Stormy Bellwether

While legal beer dominated the headlines in the spring of 1933—a little something to cheer about in those depressed times—few seemed to notice the troubles brewing on the other side of the pond.

April 1, 1933 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Artist George Grosz (1893–1959) was not among them. A recent self-exile from his native Germany, Grosz had savagely caricatured the perversity of the bourgeois in 1920s Weimar Berlin; through his art he tried to warn fellow Germans of the horrors to come. Critic Lewis Mumford stopped in at the Raymond & Raymond galleries to check out the latest efforts of this Manhattan newcomer:

EARLY WARNING SIGNS… George Grosz’s The Pillars of Society (1926) satirized the bourgeois supporters of Fascism in post-war Germany; Grosz with friend, circa 1933. (history net.com)

Although Grosz intended to make a clean break with his past after emigrating to New York in January 1933, his work still reflected his distaste for bourgeois sensibilities…

GROSS GROSZ…In a Restaurant (circa 1933) was admired by Mumford for the tenderness of the watercolor wash that contrasted with the “grossness” of its subjects. (artnet.com)
ON THE SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK…Grosz wanted to make a clean break with his past after emigrating to New York in January 1933, but he still couldn’t help but see the hypocrisy in the faces of bourgeois Manhattanites. At left, Black & White (1933) and at right, Street Scene, Downtown Manhattan (1933). (mutual art.com/artsy.net)

…and when war raged in his homeland, Grosz returned to chronicling the perversity of the Nazi regime…

HORRORS REALIZED…Grosz’s God of War (at left, from 1940) and his 1944 oil on canvas, Cain or Hitler in Hell. (David Nolan New York)

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Bluenose Blues

Sadly, we are moving toward the end of the pre-Code era, and as E.B. White explained in “Notes and Comment,” the talkies were about to get a bit less talkative:

AW HECK…Dorothy Mackaill portrayed a secretary-turned-prostitute in the 1931 pre-Code Hollywood film Safe in Hell. The days were numbered for the brief period in Hollywood (roughly 1929–34) when films featured “adult” themes including sexual innuendo, mild profanity, and depictions of drug use, promiscuity and prostitution. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with the back pages, and the latest in entertainment on Broadway…

…the makers of Cadillacs continued to promote the snob appeal of their 12- and 16-cylinder automobiles…it appears these folks are leaving an Easter service (note the doves), but whatever went on in there, they don’t seem very moved by the spirit…

…and here’s a close-up of the ad’s opening lines that suggested Cadillacs are an ideal complement to the apparel of those strutting their stuff on the Easter Parade…

…and here’s a jolly rendering for Lucky Strike by advertising illustrator John LaGatta (1894–1977)…his work was seen in many ads and in magazines during the first half of the 20th century, including twenty-two Saturday Evening Post covers…LaGatta’s style was known for its cool elegance, but I have to say this image is a bit disturbing, given that the banjo player’s fag is just inches from the woman’s eyeball…

…on to our cartoonists, we have a rare appearance by Clara Skinner (1902–1976), showing us here in the “Goings On About Town” section that John Held Jr wasn’t the only one making woodcuts…

William Steig was lost at sea…

Perry Barlow gave us this split scene (across two pages) of the challenges of mixing domestic and non-domestic life…

Otto Soglow continued to chronicle the adventures of his popular Little King…

…we haven’t seen Mary Petty in awhile, so here’s a bit of gossip…

James Thurber used a rare two-page spread of Alexander Woollcott’s “Shouts and Murmurs,” to lay out this unusual illustration…

…and Thurber again, in a more familiar vein…

…we move on April 8, 1933…

April 8, 1933 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

…and go straight to advertisers who were responding to the March 22 signing of the Beer and Wine Revenue Act by Franklin D. Roosevelt…the Congressional action made it permissible to sell beer as long as it was less than 3.2% alcohol…

…the makers of Rheingold beer came out of the gates with this ad showing that even elegant women could enjoy this taste of freedom…

…not completely sure, but I believe this was the first ad for Coca-Cola to appear in The New Yorker

…in those tough times the steamship lines were beginning to realize they needed to appeal to the thrifty as well as the posh…

…the style and signature of this illustration look familiar, but I can’t ID the cartoonist…nevertheless, it’s a great gag…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with this Peter Arno spoof of a series of R.J. Reynold’s Camel ads that referenced various magic tricks…

…in the same issue, just 20 pages later (p. 48) appeared one of the actual Camel ads…proof that Harold Ross would never kowtow to the advertising department—with the exception of those yeast ads for his friend and benefactor Raoul Fleischmann, who kept the magazine afloat in the early, lean years…

…we have more James Thurber, who kicked off the April 8 issue…

…and offered more hijinks inside…

William Steig gave us this strip captioned “The Spicy Story” which ran across the bottom of pages 26-27…

Gluyas Williams continued to hang out with his fellow citizens, this time in the skies above Manhattan…

Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein showed us one cabbie’s reaction to the cheap ways of the posh crowd…

…and we end by saying grace, with Peter Arno

Next Time: Beer Thirty…

Diary of a Lady

It was no surprise Dorothy Parker did not think much of society types, especially those characterized by extreme solipsism.

March 25, 1933 cover by Harry Brown.

Parker’s “The Diary of a Lady,” briefly excerpted here, featured entries from a diary of a fictional socialite who constantly bemoaned the minor inconveniences of her shallow existence, oblivious to the world around her.

YOU POOR THING…Dorothy Parker (left) took a dim view of the lives of “poor little rich girls” like socialite Brenda Frazier (who had a tempestuous relationship with New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno); Robert Benchley, on the other hand, took a more jolly view of human absurdity. (britannica.com/Wikipedia/theattic.space)

In contrast to Parker, Robert Benchley’s satire was usually more on the silly side, with a lot less bite. Here is an excerpt from “Home for the Holidays” (which immediately followed Parker’s piece in the magazine), in which Benchley describes the festive mood of one family during FDR’s “bank holiday”…

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On the Lighter Side

E.B. White was the unofficial aviation correspondent for The New Yorker, ever eager to go aloft in the latest contraption. In this excerpted “Talk of the Town” entry White described his adventures aboard the Goodyear blimp Resolute:

WHAT A GAS…Top photo, the Resolute at its home base, Holmes Airport (in Jackson Heights, L.I.), where E.B. White boarded his flight. As White noted, Resolute was a sister ship to kathrynsreport.com/New York Times)

And we turn again to White, this time an excerpt from his “Notes and Comment” celebrating Franklin D. Roosevelt’s planned amendment to the Volstead Act that would allow people to have a legal beer while they waited for the 21st Amendment to be ratified. White had a couple of ideas regarding locations for beer gardens. An excerpt:

