An Inconvenient Truth

The New Yorker offices at 25 West 45th Street were a long walk from Wall Street, but the panic that gripped the city beginning on Oct. 24 spread quickly through the borough. What the panic was about, however, wasn’t exactly clear.

Nov. 2, 1929 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

There was fear in the air, and a hint of doom, when E.B. White submitted his “Notes and Comment” section for the Nov. 2 issue. Having filed his column sometime between October 24 (“Black Thursday”) and October 29, 1929 (“Black Tuesday”), he weighed the mood of his city against the reassurances offered by politicians, bankers and pundits…

TELLERS OF TALES…As the New York Stock Exchange headed toward collapse, President Herbert Hoover, Thomas Lamont (head of the Morgan Bank) and prominent journalist Arthur Brisbane offered assurances that all was well. (Wikipedia/bhg.com)

…and expressed schadenfreude over “a fat land quivering in paunchy fright” and some satisfaction in confirming his suspicions that “our wise and talky friends” on Wall Street really didn’t know what they were talking about:

THEY MADE A MESS OF THE ECONOMY, TOO…Sweeping the floor of the New York Stock Exchange after the Wall Street crash of 1929. (Wikipedia)

It seems White might have believed the worst was over, and that Wall Street would get back to its gambling spirit…

TALES OF TWO CITIES…The Brooklyn Daily Eagle proclaimed panic in its late edition on “Black Thursday,” Oct. 24; however, a day after the “Black Tuesday” crash of Oct. 29, The New York Times offered a more optimistic outlook for the days ahead.

In “The Talk of Town” we find the first use of the word “Depression” in the New Yorker as it is related to the economic collapse…

BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF A BUST…Crowds gather on Wall Street following news of the stock market crash. (mrclark.aretesys.com)

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Mr. Blue Sky

On the subject of stocks, “Talk” also featured this mini profile (written by Robert Coates) of Roland Mulville Smythe (1855-1930), who specialized in buying and selling old and obsolete stocks.  Nicknamed “No Telephone” Smythe for his dislike of the device, he began his trade in obsolete securities and banknotes sometime around 1880…

MARKET GLEANER…Title page of Roland Smythe’s 1929 book, Valuable Extinct Securities. The notation beneath his portrait reads “No Telephone.” (worthpoint.com)

Coates told the story of a Yonkers doctor who used what he thought were worthless stock certificates (from an abandoned coal mine) to paper the walls of his study. Thanks to Smythe’s meticulous record-keeping, when a new lode was discovered at the mine, the doctor learned his wallpaper was worth $14,000 (equivalent to about $200,000 today)…

WALL STREET JUNKER…Share bought by Roland M. Smythe in 1899 and signed by him on the reverse side. At right, unusual obituary headline for an unusual man. (scripophily.org)

…Coates concluded by describing Smythe’s aversion to the telephone, and his talent for bowling…

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Rise of the Machine

Ironically, the National Business Show was staging a big exhibition in Midtown while the economy was collapsing Downtown. James Thurber was on hand at the Grand Central Palace to take in the wonders of the machine age…

NOT MY TYPE…Manufacturers of the Underwood typewriter staged a typing competition at the 1929 National Business Show at the Grand Central Palace. From left are George Hossfield, Stella Willins (with her typewriter “Timmy”), Irma Wright and Albert Tangora. Hossfield, the men’s champion, could type 157 words a minute. The women’s champion — and the world’s champion typist of the 1930s — Willins once typed 128 words a minute for an entire hour without a mistake. She could type 240 words per minute from memorized lines. (oztypewriter.blogspot.com)

…Thurber seemed as impressed by the machines as by the “very prettiest girls” who were on hand to demonstrate them…

LOOKS COMPLICATED…At left, National Cash Register touted its business machines in this ca. 1930 ad; at right, a woman demonstrates a mimeograph machine in the 1920s. (Pinterest)
SHOCK OF THE NEW…At left, these young operators contemplate the operation of an IBM Type 80 horizontal Hollerith card sorter. The woman appears less than thrilled by the mechanical beast; at right, a woman operates a IBM 405 Alphabetic Accounting Machine, ca. 1934. It could process 150 cards a minute and keep track of multiple sums while printing data on continuous-sheet forms. (officemuseum.com/computerhistory.org)

