An Instant Star

George Cukor’s 1932 pre-Code film A Bill of Divorcement would make Katharine Hepburn an instant star in her screen debut…

Oct. 8, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

… but New Yorker critic John Mosher seems to have missed the boat in spotting this new talent, who would go on to be — at least according to the American Film Institute, “the greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema.” In A Bill of Divorcement, Hepburn portrays a young woman who fears she has inherited the same psychiatric problems that plague her father (John Barrymore). Mosher wrote:

A LOT ON HIS MIND…In A Bill of Divorcement, John Barrymore portrays a man who escapes from a mental hospital after 15 years of confinement, seeking to return to wife and family; his daughter, Sydney (Katharine Hepburn), fears she has inherited his psychiatric problems, while Sydney’s mother, Meg (Billie Burke) wants to start a new life with another man. (IMDB)

Although Mosher offered a rather tepid response to Hepburn’s debut role, critic Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called the film “intelligent, restrained and often stirring.” Of Hepburn he wrote: “Miss Hepburn’s characterization is one of the finest seen on the screen and the producers have been wise in not minimizing the importance of her part because Mr. Barrymore is the star of the film.”

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On Shaky Ground

E.B. White noted the sad state of the Pulitzer Fountain, which had stood at the Plaza since 1916. Although Joseph Pulitzer’s sons had put up funds to restore the landmark, the city had yet to act on a plan.

Fortunately the fountain still stands, thanks to restorations in 1933-35, 1971 and 1985-90. As to White’s concerns, the city finally accepted the Pulitzers’ offer, and after delays due to labor disputes it was completed in June 1935. The original limestone basin was rebuilt in Italian marble, and a limestone balustrade and columns that surrounded the fountain were demolished.

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG…The Pulitzer Fountain after it was completed in 1916. (New York Public Library)

White also mused about the nature of Long Island, soon to be transformed under Robert Moses’ system of parkways that would stretch across the island’s vast expanses.

EAT ME…Hundreds of truck farms dotted Long Island in the early 20th century, especially known for their potatoes. (Newsday)

…and we have more from White, also serving as the magazine’s theater critic and taking in the latest installment of Earl Carroll’s Vanities…I include this mainly to note the young vaudevillian Milton Berle’s first appearance on a big stage…

BEFORE UNCLE MILTIE…Milton Berle (1908–2002) made his first appearance on a big stage with Earl Carroll’s 1932 Vanities. It is also noteworthy that in that same year Chicago native Vincente Minnelli (see program cover) was getting his first breaks on Broadway as a stage and costume designer. (tralfaz.blogspot.com/Playbill)

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Delirious Nights

Although Lois Long was primarily focused on her fashion column, she continued to file an occasional “Tables for Two” that gave readers a glimpse into New York nightlife, including the star-studded (Walter Chrysler, Howard Hughes, among others) opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room…

DANCING WITH THE STARS…Lois Long reported on the star-studded opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room, which featured a series of Saturday night supper dances; images of the Sert Room left and right; at center, the New York Times’ account of the club’s opening, Oct. 2, 1932. (geographicguide.com/NYT/jstor.org)

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From Our Advertisers

Simon & Schuster promoted George Gershwin’s Song Book, illustrated by New Yorker regular Constantin Alajalov

…signed first editions go for up to $8000 these days…

(raptisrarebooks.com)

…meanwhile, Farrar & Rinehart trumpeted the release of Evelyn Waugh’s latest novel (his third)…Black Mischief satirized the ways Europeans attempted to impose their customs and beliefs on other cultures…

…Squibb helped the New Yorker’s bottom line with three separate ads scattered throughout the magazine…back in the day the Squibb brand was associated with everything from toothpaste…

…to aspirin and shaving cream…founded in 1858, it merged with Bristol Meyers in 1989 to form one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Bristol Myers Squibb, which today is mostly known for manufacturing dozens of prescription pharmaceuticals and biologics…

…Squibb & Sons were the primary tenant (the top 12 floors) of New York’s landmark Squibb Building when it opened its doors in 1930…

(Museum of the City of New York)

…moving on, here are a couple of ads that show us one thing that has definitely changed in the past 89 years…when was the last time you wore a fur coat to a football game?…

…cigarette manufacturers had plenty of money to advertise during the depths of the Depression, but apparently so did the folks at Wamsutta Mills…Wamsutta sheets are no longer made in New Bedford — part of the circa 1847 mill complex is now loft-style housing…however, the Wamsutta brand still exists in the U.S. through Bed, Bath & Beyond and internationally as part of a Brazilian textile conglomerate…

…Micarta was a substance developed in the early 20th century for use with electrical equipment…produced from a combination of linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass and other materials processed under heat and pressure, Westinghouse found a new use for this laminate — serving trays designed by George Switzer…you can read more about Micarta trays at Driving for Deco

…on to our cartoons, William Steig’s “Small Fry” learned about the birds and the bees…

Gardner Rea visited some tobacco researchers challenged to keep pace with advertising claims…

Barbara Shermund looked into the love lives of the modern woman…

…and Peter Arno got playful at the pipe organ…

…on to our Oct. 15, 1932 issue…

Oct. 15, 1932 cover by William Steig.

…where we check in on John O’Hara (1905–1970), who defined the short story at the New Yorker (and contributed more shorts to the magazine than any other writer). For the Oct. 15 issue O’Hara submitted a profile titled “Of Thee I Sing, Baby.” The profile is unusual because it is told as a story rather than as a biography, and the subject, a chorus girl, is not identified by her real name. A brief excerpt:

WRITING MACHINE…John O’Hara (pictured here in 1945) contributed more short stories to the New Yorker than any other writer. (Library of Congress)

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William Steig (1907–2003) was both a writer and illustrator, and every bit as prolific as O’Hara, publishing more than 50 books during his long life and career, including his very first, which received this mention at the end of the Oct. 15 book review section:

…on to our Oct. 15 advertisers, we have the makers of Chesterfields pairing their product with the sophistication of Paris fashions…

Carl “Eric” Erickson illustrated a number of ads for R.J. Reynolds’ Camel cigarettes in the late 1920s and early 1930s…here he employed his signature sophisticated style for the French Line…

…RCA promoted the next great advance in radio technology — “bi-acoustic” sound that added “two more octaves” to radio broadcasts…it would take thirty more years to roll out something we take for granted today — stereo…

…on to our cartoons, Robert Day joined a misdirected fox hunt…

Richard Decker gave us one man’s simple solution to a perilous situation…

…and we close with a classic from James Thurber

Next Time: City On a Hill…

The Red House

From the 1930s until the 1950s, New York City was the one place where American communists almost became a mass movement.

Sept. 10, 1932 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Writing in the New York Times opinion section (Oct. 20, 2017), Maurice Isserman observed how in those days New York party members “could live in a milieu where co-workers, neighbors and the family dentist were fellow Communists; they bought life insurance policies from party-controlled fraternal organizations; they could even spend their evenings out in night clubs run by Communist sympathizers…” The journalist Matthew Josephson penned a report on the movement for the Sept. 17 (yes we are skipping ahead)Reporter at Large” column titled “The Red House”…excerpts:

According to Isserman (a professor of history at Hamilton College), in 1938 the Communist Party of America counted 38,000 members in New York State alone, most of them living in New York City. A Communist candidate for president of the board of aldermen received nearly 100,000 votes that same year, with party members playing a central role in promoting trade unions.

