Comrade Alex

If folks thought things were bad in Depression-era America, they could ponder the famine-ravaged masses in the Soviet Union…

Dec. 24, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

…not that Alexander Woollcott seemed to notice or care all that much. In the autumn of 1932 he traveled to Moscow to check out some Russian theater and enjoy the fine food and drink provided by his friend Walter Duranty, Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times. In his “Shouts and Murmurs” column…

…Woollcott reflected on his Moscow visit, his humor at odds with the stark reality  all around him…

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM…Alexander Woollcott (left) was amused by the stares of starving Russians he encountered with his substantial bulk on the streets on Moscow; Walter Duranty (1884–1957), Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times, played host to his old friend Woollcott.(Pinterest/Daily Mail)

Woollcott wrote of “spindle-shanked kids” singing cheerless songs about tractor production, recounted a conversation with a hungry moppet at a boot factory, and noted the “appreciative grin” he received from a teenager who both envied and admired his girth:

PERHAPS A SIDE TRIP TO UKRAINE?…Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933. Millions of Ukrainians died during Stalin’s enforced famine. (Wikipedia) 

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Happier Thoughts

The Dec. 24 issue marked the beginning of a New Yorker tradition: Frank Sullivan’s annual holiday poem, “Greetings, Friends!” Writing for the Dec. 17, 2009 issue of the New Yorker (“Behind the Writing: “Greetings, Friends!”) Jenna Krajeski observes that “as far as holiday poems go, ‘Greetings, Friends!’…is as much an acknowledgment of the season as a noting of the times.” Frank Sullivan faithfully continued the tradition until 1974; after his death in 1976, New Yorker editor William Shawn asked Roger Angell to take over the writing of the poem. In 2012 Angell passed the duty along to Ian Frazier, the magazine’s current Yuletide bard.

CHEERFUL BUNCH…The holiday poem “Greetings, Friends!” has been a New Yorker tradition since 1932. It was originated by Frank Sullivan (left) and carried on by Roger Angell (center) and Ian Frazier. (hillcountryobserver.com/latimes.com/gf.org)

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Waxing Poetic, Part II

In the Dec. 17, 1932 issue humorist and poet Arthur Guiterman penned this petition to Acting Mayor Joseph McKee on behalf of the city’s statues…

…to which Mayor McKee replied in the Dec. 24 issue:

DUELING POETS…Acting New York Mayor Joseph McKee (left) rarely smiled in photographs, but he seems to have been a person of good humor in his poetic reply to Arthur Guiterman. Both photos are from 1932. (Wikipedia/credo.library.umass.edu)

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From Our Advertisers

New York’s fashion merchandisers continued to tout their latest copies of Paris styles such as this “Poppy Dress” from Lord & Taylor…

…Radio City Music Hall and the RKO Roxy Theatre announced their grand openings…

…Radio City featuring a cavalcade of stars along with the “Roxyettes” (soon to be renamed “Rockettes”) while the RKO Roxy presented the pre-Code romantic comedy The Animal Kingdom

LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS…It was winter, and the Depression was still on, but there were bright spots to be found on the stage at the opening of Radio City Music Hall and on the screen at the RKO Roxy; at right, Ann Harding, Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy in The Animal Kingdom. (Pinterest/IMDB)

…the folks at R.J. Reynolds challenged smokers to “leave” their product, if they cared to, knowing full well they were hooking new smokers by the thousands every day…

…we ring in the New Year with some hijinks from James Thurber

…and this unlikely dispatch from a New York police officer via Peter Arno

…ringing in the year with Harry Brown’s Dec. 31 cover…

Dec. 31, 1932 cover by Harry Brown.

…and Alexander Woollcott’s continuing account of his visit to Moscow, where he was shown the town by his friend Walter Duranty. In this excerpt, Woollcott makes a rare political observation regarding his friend: “Except for a few such men from Mars as Walter Duranty, all visitors might be roughly divided into two classes: those who come here hoping to see the Communist scheme succeed, and those who come here hoping to see it fail.”

For the record, Duranty has been widely criticized, especially since the 1950s, for his failure to report on the 1932-33 famine (which claimed as many as 7 million lives) and for covering up other atrocities of the Stalin regime. In the 1990s there were even calls to revoke Duranty’s 1932 Pulitzer Prize, which was awarded for his reporting on the Soviet Union.

