small talk of a couple of ash haulers…

…and William Crawford Galbraith found humor at the public pool…

 *  *  *

On to the June 28 issue, with a cover featuring a satirical kakemono-style illustration by Rea Irvin, who was fond of Japanese scroll art…

June 28, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

Film critic John Mosher checked out the new documentary on Admiral Richard Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole…

A BYRD WITH WINGS…A Paramount Pictures movie poster promoting the 1930 documentary With Byrd at the South Pole; still images from the film at right. (Wikipedia/YouTube)

…if you’d like to see the actual film, here it is on YouTube…

“The Talk of the Town” also made note of the Byrd’s expedition and homecoming, contrasting his upcoming book, Little America, with the four-volume historical work planned by popular historian Will Durant.

In collaboration with his wife, Ariel, Durant would end up publishing an eleven-volume history of civilization (four million words across nearly 10,000 pages), written between 1935 and 1975. Will Durant was at work on a twelfth volume when he died in 1981 at age 96.

Admiral Richard Byrd’s Little America, left, and the 11-volume The Story of Civilization, by Will and Ariel Durant.

 *  *  *

American Lenin

The June 28 profile, written by Alva Johnston, featured radical American labor organizer and Marxist politician William Z. Foster. Despite Johnston’s portrayal of Foster as something of a genial pinko, in reality Foster was a strong supporter of Joseph Stalin and a dedicated and loyal ally of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party until his death in 1961. The Soviets even gave him a state funeral, with Nikita Khrushchev personally heading an honor guard in Red Square. An excerpt of Johnston’s profile:

RED AS A ROSE…Left, a campaign photo of William Z. Foster when he headed the Communist Party ticket in the 1928 U.S. presidential election; at right, illustration of Foster for the profile, by Abe Birnbaum.

 *  *  *

And to close…a colorful advertisement in the June 28 issue from Rex Cole…from the signature it appears to be the work of Mario Cooper, but this doesn’t look at all like his other work…

…and a two-page Rea Irvin cartoon, which demonstrates his visual storytelling skills…

click to enlarge

Next Time…Happy Fourth!

 

 

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Writer

As a book reviewer for the New Yorker, Dorothy Parker could eviscerate any writer with the tip of her pen, and often did so.

Nov. 30, 1929 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

One writer, however, who received consistent praise from Parker was Ernest Hemingway, whom she first met in 1926. In the pages of the 1920s New Yorker, Parker particularly lauded Hemingway’s short story collections, In Our Time (1925) and Men Without Women (1927), which bookended his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises (which Parker thought OK but overly hyped). When the New Yorker profiled Hemingway in the Nov. 30, 1929 issue, it naturally turned to Parker to do the honors (although Robert Benchley, a good friend of Hemingway’s, could have offered his own take on the author) :

SHE’S A FAN…Dorothy Parker was a long-time admirer of the work of Ernest Hemingway. His last work of the 1920s, A Farewell to Arms, was serialized in Scribner’s Magazine and published in September 1929. The success of that book made Hemingway financially independent. (Mugar Library/Wikipedia)

During Hemingway’s Paris years Parker actually took a boat with him to France (in 1926, along with mutual friend Robert Benchley) and so got a firsthand taste of his bohemian adventures. By the time the New Yorker profiled Hemingway, the Jazz Age was dead and Paris’s so-called “Lost Generation” was a thing of the past. Indeed, Hemingway had already been in the States for more than a year, returning in 1928 with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer (their son, Patrick Miller Hemingway, was born in June 1928 in Kansas City. Patrick still lives in Kansas City, and is now 90 years old).

Biographer Jeffrey Meyers notes in his book Hemingway: A Biography, that Hemingway of the early Paris years was a “tall, handsome, muscular, broad-shouldered, brown-eyed, rosy-cheeked, square-jawed, soft-voiced young man,” features that were not lost on Parker:

I’M TAKING NOTES…Ernest Hemingway (left), with Harold Loeb, Lady Duff Twysden (in hat), Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson, Donald Ogden Stewart (obscured), and Pat Guthrie (far right) at a café in Pamplona, Spain, July 1925. The group formed the basis for the characters in The Sun Also Rises: Twysden as Brett Ashley, Loeb as Robert Cohn, Stewart as Bill Gorton, and Guthrie as Mike Campbell. (Wikipedia)

…more from Parker on Hemingway’s magnetic appeal…

MAN ABOUT TOWN…Ernest Hemingway (far right) in 1926 in Paris, outside the city’s famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop. He is pictured here with Sylvia Beach (on his right), the shop’s founder. (Collection Lausat/Keyston-France/parisinsidersguide.com)

 *  *  *

Meet the Fokkers

In previous blogs we have established that E.B. White was an aviation enthusiast. He seems never to have missed an opportunity to catch a ride into the skies, so when pilots were conducting test flights of a prototype Fokker F-32 at New Jersey’s Teterboro field, he was there to file this brief for “The Talk of the Town”…

SKYTRAIN…Title card from a silent Paramount newsreel reporting on a November 1929 flight of the Fokker F-32 at Teterboro. Note how the title card uses a railroad reference (“Pullman”) as a descriptive for the passenger cabin. Indeed, early airplane passenger cabins were very much designed along the lines of Pullman cars. At right, a circa 1930 photo, possibly of a celebration of the plane’s arrival in Los Angeles. I imagine the FAA would not look kindly on this behavior today. (YouTube/petersonfield.org)

White’s enthusiasm for the aviation age is palpable in his description of the Fokker as it took off and climbed to a thousand feet:

ROUGHING IT…Passengers in Washington D.C. prepare to board what was perhaps the same plane White flew on at Teterboro. Note how they were required to walk across a muddy field to reach the plane’s entrance. The Fokker was the first four-engine commercial aircraft built in America and the largest land plane in the world at the time (there was a much larger amphibious German plane). At right, the plane’s four engines were configured back-to-back. (Wikipedia/petersonfield.org) click to enlarge

I suppose it was in line with the New Yorker’s stance of keeping things light, but White’s dispassionate account of a plane crash earlier that day seemed a bit cold. From the air he described a scene just north of midtown, where a crowd had gathered near the site the crash. The pilot was killed, but a passenger managed to parachute to safety.