BOSS’S DAY…Communists march at Union Square against “the boss class” at a 1930 rally in New York City.  (Oxford Research Encyclopedias)
PARTY INVITATION…William Z. Foster and James W. Ford were on the Communist ticket in the 1932 U.S. presidential elections. Ford (1893–1957) was also on the 1936 and 1940 tickets as a vice-presidential candidate. (peoplesworld.org)

Josephson commented on the candidates appearing on the Communist ticket in the 1932 U.S. presidential elections, finding James W. Ford to be “much more intellectual” than his running mate:

THE HQ…Communist Party of America headquarters, 13th St., New York City, 1934; a close-up view of the Workers’ Bookshop display window in 1942. (USC Libraries/Library of Congress)
A regular New Yorker contributor, journalist Matthew Josephson (1899–1978) popularized the term “robber baron” with the publication of his 1934 book, The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists.

Josephson concluded his article with observation of a party protest event, and one unmoved police officer…

Postscript: The Cold War in the 1950s and a renewed Red Scare spelled the end of the party’s heyday, as did Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 speech that denounced the murderous legacy of his predecessor, Josef Stalin.

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Très Chic

For those with means, the idea of living in the same building with other non-family humans seemed unseemly, but in 1870 Rutherford Stuyvesant hired Richard Morris Hunt to design a five-story apartment building for middle-class folks that had a decidedly Parisian flair. The Sept. 10 “Talk of the Town” explained:


According to Ephemeral New York, the apartments were initially dubbed a “folly,” but the building’s 16 apartments and four artists’ studios — located near chic Union Square — were quickly snapped up, creating a demand for more apartments. The building remained fully occupied until it was demolished in 1958. According to another favorite blog — Daytonian in Manhattan—demolition of Morris Hunt’s soundly built, sound-proof building was a challenge.

IT DIDN’T GO QUIETLY…Stuyvesant Flats at 142 East 18th Street, 1935, in a photo by Berenice Abbott. It was demolished in 1958. (New York Public Library)

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Some Characters

I include this brief snippet of the Sept. 10 “Profile” for the jolly illustration by Abe Birnbaum of Al Smith, Jimmy Hayes and the Prince of Wales…

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Down In Front

E.B. White was always on the lookout for the newfangled in the world of transportation, but this latest development by the Long Island Railroad was not a breath of fresh air…

STACK ‘EM UP…A woman wears a bemused expression (left) as she takes in her surroundings on one of the Long Island Railroad’s new double-decked cars in 1932. (trainsarefun.com)

White also looked in on the latest news from the world of genetics—with hindsight we can read about these developments with a degree of alarm, since Hitler was months away from taking control of Germany…

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Showing His Colors

On to lighter matters, critic John Mosher enjoyed an eight-minute animated Walt Disney short, Flowers and Trees—the first commercially released film made in full-color Technicolor…

SEEING GREEN…Walt Disney’s Flowers and Trees won the very first Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1932. (intanibase.com)

…Mosher also took in light entertainment of the live-action variety with Marion Davies and Billie Dove providing some amusement in Blonde of the Follies, although the picture could have used a bit more Jimmy Durante, billed as a co-star but making an all-too-brief appearance…

WHERE’S THE DUDE WITH THE SCHNOZ?…Billie Dove (left) starred with headliner Marion Davies in Blondie of the Follies, but another co-star, comedian Jimmy Durante, was mostly absent from the picture. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Lord & Taylor announced the return of Edwardian styles as the latest in fashion among the younger set, once again proving what goes around comes around, ad infinitum

…except when it comes to “college styles”…I don’t see this look returning to our campuses anytime soon…

…the end of Prohibition was still a year away, but at least in New York it was all but over…I like the Hoffman ad and its winking line “with or without”…

…as a courtesy to readers (and to fill a blank space) the New Yorker    “presented” a full page of signature ads touting a variety of specialty schools and courses…the Carson Long Military Academy (right hand column) closed in 2018 after 182 years of “making men”…

…on to our cartoonists and illustrators, we begin with this Izzy Klein illustration in the opening pages…

Rea Irvin gave us a nervous moment at the altar…

…and Richard Decker showed us one groovy grandma…

…on to the Sept. 17 issue (which we dipped into at the start)…and what a way to begin with this terrific cover by Peter Arno

Sept. 17, 1932 cover by Peter Arno.

…in his “Notes and Comments,” E.B. White offered some parting words for the departing (and scandal-ridden) Mayor Jimmy Walker

THAT’S ALL FOLKS…Deposed New York Mayor Jimmy Walker skipped town shortly after he left office and caught a boat to Europe. He is seen here at his wedding to Betty Compton in Cannes, April 1933. (Library of Congress)

…and Howard Brubaker added his two cents regarding Walker and his replacement, Joseph McKee, who served as acting mayor until Dec. 31, 1932…

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Heady Role

The British actor Claude Rains earned his acting chops on the London Stage before coming to Broadway, where in 1932 he appeared in The Man Who Reclaimed His HeadE.B. White was subbing for regular critic Robert Benchley, and concluded that Rains should have used his own head before agreeing to appear in such silly stuff…

NO MORE HEAD JOKES, PLEASE…Although he got a late start on his Hollywood career, Claude Rains (1889—1967) became one of the silver screen’s great character stars. (Playbill)

…and speaking of the silver screen, we turn to critic John Mosher and his review of the 1931 German film

WOMEN IN REVOLT…The New York Times (in 2020) describes 1931’s  “expression of anti-fascism and a lesbian coming-out story.” The film was a success throughout Europe, but was later banned as “decadent” by the Nazi regime. Above, Ellen Schwanneke, left, and Hertha Thiele in Mädchen in Uniform. (Kino Lorber)

Mädchen in Uniform was almost banned in the U.S., but Eleanor Roosevelt spoke highly of the film, resulting in a limited US release (albeit a heavily-cut version) in 1932–33.

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From Our Advertisers

I’m featuring this detail from an Elizabeth Arden ad because the illustrator’s style is so distinct…if someone knows the identity of the artist, please let us know (on other drawings I’ve seen a signature that looks like “coco”)…

…invented in 1918, this “cheese food” made from milk, water, whey, milk protein concentrate, milkfat, whey protein concentrate and sodium phosphates — among other things — was acquired by Kraft in 1927 and marketed in the 1930s as a nutritious health food…I have to say I haven’t seen any Velveeta ads in the New Yorker as of late…

…”Pier 57, North River!” barks the successful-looking man to the admiring cabby who’s thinking “lucky dog!”…

…on the other hand, Peter Arno (kicking off our Sept. 17 cartoons) gave us a Milquetoast who wasn’t getting anywhere near the French Line, or First Base…

…and speaking of the mild-mannered, James Thurber offered up this fellow…

Helen Hokinson’s “girls” were perhaps wondering if their driver was among the Commies at Union Square…

John Held Jr. entertained with another “naughty” Victorian portrait…

Robert Day, and wish unfulfilled at the zoo…

…and we close with Richard Decker, and trouble in the Yankee dugout…

Next Time: A Picture’s Worth…

Sounds of Silence

In 1928 both sound and silent films appeared on screens across America, but by 1929 sound was ascendent, and in 1932 silents were mostly a distant memory.

