Not for the Kiddies

Over the years Tod Browning’s 1932 pre-code film Freaks has been called everything from grotesque and exploitive to sympathetic and compassionate. Now a cult classic, the film’s closing scenes are regarded by some critics as among the most terrifying ever put to film.

July 16, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

What disturbed so many about Freaks was Browning’s use of actual sideshow performers with real disabilities to tell the story of a conniving trapeze artist who plots to seduce and then kill a dwarf performer to gain his inheritance. The film was not well-received by audiences and many critics. The Kansas City Star’s John Moffitt wrote, “There is no excuse for this picture. It took a weak mind to produce it and it takes a strong stomach to look at it.” However, the New Yorker’s John Mosher, along several other New York critics, gave the film a rather favorable review:

ONE OF US…Although audiences and critics found Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks grotesque and exploitive, today many regard the film as a rare (for its time), sympathetic portrayal of persons with disabilities. Clockwise, from top left, Browning with some of the members of his Freaks cast; French-American actress Rose Dione portrayed Madame Tetrallini, operator of the sideshow; Daisy and Violet Hilton with actor Wallace Ford in a scene from Freaks. Born fused at the pelvis, the sisters were joined at their hips and buttocks and shared blood circulation; limbless sideshow performer Prince Randian, who wore a one-piece wool garment over his body, appeared in the film as “The Living Torso.” (IMDB)
IT HAD A PLOT, ACTUALLY…Freaks told the story of a conniving trapeze artist named Cleopatra (portrayed by Russian actress Olga Baclanova, bottom right) who plots to seduce and then kill a dwarf performer, Hans (portrayed by Harry Earles) to gain his inheritance. Top photo: assembled “freaks” chant their acceptance of Cleopatra at the wedding feast of Hans and Cleopatra; bottom left, the kind-hearted seal trainer Venus (portrayed by Leila Hyams) consoles Frieda (Daisy Earles), who worries about Hans (Daisy and Harry Earles were members of a famous quartet of sibling entertainers known as The Doll Family. The quartet also appeared as members of The Munchkins in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.)(IMDB)
SURPRISE…Leila Hyams (1905 – 1977) was something of a surprising presence in the controversial film Freaks, given that she was a popular leading lady in the 1920s and 30s. Known for both her comedic and dramatic talents, she retired from films in 1936; another unlikely cast member was Henry Victor (1892 – 1945) whose physique didn’t necessarily support his role as circus strongman. (dangerousminds.net)
TRUE GRIT…Perhaps only a Russian actress in 1932 had the grit to transform herself from an exotic blonde temptress to a grotesque “human duck” for the movie Freaks. In the film, Olga Baclanova (1893 – 1974) portrayed a conniving trapeze artist named Cleopatra. Near the end of film the “freaks” capture Cleopatra, gouge out her right eye, remove her legs and tongue and melt her hands to look like duck feet. For critics and audiences, the horror was just too much. As for Baclanova — who was a popular silent film actress known as the “Russian Tigress” — her heavy accent did not translate well to talking films, and she left the movie business altogether in 1943. (muni.com/IMDB)

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Tennis Anyone?

Helen Moody was the top women’s singles tennis player for nearly a decade in the 1920s and 30s, winning Wimbledon eight times, including a match in 1932 against her rival Helen Jacobs. However to sportswriter John Tunis, the women had reached such a level in their play that it had become robotic and tedious to watch. At least James Thurber livened things up with some keen illustrations.

RACKETEERS…Helen Jacobs (left) and Helen Moody (right, in a 1929 photo) were tennis rivals known for their explosive matches. Except, apparently, for the one attended at Wimbeldon in 1932 by John Tunis. (nickelinthemachine.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Sensing that the end of Prohibition was near, the makers of Budweiser reminded readers of the good ol’ days of beer drinking and such…

…if you could afford something better than beer, then you might have contemplated a trip on the SS Manhattan, which along with her sister ship SS Washington were the largest liners ever built in the US…

TO AND FRO…Beginning in August 1932 the SS Manhattan operated the New York – Hamburg route until 1939, when instead of taking passengers to Germany the ship began taking Jewish refugees and others away from Nazi-occupied Europe. It was turned into a troopship in 1941 and never returned to commercial service. The SS Manhattan was sold for scrap in 1965. (cruiselinehistory.com)

…if your thing wasn’t traveling to Germany to see that country being transformed into the Third Reich, you could instead become a Bermuda “Commuter”…

…back home, William Steig joined other New Yorker cartoonists who earned extra money off of the big tobacco companies…

…which segues into our cartoonists, beginning with Victor Bobritsky’s illustration for “Goings On About Town”…

Otto Soglow offered more Little King adventures…

…and Carl Rose gave us a man striding into a factory, apparently a rare sight in 1932…

…on to July 23…

July 23, 1932 cover by Antonio Petruccelli (1907 – 1994). This is the first of six covers Petruccelli created for the New Yorker from 1932 to 1938. He also did numerous covers and illustrations for Fortune, Colliers and other publications.

…and we have another John Mosher film review, in which he refers to Freaks as a “dainty prelude” to another film about the lives of entertainers, in this case George Cukor’s What Price Hollywood, a pre-Code drama starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman with a storyline that anticipated 1937’s A Star Is Born — namely, a famous but fading male star who helps an ingénue rise to stardom while he descends into a pit of alcoholic despair.

