Beauty and the Beast

One of Hollywood’s most famous motion pictures was a story about a giant ape that (literally) falls for a beautiful woman.

March 11, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

New Yorker film critic John Mosher found the premise of King Kong ridiculous, but he also found many of its scenes diverting, especially those featuring Kong and a number of prehistoric creatures (created by Marcel Delgado), miniature models brought to life through stop-motion animation techniques pioneered by Willis O’Brien and his assistant, Buzz Gibson. Mosher’s review:

THE TRIALS OF GIANT APEHOOD…King Kong battled nature and man in the eponymous 1933 film that featured a silly love story between actors Bruce Cabot and Fay Wray (lower right, with Robert Armstrong); this being a pre-Code film, Wray had trouble keeping on her blouse, although a scene depicting Kong undressing her and sniffing his fingers was cut, as were some of the more gruesome scenes featuring Kong stomping and chomping his way through Manhattan. (IMDB)

By today’s standards the film’s special effects are quite dated, but they astonished audiences in 1933 and again in a 1952 re-release.

NEW YORK OR BUST…A huge bust of King Kong’s head and torso was fashioned from wood, cloth, rubber and bearskin by Marcel Delgado, Buzz Gibson and Fred Reese. Three operators inside the bust used metal levers, hinges, and an air compressor to manipulate the mouth and facial expressions. In addition, two versions of the ape’s right arm were constructed of steel, rubber and bearskin — one was non-articulated, mounted on a crane, and the other had articulated fingers that allowed Kong to grasp Fay Wray in close-ups (below). A separate non-articulated leg was also mounted on a crane for scenes depicting Kong stomping on villagers. (reddit.com/Pinterest)

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Oh Baby

Before child labor laws were finally enforced in the late 1930s, children were routinely exploited for profit, most famously the Dionne quintuplets by Dr. Allan Roy Defoe, not to mention the many child stars fed into the Hollywood meat grinder. For a public seeking novelty as a distraction from the Depression, there were also numerous “baby orchestras” organized by one Karl Moldrem. “The Talk of the Town” commented:

NURSERY SONGS…One of Karl Moldrem’s baby orchestras assembled in Southern California, 1931. (digitallibrary.usc.edu)

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Edible Art

“The Talk of the Town” has always been a source for light anecdotes, including this brief account of a hungry Vanity Fair photographer:

MMM, PRETZEL ART…Vanity Fair’s edible cover, March 1933. (Vanity Fair Archive)

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Lend Me An Ear

Alexander Woollcott led his “Shouts and Murmurs” column with an account from a recent benefit performance, during which his friend Noël Coward decided to strike up a conversation regarding the survival of the stage in an era of talking films:

TALKING TALKIES… Noël Coward (left) voiced his concerns about the future of stage entertainment with Alexander Woollcott during a benefit performance likely held on behalf of the theatrical world. (npg.org)

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From Our Advertisers

Ah, we begin with signs of spring, glimpsed beyond the gleaming cowl of a 12-cylinder Lincoln…

…and catch a whiff of that springtime breeze, savored between puffs of your Chesterfield…

…this guy has some spring in his step thanks to the sparkling water he just splashed into his bootleg gin…

…the folks at Dorothy Gray presented a nameless woman (“slim and straight as a gallant boy, yet feminine to her finger tips”) who was ready to greet spring until she saw those “little lines under her eyes”…the horror indeed…

…Coty again presented an attenuated trio in a sexless courtship dance, oozing with anglophilic longing…

…I include this ad solely for the terrific illustration by Mac Harshberger, famed for his elegant, simplified line…

…and a couple of back pagers…thanks to Sonotone, the deafened shall not only hear but will also be stricken by a sudden voiding of the bowels…and below, a surprising ad from the Plaza, one place I never thought would need to advertise…but those were tough times…

…and on to our cartoons, and this spot drawing from Peggy Bacon, whom we haven’t seen in awhile…

Gilbert Bundy took us to a sanctuary of song…

…another day with our fellow citizens, and Gluyas Williams

…one from E. Simms Campbell

…who was the first Black cartoonist published in nationally distributed, “slick” magazines…

…and also the creator of Esky, the pop-eyed mascot of Esquire magazine…

Carl Rose gave us a night at the opera in this two-page cartoon with the Depression-inspired caption: The artists will now pass among you. Anything you can give will be greatly appreciated….

…and James Thurber returned to the nudist colony for another look at the age-old struggle between the sexes…

Next Time: Not Even Funny…

Life With Father

If you’ve ever come across the byline B.H. Arkwright, you were most likely reading the work of Clarence Day Jr., who in February 1931 began writing for the New Yorker under that pseudonym and also under his given moniker, which in four short years would become a household name.

Jan. 21, 1933 cover by Theodore Haupt.

In the Jan. 21, 1933 issue Day would publish his first humorous story in the New Yorker about upper-middle-class family life in the 1890s. A subsequent collection of these stories would be published in 1935 under the title Life with Father. Sadly, Day would die shortly thereafter and wouldn’t witness the enormous cultural impact his stories would have on mid-century America.

Here is an excerpt of Day’s first story about his father, describing an exchange between his parents that would set the tone for the series:

Life with Father was a hit with readers, inspiring a 1939 Broadway production by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse that would run for 3,224 performances over 401 weeks — it was, and still is, the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway. The play would be adapted into a 1947 film featuring Irene Dunne and William Powell in the leading roles. The stories even made it to the small screen in a CBS TV series that ran from 1953 to 1955.