August 13, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

The New Yorker was slow to embrace sound — in reviews of early talkies, critic John Mosher found the technology stultifying in both dialogue and action, but as equipment and techniques improved he came to embrace the new medium. E.B. White, however, still missed the silent theatre, and the strains of its pipe organ…

SILENCE IS GOLDEN…E.B. White was likely attending a late evening showing of For the Love of Mike, Claudette Colbert’s only silent film. After the Frank Capra-directed film received poor reviews, the 24-year-old Colbert vowed she would never make another movie. Fortunately for her fans, she changed her mind and signed with Paramount in 1929. At right, promotional photograph of Colbert for the 1928 Broadway production La Gringa. (IMDB/Wikipedia)
VITAL ORGANISTS…Jesse and Helen Crawford both recorded music on Paramount’s mighty Wurlitzer, sounds that were music to the ears of E.B. White. (theatreorgans.com)

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World’s Fastest Man

That title went to Eddie Tolan after the 1932 Summer Olympic Games, and his fame won him a long entry in the “The Talk of the Town,” although the column (excerpted) took a patronizing tone toward the athlete:

FASTEST IN THE WORLD…U.S. sprinters Ralph Metcalfe (left) and Eddie Tolan pose on the track at 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Tolan would receive the title of the “world’s fastest human” after winning gold medals in the 100- and 200- meter events. Metcalfe, who be elected to the U.S. Congress in the 1970s, was considered the world’s fastest human in 1934-35. (Marquette University)

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From Our Advertisers

You could tell times were tough when a luxury department store felt the need to sell capes and cuffs designed to “transform” old clothes in to 1932 fashions…

…however, things seemed to be looking up for the folks at Powers Reproduction, who touted the naturalness of their DeSoto ads…

…such as this two-pager that appeared in the New Yorker’s July 23 issue…

…we move on to our cartoonists, beginning with Paul Webb…

…who referenced a recent New Yorker ad (also from the July 23 issue)…

James Thurber gave us two examples of female aggression…

…this one a bit less deadly…

…here’s an early work by the great George Price (1901-1995), who beginning in 1929 contributed New Yorker cartoons for almost six decades…

Peter Arno showed us that among the uppers, even nudism had its class distinctions…

…on to our August 20, 1932 issue, and this terrific cover by Harry Brown. With a style reminiscent of the French artist Raoul Dufy, Brown illustrated a number of memorable New Yorker covers during the 1930s…

August 20, 1932 cover by Harry Brown.

…the Marx Brothers were back in cinemas with Horse Feathers, and, according to critic John Mosher, delivered the comic goods…

Xs and OsGroucho Marx shows David Landau and Thelma Todd how the game of football is really played in Horse Feathers (1932). (IMDB)

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 Author, Author

“The Talk of the Town” included this bit of news regarding the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Willa Cather. Beginning in the early 1920s, Cather and her partner, Edith Lewis, spent summers at Manan Island in New Brunswick, Canada:

THESE NEED SOME EDITING…Willa Cather pruning her roses on Manon Island. (University of Nebraska)

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While Cather was enjoying the peace of island life, there were disturbing rumblings on the other side of the ocean, even if Howard Brubaker (writing in his column “Of All Things”) found humor in them…

…the result, however was no laughing matter…

NOT HIS USUAL STYLE…After being appointed as German chancellor, Adolf Hitler greets President Paul von Hindenburg in Potsdam, Germany, on March 21, 1933. This image, intended to project an image of Hitler as non-threatening, was made into a popular postcard. The photo also appeared widely in the international press. (www.ushmm.org)

…Brubaker also commented on the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, and, more importantly, the absence of Greta Garbo, who returned to Sweden after her MGM contract expired…

NOT FEELIN’ IT, PAL…Melvyn Douglas romances Greta Garbo in 1932’s As You Desire Me. Garbo would leave for Sweden after the film wrapped. She would return after a nearly a year of contract negotiations. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Illustrator Charles LaSalle, who would later be known for his Western-themed art, provided this odd bit of art for the makers of a German hair tonic…

…on to our cartoons, Rea Irvin continued his travelogue of famed tourist destinations…

Otto Soglow showed us that even the spirit world has its version of Upstairs, Downstairs

Carl Rose rendered a cow and a calf made homeless for art’s sake…

Leo Soretsky contributed only one cartoon to the New Yorker, but it was a doozy…

…on to August 27, 1932…

August 27, 1932 cover by S. Liam Dunne.

…in which the “Talk of the Town” contributors decided to pay homage to Lewis Gaylord Clark (1808 – 1873), who was editor and publisher of the old The Knickerbocker magazine (1833 – 1865)…

…here is one of the entries, with accompanying artwork, written in the style of the old magazine…

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From Our Advertisers

In previous issues, William Steig had illustrated several ads for Old Gold, and now it was Peter Arno’s turn to entice readers to the national habit…

…Lucky Strike, on the other hand, preferred these illustrations of young women, who also happened to be their biggest growth market…by the way, this is not an official “Miss America”—there was no pageant in 1932…

…and we end with cartoons that ponder the female form by Daniel Brustlein (1904–1996), who contributed cartoons and covers to The New Yorker from the 1930s to the 1950s under the pen name Alain

…and C.W. Anderson

Next Time: A New Outlook…

Help Wanted

Above image: The 1937 painting, titled "Employment Agency," was by Isaac Soyer (1902-1981). Like Reginald Marsh, he was considered a social realist painter who painted scenes of working class life.

 *

Nineteen thirty-two was a tough year for most Americans, as the Depression approached rock bottom and jobless numbers continued to mount as one out of every four workers was unemployed.

July 2, 1932 cover by William Steig.

Despite the Depression, the New Yorker was on solid footing, although judging by these next two issues advertising had fallen off. Other indications things weren’t so rosy included the occasional broadsides penned by E.B. White in his “Notes and Comment” column that opened “The Talk of the Town.” White anticipated Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, calling for “direction from above” and the creation of a peacetime army that would give purpose to the unemployed.

White filed his column while the nation was experiencing a summer of unrest, men and women across the country joining demonstrations demanding relief from the federal government, which under President Herbert Hoover mostly refused to provide funds for the jobless and homeless.

Writing for The Conversation, James N. Gregory, professor of history at the University of Washington, developed a mapping project that has recorded 389 hunger marches, eviction fights and other protests in 138 cities during 1932.

THE UNWANTED…Clockwise, from top left, a man advertises his worth on a sandwich board, ca. 1930; unemployed gather in front of an employment agency, ca. 1930; long line of jobless and homeless men wait outside to get free dinner at a New York municipal lodging house, 1932; even with the New Deal times remained tough for many rural folks — in 1936 Los Angeles Police Chief James E. Davis declared a “Bum Blockade” to stop the mass emigration of poor families fleeing from the Dust Bowl states of the Midwest. (rarehistoricalphotos.com/dailybulletin.com/AP)

White’s column was prescient in many ways, including the need for Americans to laugh during tough times: Abbott & Costello, Burns & Allen, Laurel & Hardy and the Three Stooges, among many other acts, enjoyed their heydays during the Depression and war years.

SWORDS, NOT PLOUGHSHARES were offered to those protesting in the summer of ’32. Above, tanks and mounted troops advance to break up a Bonus Marchers’ camp of veterans protesting lost wages in Washington D.C. on  July 28, 1932. Below, the marchers at the Capitol. (PhotoQuest/The Conversation)

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From Our Advertisers

As noted earlier, advertising had fallen off a bit in the New Yorker, but those who still had means to market their wares included the folks at Goodyear, who continued their campaign of comparing their tires to “masterpieces”…

…this B. Altman ad presented a “fashion artist” who was doing quite well despite the Depression…

…on to our cartoonists, the top of page 2 and the bottom of page 3 in the “Goings On About Town” were decorated by Julian de Miskey

William Steig put one of his “Small Fry” in a barber’s chair…

James Thurber continued to plumb the depths of courtship…

…as did Barbara Shermund

…while Peter Arno was perfecting one his classic tropes…

…on to July 9, 1932…

July 9, 1932 cover by Virginia Andrews.