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…Top image: Waitress and aspiring actress Mary Evans (Constance Bennett) has the good fortune to meet film director Maximillan Carey (Lowell Sherman) when she serves him one night at the Brown Derby. Bottom: Mary and her polo player boyfriend Lonny Borden (Neil Hamilton) look down with pity at the down-on-his-luck Maximillan in What Price Hollywood? (Wikipedia/IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Originally published by Adam Budge, Inc. in 1910 and later by Joseph Judd Publishing and others, Arts & Decoration magazine hoped to stay alive in the Depression with a promise that its August 1932 issue would be “compellingly readable”…

…and here is the cover of that issue…Arts & Decoration would hang on for another ten years before folding in 1942…

…one of the stars of Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 was actress and dancer Patricia Boots Mallory (1913 – 1958), who posed for this portrait to demonstrate the wonders of color reproduction…

…and here’s Boots Mallory in a scene from the 1932 film Handle With Care with comedian Elmer “El” Brendel (standing) and actor James Dunn

…not everyone could be a movie star, but you could pretend to be one in this swell new (and low-priced) DeSoto…Walter Chrysler must have laid out some big bucks for this two-page color spread…

…for those with greater means you could skip the roads altogether and fly the friendly skies of Ludington Airlines…the airline was founded by wealthy New York socialite Charles Townsend Ludington and his brother Nicholas…

…founded in 1929, Ludington Airlines was the first airline with flights every hour on the hour and the first to carry passengers only (others carried mail, an important source of revenue). The airline offered service between Washington, D.C. and New York City — with stops in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Virginia, Nashville and Knoxville, Tennessee — using seven Stinson tri-motor 6000 aircraft in its fleet, each carrying up to ten passengers…the airline went bankrupt in 1933 (mostly due to the lack of mail revenue) but left behind an astonishing record — in its first two years it flew more than 3.4 million miles and carried 133,000 passengers, a record at the time…

A Stinson SM-6000 airliner similar to the type flown by Ludington Airlines from 1929 to 1933.

…back to earth, sort of, we have this Lucky Strike ad with the famed “Do You Inhale?” campaign that oozed innuendo and no doubt prompted a few young men to take up the habit posthaste…

…on to cartoons, beginning with this spot art by James Thurber

Gardner Rea showed us a man getting his nickel’s worth of sin and repentence…

…and we end with the delightfully unrepentant Peter Arno

Next Time: Rebecca and the Zombies…

On Detention

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

June 18, 1932 cover by William Crawford Galbraith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Dry I Ain’t

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 25, 1932 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

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

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

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

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

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

…and another travelogue image from Rea Irvin

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

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

Next Time: Help Wanted

Jimmy’s Jam

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

June 4, 1932 cover by Theodore Haupt.

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

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

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

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

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

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Out of the Shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

From left to right, 1929, 1938, 1957…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(brookstonbeerbulletin.com)

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

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

…and some more naughtiness, courtesy Gardner Rea

Next Time: Summer Indulgences…

 

 

A Visit to Minskyville

During the 1930s few people could afford the luxury of a Broadway show, but a trip to “Minskyville” was in reach of nearly anyone looking to escape the gloom of the Depression, at least for a few hours.

May 28, 1930 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

The Minsky family — brothers Billy, Herbert, Morton and Abe — built the beginnings of a New York burlesque empire, writes actress, author and documentarian Leslie Zemeckis: “Abe, the eldest, started showing racy films in a nickelodeon theater on the Lower East Side. His father — believing that if his son was gonna be a perv, he might as well make real money at it — bought the National Winter Garden theater on Houston Street near Second Avenue (where a Whole Foods stands today), and gave Abe the sixth floor to run his burlesque shows.” Alva Johnson paid a visit to Houston Street and environs for the “A Reporter at Large” column:

LITTLE EGYPT, aka Farida Mazar Spyropoulos, top left, both titillated and scandalized crowds at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (really?); clockwise, from center top, three of Minsky Brothers – Billy, Morton and Herbert; the Minsky Brothers owned several burlesque theaters in New York, including Minsky’s Oriental on 51st Street and Broadway, where ‘stripper  Julie Bryan was a top draw in 1936; Billy Minsky brought the Minsky brand to Broadway when he leased the Republic Theater on 42nd Street in 1931; the last two images are by Margaret Bourke-White, backstage at the Republic Theater in 1936. (Wikipedia/Daily News/Estate of Margaret Bourke-White)
NEED A CAREER?…Well, in the 1930s an aspiring dancer or comedian could earn some chops on the burlesque stage. Gypsy Rose Lee (aka Rose Louise Hovick), left,who became the world’s most famous stripper (as well as an actress, author and playwright), was one of the biggest stars of Minsky’s Burlesque; breaks between burlesque performances were commonly filled by comedians, including Abbott and Costello (pictured above in their 1930s burlesque days), who first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Burlesque Theater on 42nd Street, at right.

According to Zemeckis, “burlesque caught on among the recent immigrants of the Lower East Side. The shows were cheap, the humor broad, and the allure of beautiful, barely-clothed women transcended language barriers.” But if striptease wasn’t your thing, Minskyville offered plenty of other diversions:

ONE LUMP OR TWO?…Minskyville’s entrepreneurs (top images) added a modern twist to the study of head bumps and cranium size — called Phrenology — with the electronic “Psycograph” (sic); at bottom, Prof. William Heckler’s Trained Flea Circus at Hubert’s Museum on West 42nd Street attracted some gents itching to see Heckler’s fleas in action; according to Alva Johnston, Minskyville’s penny arcade peepshows (such as the one at bottom right) would take your penny or nickel in exchange for photos of a woman old enough to give your grandpa the glad eye. (Museum of Questionable Medical Devices/sideshowworld.com)
LET’S SEE THAT AGAIN…Folks who didn’t want to look at forty-year-old photos of bathing beauties could check out the most popular attraction at Minskyville’s penny arcades — a clip from the famed Long Count Fight, a 1927 rematch between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champ Jack Dempsey, which Tunney won in a unanimous decision despite being knocked down in the seventh round. It was, and is, the subject of endless debate. (www.wbaboxing.com )

