Back to Business

Two weeks had passed since the “Black Tuesday” collapse of share prices on the New York Stock Exchange, but the New Yorker went about business as usual, E.B. White opening his “Notes and Comment” with a complaint — not about the economy — but about a marketing ploy that had New York University shilling magazines on behalf of Funk & Wagnalls.

Nov. 16, 1929 cover by Peter Arno. No doubt Arno drew inspiration from his own domestic situation (with wife and New Yorker columnist Lois Long and their infant daughter Patricia Arno).

White mocked the contents of a letter from NYU that promised a “free” education to subscribers of Funk & Wagnalls’ middlebrow Literary Digest. 

EASY-CHAIR EDUCATION…Founded in 1890 by Isaac Funk (of Funk & Wagnalls fame), the Literary Digest offered readers condensed articles from various American and European publications. The weekly magazine surpassed the one million circulation mark in 1927, but declined precipitously in 1936 after its famed (and usually reliable) presidential poll picked Alf Landon over FDR. It folded in 1938. (Pinterest)

White detailed how NYU’s director of public information promised untold riches to potential Literary Digest subscribers…

YOU CAN BE FAMOUS, FOR JUST PENNIES A DAY…E.B. White mocked an NYU letter that promoted its “hook-up” with the Literary Digest, wryly suggesting that recognition in NYU’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans was within reach of magazine subscribers. The photo above (circa 1935) shows the Hall of Fame’s colonnade, which half-encircled the university library (both designed by Stanford White) and housed 98 bronze busts. A financially strapped NYU sold its University Heights Campus, along with the Hall of Fame and library, to the City University of New York in 1973. (WPA photo via boweryboyshistory.com)

…and the not so subtle revelation that the “free” education came with a price:

Here’s Julian De Miskey’s illustration that accompanied White’s “Notes”…

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The Lighter Side of Bankruptcy

Evidence of the recent stock market crash was scant in the Nov. 16 issue, save for this blurb from Howard Brubaker

…and this short piece by Margaret Fishback, who took a characteristically lighthearted approach to the devastating news:

Fishback (1900-1985), a widely published poet and prose author from the late 1920s to the 1960s, was also a successful advertising copywriter for Macy’s and a number of other companies.

A WAY WITH WORDS…Margaret Fishback wrote a number of poetry and prose books, including Safe Conduct: When to Behave–and Why, a book of etiquette illustrated by the New Yorker’s Helen Hokinson. During the 1930s Fishback was reputed to be the world’s highest-paid female advertising copywriter. (necessaryfiction.com/Wikipedia)

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We Stand Corrected

A correction of sorts was offered by Robert Benchley (aka “Guy Fawkes”) regarding one of his recent “Wayward Press” columns, in which the fatal crash of famed aviator Wilmer Stultz’s stunt plane was misattributed to drunkenness:

Following the above intro, Benchley included this letter from a representative of the Roosevelt Flying Corporation, John McK. Stuart, in which Stuart explained the real reason for the pilot’s fatal crash, and the source of a vicious rumor:

The cause of the crash, as reported in the New York Times, was attributed to two young men who begged for a ride on Stultz’s stunt plane, a Waco Taperwing, in the early afternoon of July 1, 1929. An investigation of the wreckage found shoes from both passengers jammed under a bar connected to the rudder, rendering it inoperable. In his letter, Stuart explained:

Apparently Stultz’s passengers had braced themselves during stunt maneuvers by jamming their feet under the rudder bar. According to the Times, after a couple of rolling stunts the plane began to climb again from about 200 feet when it rotated nose down and plunged into the ground. Both passengers were killed instantly. Stultz died shortly thereafter at a Long Island hospital.

BRIEF FLIGHT THROUGH LIFE…Clockwise, from top left, Wilmer Stultz (1900-1929) in undated photo; coverage of the fatal crash in the July 2, 1929 New York Times; Stultz, Amelia Earhart, and Lou Gordon feted in front of City Hall, New York City, following their successful flight across the Atlantic in June 1928. Stultz was the pilot of the Fokker Trimotor “Friendship,” aboard which Earhart became the first woman passenger to cross the Atlantic by airplane. Gordon served as the flight’s on-board mechanic. (Boston Public Library/New York Times/Amazon)

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Cowardly Attack

The acclaimed English playwright and composer Noël Coward was much beloved by the New Yorker, so it pained Robert Benchley to write an unflattering review of Coward’s operetta, Bitter Sweet:

IN THE SOPRANO KEY…British musical star Evelyn Laye (1900-1996) played the leading role of Sari in Noël Coward’s Broadway production of Bitter Sweet. (From The Bygone)

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Hat Shop Heroine

Another operetta — Mlle. Modiste — was getting a Broadway revival at Jolson’s 59th Street Theatre. Its star, Fritzi Scheff (1879-1954), was the subject of a short profile penned by Alison Smith. The operetta, written expressly for Scheff, premiered on Broadway in 1905 at the Knickerbocker Theatre, and enjoyed many revivals. Smith found that after nearly 25 years, Scheff still embodied the role of the hat shop girl who dreamed of being an opera singer. An excerpt:

From left, Fritzi Scheff in Mlle. Modiste (1905); Al Frueh’s caricature of Scheff for the profile; Scheff circa 1910. (Wikipedia/IMDB)

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Best of Both Worlds

Although the Gothic style was quickly falling out of fashion in the age of Art Deco, architecture critic George S. Chappell found much to admire in Schultze & Weaver’s new Hotel Lexington, part of the hotel construction boom in New York’s Midtown:

STILL ATTACHED TO THE EARTH…The Lexington today, now a Marriott property, at 511 Lexington Avenue and 48th Street. (ohrllc.com)

Chappell also admired the “smart” new Stewart Building, calling it the perfect setting for “feminine luxuries”…

Sadly, the Stewart Company folded just months after the opening of its new building, an early victim of the Depression. Bonwit Teller took over the building in 1930 and stayed until 1979. It was demolished in 1980 to make way for Trump Tower.

BYGONE ELEGANCE…Stewart and Company’s metal and ceramic 5th Avenue entrance, detail, 1929; Stewart Millinery Shop, 1929 (image from Vogue); detail from ornamental frieze above the 8th story, 1929. The building was demolished in 1980 to make way for Trump Tower. Neither the frieze nor the ornate ironwork were saved. (Museum of the City of New York/Vogue via drivingfordeco.com)

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A Survivor’s Tale

The New Yorker hailed Soviet writer Valentine Kataev’s debut novel, The Embezzlers, as “the first hearty and sane laugh that has been heard over the noise of Russian propaganda.” Published in 1926 and translated into English in 1929, the novel was a satire of bureaucracy in the new Soviet state. Remarkably, Kataev (1897-1986) was able to write challenging, satirical works throughout his long life and career without running afoul of Soviet authorities, or falling victim to Stalin’s terror campaigns:

SATIRICAL SOVIET…Valentine Kataev circa 1930. His 1926 debut novel, The Embezzlers, was a satire of Soviet bureaucracy. (russkiymir.ru)

Another title receiving a favorable review, Is Sex Necessary? — a spoof of popular sex manuals and how-to books — was co-written by the New Yorker’s James Thurber and E.B. White, with illustrations provided by Thurber.

HE CAN DRAW, TOO…Although James Thurber had yet to publish one of his drawings in the New Yorker, the book Is Sex Necessary? featured 42 of them, including the illustration at right that demonstrated the male greeting posture, and below, the posture of a man who could not discern the difference between love and passion. (brainpickings.org)

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Old News

Writer (and later screenwriter) David Boehm temporarily took over the history column “That Was New York” from playwright Russell Crouse and contributed the first in a series of articles featuring clippings from 18th century newspapers (with illustration by Julian De Miskey):

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From Our Advertisers

The Depression was coming, but you wouldn’t know it by the ads that appeared in the Nov. 16 issue, which featured the latest in resort wear, and holiday fashions for the maid…

…the Jay Thorpe store assumed some readers had $1,250 to spare for this coat and muff (equivalent to about $18,000 today), while Udall and Ballou jewelers offered a brooch for $9,000 (or nearly $130,000 today)…

…Saks offered a “simple little tailored bag” for $5, although the one pictured in the ad would set you back $500 ($7,200 today)…

…in this clever ad for Kayser silk hosiery, illustrator Ian Oliver drew a shelf from negative space to allow the model some room to lean…

…makers of the Ronson cigarette lighter found a new use for their product, adapting it to serve as a perfume atomizer…I wonder how many women accidentally lit their hair on fire, or took a shot of perfume to the eyes when they wished to have a smoke…

…while you had the lighter handy, you could light up an Old Gold, and thanks to the lack of truth-in-advertising standards, you could do it believing that you were also warding off a winter cold…

…from the back pages we have these gems from Brunswick records, and Reuben’s restaurant, which featured written testimonials from famous clientele including the “It Girl” actress Clara Bow, cartoonist Harry Hershfield, and playwright Noël Coward

Dr. Seuss offered his latest take on the uses of Flit insecticide, here sprayed directly into a user’s face for maximum benefit…

…our cartoons come courtesy of Gardner Rea, who looked in on an act of charity…

Reginald Marsh illustrated a new use for broadcast radio…

Barbara Shermund put the “idle” in “idle rich”…

Garrett Price gave us this lovely illustration of a casual reader…

…and Helen Hokinson went shopping with one of her society women…

Next Time: A Glimpse of the Future…

 

 

 

An Inconvenient Truth

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

Nov. 2, 1929 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mr. Blue Sky

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

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

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

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

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

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Rise of the Machine

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

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

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

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

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What a Strange Trip It’s Been

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

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

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

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Fire and Ice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

Queenie Smith circa 1930. (IMDB)

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

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

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

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

…and Camel cigarettes…

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

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

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

…our cartoons come from Barbara Shermund

Gardner Rea, having a political moment…

…for reference, a photo of Mayor Jimmy Walker

/brookstonbeerbulletin.com

Shermund again, on the joys of parenthood…

Peter Arno’s take on Jazz Age chivalry…

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

Next Time: Not Much to Cheer About…

 

Prelude to a Crash

Although two months remained in the decade, the New Yorker of the Roaring Twenties effectively ended with this issue, just days before a massive market crash sent the nation spiraling into the Great Depression.

