In the Cold Light of Day

When Rockefeller Center’s design was unveiled in 1931, New Yorker architecture critic Lewis Mumford wrote that it followed ”the canons of Cloudcuckooland.”

Dec. 23, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Today we know 30 Rock as one of the most iconic and beloved places in Manhattan, but after Mumford saw the plans for this future “Radio City” he went into exile in upstate New York, upset over the “weakly conceived, reckless, romantic chaos” of the project. Mumford wasn’t alone in his opinion; indeed it was his commentary that helped fuel negative reactions from citizens and newspapers alike.

No doubt the scale of the project bothered a lot of people, as it was slated to replace four- and five-story brownstones and other smaller buildings with a series of massive structures (for Mumford, it was rare that any skyscraper found his favor—to him they were oversized symbols of corporate tyranny).

IMMODEST PROPOSAL…In the fall of 1928 John D. Rockefeller leased this property from Columbia University for the future site of Rockefeller Center. The project covered nearly all of the area in the three square blocks bordered by Fifth Avenue, Sixth Avenue, and 48th and 51st Streets. (ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

As the Rockefeller Center towers rose, some softened their criticisms, including E.B. White—in the Dec. 9 issue he said he would eat his words after viewing the floodlit 30 Rock by night: “the whole thing swims up tremendously into the blue roxyspheres of the sky.”

Two weeks later, in his Dec. 23 “Sky Line” column, Mumford agreed that the floodlit buildings looked impressive, recalling Hugh Ferriss’ romantic, futuristic visions of the city; however, the darkness also concealed a decorative scheme that was ”bad with an almost juvenile badness.” 

NIGHT VISION…In his 1929 book, The Metropolis of Tomorrow, Hugh Ferriss published the image at left of an imaginary city of the future. At right, photo by Paul J. Woolf of the RCA tower at Rockefeller Center shortly after its completion. Ferriss was an architect, illustrator, and poet who explored the psychological condition of urban life, and was known for his conte crayon drawings of skyscrapers—nighttime scenes from a futuristic Babylon that are influential in popular culture (e.g. Tim Burton’s vision for Gotham in 1989’s Batman). (archive.org/mutualart.com)
A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE…Lewis Mumford thought the RCA tower looked “scrawny” when viewed in broad daylight between the British and French empire buildings. (smarthistory.com/Pinterest)

Having finished his excoriation of the buildings’ scale and placement, Mumford proceeded to carve up the ornamental features, including the sunken plaza (today an iconic site for ice skating), which he thought looked “a little silly” in relation to the mass of the RCA building. 

TRAINED EYE…Lewis Mumford believed the work of the great Gaston Lachaise was diminished in the Rockefeller Center concept, noting that the Lachaise sculptures on Sixth Avenue (top and right photos) were only visible from the “L” station (Mumford doesn’t mention that the elevated placement of the sculptures was deliberate—they were put there so train riders on the “L” could see them); below, Mumford found the sunken plaza to be out of scale with the RCA tower—for decades it has been one of Manhattan’s most iconic sites. (Wikipedia/Vincent Tullo for The New York Times)

Revisiting Rockefeller Center in his May 4, 1940 “Sky Line” column, Mumford wouldn’t exactly eat his words, but he did admit that the collection of structures formed “a composition in which unity and coherence have to a considerable degree diminished the fault of overemphasis. In other words, they get by.” Mumford still believed 30 Rock was too tall—he would have preferred 32 stories, less than half its actual size: “Good architecture is designed for the human beings who use or view the buildings, not for publicity men or photographers.”

I have to disagree. Every time I look up at 30 Rock I feel my heart soar.

 * * *

Yule Like This

The Dec. 23 issue marked the return of Frank Sullivan’s annual holiday poem, “Greetings, Friends!” Sullivan published his first holiday poem in 1932 and faithfully continued the tradition until 1974; after his death in 1976, New Yorker editor William Shawn asked the late Roger Angell to take on the poem. In 2012 Angell passed the duty along to Ian Frazier, the magazine’s current Yuletide bard (Frazier’s latest poem can be found in the Dec. 26, 2022 issue).

 * * *

Success, In Spite of it All

“The Talk of the Town” looked in on singer Ethel Waters, who apparently wasn’t brooding over the difficulties of her past life, given that she was seeing so much success as a recording artist and as a Broadway star in As Thousands Cheer. Although her material life was better, she still faced racism wherever she went, including on stage—although she received equal billing, she was segregated from her co-stars in As Thousands Cheer.

BORN INTO THE BLUES…Raised in crushing poverty, Ethel Waters became a major singing star in the 1930s. She was one of the first singers to confront racism in a popular 1933 song, “Suppertime.” (Facebook)

 * * *

Enigma

Geoffrey T. Hellman examined the life of American entrepreneur Armand Hammer in a profile titled “Innocents Abroad.” Hammer’s business interests around the world helped him cultivate a wide network of friends and associates. Called “Lenin’s chosen capitalist” by the press, Hammer (1898-1990) started a pencil factory in the Soviet Union in 1926 and later became head of Occidental Petroleum. Throughout his career he maintained close ties with Soviet leaders—which raised many suspicions in the West—but Hammer also served as a citizen diplomat for the U.S., an important go-between during the Cold War. An excerpt:

PROLETARIAN PENCILS…Clockwise, from top left: A 1928 Soviet advertising poster for “A. Hammer” pencils. The factory began work in Moscow in April 1926 as a private American industrial concession; Armand Hammer in the 1920s; Hammer (at right) shares a laugh with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in the 1970s. Hammer is also the great-grandfather of American actor Armie Hammer. (crwflags.com/New York Times)

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From Our Advertisers

With Prohibition over, New Yorkers were looking forward to celebrating the holidays with Richard Himber and his orchestra at the Ritz-Carlton or enjoying a cocktail at the new Continental Grill and Bacchante Bar at the Hotel St. Moritz…

…and no less of an authority than Santa was advising shoppers to give tobacco products to their loved ones this holiday season…

…or perhaps you could be persuaded by elegant holiday wishes from the owners of Lucky Strike, who included their cigarettes among “the best of good things”…

…good living, apparently, could also be found in a bottle of Bud…

…or in American-distilled “London Dry Gin”…or in a pint of Guinness…

…our cartoons begin with Gardner Rea, and a course in mixology…

Otto Soglow’s Little King found a surprise in his Christmas stockings…

Helen Hokinson offered some passing holiday cheer… 

Mary Petty gave us this unusual Christmas seal…

…and from James Thurber, this earnest prayer…

…and we close with another prayer-themed cartoon from Jan. 4, 1982—Lee Lorenz, who died Dec. 8 at age 90, joined the New Yorker staff in 1958, the same year his first cartoon appeared in the magazine’s pages. He also served as art editor (1973–1993) and cartoon editor (1993–1997) for the New Yorker. Michael Maslin penned an appreciation on his Ink Spill site.

…Happy Holidays one and all, as we end with this GIF from Disney’s 1933 short, The Night Before Christmas

…and this scene from December 1933, when Rockefeller Center decided to make the Christmas Tree an annual tradition and held the very first tree lighting ceremony…

At left, image from December 1933—the very first tree lighting ceremony at 30 Rock, when the Christmas Tree became an annual tradition; at right, the tree on the Plaza in 1934, before ice skaters occupied the space. (rockefellercenter.com/MCNY)

Next Time: Happy New Year, 1934…

Genesis of Genius

It’s hard to believe in this day and age that a theoretical physicist could enjoy rock star status, but then Albert Einstein wasn’t your everyday theoretical physicist.

Dec. 2, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

A two-part profile of Einstein (1879–1955) by Alva Johnston (with terrific caricature by Al Frueh) examined the life and “idol” status of a man who would define the idea of genius in the 20th century. Although Einstein desired to live an almost reclusive existence at Princeton University, Johnston noted that he had become “fairly reconciled to the occupation of popular idol.”