BEER THIRTY…E.B. White believed the front of the internationally famous Brevoort Hotel (next to the Mark Twain House at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 9th Street) would be an ideal spot to quaff some suds. Alas, the hotel (and the Twain house) fell to the wrecking ball in 1952, replaced by the Brevoort apartments (right). (MCNY/streetwise.com)

Although the Brevoort idea didn’t pan out, White did get his wish, more or less, for a Bryant Park location, the Bryant Park Grill…

(bryantpark.org)

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Mayor McCarthy

The profile featured Stitch McCarthy, considered one the most flamboyant “street mayors” of the Lower East Side. Writing in Lapham’s Quarterly (Aug. 1, 2018), Laurie Gwen Shapiro describes McCarthy as “a five-foot-tall, cross-eyed Romanian Jew born Samuel Rothberg, always seen with a cigar in his mouth.” What Stitch lacked in height he made up for in toughness, and by his teens was as tough as nails. Shapiro writes: “At night he managed a small-time boxer who once was scheduled to fight a bantamweight named Stitch McCartney in Jersey City. As he later told the story (no doubt over and over), his client fled in fear at the sight of McCartney and the crowd booed. He went in the ring himself, flattened McCartney, and took a version of his opponent’s name for his own.”

The New Yorker profile was written by Meyer Berger, known as a master of the human interest story. Berger did a short stint at The New Yorker but for most of his career he worked for The New York Times, where he wrote a long-running column, “About New York.” Here is a very brief excerpt of the profile, with a caricature by Al Frueh.

TOUGH AS NAILS was what you became if you wanted to be one of the unofficial mayors of the Lower East Side like Stitch McCarthy, seen here in 1931. According to Laurie Gwen Shapiro, street mayors “were likable fixers who cut through red tape and might settle between fifteen and twenty neighborhood disputes a day.” Photo at left (by Berenice Abbott) is a scene from McCathy’s world—Hester Street, between Allen and Orchard Streets. (New York Public Library/Lapham’s Quarterly)

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From Our Advertisers

I would guess Dorothy Parker would have some problems with this ad, featuring society women shilling for nail polish…

…the folks at Packard went with an ad that showed the ideal customer (seated in a library, clad in smoking jacket), contemplating one of their recent ads (the same one that was featured in the Feb. 18, 1933 issue of The New Yorker

…Camel ads took on a new look thanks to the artistry of Ray Prohaska (1901–1981)…in the early 1930’s you see more use of watercolors in ads for fashion, or in this case, cigarettes…

…and Gardner Rea drew up this scene for the makers of Sanka coffee, the decaf of its day…

…which leads into the work of other New Yorker cartoonists and another master of the line drawing, Gluyas Williams

Robert Day offered a bit of understatement…

Carl Rose celebrated the arrival of legal beer…

Otto Soglow showed us how royalty responds to a noisy feline…

Kemp Starrett shopped for somp’n to read…

…and we close with Peter Arno, and an ill-timed joke, at least for one woman…

Next Time: Stormy Bellwether…

Beauty and the Beast

One of Hollywood’s most famous motion pictures was a story about a giant ape that (literally) falls for a beautiful woman.

March 11, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

New Yorker film critic John Mosher found the premise of King Kong ridiculous, but he also found many of its scenes diverting, especially those featuring Kong and a number of prehistoric creatures (created by Marcel Delgado), miniature models brought to life through stop-motion animation techniques pioneered by Willis O’Brien and his assistant, Buzz Gibson. Mosher’s review:

THE TRIALS OF GIANT APEHOOD…King Kong battled nature and man in the eponymous 1933 film that featured a silly love story between actors Bruce Cabot and Fay Wray (lower right, with Robert Armstrong); this being a pre-Code film, Wray had trouble keeping on her blouse, although a scene depicting Kong undressing her and sniffing his fingers was cut, as were some of the more gruesome scenes featuring Kong stomping and chomping his way through Manhattan. (IMDB)

By today’s standards the film’s special effects are quite dated, but they astonished audiences in 1933 and again in a 1952 re-release.

NEW YORK OR BUST…A huge bust of King Kong’s head and torso was fashioned from wood, cloth, rubber and bearskin by Marcel Delgado, Buzz Gibson and Fred Reese. Three operators inside the bust used metal levers, hinges, and an air compressor to manipulate the mouth and facial expressions. In addition, two versions of the ape’s right arm were constructed of steel, rubber and bearskin — one was non-articulated, mounted on a crane, and the other had articulated fingers that allowed Kong to grasp Fay Wray in close-ups (below). A separate non-articulated leg was also mounted on a crane for scenes depicting Kong stomping on villagers. (reddit.com/Pinterest)

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Oh Baby

Before child labor laws were finally enforced in the late 1930s, children were routinely exploited for profit, most famously the Dionne quintuplets by Dr. Allan Roy Defoe, not to mention the many child stars fed into the Hollywood meat grinder. For a public seeking novelty as a distraction from the Depression, there were also numerous “baby orchestras” organized by one Karl Moldrem. “The Talk of the Town” commented:

NURSERY SONGS…One of Karl Moldrem’s baby orchestras assembled in Southern California, 1931. (digitallibrary.usc.edu)

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Edible Art

“The Talk of the Town” has always been a source for light anecdotes, including this brief account of a hungry Vanity Fair photographer:

MMM, PRETZEL ART…Vanity Fair’s edible cover, March 1933. (Vanity Fair Archive)

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Lend Me An Ear

Alexander Woollcott led his “Shouts and Murmurs” column with an account from a recent benefit performance, during which his friend Noël Coward decided to strike up a conversation regarding the survival of the stage in an era of talking films:

TALKING TALKIES… Noël Coward (left) voiced his concerns about the future of stage entertainment with Alexander Woollcott during a benefit performance likely held on behalf of the theatrical world. (npg.org)

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From Our Advertisers

Ah, we begin with signs of spring, glimpsed beyond the gleaming cowl of a 12-cylinder Lincoln…

…and catch a whiff of that springtime breeze, savored between puffs of your Chesterfield…

…this guy has some spring in his step thanks to the sparkling water he just splashed into his bootleg gin…

…the folks at Dorothy Gray presented a nameless woman (“slim and straight as a gallant boy, yet feminine to her finger tips”) who was ready to greet spring until she saw those “little lines under her eyes”…the horror indeed…

…Coty again presented an attenuated trio in a sexless courtship dance, oozing with anglophilic longing…

…I include this ad solely for the terrific illustration by Mac Harshberger, famed for his elegant, simplified line…

…and a couple of back pagers…thanks to Sonotone, the deafened shall not only hear but will also be stricken by a sudden voiding of the bowels…and below, a surprising ad from the Plaza, one place I never thought would need to advertise…but those were tough times…

…and on to our cartoons, and this spot drawing from Peggy Bacon, whom we haven’t seen in awhile…

Gilbert Bundy took us to a sanctuary of song…

…another day with our fellow citizens, and Gluyas Williams

…one from E. Simms Campbell

…who was the first Black cartoonist published in nationally distributed, “slick” magazines…

…and also the creator of Esky, the pop-eyed mascot of Esquire magazine…

Carl Rose gave us a night at the opera in this two-page cartoon with the Depression-inspired caption: The artists will now pass among you. Anything you can give will be greatly appreciated….

