Headline News

The news of the day in May 1933 included a visit to the U.S. by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, a controversial Diego Rivera mural at Rockefeller Center, the abandonment of the Gold Standard, and the continuing saga of legal beer.

May 13, 1933 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

Writing under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes, Robert Benchley opined on the state of the print media in “The Wayward Press”…an excerpt:

NEWSMAKERS CIRCA 1933 included George Bernard Shaw (left), here being escorted by actors Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies from a Hollywood luncheon hosted by Davies in March 1933; other headlines touted the return of free beer and the suspension of the gold standard by the Roosevelt administration—everyone was required to deliver all gold coin, gold bullion and gold certificates owned by them to the Federal Reserve by May 1 for the set price of $20.67 per ounce. Pictured are guards stocking returned gold in New Jersey bank vaults, 1933. (Pinterest/history.com)

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Selling the Pitch

Babe Ruth was something of a freak of nature, becoming the “Sultan of Swat” despite a life of heavy drinking, poor eating habits and erratic attention to training regimens. Nevertheless, as Ruth neared the end of his career at age 38 he could still put on a show. In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White was hoping for just that sort of thing:

STILL GOT IT…E.B. White would get his wish for some “real showmanship” at the end of the 1933 season, when famed Yankee slugger Babe Ruth—in his 20th year in the majors—volunteered to pitch against the Red Sox in the final game of the season at Yankee Stadium. Not only did Ruth pitch a complete game, he also hit his 34th homer of the season in the Yankees’ 6–5 victory. (ballnine.com)

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From Our Advertisers

I wonder what it was like to cruise on the Dnieper River for fourteen days through “Colorful Ukrainia” during the Great Famine that Stalin imposed on that land, killing as many as five million people…

…more ads from the back pages touting various libations including Trommer’s “White Label” beer, a drink made from conch juice called “Konktail,” and an ad illustrated by William Steig promoting “imitation gin and other flavors” made by Red Lion…none of these products exist today…

…however you can still buy canned spaghetti, if that is your thing, but not “Force” breakfast cereal…

…still more selections from the back pages…on the left, an ad for Pear’s Soap that introduced us to “wise parents” whose children “are well-bred—the ‘nice people’ of tomorrow”…on the right, the lifeless gaze of a woman who pondered how life could be better in Tudor City…and in the middle, an unlikely one-column ad from luxury car maker Pierce Arrow…the automaker was America’s answer to Rolls Royce, but the Depression would take it down by 1938…

…I’m guessing the Velveeta is the mild one…

…technology was transforming beachwear, including this “Swagger Boy” outfit spun from Dupont’s latest synthetic, Acele…

…B. Altman, on the other hand, went full-color to promote their exclusive, imported fabric under the trade name Meadowbrook…

…and who ever thought a tire could look so posh, here dominating a gathering of the smart set…

…and look at this swell, sporting top hat and walking stick, but he also knows a good value when it comes to his tires…

…we move on to our cartoons with James Thurber and a lot of people apparently going nowhere…

Helen Hokinson’s girls were all ears at the latest club gathering…

Otto Soglow’s Little King got in on the excitement of legal beer…

…and we continue to the issue of May 20, 1933, with a cover by Arnold Hall, who did at least eight covers for The New Yorker during the 1930s…

May 20, 1933 cover by Arnold Hall.

The big news in this issue was Mexican artist Diego Rivera and his controversial mural at Rockefeller Center. Rivera’s New Yorker profile was written by Geoffrey Hellman (1907–1977), who beginning in 1929 served as the magazine’s principal writer for “The Talk of the Town.” Here’s an excerpt, with illustration by Al Frueh:

What got Rivera in hot water with John D. Rockefeller Jr. and family was a mural that departed somewhat from the artist’s earlier study sketches—Rivera had been hired to depict “man at the crossroads,” looking to the future with uncertainty but also with hope for a better world.

According to a 2014 story by NPR’s Allison Keyes, leftist organizations and various communist groups in New York criticized Rivera for agreeing to work with capitalist paragons like the Rockefellers. In response, Rivera sent assistants to find a picture of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. “If you want communism, I will paint communism,” he apparently said.

The subsequent inclusion of Lenin in the mural led to protests by the Rockefeller family, the press and the public. Rivera was ultimately asked to leave the country, losing yet another commission for the Chicago World’s Fair. Rivera got paid for his Rockefeller Center mural, but the work itself was demolished.

After returning to Mexico Rivera recreated the mural, adding some vengeful references (see below) to his 1934 work, Man, Controller of the Universe.

Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo, had accompanied him to New York, and during their time in the states (1930-34) she produced a number of now-famous paintings. However in 1933 she was not recognized as a serious artist. Indeed when she visited with the Detroit News in 1932, the headline read, “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art.” In the same vein, Hellman perceived Kahlo as nothing more than a pretty helpmeet.