Oct. 26, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt. Wonderful rendering of The New York Central Building, with shades of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Not a soul at the New Yorker had an inkling of the bleakness that lay ahead — rampant unemployment, the rise of the Nazi party, the Dust Bowl, Busby Berkeley musicals

E.B. White, in “Notes & Comment,” was concerned with little more than the changing countryside…

MADE YOU LOOK…Examples of roadside vernacular architecture from the 1920s included the Airplane Cafe in in the San Fernando Valley (1924) and a 1927 Wadham’s gas station in West Allis, Illinois, now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. More than 100 of Wadham’s “pagodas” were built, but like much of roadside America, few examples remain. At top, right, a 1920s billboard advertising Moxie soft drinks. (last1onthebus.com/Pinterest/Wikipedia)
THE DUCK STOPS HERE…The Big Duck in Flanders, New York, was built in 1930-31 by Long Island duck farmer Martin Maurer to sell duck and duck eggs to passing motorists. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. (Google Maps)

…and further on in “The Talk of the Town,” White shared these observations regarding the popularity of shirts worn by French actor Maurice Chevalier

THAT’S SHA-VAHL-YEY…Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier in 1930’s The Big Pond. (IMDB)

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Born to Be

The book review featured an autobiography, Born to Be, written by Taylor Gordon (1893-1971), a famed singer of the Harlem Renaissance, that traced his life journey from Montana to New York. The book included 10 full-page illustrations by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, and forwards by Carl Van Vechten and Muriel Draper.

COMBINED TALENTS come together in Taylor Gordon’s Born to Be: Mexican painter, caricaturist, and illustrator Miguel Covarrubias (left, in a 1920s photo by Nickolas Muray) and Harlem Renaissance singer Gordon (center, in a photo by Carl Van Vechten, who is pictured in a self-portrait at right). (Pinterest/minormoderns.blogspot.com/Wikipedia)

FROM MONTANA TO HARLEM…First edition of Taylor Gordon’s Born to Be, and illustrations from the book by Miguel Covarrubias (including cover image). The image at bottom left features patron of the Harlem Renaissance Carl Van Vechten, with Gordon. (qbbooks.com/klinebooks.com/Pinterest)

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Little Narcissus

Although today she is known mostly as Errol Flynn’s first wife, the tempestuous French actress Lily Damita (1904-1994) knew how to light up New York and get noticed in Hollywood when she made her American debut in 1929. Henry F. Pringle looked in on Damita’s daily life in the Oct. 26 “Profile.” A brief excerpt:

Lily Damita in a 1931 publicity photo. (Flickr)
DEBUT FILM…Lily Damita and Ronald Coleman in 1929’s The Rescue, Damita’s first Hollywood film. (Dr. Macro)

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A Master Achievement

Architecture critic George Chappell gazed upward in admiration for the new Master Building on Riverside Drive. It was one of the city’s first mixed-use structures and the first New York skyscraper to feature corner windows. The apartment building originally housed a museum, a school of the fine and performing arts, and an international art center on its first three floors. The building fell into decline in the late 1960s, but today it thrives as a housing co-operative. The Master was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

…on to our advertisements, we find another art deco landmark, the 1930 Squibb building, designed Ely Jacques Kahn

The Squibb Building at 745 5th Avenue, circa 1930. (Museum of the City of New York)

…Halloween was just around the corner (yes, I’m running a bit behind!) and although it wasn’t a huge holiday as it is today, its presence still permeated the pages of the New Yorker, including a humorous piece by John O’Hara on the challenges of planning a Halloween party…

From left, excerpt from John O’Hara’s piece; an ad from Doubleday featuring a jack-o-lantern; an ad from Breyer’s ice cream that employed the older spelling of the holiday; at bottom, a filler illustration by Julian De Miskey.

…the makers of Marmon autos offered this lovely  autumn scene…

…here is an unusual ad from a milliner named Mercedes who bid adieu to former clients in this hand-written, full-page entry…

…the name Michael Arlen no doubt caught many a reader’s eye in the Oct. 26 issue. The comings-and-goings of this hugely popular author of thrillers such as The Green Hat (1924) provided much-needed fodder for readers of the first issues of the fledging New Yorker. In this ad, Arlen’s wife, the Countess Atalanta Mercati, shills for Cutex nail polish…

The Countess Atalanta Mercati of Greece and author Michael Arlen were married in France in 1928. (Conde Nast/insiderguide.me)

…and we have more of the torch singer Helen Morgan, this time in an ad for Lux Toilet Soap…

…a couple of back page ads…the now ubiquitous metal folding table (and chairs) was something of a novelty in 1929…the ad on the right from Brunswick Records offers up the latest schmaltz from Al Jolson (I know it’s 1929, but come on Al, really?)…