…and James Thurber returned to the nudist colony for another look at the age-old struggle between the sexes…

Next Time: Not Even Funny…

Deskey’s Deco

Above, Donald Deskey's Design for a Sportshack, 1940 (Cooper Hewitt)

If you’ve never heard of Donald Deskey, you’ve most likely seen his work.

Feb. 25, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

Cultural critic Gilbert Seldes featured Deskey in the Feb. 25 profile (“The Long Road to Roxy” — with illustration by Al Frueh), noting that his subject had come to his profession as an industrial designer in a rather roundabout fashion. Here is a brief excerpt:

Deskey (1894 – 1989) was locally known in the late 1920s for his window displays at New York’s Franklin Simon Department Store, but it was his work at Roxy Rothafel’s new Radio City Music Hall that made him a marquee name in the design world. Although known for popularizing the Art Deco style, his interior designs for RCMH were noted for their restraint, signaling a break from the lavish, ornate designs of the city’s earlier performance spaces.

FEAST FOR THE EYES…Donald Deskey designed more than thirty spaces in Radio City Music Hall, including the Grand Foyer (left) and several lounges, each featuring a distinct visual motif. At bottom right, auditorium’s “Singing Woman” carpeting. (archdaily.com/drivingfordeco.com)

Original Deskey creations are highly prized today by collectors and museums…

DESIGN IN MOTION…Clockwise, from top left, Deskey’s “Guest Bedroom for Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.” (Abby Aldrich Rockefeller), on display at the 1931 American Union of Decorative Artists exhibition; Deskey table lamp, circa 1927; linen panel, circa 1930s; Deskey desk, circa 1930. (brooklynmuseum.org/artic.edu/Pinterest)

…and if that wasn’t enough, Deskey also designed logos for many consumer products in the late 1940s and 1950s…

THE TOTAL PACKAGE…Deskey designed some of the most iconic logos of midcentury America, including, clockwise from top left, Tide laundry detergent (1947); Gleem (1956) and Crest (1955) toothpastes; Cheer laundry detergent (1952); JIF peanut butter (1956) and Joy dishwashing liquid (1950).

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From Our Advertisers

It seems appropriate to follow Mr. Deskey with some words and images from our sponsors, including the folks at Cadillac who continued to hammer home the snob appeal of their motorcar while also giving a nod to those hard times by emphasizing the car’s economy

…meanwhile, Studebaker was back with another full page ad — again featuring the admiring giant woman — in a vain attempt to push their fledgling, and unpopular line of Rockne automobiles…

…and Helena Rubenstein continued her series of ads disguised as advice columns…the advice here was to shame women into buying her products…

…after Helena removed your wrinkles you could restore them with GE’s Mazda sunlight lamp…

Otto Soglow, on the brink of becoming a very wealthy man thanks to his Little King cartoons, continued to lay down some ink on behalf of the makers of Sanka decaf…

…and we move along to Soglow’s fellow cartoonists, beginning with Gardner Rea and a cartoon sequence spread across pages 24-25…

…here it is again, rearranged for closer inspection…

…and we have another terrific “Fellow Citizens” drawing by Gluyas Williams, which originally ran sideways on a full page…

…I like this James Thurber drawing for its utter disregard of scale — but of course (and thankfully) it wouldn’t be a Thurber if he cared about such things…

William Crawford Galbraith was still hung up on showgirls and sirens…

…while Peter Arno explored his spiritual side, as only Arno could…

…and we move along to March 4, 1933…

March 4, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

…in which The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet Flanner (“Genêt”) wrote about a new book of “extreme interest to both sides of the Atlantic”…

BOOK OF REVELATION…Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein were well known in the ex-pat community of 1920s Paris, but the publication of the American edition of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (written by Stein) brought them fame in the wider world. Stein claimed she wrote the book — now considered a 20th century classic — in six weeks to amuse herself and to make money. At right, Toklas and Stein at 27 Rue de Fleurus in a portrait by Man Ray, 1922. (Library of Congress)

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Hope Springs Eternal

Even in the deepest depths of the Depression signs of hope abounded in works of public art, including a mosaic of one million hand-cut and hand-set glass tiles being prepared for the Sixth Avenue entrance to Rockefeller Center. Intelligence Awakening Mankind, by Barry Faulkner, celebrated the triumph of knowledge over the evil of ignorance. “The Talk of the Town” explained:

GOOD VIBES…Details of Intelligence Awakening Mankind include the central figure of Intelligence (top) sending knowledge into the far corners of the world. (Pinterest)

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From Our Advertisers

The folks at luxury brand Packard continued to counter their stodgy image with ads that emphasized other qualities including speed, durability, and here, serenity…despite the lengthy text, the ad also suggested modernity, with the sliced-off image and the single word “Hush!” to entice prospective buyers…

…if you couldn’t afford $3,720 for a 12-cylinder Packard, then you might have considered a Buick, “livable as a fine home” this ad claimed. And look at that back seat — you could comfortably fit three adults and a baby elephant in there…

…and then there’s Hupmobile — for the price of a Packard 12 you could have purchased three Hupmobile Victorias (pictured below) with a good chunk of change left over…here the company celebrates its silver anniversary…a couple of odd facts: in 1914 a Minnesota Hupmobile salesman used an unsold vehicle to found Greyhound bus lines…the National Football League also traces its origins to Hupmobile — the league was created in 1920 at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio…both Greyhound and the NFL survive Hupmobile, which went belly up in 1939…

…and now we move to the world of fashion, and some cultural appropriation by Lord & Taylor…

…in 1929 J. Walter Thompson President Stanley Resor observed how people instinctively wanted to be told what to do by authorities they respected. Applying this thinking to the marketing of Pond’s cold cream, Resor’s firm hired famed photographers to create idealized portraits of society women…

…Writing for Indy Week (July 7, 2010) Amy White observes that a 1933 portrait (above) of Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt, aka Gloria Mercedes Morgan, reveals patrician eyes as “languid jet pools, her lips full and dark, her finely coiffed hair oiled to ebony perfection. However, a bit of backstory might explain the painful and hollow look Mrs. Vanderbilt can barely suppress. In that same year, she was declared by the courts to be unfit as a parent, and her young daughter was placed under the guardianship of her sister, Gertrude.” That young daughter, Gloria Vanderbilt, would later find fame for her designer jeans, her glittering lifestyle, and as mother of newscaster Anderson Cooper. White concludes, “I wonder if somehow, subconsciously, those consumers saw the pain in the eyes of some of those upper-crust spokeswomen, and it was basic humanness and empathy, as well as desire for wealth and beauty, that won them over”…

Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt, aka Gloria Mercedes Morgan, and her daughter, “Little Gloria,” in 1928. (Wikipedia)

…and we move along to the toasted pleasures of Luckies, and Howard Chandler Christy’s “Christy Girl” looking the picture of health and vitality in this back cover ad…

…we make an abrupt switch to the cheaper ads in the magazine’s nether pages…here “Miss Eleanor, formerly with Mme. Binner,” announced her selection of modern corsets for the “debutante and young matron”…and below, in a sign of the times, repossessed homes for sale…

…looks like Fifi had a bit too much of the Green Ribbon-flavored bootleg…

…and if you thought taking probiotics was a new thing…

…the French Line once again featured the art of James Thurber to promote its Mediterranean cruises…

…and Thurber kicks off our cartoons with spot art that headed the “Goings On About Town” section…

…and this gem with one of Thurber’s beloved dogs…

…below is the second New Yorker cartoon by Gruff with the “Buy American” slogan juxtaposed with an ethnic stereotype…I have no idea who this artist is, or if “Gruff” is a pen name — the style looks familiar but I haven’t had any luck chasing this artist down…

…here is the first one from the Feb. 18 issue…

…but we all know Al Frueh, who contributed this delightful bit of art to the theater review section…

Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein gave us an enterprising Frenchman offering peeks at exiled New York Mayor Jimmy Walker sunning on a beach at Cannes…

…and we close with Peter Arno, and the first signs of spring…

Next Time: Beauty and the Beast…

One Perfect Night

Once again The New Yorker marked its anniversary — the eighth — with a repeat of its very first cover, a tradition that would last until 1993. Unlike previous years, E.B. White made no special mention of the occasion in his “Notes and Comment,” no doubt feeling confident about the magazine’s prospects despite the challenges of the Depression. In 1933 The New Yorker could count on nearly 117,000 readers.

Feb. 18, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

And so we look to another of the magazine’s star contributors, humorist and stage critic Robert Benchley, who was rarely impressed with Broadway’s middlebrow fare. It was in such an environment that Benchley found himself separating the wheat from the chaff, listing a selection of scenes from various plays that together might represent a “perfect night” of entertainment:

A BROADWAY BUFFET…Clockwise, from top left, Robert Benchley recommended Jack Haley’s bedroom scene and Ethel Merman’s rendition of “Eadie Was a Lady” in Take a Chance as worthy of a look; he also found George M. Cohan’s telephone call to police HQ in Pigeons and People memorable, and Beatrice Lillie was apparently a delight in the dressing room scene from Walk a Little Faster. (playbill.com)
TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC in Cole Porter’s musical Gay Divorce were Claire Luce and Fred Astaire, dancing to the hit song “Night and Day.” It was Astaire’s last Broadway show before he headed to Hollywood for even greater stardom; Jack Pearl and Barbara Newberry in Pardon My English; Eva Le Gallienne as the White Queen and Josephine Hutchinson as Alice in the 1932-33 production of Alice in Wonderland at Le Gallienne’s own Civic Repertory Theatre; Alice (Hutchinson) encounters Tweedledee (Burgess Meredith) and Tweedledum (Landon Herrick) in Alice in Wonderland. (Pinterest/gershwin.com/blog.mcny.org)

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Spring Cleaning

While passing by the Vanderbilts’ “Triple Palace” on 51st and Fifth Avenue, E.B. White (“Notes and Comment”) noted signs of neglect at the famed mansion:

HOME  SWEET HOME…At top, Alva Vanderbilt engaged Richard Morris Hunt to build a “Petite Chateau” on the northwest corner of 52nd Street; below, the drawing room. The Triple Palace was demolished in 1947-49. (mcny.org/Wikimedia Commons)

The Triple Palace site today:

(daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)

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Going Round and Round

No one was landing quad flips at New York’s Ice House in 1933, but for ice skating enthusiasts it was the place to be for both figure skating competitors as well as for those just interested in a leisurely skate to the strains of a live orchestra. “The Talk of the Town” explains in this excerpt:

CHILLING SIGHT…Top and below, the Ice House was located on the top floor of a four-story building attached to Madison Square Garden. (Pinterest)

In both Europe and America ice skating in the 19th and early 20th century was something of an elaborate ritual in urban areas; skating rinks included tea rooms as well as places to dance or ice skate to the gentle rhythms of a live orchestra…

TEA COSY…The Biltmore Hotel Ice Gardens offered guests a warm place to watch the cold weather fun of the hotel’s outdoor ice skating rink, circa 1915. (mcny.org)

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The Jig Is Up

Jigsaw puzzles have been around since the late 1700s (they were handmade then), but their popularity really took off in the 20th century with advancements in manufacturing and especially during the Depression when folks sought affordable forms of entertainment they could enjoy at home. The 1930s also saw jigsaw puzzles become more complex. “The Talk of the Town” observed:

In 1933 the Long Island City-based puzzle manufacturer Einson-Freeman introduced a line of puzzles that included clues to solving mysteries described in an accompanying novelette…

(worth point.com)

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Small But Deadly

Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column, which ran from 1925 to 1951, was a series of brief, satirical comments on the events of the day, including some that to modern eyes point to the catastrophic events that awaited Brubaker’s world (reader Frank W. notes that “the ‘aged piano-player’ was Ignacy Paderewski, who had served as Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of WWI, and who was the nearest thing the Poles had to a national-unity figure”):

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Her Protégé

When Mae West adapted her 1928 Broadway play Diamond Lil into the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong, the puritanical backers of the Hays Code (which would be enforced in 1934) demanded that the film make no reference to the “scandalous” play. But because it was still the pre-Code era, West’s film featured many double entendres and her famous (and famously misquoted) quip, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” That line was spoken to Cary Grant — whom West would later claim as her discovery even though Grant had drawn considerable attention in the previous year for his work opposite Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus. For the record, Grant, who would be paired again with West in 1933’s I’m No Angel, would later credit West, and She Done Him Wrong, for giving his career a major boost. New Yorker critic John Mosher lauded the film for the much-needed laughs it provided to Depression-weary audiences.