GOOD & PLENTY…Walter Duranty (center, seated) at a dinner party in his Moscow apartment.

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Rocky Theme

As Rockefeller Center prepared to open its doors to its first buildings (there would be 14 in all) American playwright and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood  penned this hymn to the “Citadel of Static”…

STANDING TALL…American playwright and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood, one of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table, was moved to verse by the opening of Rockefeller Center’s first buildings. At left, Rockefeller Center in 1933. (Wikipedia)

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Oh Chute

In 1929 Geoffrey Hellman secured a position with the New Yorker as a writer for “The Talk of Town” and also contributed a number of profiles, including this one about a parachute stunt-jumper named Joe Crane. Here is the opening paragraph and an illustation by Abe Birnbaum:

On Feb. 18, 1932, Joe Crane amazed crowds at Roosevelt Field with double parachute descent, in which he opened a second parachute through the first. If you are wondering, Crane died in 1968…of natural causes.

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Illustrator Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952) is best remembered for his patriotic poster designs of World War I, which might explain why this fellow looks a bit outdated…

…Christy also originated the popular “Christy Girl,” the embodiment of the ideal American woman in the early 1900s (note the Christy Girl’s resemblance to the woman in the ad above)…

A “Christy Girl,” from 1906.

…speaking of ideal, imagine a movie featuring this trinity of actors: John, Ethel and Lionel BarrymoreJohn Mosher will give us his review in Jan. 7 issue…

…the Lyric Theatre saw its glory years during the 1920s when it hosted stage shows featuring such talents as The Marx Brothers, Fred and Adele Astaire and a young Cole Porter, who hit it big in 1929 with Fifty Million Frenchmen…the 1930s, however, saw the Lyric’s fortunes diminish and in another year it would be converted into a movie house…also note the influence of Italian Futurists in this ad for an Italian theater troupe…

…and there’s also a futuristic bent to this Garrett Price cartoon, which steers more in a Kandinsky direction…

…cartoonists were also finding inspiration in the magazine’s advertising, Pond’s cold cream providing the spark for Alain (aka Daniel Brustlein)…

…for reference, a Pond’s ad from 1933 comparing Lady Diana Manners complexion to her former visage, circa 1924…

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence, was banned for obscenity in the United States in 1929, but Helen Hokinson’s enterprising librarian was still able to deliver the goods…

…on the other hand, it is doubtful George Price’s sales clerk will also deliver…

…a great one by James Thurber, with more detail than his usual spare line…

…and we say goodbye to 1932 with Alain, and a New Year’s Eve party with some familiar faces…

Next Time: Modernism Lite…

Paramount on Parade

Before we launch into the latest offering from Tinseltown, a note about the cover artist for the April 26, 1930 issue.

April 26, 1930 cover by Barney Tobey.

Barney Tobey (1906-1989) was known for gently humorous cartoons that appeared in the New Yorker for more than fifty years. He also contributed four covers, the first of which appears above. In the Sept. 21, 1998 issue, illustrator Richard Merkin offered this remembrance:

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Star-spangled Banter

All-star musicals were all the rage in the early sound era, as they gave studios the opportunity to showcase contract players (who were virtually owned by the studios) doing things they usually didn’t do on screen. Following the success of MGM’s Hollywood Revue of 1929, Paramount Studios released Paramount on Parade in April 1930, much to the liking of New Yorker critic John Mosher, who also praised the film’s accompanying cartoon, 1929’s The Prisoner’s Song:

You can watch The Prisoner’s Song here (and ponder how far animation has advanced)…

Mosher also praised a number of Paramount’s contract players, and especially actors Jack Oakie and Maurice Chevalier

MUCH ADO…A great crowd gathers for the premiere of “Paramount on Parade” at the New York’s Rialto Theatre in April 1930. (cinematreasures.org)
SEEING STARS…Clockwise, from top left, Helen Kane (possibly the inspiration for the cartoon character “Betty Boop”) and Jack Oakie do a little footwork; Clara Bow, Hollywood’s “It Girl,” pops through a Navy recruitment poster at the beginning of her song and dance number (with Stuart Erwin and Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher); one of Hollywood’s top actresses in 1930, Kay Francis, portrays “Carmen” in the revue; Ruth Chatterton entertains doughboys Stuart Erwin, Fredric March, Jack Oakie, and Stanley Smith in Paramount on Parade. (IMDB)
BOOP GIVES A BOP…Helen Kane (left) and child star Mitzi Green in a sketch from Paramount on Parade. (IMDB)