Einstein was at Princeton thanks to the rise of Adolf Hitler, who came to power in Germany in early 1933 while Einstein was visiting the United States. Returning to Europe that March, Einstein knew he could not return to his home country (indeed, the Gestapo had raided his Berlin apartment and eventually seized all of his property), so when Einstein landed in Antwerp, Belgium on March 28, 1933, he immediately went to the German consulate and surrendered his passport, formally renouncing his German citizenship.

I’M OUTTA HERE…Albert Einstein with a Zionist delegation from France, Belgium, and England upon leaving the SS Belgenland in Antwerp, Belgium, 1933. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

After some time in Europe and Great Britain, in October 1933 Einstein accepted an offer made earlier by from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey to serve as a resident scholar. When he arrived with his wife, Elsa, he said he would seclude himself at the Institute and focus on his teaching and research.

(NY Times, Oct. 18, 1933)
EINSTEIN WASN’T FIDDLIN’ AROUND when he played his cherished violin—he once said that if he hadn’t been a scientist, he would have been a musician. This photo was taken at Einstein’s Princeton home in November 1933—he and fellow members of a string quartet were practicing for a December concert at the Waldorf-Astoria to raise money for German-Jewish refugees. From left to right, sitting: Arthur (Ossip) Giskin, Toscha Seidel, Albert Einstein, and Bernard Ocko; standing: Estelle Manheim (Seidel’s wife), Elsa Einstein and unidentified man. (Leo Baeck Institute)

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Stop and Go

E.B. White devoted his “Notes and Comment” to Manhattan’s traffic situation, which he found manageable as long as tourists stayed out of the way…

White also noted the perils of Park Avenue, especially the taxi drivers (distracted by those newfangled radios) darting between the islands…

Park Avenue in the 1930s. (geographicguide.com)

…and then there was Fifth Avenue, notorious for traffic jams, made worse on weekends by the tourist traffic…

Fifth Avenue in 1932. (New York State Archives)

…later in “The Talk of the Town” White continued his thoughts on New York taxis, namely the introduction of coin-operated radios installed for use by passengers…

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Fly Newark

Albert L. Furth took us off the mean streets and into the air when he filed this account about the Newark Metropolitan Airport for “A Reporter at Large.” Furth seemed put off by the cachet of European airports and their many amenities, given that the Newark airport—although admittedly utilitarian—was the busiest in the world. An excerpt:

FREQUENT FLIER…Albert Furth noted that Newark Municipal Airport logged a landing or departure every thirteen-and-a-half minutes. Above, passengers boarding a Boston-bound American Airlines Condor at Newark Airport in 1930. In those simpler times, passengers just walked to the runway and climbed on board. The airport had opened two years earlier on 68 acres of reclaimed swampland along the Passaic River. It was the first major commercial airport in the New York metro area and the first anywhere with a paved runway. (njmonthly.com)

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Goodnight, Speakeasy

Lois Long was an 17-year-old Vassar student when Prohibition went into effect in 1919, so when she started her career in New York in 1922 the only nightlife she knew revolved around speakeasies. Although she held Prohibition officers in disdain, she also believed that the repeal of the 18th Amendment would lower the quality of New York nightlife—the food, the “adroit service,” and the “genial din” of the speakeasy. Excerpts:

FROM LOUCHE TO LEGAL…Lois Long was saying a sad goodbye to her beloved speakeasies; perhaps the Algonquin Hotel (here, circa 1930) would offer some cheer. (Pinterest)

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From Our Advertisers

Abercrombie & Fitch (then an outfitter for the elite outdoorsman) was offering holiday shoppers everything from multi-tool knives to cocktail shakers…

…while the folks at Clerevu telescopes found a growing market for folks who used their product for anything but stargazing…

…with Repeal just days away, the Pleasant Valley Wine Company of New York hoped folks would pop a few of their corks before the good stuff arrived from France…

…the British were coming to the rescue via the Berry Brothers, who were overseeing the importation of liquor from their offices at Rockefeller Center’s British Empire Building…

…let’s look at an assortment of one-column ads…the center strip features an ad promoting Angna Enters’ appearance for “one evening only” at The Town Hall (123 West 43rd Street)…Enters (1897–1989) was an American dancer, mime, painter and writer who likely performed her piece Moyen Age…

FEEL THAT STRETCH…Angna Enters performing Moyen Age, circa early 1930s. (NYPL)

…we begin our cartoons with Gardner Rea, and a dedicated bell ringer…

Otto Soglow showed us a softer side of The Little King…

Peter Arno revealed the human side of the posh set…

…and we close the Dec. 2 issue with this classic from James Thurber

…on to Dec. 9, 1933, and a cover by an artist we haven’t seen in awhile, Ilonka Karasz

Dec. 9, 1933 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

…and we open with this comment by E.B. White, who along with critic Lewis Mumford had once voiced displeasure over the massive Rockefeller Center project. However, while viewing the floodlit tower by night, he decided that he would have to eat his words, observing how “the whole thing swims up tremendously into the blue roxyspheres of the sky”… 

MEA CULPA…E.B. White gained a new perspective on Rockefeller Center, pictured here in December 1933. (Wikipedia)

…we continue with White, who also offered his thoughts on something heretofore unthinkable—a proposal to start putting beer in cans… 

…it would happen about a year later…on Jan. 24, 1935, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company, in partnership with the American Can Company, delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale to drinkers in Richmond, Virginia…

(seletyn.com)

…and despite White’s doubts, apparently ninety-one percent of the first drinkers of the product approved of the canned beer, although when Krueger’s launched their ad blitz they had to include instructions (and a new tool) to open the darn things…

(seletyn.com)

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Dreamscapes

Critic Lewis Mumford offered his thoughts on a recent exhibit by a young surrealist named Salvador Dali

MIDDLEBROW SURREALIST…The Triangular Hour by Salvador Dali, 1933. (wikiart.org)

…and we move along to moving pictures, where John Mosher was showing some appreciation for Joan Crawford (1906–1977) in the pre-Code film Dancing Lady

SHE HAD IT ALL…Audiences and critics alike were wowed by Joan Crawford’s performance in Dancing Lady, which featured a star-studded and eclectic cast. Clockwise from top left, Clark Gable plays a Broadway director who becomes Crawford’s love interest; Crawford displays her dancing talent in a Broadway rehearsal; Dancing Lady featured an early film appearance by The Three Stooges, pictured here with Gable and the Stooges’ leader at the time, Ted Healy; Crawford with Stooge Larry Fine—in the original film, Fine completes his jigsaw puzzle only to discover (to his disgust) that it’s a picture of Adolf Hitler. The Hitler scene was removed by the Production Code; its enforcers claimed it insulted a foreign head of state. (IMDB)

In addition to Crawford, the star-studded cast included Clark Gable, Fred Astaire (in his film debut), Franchot Tone (who was married to Crawford from 1935-39 and made seven movies with her), The Three Stooges, Nelson Eddy, and Robert Benchley, who played a reporter in the film.

Dancing Lady was the film debut of Astaire, making Crawford the first on-screen dance partner of the famed hoofer…

(IMDB)

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More From Our Advertisers

We begin with this full-page advertisement from Heinz, which went to great lengths and expense to make their ad appear to part of the New Yorker’s editorial content, even featuring a Perry Barlow cartoon of a boy making a mess with their product…

…another New Yorker contributor who occasionally went over to the advertising side was Alexander Woollcott, here shilling for Chrysler… 

…Kayser, purveyor of women’s hosiery and underthings, was going for some humorous holiday cheer, but the effect is a bit unsettling…

…liquor-related ads began to proliferate with the end of the Prohibition…this one from Martini & Rossi…

…Continental Distilling was hoping to grab its share of gin sales with its Dixie Belle American gin…

…from the same folks who brought us Fleishmann’s yeast (and kept The New Yorker afloat in its early lean years) came this American dry gin…

…Ruppert’s Beer was back with another full-page color ad by Hans Flato

…on to our cartoons, and Santa again, this time besieged by an aggressive tot as rendered by Helen Hokinson

Carl Rose found an unlikely customer at a newsstand…

…here is the last of four cartoons Walter Schmidt published in the New Yorker between 1931 and 1933…

Peter Arno left his glamorous world of nightclubs and high society parties to look in on life at a boarding house…

…and we close with the delightful Barbara Shermund

Next Time: Going With the Flow…

Disappearing Act

British actor Claude Rains made his American film debut in a 1933 movie where the actor’s face isn’t revealed until the final scene.