…where we look at John Mosher’s review of Red Headed Woman, a romantic comedy about an ambitious secretary (Jean Harlow) who tries to sleep her way into high society.

Harlow (1911-1937) was already famed as a “platinum blonde,” which made her turn as a redhead a major selling point for the pre-code film. Although based on a novel by Katharine Brush, it was Anita Loos’ humorous treatment of the script that made the film more than just a sex romp.

SEEING RED…Jean Harlow seduces her wealthy boss William “Bill” Legendre Jr. (Chester Morris) and breaks up his marriage to his wife Irene (Leila Hyams, photo at right). (IMDB)
In many ways Jean Harlow embodied Lorelei Lee, the ambitious gold-digger Anita Loos created for her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. When Loos (left) adapted Katharine Brush’s (right) novel for the 1932 film Red-Headed Woman, MGM made hay of the whole arrangement, seen in this 1932 publicity photo (center) of Harlow and Loos.

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From Our Advertisers

Speaking of redheads, we have this one encouraging us to become addicted to Camel cigarettes and then “leave them if you can”…

…Longchamps was a chain of restaurants in Manhattan that brought a taste of Continental refinement to middle class New Yorkers…

…the terrific Driving for Deco blog site tells us that wholesaler Henry Lustig opened his first Longchamps restaurant in 1919 at Madison and 78th, specializing in an American version of French cuisine at affordable prices. During the mid to late 1930s the chain rapidly expanded, opening seven restaurants within five years. Four of these restaurants were known for interior designs by Winold Reiss…

HIGH STYLE, LOW PRICES…Clockwise, from top left, the 1931 Continental Building was home to this Longchamps restaurant at Broadway and 41st Street (circa 1937); entrance on 42nd Street to the Longchamps in the Chanin Building, circa 1935; late 1930s matchbook cover from Longchamps; interior design by Winold Reiss in the Chanin Building location. (nyneon.blogspot.com/drivingfordeco.com)

…on to our cartoons with Rea Irvin and another view of French elegance…

…and we close with Barbara Shermund, evesdropping on her Manhattan demimonde…

Next Time: Not For the Kiddies…

On Detention

Twentieth century New York saw a lot of paradise paved (see Moses, Robert), but there is one spot in New York that saw paradise reclaimed — not from a parking lot but from an eleven-story prison that once stood at 10 Greenwich Avenue.

June 18, 1932 cover by William Crawford Galbraith.

The Jefferson Market Garden in Greenwich Village was once the site of a women’s prison designed to be a more humane corrections facility, but between its opening in 1932 and its closing in 1971 the Women’s House of Detention went from noteworthy to notorious.

It was designed by a firm known for its Art Deco buildings — Sloan and Robertson — and although it still looked rather stark and institutional on the inside, attempts were made to gussy it up with artworks commissioned by the WPA. The New Yorker’s E.B. White found a certain “sanitary elegance” to the place.

WELCOME INMATES!…When the Women’s House of Detention opened in 1932 it focused on more humane practices, including vocational training and other reform measures. Clockwise from top right, a 1938 photo shows how the prison once loomed over the Sixth Avenue El;

by the late 1960s the jail had become squalid, overcrowded and violent. He wrote: “I can still hear the desperate pleas of inmates shouting through the windows as I walked home from school every day.”

BIG, BAD HOUSE…Clockwise from top, left, protestor outside the New York Women’s House of Detention at the Prisoners’ Rights and “Free the Panther 21” demonstration in 1970; illustrious inmates at the prison included Ethel Rosenberg (pictured Aug. 8, 1950), Angela Davis, and Valerie Solanas (who shot Andy Warhol in 1968); demonstrators outside the prison in 1970; 1956 publicity still taken by the Department of Corrections. (Diana Davies via Smith College/

In the late 1960s Village residents began holding town hall meetings to discuss the removal of the overcrowded prison, many complaining of the friends and families of inmates who lingered outside day and night, yelling up to their loved ones behind bars. The protests were successful; the prison closed in 1971 and was demolished three years later.

A BIT OF EARTH…Top photo is an overhead view of the Jefferson Market Garden, planted on the site of the former Women’s House of Detention. Below, a verdant pathway takes a turn through Jefferson Market Garden. Photos courtesy of amny.com and Jefferson Market Garden.

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How Dry I Ain’t

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a canny politician, seemingly able at times to please both sides of a divisive issue. This was the case in 1932, when teetotaling New Yorkers touted FDR’s long record of supporting such causes as the Anti-Saloon League, while city dwellers such as E.B. White knew better…

LIBERAL LIBATION…Franklin D. Roosevelt was an enthusiastic drinker, especially of his famed martinis. (thrillist.com)

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From Our Advertisers

In the days before air conditioning, most folks had to rely upon whatever cooling breezes they could channel into their homes, and apparently in Tudor City they could find some relief from the East River, at least when the wind was blowing from that direction…

…if the wind wasn’t in your favor, you could switch on an electric fan, an appliance that didn’t come into common use until the 1920s…this ad also demonstrated the power of the dictum “sex sells,” even if applied subtly…

…it would be awhile before air-conditioning became common, but in 1932 you could at least keep your goodies cool with a GE refrigerator, its radiating coils offering a novel way to disperse this smoker’s emissions…

…we jump to our cartoons, with Kemp Starrett in some mixed company…

Garrett Price illustrated the peril one faced when driving through Chelsea, where one could encounter freight trains at street level…

…for almost one hundred years this street-level freight line on 11th Avenue — known as “Death Avenue” — claimed the lives and limbs of hundreds of (mostly poor) New Yorkers…

HEADS UP!…the Hudson River Railroad at 11th Avenue and West 41st Street. (forgotten-ny.com)

…happily, we move on to June 25, 1932…

June 25, 1932 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

…which featured a profile of Samuel Klein (1886-1942), founder of Union Square’s discount department store S. Klein, famous for its “bargain bins.” The profile included this column-busting caricature of Klein as rendered by Abe Birnbaum

YOU COULDN’T MISS IT…The S. Klein Department Store was a Union Square fixture from 1910 to its closing in 1975. At right, undated photo of founder Samuel Klein. The building is long gone, the Zeckendorf Towers now occupying the site. (theclio.com/bklyn.newspapers.com)

…and we roll right into our advertisements, and this spot from the makers of B.V.D.s, who found a new market for men’s shorts and continued the 1920s trend toward a more casual, androgynous look among “modern debs”…

…you likely wouldn’t catch Helena Rubinstein wearing B.V.D.s., busy here shaming women into using her line of beauty products…

…on to our cartoons, we have this spot illustration by James Thurber

…and another travelogue image from Rea Irvin

Douglas Ryan gave us an unlikely Shakespeare lover (unless the boxer was Gene Tunney)…

…and we end with a bit of Prohibition humor from Gardner Rea

Next Time: Help Wanted

Jimmy’s Jam

New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker (1881-1946) was commonly referred to as “Beau James for his flamboyant lifestyle and his taste for fine clothes and Broadway showgirls.

June 4, 1932 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Mayor Walker was also a product of the powerful Tammany Hall machine that traded in political favors and outright bribery. When he took office in 1926, the economy was riding high, and few seemed to care that hizzoner was aloof, partying into the night (while openly flouting Prohibition laws), and taking numerous pleasure trips to Europe. He easily won reelection in 1929, but when the stock market crashed later that year his hijinks began to wear a bit thin, and reform-minded politicians like State Senator Samuel H. Hofstadter began looking into corruption in New York City. The actual investigation was led by another reformer, Samuel Seabury. The New Yorker’s E.B. White looked in on the proceedings and its star witness, Mayor Walker.