DOWN TO EARTH…Pilot Charles Reid died instantly when his plane slammed into a YMCA on 64th Street on Nov. 20, 1929. His passenger parachuted to safety. E.B. White referred to the crash in his “Talk” article. (digital-hagley-org)
Excerpt from a Nov. 21, 1929 New York Times account of the crash. (NYTimes archives)

Speaking of crashes, the Fokker on which E.B. White was a passenger crashed a week later (Nov. 27, 1929) during a certification flight from Roosevelt Field to Teterboro Airport. No one was killed, but the aircraft was destroyed. The design itself didn’t last much longer — considered underpowered for its size, and too expensive at the dawn of the Depression, it was phased out by the end of 1930.

Perhaps after all of that flying, White needed something to calm the nerves, a subject he addressed in his “Notes and Comment” column:

THE WOMAN’S HOUR, according to E.B. White in his “Notes and Comment” column. (vinepair.com)

 *  *  *

The Little Gallery That Could

“Talk,” via art critic Murdock Pemberton, had more to say about the new Museum of Modern Art, that is, not taking it very seriously…

UPSTART…Although the New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton seemed dismissive of the new Museum of Modern Art, its first month’s attendance was more than 47,000 visitors. Image above from the MoMA exhibition Painting in Paris, Jan. 19-March 2, 1930. (MoMA)

 *  *  *

Welcome to Thurber World

In 1931 James Thurber published his second book, The Owl in the Attic and Other Perplexities, which consisted of pieces he had done for the New Yorker, including eight stories (from Dec. 29, 1928 to Aug. 9, 1930) that featured the marital escapades of a couple in their middle thirties, the Monroes, modeled on Thurber’s real-life marriage to his wife, Althea.

The Nov. 30, 1929 issue included Thurber’s fifth installment of the Monroe saga, “Mr. Monroe Holds the Fort,” in which a fearful Mr. Monroe, left home alone (his wife was visiting her mother), imagines there are burglars in the house:

…like his famous character Walter Mitty, which Thurber would introduce in 1939, Mr. Monroe had an equally lively imagination…

The character of Mr. Monroe would see new life in the fall of 1969 when NBC  debuted My World… and Welcome to It, a half-hour sitcom based on James Thurber’s stories and cartoons. The actor William Windom portrayed John Monroe, a writer and cartoonist who worked for a magazine called The Manhattanite. In the show, Monroe’s daydreams and fantasies were usually based, if sometimes loosely, on Thurber’s writings.

THURBER AS A SITCOM…The actor William Windom portrayed John Monroe, a writer and cartoonist who worked for a magazine called The Manhattanite, on the 1969-70 NBC sitcom My World… and Welcome to It. Joan Hotchkis played his wife Ellen, and Lisa Gerritsen portrayed his inquisitive daughter Lydia. (tvguidemagazine.com/sitcomsonline.com)
HOME SWEET HOME…Left, the opening credits for My World… and Welcome to It featured actor William Windom (as John Monroe) entering a animated house based on James Thurber’s famous “House and Woman” cartoon, which was originally featured in the March 23, 1935 issue of the New Yorker. (mikelynchcartoons.blogspot.com)

My World… and Welcome to It was cancelled after one season. Nevertheless, it would win two Emmies: one for Windom and another for Best Comedy Series.

 *  *  *

Thank Heaven for Maurice

Things were looking up a bit in the talking movie department thanks to the Ernst Lubitsch-directed The Love Parade, featuring recent French import Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald. Film critic John Mosher observed:

MUCH-NEEDED LAUGHS…Jeannette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier in The Love Parade (1929), directed by Ernst Lubitsch. (MoMA)

Mosher was much less impressed by another musical, Show of Shows, featuring an all-star cast and Technicolor that added up to little more than a “stunt”…

IS THAT ALL?…Warner Brothers Show of Shows offered “77 Hollywood Stars” and “1000 Hollywood Beauties” — 80 percent of it in Technicolor, but that wasn’t enough to impress the New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher. At right, Arte Frank Fay (l) and comic Sid Silvers in a color scene from the film. (IMDB)

 *  *  *

A Guide to Christmas Shopping, 1929

Lois Long’s fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue,” predictably grew in length as the Christmas holiday approached, and in the Nov. 30 issue she offered advice on how to go about one’s shopping duties. Some brief excerpts:

TRAILBLAZER…Lois Long guided New Yorker readers through a list of “big, bewildering stores” in her “On and Off the Avenue” column. At left, the B. Altman department store, circa 1920s. (thedepartmentstoremuseum.org/PBS)

…Long’s column was peppered with holiday-themed spots, including this one by Julian DeMiskey

From Our Advertisers

…we start with a couple of back page ads, including one from the National Winter Garden’s burlesque show and an ad announcing the imminent arrival of Peter Arno’s Parade (just $3.50, or signed by Arno himself for $25)…

Cover and inside pages from Peter Arno’s Parade. (Amazon)

…another ad hailed the arrival of the New Yorker’s second album (read more about it here at Michael Maslin’s excellent Ink Spill)…

The first and second New Yorker albums. (pbase.com/michaelmaslin.com)

…other ads, in full color, featured cultural appropriation by the Santa Fe railroad…

…bright silks available at the Belding Hemingway Company…

…silk stockings from Blue Moon…

…for our cartoons, Helen Hokinson on the challenges of holiday shopping…

…Hokinson again, at tea with her ladies…

Barbara Shermund, and the miracle of broadcast radio crossed with the nuances of a dinner party…

…and Shermund again, with a hapless friend of a clueless family…

Next Time: Feeling the Holiday Pinch…

 

City of Glass

The New Yorker, via the pen of E.B. Whitelooked to the metropolis of the future in the Oct. 19, 1929 issue — to a city of glass towers that were ready to move from drafting table to reality. That is, until the stock market crash, just days away, which would put a heavy damper on those visions.

Oct. 19, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

White reported in “The Talk of the Town” that several “all-glass” buildings were in the works, including “four apartment houses of glass” designed by Frank Lloyd Wright:

The 1926 Pinaud cosmetics factory designed by Ely Jacques Kahn and Albert-Buchman was poised to get a three-story addition (by Kahn) constructed entirely of glass block, but the market crash likely killed the project. The Depression probably didn’t help Wright’s project either, which would have constituted his first buildings in New York City, and the first with all-glass exteriors.