Nov. 25, 1933 cover by Gardner Rea.

Although praised by critics in 1933 and today, the New Yorker’s John Mosher had but a paragraph to offer on the The Invisible Man, calling it a “bright little oddity” and an “absurd and diverting film.” Mosher also reviewed the Arctic adventure Eskimo, a film he found to be less than convincing about life on the frozen tundra.

FROM A TEST TUBE, BABY…Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) develops a secret formula that renders him invisible, much to the distress of his former fiancée Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart). Some of you may recall Stuart from 1997’s Titanic, in which she portrayed the 100-year-old Rose. In real life Stuart had a career spanning nearly eighty years. And wouldn’t you know, she died in 2010 at age 100. (IMDB)
NOW YOU SEE HIM…Special effects in 1933 were no mean feat. To create the effect of invisibility, Rains was covered head to foot with black velvet tights and wore whatever clothes he required for the scene. The invisibility scenes were then shot against a black set, the negative areas later manually masked to create the effect of invisibility. (IMDB)

…on to our other film, Eskimo…Mosher had doubts about the authenticity of the Eskimo family portrayed in the movie, suggesting (rather unkindly) that the lead actress, Lotus Long, looked like a client of the noted beautician Elizabeth Arden. The film was well-received by critics, but did poorly at the box office. However, it did receive the first-ever Oscar for Best Film Editing.

ICEBREAKER…Although MGM publicists portrayed Eskimo as a steamy love story set against a backdrop of adventure in the wild, the film was ahead of its time in some ways, including the use of Inuit dialogue, which was translated in English intertitles. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, who also directed 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man, the cast included (top photo, from left), Ray Mala and Lulu Long Wing (older sister of famed Hollywood actress Anna May Wong) with unidentified child actors. Bottom right, Mala with actress Lotus Long. (IMDB)

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Numbers Racket

Little known today, the sliding number puzzle “Imp” was hugely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Plastic versions were produced following World War II—I recall one of them being quietly deployed from my mother’s purse during church, to keep me occupied during lengthy sermons.

 * * *

Hammered and Sickled

“The Talk of the Town” commented on a Union Square riot in which American communists attacked a group of Ukrainians protesting the Soviet-imposed mass starvation in their country. Following is an excerpt from a longer piece that also noted the arrival of New York police, who “charged into the Square, riding their horses into the crowd and taking a crack at a head here and there.”

SEE NO EVIL…American Communists attack a group of Ukrainians protesting the Soviet-caused Holodomor famine in 1933, which killed at least four million Ukrainians. (Public domain)

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Party Girl

Elsa Maxwell (1883–1963) was an Iowa girl who grew up to become a gossip columnist and a hostess of high society parties—throughout the 1920s she was known for throwing lavish affairs for Europe’s wealthy and entitled. A 1963 Time magazine obituary noted that Maxwell developed a gift for staging games and diversions for the rich, making a living devising treasure-hunt parties, including a 1927 Paris scavenger hunt that created disturbances all over the city. Excerpts from a profile by Janet Flanner:

GETTING AN EARFUL…Elsa Maxwell hobnobbing with actress Constance Bennett and producer Darryl Zanuck in 1939. (Pinterest)

 * * *

Masked Man

Novelist Sherwood Anderson offered his impressions of the late Ring Lardner in a piece titled “Meeting Ring Lardner.” Anderson wrote that although Lardner “seemed surrounded by a little halo of something like worship wherever he went,” he had no satisfaction in his achievements. Anderson recounted Lardner’s encounter with a shy banker, when for a moment Lardner dropped the “mask” that he often wore to shield himself from humanity. Excerpts: 

SPHINX…Sherwood Anderson (right) wrote of Ring Lardner: “You wanted him not to be hurt, perhaps to have some freedom he did not have.” (AP/hilobrow.com)

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Phooey on Huey

When Louisiana Senator and former Governor Huey Long published his autobiography, Every Man a King, the reaction from the press was resoundingly negative; in the Saturday Review, Allan Nevins wrote that Long “is unbalanced, vulgar, in many ways ignorant, and quite reckless.” The New Yorker’s Clifton Fadiman went further, calling him the “Goebbels of Louisiana” and compared the senator to Adolf Hitler. Excerpts:

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME, REALLY…Huey Long’s 1933 autobiography, Every Man a King, was excoriated by the press, which largely viewed the senator as a fascistic demagogue. Long was assassinated in 1935. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

Christmas was coming, and parents with the means could consider buying a “Skippy” brand racer for their little tykes. The cartoon character at the top of the ad—Skippy—was the star of one of the most popular American comic strips of its day…

…written and drawn by Percy Crosby (1891–1964) from 1923 to 1945, the Skippy comic was a big influence on later cartoonists including Charles Schulz (Peanuts) and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)…note the football gag below later made famous by Schulz’s Lucy and Charlie Brown…

…on to some of our one-column ads…Raleigh cigarettes were promoted to the growing women’s market, while Dunhill touted a “cocktail pipe” that allowed women to get in on the fun of pipe smoking…and with Disney’s Three Little Pigs penetrating every nook and cranny of America, the makers of Stahl-Meyer sausages decided to join in the fun…

…I include this razor ad mainly for the bold typography…advertisers were in a transitional phase, experimenting with new forms and more white space, but still holding on text-heavy pitches…

…in the case of Goodyear, if you wanted to inspire confidence in your product, you propped an old codger in a rocking chair and offered some homespun wisdom…

…here is a closer look at the old-timer’s advice…

…another tobacco ad, this one displaying the glorious blooms of a tobacco plant…how could something so lovely be bad for you?…

…a small back page ad announced a big-time book for James Thurber, including a satirical blurb from Ernest Hemingway

…and that makes a nice segue to our cartoons, with Thurber again…

Otto Soglow demonstrated the unexpected effectiveness of hair tonic…

Perry Barlow gave us a look at the posh and precocious set…

…and we close with George Price, and 1933’s version of Black Friday…

Next Time: Genesis of a Genius…

The Bombshell

Much like Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s, Jean Harlow occupied a brief period in Hollywood history, but her star shone long after her untimely death.

Oct. 28, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

Adam Victor’s The Marilyn Encyclopedia draws all sorts of weird parallels between the actresses: both raised by strict Christian Scientists, both married three times, both left school at sixteen to marry their first husbands, both acted opposite Clark Gable in the last film each ever made. Most importantly, Monroe idolized Harlow, so it was no coincidence that she sported her own version of “platinum blonde” hair.

ART IMITATES LIFE…In 1958 Marilyn Monroe posed as Jean Harlow for photographer Richard Avedon in a Life magazine feature. (Flickr)

The term “Bombshell” was affixed to the 22-year-old Harlow after the 1933 film’s release, and was later used to describe Monroe and other sex symbols of the 1950s and early 60s.

Harlow’s character in Bombshell, Lola Burns, satirized the stardom years of the silent era sex symbol Clara Bow, who was director Victor Fleming’s fiancée in 1926. Although critical reviews were mostly positive, New Yorker critic John Mosher found the film “mossy with verbiage.”

TAKE A BOW, CLARA…Bombshell satirized the stardom years of silent era sex symbol Clara Bow, who was director Victor Fleming’s fiancée in 1926 (photo at left is of the couple on the set of 1926’s Mantrap); in Bombshell Jean Harlow portrayed a sex symbol who, like Bow, wanted to live a normal life. In real life, Bow made her last film in 1933 and retired to a ranch at age 28.