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Not a Gearhead

“The Talk of the Town” noted that young Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. preferred arts and literature over things that went zoom:

SOMEDAY THIS WILL ALL BE YOURS, RIGHT?…Walter P. Chrysler Sr. and Walter P. Chrysler Jr. share a father-son moment in 1930. Junior Chrysler devoted much of his life to building a multimillion-dollar collection of paintings (some of which were later found to be forgeries) and made substantial forays into collecting stamps, rare books and glassworks. He also produced a movie, The Joe Louis Story, released in 1953. (chrysler.org)

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Rat-a-tat

Today most movie lovers associate Scarface with the 1983 Brian DePalma film (starring Al Pacino), but the original Scarface in 1932 was far more influential in that it helped define the American gangster film genre. Directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Hawks and Howard Hughes, the screenplay was penned by early New Yorker contributor Ben Hecht. Mild by today’s standards, the film’s violent scenes caused it to be banned by many theaters around the country. Along with 1931’s Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, Scarface is regarded as among the most significant gangster films. Here is what critic John Mosher thought of it:

JUST IN CASE YOU GET THE WRONG IDEA…Also known as Scarface: The Shame of the Nation, this 1932 gangster film opened with some cautionary words (top left). Clockwise, from top right, gangster “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) is flanked by his cronies during a hit on a rival; Tony (Muni) shows his softer side with his dear sister Francesca (Ann Dvorak). United Artists promotional poster (note how Boris Karloff was billed with a reference to his 1931 Frankenstein role). (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water, out comes another line of wool swimsuits. I honestly can’t imagine how they must have felt, especially when wet and clinging to your skin after you left the water…

…the ad below from DuPont was just the sort of thing that drove New Yorker fashion critic Lois Long nuts…a couple of downscale royals shilling their fashion lines to an unsuspecting public…the paychecks from DuPont must have been substantial enough for these bluebloods to publicly embrace synthetics…

TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE…Here is the real Countess Borea de Buzzaccarini Regoli, left, and the Princess de Rohan, who played to America’s insatiable thirst for nobility while shilling for a chemical company. (Wikimedia)

…if you had the money and the steady nerves, you could have hopped aboard an almost 32-hour flight to the West Coast assured that a “coordinated mechanism” of men and machine would get you there in one piece…

…perhaps you could have steadied your nerves by dragging on a Tally-Ho — for some weird reason the Lorillard Tobacco Company (who also made Old Gold) thought some folks might prefer an oval-shaped cigarette (I include the remainder of the back-page ads for context)…

…despite the Depression, the New Yorker was holding its own in sales and subscriptions, but it never hurt to place a house ad every now and then to convince a few who might be holding out…

…on to our cartoons, Garrett Price showed us the result of a bad hand…

James Thurber offered up this spot illustration in the opening pages…

…and this terrific cartoon…

Gardner Rea demonstrated the perils of summoning the dead…

…the departed soul mentioned in Rea’s cartoon was prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright Edgar Wallace (1875-1932), who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals in his relatively short life. He is most famous today as the co-creator of the film King Kong…

…and we end with this gem from Kemp Starrett, and some high-jinks…

Next Time: Jimmy’s Jam…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand Garbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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She’s Back

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

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

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Notes, and More Notes

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

(Courtesy H.H. Franklin Club)

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

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

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

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

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

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

…here is a more detailed look at the above…

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

Gardner Rea sketched this hereditary pratfall…

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

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

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

Next Time: The Quiet Man…

 

Thurber’s Dogs

James Thurber became acquainted with all sorts of dogs throughout his life, and in each he found something to admire. Unlike the men and women who were bound up by silly customs or norms, the dog stood steadfast as a “sound creature in a crazy world.”

Jan. 2, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

In the Jan. 2, 1932 issue, Thurber began what would become a decades-long paean to the noble canine — an embodiment of the freedoms conventional man would never attain. An excerpt from “A Preface to Dogs”…

“So why dogs?” Adam Gopnik asked the question under the title, “A Note on Thurber’s Dogs,” in Nov. 1, 2012 issue of the New Yorker. Gopnik explains that for Thurber, the dog represented “the American man in his natural state—a state that, as Thurber saw it, was largely scared out of him by the American woman. When Thurber was writing about dogs, he was writing about men. The virtues that seemed inherent in dogs — peacefulness, courage, and stoical indifference to circumstance — were ones that he felt had been lost by their owners.”

STOICAL INDIFFERENCE…Clockwise, from top left, James Thurber’s illustration of a childhood pet, a terrier named “Muggs” from the story “The Dog That Bit People” (1933); photograph of the real Muggs; dogs appear in many of Thurber’s cartoons as a stoic presence among maladjusted humans; Thurber at work on one of his dogs in an undated photo. (ohiomemory.org/jamesthurber.org)

Here’s one more excerpt that gives us glimpse into a dog’s day, as related by Thurber…

We’ve seen Thurber writing about dogs before, most notably in his spoof on newspaper pet columns titled “Our Pet Department.” Here is an excerpt from his first installment in the series, which appeared in fifth anniversary issue of the New Yorker, Feb. 22, 1930:

A final note: For more on Thurber, check out New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin’s Thurber Thursday entries at his terrific Ink Spill website.