I DO NOT LIKE THIS, SAM I AM…Clockwise, from top left, Mayor Jimmy Walker was full of wisecracks during his testimony before Samuel Seabury, far left; Seabury’s role in the high-profile commission landed him on the cover of Time (Aug. 17, 1931); Tammany Hall’s support was writ large for Walker in the 1920s; Vivian Gordon was a surprise witness in the Seabury investigation, telling investigators police received bonuses for falsely arresting women on prostitution charges. After her testimony Gordon was found strangled in Van Cortland Park, leading many to believe Walker’s corruption played a role in her death. (Daily News/Time/archives.nyc/Pinterest)

Public opinion really started to turn on Walker with the death of star witness Vivian Gordon (see caption above). The final blow came from New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, who like Walker was a Democrat but unlike Walker was not a Tammany product. Roosevelt was also running for president, and rightly seeing Walker as a liability, asked the mayor to resign, which he did on Sept. 1, 1932. That event was still three months away when E.B. White wrote these concluding lines:

SEE YA, SUCKERS…Eight days after he resigned from office, New York Mayor Jimmy Walker headed for Paris, where his mistress, Ziegfeld star and film actor Betty Compton, awaited with open arms. Clockwise, from top left, Compton and Walker on their wedding day in Cannes, France, April 19, 1933; and a 1920s photo portrait of Compton; Walker’s first wife,  Janet Allen Walker, had sued for divorce a month earlier (March 10, 1933) claiming Jimmy had deserted her in 1928 and they had not lived together since; Walker and Compton on the deck of SS Normandie, June 17, 1936. (legacy.isle-of-wight-fhs.co.uk/IMDB/Pinterest/NYC Municipal Archives)

Eight days after Walker resigned from office he caught a boat for Paris, where his mistress, Ziegfeld star and film actor Betty Compton (1904-1944), awaited him. They married the following year in Cannes.

 *  *  *

Out of the Shadows

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were Jazz Age fixtures, cutting wide swaths through literary and society worlds filled with wild drinking and various infidelities. Francis Scott (1896-1940) was a chronicler of that age, most notably with The Great Gatsby, but Zelda (1900-1948) also took pen in hand, contributing short pieces to various magazines in the 1920s. By 1930 their self-destructive ways caught up with them both, and Zelda was admitted to a sanatorium in France that spring; it was the beginning of a long road of treatments that would end in her death nearly two decades later.

ALL THAT JAZZ…Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (pictured here in 1926) embodied the riotous days of the Roaring Twenties. (beinecke.library.yale.edu)

In 1932, during her stay at the Phipps Clinic (Johns Hopkins), Zelda experienced a burst of creativity, writing an entire autobiographical novel — Save Me the Waltz — in just six weeks. Sadly, it was not well-received (by critics or by her husband), and fewer than 1,400 copies of the novel were sold — a crushing blow to Zelda. However, during that same time she published a short story in the New Yorker titled “The Continental Angle.” Here it is:

TALENTED AND TROUBLED…Zelda Fitzgerald in 1931, a year before she entered the Phipps Clinic and had a burst of creativity. (citizen-times.com)

A footnote: On the occasion of my birthday last April, my dear friends Sally and Lydia stopped by and presented me with these two cocktail glasses and a recipe for a White Lady, which apparently was named for our dear Zelda.

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Yet another stylish and very modern-looking ad from Cody, thanks to the artistry of American fashion illustrator Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…

…while later on in the issue French illustrator Lyse Darcy gave his subject an Art Deco look to promote Guerlain’s face powder…

…Darcy was famed for his Guerlain ads from the 1920s to the 1950s…

From left to right, 1929, 1938, 1957…

…Powers Reproduction turned to star power to promote their latest color engraving techniques…

…the actor Marguerite Churchill (1910-2000) had a film career spanning 1929 to 1952, and was John Wayne’s first leading lady in 1930’s The Big Trail

…and we head back to the city, Tudor City, to be precise, where apparently it was common in the 1930s to spot a gent in formalwear relaxing with his pipe…

…on to our cartoons, we have James Thurber contributing some spots…

Rea Irvin continued to visit the world’s “Beauty Spots”…

Garrett Price showed us a couple looking for the “We Want Beer” parade…

…which happened three weeks earlier, on May 14, 1932…the parade was organized by none other than Mayor Jimmy Walker, who believed prohibition was making life difficult for New Yorkers…

(brookstonbeerbulletin.com)

Barbara Shermund introduced two men with bigger issues than beer on their minds…

John Held Jr. continued to plumb the depths of the naughty Nineties…

…and some more naughtiness, courtesy Gardner Rea

Next Time: Summer Indulgences…

 

 

Under the Boardwalk

Kay Boyle was thirty and still cutting her teeth as a writer and political activist when the New Yorker published her short story “Black Boy,” told through an unnamed narrator who recalls a childhood visit to the seaside.

May 14, 1930 cover by Bela Dankovsky.

The narrator remembers the days when she rode her horse along the beach while her grandfather watched from a rolling chair, pushed along the boardwalk by various young Black boys. In the following excerpts, the grandfather asks one of the boys for his name, but is it clear he doesn’t really want to get to know him, and through his teasing suggests he isn’t even worthy of an identity. Later in the story the girl befriends the boy, who dwells beneath the boardwalk and dreams of a better life. When the grandfather learns of this budding friendship, he warns about the possibility of harm coming from the boy (two excerpts):

THE LONG, CHAOTIC LIFE of writer and activist Kay Boyle (1902–1992) ranged from fights against racism and fascism in the 1930s to protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and against nuclear weapons into the 1990s. (1941 photograph by George Platt Lynes, courtesy The Kay Boyle Papers, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University)

The final paragraphs describe how the girl falls from her horse, and the shocking consequences of the boy coming to her aid.

SEPARATE AND NOT EQUAL…Kay Boyle employed a boardwalk setting in her 1932 short story “Black Boy” to underscore the stark divisions between races in American society. Clockwise, from top left, a 1914 postcard from Atlantic City; on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, circa 1905; sheet music for a popular 1905 song; a dour-looking group being pushed along the Atlantic City Boardwalk, circa 1905. (seesaw.typepad.com/bygonely.com/reddit.com)

 *  *  *

Potemkin Park

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White questioned the need, and appropriateness, of a wood and plaster Federal Hall replica in Bryant Park, which at the time was a neglected patch of land behind the New York Public Library and a favorite spot for the city’s homeless, their numbers rapidly growing during one of the worst years of the Depression (unemployment hovered near 25 percent).

To add insult to injury, the area around the replica was fenced off and required an admission fee of 25 cents. White commented:

ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION…This flimsy Federal Hall replica erected in Bryant Park in 1932 symbolized some of the problems that beset New York City in one of the worst years of the Depression. Under Mayor Jimmy Walker, the committee in charge of the replica was filled with corrupt Tammany cronies who quickly depleted the committee’s funds. It is no surprise that the replica was unpopular, especially with its admission fee of 25 cents, roughly equivalent to $5 today (consider that sales clerks in 1932, if they were lucky to have a job, earned perhaps $15 a week). (Museum of the City of New York)

 *  *  *

Intermural Murals

Art critic Murdock Pemberton approached the Museum of Modern Art’s newest exhibition of American muralists with a bit of suspicion, although he was correct in surmising that the Rockefeller Center was shopping for muralists, but as we now know it was not an American, but a Mexican artist (Diego Rivera) who would enter that scene and stir things up.