A STAR IS BORED…In Bombshell, movie star Lola Burns (Jean Harlow) dislikes her sexy vamp image and wants to live a normal life, but her studio publicist E. J. “Space” Hanlon (Lee Tracy) insists on feeding the press endless provocative stories about her. Clockwise, from top left: Lee Tracy and Louise Beavers in a scene with Harlow; Harlow and Una Merkel, who portrayed Lola’s assistant, Mac; Harlow in a scene with Mary Forbes, C. Aubrey Smith, and Franchot Tone; Harlow in a scene with Ruth Warren and Frank Morgan—the latter portrayed Lola’s pretentious, drunken father. (IMDB)

Harlow would die at age 26 on June 7, 1937. Her heavy drinking didn’t help, but neither did the misdiagnosis she received as her kidneys were rapidly failing. While filming Saratoga with Clark Gable, Harlow was stricken with what she believed was the flu, and her persistent stomach pain was misdiagnosed as a swollen gallbladder. Just two days before her death another doctor finally diagnosed her kidney disease, but in 1937 nothing could be done—kidney dialysis would not be available for another decade, and transplants would not be an option until the mid-1950s.

 * * *

Second City Sanctimony

The New Yorker rarely missed an opportunity to take a dig at the square-toed ways of the Second City and its flagship newspaper, the Tribune. In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White (who enjoyed gin martinis) found the newspaper’s sanctimonious stance tedious:

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, aka “A Century of Progress,” received scant attention from The New Yorker, unless it provided opportunities for parody. Musicologist Sigmund Spaeth (1885-1965), well-known in the 1930s and 40s for his NBC radio programs, offered this take on the Windy City’s exposition:

WONDERS NEVER CEASE…In addition to its more high-minded attractions, the Chicago World’s Fair also featured such sideshow attractions as Ripley’s Odditorium, which featured “The Fireproof Man” among other novelties. (pdxhistory.com)

 * * *

Big, Bad Earworm

It seems quaint that nearly 90 years ago one of the most popular songs in America was “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” To Frank Sullivan, there was no escaping “that lilting tune”…

SIMPLER TIMES…”Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” was a huge hit during the second half of 1933. One of the most well-known Disney songs, it was covered by numerous artists and musical groups.

Sullivan concluded that a trip to Vladivostok might be the only way to escape the catchy melody…

Briefly jumping to the Nov. 4 issue, “The Talk of Town” took a closer look at the song and the 1933 Disney Silly Symphonies cartoon in which it was featured—Three Little Pigs. Written by Frank Churchill and Ann Ronell, the song launched a market for future Disney tunes, with Irving Berlin securing the sheet music rights over Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies. 

WE’RE IN THE MONEY…The 1933 Disney Silly Symphonies cartoon Three Little Pigs helped to launch the Disney juggernaut nearly 90 years ago.

 * * *

Polymath

Le Corbusier, aka Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887–1965), was known as a pioneer of modern architecture and design in the early and mid-20th century, but as this review by Lewis Mumford suggested, he was also a talented modernist painter.

WAYS OF SEEING…Le Corbusier’s early paintings followed the ideas of something he called “purism”—at left is an example from 1920, Still Life. Later on his work become more abstract, including Menace, at right, from 1938. The horse head in the painting seems to reference Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting, Guernica. (Wikipedia/Art Basel)

 * * *

Dear Papa

Following the high praise Ernest Hemingway received in 1926 for The Sun Also Rises, Dorothy Parker feared for the novelist’s next book: “You know how it is—as soon as they all start acclaiming a writer, that writer is just about to slip downward.” Seven years later Parker’s colleague Clifton Fadiman detected some slippage, finding Hemingway’s latest output a bit stale. Rather than pen a negative review, Fadiman shared his concerns by way of an open letter:

PHONING IT IN…Clifton Fadiman (right) found Ernest Hemingway’s Winner Take Nothing to be “stuck fast in yesterday.” (AP/Wikipedia/Pinterest)

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From Our Advertisers

Until the 1920s all car bodies were framed in wood, preferably ash, but by the end of the 1930s all-steel car bodies became the standard…Packard made the switch beginning around 1938…

…ah, the good old days when you could smoke in the “rarefied atmosphere” of an airplane, the pilot so close by you could tap him on the shoulder…

…Brooklyn’s Hittleman-Goldenrod Brewery opened in late 1933 promising beer in the finest English tradition…sadly, it closed in 1937…

…the Waldorf-Astoria announced the re-opening of its Empire Room with entertainment by Xavier Cugat and his tango orchestra, featuring the dancer Margo…this was just the sort of “juvenile” entertainment Lois Long detested (see my previous post)…

…according to this ad, “His Lordship” drank a pot of decaf Sanka at midnight “and never winked an eye all night”…it doesn’t mention that he probably also wet the bed…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Peter Arno and the woes of the monied classes…

…on to Helen Hokinson, and the charms of the precocious…

Gardner Rea gave us a toff absorbed in historical fiction…

Alain (aka Daniel Brustlein) offered up a flautist who found beauty in his routine life…

…and we close with Perry Barlow, and motherhood among the smart set…

Next Time: Radio City…

 

As Millions Cheer

New Yorkers bid farewell to Prohibition, repealed by the 21st Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933.

Proposed by the 72nd Congress on February 20, 1933, the 21st Amendment to end national prohibition needed ratification from at least thirty-six states—by the end of October twenty-nine had ratified the amendment, and with passage seeming imminent…

Oct. 21, 1933 cover by Harry Brown.

…Manhattan’s venerable grocer turned national wine and spirits distributor Park & Tilford began shipping tens of thousands of cases of “potables” to New York, according to “The Talk of the Town.” Excerpt:

ON THE OFF WAGON…Parched, jubilant Americans ride on carts loaded with liquor prepared for distribution at the end of Prohibition. (Still from Universal News)

Edward Angly, who at the time was a journalist at the Herald-Tribune, tempered the celebratory mood in “A Reporter at Large” by considering the supply and demand issues (and higher prices) consumers would likely face upon ratification.

In early 1934 the Washington Post reported cocktail prices ranged from twenty-five cents (roughly $5.50 today) to forty cents. Whisky by the drink was selling from fifteen cents for blends to twenty-five cents for bonded varieties. One of the “higher priced” stores quoted a price of $3.80 for a quart of Four Roses (roughly eighty bucks today) while you could grab a quart of Crab Orchard straight Bourbon whisky for $1.40.

Until supplies could satisfy demand, distillers were encouraged to perform a “modern loaves-and-fishes miracle” and rectify their small stocks by cutting them with colored and flavored straight alcohol.

YOU CAN COME OUT NOW…With the end of Prohibition, bootleggers considered other career options. (floridamemory.com)

Who else would feel the pinch? In addition to the thousands of speakeasies that would close shop, legions of bootleggers would have to go legit or find another line of vice to keep themselves fed and occupied.

…before I close out this lead story, I came across this obituary for Edward Angly in the Dec. 8, 1951 edition of The New York Times. Note that this clip also features the funeral notice for New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross.

 * * *

Name Your Fears

Irish writer and critic Ernest Boyd was for a time connected to the consular service and probably had a pretty good sense of what was to come in Europe. Turning to verse he pondered the origin of the Hitler curse.

 * * *

Fat and Happy

Premiered to record-breaking crowds at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, The Private Life of Henry VIII was a smash hit in both the UK and the US and established Charles Laughton as a box office star. Although the film played fast and loose with the historical record, it was a critical success for director/producer Alexander Korda. The New Yorker’s John Mosher was among those praising the British film.

SINKING HIS TEETH INTO A ROLE…Charles Laughton’s portrayal of Henry VIII in The Private Life of Henry VIII is credited with creating the popular image of the king as a fat, lecherous glutton. Top photo features Wendy Barrie as Jane Seymour (wife #3); below, Binnie Barnes as Katherine Howard (wife #5). (moma.org/tcm.com)

HAIL TO THE KING…Opening night in London for The Private Life of Henry VIII, Oct. 24, 1933. From left are Elsa Lanchester, who portrayed wife #4 Anne of Cleves; Merle Oberon (who portrayed wife #2 Anne Boleyn), producer/director Alexander Korda, and Charles Laughton. ( Science & Society Picture Library / National Portrait Gallery, London)

 * * *

Kid’s Stuff

In her latest “Tables for Two” column, Lois Long bemoaned the state of ballroom dancing, which seemed to be appealing more to juvenile tastes.