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Choo Choo

While Thurber’s mind was on dogs, his buddy E.B. White was musing about the joys of train travel, and the hope that awaited journey’s end. Excerpts:

THIS DOESN’T SUCK AT ALL…Riding on the Great Northern Railroad in 1926. (Pinterest)

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Party Poopers

Journalist Chester T. Crowell contributed the Jan. 2 “A Reporter at Large” column by looking through the thin facade of Prohibition enforcement in New York. He tells of Prohibition agents who visit a roadside tavern for several weeks (and enjoy the beer) before finally raiding the place. Beer kegs are broken up and the door to the bar is padlocked. But all was not lost for the proprietor, who got some business advice from the raiding agents…

KEG PARTY…The New York Daily News featured this photo on June 18, 1931 with this caption: “Tears mingled with strong beer in Newark, N.J. as prohibition agents destroyed the unlawful liquor, some of which was seized in Hoboken raid.” (NY Daily News/Mashable)

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No Laughing Matter

As we move through the 1930s we’ll see more signs of the world (war) to come. Reed Johnston had some fun with the messy politics of Weimar Germany, making a parenthetical reference to the “Nazis” of the National Socialist party who would soon take control of the country…

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Upstaged

A box office and critical success, Hell Divers is considered Clark Gable’s breakout role, but the real stars were the Curtiss F8C-4 “Helldivers” that were used in filming aerial battle scenes. Critic John Mosher takes it from there…

ART IMITATES LIFE…Wallace Beery and Clark Gable played rivals onscreen and offscreen in Hell Divers. The upstart Gable disliked the veteran actor Beery, a well-known misanthrope whom many actors found difficult to work with. (IMDB)

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Yet More Diego

Art critic Murdock Pemberton had more to say about Diego Rivera’s appearance at the Museum of Modern Art, noting that Rivera “has been fortunate to be living in a liberal country (Mexico), where his propaganda could be spread upon the walls of public buildings.” Pemberton correctly surmised that Rivera would “starve” if he tried to paint similar themes in the U.S. (Indeed, in 1933 Rivera would refuse to remove an image of Lenin from a Rockefeller Center mural, and would be asked to leave the country).

I SHALL RETURN…Diego Rivera returned to New York in 1933 on a commission to paint a mural for the new Rockefeller Center. The inclusion of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin (inset) in the work was not well-received in the Capital of Capitalism. (npr.org/Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

It’s snowing in Manhattan, and you’re tired of slogging though the snow and slush — well, if you didn’t lose your shirt in the stock market, and if you didn’t need to work a steady job, then you could get away from it all and head to the “sunlit paradise” of the West Indies…

…or grab some sun time in Nassau…

…but before you go, you might want to pick up some warm-weather duds at Lord & Taylor…

…or at L.P. Hollander on East 57th…

…to ring in the New Year (yes, I’m running a little late) we kick off the cartoons with William Crawford Galbraith

Gardner Rea showed us how old money and no money don’t mix…

Helen Hokinson gave us a double entendre to go along with car trouble at a service station…

…communication also seemed to be a challenge for this chap in a William Steig cartoon…

…and we end where we began, with the great James Thurber and the looming battle between the sexes…

Next Time: Babylon Berlin…

Mosher’s Monster

James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein remains one of the most iconic horror films of all time, not only setting a standard for monster movies to come, but creating one of popular culture’s most enduring characters.

Dec. 12, 1931 cover by Theodore Haupt.

The New York Times film critic Mordaunt Hall called the film “far and away the most effective thing of its kind,” and the public agreed, making it a box office success. The New Yorker’s John Mosher, on the other hand, was among the crowd with a more literary bent, preferring Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel by the same name to the film adaptation. He dismissed Whale’s Frankenstein with this brief review:

THIS WON’T HURT A BIT…Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) prepares to destroy Henry Frankenstein’s monster (Boris Karloff), but he is stopped short of his goal when the monster awakens and strangles him to death. (IMDB)
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED…Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) meets up with his creation in 1931’s Frankenstein. (IMDB)
I WISH HENRY WOULD FIND A NEW HOBBY…Henry Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth Lavenza (Mae Clarke) is confronted by the monster (Boris Karloff) in 1931’s Frankenstein. (IMDB)
ALL IN A DAY’S WORK…Boris Karloff takes a break between scenes. (mashable.com)

One thing Mosher did like about the film was the makeup applied to Karloff, and it would be a look that endures today throughout popular culture. Less than two years after the 1931 film’s release, Walt Disney featured the monster in 1933’s Mickey’s Gala Premier, and since then in countless cartoons, dozens of films, and a television series. From what I can gather, comic portrayals of the monster are far more common than ones involving horror themes…

THE BAT PACK…Clockwise, from top left, 1933’s Mickey’s Gala Premier featured Frankenstein’s monster with pals Dracula and the Werewolf; Daffy Duck conducts an interview in 1988’s The Night of the Living Duck; the monster makes an expected appearance in the first season of Scooby-Doo (A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts 1969); and the monster has appeared as a regular in four Hotel Transylvania films. (Wikipedia/Pinterest)
A FAMILIAR FACE…Frankenstein’s monster has also appeared in dozens of films, a TV sitcom, and even on a box of cereal. Clockwise, from top left, Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster in NBC TV’s The Munsters (1964-66); Boris Karloff’s original monster makes an appearance on a FrankenBerry cereal box (1987); Peter Boyle as the monster with a different look (but retaining those electrodes) in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974); and Abbott & Costello team up with the monster (Glenn Strange) in 1948’s Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. (Wikipedia/Pinterest/filmforum.org)

It seems I’ve gone down a rabbit hole with this subject, but here’s one more for the holidays: the late Phil Hartman portrayed Frankenstein’s monster in several SNL sketches during the 1988-89 season…