BEST-LAID PLANS…The 1926 Pinaud factory (left), now home to The School of Visual Arts, did not get its Ely Jacques Kahn-designed glass block addition in 1929; center and at right, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1929 design for three skyscrapers surrounding St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. A single tower of similar design was eventually built in 1956—not in NYC—but out on the prairies in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Click images to enlarge. (collectingvintagecompacts.blogspot.com; 6sqft.com)

Thanks to the Depression, and World War II, Gotham would have to wait 23 years for its houses of glass…

LATE ARRIVALS…Left, the 1952 Lever House, by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois of SOM; right, the 1959 Seagram Building, by Mies van der Rohe. (Shorpy/ArchDaily)

and let’s not forget one of the most important post-war modernist statements to rise near the East River…

INTERNATIONAL STYLE…The 505-foot-tall United Nations Secretariat Building, constructed between 1947 and 1952. The building was designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. (United Nations)

 *  *  *

Rising From the Ashes

While most architects were looking to the future, some still gazed into the past, and in the case of Whitney Warren, rather bitterly. It was Warren who designed a new library in Louvain, Belgium, to replace one that was burned to ground by invading German troops during World War I. Around three hundred thousand books and a thousand manuscripts were destroyed in the fire, not to mention thousands of civilians who died during the invasion and occupation. The New Yorker seemed ready to forgive, but given the scale of the atrocity just 15 years earlier, one could understand Warren’s obstinance:

And to add insult to injury, the second library designed by Warren was also destroyed by the Germans in the World War II. What stands today is a restoration of that building.

A TALE OF TWO LIBRARIES…Clockwise, from top left, a comparison of the Louvain university library in 1913, and after its destruction by the Germans in 1914 (the postcard photo at top right became almost instantly famous around the world). At bottom, left, the replacement designed by Warren, which was also destroyed by the Germans in World War II. Inset, Whitney Warren, circa 1915. (Associated Press/Wikipedia)

*  *  *

Belles Lettres? Non!

E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” noted a new trend in the world of letters: celebrity authors. White lamented that the job of writing books and newspaper articles was being usurped by politicians, actors and athletes:

ASPIRING SCRIBBLERS…Former New York Gov. Al Smith, slugger Babe Ruth (dictating to his “ghost” writer) and former President Calvin Coolidge all got in on the act of book publishing. (Amazon/ourgame.mlblogs.com)

 *  *  *

Where Babies Come From

For his “A Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey, paid a visit to the Lying-In Society of New York, a maternity hospital now known as Rutherford Place. I include a few excerpts below to give some idea how times have changed in the past 89 years…

THE EASY PART…Fathers admire their newborns in this circa 1920s photo. At right, the building that housed the Lying-In Society of New York. Inset, one of the cherubs carved into the building’s facade. (Wikipedia)

…imagine, if you will, the scent of ether (then commonly used as an anesthetic) and other drugs as you entered the hospital (no air-conditioning or HVAC to whisk those odors away!)…

NIGHTY NIGHT…Anesthesiologist administers ether and nitrous oxide to a patient before surgery in a Washington hospital, 1922. (Everett Collection)

…not to mention the sweat of anxious fathers banished from delivery or recovery rooms…

WELCOME TO THE WORLD…Nurse learning to care for infants, Philadelphia General Hospital, c. 1930; nurses caring for infants at Long Hospital, Indiana University, in the 1920s. Note row of cribs fastened to the wall, which seemed to be a standard design back then. (upenn.edu/comet.soic.iupui.edu)

…or hospital stays for mothers that averaged 10 days…

 *  *  *

Should Have Stayed Home

Dorothy Parker was dealing with a “baby’ of her in own, in this case a grown man with the conversational skills of brick wall. She related her experience in a casual titled, “But the One on the Right…” An excerpt:

Dorothy Parker, happily at home, in 1924. (New York Public Library)

 *  *  *

More Applause for Helen

The New Yorker continued to shine an approving light on the work of nightclub singer Helen Morgan, this time in her first talking picture, Applause:

FALLING STAR…Helen Morgan (foreground, right) portrayed a fading burlesque star named Kitty Darling in 1929’s Applause, Morgan’s first all-talking picture. (MOMA)

On a sad note, Morgan’s real life had parallels to the film, including the abandonment of a child and a death due to alcohol and drugs — in the film Kitty overdoses on sleeping pills before a show; in real life Morgan would collapse onstage during a Chicago performance of George White’s Scandals of 1942. She would die of cirrhosis of the liver at age 41.

IMITATING LIFE…Helen Morgan as Kitty Darling in Applause. Her best days behind her, Darling becomes an alcoholic who lives in the past. Sadly, Morgan’s real life had parallels to the movie. (art fuse.org)

There was no such applause from the New Yorker for another talkie, the screen adaptation of the popular Ziegfeld Broadway stage show Rio Rita:

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT…Lobby Card for Rio Rita, featuring John Boles and Bebe Daniels. (IMDB)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

The Stewart fashion shop on Fifth Avenue featured a series of attractive, modern ads, these two appearing in the Oct. 19 and 26 issues…

According to the terrific website Driving for Deco, “Stewart and Company broke away from the traditional department store layout. Instead of aisle after aisle of display cases the new store comprised many shops. These “shops” were not individually owned as in a present day mall. They were rooms or alcoves devoted to specific merchandise. The design of the shops and floors fell to several different interior design firms…”

Clockwise, from top, artist rending of the Stewart women’s shoe department; Stewart and Company building at 721 5th Avenue; Stewart Millinery Shop. (Vogue/Museum of the City of New York, all via drivingfordeco.com)

The Depression brought an end to Stewart and Company, which went out of business in the spring of 1930. Later that year Bonwit Teller opened in the former Stewart Building. They would close their doors to business 49 years later.

Sadly the building was demolished in 1980 to make way for a monument to a massive ego: Trump Tower.