SHOWING HIM THE ROPES…The nearly forty-year-old Mae West was 11 years older than Hollywood newcomer Cary Grant when they appeared together in 1933’s She Done Him Wrong. The film was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Picture), and in 1996 was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. (filmreference.com)

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From Our Advertisers

The folks at Packard took a new advertising tack by demonstrating the durability of their luxury automobile…

…hopefully the Packard was riding on “Double Eagle” tires by Goodyear…however, this is an odd illustration to emphasize a child’s safety, when the kid’s posh mum seems more concerned about her appearance than anything else…also, does she plan to drive home with the windshield down?…

…Log Cabin continued its series of ads featuring New Yorker cartoonists…here Peter Arno lends one of his dirty old walruses to the cause of syrupy waffles and pancakes…

…on to our cartoonists, we have Arno again, keeping up appearances among high society…

Gluyas Willams demonstrated his knack for illustrating the foibles of his fellow citizens…

Helen Hokinson looked in on a man aspiring to become the next T.S. Eliot…

…the growing popularity of the gangster film knew no bounds, according to Perry Barlow

…and we close with James Thurber, and a speakeasy standoff…

Next Time: Deskey’s Deco…

Modernism Lite

Above: “The Fountain of Youth” mural by Ezra Winter in the Main Foyer of Radio City Music Hall. (Architectural Digest)

The opening of two new theaters at Rockefeller Center no doubt brightened a few souls at the start of 1933, but art and architecture critic Lewis Mumford wasn’t particularly dazzled by the “watered-down” modernism of the buildings’ much-ballyhooed decor.

Jan. 7, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin, in a nod to the annual automobile show in New York City.

Oddly, it was a philosophy professor from Nebraska, Hartley Burr Alexander, who was tasked with creating an artistic vision for Rockefeller Center, developed along the theme of “Frontiers of Time.” According to Mumford, Alexander’s “classic-banal” vision, executed under the “virtuous glare” of theatrical impresario Samuel L. “Roxy” Rothafel, resulted in the first “large-scale vulgar tryout of modern art.” Excerpts from Mumford’s column:

Several aluminum sculptures in Radio City Music Hall no doubt pleased Mumford — Gwen Lux’s Eve sculpture, William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance, and Robert Laurent’s Goose Girl. However, thanks to Roxy Rothafel’s “virtuous glare” and worries that the nudes might hurt ticket sales, all three sculptures were temporarily banned from RCMH.

NAKED AND AFRAID…A flare-up of puritanism led to the temporary removal of aluminum sculptures at Radio City Music Hall. At left, Eve by Gwen LuxRobert Laurent (right) working on Goose Girl in his studio. Below, William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance. (Smithsonian/viewingnyc.com)

Radio City Music Hall also featured an array of murals that should have brought some delight to Mumford…

SHOW BEFORE THE SHOW…Radio City Music Hall featured a number of murals including, clockwise from top left, a detail of Donald Deskey’s The History of Nicotine (The Life of Saint Nicotine) in a second floor men’s lounge; a textile piece titled The History of Theatre by Ruth Reeves, which covers the back wall of Radio City Music Hall; Stuart Davis’s mural Men without Women in the  men’s lounge; Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s mural in the women’s powder room. (melwithpals.medium.com/viewingnyc.com/evergreen.com)

*  *  *

Mea Cuppa

“The Talk of the Town” shared this account of fifteen Harvard freshman who dared to pay a call on the home of visiting poet T.S. Eliot

TEA-DIUM…Fifteen nervous Harvard freshman confronted this visage until one of them finally broke the ice. Photo above taken during one of T.S. Eliot’s visits to Monk’s House, the 16th century cottage of Virginia Woolf. (blogs.harvard.edu)

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Country Cousins

During his 1932 presidential campaign Franklin D. Roosevelt paid a Sept. 29 visit to the Waterloo, Nebraska farm of Gustav “Gus” and Mary (Kenneway) Sumnick. Mary served FDR a chicken dinner and pie before he addressed a crowd of 8,000 at a rally on the Sumnick farm. Gustav, a German immigrant, and Mary, a daughter of Irish immigrants, were successful farmers even during those tough years. The visit would turn the Sumnicks into national celebrities, and in later years FDR would return to visit the family and would also stay in touch by telephone. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” made this observation about the celebrated farm family:

TIME FOR SOME VIDDLES!…Mary Sumnick chats with presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt during his Sept. 29, 1932 visit to the Sumnick farm. (douglascohistory.org)
ENOUGH FOR A FOOTBALL TEAM…A lengthy article in the Dec. 4, 1932 New York Times described life on the Sumnick farm and their upcoming visit with President Roosevelt in the spring. Gus and Mary and their 11 children all planned to make the trip. (NYT)

*  *  *

The Gang’s All Here

Siblings Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore of the famed Barrymore theatrical family appeared together in just one film — Rasputin and the Empress — and you would think that would have been enough to guarantee multiple awards along with box office gold. However, the film actually lost money, and on top of that attracted a lawsuit that further dipped into the pockets of MGM producer Irving Thalberg. Critic John Mosher was wowed by Ethel’s performance, but wasn’t exactly charmed by the overall production:

ACTING ROYALTY ACTING ROYAL…John Barrymore, Ethel Barrymore, and Lionel Barrymore with child actor Tad Alexander in Rasputin and the Empress. It is only film in which all three siblings appeared together. (Pinterest)

About that lawsuit: The film used the real-life Princess Irina Yusupov as a model for Princess Natasha, portrayed by English actress Diana Wynyard. The film implied that Rasputin raped Princess Natasha (that is, Irina), which wasn’t true, so she sued MGM and won $127,373 from an English court; MGM reportedly  settled out of court in New York for the sum of $250,000 (roughly equivalent to nearly $5 million today). The ubiquitous “all persons fictitious” disclaimer that appears in TV and film credits is the result of that lawsuit.

NO HARD FEELINGS?…English actress Diana Wynyard (left) portrayed Princess Natasha in the Barrymore family vehicle Rasputin and the Empress. Her portrayal, however, drew the ire of a real Russian royal, Princess Irina Yusupov, who successfully sued MGM in 1933 for invasion of privacy and libel. (Wikipedia)

A much-less controversial film was the “glib” No Man of Her Own, a pre-Code romantic comedy-drama starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in their only film together:

LET’S PLAY HOUSE…Clark Gable romances Carole Lombard in the pre-Code romantic comedy-drama No Man of Her Own. It was their only film together, and several years before they became a married couple in real life. (ha.com)

*  *  *

Vroom-Vroom

The annual National Automobile Show opened at the Grand Central Palace and other locations in Midtown, promising an array of affordable models:

DECISIONS, DECISIONS… The 1933 National Automobile Show offered a number of affordable options to car buyers including these shiny new Pontiacs on display at the Grand Central Palace. (libwww.freelibrary.org)
BUT LOOK OVER HERE…General Motors also displayed its models at the first “Motorama” held in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom in 1933. (waldorfnewyorkcity.com)

Auto Show visitors also got a glimpse of their streamlined future in the form of a 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow…