…and since this is the last edition before the big market crash, here’s a collection of images clipped from various ads in the Oct. 26 issue…featuring high-living folks who should appear a bit less smug after they lose their mink coats and boiled shirts to the Depression…

Clockwise, top left, a sampling of illustrations from ads in the Oct. 26 issue: there seemed to be no item too mundane for the posh treatment—an illustration that graced an ad from Frigidaire; superior airs displayed on behalf of the Drake apartments, and below, also on behalf of (sniff) Gotham Gold Stripe stockings; “Arabella” surveys two of her hapless conquests as she descends the stair in an illustration for a Marie Earle salon ad; and an appeal to the city’s rampant Anglophilia from De Pinna of Fifth Avenue.

…on to our comics, Garner Rea demonstrated his mastery of space in this full-page entry…

Alice Harvey eavesdropped on the chit-chat of some toffs at dinner…

…and Alice Harvey again in this sparer illustration of a spoiler at the opera…

Peter Arno illustrated unexpected intimacy on a commuter train…

…and from John Reynolds, with a sign of things to come…

Next Time: An Inconvenient Truth…

 

Prophecies of 1929

E.B. White gazed 50 years into the future in the Sept. 21, 1929 issue, predicting that New York City would be much the same if not a little worse by the time the calendar turned to 1979.

Sept. 21, 1929 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

White dismissed the popular notion that the future would be one of push-button happiness and gleaming white cities. And as it turned out, he was mostly right on the mark with his predictions:

LOVE IS IN THE AIR…Autogyros (as illustrated on a 1930 cover of Modern Mechanics) were often seen as the future of transportation in the 1920s and 30s; Maureen O’Sullivan (as “LN-18”) and John Garrick (“J-21”) glide above 1980 Manhattan in 1930’s  Just Imagine. (modernmechanix.com/pre-code.com)

Instead of the antiseptic fantasy world predicted in such movies as 1930’s Just Imagine (a futuristic musical set in 1980), White correctly foresaw a city that, despite technological advances, would still be a gritty rat race. And if you lived in New York City in 1979 (I was but a visitor then, as now), you would have found a city that indeed was quite dirty and crime-ridden (check out the 1979 movie The Warriors to get a sense of how Hollywood perceived the city at that time). As White observed, “Prophets always leave out the eternal mud”…

JUST A LOT OF HOT AIR…In addition to autogyros, futurists in the 1920s and 30s also saw dirigibles as integral to future transportation. At top left is an illustration of a solar-powered aerial landing field atop a dirigible on the cover of Modern Mechanix magazine, October, 1934; top right, Manhattan in 1980 as depicted in the the 1930 film Just Imagine; bottom right, workers dismantling the Third Avenue Elevated line in 1955; bottom left, Times Square in 1979. (airships.net/IMDB/gothamist.com/viewoftheblue.com)

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Cradle of Civilization

Dorothy Parker took aim at ugly Americans abroad in a casual titled “The Cradle of Civilization.” In these excerpts, Parker commented on the pretensions of young New Yorkers in France, including their ridiculous costumes…

…their bad French, and their even worse manners…

WELL, THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT…Actors Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman don the look of French fishermen during the filming of Intermezzo: A Love Story, in 1938. Howard and Bergman were supposed to look like a couple visiting the French Riviera, but in reality it was all filmed near Hollywood. The film was Bergman’s Hollywood debut. (Pinterest)

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A Penny Saved

Back stateside, Wolcott Gibbs looked in on the dying art of the penny-arcade peepshow, and expressed his disappointment with the quality of that product in general…

DON’T JUDGE A PEEP BY ITS COVER…A patron checks out “Hot Tango” at a penny peepshow parlor of the 1920s. (Pinterest)

Gibbs seemed particularly miffed by a film with the misleading title “For Men Only”…

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Uncle Jed

Jed Harris (1900-1979) was a wunderkind of Broadway, producing and directing 31 shows between 1925 and 1956. Before he turned 28 he produced a record four consecutive Broadway hits over the course of 18 months (including the 1928 smash hit The Front Page), and so it was time for some rest. “The Talk of the Town” reported…

Although it was rumored Harris would retire at age 30, he would instead return in the spring of 1930 with a production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and continue producing on Broadway through the 1950s.