MORE THAN A PRETTY FACE…At left, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo attending an art exhibition in New York, 1933; at right, Kahlo and Rivera before the controversial mural at Rockefeller Center. Although an unknown in the art world in 1933, Kahlo would one day eclipse her husband’s fame. (SFGate/Pinterest)
MISCONCEPTION…Clockwise, from top, an early sketch of the Diego Rivera’s mural differed from what he ultimately painted in Rockefeller Center. After the mural was destroyed in 1934, Rivera recreated the work under the title Man, Controller of the Universe, now on display at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. A detail of that work shows Vladimir Lenin holding hands with workers of different races. Below, juxtaposed with the image of Lenin in that painting was another famous face, that of John D. Rockefeller Jr., depicted drinking martinis with a prostitute. Touché!
(Museo Frida Kahlo)

Rivera’s Rockefeller Center mural was eventually replaced in 1937 by American Progress, painted by the Spanish artist José Maria Sert:


The irony of the Rivera controversy was not lost on E.B. White, who offered this ballad in response:

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Keep it in Your Pocket

E.B. White again, this time opening his column with thoughts on the anti-Hitler parade that was held in New York.

White refers to his “swastika watchfob”…before the Nazis came to power, the swastika was known to many cultures as a symbol of prosperity and good luck.

IT’S THE REAL THING…In 1925 Coca Cola made a lucky brass watch fob in the shape of a swastika. At that time the swastika was still a symbol of good luck. (Reddit)
SHOW OF UNITY…Anti-Hitler parade in New York protested the May 10, 1933 book burnings across Nazi Germany. (encyclopedia.ushmm.org)

In his weekly column Howard Brubaker added this observation regarding life in Nazi Germany…

Back home, folks could still enjoy a taste of Germany that wasn’t associated with violence and hate…an excerpt from “The Talk of the Town”…

GEMÜTLICHLüchow’s opened in 1882 when Union Square was still New York’s theater and music hall district, and featured seven dining rooms and a beer garden. The restaurant closed in 1982 and was demolished in 1995 to make way for an NYU dormitory. (Pinterest/MCNY)

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From Our Advertisers

The architecture profession fell on hard times during the Depression. In 1931 the Architects’ Emergency Committee began promoting the talents of unemployed architects who were willing to work for less than half their ordinary fee, limiting charges to materials, a small amount of cash, and a place to sleep…this is an example of a series of ads that ran in The New Yorker in the spring of 1933…

…one profession not feeling the hard times?—the makers of tobacco products, and specifically cigarettes…

…speaking of hard times, we turn to our cartoons and Gardner Rea

…and we close on a bright note, otherwise known as Peter Arno

Next Time: Rebirth of a Nation?

The Mouse That Roared

In the spring of 1928, Walt Disney collaborated with cartoonist Ub Iwerks in creating a new cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, and later that year Mickey would be featured in the first-ever post-produced sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie. The film was an immediate hit, bringing almost instant fame to Disney.

Dec. 19, 1931…A classic cover by Peter Arno.

Just three years after the birth of Mickey, Disney had already carved a place for himself in American culture, drawing the attention of millions of Mickey fans —  and one critic for the New Yorker — Gilbert Seldes, who penned a “Profile” of the “Mickey-Mouse Maker” (illustration by Hugo Gellert). Note in the second of these two excerpts how Disney was already connecting his product to patriotism and clean living through his Mickey Mouse Clubs:

CASH COW…ER…MOUSE…Left, Walt Disney poses with his famous creation in 1935; top right, the Disney family in 1915: Parents Elias and Flora Disney in back row, right; Walt is seated with sister Ruth in front; photo of Disney proves the merchandising value of his little mouse from the very start.
A THING OF NIGHTMARES…Before the television show there was a theater-based Mickey Mouse Club. Pictured above is an early meeting of the Club at a theater in Ocean Park, California. Although the Club had 1 million members in the U.S. by 1932, Disney pulled the plug on the clubs in 1935. They were revived through several television series in 1955-59, 1977-79, and 1989-1994 (that last class featured a number of future stars including Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake. (www.vintag.es)

In his conclusion, Seldes marveled at Disney’s productivity — a new picture made every two weeks — and his seemingly endless creativity. Little could Seldes imagine that one day the man and his mouse would become a multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate.

I’M YOUR VEHICLE, BABY…Mickey gives Minnie a ride in his cab in 1931’s Traffic Troubles.