Among other works, MoMA visitors viewed Ben Shahn’s study for a three-part composition titled “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti”…

(MoMA)

…and a work by the New Yorker’s own Reginald Marsh titled “Post-War America”…

(MoMA)

 *  *  *

Boop’s Boo-Boo

We return to E.B. White and his musings regarding actress and singer Helen Kane (1904–1966), who filed a $250,000 (equivalent to nearly $5 million in 2021) infringement lawsuit against cartoonist Max Fleischer and Paramount Studios, claiming that the popular Betty Boop character was based on Kane’s personality and image.

BOOP SCOOP…Comparison between Helen Kane and the cartoon star Betty Boop was published in Photoplay’s April 1932 issue, one month before Kane’s lawsuit was filed. The suit was settled two years later, the court finding insufficient evidence to support Kane’s claim. (Wikipedia)

 *  *  *

From Rags to Rackets

Lois Long lived at the center of the 1920s speakeasy scene, but while she partied she also kept a critical eye on her surroundings, and when she later moved on to fashion criticism (“On And Off The Avenue”) she maintained the same combination of enthusiasm and shrewdness as she took aim at the “lusty fellows of the fashion rackets”…

JUST BROWSING, THANKS…Lois Long kept a skeptical eye on the New York fashion “racket” in the 1930s. Above, an unidentified model sporting a red velvet ensemble during a fashion show in 1933. (New York Daily News)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with yet another insecticide-themed cartoon from Dr. Seuss, this time using the experimental medium of television to get his point across…

…R.J. Reynolds continued to push their Camels on the growing market of women smokers, here mixing their product with a basket of fruit to suggest freshness and vitality…

…the folks at B. Altman touted their new outdoor furniture line, placing it in a setting available to a very select few New Yorkers…

…we kick off the cartoons with Peter Arno at his best…

Alice Harvey gave voice to one woman’s thoughts on children…

Leonard Dove found spirits dwelling among dusty bones…

James Thurber gave us his take on the housewife eating bonbons trope…I’m not suggesting that Thurber was the first to illustrate this stereotype, but I’m not finding any references to housewives and bonbons predating the 1950s…something for a dissertation out there, if it hasn’t already been done…

William Steig continued his exploration into the world of the Small Fry, offering up a rare image of baseball in the early New Yorker

…and we close the May 14 issue with I. Klein, and one sidewalk salesman looking for a bonafide endorsement…

…on to May 21, 1932…

May 21, 1932 cover by Helen Hokinson.

…where we find E.B. White sharing his thoughts on the Lindbergh kidnapping and its tragic result…

BAD NEWS ON THE DOORSTEP…News of the death of Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s kidnapped baby transfixed the country in the spring of 1932. (New York Times)

 *  *  *

No Immaculate Conception, This

It must have been hard to be Lewis Mumford, so knowledgable in the arts, architecture and city planning, and yet rather helpless in encouraging thoughtful growth in a place that spouted buildings like mushrooms and paved roads (thanks to Robert Moses) almost as fast as cars could drive across them. These excerpts offer some of Mumford’s thoughts on the matter:

For Mumford’s second point, he soundly denounced a plan to place an obelisk in Battery Park. The 1929 proposal called for an 800-foot obelisk at the junction of Broadway and Greenwich Street:

OVER COMPENSATING, PERHAPS…Designed by architect Eric Gugler, the proposed granite obelisk for Battery Park would have been windowless, 80 feet square at its base and rising to a height of 800 feet. Thankfully it was never, ahem, “erected.” (NYC Urbanism @nycurbanism) 

Mumford also addressed the matter of the Central Park Zoo, and its proposed relocation:

Happily for Mumford, and for former Gov. Al Smith (see caption), the zoo would be revitalized and remain in Central Park.

MIRACLES OF MOSES…Although Lewis Mumford would often be at odds with the powerful park commissioner Robert Moses, it was Moses who ensured that the Central Park Zoo would remain in the park. The remodeled zoo opened with great fanfare on December 2, 1934, and Moses’ old friend and political mentor Al Smith was designated honorary zookeeper. Smith, who lived just across from the zoo at 820 Fifth Avenue, visited almost daily. Structured as a quadrangle with a sea lion pool at its center, the Central Park Zoo is pictured above in August 1942. (nycgovparks.org)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Many advertisers played to the Anglophilic tendencies of New Yorker readers, particular ones selling garments to the sporting gentry who aped their British cousins in such pursuits as polo and dressage…here we have “play clothes” from the menswear company Rogers Peet…

…and this swell get-up (below) from Henri Bendel…both Peet and Bendel were well-known in the 1930s. Cole Porter even referred to both companies in his songs…here is the refrain from “I Introduced” (from the 1919 show Hitchy-Koo):

…”I presented Mister Peet to Mister Rogers”…

and even more famously Porter wrote these lines in his 1934 song “You’re the Top”:

…”You’re a Bendel Bonnet / a Shakespeare Sonnet”…

…Rogers Peet closed its doors in the 1980s, and Bendel folded in 2019…

…even during the Depression, almost anyone could spring for a ten-cent bar of Lux soap, and over the years it was famous for its splashy ads (two-page spreads in the New Yorker were common) and dozens of celebrity endorsements…Lux isn’t as dominant in the U.S. today, but it remains a major international brand, now sold and marketed by the British multinational Unilever, especially in Asia…back to 1932, the Lux ad below featured Lupe Velez — known as “The Mexican Spitfire,” she was a big star in the 30s but is perhaps best known today for her sad, tragic death in 1944…the Lux ad also displayed the Aber Twins — a Ziegfeld act that featured Arlene and Charlene Aber who weren’t really twins but sisters born 18 months apart…

…if you lived in New York in the 1920s and early 30s you probably would have known about the sometime artist/designer Don Dickerman and his themed Greenwich Village restaurants — especially The Pirate’s Den — which inspired this line of highball glasses (yeah, Prohibition was still around, but who cared?)…sadly these glasses didn’t help save The Pirate’s Den, which thanks to the Depression went bankrupt in 1932…

…speaking of Prohibition, Anheuser-Busch took advantage of laws that allowed for the production of near-beer containing one-half percent alcohol…

…if you couldn’t drink you could still eat to your heart’s content, that is if you were this fat cat and not some starving fellow in a bread line…

…on to our cartoons, Helen Hokinson took us pet shopping…

Garrett Price offered up a stereotype in a courtroom setting…

…and reminiscent of humor in the vein of Ralph Barton, Rea Irvin launched a series of the world’s “beauty spots”…

Next Time: A Visit to Minskyville…

 

High Anxiety

The New Yorker profiled authors, composers, civic and world leaders and other notables in its early years, but every so often it would turn the spotlight on a member of the working class.

May 7, 1932 cover by William Steig, the first of 117 covers he would contribute to the magazine over his long life and career.

“The Man With The Squeegee,” a profile written by journalist (and later, playwright) Russel Crouse, detailed the life and work of Stanley Norris, a son of Polish immigrants who daily defied death as a window cleaner on Manhattan’s skyscrapers.