WUNDERKIND…A 1928 portrait of Jed Harris that was featured on the Sept. 3, 1928 cover of Time magazine. (Wikipedia)

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Dueling Cassandras

About a month before the big stock market crash we find this curious little item in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column…

…Considered the first “celebrity economist,” Irving Fisher stated in September 1929 that the stock market had reached “a permanently high plateau,” while around the same time (Sept. 5, 1929) rival economist Roger Babson warned in a speech that “sooner or later a crash is coming, and it may be terrific.” Note: “Ben Bolts” refers to a character in a popular 1842 poem that became an oft-parodied popular song. Each stanza begins with a variation of “Oh don’t you remember…”

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Parental Advisory

Fifty-five years before Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center pushed the music industry to place warning labels on records containing explicit lyrics, there was much ado about “lascivious lyrics” uttered on “race records” — the term referred to 78-rpm records marketed to African Americans from the 1920s and 1940s. The Sept. 21 “Popular Records” column looked at the controversy surrounding Ethel Waters’ “Second Handed Man,” and didn’t find any…

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING…Ethel Waters (circa 1930) and her recording of “Second Handed Man.” (discogs.com/YouTube)

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New Kids on the Block

Architecture critic George S. Chappell (aka “T-Square”) concluded his Sept. 21 column with praise for the designs of the yet-to-be-built Daily News and Chrysler buildings, but expressed dismay at the recently completed Lincoln Building…

BAD COMPANY…New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell was excited about the designs for the Daily News Building (left) and Chrysler Building (center), but the Lincoln Building left him wanting. No doubt its gothic topper seemed dated in contrast to the sleek lines of the other buildings. (nyc-architecture.com)

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Movie critic John Mosher took in a couple of new films including Paramount’s  1929 pre-Code drama Jealousy…

FINAL CURTAIN…Jeanne Eagels and Fredric March in a publicity photo for Jealousy. Eagels died of a drug overdose on Oct. 3, 1929, just days after Mosher’s review appeared in the New Yorker. (IMDB)

…and Mosher also reviewed the musical drama The Great Gabbo, which was derived from a story by occasional New Yorker contributor Ben Hecht

WHO ARE YOU CALLING A DUMMY?…Erich von Stroheim has issues with his co-star in The Great Gabbo. (MoMA)

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From Our Advertisers

What appeared to be an unassuming ad from General Motors was actually a plan for world domination, at least in the area of ground transportation. GM gobbled up a number of car companies in the 1920s (see the ad’s fine print) as well as shares in power plants and home appliances. It would overtake Ford in sales in the late 1920s, and thanks to propaganda efforts including those illustrated in the ad below, it would lead a streetcar removal conspiracy that would destroy intercity train transport systems across the U.S. (and convert them to GM buses, naturally)…

Here we have yet another “distinguished handwriting contest” ad from the makers of Marlboro, this time exploiting the efforts of Corinne B. Riley of Sumter, S.C….

…Riley would win more than a handwriting contest, however. She would be elected as a Democrat to Congress in 1962 to fill a vacancy left by her husband, Congressman John Jacob Riley.

Corrine B. Riley in 1962. (Wikipedia)

On to our illustrators and comics, we begin with this two-page drawing by Reginald Marsh that appeared along the the bottom of “Talk of the Town” (click to enlarge)

Gardner Rea lent his spare style to this peek into Wall Street…

Peter Arno appeared to be experimenting with yet another style of drawing…

…that is in some ways looked similar to Alan Dunn’s

…the British cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather provided this sumptuous drawing of an exchange at a card shop…

…and I. Klein gave a vertiginous perspective to home buying…

Next Time: Frigidity in Men…

Waldorf’s Salad Days

While Manhattan is home to some of the world’s most iconic buildings, it is also known for knocking them down. Sometimes it was a matter of changing tastes, but more often than not it was the steamroller of economic progress that flattened any sentimental soul that stood in its path.

May 11, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

The old Waldorf-Astoria symbolized the wealth and power of the Gilded Age, but in the Roaring Twenties the storied hotel — with all its Victorian turrents, gables and other doo-dads — looked hopelessly dated despite being just a bit over 30 years old (the Waldorf opened in 1893, and the much larger Astoria rose alongside it four years later). A group of businessmen, led by former mayor Al Smith, bought the property to build the Empire State Building — an art deco edifice that would scream Jazz Age but would be completed at the start of the Great Depression. The New Yorker’s James Thurber reported on the old hotel’s last day in the May 11, 1929 “Talk of the Town”…

THEY LIKED RICH FOOD…1909 banquet in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria honoring US Steel founder Elbert Gary. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thurber wrote of the hundreds of club women who mourned the loss of their familiar meeting rooms, and one elevator operator who would not be joining their chorus of sobs…

HEYDAY…the old Waldorf-Astoria hotel circa 1900, and the cover for the menu announcing “The Final Dinner.” The menu included a cherrystone clam cocktail, turtle soup, crown of bass (in lobster sauce), mignon of spring lamb (chasseur), supreme of guinea hen (tyrolienne), bombe mercedes ice cream, and coffee. (Bowery Boys/Museum of the City of New York)
THEY’RE SELLING YOU…Illustration depicting an auction of items from the hotel. (Museum of the City of New York)

In the “Reporter at Large” column, humorist Robert Benchley supplied his own perspective on the closing of the venerable hotel, and the countless speeches that reverberated between its walls…

A 1903 image of the Grand Ball Room, “arranged for private theatricals. “(New York Public Library)

Benchley offered excerpts from dozens of hypothetical speeches, and then offered this final benediction to the old hotel:

In his “The Sky Line” column, architecture critic George S. Chappell (aka T-Square) looked in on the newly completed American Woman’s Association clubhouse and residence for young women on West 58th Street. Developed by Anne Morgan, daughter of J.P. Morgan, the building contained 1,250 rooms and featured a swimming pool, restaurant, gymnasium and music rooms along with various meeting rooms.