Demolition of the former Stewart & Company building in 1980. The Rene Paul Chambellan bas-relief sculptures on the building’s facade were supposedly destined to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Developer Donald Trump thought the removal of the sculptures was cost-prohibitive, so they were smashed by jackhammers. (drivingfordeco.com)

…back to the ads, we have another image of a building that is now but a ghost (I am writing this on Halloween)…

The Mayflower Hotel, left, a 1926 building designed by Emery Roth, was demolished in 2005 to make way for Robert A.M. Stern’s luxury condominiums, 15 Central Park West. (nymag.com)

…speaking of luxury, these posh types seem to be almost lulled to sleep by RCA’s “Radiola Super-Heterodyne”…

…and I throw in this ad from Milgrim for its use of the word “patrician” to appeal to the aristocratic yearnings of some New Yorker readers…

…perhaps those patricians would have preferred a move to “aristocratic” Scarsdale, as the middle ad below suggests, or perhaps they would have chosen something more “unusual” in East Orange…

…for reference, here is a Google street view image of 75 Prospect in East Orange, New Jersey…

…and if you were of the upper classes, you probably would have wanted the latest in toothbrushes and “French” mouthwashes…

…on to our illustrators and cartoonists, I. Klein looked in on the elections…

Peter Arno illustrated the plight of a hapless silent film actor…

…and Helen Hokinson eavesdropped on a canine faux pas…

Next Time…Prelude to a Crash…

 

 

Prophecies of 1929

E.B. White gazed 50 years into the future in the Sept. 21, 1929 issue, predicting that New York City would be much the same if not a little worse by the time the calendar turned to 1979.

Sept. 21, 1929 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

White dismissed the popular notion that the future would be one of push-button happiness and gleaming white cities. And as it turned out, he was mostly right on the mark with his predictions:

LOVE IS IN THE AIR…Autogyros (as illustrated on a 1930 cover of Modern Mechanics) were often seen as the future of transportation in the 1920s and 30s; Maureen O’Sullivan (as “LN-18”) and John Garrick (“J-21”) glide above 1980 Manhattan in 1930’s  Just Imagine. (modernmechanix.com/pre-code.com)

Instead of the antiseptic fantasy world predicted in such movies as 1930’s Just Imagine (a futuristic musical set in 1980), White correctly foresaw a city that, despite technological advances, would still be a gritty rat race. And if you lived in New York City in 1979 (I was but a visitor then, as now), you would have found a city that indeed was quite dirty and crime-ridden (check out the 1979 movie The Warriors to get a sense of how Hollywood perceived the city at that time). As White observed, “Prophets always leave out the eternal mud”…

JUST A LOT OF HOT AIR…In addition to autogyros, futurists in the 1920s and 30s also saw dirigibles as integral to future transportation. At top left is an illustration of a solar-powered aerial landing field atop a dirigible on the cover of Modern Mechanix magazine, October, 1934; top right, Manhattan in 1980 as depicted in the the 1930 film Just Imagine; bottom right, workers dismantling the Third Avenue Elevated line in 1955; bottom left, Times Square in 1979. (airships.net/IMDB/gothamist.com/viewoftheblue.com)

 *  *  *

Cradle of Civilization

Dorothy Parker took aim at ugly Americans abroad in a casual titled “The Cradle of Civilization.” In these excerpts, Parker commented on the pretensions of young New Yorkers in France, including their ridiculous costumes…

…their bad French, and their even worse manners…

WELL, THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT…Actors Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman don the look of French fishermen during the filming of Intermezzo: A Love Story, in 1938. Howard and Bergman were supposed to look like a couple visiting the French Riviera, but in reality it was all filmed near Hollywood. The film was Bergman’s Hollywood debut. (Pinterest)

 *   *   *

A Penny Saved

Back stateside, Wolcott Gibbs looked in on the dying art of the penny-arcade peepshow, and expressed his disappointment with the quality of that product in general…

DON’T JUDGE A PEEP BY ITS COVER…A patron checks out “Hot Tango” at a penny peepshow parlor of the 1920s. (Pinterest)

Gibbs seemed particularly miffed by a film with the misleading title “For Men Only”…

 *  *  *

Uncle Jed

Jed Harris (1900-1979) was a wunderkind of Broadway, producing and directing 31 shows between 1925 and 1956. Before he turned 28 he produced a record four consecutive Broadway hits over the course of 18 months (including the 1928 smash hit The Front Page), and so it was time for some rest. “The Talk of the Town” reported…

Although it was rumored Harris would retire at age 30, he would instead return in the spring of 1930 with a production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and continue producing on Broadway through the 1950s.

WUNDERKIND…A 1928 portrait of Jed Harris that was featured on the Sept. 3, 1928 cover of Time magazine. (Wikipedia)

 *  *  *

Dueling Cassandras

About a month before the big stock market crash we find this curious little item in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column…

…Considered the first “celebrity economist,” Irving Fisher stated in September 1929 that the stock market had reached “a permanently high plateau,” while around the same time (Sept. 5, 1929) rival economist Roger Babson warned in a speech that “sooner or later a crash is coming, and it may be terrific.” Note: “Ben Bolts” refers to a character in a popular 1842 poem that became an oft-parodied popular song. Each stanza begins with a variation of “Oh don’t you remember…”

 *  *  *

Parental Advisory

Fifty-five years before Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center pushed the music industry to place warning labels on records containing explicit lyrics, there was much ado about “lascivious lyrics” uttered on “race records” — the term referred to 78-rpm records marketed to African Americans from the 1920s and 1940s. The Sept. 21 “Popular Records” column looked at the controversy surrounding Ethel Waters’ “Second Handed Man,” and didn’t find any…

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING…Ethel Waters (circa 1930) and her recording of “Second Handed Man.” (discogs.com/YouTube)

 *  *  *

New Kids on the Block

Architecture critic George S. Chappell (aka “T-Square”) concluded his Sept. 21 column with praise for the designs of the yet-to-be-built Daily News and Chrysler buildings, but expressed dismay at the recently completed Lincoln Building…

BAD COMPANY…New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell was excited about the designs for the Daily News Building (left) and Chrysler Building (center), but the Lincoln Building left him wanting. No doubt its gothic topper seemed dated in contrast to the sleek lines of the other buildings. (nyc-architecture.com)

 *  *  *

Movie critic John Mosher took in a couple of new films including Paramount’s  1929 pre-Code drama Jealousy…

FINAL CURTAIN…Jeanne Eagels and Fredric March in a publicity photo for Jealousy. Eagels died of a drug overdose on Oct. 3, 1929, just days after Mosher’s review appeared in the New Yorker. (IMDB)

…and Mosher also reviewed the musical drama The Great Gabbo, which was derived from a story by occasional New Yorker contributor Ben Hecht

WHO ARE YOU CALLING A DUMMY?…Erich von Stroheim has issues with his co-star in The Great Gabbo. (MoMA)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

What appeared to be an unassuming ad from General Motors was actually a plan for world domination, at least in the area of ground transportation. GM gobbled up a number of car companies in the 1920s (see the ad’s fine print) as well as shares in power plants and home appliances. It would overtake Ford in sales in the late 1920s, and thanks to propaganda efforts including those illustrated in the ad below, it would lead a streetcar removal conspiracy that would destroy intercity train transport systems across the U.S. (and convert them to GM buses, naturally)…

Here we have yet another “distinguished handwriting contest” ad from the makers of Marlboro, this time exploiting the efforts of Corinne B. Riley of Sumter, S.C….