FAST & FURIOUS…Powered by a V12 engine, the aerodynamic 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow could exceed 100 miles per hour. Unveiled at the 1933 National Automobile Show, the car grabbed the spotlight with its futuristic, streamlined design. Just five of these were built, and only three are known to exist today. The Silver Arrow was one of Pierce-Arrow’s final attempts to appeal to its wealthy clientele, but even they were feeling Depression’s pinch. The company folded in 1938. (Sotheby’s)

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From Our Advertisers

The New Yorker had unusually thin issues over the holidays, so the magazine’s bean-counters must have been thrilled by the dozens of ads that poured in ahead of the National Automobile Show. As usual Walter Chrysler took out several two-page ads to promote his Chryslers, Plymouths, Dodges and DeSotos…

…while GM one-upped Walter with its own series of two-pagers — in color — sprinkled throughout the magazine…everything from the affordable Oldsmobile…

…to the high-end Cadillac…

…General Motors also featured this Peter Arno-themed ad (with sugar-daddy walrus) to promote its posh new venue at the Waldorf-Astoria…

…the folks at struggling Hupmobile tried to wow not with shiny cars but rather with the announcement of their…drum roll, please…annual report…

…companies that supported the auto industry also got in on the act, including the makers of leaded fuel…this image says a lot about the lack of safety concerns in the 1930s…

John Hanrahan, who early on served as the New Yorker’s policy council and guided it through its lean first years, be­came the publisher of Stage magazine (formerly The Theatre Guild Magazine) in 1932. In 1933 Stage became part of the Ultra-Class Magazine Group’s line-up that included Arts & Decoration and The Sportsman. Stage published its last issue in 1939, and I don’t believe the other two survived the 1930s either…

ULTRA-CLASS GROUP was the over-the-top name used to describe this line-up of magazines.

…on to our cartoons, we join Peter Arno for some fine dining…

…based on the what we have seen lately from William Crawford Galbraith, he seems to be hung up on seductresses and showgirls…

…to my point, some of Galbraith’s recent entries…

…we move on to Richard Decker and a dangerous cold front…

Garrett Price pondered the wisdom of children…

Gluyas Williams was back with the latest industrial crisis…

Perry Barlow found some ill-fitting words to go with an ill-fitting coat…

…and we close with James Thurber, and some very fitting words for those times, and ours…

Next Time: March of Time…

 

The Milne Menace

Dorothy Parker was no fan of A. A. Milne of “Winnie-the-Pooh” fame, and neither was her dear friend Robert Benchley, the latter having had the misfortune of reviewing Milne’s latest Broadway play, They Don’t Mean Any Harm, which opened on Feb. 23, 1932, and closed (mercifully, one gathers) after one week.

March 5, 1932 cover by Leo Rachow commemorated the US Vs. Canada hockey match at the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, NY. Canada won its fourth consecutive Olympic gold by narrowly edging the US (silver) in total points.

Parker, as readers may recall, famously ridiculed Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner in the New Yorker, beginning with a quote from the book: “‘Well, you’ll see, Piglet, when you listen. Because this is how it begins. The more it snows, tiddely-pom’ – ‘Tiddely what’ said Piglet. ‘Pom,’ said Pooh. ‘I put that to make it more hummy.’ And it is that word ‘hummy’, my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up” (Parker wrote her book reviews under the pseudonym “Constant Reader”).

As for Benchley, he fondly recalled Milne’s earlier work, when he wrote silly verse and essays in the British humor magazine Punch, but apparently Milne’s downfall began when he published some “Pooh” poetry in the Feb. 13, 1924 issue…

WELL, DISNEY LIKED IT…A. A. Milne (1882 – 1956) pictured in his younger days (inset) joined the humor magazine Punch in 1906 and served as its assistant editor. After his son was born in 1920, he compiled a collection of poems for children, When We Were Very Young, illustrated by Punch cartoonist E. H. Shepard. An excerpt from the Feb. 13, 1924 issue appears above.  (Pinterest)

Parker, of course, did not think much of Milne as a children’s author, and Benchley also found him wanting (more than once) as a playwright. Here is the first part of Benchley’s scathing review of They Don’t Mean Any Harm, which was presented at the Charles Hopkins Theatre on 49th Street.

…Benchley’s evisceration continues on the left column…

NO ACTORS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS PLAY…They Don’t Mean Any Harm closed after just a week (15 performances), but it would give rising young star Marion Burns (top left) her debut on a New York stage. Also appearing was veteran actor O.P. Heggie, who had to dial up the schmaltz to play a character so sweet (the role of Mr. Tilling, a humble, poor book agent) that it achieved just the opposite effect for critic Robert Benchley, who wrote he had never seen “a fouler character than Mr. Tilling”; pictured at bottom, A. A. Milne circa 1920s, and the cover of the program. (imdv.com/RKO Radio Pictures/Wikipedia/Playbill)

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Meanwhile, Beneath the City…

Eric Hodgins (author of the popular novel Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House) filed a two-part feature on the New York subway system, marveling at the complexities of a transportation network that daily served millions while under constant development. Excerpts:

IN THE NAME OF PROGRESS…Today’s sandhogs (tunnel diggers) work in much safer conditions than in the 1930s, but some of the technology described in Eric Hodgin’s article was still around in 2015 (see below). Top photos, left, sandhogs tightening a bolt on a tunnel connection; right, subway tunnelers who worked under the East River are shown in a decompression chamber. Bottom photos, left, city officials in 1933 showing off a ventilation system installed to cool down trains (but air-conditioning was still decades away); and right, a 1938 Walker Evans photo from his subway series. (Daily News/public delivery.org/ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

Six years ago Business Insider described the “100-year-old technology” still used by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and you can see that in 2015 (bottom photo) the switches and control panels were similar to ones in the 1930s (top photo). Also note the old handset (possibly bakelite) at left center of the 2015 photo.

(businessinsider.com)

I am not including these images to ridicule the MTA, but rather to admire the hard work, technological prowess and creativity of our forebears. Improving these vast, complex systems takes time and money, and especially money, lots of it.