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No Fantasy Island, This

New York’s Blackwell’s Island is probably best known for the asylum where reporter Nellie Bly went undercover in 1887 to expose its horrid conditions. The asylum closed in 1894, but a penitentiary established there in 1832 remained in operation for more than a century. When journalist Robert Littell (1896-1963) visited the island in 1931 for “A Reporter at Large” column, he found it was still occupied by workhouses and a penitentiary — a place where the city still sent it “undesirables.” Littell, a former associate editor of the New Republic and a drama critic for various New York newspapers, described the island’s gray, grim appearance and the “ugly old buildings, model 1858” that contained its sorry residents. An excerpt:

BY ANY OTHER NAME…Called “Minnehanonck” by the Lenape Tribe and “Varkens Eylandt” (Hog Island) by New Netherlanders, this East River island was dubbed Blackwell’s Island during colonial times, and that was the dreaded name referred to by reformers who decried the horrifying conditions of its “Lunatic Asylum,” workhouses and penitentiary in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Renamed Welfare Island in 1922, its prison can be seen in a 1931 photo (top) and in an interior shot from the 1920s. In 1973 the island was renamed Roosevelt Island in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt and redeveloped with housing for more than 20,000 residents. (AP)

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Outshining the Sordid

Architecture critic Lewis Mumford also mentioned Welfare Island in the Dec. 12 issue, but only as a reference point to view the new Cornell Medical Centre, which he found “indisputedly exhilarating.” Note the final lines of this excerpt, and how Mumford took a not-so-subtle swipe at New York architecture firms.

Mumford wasn’t alone in his praise. According to a 1933 Architectural Forum article, hospital director Dr. G. Canby Robinson made this observation about the lobby: “the average person should walk through it without noticing it, but the cultured person should be arrested by its beauty.”

HIGH MASS…The hospital in 1954. (Sam Falk/The New York Times)
ABOVE AVERAGE…The main entrance in 1933. (Avery Architectural Library)

NO SHOW…Fr. Charles O’Donnell (left) refused to share the stage at a Knute Rockne Memorial with retired boxer Gene Tunney. (findagrave.com/Wikipedia)

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Silver Bells

A precursor to the New Yorker’s annual holiday poem, “Greetings Friends!” was this entry in the Dec. 12, 1931 issue, written by short-story writer and novelist James Reid Parker

New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin has noted an interesting relationship Parker had with cartoonist Helen Hokinson. You can read about it at his lively Ink Spill site.

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From Our Advertisers

We kick off our ads with another entry from Condossis cigarettes…these will continue to the end of the year and beyond, but I won’t run them all…

…I liked this Rex Cole ad because it placed its very architectural refrigerator in the midst of the city…

…as the company did in the physical realm…this Rex Cole showroom was in Queens…

…with the holidays in full swing, we see ads for the kiddies…

…and for the grown-ups, again exchanging Champagne bottles filled with scarves and socks rather than bubbly, thanks to Prohibition (which still had two years to go)…

…maybe a game could distract you from your forced sobriety, such as table-top bowling…note the drawing of J.P. Morgan, which looked very similar to Peter Arno’s Major…

…here’s an advertising ploy no longer used today (at least not overtly)…

…and on to our cartoons, beginning with Gardner Rea

…this odd little political cartoon was contributed by Otto Soglow, who vaguely anticipated trouble ahead in the international sphere…

…I remember seeing this familiar trope in old movies and 60s sitcoms…John Reehill gave us his rendition here…

…and we close with William Steig, and an after-hours close encounter…

Next Time: The Mouse That Roared…

 

Yankee Doodles

In 1931 Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (image above) opened a new art museum in Greenwich Village that would be unlike any other in Manhattan, one that would focus exclusively on American art and artists.

Nov. 28, 1931 cover by Harry Brown.

Ninety years ago American painters and sculptors were mostly considered second-rate by critics who had cut their teeth on the Old World’s “Great Masters.” An exception was the New Yorker’s first art critic, Murdock Pemberton, who accused such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of discouraging American art. It is a bit surprising, however, that Pemberton initially gave a cool reception to the opening of the Whitney Museum of American Art, perceiving that its founders were putting the cart before the horse:

AMERICAN ORIGINAL…The original Whitney Museum of American Art was located at 8 – 12 West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village. Above, images from a 1937 museum catalog, and (bottom right) a view of the building’s West Eighth Street facade, circa 1940-50. (Whitney Museum/Life magazine)
SHE WORE THE PANTS…Robert Henri’s 1916 portrait of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, sculptor and founder of the Whitney Museum. Gertrude’s husband, Harry Payne Whitney, would not allow his wife to hang the portrait in their Fifth Avenue town house because he didn’t want visitors to see his wife “in pants.” Instead, the portrait hung in Gertrude’s West 8th Street studio, which became the first Whitney Museum in 1931. (whitney.org)

Despite Pemberton’s initial concerns, the Whitney became a beloved New York institution, moving in 1954 from the West Eighth location to a larger space on West 54th, and then to its iconic Marcel Breuer-designed building at Madison and 75th, which opened in 1966. The museum would move again in 2015 to its current location at 99 Gansevoort Street in a building designed by Renzo Piano.

IMPERMANENT COLLECTION…The Whitney would move three times after its 1931 opening, first to West 54th in 1954, then to its iconic Marcel Breuer-designed home at Madison and 75th (opened in 1966), and finally to its current location at 99 Gansevoort Street. (museuminforme.blogspot.com)

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Party Pooper

William Faulkner attracted much attention among literary circles during his extended visit to New York in 1931, however (as reported in “The Talk of the Town”) the author was able to dodge most of it by staying put in his Tudor City apartment.