You can watch 1931’s Traffic Troubles here:

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Big Man on Canvas

It seems the earth almost shook when Mexican artist Diego Rivera arrived in New York for only the second one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art. His work habits, his comings and goings, and his enormous size (modest by today’s standards) were reported in the New Yorker, including this entry in “The Talk of the Town”…

COME TO MOMA…Cover of the Museum of Modern Art’s catalog for the Diego Rivera exhibition.
MAN AT WORK…Left, Diego Rivera at work on The Uprising, at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1931. Rivera painted five frescoes on portable supports of steel-braced cement in conjunction with his MoMA exhibition. Among the works featured was The Rivals (right), which sold for $9.76 million in 2018, overtaking an auction record for Latin American art previously set by his wife, Frida Kahlo. Her Two Nudes in the Forest sold for $8 million in 2016. (MoMA/Pinterest)

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Winds of War

It’s the end of 1931, but one can already detect the rumblings of the future to come, namely world war. The former Allied and Axis powers of the First World War were all busy developing new weapons, particularly of the airborne variety that all believed would provide a decisive edge if (or rather when) the next war commenced. Japan was already making moves on China, and in just four years the Germans would reoccupy the Saarland and Italy would invade Ethiopia. E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” found the current state of affairs more than a bit troubling…

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE…Wars and rumors of wars drove rapid advances in aviation in the 28 years following the Wright Brothers’ first flight. The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company developed the A-8 (above) in 1930-31 to serve as a ground-attack aircraft. (ww2aircraft.net)

…and hints of the world to come could also be found in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column, where he made this observation:

Brubaker was likely referring to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cautious approach to announcing his candidacy for president. The outcome, of course, proved quite different for the German people.

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From Our Advertisers

Preparations for war drove the development of the aircraft industry, which quickly adapted its designs during peacetime for civilian purposes. This ad from United Airlines touted the advantages of plane over train travel for corporate executives. Within 30 years the airlines would indeed supplant railroads as the preferred means for business travel…

…Prohibition would remain in force until the end of 1933, so brewers like Anheuser-Busch continued finding ways to link their non-alcoholic products to the ghosts of drinking past…

…on to our cartoons, James Thurber rendered this apt portrait of our civilization…

Barbara Shermund gave us an actress with a reputation to protect…

…and Garrett Price presented an unlikely harmonica player…

…on to our next issue, where we find more Diego Rivera

Dec. 26, 1931 cover by Madeline S. Pereny. Artist’s note: Pereny (1893–1970) was born in Kecskemet, Hungary. A baroness, she studied at Vienna Art Academy before emigrating to the U.S. in the early 1930’s. In addition to creating cover art and illustrations for The New Yorker, she was also a cartoonist for the Disney Studios.

…and we begin with this entry from “The Talk of the Town,” attributed to James Thurber

WHERE’S DIEGO?…in December 1931 he could be found working on his frescoes on the sixth floor of the Heckscher Building — the Museum of Modern Art’s first home. In the foreground is the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion, demolished in 1926. (Library of Congress)
GET THE POINT?…Thurber referred to Diego Rivera’s Indian Warrior, one of five frescoes Rivera created during his Museum of Modern Art exhibition.

Thurber refers to “a lady” who accompanied Rivera, most likely Frida Kahlo, who was emerging as an artist in her own right around this time.

PORTRAIT OF A LADY…Wedding photograph of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1929. (Throckmorton Fine Art)

More on Diego could be found in the art review section, where critic Murdock Pemberton offered a cautionary message to the rabble who might not abide some of the artist’s controversial themes:

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Head Cracker

In the 1920s and 30s Johnny Broderick was known as New York’s toughest cop, known for personally assaulting gangsters (and suspects) and for once facing down armed gunmen during a prison break at the Tombs. His valor won him many fans (and some detractors), making him a local celebrity and a subject of gossip columns. Reporter Joel Sayre offered his assessment of Broderick in a “Profile” for the Dec. 26 issue (illustration by Abe Birnbaum). Excerpts:

WISE GUY, EH?…Johnny Broderick (see arrow) escorts an unfortunate perp in 1927. (Public Domain)

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Something to Cheer About

On the lighter side, Hollywood took a shot at Noel Coward’s 1930 comedy of manners, Private Lives. The original play featured Gertrude Lawrence and Laurence Olivier, while the Hollywood version Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery.  For once, critic John Mosher actually liked this screen adaptation:

GIVE ME THAT LOVIN’ FEELING…Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery in the film adaptation of Noel Coward’s Private Lives. (TCM)

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From Our Advertisers

Just one ad from the Dec. 26 issue to close out the year, and what better way to say “Merry Christmas” than with a fresh cigarette…

…on to our cartoonists, William Crawford Galbraith offered a look backstage in this two-page illustration across the bottom of “The Talk of the Town”…

Richard Decker showed us the importance of making oneself clear, especially when aloft in a dirigible…

Robert Day found humor in a barren landscape…

Garrett Price offered us a cheesy predicament…

Helen Hokinson found a man about to make an important point…

…and we end 1931 with this classic from James Thurber

Next Time: Thurber’s Dogs…