TRAINING GROUND…At left, the American Woman’s Association clubhouse and residence in 1932. At right, view of the central atrium of the AWA residence, now the Hudson Hotel. Below, the Hudson Bar (renovated after 1997), which has been featured in a number of TV shows including Gossip Girl and Sex and the City. (Liza DeCamp/Nan Palmero top right/RoryRory bottom)

In a 1998 New York Times “Streetscapes” feature, Christoper Gray cites a 1927 Saturday Evening Post interview with Anne Morgan, who said she believed women were at a temporary disadvantage in the business world and therefore founded the American Woman’s Association as “a training school for leadership, a mental exchange” where women “can hear what other women are doing.” After the AWA went bankrupt in 1941, the building was converted into The Henry Hudson Hotel, open to both men and women. From 1982 until 1997 the building’s second through ninth floors served as the headquarters for public television station WNET. The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour (now the PBS NewsHour) was broadcast from the building during that time.

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Punching for Peace

The old New Yorker was filled with personalities virtually unknown today, but who had tremendous influence in their time. Among them was Alpheus Geer (1863-1941), who founded the Marshall Stillman Movement, which promoted the sport of boxing as a way to steer young men away from a life of crime. An excerpt (with illustration by Hugo Gellert):

Alpheus Geer help found Stillman’s Gym in 1919 as a way to promote his Marshall Stillman Movement methods of boxing. Many famous fighters trained in the dank, smoky atmosphere of Stillman’s, including Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. Pictured above is famed boxing trainer Charley Goldman leaving Stillman’s Gym, circa 1940s. (easthamptonstar.com)

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Before we turn to the ads, this “Out of Town” column from the back pages struck an unusual tone regarding the types of tourists planning a summer in Germany…

…and from our advertisers, this ad promoting Louis Sherry’s new “informal restaurant” at Madison and 62nd Street…

WHAT’S IN A NAME…The Louis Sherry restaurant at Madison and 62nd, circa 1930. At right, the building today, now occupied by the French fashion company Hermès. (McKim, Mead & White / nycarchitecture.com)

Louis Sherry ran a famous restaurant at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street from 1898 to 1919 (like many famed restaurants, Prohibition helped put an end to it). Sherry died in 1926, so the owners of the new restaurant were merely trading on his name. In addition to a “delicacies shop” (gourmet foods were arrayed in the plate glass windows) Louis Sherry also contained a tea room, ice cream parlor and a balcony restaurant…

…like the Sherry restaurant, the new Hotel Delmonico traded on the fame of the old Delmonico’s Restaurant, which also fell victim to Prohibition by 1923. Today the hotel is best known as the place where the Beatles stayed in August 1964…

…here is another ad from Clicquot Club trying its best to sell its aged “Ginger Ale Supreme” to dry Americans. Famed avant-garde-art patron and party host Count Etienne de Beaumont (who looked like he’d had a few of something) testified how Cliquot “blends very agreeably” with the champagne most Americans cannot have…

…well, if you couldn’t have a legal drink, maybe you could entertain your friends with TICKER…”The New Wall Street Game That is Sweeping America!” My guess is this game didn’t sell so well after Black Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929…

…those BVD’s aren’t good enough for you? Then try the “Aristocrat of fabrics” (and have a smoke while you toss the medicine ball around with the gents)…

…and here is more evidence that the Roaring Twenties were losing their growl even before the big crash—the straight flapper figure was out; it was now the “season of curves”…

…a look at some of the cheap ads in the back of the magazine, including the one at bottom left from the Sam Harris Theater that played on the Lucky Strike cigarette slogan (“Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet!”)…

…one of the films featured at the Sam Harris Theatre was Madame X, a movie about a woman who leaves her wealthy (but cold) husband, turns to a life of crime, then tries to reclaim her son. The ad is correct in that it did create something of a sensation when it was released. It is also important to note that the film premiered at the Sam Harris for a reason: The director, Lionel Barrymore, didn’t want audiences to think his film was just another song and dance picture (like most of the first sound films) but rather a serious drama presented at a legitimate stage venue rather than a movie house…

UP TO NO GOOD…Ullrich Haupt as the cardsharp Laroque and Ruth Chatterton as Jacqueline Floriot in Madame X. At right, ad in Photoplay promoting the film. Click to enlarge. (Wikipedia/IMDB)

…back to our ads, here’s a remarkably crude one from the racist, women-hating people who made Muriel cigars (they being Lorillard, who also manufactured Old Golds)…

…and a softer message from The Texas Company, manufacturer of Texaco “golden” motor oil…

…the artist who rendered the above couple in those golden hues was American illustrator McClelland Barclay (1891-1943). Published widely in The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan, Barclay was known for war posters as well as pin-ups:

VERSATILE…Navy recruitment poster by McClelland Barclay, and an illustration for the cover of a 1942 Saturday Home Magazine. (Wikipedia/illustrationhouse.com)

In 1940 Barclay reported for active duty in the US Navy, serving in the New York recruiting office and illustrating posters. Determined to be a front-line combat artist, he served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres until he was reported missing in action after his boat was torpedoed in the Solomon Islands.