…Riley would win more than a handwriting contest, however. She would be elected as a Democrat to Congress in 1962 to fill a vacancy left by her husband, Congressman John Jacob Riley.

Corrine B. Riley in 1962. (Wikipedia)

On to our illustrators and comics, we begin with this two-page drawing by Reginald Marsh that appeared along the the bottom of “Talk of the Town” (click to enlarge)

Gardner Rea lent his spare style to this peek into Wall Street…

Peter Arno appeared to be experimenting with yet another style of drawing…

…that is in some ways looked similar to Alan Dunn’s

…the British cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather provided this sumptuous drawing of an exchange at a card shop…

…and I. Klein gave a vertiginous perspective to home buying…

Next Time: Frigidity in Men…

Hooray for Hollywood

MGM piled so many stars and gimmicks into the premiere of The Hollywood Revue of 1929 that even the New Yorker’s jaded film critic John Mosher had to admit he was entertained.

Aug. 24, 1929 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Although today’s audiences would find the film quaint and corny (not to mention its tinny sound and crude editing), it was a big hit in 1929. A plotless revue featuring nearly all of MGM’s stars (Greta Garbo said no — she had a clause in her contract exempting her from such silly things; Lon Chaney, on the other hand, was in failing health), the film followed a variety format similar to such vaudeville productions as the Ziegfeld Follies. The Arthur Freed/Herb Nacio Brown song “Singin’ In the Rain” was introduced in this film, and would inspire the Gene Kelley musical by the same name 23 years later. A rarity for the time, the Hollywood Revue included four skits in an early version of Technicolor, including an all-cast performance of “Singing’ In the Rain.” Mosher observed:

One of the film’s color skits featured John Gilbert and Norma Shearer in a Romeo and Juliet parody filled with Jazz Age slang. It would mark the beginning of the end of Gilbert’s career and, sadly, his life. He was one of the silent era’s most popular leading men, but it was purported that his voice was not suited to the talkies. What really ended Gilbert’s career, however, was studio head Louis B. Mayer, who clashed with the actor both personally and professionally…click any image below to enlarge…

FAREWELL ROMEO…A lobby card promoting The Hollywood Revue of 1929 featured John Gilbert and Norma Shearer in one the film’s color sequences, a parody of Romeo and Juliet filled with Jazz Age slang. At right, a scene from the skit in which the director (played by Lionel Barrymore, far right) tells Shearer and Gilbert to put more pizzazz into the act. (IMDB/YouTube)
STAR-STUDDED…Left to right, early silent film comedian Marie Dressler hammed it up in a royal court skit; co-emcee Jack Benny, with his trademark violin, and Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, and his trademark uke. (vickielester.com/doctormacro.com/thejumpingfrog.com)
DANCING IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH…Chorus girl Carla Laemmle in the film’s “Tableau of Jewels,” in which she emerged from a seashell to perform a seductive (and weird) dance number while other showgirls posed on a revolving crown — all set to a tune sung offstage by James Burroughs. The niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, Carla Laemmle was one of the longest surviving actors of the silent era. She died in 2014 at age 104. (songbook1.wordpress.com)
GALAXY OF STARS…Clockwise, from top left, lobby card for The Hollywood Revue of 1929; Charles King, Joan Crawford, Conrad Nagel (a co-emcee along with Jack Benny) and Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards show off their dancing skills; lobby card featuring actress Marion Davies; a popular act in vaudeville and on Broadway, the Brox Sisters—Lorayne, Patricia and Bobbe (along with Cliff Edwards) introduced the song “Singin’ in the Rain,” also sung by the entire cast near the finale of the movie. (joancrawfordbest.com/mubi.com)

…MGM deployed a number of stunts to generate publicity at the film’s New York premiere at the Astor Theatre, including a “human billboard” that featured scantily clad chorus girls precariously perched on a huge letters high above the theatre’s entrance. In a rather less dangerous stunt—during the movie’s “Orange Blossom Time” skit—a faint scent of orange blossoms wafted into the theatre. “The Talk of the Town” observed…

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?…Showgirls arranged along narrow catwalks atop the glowing HOLLYWOOD REVUE sign would pose for hours above crowds of gawkers; top, an advertisement promoting “The Stunt of the Century”; bottom, chorus girls lined up on somewhat safer ground in a skit from the movie titled “Lon Chaney’s Gonna Get You If You Don’t Watch Out.” Chaney himself was near death and did not appear in the film. (oldphotoarchive.com/anndvorak.com)
Another angle shows just how precarious this stunt proved to be for these brave chorus girls, who held their poses for hours on end. (legendaryjoancrawford.com)

…here’s a clip from the film featuring MGM stars “Singin’ in the Rain”…see how many stars you can recognize…

…in the first row the camera pans by George Arthur, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Buster Keaton…second row, Bobbe Brox, Cliff Edwards, Patricia Brox, Gus Edwards, Lorayne Brox, Conrad Nagel, Anita Page, Charles King, Marie Dressler…not sure about the last two…

*  *  *

Technological Adjustments

If you listened to the above clip, then you will understand what James Thurber was getting at when he observed that actors in talking pictures all sound as if they are speaking into cracker boxes. In this hilarious piece (titled “The Roaring Talkies”), he proposed a solution. An excerpt:

*  *  *

A Happy Diversion

“The Talk of the Town” (via Theodore Pratt) looked in on the hobbyists who raced model boats at Central Park’s Conservatory Lake, a happy tradition that began in the late 19th century and continues to this day:

A DAY AT THE RACES….Model sailboats (left) prepare to face off in 1910 at Conservatory Lake (also called Conservatory Water); at right, model sailors at the same lake around 1920. (Library of Congress)

Pratt also described the old wooden boathouse, which was replaced in 1954 with a somewhat grander structure, Kerbs Boathouse, where model boats are still stored…

STILL SAILING…The copper-roofed Kerbs Boathouse replaced a wooden structure in 1954. Conservatory Lake served as the setting for a model boat race in E.B. White’s Stuart Little. (centralparknyc.org)

 *  *  *

On the Other Hand…

Leaving the cool and quiet of the park brought one quickly back into the dust and clamor of the metropolis. Pratt observed that the summer season lasted two weeks longer in the city than in the country, thanks to the city’s heat island effect— perhaps an unwelcome observation given the usually hot summer of 1929. Not only did the city’s heat extend the season, but it also kept the city enveloped in “an enormous cloud of dust”…

HAZY DAYS OF SUMMER…A dusty haze hangs over Lower Manhattan as the Third Avenue elevated train rumbles by in this circa 1950 photo. (AP)

 *  *  *

Already Feeling Old?