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What a Strange Trip It’s Been

This brief “Talk” entry by Alfred Richman related a story from a traveling salesman just returned from Moscow. Among the highlights of his visit was a Soviet movie that “featured” America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford, in the title role…

In the 1920s, silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were perhaps the most famous couple in the world. That included in the Soviet Union, where moviegoers preferred American films over their own avant-garde fare (while on the other hand, the New Yorker found Soviet films to be far more advanced than Hollywood’s). While vacationing in Moscow in 1926, Pickford and Fairbanks visited a Russian film studio with director Sergei Komarov, who cleverly captured enough footage of the two to weave them into a silent comedy titled A Kiss from Mary Pickford (Potseluy Meri Pikford). The film was a spoof on Hollywood fame, finding humor in a loveless man’s chance meeting (and kiss) with Mary Pickford, and his sudden and unexpected attractiveness to the opposite sex.

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…At left, Soviet film poster for Sergei Komarov’s A Kiss From Mary Pickford, featuring Russian actors Anel Sudakevich and Igor Ilyinsky (in the center photos) with various cameos by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks; at top, Soviet movie posters featuring Fairbanks and Pickford; bottom right, the couple feted by Russian fans, who presented Pickford with the headdress. The year 1929 would mark the end of such films in the Soviet Union — as Stalin began forced collectivization, he declared that Soviet cinema should only satisfy “the basic demands of the proletarian collective farm mass viewer.” Remarkably, Komarov and the actors Sudakevich and Ilyinsky would survive the years of Stalinist terror that would follow, even living to old age. (IMDB/transmediale.de/Facebook fan site)

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Fire and Ice

Back stateside, New Yorker film critic John Mosher took in the talking film debut of the hugely popular stage actress Lenore Ulric (1892-1970). Known on Broadway for her portrayals of fiery women, she tried, it seems unsuccessfully, to bring some of that heat to Frozen Justice, which was set in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush…

FEMME FATALE…Lenora Ulric, who made less than 20 films, was known for her work on the stage. At left, Ulric taking a break from her Broadway work in the early 1930s; center, magazine ad for Frozen Justice; at right, Ulric as the half-Eskimo Talu in Frozen Justice. (Pinterest/IMDB)

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Right Ho, Plummie (CORRECTION: Not So, Plummie)

I incorrectly attributed this poem in the Nov. 2 issue to British humorist P.G. Wodehouse

…thankfully, an alert reader kindly pointed out that “Ode to Peter Stuyvesant” isn’t by Wodehouse, but by another person with the initials PGW — Philip G. Wylie.

HE COULD BE FUNNY, TOO…Short story writer, screenwriter and satirist Philip G. Wylie in an undated photo. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with the back pages, where toaster wars were being waged by the makers of the “Toastmaster” and Thomas Edison’s “Automaticrat”…

…for some in the posh set, the days of fine dining at places like Maillard’s (with this all-French ad) would be coming to an end thanks to the market crash…actually, Maillard’s itself would come to an end in the 1930s, thanks to the Depression…

…stage, film (and later television) actress and dancer Queenie Smith was the latest celeb to tout the wonders of Lux Toilet Soap…

Queenie Smith circa 1930. (IMDB)

…here’s an unusual way to sell shock absorbers…I’m wondering if this is supposed to be a sugar daddy and a chorus girl trying to make hay in the back seat of a car without Houdaille shocks…

…a couple more ads from the back pages, the ones on the left appeal to women’s fitness, while the ad on the right tries its best to push a product that was fast going the way of the horse and buggy. Spats — devised in the late 19th century to protect one’s shoes and socks — went out of fashion in the 1930s, no doubt because most streets were now paved and you didn’t have to worry about a passing wagon splashing mud and horseshit all over your shoes and ankles…

…and indeed, now you could have Goodrich Zippers, in smart new colors…

…and speaking of colors, a couple of richly toned ads for Arrow Shirts…

…and Camel cigarettes…

…on to our illustrators and cartoonists…spot drawings — sprinkled throughout the magazine — were often a foot in the door for aspiring contributors (Peter Arno and Charles Addams are just two examples). Below is a collection of spot drawings from the Nov. 2 issue, mostly from established artists including Barbara Shermund, Alice Harvey, Julian De Miskey, Gardner Rea, Johan Bull and I. Klein. The New Yorker also recycled old cartoons for spots, including the illustration below (third row, second one down) by Shermund of the young woman on telephone, which originally appeared in the July 16, 1927 issue with the caption, “Hold the line a minute, dear—I’m trying to think what I have on my mind.”