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Our comics are supplied by Alan Dunn, who probed the vagaries of movie magazine gossip…

…and Reginald Marsh, known for his social realistic depictions of working life in New York, including these stevedores eyeing a regatta…

…and finally, Gardner Rea looked in on a young man displaying early signs of cynicism…

Next Time…How Charles Shaw Felt About Things…

 

Out With the Old

Perhaps no decade was more transformative to New York City than the 1920s. From the loosening of social mores to countless technological advances, the city was a very different place as it entered the last year of the Roaring Twenties.

Jan. 5, 1929 cover by Sue Williams. Opening image depicts the original Waldorf Hotel’s Octagon Room in 1893.

Vestiges of the 19th century were quickly erased during the decade as old neighborhoods and stately mansions gave way to massive apartment blocks and towering skyscrapers. Such was the fate of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, its Victorian lavishness out of style in a streamlined age. Writing under the pen name T-Square, New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell commented on the planned demolition of the old* Waldorf-Astoria Hotel:

*Although outdated in appearance, the hotel was little more than 30 years old in 1929.

TALE OF TWO HOTELS…The Waldorf-Astoria was actually two hotels joined together. The Waldorf, at left, was built in 1893. The much larger Astoria (right) was constructed in 1897. Note the arrow indicating the original Waldorf in relation to the Astoria. (Wikipedia/Detroit Photopraphy Archive)
PLACES TO SEE AND BE SEEN…At left, the “Gentleman’s Cafe” in the Waldorf Hotel. At right, lobby entrance to the marble-lined “Peacock Alley” that connected the two hotels. (Wikipedia/justcocktails.com)
DINE IN STYLE…The Palm Room in the Astoria section of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. (New York Public Library)

Chappell wrote that the prime building site was slated to be occupied by a 50-story office building…

…but as it turned out, Floyd Brown was unable to make the final payments on the property, so he sold his claim to the bank. John J. Raskob, a wealthy finance executive and chair of the National Democratic Committee, joined with entrepreneur Pierre du Pont and former New York Governor Al Smith (who lost his bid for the U.S. Presidency in 1928) to buy the property. They had much bigger plans than Floyd Brown: In August 1929 they announced their plan to build the tallest building in the world — what would become the Empire State Building.

TRY, TRY AGAIN…The architecture firm Shreve & Lamb developed this concept (left) for Floyd Brown’s proposed 50-story office building on the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria. At right, what occupies the site today: the Empire State Building, also designed by Shreve & Lamb. (Pinterest/oldstructures.com)

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Car Culture

The Jan. 5 issue featured a lengthy review of the 29th Annual National Automobile Show at Grand Central Palace, as well as numerous advertisements by auto manufacturers hoping to entice New Yorker readers with their latest models.

Promoters of the event touted the addition of a grand staircase to Grand Central’s mezzanine level that would ease access to both levels of the show:

AIN’T IT GRAND?…Design drawing created for the 1929 National Automobile Show at Grand Central Palace touting the addition of an equally grand new staircase. (Free Library of Philadelphia)
How the new staircase actually appeared at the 1929 show. Note the background where the movement of workmen on ladders lends a ghostly appearance. (Free Library of Philadelphia)
A view of the 1929 National Automobile Show from the mezzanine of the Grand Central Palace.

As I mentioned, the Jan. 5 issue was filled with car ads, mostly from long-gone automobile manufacturers. A constant in all of these ads is their appeal to New  York’s chic, smart set. Here’s a sampling of a few of them: (click ads to enlarge):

Hupmobile was a successful car company that began its decline in the late 1920s  precisely because it turned its back on buyers of medium-priced cars and went after what it perceived to be the more lucrative luxury buyer (see ad above). Hupmobile went out of business in 1939 (after briefly joining forces with Graham-Paige, which also went under that year).

Cartoonist Leonard Dove found humor derived from these very class distinctions when he visited the auto show:

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The Game, Served Up Cold

In other diversions from the Jan. 5 issue, Niven Busch Jr. attended the hockey game between the New York Rangers and the New York Americans at Madison Square Garden, noting famous faces in the crowd including Finnish track star Paavo Nurmi and American track star Joie Ray. Also noted were Tex Rickard, builder of Madison Square and founder of the Rangers, ex-football star and businessman Col. Harry Hammond, and film star Alice Brady.

AT THE GARDEN…Not even the exciting hockey play of Billy Boyd (left) and his fellow New York Americans could keep actress Alice Brady warm. (Pinterest/Alchetron)

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From our non-automobile advertisers, another installment of a Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) ad for Flit insecticide (this is the first instance — at least in the Flit ads— in which Geisel signs his art as “Dr. S” instead of “Seuss”).