I found this “Talk” item curious for exploring the sentimental attachment some folks had developed for old cars from the 1910s, given those cars were barely 20 years old and cars in general hadn’t been in common use much longer…

…as for another “Talk” item, I doubt modern New Yorker readers would find any humor in this observation:

 *  *  *

On to sillier things, Robert Benchley turned in a casual titled “Boost New York!” Benchley ridiculed a promotional brochure from the New York Merchants Association that touted various statistics in a manner reminiscent of the fictional George Babbitt. Benchley imagined how an Iowa couple might respond to such dazzling numbers:

*  *  *

A Drinking Life

Occasionally I like to feature infrequent or one-time New Yorker contributors who are nearly lost to history. Frank Ward O’Malley (1875-1932), a reporter for the New York Sun from 1906-19, was known for his humorous stories. In 1928 he published a book titled The Swiss Family O’Malley. In this casual (titled “The Fatty Degeneration of Broadway”) from the Aug. 24 issue, O’Malley described an alcohol intervention of sorts and then his fall off the wagon. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs, along with his photo circa 1910s.

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

This week we have an advertisement for the Drake Apartment Hotel, claiming to be the “smartest” in New York. Note how they employed what seems to be the same pointy-nosed, haughty couple that we saw last week (below) who endorsed the Park Lane (I want to believe there is a subtle joke here)…

…just 25 years removed from the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk, advertisers were treating flying as though it were routine…

A better photo of the Ireland Neptune Amphipian (aerofiles.com)

…and this young woman seemed to think flying was nothing more than “playing ring around the rosy with the clouds”…

…I like the reviews included in this bookseller’s ad, especially the first one for the book Ex-Wife by Anonymous (it was written by Ursula Parrott, a writer of romantic fiction)…

…our illustrations include Abe Birnbaum’s contribution to the casuals section (breaking up the copy of one of Josie Turner’s Elsie Dinsmore parodies)…

Reginald Marsh illustrated the late summer beach scene at Coney Island…

…and for kicks this nice little filler by Constantin Alajalov

…thanks to the skills of the New Yorker’s first layout artist, Popsy Whitaker, we have this whimsical pairing of Otto Soglow and Dorothy Parker

Mary Petty contributed a cartoon that looks contemporary…

Peter Arno paid a visit to the doctor’s office…

…and commented on his life as a new father…the woman holding the baby was doubtless inspired by his wife, New Yorker columnist Lois Long

…for reference, Peter Arno and Lois Long are pictured here with baby daughter Patricia Arno in 1928…Lois clearly had a better grasp on the situation than Arno had imagined…

Arno and Long with their baby daughter, Patricia, in 1928. (Vanity Fair)

Alice Harvey eavesdropped on a conversation between teenagers…

…and like Peter Arno, Leonard Dove had two cartoons in this issue…here an editor finds the former Prohibition enforcer no longer newsworthy…

…and over on the East Side, rumors of gentrification…

Next Time: A Carnival in the Air…

 

Hello Molly

While the New Yorker was happy to send singer Marion Talley packing back to Midwest (see last post), it was wholly embracing one of its own, Molly Picon. But as we will see, it had every reason to do so.

April 27, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

The daughter of Polish immigrants, Molly Picon (1898-1992) was born Małka Opiekun in New York City on Feb. 28, 1898, and became of a star of Yiddish theatre and film before moving to English language productions in the 1930s.

Writing in “The Talk of the Town,” James Thurber described Picon as an “idol of the East Side”…

PRECOCIOUS…Molly Picon began performing in the Yiddish Theatre at age six. Pictured, from left, is 10-year-old Molly in a 1908 Nickelodeon short of a vaudeville act, Fagan’s Decision; an undated press photo; in The Jolly Orphan, 1929. (Jewish Women’s Archive/Wikipedia/Museum of the City of New York)
At left, music sung by Molly Picot in the a Yiddish theatre production, Tsirkus meydl (The Circus Girl), 1928. At right, a scene from the play. (Museum of the City of New York)
PUT ‘EM UP…Molly Picot tries her hand at boxing in the silent comedy, East and West, originally produced in Austria in 1923. In this film about assimilation and Jewish values, a sophisticated New Yorker travels back to his village to attend his niece’s traditional wedding. There he encounters the rambunctious Molly, whose hijinks include boxing, and teaching other young villagers to shimmy. (Image: National Center for Jewish Film / Caption: UC Berkeley Library)

Thurber described Picon’s personal life as simple and focused on her family, a path she followed throughout her 94 years:

Picon met her husband, Jacob “Yonkel” Kalich (1891-1975) in 1918 and they married a year later. In an exhibition at the American Jewish Historical Society, Picon is quoted on how meeting Kalich changed her life:

“When we met in Boston, I was the All-American Girl full of hurdy-gurdys and absolutely illiterate about Jewish culture. Yonkel, on the other hand, was the complete intellectual who knew not only classic Yiddish but its plays, theater and writers.”

After they married in 1919, the couple toured Eastern European cities with large Jewish populations in order that she could improve her Yiddish and gain experience as a performer. Kalich served as her manager and creator of many of her roles, and they often performed together, including in two films nearly 50 years apart—East and West (1923) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971).

