The Radio City

The NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza have wowed visitors and performers alike for nearly 90 years. Today we look back at the remarkable foresight of the studios’ designers, who created spaces that would one day accommodate a new medium called television, which was still in its experimental stages.

Nov. 4, 1933 cover by Robert Day, who contributed a total of eight covers to The New Yorker.

However, before we jump in, let’s look at Robert Day’s cover for the Nov. 4 issue, which featured a familiar character who made his first appearance on the cover of issue #12 (May 9, 1925), and returned four years later looking much older in the dog days of August…

Cover of issue #12 (May 9, 1925) by Rea Irvin introduced our street sweeper, who returned Aug. 3, 1929 by the hand of Gardner Rea.

Day’s cover, however, was also a nod to the annual gathering of autumn leaves—an occasional cover theme that began with Peter Arno’s contribution to the Nov. 27, 1926 issue (below, left) and most recently expressed in Adrian Tomine’s cover for the Nov. 7, 2022 issue (with timely pandemic reference)…

Back to Radio City, Morris Markey recounted the technological wonders of the new NBC studios in his “A Reporter at Large” column, “Marconi Started It.” Markey noted the “fabulous quality” of the facilities, wired for the day when television would arrive. Excerpts:

GEE WHIZ…Morris Markey could be assured that some folks would be “goggled-eyed” by NBC studios, including the technophiles at Popular Mechanics. (westmb.org)
WHERE HISTORY WAS MADE…Studio 8H was the world’s largest radio studio when it opened in 1933. It would be converted for television in 1950. (westmb.org)

Markey marveled at NBC Studios’ various design innovations, including a revolving control room dubbed the “Clover Leaf”…

(Modern Mechanics, Jan. 1931)

Almost 90 years later, the studios continue to serve the broadcast needs of the 21st century, including Studio 8H…

LIVE FROM NEW YORK…Studio 8H was the world’s largest radio studio when it opened in 1933. Converted to television in 1950, it has been home to Saturday Night Live since 1975. Above, SNL stage manager Gena Rositano, in 2015. Below, longtime SNL director Don Roy King at the controls for Studio 8H, also in 2015. (Dana Edelson/NBC via Directors Guild of America)

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Leopold!

Conductor Leopold Stokowski was no stranger to Studio 8H. From 1941 to 1944 he led the NBC Symphony Orchestra in that venue. One of the leading conductors of the early and mid-20th century, Stokowski (1882–1977) began his musical career in New York City in 1905 as the organist and choir director at St. Bartholomew’s Church, but by 1915 he was conducting the famed Philadelphia Orchestra. Robert Simon reported on Stokowski’s return to New York for a performance at Carnegie Hall. A brief excerpt:

I GET AROUND…Portrait Of Leopold Stokowski by Edward Steichen, Dec. 1, 1933. Married three times and once romantically linked to Greta Garbo, he was married to wife #3, Gloria Vanderbilt, for ten years.(Condé Nast)

Stokowski had the distinct honor of being satirized in a 1949 Looney Tunes cartoon, “Long-Haired Hare,” in which Bugs Bunny disguised himself as the conductor and entered the stage to the astonished whispers of the orchestra…Leopold! Leopold!…

MAESTRO…Bugs Bunny as Stokowski in “Long-Haired Hare.”

Stokowski was no stranger to animation. The conductor appeared in silhouette in Disney’s Fantasia (1940), leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in the film’s score. He even shook hands with Mickey Mouse.