And another cartoon from the Jan. 5 issue, courtesy Gardner Rea:

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Arno Addendum

In the rush of the recent holidays I missed an item from the Dec. 22, 1928 issue — namely, art critic Murdock Pemberton’s tongue cheek review (in “The Art Galleries” column) of cartoonist Peter Arno’s December 1928 exhibition of drawings at the Valentine Gallery:

Here are two Arno drawings that were featured in the Valentine exhibition (click to enlarge):

INTERNATIONAL APPEAL…less than four years after his Valentine Galleries debut, Peter Arno exhibited his drawings to great acclaim at the Leicester Galleries in London, October 1932. (Encyclopædia Britannica)

Next Time: Midnight Frolic…

The Prohibition Portia

Despite Prohibition, booze flowed freely in 1928 New York thanks to bootleggers and lax enforcement by everyone from cops to judges. One major exception was Mabel Walker Willebrandt, a U.S. Assistant Attorney General from 1921 to 1929 who among other things handled cases concerning violations of the Volstead Act.

Oct. 20, 1928 cover by Constantin Alajálov.

Although Willebrandt herself enjoyed the occasional drink (she was personally opposed to prohibition), she was nevertheless serious about enforcing the law, and rather than chasing small-time bootleggers or padlocking speakeasies, she targeted the big-time operators.

How Willebrandt fits into this blog entry can be found in Lois Long’s “Table for Two” column in the Oct. 20, 1928 issue of the New Yorker, in which Long described the current state of affairs of Manhattan’s nightlife, including the departure of boozy torch singer Helen Morgan from the speakeasy scene for Flo Ziegfeld’s late-night Broadway revue, the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic:

WELL-KNOWN TO THE POLICE…Helen Morgan started singing in Chicago speakeasies in the early 1920s, where she defined the look of the torch singer, including the draped-over-the-piano pose, which was her signature. (amanandamouse.blogspot.com)

Morgan, who at the time was also starring in Broadway’s Show Boat, had been arrested the previous December for violation of liquor laws at her own popular nightclub, Chez Morgan. She would not return to performing in nightclubs until after the repeal of Prohibition.

Long also looked in on the popular Harlem nightclubs, where the dance music was “throbbier than ever.”

HOPPING IN HARLEM…Lois Long wrote that you couldn’t get near the popular Small’s (left) on a Saturday night, while Connie’s Inn (right) offered a new show that was “as torrid as ever.” (harlemworldmag.com, New York Public Library)

There was a sober undercurrent to all of this merry-making, namely Willebrandt’s determined efforts to go after the big bootlegging operations that were fueling all of this mirth. Long wrote:

PROHIBITION PORTIA…At left, Mabel Walker Willebrandt being sworn in as U.S. Assistant Attorney General in 1921. At right, Willebrandt on the cover of Time magazine, August 26, 1929. (legallegacy.wordpress.com)

Willebrandt decried the political interference and the incompetence (or corruption) of public officials who undermined the enforcement of the Volstead Act, and even fired a number of prosecutors. As her office also oversaw the enforcement of tax laws, she developed the strategy for prosecuting major crime bosses for income tax evasion. It was an approach that would finally put the famed Chicago gangster Al Capone behind bars in 1931.

Lois Long’s mention of Willebrandt was doubtless due to the 1928 presidential campaign, during which Willebrandt openly campaigned for the “dry” candidate, Republican Herbert Hoover, over the “wet” Al Smith, who referred to Willebrandt as “The Prohibition Portia.” Smith was referencing Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, in which the play’s heroine, Portia, outwits the merchant Shylock in a court case by referring to the exact language of the law.

Jim Dandy

New York Mayor Jimmy Walker was well-known for his taste in clothes (as well as for the nightlife), so E.B. White (writing in “The Talk of the Town”) decided to pay a visit to the mayor’s personal tailor to see how the “royal garments” were created. Excerpts:

CLOTHES HORSE…New York Mayor Jimmy Walker was a well-known dandy and a familiar face at Manhattan nightclubs. Rarely seen at City Hall, Walker used the lavish Casino nightclub in Central Park as his unofficial headquarters. (uptowndandy.blogspot.com)

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In one of my recent entries (The Tastemakers, posted Nov. 28) I noted how Prohibition had driven some advertisers to absurd lengths, including manufacturers of non-alcoholic beverages who appealed to the refined tastes (and snobbishness) usually associated with fine wines (see Clicquot Club ad below). Gag writer Arthur H. Folwell had some fun with such pretensions:

Speaking of refinement, when was the last time you saw someone dressed like this at a hockey game?

Before they graced the silver screen, the Marx Brothers were one of Broadway’s biggest draws, including their 1928 hit “Animal Crackers,” advertised in the back pages of the Oct. 20 New Yorker.

Our cartoons are courtesy Peter Arno, who looked in on a Hollywood movie set…

…and Gardner Rea, who rendered a scenario for an upper class emergency…

Next Time: Lighter Than Air…