HOME ALONE…William Faulkner spent most of his time in New York holed up in his Tudor City apartment, where he worked on the manuscript for Light in August. (LA Times/Wikipedia)

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This or That

While we are on the subject of literary giants, here is a poem submitted by E.B. White to the Nov. 28 issue that explored some universal half-truths:

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From Our Advertisers

As the market for cigarettes continued to increase, so did the number of new brands launched to take advantage of all those eager young puffers. The makers of Condossis Cigarettes hoped to create some buzz for their new product through a series of ads written by Mark O’Dea and illustrated by the New Yorker’s Gardner Rea. Apparently the makers of Condossis believed that a posh backstory would lend a certain élan to their smokes. This seems all for naught — I haven’t found a record of the brand beyond 1938…

…a few of those posh smokers might have considered heading to Monte Carlo for the holidays, where they could also legally drink and gamble and forget about the jobless masses back home…

…but you needn’t go to Monte Carlo to signal your taste for the finer things, at least that is what B. Altman claimed with their lower-priced French knock-offs (although $95 was still a lot of dough in 1931)…

…Bonwit Teller also boasted of its low-priced evening wraps, so affordable that one could consider having a different wrap to complement every gown in one’s wardrobe ($135 in 1931 is roughly equivalent to $2,300 today)…

…the makers of Lenthéric perfumes offered the potential for shame and embarrassment if one didn’t choose their product for that special holiday gift…

…but perhaps the happiest shopper of all could shell out a mere $2.50 for the latest editions of the New Yorker Album (the 4th) or the New Yorker Scrapbook (drawings of a delighted couple courtesy Peter Arno)

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Mary Petty and a tête-à-tête over tea…

…and Petty again with one woman’s attempt at noblesse oblige…

Barbara Shermund looked in on the very idle rich…

William Steig spotted a bald-watcher…

E. McNerney revealed a secret among siblings…

…and William Crawford Galbraith gave us a backstage glimpse of a Broadway revue…

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On to the Dec. 5 issue…

Dec. 5, 1931 cover by Rea Irvin.

…which featured a profile of renowned violinist and composer Efrem Zimbalist (1889-1985). The son of a Russian conductor, Zimbalist was married to the famous American soprano Alma Gluck

…and the entertainment gene continued on through the family line, as Zimbalist and Gluck’s son, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., would become a star in Hollywood, as would their granddaughter, Stephanie Zimbalist.

ALL IN THE FAMILY…Famed violinist Efrem Zimbalist and American soprano Alma Gluck (top, left) would pass on their entertainment genes to son Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (known for his starring roles in 77 Sunset Strip and The F.B.I.) and granddaughter Stephanie Zimbalist, who portrayed sleuth Laura Holt in the NBC series Remington Steele. Top right, a “Profile” caricature of Zimbalist by Al Frueh. (Wikipedia/Pinterest)

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From Our Advertisers

Much to the delight of the New Yorker advertising department, the makers of Condossis Cigarettes were back with their second installment of the adventures of the “Condossis Family”…

…on the other hand, the well-established Chesterfield brand didn’t have to try quite as hard — offering an attractive woman and some supporting copy that subtly suggested that a woman could credit her fine demeanor to a mere cigarette…

…on to our comics, we have this two-page entry by Rea Irvin

…a bit of offensive driving, Helen Hokinson-style…

Carl Rose gave us an unlikely candidate for a chaste role…

Alan Dunn’s entry played to the stereotypes of his day…

Frank McIntosh plied the Sugar Daddy waters to come up with this gem…

Garrett Price gave us a gift designed to light a man’s fire…

Barbara Shermund lit a flame of a different sort between a dowager and her latest escort…

…and we end with James Thurber, and one of my all-time favorites…

Next Time: Mosher’s Monster

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

We first encountered critic Lewis Mumford in the June 30, 1931 issue of the New Yorker when he roundly excoriated plans for Rockefeller Center. The Nov. 14 issue once again found him in a surly mood, this time regarding the decorative arts and how they had been poorly displayed at the otherwise esteemed Metropolitan Museum.

Nov. 14, 1931 cover by B.H. Jackson.

To say that Mumford was displeased with the Met’s decorative arts exhibition would be an understatement:

BED, BATH AND BEYOND…Let’s just say Lewis Mumford probably needed a stiff drink after strolling through the Met’s latest displays of the decorative arts. (Library of Congress)
PAST IMPERFECT…Norman Bel Geddes was known for his theatrical, futuristic visions of streamlined everything, but the radio he exhibited at the Met was more Queen Victoria’s speed in Mumford’s view. (Pinterest)

Mumford pondered this sudden decline: was it the Depression, or just a streak of bad taste? And what could be done with the purveyors of bad taste, short of shooting them? Let’s read on…

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET…Mumford suggested that Macy’s International Exposition of Art in Industry in the late 1920’s had more vision than the Met’s 1931 offering. Above, living room furniture designed by Houbert et Petit exhibited in a showroom during the 1928 “International Exposition of Art in Industry” at Macy’s department store. (Library of Congress)
LESS THAN A PRETTY FACE?…The streamlined form of Norman Bel Geddes’ “House of Tomorrow” probably wowed a few readers of Ladies home Journal in April 1931, but critic Lewis Mumford was likely not among them, as he often criticized Bel Geddes for his theatricality at the expense of good taste and functionality (see first excerpt above). Mumford was especially critical of Bel Geddes’ glorification of the automobile and the highway at the expense of livable cities. (Pinterest)

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Peter, We Have Your Back

When your colleague has a play made from his book, and it closes after just seven performances, what can you say, especially if you are theater critic for the New Yorker? Well, here is what Robert Benchley did:

THAT’S SHOW BIZ…Here Goes The Bride, based on a Peter Arno book, closed after just seven performances. However, as a cartoonist, Arno was at the top of his game. (Britannica/Ebay)

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From Our Advertisers

Depression? Who needs it? If you had the means, and didn’t lose your shirt in the 1929 crash, you could get away from it all and book passage to the Bahamas, where you could drink legally, soak up some sun, and forget about those lengthening bread lines you occasionally glanced from the window of your town car…

…well, that bootleg gin was a mind eraser…

Helen Hokinson continued to offer her cartooning skills to the folks at Frigidaire…

…on to our cartoons, the George Washington Bridge drew the envy of some out-of-towners, as illustrated by Garrett Price

…nearly 90 years ago folks were almost as nuts about college football as they are now, except for Perry Barlow’s lone dowager, who would rather be sitting in her parlor with a cup of tea…

Gardner Rea explored the wonders of heredity…

Otto Soglow’s Little King employed a guard ready for any emergency…

Barbara Shermund gave us an artist with a god complex…

James Thurber continued to probe the nuances of the sexes…

Peter Arno sketched this two-page spread with the caption: J.G’s a card all right when he gets to New York

…and from the mouth of babes, we have these observations of the underworld from Chon Day

…and Denys Wortman

On to the Nov. 21 issue, which featured the last in a series of eleven covers Helen Hokinson contributed to the New Yorker in 1931. The covers featured one of Hokinson’s “Best Girls” — a plump, wealthy, society woman — on an around-the-world cruise, which began with the March 2 issue and ended on Nov. 21 with a stop at the customs office, and a nosy customs officer…

Nov. 21, 1931 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Bread & Circuses

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White reported on a recent editorial in the Columbia Spectator, that university’s student newspaper, which took issue with the professionalization and “furtive hypocrisy” of college football (if only they could see us now). White observed:

In 1931, Columbia was a football power, and the Ivy League was a big-time conference. To the editors of the Spectator, this was not a point of pride, which they made clear in this 89-year-old editorial that could have been written yesterday:

Clippings from Columbia Spectator Archive
JUST GETTING MY KICKS…1931 press photo of Columbia University football star Ralph Hewitt, who still holds the school record for the longest field goal — a 53-yarder he dropped kicked in a 1930 upset victory over Cornell. Hewitt went on to coach high school sports.

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Sorry, Charlie

William “Billy” Haines was a popular actor during the 1920s and early 30s a top-five box-office star from 1928 to 1932, portraying arrogant but likable characters in a string of pictures that ended abruptly when Haines refused to deny his homosexuality and was cut loose by MGM. “The Talk of the Town” looked in on Haines at his Santa Barbara home, where he entertained a mysterious visitor:

THE INTERIOR LIFE…The stylish actor William Haines in a 1926 publicity shot taken at his Hollywood home. Haines would abandon acting in the 1930s and take up a successful career as an interior designer. (Photofest)

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Coveted Coiffeur

Speaking of stylish, writer Bessie Breuer wrote an admiring profile of Polish hairdresser Antoine (aka Antoni Cierplikowski), considered the world’s first celebrity hairdresser. The opening paragraph:

A CUT ABOVE…In 1914 famed hairdresser Antoine (aka Antoni Cierplikowski) invented the “shingle cut” (at left, sported by actress Louise Brooks in the 1920s), which was all the rage during the Roaring Twenties. (Pinterest)

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The Look of Relief

In “The Talk of the Town” E.B. White noted that a familiar face was gracing advertisements for President Herbert Hoover’s Unemployment Relief Agency:

I NEVER FORGET A FACE…E.B. White referred to this ad featuring an unnamed woman who had a familiar look about her. (period paper.com)

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More His Style

We return again to Lewis Mumford, this time cheered by the sight of the new Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea, designed by Cory & Cory. An excerpt from “The Sky Line” column:

THAT’S MORE LIKE IT…Lewis Mumford praised the striking effect of the Starrett-Lehigh Building’s alternating bands of brick, concrete and steel. (Atlas of Places)

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The Chump

John Mosher was neither moved nor charmed by the appearance of little Jackie Cooper in The Champ, a tearjerker story of an alcoholic ex-boxer (Wallace Beery) struggling to provide for his son. He did, however, appreciate the boy’s ability to carry “on his little shoulders a heavy and tedious and lengthy story.”

BUMMER…John Mosher had little to like about King Vidor’s The Champ, featuring Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper. Mosher was no doubt a bit dismayed when Beery received an Academy Award for his performance. (IMDB)

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A Wishful Christmas List

It was that time of the year when the New Yorker began running its lengthy features on possible gifts for Christmas. This excerpt caught my eye for what might have been possible in 1931 — buying a photographic print directly from Berenice Abbott or Nickolas Muray:

NO LUMP OF COAL, THIS…In 1931 it might have been quite possible to buy this print directly from photographer Berenice Abbott. Barclay Street, Hoboken Ferry 1931, is in MoMA’s photography collection.

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From Our Advertisers

It has been well-established in previous posts that Anglophilia ran rampant among New York’s smart set, and this advertisement from Saks provides everything we need to underscore the point…

…and the top hat mades another appearance in this spot for Lucky Strike, featuring an endorsement from actor Edmund Lowe...

…our cartoons featured a song-less songbird courtesy of Perry Barlow

…and from James Thurber, another creature with little appetite for song, let alone wine and women…

William Steig brought us back to the bleachers with another nonconformist…

Gluyas Williams gave us this sad sack all alone in the crowd…

Richard Decker sought to bring order to this court…

…and we end with Carl Rose, and this two-page cartoon illustrating a dicey parking challenge…

Next Time: Yankee Doodles…

 

The Tragic Pose

In an age of toe-tapping musicals and screwball comedies — which served to distract from the grim realities of the Great Depression — one playwright was content to continue mining the deep veins of tragedy and pessimism than ran through the 1930s.