Top photos, left to right, Molly Picon in the Yiddish Theatre comedy Di Tsvey Kuni Lemels (The Two Kuni Lemels), 1926; with husband Jacob “Yonkel” Kalich in the 1923 silent film comedy, East and West; with Kalich that same year in Vienna. Bottom row, left to right, Picon tapes the Maxwell House Radio Show, 1938, and below, on the set of the Fiddler on the Roof (1971) with husband Jacob “Yonkel” Kalich; with Frank Sinatra in Come Blow Your Horn (1963); and on the TV show The Facts of Life (1979). (Wikimedia Commons/American Jewish Historical Society/Jewish Women’s Archive/Getty)

Picon appeared on a variety of TV shows from the 1960s through the 1980s including Car 54, Where Are You?, Gomer Pyle, The Facts of Life, and Trapper John M.D. Movie appearances during that time included Fiddler on the Roof (1971); For Pete’s Sake (with Barbra Streisand, 1974); and perhaps one of her oddest roles, as Roger Moore’s longsuffering mother in The Cannonball Run (1981) and 1984’s The Cannonball Run II (In those films, Moore portrayed Seymour Goldfarb, heir to the Goldfarb Girdles fortune, who preferred the life of pretending to be a spy to girdle manufacturing).

Thurber observed that Picon was only interested in comedic roles, a preference she stuck to throughout her long career.

Molly Picon as Mrs. Bronson in the television show Car 54, Where Are You? (1962) (Wikimedia Commons)

To learn more about Molly Picon’s fascinating life, visit the online exhibition at the American Jewish Historical Society.

 *  *  *

Sober as a Judge

Despite Prohibition, booze flowed freely in New York in the late 1920s thanks to bootleggers and corrupt cops. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt tried her best to crack down on violations, arresting (among many others) the operators of two of Manhattan’s most popular nightclubs, actress Texas Guinan (300 Club) and torch singer Helen Morgan (Chez Morgan). In the “Talk of the Town,” the New Yorker found hope in the acquittal of Guinan and Morgan, and in the opinion of one of the jurors:

OFF THE HOOK…U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt (left) tried her best to crack down on New York’s lackadaisical enforcement of Prohibition laws, but failed to convict two of its most celebrated violators—actress Texas Guinan (center) and torch singer Helen Morgan. (Library of Congress/Getty/http:/kickintina.blogspot.com)

In the same issue, this cartoon by Oscar Howard tells us a lot about New York’s approach to Prohibition enforcement in 1929…

 *  *  *

Captive Audience

In the April 27 “Talk of the Town” Thurber also turned his attention to the latest treacle flowing out of Hollywood—the premiere of The Rainbow Man, starring Eddie Dowling in his first talking picture. Thurber found the film to be “alarmingly bad.” But that was only the beginning…

TIRED OF ME YET?…Lloyd Ingraham, Eddie Dowling, and Marian Nixon in The Rainbow Man (1929) (IMDB)

Thurber wrote that the film was followed by live performances from “a Kate Smith” and by Eddie Dowling himself, who piled more ham on the proceedings.

PILING IT ON…Eddie Dowling gave audiences more than they needed (at least in the view of James Thurber) at the premiere of The Rainbow Man. Dowling would share the stage with Kate Smith, apparently unknown to Thurber at that time. She would go on to massive stardom. Dowling, not so much. (IMDB/Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Slow Man River

Things didn’t look much better in the magazine’s movie review section, where the 1929 film version of the huge 1927 Broadway hit musical Showboat seemed stuck on sandbar:

SLOW BOAT…Scene from the 1929 film Show Boat featuring Laura LaPlante as Magnolia Hawks and Joseph Schildkraut as Gaylord Ravenal. (Wikipedia)

 *  *  *

Elsie Dinsmore Revisited

Phyllis Crawford (writing under the pseudonym Josie Turner) contributed another parody of the Elsie Dinsmore book series. The original books (28 in all), were written in the late 19th and early 20th century and featured an impossibly upright eight-year-old as the main character.

Crawford, herself an author of children’s books (including the award-winning Hello, the Boat!), had some fun with the Dinsmore books, her parody featuring a still pious and innocent Elsie living with her father in New York, where she encounters his circle of friends including gamblers and chorus girls (the collected pieces were published as a book in 1930: Elsie Dinsmore on the Loose). In this brief excerpt from Crawford’s piece in the April 27 issue (“Elsie Dinsmore Entertains at Tea”), little Elsie tries her best to entertain a friend of her “dear Papa”…

On the topic of books, Dorothy Parker, in her “Reading and Writing” column, took aim at middlebrow book clubs such as the Literary Guild, expressing (in her way) surprise that such a club would actually recommend something with literary merit…

Advertisement in the April 27 issue for Ring Lardner’s Round Up. At right, Lardner and Dorothy Parker, circa 1930. (thenationalpastimemuseum.com/selectedshorts.org)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with a colorful ad from the makers B.V.D., a brand name that would become synonymous with men’s underwear…

…Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova demonstrated the wonders of Cutex nail polish in her famous “Dying Swan” costume (Pavlova would be dead herself in less than two years)…

…while the Wizard of Menlo Park applied his genius to the cause for better toast…

…and actor John Gilbert was the latest actor to “reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet”…

…this ad in the back pages enticed readers to visit the International Exposition of Barcelona…those fortunate enough to have made the trip would have seen Mies Van Der Rohe’s “Barcelona House” (pictured) and the first-ever Barcelona chair…

(thomortiz.tumblr.com)

…on to cartoons and illustrations, in the theatre section this contribution by Miguel Covarrubias

…Covarrubias (pictured) was an early contributor to the New Yorker, indeed he contributed to the very first issue with this rendering of Italian opera manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza for the first-ever profile…

Gluyas Williams illustrated the collective shaming of a commuter by residents of Tudor City…

…Tudor City was touted in many early New Yorker ads as having all the amenities of the suburbs but within walking distance of the city…here is an ad from the March 26, 1927 issue of the New Yorker

…and then we have the English cartoonist Leonard Dove, who looks in on a couple who are obviously not from Tudor City…

…and finally, a terrific cartoon by an artist I have failed to identify (if anyone knows, please comment!)…

Next Time: From Broadway to Babylon…

The Last Dandy

Like his good friend Charlie Chaplin, Ralph Barton wore a mask of a clown that hid a face of bitter anguish. Chaplin would cope, more or less. Barton would not.

March 16, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

A member of the New Yorker gang from the very beginning, Barton served as the magazine’s advisory editor but more famously as a caricaturist of the Roaring Twenties, also contributing to the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, Collier’s, Vanity Fair and Judge. He also illustrated one of the most popular books of the Twenties, Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:

Images (left and right) from the book, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds.