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Lost In the Crowd

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White lamented the fact that the world’s tallest building appeared less than lofty, since neighboring skyscrapers were nullifying its grandeur:

DOWN IN FRONT…E.B. White found the streetview of the world’s tallest building wanting after it was completed in 1930; the iconic Flatiron Building, however, enjoys some elbow room even today. (spectator.co.uk/walksofnewyork.com)

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Full of Hot Air

That was another opinion shared by E.B. White, this time regarding the Empire State Building’s top promotor, former New York Governor Al Smith, who spoke of plans to attach a mooring mast to the top of his skyscraper (which would eclipse the Chrysler as the world’s tallest in 1931):

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View From the Top

The New Yorker featured a profile of Aloysius Anthony Kelly (1893?-1952), better known as the Roaring Twenties most famous pole-sitter, “Shipwreck” Kelly. He achieved his greatest fame in the 1920s and 1930s, sitting for days at a time on elevated perches — often atop buildings — throughout the U.S.

Kelly’s fame was already on the wane when this profile appeared, and by 1934 he was reportedly working as a dance hall gigolo. Kelly’s last flagpole stunt was at a 1952 event sponsored by a Lion’s Club in Orange, Texas — he suffered two heart attacks while sitting atop their 65-foot flagpole. After climbing down he announced, “This is it. I’m through.” He died one week later after he was struck by car on West 51st Street in Manhattan.

LOFTY AMBITIONS…Alvin ‘Shipwreck’ Kelly atop a flagpole near College Park, Maryland, in October 1942. At right, undated photo circa 1940s. (CSU Archives/Digital Commonwealth)

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Brand X

Folks were still abuzz about the discovery of a ninth planet in the solar system, soon to be dubbed “Pluto” by an English schoolgirl. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” observed…

…and Kindl illustrated the problem a new planet posed for astrologers…

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I Beg Your Pardon

Will Rogers was a beloved comedian with a few rope tricks up his sleeve, but I’ve never known him for working blue. However, one critic for the New Yorker (“A.S.”– not sure who this is) found Rogers’ new radio show both humorless and gauche…

CAN YOU TAKE A JOKE?…In photo above, Will Rogers debuts his new radio show in April 1930. It would become the most popular Sunday evening radio show, and Rogers would prove to be the second biggest motion picture box office draw in the U.S. before his death in 1935. (Will Rogers Memorial Museum)

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Before He Got Axed

Ten years before he was murdered by one of Stalin’s NKVD agents, Leon Trotsky published an autobiography that was written in his first year of exile in Turkey. The review is signed “G.H.” so I am assuming the author is Geoffrey Hellman, who contributed for decades to the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” Excerpts from the review:

RED ALERT…Leon Trotsky wrote his autobiography, My Life, while exiled in Turkey. (Wikimedia)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Bozart rugs and fabrics invited New Yorker readers to “introduce a breath of summertime indoors”…

…while Macy’s urged the same by gracing a sunroom or terrace with one of their Marcel Breuer-inspired chairs…

…Colonial Airways touted an early form of radar — an “invisible pilot” — as the latest safety feature in its airplanes…

…the Douglas L. Elliman company promoted its yet unbuilt River House, which would feature a pier where residents could dock their yachts…

The 26-story River House in the 1930s. Originally, the Art Deco building featured a pier where residents could dock their yachts, but that feature was lost with the construction of FDR Drive in the early 1950s, effectively sealing the building off from the water. The building has been home to author Barbara Taylor Bradford, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and actress Uma Thurman. (observer.com)

…and then we have our more unfortunate ads, such as this one from Macy’s that shows grandpa passing along his racist tendencies to a grandchild…

…and this sad appeal from the makers of Lucky Strike to keep puffing and avoid that hideous double chin…

…our cartoons include Garrett Price and thoughts of spring…

Barbara Shermund eavesdropped on tea time…

Alice Harvey found an awkward moment in a hosiery department…

Peter Arno revisits a familiar theme — chorus girls and sugar daddies…

…and Otto Soglow looked in on a fat cat’s moment of pride…

Next Time: Minding the Gap…

 

 

 

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