SUITABLE FOR ADULT AUDIENCES…Lois Long recalled the cool allure of dancers Leonora Hughes (at left, with dance partner Maurice Mouvet in 1924) and Irene Castle (in a 1929 photo). Both photographs by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair. (Conde Nast)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Let it pour indeed, as advertisers anticipated the end of Prohibition…

…Brooklyn-based Piel’s joined other brewers in targeting women as a new growth market, and as in previous New Yorker ads also appealed to those who fancied themselves among the smart set…

…looking for signs of optimism after four years of economic depression? Look no further than luxury shoemaker Nettleton…

…while Nettleton held steady on its prices, the makers of Steinway pianos posted this gentle reminder about rising material costs, but what can you expect if you are purchasing “The Instrument of the Immortals”…

…the Architect’s Emergency Committee continued its campaign to promote the hiring of unemployed architects…in this ad the committee went back to the profession’s ancient origins, Marcus Vitruvius’ Virtues of an Architect

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with more adventures of The Little King, courtesy Otto Soglow

William Crawford Galbraith was still stuck on his theme of seductive women either paired with sugar daddies or clueless suitors…

…speaking of clueless, James Thurber gave us this party pooper…

Gardner Rea checked the economic temperature of the upper crust…

…and we close with William Steig, and an enterprising paperboy…

Next Time: The Bombshell…

As Thousands Cheer

ABOVE: Broadway's As Thousands Cheer (1933) featured evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (Helen Broderick) trying to persuade Mahatma Gandhi (Clifton Webb) to end his hunger strike and join her act. (NYPL)

Broadway gave Depression audiences a lift with As Thousands Cheer, a revue featuring satirical sketches that skewered the lives and affairs of the rich and famous and served as a precursor to sketch shows like Saturday Night Live.

Oct. 7, 1933 cover by Peter Arno.

With a book by Moss Hart and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the revue was a big hit, playing for nearly a year on Broadway in its initial run.

TOON TIME…Marilyn Miller led a chorus of cartoon characters in a sketch titled “The Funnies” in As Thousands Cheer; leading the revue were Miller, Clifton Webb and Helen Broderick, here featured on the cover of the Playbill. The production would be Marilyn Miller’s last—one of Broadway’s biggest stars known for playing sunny characters, her personal life was filled with illness and tragedy, and she would go to an early death in 1936. (playbill.com)

Wolcott Gibbs took his turn as Broadway reviewer, and pronounced As Thousands Cheer “the funniest thing in town.”

Not everything was roses in As Thousands Cheer: In a poignant star turn, Ethel Waters sang—at Irving Berlin’s request—his famous tune “Supper Time,” a Black woman’s lament for her lynched husband. The revue was the first Broadway show to give an African-American star (Waters) equal billing with whites, however she was segregated from her co-stars and did not appear in any sketches with them. Her co-stars even refused to bow with her at the curtain call until Irving Berlin intervened. According to the James Kaplan biography Irving Berlin, “The show had a successful tryout at Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre in early September, although opening night was marred by an ugly incident all too in tune with the times: the stars Clifton Webb, Marilyn Miller, and Helen Broderick refused to take a bow with Ethel Waters. To his everlasting credit, Berlin told the three that of course he would respect their feelings—only in that case there needn’t be any bows at all.

“They took their bows with Waters at the next show.”

NEWSMAKERS…Each sketch in As Thousands Cheer was preceded with a newspaper headline. Clockwise, from top left, in the sketch headlined JOAN CRAWFORD TO DIVORCE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR, Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb portrayed the stars arguing over publicity rights to their divorce; Webb as 94-year-old John D. Rockefeller; the headline FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT INAUGURATED TOMORROW featured Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover on their last day in the White House, portrayed by Leslie Adams and Helen Broderick; Ethel Waters singing Irving Berlin’s “Supper Time.” (New York Public Library)

 * * *

A Final Byline

E.B. White opened his column with a tribute to Ring Lardner, who died at age 48 of a heart attack and other complications. In the months before his death Lardner had contributed a number of comical “Over the Waves” radio reviews.

JOURNALIST AT HEART…Ring Lardner (1885-1933) worked for several newspapers before settling at the Chicago Tribune in 1913—it became the home newspaper for his syndicated column, In the Wake of the News. (Chicago Tribune)

Lardner’s first contribution to The New Yorker came shortly after the magazine’s founding. “The Constant Jay” was published in the April 18, 1925 issue: Readers appreciated his subtle wit, including this oft-quoted gem:

“The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong—but that’s the way to bet.”

Lardner also liked to poke fun at himself and his aw-shucks view of things. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of his final New Yorker contribution, “Odd’s Bodkins:”

 * * *

Macy Modernism

As Lewis Mumford observed in his “Skyline” column, Macy’s was the first department store to embrace a modern approach to interior design, but as Marilyn Friedman notes in her book, Making America Modern: Interior Design in the 1930s, Macy’s modernism was a bit toned down to blend into more traditional settings. A case in point was Macy’s 1933 Forward House exhibition, which Mumford described as “a brilliant piece of modern showmanship.”

EASY ON THE EYES…”Living room in the Suburban House of Forward House” at R.H. Macy & Co., New York, 1933, from The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator, October 15, 1933. ​(www.artdeco.org)

 * * *

Fishing for Commies

Geoffrey Hellman profiled New York House Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr (1888–1991), a staunch anti-communist perhaps best known for establishing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. I feature this brief excerpt mainly for the great caricature by Abe Birnbaum.

MINDING THE HOME FRONT…Hamilton Fish, Jr making a speech in Los Angeles, 1935. Fish served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1920 to 1945 and during that time was a prominent opponent of intervention into foreign affairs. (UCLA Special Collections)

 * * *

All Wet

Eleven years before Esther Williams made her first aqua-musical, Ruby Keeler took the dive under Busby Berkeley’s direction in Footlight Parade. E.B. White served as film critic for the Oct. 7 issue, and found Footlight to be a feast for the male gaze, as well as mindless entertainment.

TAKING THE PLUNGE…Clockwise, from top left: According to E.B. White, there was no gainsaying “the general aahhhhh” of the semi-nude waterfall scene in Footlight Parade; promotional poster left no doubt as to what audiences might expect from the film; Busby Berkeley displayed his craft in water-based choreography; Ruby Keeler portrayed a dancer turned secretary who is transformed back into a dancer—just add water. (IMDB)

 * * *

A Dog’s Life

Doubtless drained from writing The Waves, Virginia Woolf followed up with some historical fiction, namely Flush: A Biography, a book about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel. Clifton Fadiman had this to say about the unusual biography:

VIRGINIA WOOF…Frontispiece for Flush: A Biography. Virginia Woolf used the tale of a dog to explore social themes ranging from feminism to class conflict. (Heritage Auctions)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

When you market a car for only $445 you aren’t going after the luxury market, but hey, drop a ten-truck truck on this baby and you can live to tell about it…

…with legal beer flooding the market brewers were particularly keen to attract female drinkers of all ages…and apparently social classes…

…a couple of ads from the back pages, the first touting the smart-set writing of columnist and foreign correspondent Alice Hughes for the New York American, and the second an advertisement for Chase & Sanborn coffee, which relayed the story of a marriage on the brink due to stale coffee…

…I include this ad for the heroic scale of the ocean liner, particularly as depicted by the people in the background…

…we bounce on to our cartoons with Otto Soglow’s Little King…

James Thurber continued to explore the unrest among our domestic youth…

…speaking of America’s youth, this gathering (courtesy Gardner Rea) appeared to have trouble finding some…

Helen Hokinson found fun with flounder…

Rea Irvin turned the tables on a life-drawing class…

…and we close with Richard Decker, over the moon with a stranded chorine…

…and in a nod to the approaching holiday, imagery from a 1933 Fleischer Studios animated short film, Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party

Next Time: The Wild West…

College Days

For its Sept. 23, 1933 issue The New Yorker continued its serialization of James Thurber’s autobiography, My Life and Hard Times

Sept. 23, 1933 cover by Abner Dean.