ALL IN THE FAMILY…Clockwise, from top left, Clarence Day, Jr. (1874-1935) in undated photo; Dorothy Stickney and Howard Lindsay in the Broadway production of Life with Father, 1939; Day’s father and inspiration, stockbroker Clarence Day, Sr. (1844-1927); scene from the 1947 feature film Life with Father with Irene Dunne, William Powell, and a 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. (britannica.com/theguardian.com/IMDB)

Day was also a cartoonist, contributing satirical cartoons for U.S. suffrage publications in the 1910s and also publishing collections of humorous essays including a Darwinian satire on the origins of human nature, This Simian World (1920), and the rambling, whimsical The Crow’s Nest (1921). Both featured Day’s simplistic cartoons and anthropomorphic tales that anticipated the work of James Thurber later in the decade.

CATTAIL…Self-portrait of Clarence Day rendered as a cat in a selection from The Crow’s Nest (1921). The entire book is available as a free e-book from The Project Gutenberg.

As we know, New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross was a man of contradictions, at once profane and puritanical, the latter on display when it came to one of Day’s cartoon submissions for the magazine. According to Brendan Gill’s memoir Here at The New Yorker, Ross balked at publishing the drawing below because it showed an exposed breast. Either Day or an editor simply removed the nipple (note the broken line in the nipple’s place) and the cartoon was published.

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Big Man’s Big Man

August Gennerich not only served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s bodyguard, he was also a close family friend. “The Talk of the Town” featured a lengthy account of the man, an excerpt of which is below:

ON GUARD…Augustus “Gus” Gennerich (1887-1936) was a friend of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s as well as one of FDR’s most trusted guards. He began his career in 1909 as a NYC policeman and in 1929 was assigned to be then-Governor Roosevelt’s bodyguard in the city. The Roosevelts were heartbroken when Gus died unexpectedly at age 50 from a heart attack. (picryl.com)

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Desert Solitude

In 1933 Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) was well into her Southwestern phase when her husband Alfred Stieglitz staged a show of her work at his last New York gallery, An American Place. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz lived together in New York until 1929, when O’Keeffe began spending more time in the Southwest — most likely to put some distance between herself and Stieglitz, who was in a long-term affair with photographer and writer Dorothy Norman. After this show opened O’Keeffe would suffer a nervous breakdown (per the above) and not return to painting until 1934. Lewis Mumford visited An American Place and had this to say about O’Keeffe’s work:

ANOTHER AMERICAN PLACE…New Mexican Landscape by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1930. (springfieldmuseums.org)

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The Bookish Type

Modernist American poet and writer Archibald MacLeish (1892–1982) was a man of letters to the letter, serving as the ninth Librarian of Congress (1939-44) and during which time initiating the process of naming U.S. poet laureates. Here he contributes some of his verse to the New Yorker:

DESK JOB…Archibald MacLeish, circa late 1930s. (Library of Congress)

It was no accident that MacLeish contributed to the New Yorker: in addition to being among the literary expatriates in Paris including Gertrude Steinand Ernest Hemingway, MacLeish and his wife, Ada Hitchcock, were part of the Riviera crowd hosted by Gerald and Sara Murphy, which included among other notables John O’Hara, Dorothy Parker, and Robert Benchley.

OVER THERE…Gerald and Sara Murphy hosting friends at a Riviera beach party, circa 1923. Gerald is the man standing in the striped shirt; Sara is at right with a parasol. I believe that is Benchley at the bottom right, but not positively sure. (Beinecke Library)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with this ad from Helena Rubinstein that parodies Lois Long’s “Tables for Two” column (Long signed that column as “Lipstick”) and announced a new “Red Poppy” shade…

…on the other hand, the folks at Tangee borrowed from the old Temperance Movement song, The Lips that touch liquor, shall never touch mine, to promote a lipstick guaranteed to snag a sugar daddy like the one illustrated below (recalling Monopoly’s Uncle Pennybags)…

…more advertising weirdness comes our way from the staid Best & Company, its execs somehow persuaded by an ad man to go with this chef motif…

…Leg ‘O Mutton referred to a type of puffy sleeve introduced in 1830s France that had a revival in the late 1880s…

MMMMM, MUTTON…The Leg ‘O Mutton look, circa 1890s. (genealogylady.net)

…the National Auto Show moved on and the National Motor Boat and Engine Show took its place at the Grand Central Palace…

…I’m trying to imagine the guy at left stowing his top hat in an overhead bin…

…down on earth folks could enjoy some down-to-earth home cooking at Mary Elizabeth’s, or go some Italian at Caruso’s…

…and for reference…

Top left, Mary Elizabeth’s success on Fifth Avenue led to expansion into Boston; below, a 1921 menu at Mary Elizabeth’s in New York; at right, 1930s postcard advertising Caruso’s on 42nd Street. (restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com)

…of course you couldn’t legally drink at those places, so you had to go to a speakeasy or mix your cocktails at home…but this is just sad, ‘ol Buddy here flavoring his bootleg with some Green Ribbon…let’s hope the playboy’s guests aren’t blinded before the night is over…

…we all know the tricky ways of the tobacco companies, including this 3-page Q&A from the makers of Camels offering smokers and would-be smokers THE TRUTH and THE FACTS about the cigarettes folks smoke…turns out Camels are the best…it’s true…

…and now for a bit of fresh air before we turn to our cartoonists…

…beginning with Al Frueh and his impressions of a show at the Guild Theatre…

Peter Arno contributed this two-pager across pages 12-13 in “The Talk of the Town” section…

Helen Hokinson offered up some scandal among the “girls”…

James Thurber gave us an awkward moment among the tender youth of the unclad world…

Otto Soglow’s Little King rose to the occasion, as always…

Daniel Alain’s artist tried his best to make some small talk while at work…

…and we close with E. Simms Campbell, and the yawning gulf between owners and workers…

Next Time: A Slice of Paradise…