Profile illustration by Hugo Gellert

Below is an excerpt that includes a couple of Norris’ harrowing experiences high above the city streets:

LOOK MA, NO HANDS!…Just two leather straps separate this brave window washer from oblivion in March 1936; a lone worker confronts his task in 1935; window washers in 1930; window washers on the 34th street side of the building, January 1932. There are 6,400 windows on the Empire State Building, and each worker averaged 76 panes per day. (retronaut.com/cnn/considerable.com/reddit)

During the 1930s one out of every 200 window cleaners in New York City fell to their deaths annually. In the previous decade, more than 80 fell to their deaths. In another excerpt, Norris recalled one of those unfortunate deaths.

 *  *  *

Vintage Whines

E.B. White enjoyed both wine and spirits, but like many of his fellow Americans he was growing sick and tired of Prohibition, and in his “Notes and Comment” looked abroad for a better way to live.

White concluded the entry with this observation…

…which referenced the sad grape “bricks” folks could order by mail…

Grape growers sold these bricks with a warning that they were not to be used for fermentation — a warning that kept them within the law. Naturally both seller and consumer understood that the end product would likely be something stronger than grape juice.

(vinepair.com)

Where White did procure his cocktails is revealed later in “Notes” — he tells us of an encounter with a night-club host while out walking with his wife, Katharine White, and toddler Joel.

SOMETIMES E.B. JOINED THEM…Katharine White taking baby Joel for a stroll with the White’s beloved Scotty Daisy in New York City, 1931. (brainpickings.org)

 *  *  *

News Stooges

In “The Wayward Press” column, Robert Benchley (writing under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes) took the newspapers to task for their tasteless reporting on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, and their general sullying of a once proud profession (Benchley himself was an experienced journalist):

TRAGEDY SELLS…The kidnapping of Charles and Ann Lindbergh’s infant son, Charles Jr., dominated headlines across the country in the spring of 1932. This March 3 edition of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Evening Independent ran this headline just two days after the boy’s disappearance. The body of Charles Jr. was found on May 12, 1932. (Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Rising Stars

The pre-Code drama So Big!, based on Edna Ferber’s 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, featured two iconic Hollywood actors, but in 1932 only one of them, Barbara Stanwyck, was a bankable star. The film also featured the soon-to-be-famous Bette Davis, who had a much smaller role but was nevertheless grateful to be cast in a prestigious Barbara Stanwyck film. For critic John Mosher, the film proved to be a breakout role for Stanwyck.

SO BIG!…Barbara Stanwyck (left) was a marquee attraction in 1932, but Bette Davis would soon emerge as another major star in the Warner Brothers universe. (IMDB)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Clothes spun from cotton have been around for thousands of years, but this B. Altman advertisement suggests they were relatively novel for summer wear, at least among the upper orders. Both men and women wore wool bathing suits up until the 1930s, so perhaps there was something new about this cool, casual material…

…no doubt the landed gentry helped keep the Davey Tree Surgeons in business during the Depression, but in those lean times it didn’t hurt to reach out to those with modest means…

…they did something right, because this 141-year-old company still thrives today, the ninth-largest employee-owned company in the U.S…

…launched in 1906, the RMS Mauretania was beloved for her Edwardian elegance and style, but as sleeker ships came into service in 1930, the Mauretania was removed from Atlantic crossings and relegated to running shorter cruises from New York to Nova Scotia and Bermuda…

OLD RELIABLE…The RMS Mauretania was the world’s largest and fastest ship after it left the Port of Liverpool in 1906. The liner was scrapped in 1935-37, much to the dismay of many of its former passengers, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Wikipedia)

…with Mother’s Day around the corner, one company suggested a silver cigarette box as a suitable gift…

…on to our cartoons, Otto Soglow marked the upcoming holiday with this choreographed group…

Denys Wortman gave us another side of motherhood…

…other women were busy organizing political gatherings, per Garrett Price

…and Helen Hokinson

James Thurber gave us a dog in distress…

Robert Day illustrated the dilemma of two bootleggers…

…and Barbara Shermund takes us out…

Next Time: Under the Boardwalk…

 

The Grand Garbo

Joan Crawford was an MGM star by the 1930s, and according to many critics, an absolute scene-stealer in 1932’s Grand Hotel. However, the New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher saw Garbo, and only Garbo, in this Academy Award-winning pre-code drama.

April 23, 1932 cover by E.B. White. Although White’s friend and early office mate James Thurber had been contributing drawings for more than a year, it was White who would land the first cover — his only one (Thurber’s first cover would come in 1936). Maria Popova (brainpickings.org) shares this excerpt from a 1969 Paris Review interview, during which White explained to George Plimpton: “I’m not an artist and never did any drawings for The New Yorker. I did turn in a cover and it was published. I can’t draw or paint, but I was sick in bed with tonsillitis or something, and I had nothing to occupy me, but I had a cover idea — of a sea horse wearing a nose bag. I borrowed my son’s watercolor set, copied a sea horse from a picture in Webster’s dictionary, and managed to produce a cover that was bought. It wasn’t much of a thing. I even loused up the whole business finally by printing the word ‘oats’ on the nose bag, lest somebody fail to get the point.”

Greta Garbo’s previous films hadn’t exactly wowed Mosher, but the gossip he was hearing even before he screened Grand Hotel suggested it was not to be missed. Mosher touted the unseen film (in the April 16 issue), expressing his hope that the rumors would prove true — he feared Garbo would quit the business altogether and leave the country if she didn’t land a hit. His fears were laid to rest:

Adapted from the 1929 German novel Menschen im Hotel by Vicki BaumGrand Hotel is considered the first all-star epic. The brainchild of MGM’s production head Irving Thalberg, the film proved a triumph for director Edmund Goulding, who somehow managed to direct five leading roles into one film classic.

GRAND OPENING…The April 12, 1932 opening of Grand Hotel at Broadway’s famed Astor Theatre was much anticipated by critic John Mosher and pretty much everyone else. (ny.curbed.com)
STELLAR CAST…Set at a luxurious Berlin hotel, Grand Hotel brought together the stories of five seemingly unrelated lives. Clockwise, from top left, crooked industrialist Preysing (Wallace Beery), trades innuendos with an ambitious stenographer, Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford); Baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore), a once wealthy man fallen on hard times, supports himself by stealing from vulnerable marks like the depressed ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), and also teams up with a gravely ill accountant (Lionel Barrymore, John’s real brother, not pictured here); hotel entrance from the film; MGM movie poster deftly juggled the film’s five big stars; advertisement from the April 16, 1932 New Yorker made much of the film’s star power. (Wikipedia/IMDB)
THE OTHER BIG STAR in Grand Hotel was the luxurious Art Deco set created by Cedric Gibbons. Centered on the hotel’s reception desk, the set allowed filming in 360 degrees. (IMDB)

And let’s not forget that it was in this film Garbo famously uttered “I want to be alone” — it ranks number 30 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes. In 2007 Grand Hotel was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

* * *

She’s Back

Lois Long aka “Lipstick” turned in yet another “Tables for Two,” even though she had abandoned that column as a regular feature two years earlier. Unlike those earlier columns, Long seemed to have had her fill of the night life, but occasionally she found a diversion or two worth mentioning. She also offered her thoughts about the decline of civilization, indicated by such behaviors as dining at the early hour of 7 p.m. — “rawboned” she called it…

NIGHT LIGHTS…Singer Kate Smith and comedic performer Beatrice Lillie managed to keep Lois Long awake in the wee hours of nightclub entertainments. (katesmith.org/The Poster Corp)