In 1929 Barton would publish a book of his own, God’s Country, which was reviewed in the March 16, 1929 edition of the New Yorker:

The same issue featured this advertisement from Knopf promoting God’s Country as the latest addition to its lovely Borzoi Books collection (and endorsed by composer and Barton friend George Gershwin)…

Some excerpts from the book…(click to enlarge)

(All images courtesy fulltable.com)

Barton was a longtime friend of Charlie Chaplin, even coming to the silent film star’s defense (in the pages of the July 23, 1927 New Yorker) when many Americans turned their backs on the comedian during a messy and much publicized divorce trial. In that New Yorker piece Barton concluded that France would be a better, more welcoming home to such an artist:

Clockwise, from left: Ralph Barton poses with his old friend Charlie Chaplin for photographer Nickolas Muray in 1927; Barton with wife Carlotta Monterey in the mid-1920s; Carl Van Vechten’s portrait of Monterey with husband Eugene O’Neill in 1933, two years after Barton’s death. (Mimi Muray/allstarpics.com/Museum of the City of New York)

The manic-depressive Barton had his own problems in the love department, marrying four times in his short life, most famously to wife No. 3, stage and film actress Carlotta Monterey, who divorced Barton in 1926 and married playwright Eugene O’Neill in 1929. Although Barton would marry again, he would never recover from his loss of Monterey.

PORTRAIT IN ANGUISH…Ralph Barton self-portrait, 1925. At right, Barton’s portrait of his third wife, Carlotta Monterey, from 1922. In 1926 Barton wrote, “The human soul would be a hideous object if it were possible to lay it bare.” (National Portrait Gallery/Mimi Muray)

A little more than two years after publishing God’s Country—May 19, 1931—the 39-year-old Barton shot himself through the right temple in his East Midtown apartment. He referred to Carlotta Monterey in his suicide note, writing that he had lost the only woman he’d ever loved. He also wrote: “I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife and house to house, visited great countries of the world—but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up twenty-four hours of the day.”

As the exuberance of the Jazz Age faded into the Depression, so did Barton’s reputation as a chronicler of that age. An abstract for the 1998 Library of Congress exhibition Caricature and Cartoon in Twentieth-Century America notes that “in a good week he (Barton) could make $1,500 (about $22,000 today) but a couple of years after his early death his caricature of George Gershwin sold for $5.”

The last caricature Barton ever drew was of his old friend, Charlie Chaplin.

Note: I took the title of this blog entry from a 1991 book on the life of Ralph Barton: The Last Dandy, Ralph Barton, American Artist, 1891-1931, by Bruce Keller.

Babbitt Babble

Preceding the review of Barton’s book in the March 16 New Yorker was this much less complimentary review of Sinclair Lewis’s latest effort, Dodsworth, a story in the tradition of Henry James about wealthy middle-class Americans on a grand tour of Europe.

The task of skewering Lewis and his book fell to Dorothy Parker, who would never mistake Lewis for Henry James: ““I can not, with the slightest sureness, tell you if it (Dodsworth) will sweep the country, like ‘Main Street,’ or bring forth yards of printed praise…My guess would be that it will not. Other guesses which I have made in the past half-year have been that Al Smith would carry New York state, that St. John Ervine would be a great dramatic critic for an American newspaper, and that I would have more than twenty-six dollars in the bank on March 1st. So you see my my confidence in my judgment is scarcely what it used to be.”

SOMETHING HAS COME BETWEEN US…Dorothy Parker and Sinclair Lewis, circa 1930s. (Getty/B&B Rare Books/Library of Congress)

Parker took particular umbrage at Lewis’s use of the name of a character from another book as a descriptive term for his latest:

Parker concluded that if a reader could wade through the book’s cluttered language and “grotesquely over-drawn figures,” there was a conclusion that was perhaps worth pursuing…

…the New Yorker was never afraid to bite the hand that fed it (except Raoul Fleischmann’s, whose money saved the magazine from an early death), so even though its author was savaged on the opposite page, Dodsworth’s publisher Harcourt still sprung for an ad:

 *  *  *

This Geometric Life

The author of the March 16, 1929 “Comment” (Leading item of “The Talk of the Town”) found the “geometric life” dictated by modern design took some getting used to. This entry was most likely written by E.B. White:

DARLING, YOU SEEM RATHER COLD…Greta Garbo and Anders Randolf break bread amid the angular lines of an art deco dining room in the 1929 film The Kiss, set design by Cedric Gibbons. (pinterest.co.uk)

 *  *  *

Mexican Firecracker

Mexican actress and emerging star Lupe Velez caught the eye, and ear, of the New Yorker in her latest film, Lady of the Pavements

DUBBED THE ‘MEXICAN FIRECRACKER,’ Lupe Velez emerged as a star at the advent of sound motion pictures. Theatrical release poster, left, and Velez in a scene from D.W. Griffith’s 1929 film, Lady Of The Pavements. (Wikipedia/moviessilently.com)

An ad in the same issue of the New Yorker touted the film’s appearance at Public Theaters, a chain owned by Paramount:

Well-known for her explosive screen presence, Velez was big star in the 1930s. Married to Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller from 1933 to 1939, her star began to fade at the end of the decade. She died of a drug overdose in 1944, just 36 years of age.

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

A few advertisements that caught my eye from the March 16 issue…one thing you notice is the emerging sophistication of advertising techniques, including this ad for Resilio Cravats that enticed by deliberating not showing the product…

…and this ad that demonstrated Best & Co. was not shy at all to show women in their skivvies (or suggest that they could wear the same undergarments as a Follies performer)…

…and then we have this strange ad for Cutex nail polish, with an endorsement by Sophie Peirce-Evans, later known as Mary, Lady Heath, a well-know aviatrix (dubbed “Lady Icarus”) of the 1920s who shared headlines with Amelia Earhart for her high-flying derring-do. The close-up shot of the hands is priceless…

…and then we have another celebrity endorsement of a cigarette by a society figure—interior designer and social maven Elsie de Wolfe, who was also known as Lady Mendl…

…and on to the cartoons…Peter Arno listened in on two young debutantes sizing up a dowager at a society gathering…

…while Garrett Price looked in on well-heeled visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art contemplating what appears to be the work of W.A. Dwiggins in the museum’s The Architect & the Industrial Arts exhibition…

Next Time: Queen of the Night Clubs…