Nov. 7, 1931 cover by Margaret Schloeman.

A Chekhovian realistEugene O’Neill (1888 – 1953) had yet to write his masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey into Night, but in 1931 he was already well established as America’s preeminent playwright. When his naturalistic Mourning Becomes Electra hit the Guild Theatre stage, New Yorker theatre critic Robert Benchley had little doubt about O’Neill’s greatness as a playwright, even if he wasn’t so sure about the play itself:

O’Neill’s tragic pose was borne from childhood, the son of an alcoholic father and a mother who became addicted to morphine after his difficult birth. His older brother, Jamie, would drink himself to death. It doesn’t end there. O’Neill’s own  two sons would commit suicide, and he would disown his remaining daughter, Oona O’Neill, when at age 18 she married silent film star Charlie Chaplin, 36 years her senior. An odd footnote: Chaplin was best friends with Ralph Barton, a cartoonist for the early New Yorker who took his own life after Eugene O’Neill married Barton’s ex, Carlotta Monterey. To close the loop, O’Neill and Monterey had a mess of a marriage between his alcoholism and her addiction to sedatives. No wonder the man rarely smiled.

WRONG MEDS, MY DEAR…Christine Mannon (Alla Nazimova) recoils from her husband, Ezra (Lee Baker) after giving him a poison that he mistakes for his heart medicine. At right, Christine and her daughter, Lavinia (Alice Brady), await the return of Ezra from battle. All three actors were part of the original cast of Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra, which was a retelling of Oresteia by Aeschylus. (allanazimova.com)
FAMILIAR FACE…Eugene O’Neill made his third appearance on the cover of Time magazine for the Nov. 2, 1931 issue. He made a total of four appearances on the magazine’s cover (1924, 1928, 1931 and 1946). At right, cover of Guild Theatre program. (Time/Pinterest)
SAY CHEESE…Eugene O’Neill wore his familiar scowl in this undated portrait with his third (and final) wife, stage and film actress Carlotta Monterey. (famousfix.com)

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Go West, William

When Mae West announced she was going to present a modern version of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and play the part of Lady Macbeth, Wolcott Gibbs went to work on possible scenarios for such a production. Here is one of them:

LADIES MACBETH?…Actually, only two of these women made the cut to play Lady Macbeth. Gladys Cooper (center) appeared as Lady Macbeth in a 1935 production at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre that lasted barely a month. The following year Edna Thomas (right) portrayed Lady Macbeth in a Federal Theatre Project production of Macbeth with an all-Black cast. Orson Welles adapted and directed the production, which was staged at Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre. It became a box office and critical sensation.

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Those Hats Again

And now to E.B. White, who once again explored the mysteries of the Empress hat:

TAKE THIS, MR. LIPPMANN…Thelma Todd wearing an Empress Eugénie hat in the 1932 comedy Speak Easily. (Wikipedia)

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Rah, Rah, Sis Boom Bah

And so, in a city with one of the most storied teams in Major League Baseball, the New Yorker continued to ignore that sport as it gushed over college football, John Tunis even going the extra mile to check out homecoming at Ohio State.

HOMECOMING ROYALTY…THE Ohio State football team went 6-3 in 1931, but they blanked Navy 20-0 in their homecoming game. (elevenwarriors.com)

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Boxing Brainiac

Several times before in this blog we have encountered boxing great Gene Tunney and his taste for the literary life. E.B. White gave us the latest on the Champ in “The Talk of the Town”…

THE FINER THINGS…Heavyweight Boxing Champion Gene Tunney, left, discusses things that don’t involve hitting people with writer George Bernard Shaw during a 1929 vacation to Brioni. (AP)

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From Our Advertisers

It’s the Depression, Prohibition is still in force (kind of), so what’s a body to do to blow off some steam? Well, you could take up smoking, every waking moment, at least when it came to this guy…

…and these were the days when tobacco companies offered competing claims about the health benefits of their cigarettes (weight loss, calmer nerves etc.). So the folks at Listerine, who were all about keeping you safe from nasty mouth germs, launched a cigarette of their own, which was “taking the country by storm,” at least in their estimation…

…and I throw this in to give you an idea of how far cigarette companies would go, and how folks would respond in the early 1930s…at left is a 1932 advertisement from the back cover of Popular Mechanics, telling us that “Everybody” is deeply inhaling their product…of course people became addicted, including this young woman (right) featured in a 1931 Popular Science news item who managed to smoke and read a book while reducing her figure…

…back to the New Yorker ads from the Nov. 7 issue, here is one that offered a “scientific” way to remove nicotine from cigarettes, allowing only “pure tobacco” to enter your pink lungs…

…and now a couple of lovely color ads for Houbigant cosmetics…

…and our friends at Alcoa, diligently working to convince Americans that aluminum furniture was the modern way to keep your house “in step” with the times…

…and finally, RCA Victor was offering an early version of the LP record, so you wouldn’t have to stop necking to turn the damn record…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Gardner Rea

…John Reehill gave us a lover who probably watched too many romance movies…

…contrasting with this fellow illustrated by Carl Rose, who doesn’t lift a finger to find some romance…

…and while we are on the subject of love, here is a modern twist offered by Barbara Shermund

William Crawford Galbraith gave us a far more detached view of the game of love…

…while Helen Hokinson found an attraction of a different sort with one of her “girls”…

Alan Dunn looked in on the baking business, industrial-sized…

…and we end with Richard Decker, and the price of war…

Next Time: All That Glitters Is Not Gold