Part Seven, titled “College Days,” included Thurber’s reminiscences of an economics class and the challenges one “Professor Bassum” faced in keeping a star football tackle academically eligible:

DEAR OLD ALMA MATER…James Thurber attended The Ohio State University from 1913 to 1918. Clockwise, from top left, the football team during Thurber’s time featured some smart players as well, including All-American quarterback/halfback Gaylor “Pete” Stinchcomb (left) and All-American halfback Chic Harley (right); Thurber’s drawing of the dim-witted tackle Bolenciecwez from My Life and Hard Times; OSU University Hall circa 1910; Thurber drawing of an OSU botany professor who “quivered with frustration” over Thurber’s inability to see through a microscope. (Ohio State/Wikipedia)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with the makers of White Rock, who touted the international appeal of their home-grown product, here enjoyed by an old warrior and his much-younger mistress who were busy keeping the colonies in line in Southeast Asia…

…speaking of colonial exploitation, here’s Frank Buck keeping his nerves steady smoking Camels as he lugs “tons of rhinos, tigers, and gorillas across the Pacific” to live out their lives in cramped, fetid cages…

…hey there New York sophisticates of 1933, we have just the place for you, where only the BEST PEOPLE are apartment hunting, far from the din of immigrants, the unemployed, and other undesirables…

…if you wanted to hang out with the best people, you could get yourself exact copies of the latest Paris fashions from Saks Fifth Avenue…

…or if you were on a tighter budget, you could check out the wares at Wanamaker’s, who trumpeted their “fashion-firsts” on this ad on page 41 followed by a double-spread on the following pages…

James Thurber lent his talents to the makers of Fisher car bodies…in the early days of automobile production Fisher made car bodies for a number of GM cars as well as for Packard, Studebaker, Hudson and other manufacturers…in 1926 it was absorbed by GM as an in-house coach-building division…

…on to our cartoons, we take a boat ride with Robert Day

…discover the perils of historical research with Barbara Shermund

Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein offered a new perspective on portrait painting…

Helen Hokinson found a Red among the blue bloods…

…and a wee conundrum in the hat department…

Gardner Rea pulled out all stops in this patriotic tableau…

…on to the Sept. 30, 1933 issue…

Sept. 30, 1933 cover by William Cotton.

…in which journalist Robert Wohlforth contributed a profile on poet and writer James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938), a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance most widely known today for the lyrics of the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” A brief excerpt with illustration by Hugo Gellert:

LIFT EVERY VOICE...James Weldon Johnson, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1932. (Library of Congress)

 * * *

Mexican Morass

E.B. White took on the movie review duties and landed himself a doozy—Sergei Eisenstein’s Thunder Over Mexico. The famed Soviet filmmaker had come to the U.S. in 1930 to make a film for Paramount, but when the deal fell through American socialist author Upton Sinclair and others invited Eisenstein to make an artistic travelogue exploring the themes of life and death in Mexico. More than thirty hours of film was shot before the project was abandoned and Eisenstein returned to the USSR. The footage was later cut into three films, including Thunder Over Mexico. White was less than pleased with the film’s “butchered” edits.

LIFE AND DEATH IN MEXICO…Avant-garde Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein shot more than 30 hours of film in Mexico without producing a final product. An independent Hollywood producer, Sol Lesser, later produced two short features and a short subject culled from the footage—Thunder Over Mexico, Eisenstein in Mexico, and Death Day; these were released in 1933-34. Clockwise, from top left, poster for the film, the film featured scenes of cinematic beauty as well as brutal violence; Eisenstein visiting Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo; Eisenstein directing a scene from the film. (IMDB/www.otago.ac.nz)

 * * *

Dreaming in Color

In this “Talk of the Town” entry, attributed to James Thurber, we learn of various wonders at the National Electrical Exposition at Madison Square Garden, including a “Clavilux Color Organ” designed for home use. Excerpts:

EINE KLEINE LICHT MUSIK…Danish musician Thomas Wilfred (top) constructed his first Clavilux in 1919. Sitting at a large console, Wilfred could control infinite color projections. His first public performance was in New York in 1922 (top right), featuring an abstract light show audiences compared to an aurora borealis. Bottom right, the Clavilux Junior was developed for home use, operated with special glass records, each hand-painted with a distinct composition that would create the projected image. (cdm.link/Yale University Art Gallery)

This YouTube video offers some idea of the effect:

 * * *

More From Our Advertisers

Warm, idealized images of American life, in the vein of Norman Rockwell, were popular among advertisers seeking to reassure Depression-era consumers…here we have the avuncular scientist working to ensure that your Packard is not only reliable as transportation, but also a place of solace…

…this same idea was conveyed by the makers of Goodyear tires…

…this ad on page 55 for Guerlain’s Shalimar Powder somewhat recalls the art deco style of Tamara de Lempicka

…but flip the page and you are brought back to reality with Shefford’s “Snappy Cheese”…

…you needed to lay off the cheese, however, if you wanted to take up a Ry-Krisp diet, endorsed here by Sylvia Ulback, better known at the time as “Sylvia of Hollywood” — in 1933 she was one of the most famous voices on radio…

STRETCH FOR SUCCESS…Norwegian-born Sylvia Ulback (1881–1975) was a Hollywood fitness guru from 1926 until 1932. Known as Sylvia of Hollywood, she abandoned the Tinseltown scene after publishing a “tell all” book about her clients titled Hollywood Undressed (1931). From 1933 to 1936 she appeared on the radio show, Mme. Sylvia, a 15-minute beauty and celebrity broadcast sponsored by Ry-Krisp, and she also published three health and fitness books, including 1939’s Streamline Your Figure. (youmustrememberthispodcast.com)

…on to our cartoons, Alan Dunn discovered a budding Picasso…

…another cryptic cartoon by James Thurber was featured in the “Talk of the Town” section…

Whitney Darrow Jr gave this dowager an off-stage surprise…

E. Simms Campbell put a snag in an old yarn…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and an old walrus feeling his oats…

Next Time: As Thousands Cheer…

The Shape of Things to Come

Above: Maurice Passworthy (Kenneth Villiers) and Catherine Cabel (Pearl Argyle) prepare for a trip to the moon in Things to Come.

In his 1933 science fiction novel The Shape of Things to Come, H.G. Wells foresaw how an international economic depression could eventually lead to world war.

Sept. 2, 1933 cover by William Steig.

The book also predicted that such a war would feature whole cities destroyed by aerial bombing and the eventual development of weapons of mass destruction. However, New Yorker book critic Clifton Fadiman found Wells’ other predictions to be fanciful, “scientific-romantic” notions, such as a post-war Utopia (headquartered in Basra, Iraq, of all places) ruled by super-talents that would advance scientific learning in a world without nation-states or religion. And naturally everyone would speak English.

YOU MAY SAY I’M A DREAMER…H.G. Wells envisioned a world of war, pestilence and economic collapse that would eventually give way to an English-speaking Utopia free of nation-states and religion. (Wikipedia)

Three years later Wells would adapt his book to the screen in 1936’s Things to Come, produced by Alexander Korda and starring Raymond Massey as a heroic RAF pilot John Cabal and Ralph Richardson as “The Boss,” a man who stands in the way of Cabal’s utopian dreams.

FUTURE TENSE…Clockwise, from top left, H.G. Wells visits with actors Pearl Argyle and Raymond Massey on the set of Things to Come—Swiss designer René Hubert created the futuristic costumes; in the year 1970 RAF pilot John Cabal (Massey) lands his sleek monoplane in Everytown, England, proclaiming a new civilization run by a band of enlightened mechanics and engineers; city of the future as depicted in Things to Come; poster for the film’s release. (IMDB)

An afternote: A 1979 Canadian science fiction film titled The Shape of Things to Come was supposedly based on Wells’ novel but bore little resemblance to the book. The film is a considered a turkey, lovingly mocked by the same audiences that gave Plan 9 from Outer Space a second life.

WE MEAN YOU NO HARM…Actor Jack Palance—wearing what appears to be a jug from a water cooler— headed a cast that included Barry Morse and Carol Lynley in 1979’s The Shape of Things to Come. 