 *  *  *

Coming Up For Air

Stuffy, crowded subway cars were largely unknown to those New Yorkers who still had means in the 1930s, and who could escape the city’s late winter doldrums and flee to sunny Bermuda. The “Out of Town” column offered some travel tips:

WISH YOU WEREN’T HERE…These fortunate New Yorkers enjoyed Bermuda’s sunny climes in 1932. (New York Historical Society)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with advertisement for the lovely Hotel Pierre, still a landmark of luxury in Manhattan. In 1932, however, the Depression forced the new hotel (opened in 1930) into bankruptcy. And so, we read this ad with tinge of sadness for Charles Pierre and his short-lived dream…

…one thing the Depression didn’t destroy was the need to shave one’s whiskers, and this is the first time (at least that I have noticed) that Burma Shave referenced its famous roadside jingles in a New Yorker ad…

…the concept of being “mouth-happy” was the tagline used by the makers of Spud menthol cigarettes, who encouraged smokers to light up even before they got out of their PJs…

…Lucky Strike, meanwhile, stuck with their “toasted” claims, and to images of fame, youth and beauty to suggest that your looks as well as your throat would benefit from their product…

…the woman in the Lucky ad, June Collyer (1906-1968), was one of 13 women selected as “WAMPAS Baby Stars” in 1928. During the 1920s and early 30s, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS) honored 13 or so young actresses each year whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom (In the 1940s Collyer’s brother “Bud” Collyer provided the voice of Superman on the radio). While I digress, here is a photo of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1932:

WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1932. Back row: Toshia Mori, Boots Mallory, Ruth Hall, Gloria Stuart, Patricia Ellis, Ginger Rogers, Lilian Bond, Evalyn Knapp, Marian Shockley. Seated in front row: Dorothy Wilson, Mary Carlisle, Lona Andre, Eleanor Holm and Dorothy Layton (June Clyde is not pictured).

…on to our cartoons, we go from the glamorous to the everyday with William Steig

…and Garrett Price

Richard Decker suggested someone might be in for a bumpy ride…

…and Decker again, illustrating the perils of another form of transportation…

Barbara Shermund gave us a wealthy matron eager for show and tell…

…and Peter Arno looked in on one of his ancient walruses, pining for the olden days…

…on to the March 12, 1932 issue…

March 12, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

…and some insights into a variety of world events, large and small, by E.B. White:

GR-R-ATE was the word used by one newsreel announcer to describe Malcolm Campbell’s land speed record of 253.96 miles per hour, achieved on the sands of Florida’s Daytona Beach on Feb. 24, 1932. E.B. White wanted to know why this achievement was so gr-r-ate. (floridamemory.com)

And we have White again, who we all know loved dogs, and especially Daisy, his beloved Scotty. When she was killed by a swerving taxicab, he wrote a beautiful remembrance in the New Yorker. Here are the first and last paragraphs.

TRAVELING COMPANION…Katharine White with Daisy on a leash in New York City, 1931. In the pram is baby Joel. (brainpickings.org)

One more by White, this time admiring the heavenly beauty of a GE refrigerator in the window of a Rex Cole store on East 21st Street:

KING OF COLD…The Eagle Building (right) on East 21st held the Rex Cole showroom admired by E.B. White. To get some idea of Rex Cole’s theatrical fridge displays, the image at left is of a Bronx storefront. (MCNY/Daytonian in Manhattan)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

With the Depression still deepening, even the rich needed a break, so Lincoln rolled out an eight-cylinder model, at $2,900 still too steep for most folks…

…and priced competitively with the Lincoln, the Chrysler Imperial Eight looked a lot more fun…

…and we have another stylish and very modern Coty advertisement by American fashion illustrator Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…

…on to cartoons, Gluyas Williams demonstrated that sometimes words alone don’t have the same effect as a simple gesture…

dd

Garrett Price found a hapless fellow on a train to nowhere…

Helen Hokinson’s “girls” were going through the motions at a bridge tournament…

…and Helen again with the lives and loves of our youth…

…and we close with James Thurber, his war between the sexes taking a new twist…

Next Time: The Final Curtain…

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)

 *  *  *

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.

 *  *  *

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)

 *  *  *

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)

 *  *  *

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)

 *  *  *

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.

*  *  *

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…

 

Through the Looking Glass

The next time you complain about a boring Zoom meeting, think about Morris Markey’s visit to New York’s Bell Laboratories in the spring of 1931, when he marveled at what was, perhaps, the “apotheosis” of American industry: a two-way video telephone.

May 9, 1931 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Mass-market television in the U.S. was still two decades away, but what Markey saw demonstrated in 1931 was a glimpse of the future, seeing and conversing with another man three miles away via a long wire that transmitted images from a fantastic array of spinning discs and neon tubes:

TECHNOLOGY’S MATERNITY WARD…The original Bell Labs building at 463 West Street in New York. It was the birthplace of talking movies, television, radar and the vacuum tube. (att.com)
DEFINITELY NOT HI-DEF…At left, this is most likely where Morris Markey sat for the demonstration of early video phone technology. At right (click image to enlarge), a July 1930 article in Popular Science Monthly described how the transmitting apparatus worked. (earlytelevision.org/books.google.com)
BUT WILL IT SELL?…Herbert Hoover, then secretary of commerce, became the world’s first television personality in 1927 when his voice and face (inset) were transmitted to an audience at Bell Laboratories in New York City. At the time, AT&T, Bell’s parent company, was doubtful about television’s moneymaking potential. (edn.com)
SPINNING WHEELS…Whirling metal discs, pictured at left, perforated with tiny holes, cast a series of horizontal beams of light across a viewer’s face (right), which were then transmitted to a receiver. (earlytelevision.org)

Despite its gee-whiz factor, many, including the folks at Bell Labs, seemed doubtful that the technology would come into wider use or be profitable any time soon, if ever. Markey noted that his little demonstration required many millions of dollars in research and development, but he was prophetic in suggesting that such technology might come to be dreaded if it ever came into common use.

*  *  *

Uplifting Sight

That a bra and girdle maker should become the topmost tenant at the new Empire State Building was not lost on E.B. White, who commented thusly…

…and while viewers wouldn’t actually see a giant bra atop the skyscraper, many were nevertheless interested in getting a closer look at some of the building’s details, as reported in “The Talk of the Town”…

OVER THE MOON?…The moon gained some keen competition from telescope viewers when the Empire State Building climbed its way into the sky. (Pinterest/tech-notes.tv)

 *  *  *

Channelling Marlene

Film critic John Mosher wasn’t over the moon when it came to the acting of Tallulah Bankhead in Tarnished Lady, however he surmised it was likely the director’s fault for trying to exploit Bankhead’s passing resemblance to Marlene Dietrich. Mosher noted that lighting and staging flattering to the German actress just didn’t work with the belle from Alabama.