Arno continued to provide illustrations for Elmer Rice’s serialized novel, A Voyage to Purilia

…and Julian De Miskey illustrated G. Marston’s entry for the ongoing “That Was New York” column…

…our cartoons come from Barbara Shermund

Gardner Rea, having a political moment…

…for reference, a photo of Mayor Jimmy Walker

/brookstonbeerbulletin.com

Shermund again, on the joys of parenthood…

Peter Arno’s take on Jazz Age chivalry…

…and perhaps the timeliest entry of all, from Leonard Dove

Next Time: Not Much to Cheer About…

 

Technicolor World

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March 13, 1926 cover by H.O. Hoffman.

Although the trade name “Technicolor” conjures up images of mid-century Hollywood, the process was actually invented in 1916 and developed over  subsequent decades.

Early Technicolor was a complicated process, using a prism beam-splitter behind the camera lens to simultaneously expose two consecutive frames of a single strip of black-and-white negative–one behind a red filter, the other behind a green filter. A projectionist had to be highly skilled to keep the film aligned during its showing. The Black Pirate, however, used a later technique that cemented the two prints together, making for a thick film that was prone to bulging and distortion.

When the New Yorker’s Theodore Shane reviewed Douglas Fairbanks’s latest swashbuckler film, The Black Pirate, in the March 13, 1926 issue, it appeared that after ten years of development the Technicolor process had a long way to go:

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DEAR, YOU LOOK A BIT PEAKY…Billy Dove and Douglas Fairbanks rendered in early Technicolor in The Black Pirate. (MovieMail.com)

Art critic Murdock Pemberton wrote about the genius of the young artist Georgia O’Keeffe, whose work was on display at husband Alfred Stieglitz’s new exhibition space, the Intimate Gallery:

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Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Iris, 1926. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

On to the March 20 issue, boldly illustrated by S.W. Reynolds, who contributed a number of deco-themed covers for the magazine:

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For all The New Yorker’s progressive wit and style, you are occasionally reminded that some of its sensibilities were still very much mired in those times. For example, this bit from the issue’s “The Talk of the Town” segment:

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The March 27 issue offered a profile of actress Helen Westley, who was described by writer Waldo Frank (pen name “Search-light”) as “a goddess of our city” whose  “true value and her art (was) her personal life.”

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March 27 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Wesley often played a stern, indomitable character who wore a hawk-like glare, and in her later years portrayed dour dowagers and no-nonsense matrons. Frank wrote that while Wesley was not a particularly good actress, she lived her life with a spirit for adventure and a need to plunge her fine-born, gracious manner into the “frowsy” world of Broadway.

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A Miguel Covarrubias rendering of Helen Wesley for Waldo Frank’s “Profiles” piece.

And a photograph of Helen Wesley, early 1940s.

Helen Wesley wearing hat, 1940s. (Photo by Film Favorites/Getty Images)
Helen Wesley (Film Favorites/Getty)

And to close, Al Frueh’s take on a day in the life of a doorman:

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Next Time: Parisians and Puritans…

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Bryan’s Planet of the Apes

Leading up to the famous Tennessee “Monkey Trial” of John Scopes, the June 13 issue of The New Yorker continued its jabs at William Jennings Bryan.

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June 13, 1925 cover by Barbara Shermund (New Yorker Digital Archive)

Bryan had agreed to serve as prosecutor in the case against Scopes, who was charged on May 5, 1925, with teaching evolution from a chapter in Civic Biology, a textbook by George William Hunter that among other things described the theory of evolution. For the record, Scopes, who was merely a substitute high school teacher, wasn’t even sure if he’d actually taught evolution in his class, but purposely incriminated himself so the trial would proceed with a defendant. Just in case New Yorker readers needed more evidence that Bryan was an ignorant rube, “Talk of the Town” led off with an item on WJB’s visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)
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Bryan as depicted by Rea Irvin in June 7th’s “Talk of the Town”.

Bryan was also the subject of a “Profile” piece by Charles Willis Thompson, who wrote “the Commoner” is “an extensively misunderstood man.”