 * * *

Fine Dining

Director George Cukor turned a hit Ferber-Kaufman Broadway play into a hit movie by the same title when Dinner at Eight premiered in September 1933. While the film received high marks from leading critics, New Yorker film reviewer John Mosher found it a bit routine, if well-crafted:

BLONDE ON BLONDE…Judith Wood (left) portrayed the character Kitty Packard in the 1932 stage production of Dinner at Eight; Jean Harlow took on the role for the 1933 film version. (IMDB)

Mosher, however, continued to admire the acting chops of veteran Marie Dressler

FUNNY LADIES…Clockwise, from top left: Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler square off in Dinner at Eight; movie poster highlights the “Blonde Bombshell” Harlow along with a star-studded cast; a scene with Harlow, Wallace Beery and Edmund Lowe; to avoid wrinkling her gown between takes, Harlow reviewed her lines in a special stand-up chair. (IMDB/pre-code.com)

 * * *

Madame Secretary

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins was the first woman in the U.S. to serve as a cabinet secretary, but she was a lot more that—she was the driving force behind FDR’s New Deal. Here are excerpts from a two-part profile written by Russell Lord, with illustration by Hugo Gellert.

TRIAL BY FIRE…Frances Perkins watched in horror as young women leapt to their deaths in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire—146 perished on that day Perkins recalled as the moment the New Deal was born her mind. In the wake of the fire Perkins, an established expert on worker health and safety, was named executive secretary of the NYC Committee on Safety. (trianglememorial.org/francesperkinscenter.org)

Even if some men couldn’t come around to a woman moving through the circles of power, Perkins had many admirers including prominent Tammany Hall leader “Big Tim” Sullivan.

Perkins’ appointment to FDR’s cabinet made the Aug. 14, 1933 cover of TIME magazine. (TIME/thoughtco.com)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Even the staid executives at Packard were getting into the modern advertising game, where sometimes the product itself was not even pictured…

…our cartoonists include Robert Day

George Price

…and baring it all, Peter Arno

…on to Sept. 9, and what I believe is Alice Harvey’s first New Yorker cover…

Sept. 9, 1933 cover by Alice Harvey.

…and where “The Talk of the Town” paid a visit to the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island, a favorite haunt of those magnificent men and women and their flying machines:

SHIFTING SANDS…Opened in 1927 to attract upscale crowds to Coney Island away from the rabble of the Midway, the elegant Half Moon Hotel started strong but teetered on the doorstep of bankruptcy during the Depression; it gained notoriety in 1941 when mob turncoat Abe Reles fell to his death from a sixth floor window while under police protection. The hotel was demolished in 1996. (Pinterest)

* * *

Huey In The News

In his column “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker offered this brief take on Huey Long’s visit to a Long Island party, where one guest apparently socked the controversial “Kingfish,” giving the former Louisiana governor (and then senator) a shiner.

A CHIP ON HIS SHOULDER?…Controversy followed Huey Long wherever he went. At left is a New York Times account of Long’s alleged black eye incident on Long Island. He would be assassinated two years later at the Louisiana State Capitol; Long circa 1933. (NYT/Wikipedia)

 * * *

More From Our Advertisers

As a follow-up from the previous issue’s Packard ad, this two-page spread showed us what those 1200 men were gawking at…check out that 12-cylinder model on the left, which appears to be better than 20 feet long…

…according to this ad, you could thank Camel cigarettes for getting the mail through the gloom of night…

…if you needed a cigarette to steady your nerves, you also needed fresh coffee to avoid being ostracized by your friends…

…summer-stock barn theatres were popular across America in the 1930s…this ad (illustrated by Wallace Morgan) hailed the end of the summer season and the return of “Winter Broadway”…

…on to our cartoons, out in the countryside we also find William Crawford Galbraith, here continuing to ply one of his favorite themes, namely pairing shapely seductresses and showgirls with clueless suitors…

Helen Hokinson gave us one woman who believed “what happens in the Riviera, stays in the Riviera”…

…and we close with Gardner Rea, and a scout troop on a mission…

Next Time: Rumors of War…

Tugboat Annie

New Yorkers were enduring the dog days of August, and those who couldn’t escape the heat by fleeing to the country or the beach could find cool respite at the movies.

August 19, 1933 cover by Gardner Rea.

It was doubtless in an air-conditioned theatre where critic John Mosher enjoyed the craft of older actors, in this case Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler in Tugboat Annie. Although the film didn’t quite live up to Beery and Dressler’s 1930 smash hit, Min and Bill, Mosher found Beery to be a “beautiful foil” to Dressler, who thankfully wasn’t just another “fluffy little pink young thing.”

ON GOLDEN POND…Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler portrayed a comically quarrelsome older couple who operate a tugboat in MGM’s Tugboat Annie. It would be one Dressler’s last film roles—she would die the following year; at right, a young Robert Young with Dressler in a scene from the film—Young would go on to television fame playing two beloved characters: the father in Father Knows Best (1954-60) with fellow film star Jane Wyatt, and the kindly, avuncular doctor on Marcus Welby M.D. (1969–76). (IMDB)

Another seasoned performer Mosher admired was Mary Boland, although her latest film, Three Cornered Moon, was crowded with “too many young people”…

BRAT PACK…Mary Boland (left) with Wallace Ford, Claudette Colbert, and Hardie Albright in Three Cornered Moon (IMDB)

MONKEYING AROUND…A self-described “King of the Serials,” Buster Crabbe’s career included nine sound serials, including Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers (1936-40). In Tarzan the Fearless Crabbe’s sole appearance as Tarzan was played opposite Jacqueline Wells (aka Julie Bishop). The media at the time made hay of a so-called rivalry between Crabbe and Johnny Weissmuller, who defined the Tarzan role in twelve films from 1932 to 1948. Both men were Olympic athletes: Crabbe won the 1932 Olympic 400-meter freestyle swimming championship, while Weissmuller was the undefeated winner of five Olympic gold medals. (IMDB)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

The folks at Hoffman Beverages continued to offer up ways to enjoy an adult refreshment, including a tongue-in-cheek “code” to be used until the repeal of Prohbition…

…with the return of legal (3.2) beer, brewers were aggressively targeting women as a new growth market…

…a selection of one-column ads from the back pages touted imported beers and an old “Pennsylvania Dutch” quaff, intermixed with apartment ads and a women’s deodorant called SHUN…

Otto Soglow, who would become rich and famous with his The Little King strip, also did well as an illustrator for various products, including Rheingold beer…

…another way to stay cool was to dine at Longchamps, thanks to their “scientific air-conditioning system”…

…on the subject of keeping cool, back in the day you had to regularly top off the radiator on hot days, and if you added lead to your gasoline you could also get rid of those annoying hot engine knocks…

…It would be four years before Dr. Seuss would publish his first children’s book, so he continued to pay the bills with illustrated ads for Flit insecticide…ah the good days when spraying poison above a child’s head seemed perfectly reasonable…

…another one-column ad from the back pages says a lot about how advertisers perceived a New Yorker reader—even dog food demanded snob appeal…

…on to our cartoons we return to Otto Soglow and his take on the old William Tell trope…

Peter Arno delivered some surprising news to dear old mom…

Henry Anton gave us a sign man unconvinced that sex sells…

Gluyas Williams gave us his latest take on “Fellow Citizens” (this originally appeared sideways on p. 17)…

…and Garrett Price shared this observation, from the mouth of babes…

…on to Aug. 26…

Aug. 26, 1933 cover by Perry Barlow.

…where we find Ring Lardner, who since March had been injecting humor into the “Over the Waves” radio column.

In this installment, Lardner outlined his ideal radio program. An excerpt:

UP TO OLD GAGS?…Ring Lardner gave the comedy duo Jack Pearl (right) and Cliff Hall a generous four minutes in his fantasy radio show—if they did their old routines. (Wikimedia)

Lardner concluded his dream program:

Sadly, Ring Lardner would be gone in less than a month—he died of a heart attack on Sept. 25, 1933, at the tender age of 48.