 * * *

Bigga Badda Wolfa

The New Yorker took a look at the popular records of the day, and in addition to tunes by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallée there was yet another release of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”…Ethel Shutta was the latest of seemingly dozens of artists to cash in on the Disney hit…

I’LL HUFF AND I’LL PUFF…Those who couldn’t get enough of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” could turn to Ethel Shutta’s rendition of the hit song on Columbia records. (discogs.com)

 * * *

Page-Turner

Writer Kay Boyle wasn’t afraid of wolves or any other subject for that matter, according to book reviewer Clifton Fadiman

TOSSING A SALACIOUS SALAD…Kay Boyle, photographed by George Platt Lynes, 1941. (The Kay Boyle Papers, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University)

 * * *

A Grapeful Nation

As New Yorkers counted the days until the end of Prohibition, The New Yorker did its part to get readers back up to speed by enlisting the talents of one of the world’s great wine experts, Frank Schoonmaker, who had the enviable job of filing a series of wine reports for the magazine. His first installment of “News From the Wine Country” featured the Champagne region. Excerpts:

THAT FIZZY FEELING…Bottling the good stuff in the Champagne region, circa 1930. (wineterroirs.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Christmas was just around the corner, and F.A.O. Schwarz was READY with its 64-page catalog…

…White Rock anticipated the end of Prohibition with an ad featuring a miniature colonel who apparently needed a stiff drink to prepare for his wife’s return from abroad…

…Mrs. Hamilton Fish Jr, aka Grace Chapin, was married to the New York congressman from 1920 until her death in 1960, apparently enjoying many Camels along the way…her husband would go on living another 31 years and take three more brides before expiring at age 102…

…another cautionary tale from Chase & Sanborne about the perils of undated coffee…

…and with the holidays approaching, a jolly ditty from Jones Dairy Farm, home to little piggies who merrily dash toward their inevitable slaughter…

…and we jump to another back-page ad, this from the stately Plaza, where you could get a single room for five bucks a night…

…turning to the cartoons, we find George Price hitting his stride with multiple cartoons in consecutive issues…

…and taking a look at the recent elections…

…on to James Thurber, and continuing struggles on the domestic front…

…and that brings us to our next issue…

Nov. 11, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

…in which E.B. White had a thing or two to say about the latest edition of the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden.

HORSE SENSE AND SENSIBILITY…The National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden was a major event on New York’s social calendar; top and bottom right, scenes from the 1936 show; bottom left, undated scene circa 1960. (Stills from YouTube)

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Versatile Verse

Phyllis McGinley (1905–1978) was the author of children’s books and poetry, the latter genre most notably for The New Yorker. However, she attracted a wide audience for her light verse in other publications ranging from Ladies Home Journal to The Saturday Review.

LIGHT TOUCH…Phyllis McGinley in an undated photo. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her book Times Three—the first writer of light verse to receive the prize. (wnyc.org)

 * * *

Oil and Water

Art and architecture critic Lewis Mumford found two very different visions of America in the works of contemporaries John Marin and Edward Hopper. Marin’s watercolors were featured at An American Place, while Hopper’s oil paintings and etchings were shown down the street at the Museum of Modern Art.

SIDE BY SIDE…Lewis Mumford found different visions of New York and the world at An American Place and MoMA galleries. At left, John Marin’s watercolor From the Bridge, N.Y.C. (1933); at right, Edward Hopper’s Room in New York, also from 1933. (Artists Rights Society/Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery)

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More From Our Advertisers

Okay, so I’ll buy the part about PBR’s ability to soothe “jaded nerves,” but I doubt it gave this guy “fresh energy” and “a sound, healthy body”…

…After thirteen long years, winemakers emerged from their cellars to glimpse the light of a new day…

…and yes, after thirteen long years, some folks would be yearning for their DRY SACK Sherry…

…the name Elizabeth Hawes was synonymous with high fashion in the late 1920s and 1930s—she owned one of the most exclusive couture houses in New York…

…an outspoken advocate of dress reform, Hawes (1903–1971) was referred to by one historian as “the Dorothy Parker of fashion criticism.” After attacking the fashion industry with her 1938 book, Fashion Is Spinach (Hawes wrote: “I don’t know when the word fashion came into being, but it was an evil day…”), she closed her fashion house and in 1942 took a job as a machine operator at a wartime plant in New Jersey. She became a union organizer, a champion of gender equality, and a critic of American consumerism.