Thompson observed that Bryan “is variously regarded as a statesman, chump, shrewd politician, bigot, liberal, scholar, knight, orator, reformer, crank and crusader who has fetched up short of his goal because of a chevalier-like hesitancy to sacrifice principle for expediency.”

Here is the piece in its entirety:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)
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Macfadden at age 65 in the early 1930s (yousearch)

The New Yorker was barely afloat as it entered its first summer, but that didn’t dampen its wit as it fished for new subscribers through humorous full page ads regularly featured in the first issues.

The June 13 issue opened with one such ad that appears to be a parody of a Bernarr Macfadden health and fitness promotion (Macfadden was an influential predecessor to the likes of Charles Atlas and Jack Lalanne). The ad was accompanied by a strange drawing that appears to combine McFadden’s body with–for some reason–William Jennings Bryan’s head:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

In addition to Mr. Bryan, “Talk of the Town” also offered these observations…Calvin Coolidge’s fondness for his battered felt hat…the modesty of the young golfing star Bobby Jones and his refusal to accept any money beyond barest expenses for an exhibition match at Harvard…an offer by the famed violinist Jascha Heifetz to deliver, upon his return trip from Paris, a Poiret-designed gown for opera singer Cobina Wright for her upcoming Bal Harbor engagement…and a minor money dispute between George Bernard Shaw and the Saturday Evening Post regarding the reprinting of a short story.

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Sherwood Anderson (Chicago History Museum)

“Talk” also made hay about “Male Plumage” on display in the city, noting that the last time novelist Sherwood Anderson was in town (he is referred to as “the illustrious revealer of the Middle Western Subconscious”) he wore socks “of a particularly glowing brown bespread with diamond checks of an exceptionally vivid shade of green,” and he sported both brown and red feathers in his brown velour hat. It was noted, however, that this display was outdone by Rudolph Valentino, whose silk house pajamas (worn while receiving visitors at the Plaza in Paris) were of “the most vivid crimson ever accomplished.”

The New Yorker continued its assault on crooked cab drivers with this cartoon by Miguel Covarrubias:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

“Of All Things” (written by Howard Brubaker) noted that “The Queen of Rumania and the King of Swat (Babe Ruth) are both writing for the World, but fortunately for us constant readers, low-born newspaper men are still on the job.” It was also noted that silent film idol Mary Pickford “has fallen among bad characters or good press agents.” I have no idea what this refers to. Pickford was married to film star Douglas Fairbanks at the time, and their Hollywood mansion Pickfair was the center of the celebrity universe. The couple played host to heads of state and other dignitaries as well as notables in literature, the arts, and science (Albert Einstein once paid a call).

POWER COUPLE…Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in the mid 1920s. Pickford, a Canadian-American actress, was one of the 36 founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a key figure in shaping today’s Hollywood. The couple formed the independent United Artists along with D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin. (Pinterest)

German cinema regularly drew favorable reviews in The New Yorker, however Fritz Lang’s Siegfried was called long and arty, “possessing many fine intervals of real beauty…that usually wins the critical adjectives. The average audience will probably be a bit bored at Siegfried’s quest. Tom Mix does this sort of thing with much more verve and snap.”

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Colleen Moore in the silent film, The Desert Flower (1925) (IMDB)

And if you think the “Cinderella” story has been made and remade too many times, consider that in 1925 The New Yorker already found the theme wearing thin. A review of the The Desert Flower referred to the film as “just another variation of the Cinderella theme.” It told the story of a waif (Colleen Moore) in a railroad construction in camp who falls in love with the son of the railroad’s president. The reviewer wrote that “probably all of this will be popular. It always has been.”

Texas Guinan’s new club proved a be hit, as reported in the feature “When Nights Are Bold.” I last reported on Texas Guinan in my March 18, 2015 post, “A Dry Manhattan,” when prohibition officials put a padlock on her old haunt, the El Fey Club. As we see, things are looking up for the leading lady of New York nightlife:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

I am guessing this an attempt to fill ad space and encourage readership. I guess we will find out soon enough:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

The issue closes with a satirical piece that appears to poke fun at tenement life, or perhaps at the pretensions of art critics, or both. You be the judge:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

And finally, a new back page sponsor, in color:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)