 * * *

On Second Thought

Previously, film critic John Mosher had been lukewarm to the up-and-coming Katharine Hepburn. No more. Her appearance in Morning Glory drew praise from all over, including the Academy, which gave the young star her first Oscar.

A STAR IS BORN…Katharine Hepburn with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (left) and Adolphe Menjou in Morning Glory (1933). Hepburn would win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, the first of four she would receive in that category—a record for any performer. (IMDB)

 * * *

Life With Clarence

Following “The Talk of the Town” section was this illustrated contribution by Clarence Day

 * * *
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While folks were cooling down at the movies Barbara Stanwyck did her best to heat up the screen…

…the frank discussion of sex in Baby Face made it one of the most notorious films of the year and no doubt hastened the implementation of the Hays Code…

LIGHT MY FIRE…Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face.

…in case anyone had forgotten during Prohibition, Budweiser reminded them who was the king of beers with this inside front cover ad…

Irvin S. Cobb was back on behalf of Hupmobile, the struggling carmaker hoping that a bit of humor would boost sales…

…this ad from Reo not only lacked humor, it lacked the car itself…

…too bad, because the 1933 Reo Royale was a beauty…

…more color ads from our cigarette manufacturers Camel…

…and Chesterfield…

…why, it’s Barbara Stanwyck again, this time in color, thanks to the folks at Powers Reproduction…

…and Otto Soglow again for Rheingold beer…

…and on to the cartoons, with Soglow’s Little King…

Carl Rose demonstrated the perils of attending theatre in a barn…

Robert Day found a Hebrew lifeguard at Coney Island…

…and we end with another by Day, with a twist on America’s Pastime and a subtle plug for the National Recovery Administration…

Next Time: The Shape of Things to Come…

The Flying Season

New Yorkers witnessed flying milestones and mishaps in the summer of 1933—after Wiley Post landed at Bennett Field, he became the first person to fly solo around the world, and famed Italian aviator Italo Balbo would bring a squadron of 24 Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flying boats across the Atlantic and triumphantly land them on the Hudson River. So before we get to the Aug. 5 issue…

Aug. 5, 1933 cover by Julian de Miskey.

…let’s look in on Morris Markey, who described all of the skyward thrills in his “A Reporter at Large” column in the August 12 issue. Markey also offered a “bold prophecy” that the ticker-tape parades and “hysterical cheers” could not go on forever.

ROUND AND ROUND HE GOES…Clockwise, from top left, Wiley Post under the wing of the famed Lockheed Vega monoplane Winnie Mae in 1933; Post next to the Winnie Mae in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1934, his achievements recorded on the fuselage; miners from Flat, Alaska, bring the Winnie Mae upright for repairs—the plane nosed over after hitting a patch of mining tailings; Post climbs out of the Winnie Mae at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, after completing the first solo flight around the world. Post set a new record of 15,596 miles (25,099 kilometers) in 7 days, 18 hours, 49 minutes. (NASM/Oklahoma Historical Society/U of Alaska-Fairbanks/AP)

Markey wrote admiringly of the Italians and their oddly beautiful flying boats as they descended, 24 in all, on the Hudson River. Things did not go so well for Scottish aviator James Mollison and his wife, Amy Johnson, who had set many flying records in the 1930s.

DESCENDED LIKE FLIES…Twenty-four Savoia-Marchetti flying boats left Italy in 1933 to fly in formation to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and back, with stops along the way including New York. The squadron was led by Italo Balbo, who has featured on the cover of Time, 26 June 1933. (Wikipedia)

GOING IN STYLE, Clockwise, from top left, twenty-four Italian Savoia-Marchetti S.55X flying boats left the west coast of Italy to fly in formation to the Chicago World’s Fair, with a stop on the Hudson River (top right). The Italians were famed for sleek designs, including the Macchi-Castoldi 72, pictured here circa 1931. It was then the fastest plane in the world; James Mollison and his wife, Amy Johnson recover from their injuries after a nonstop flight from Wales to the U.S. Unable to locate the Bridgeport (Conn.) Municipal Airport—which he circled five times— he ultimately crash- landed into a field. Both were thrown from the aircraft but survived—they were later congratulated by New York society with a parade on Wall Street. (warbirdsnews.com/Wikimedia)

Markey’s “bold prophecy” would sadly come to pass; after all of the parades and hoopla, these wonderful airplanes would soon take on more sinister roles as machines of death. Italo Balbo, seen as a possible successor to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, would die in 1940, shot down by Italian anti-aircraft batteries that mistook his plane for a British fighter. Amy Johnson would die months later in a crash near the mouth of the Thames (possibly by friendly fire). Two years after his record-breaking flight, Wiley Post and American humorist Will Rogers would perish in a 1935 crash near Point Barrow, Alaska.

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Depression Diversions

New Yorkers could escape Depression woes and the summer heat with a visit to the cinema. These listings in the Aug. 5 issue were headed by the Busby Berkeley musical extravaganza Gold Diggers of 1933… 

DEPRESSION’S FEVER DREAM…Choreographer Busby Berkeley chased those Depression blues away with his lavish musicals, including Gold Diggers of 1933, featuring Ginger Rogers among a bevy of stars. (IMDB)

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Fledgling airlines including  Eastern Air Transport and American Airways (forerunners of Eastern Air Lines and American Airlines) were giving passenger trains a bit of competition with relatively quick flights to destinations including Washington D.C. and Atlantic City—the D.C. round trip cost $20, roughly equivalent to $455 today…

…introduced in 1933, the Curtiss YC-30, called the Condor in civilian use, could seat 15. It could also be fitted out as 12-passenger luxury night sleeper…

YOU COULD REST EASY on the Curtiss Condor in 1933. (U.S. Air Force)

…Packard and Cadillac both produced premium automobiles, but where Packard emphasized durability and longevity…

…the folks at Cadillac went for pure sob appeal…

…I wonder how many people still wore pince-nez in 1933, especially while drinking beer…

…the makers of Hoffman ginger ale weren’t waiting for the official end of Prohibition to tout their popular mixer…

…with the launch of FDR’s New Deal, advertisers were quick to jump on the bandwagon…

…as did one of our cartoonists, Otto Soglow

…and now on to the Aug 12 issue…

Aug. 12, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

…which featured another installment of James Thurber’s My Life and Hard Times—”The Night the Ghost Got In”…

James Thurber’s illustration for “The Night the Ghost Got In” that appeared in his book My Life and Hard Times. The scene depicts his brother Herman, and his fear of ghosts. The caption read: “He always half suspected that something would get him.”

Meanwhile, Thurber’s colleague, film critic John Mosher, was finding joy through Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies

DELIGHTFUL DIVERSION…Critic John Mosher was “one exalted” over Walt Disney’s latest Silly Symphony, titled Old King Cole.

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This giant two-page spread from the makers of Dodge sought to prove you could have both durability and affordability in their six-cylinder model (the cheapest Packard listed at $2,150—you could almost buy four Dodges for that price)…

…another Chrysler corporation product, the family-friendly Plymouth, could be had for even less—$445—it was apparently just the kind of car a penny-pinching ingenue needed for getting to her casting calls…

Ann Lee Doran (1911–2000) went on to a long career as a character actress, perhaps best known for portraying James Dean’s mother in Rebel Without a Cause…

Anne Lee Doran (at far right) in 1941’s Penny Serenade. Also pictured, from left, are Edmund Elton, Edgar Buchanan, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. (IMDB)

…when you finished brushing your teeth, you could put this other Pepsodent product on your face…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with this two-page spread by Gardner Rea

Gluyas Williams referenced the Camel cigarette ads from 1933 that revealed the secrets of popular magic tricks…

…an example from the June 3, 1933 issue of the New Yorker

Eli Garson paid a visit to the optometrist…

…in the wake of the scandal-ridden mess left behind by deposed Mayor Jimmy Walker, the upcoming November election was bound up by three candidates, none of whom seemed poised to get a majority vote…Robert Day offered up this scenario…

Carl Rose discovered that even in the boonies, everyone’s a critic…

…and we close with Peter Arno, and another classic…

Next Time: Tugboat Annie…