IN A LEAGUE OF HER OWN…Elizabeth Hawes — writer, fashion designer and political activist, poses for a photograph in 1941. (Mary Morris Lawrence)

…speaking of consumerism, ooooh look! A radio “you can slip in your pocket,” depending of course on the size of your pocket…

…transistors would not come along until the late 1950s, so the Kadette still depended on tubes, and you had to plug it in somewhere, so no running down the beach with headphones, at least for awhile…

The Kadette Junior. (radiolaguy.com)

…it must have been a rare treat to sail on a ship like the SS Santa Rosa—situated between the ship’s two funnels, the dining room had an atrium stretching up two-and-a-half decks and featured a retractable roof…

…on to more cartoons, and more George Price

…moving along, we received some big news from one of Helen Hokinson’s “girls”…

…an aside I’ve been meaning to include…in 1952, just three years after Helen Hokinson’s untimely death, a cartoonist for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Franklin Folger, debuted a cartoon called “The Girls.” The cartoon was eventually syndicated and appeared in more than 150 newspapers worldwide before Folger retired it in 1977. Perhaps I am missing something, but I cannot find a single reference to Folger’s obvious appropriation of Hokinson’s “girls”…some examples of Folger’s work from the early 1960s and another from H.H. for comparison:

…and onward to Peter Arno, and the trials of portrait artists…

…and we close with two by Barbara Shermund

…rendered in different styles…

Next Time: Coach Arno…

The Bombshell

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

Oct. 28, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

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

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

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

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

TAKE A BOW, CLARA…Bombshell satirized the stardom years of silent era sex symbol Clara Bow, who was director Victor Fleming’s fiancée in 1926 (photo at left is of the couple on the set of 1926’s Mantrap); in Bombshell Jean Harlow portrayed a sex symbol who, like Bow, wanted to live a normal life. In real life, Bow made her last film in 1933 and retired to a ranch at age 28.
A STAR IS BORED…In Bombshell, movie star Lola Burns (Jean Harlow) dislikes her sexy vamp image and wants to live a normal life, but her studio publicist E. J. “Space” Hanlon (Lee Tracy) insists on feeding the press endless provocative stories about her. Clockwise, from top left: Lee Tracy and Louise Beavers in a scene with Harlow; Harlow and Una Merkel, who portrayed Lola’s assistant, Mac; Harlow in a scene with Mary Forbes, C. Aubrey Smith, and Franchot Tone; Harlow in a scene with Ruth Warren and Frank Morgan—the latter portrayed Lola’s pretentious, drunken father. (IMDB)

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

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Second City Sanctimony

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

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

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

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Big, Bad Earworm

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

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

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

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

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

 * * *

Polymath

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

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

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Dear Papa

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardner Rea gave us a toff absorbed in historical fiction…

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

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

Next Time: Radio City…

 

As Thousands Cheer

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

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

Oct. 7, 1933 cover by Peter Arno.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 * * *

A Final Byline

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

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

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

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

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

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Macy Modernism

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

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

 * * *

Fishing for Commies

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

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

 * * *

All Wet

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

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

 * * *

A Dog’s Life

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

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

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helen Hokinson found fun with flounder…

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

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

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

Next Time: The Wild West…

College Days

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

Sept. 23, 1933 cover by Abner Dean.

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

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

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…discover the perils of historical research with Barbara Shermund

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

Helen Hokinson found a Red among the blue bloods…

…and a wee conundrum in the hat department…

Gardner Rea pulled out all stops in this patriotic tableau…

…on to the Sept. 30, 1933 issue…

Sept. 30, 1933 cover by William Cotton.

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

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

 * * *

Mexican Morass

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

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

 * * *

Dreaming in Color

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

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

This YouTube video offers some idea of the effect:

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More From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time: As Thousands Cheer…

Rumors of War

Above: Scores of German tanks lined up at a harvest festival near Hanover, produced in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany began rapidly rearming shortly after Hitler came to power in January 1933.

The year 1933 marked a shift in the political winds, starting with Adolf Hitler’s rise to the chancellorship of Germany in 1933. By October he withdrew from the League of Nations and the Geneva Peace Conference, all the while clandestinely building up his war machine.