*  *  *

Notes, and More Notes

Despite his cover contribution, and his continued presence in the “Notes and Comment” section, the year 1932 is regarded as one of E.B. White’s leanest as a full-time writer for the New Yorker. According to Scott Elledge in E.B. White: A Biography, White published only a few “Talk” pieces or signed contributions. With a toddler about the house (Joel White had just turned 1 the previous December), White and wife Katharine enjoyed what Elledge describes as perhaps “the happiest of their years together, “able to enjoy fully their professional and private lives in the city they both loved.” So perhaps that explains this particular “Notes” entry for the April 23 issue. Still, it’s good stuff:

(Note Otto Soglow’s Tammany-themed spot cartoon — the political machine was still chugging along, but its days were numbered)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with this colorful ad from McCutcheon’s to brighten our day…

…the Franklin Automobile Company responded to competition from other luxury car makers by introducing its own 12-cylinder model, the only American car to be powered by a 12-cylinder air-cooled engine (according to the H.H. Franklin Club)…

…introducing a 12-cylinder luxury car was not a good move in 1932 — one of the worst years of the Depression — and the company folded by 1934…but what a swell-looking car…

(Courtesy H.H. Franklin Club)

…one innovation that would stick around, however, was the lighted refrigerator, something to brighten those dim days of 1932, that is if you could even afford an electric fridge…

…named to evoke the luxury automobile, the British-made Rolls Razor made its debut in the back pages of the New Yorker with this panel cartoon ad featuring a hapless suitor and his girlfriend’s nosy kid brother…

…the razor came in a rigid case enclosed by two detachable lids; one carried a sharpening stone and the other a leather strop. When a lid was removed, the razor’s oscillating a handle drove a shaft along the frame, pushing the solid, hollow ground blade forward against the stone or dragging it against the strop…

…and here’s an ad you don’t see often in the New Yorker…one featuring children…

…on to our cartoonists, we have more kids via William Steig’s Small Fry…

James Thurber continued to ply his cartooning craft with one of his favorite subjects:

…here is a more detailed look at the above…

John Held Jr. continued to take us back to those saucy days of yore…

Gardner Rea sketched this hereditary pratfall…

E. McNerney gave us a woman whose beau was in alliance with architecture critic Lewis Mumford

Alan Dunn looked in on the fast-paced world of business…

…and Leonard Dove takes us out on a droll note…

Next Time: The Quiet Man…

 

The Shipping News

I’m always a bit wistful when writing about travel in the 1930s, and no mode of transportation from that decade seems more bygone than that of the great ocean liners.

April 16, 1932 cover by Sue Williams.

During the Depression many of the shipping lines looked for new ways to make up for lost passenger revenue, and this included catering to those of more modest means by introducing revised cabin classes and other amenities. E.B. White explained:

NOT A WATER SLIDE IN SIGHT…The French Line’s S.S. Normandie (left) and Italy’s M.S. Vulcania proudly plied the seas in the 1930s.
Let’s take a look inside at what White might have glimpsed on his tour aboard a 1930s liner…all of these images are of the less-pricey “tourist class” cabins…Stateroom #282 on the S.S. Normandie offered modern decor and a shower…
…the Italian Line’s M.S. Vulcania tourist class berth #409 offered two beds with a bath…
…also from the Italian Line, “Four Berth Cabin #443, Tourist Class” on the S.S. Augustus…
All cabin images courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.
…as for “tourist class” dining, if you were on the S.S. Normandie, here is what awaited you…
…what you would not have seen in this room: flip flops, tee shirts, or all-you-can eat buffets…
 *  *  *
Casting Stones
Architectural critic Lewis Mumford did not suffer fools, or foolish architecture, gladly, and when it came time for the American Institute of Architects’ annual Medal of Honor, he found that even good taste could not compensate for poor design:

DEFICIENT was how Lewis Mumford described the conception of 120 East End Avenue. Nearly eighty years later, in a 2009 “Streetscapes” column, New York Times writer Christopher Gray called the building “impeccably reserved,” and noted that it served as the home of famed philanthropist Brooke Astor during her six years of marriage to Vincent Astor. (Ruby Washington, NYT)
RARE PRAISE was offered by Mumford, however, to Clarence Stein’s Phipps garden apartments, a reminder that in addition to being an architecture critic, Mumford was also a city planner, concerned not only for aesthetics and function but also for how a building or buildings worked within the context of neighborhood and city. (cornell.edu)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with this understated advertisement from Tiffany & Company. You don’t see the word “silversmiths” in their marketing anymore (they are now “artisans”) but they still have a lot of silver things to offer…

…including some items you couldn’t buy in 1932, like this silver coffee can for $1,550…

(tiffany.com)

…speaking of silver, Gorham Sterling boasted that its sterling silverware was owned by miss etiquette herself, Emily Post, although here she is still quaintly referred to as “Mrs. Price Post”…

…if you were looking for sterling qualities in an automobile, Packard offered a range of “Aristocrats of the Metropolis”…

…to treat that Packard right, you’d want to give it the best in fuels, in this case leaded Ethyl Gasoline…

…the makers of Ethyl ran a series of these illustrated ads (above) that compared lesser fuels to downscale choices in life. However, I don’t quite get the final two illustrations in this ad…the first panel depicts a man who is apparently lost, therefore lacking confidence and therefore choosing to put mere “Gas” into his outdated sedan. Also the wife is missing. I mean, who wants to be seen with this guy? On the other hand, the confident man who chose Ethyl is seen casually chatting with an attendant as the precious fuel flows into his sporty roadster. His lovely wife and child seem delighted to watch the amber fuel spin in a little side gauge. Yes, life was good when you switched to Ethyl…

…if you were a person of substantial means you could also contemplate air conditioning for your home, something that almost no one possessed in 1932. Indeed, air-conditioning for the home was only introduced in 1932, when H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman sold an individual room air conditioner that sat on a window ledge. According to Popular Mechanics (Jan. 1, 2015), the units “were only enjoyed by the people least likely to work up a sweat—the wealthy. (The large cooling systems cost between $10,000 and $50,000. That’s equivalent to $120,000 to $600,000 today.)”…

…in addition to being rich, the pilot of this plane also happened to be cultured and fascinating, and a smoker of Rameses II cigarettes…

…and here’s another activity reserved for the very few — overseas telephone calls. At $30 for three minutes to London, it would be equivalent to about $600 today (consider that your average stenographer was pulling in maybe $15 a week in 1932, a sales clerk less than $10)…

…that sales clerk, however, likely could afford a jar of Pond’s and aspire to have a “celebrated English complexion” like Lady Mary Katherine Clive Pakenham…

…Born into the Anglo-Irish Longford family, Pakenham (1907-2010) was a British writer and historian best known for memoirs of her family and time as a debutante in 1926…

THOSE DOWDY DEBS… Lady Mary Katherine Clive Pakenham’s memoir of life as a debutante, Brought Up and Brought Out (1938), recounted 1926 as a “bumper dowdy year” for debutantes, the men she encountered “practically deformed…Some were without chins. Some had no foreheads. Hardly any of them had backs to their heads.” (Cecil Beaton Studio Archive)

…we continue with the fashionable by way of Lord & Taylor and an illustration that looks very New Yorker-esque but I can’t quite identify the artist, not yet anyway…maybe Barbara Shermund?

…I do, however, know this is by our dear Barbara

Richard Decker presented an odd moment in a manor house…

Otto Soglow’s Little King was up to his old tricks…

Robert Day discovered an unlikely hitch-hiker…

James Thurber illustrated some easy speaking in a speakeasy…

…and with the “cylinder wars” in full force among the automakers, one young lad made sure Ford was telling the truth about their new “eight”…with Peter Arno

Next Time: The Grand Garbo…