MIRROR, MIRROR…Tallulah Bankhead (left) might have pondered who was the fairest in the land, but the New Yorker’s John Mosher found her to be no match for German actress Marlene Dietrich (right, in 1931’s Dishonored) when it came to screen presence. (IMDB)

Despite Mosher’s blah review, Paramount touted Bankhead’s successful portrayal of a “tarnished lady” in this ad from the same issue:

Mosher, however, found redemption in another film making the rounds, Warner Brothers’ Svengali starring John Barrymore:

YOU ARE GETTING VERRRY SLEEPY…in 1931’s Svengali, 17-year-old Marian Marsh played the artist’s model Trilby, who is transformed into a great opera star by the sinister hypnotist, Svengali, played by John Barrymore. Also pictured is Bramwell Fletcher, who portrayed Trilby’s love interest, Billee. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

After a long absence Peter Arno’s Whoops Sisters returned to the pages of the New Yorker, not as a cartoon panel but as shills for the Cunard Line…

…whether traveling by boat or train, you might have considered bringing along “Salvo,” an early version of a popular game that today we call “Battleship”…

…Salvo and other Battleship-type games were originally played on pieces of paper like this…

…and here’s an ad for ice cube trays that exploited the popularity of the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” syndicated newspaper feature…

…on to our cartoonists, Ralph Barton rendered Albert Einstein as his latest “Hero”…

…and interpreted the latest headlines in his “Graphic Section”…

…among the delicate set, we got a bit risqué with Gardner Rea

…and nearly apoplectic with Gluyas Williams

Otto Soglow’s Little King, on the other hand, reigned with a steady hand…

…and we end with I. Klein, and a little bauble for the Missus…

Next Time: The Short Life of Two-Gun Crowley…

 

Wickersham Sham

Introduce the topic of the Wickersham Commission at your next dinner party and you will most likely be answered with a puzzled silence.

January 31, 1931 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

However, in January 1931 it was THE topic of the month, especially among New Yorkers keen to see the end of Prohibition, which was the focus of the commission.

Established by President Herbert Hoover, the 11-member Wickersham Commission (officially, the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement) was not seeking to repeal the 18th Amendment, but rather to examine the criminal justice system under Prohibition, everything from police brutality and graft to the rapid rise of organized crime.

SOBER UNDERTAKING…George Wickersham was featured on Time’s Feb. 2, 1931 cover for his leadership on the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, better known as the Wickersham Commission. (Time)

To the chagrin of many New Yorkers, the report (released on Jan. 7, 1931) called for even more aggressive enforcement of anti-alcohol laws.

This caused such a stir that the New Yorker dedicated the entire first page of “The Talk of the Town” to a satirical commentary furnished by E.B. White. An excerpt:

LEAVE MY NAME OUT OF IT…Former US Attorney General George Woodward Wickersham, left, was tapped by President Herbert Hoover to lead the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement. Humorist Will Rogers weighed in on the likely outcome of the Commission’s report. (Wikipedia/PBS)

Humorist Will Rogers also commented on the report in this letter published on page 19 of the Jan. 26, 1931 edition of The New York Times…

…Algonquin Round Table co-founder Franklin P. Adams, on the other hand, summed up the Commission’s report with a poem:

Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop.
We like it.
It’s left a trail of graft and slime
It don’t prohibit worth a dime
It’s filled our land with vice and crime,
Nevertheless, we’re for it.

Back to the New Yorker, Howard Brubaker weighed in with his column, “Of All Things,” correctly noting that the majority of Americans wanted an end to Prohibition laws despite the Commission’s recommendations…

…and Rea Irvin gauged the mood of the parlor crowd in light of the report:

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Polar Plunge

On to happier news, “The Talk of the Town” looked in on preparations for a North Pole trip by a refitted and renamed military submarine, Nautilus. An excerpt:

POLAR OBSESSED…Above, the Nautilus arrives at Plymouth, England, on June 26, 1931. It left New York City on June 4 on the first leg of a voyage that was to continue on to Spitsbergen, Norway and ultimately to the North Pole and a rendezvous with Germany’s Graf Zeppelin. At right, crew members Cornelius P. Royster, John R. Janson, and Harry Zoeller dine in the Nautilus galley, April 20, 1931. (amphilsoc.org)
HOW IT WORKED…The June 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics asked the question, “Will the Nautilus Freeze Under the North Pole?” Stay tuned. (Modern Mechanix)

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Dorothy, Abridged

Laid up with the flu, Dorothy Parker turned to some reading during her convalescence, only to find that the books provided to her (for review) were far from uplifting. One in particular, a censored version of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was downright galling. Excerpts:

FIFTY SHADES OF EMBARRASSMENT…D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published privately in 1928 and swiftly banned by the United States the following year. Amazingly, the first unexpurgated edition would not be published in the U.S. until 1959, in the edition pictured above issued by the fledgling Grove Press. (mhpbooks.com/orbooks.com)

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Old Before Her Time

Lois Long was only 29 years old when she wrote her “Doldrums” series for the New Yorker, but the chronicler of Jazz Age nightlife who once epitomized the flapper lifestyle felt much older given how much the world had changed in just a few short years. She was particularly appalled by the younger generation’s embrace of “health and vitality” over her own generation’s lust for the party life…

GETTING THEIR KICKS…Lois Long was appalled by the new generation’s healthier pursuits, left, contrasted with the flapper lifestyle Long embodied in the 1920s. (Pinterest)

…Long was mother to a toddler at the time, and would divorce husband and New Yorker colleague Peter Arno in the spring. This, no doubt, contributed to her feeling of estrangement from the younger generation:

Endnote: Bernarr MacFadden (1868-1955), referred to above, was an early proponent of body building and healthy diets that anticipated the rise of physical culture icons such as Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne.

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The Last Warrior

Paris correspondent Janet Flanner noted the passing of 78-year-old French Field Marshal Joseph Joffre, the last of the great World War I military leaders. Note that Flanner referred to Joffre’s war as “the world war,” since the next world war was still on the horizon.

AU REVOIR…French Field Marshal Joseph Joffre (saluting) in 1922. (Library of Congress)

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From Our Advertisers

We have two of New York’s finest hotels advertised along with the newly opened National Hotel in Havana, Cuba. All three were under the same management at the time. The Cuban hotel would be heavily damaged two years later in a coup led by Fulgencio Batista. It would be restored, and eventually nationalized by Fidel Castro. The Savoy-Plaza would not be so lucky, demolished in 1965 to make way for the General Motors Building…

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T…The elegant Savoy-Plaza (left) was razed in 1965 to make way for the General Motors Building. (Wikipedia)

…and we have this lovely color ad from the makers of Alcoa aluminum chairs, which bespoke “the new vogue.” Alcoa created the market for aluminum furniture in the 1920s in an effort to increase demand for its aluminum products. It obviously worked, as all kinds of aluminum chairs and desks became ubiquitous by mid-century, especially in the workplace…

…on to our cartoonists…the Jan. 31, 1931 issue marked a big moment in New Yorker cartoons, as it featured James Thurber’s very first…

Alan Dunn showed us a man who could not be distracted from financial woes…

William Steig settled in as a New Yorker regular…

Carl Rose gave us a lot of sour faces in a bank lobby…

…and Gluyas Williams demonstrated the effects of decaf coffee…

…and before I go, here is a scene from the Third Academy Awards, which are referred to as the 1931 awards, although they were actually held on Nov. 5, 1930 in the Fiesta Room of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles….

(oscars.com)

Next Time: And the Winner Is…