Sept. 16, 1933 cover by Harry Brown. The scene depicts the West Side’s infamous “Death Avenue,” where New York Central Railroad freight trains mixed with a jumble of automobiles, wagons and pedestrians amid factories and warehouses. Beginning in the 1850s “West Side Cowboys” rode in front of trains as a safety precaution. Still, there were hundreds of casualties until the rail was elevated in 1934—today’s High Line.

While some sounded alarms, most people, along with their nations, turned inward, focusing on domestic issues—FDR was busy with his New Deal agenda, Britain was dealing with its own economic woes, and Germany, Italy and Japan were keeping their populations in line by stoking the flames of nationalism. Few paid much attention to a 420-page book titled What Would Be the Character of a New War?, which accurately predicted the nature of the war to come. New Yorker critic Clifton Fadiman offered this sobering assessment (wryly titled “To the Gentler Reader”) of the work:

The book’s prescient warnings could be attributed in part to the experiences of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 19 authors—nearly half of them soldiers from Great Britain, Sweden, Germany and France, the others mostly scientists along with a statesman or two. In her Oct. 22, 1933, New York Times Book Review article, Florence Finch Kelly noted the authors’ general agreement as to the “utter uselessness” of international peace agreements. “This book is a sign-post that blazons in unmistakable language the distance the world has traveled—backward—during the last dozen years,” she wrote, concluding “the world very greatly needs this book…For it is the most ghastly, the most horrifying book about war that has ever been written.”

In my previous post we saw how H.G. Wells envisioned the next war, with destruction raining from the sky. So too was the conclusion of Inter-Parliamentary Union. Fadiman observed:

I LOVE A PARADE…Clockwise from top left: Adolf Hitler is cheered as he rides through the streets of Munich on Nov. 9, 1933; Hideki Tojo would be promoted to major general in 1933 and would go on to become minister of war and prime minister of Japan; the technologically advanced Heinkel He 111 was secretly produced as part of the clandestine German rearmament in the early 1930s; when he wasn’t busy murdering his own people, Josef Stalin (pictured here on Nov. 7, 1933) was implementing his Five-Year Plan. (The Atlantic via AP/Wikipedia)

The rumblings heard in Germany were also on the mind of Howard Brubaker, who made these observations in his column, “Of All Things.”

 * * *

Dining For Success

The Society for the Advancement of Better Living offered its own New Deal for Depression America—you could eat your way to better life. E.B. White noted the non-ideological nature of this new movement, where commies and capitalists could break bread together…

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?…Hearty appetites make strange bedfellows, according to E.B. White. Clockwise, from top left, Helena Rubinstein, Dr. Royal Copeland, Robert Morss Lovett, C. Hartley Grattan, Suzanne La Follette, and Henry Goddard Leach. (Vanity Fair/Wikipedia/U of Nebraska)

 * * *

Bread & Circuses

“The Talk of the Town” looked in on the game of college football, which some college presidents annually decried for becoming a “great spectacle.” If they could have only known what was to come…

THE HOME TEAM…Clockwise, from top left: Columbia University’s Baker Stadium in the 1920s; Columbia’s president in 1933, Nicholas Murray Butler, considered something of a blowhard in his day; Columbia’s Hall of Fame coach Lou Little in 1930; Columbia taking on archival Cornell in 1930. The Columbia Lions were a power in the 1930s—in 1933 the Lions won the Rose Bowl, beating Stanford 7–0. (Columbia University)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

The fine folks at Martini & Rossi were doing their part to get Americans ready for the end of Prohibition…

…meanwhile, the makers of Her Majesty’s perfume summoned the old and the new while also showing support for the New Deal (the NRA logo)…this image, however, doesn’t conjure up visions of “Tomorrow’s World”…

…and frankly neither does this tire, here linked to the wonders on display at Chicago’s Century of Progress…

…on to our cartoons, we have two by James Thurber, beginning with this cryptic drawing…

…and later in the issue, a more familiar Thurber at play…

Helen Hokinson’s “girls” surmised a scandal aboard an incoming liner…

Henry Anton gave us a kindly pawn shop owner with a money back guarantee…on a pair of brass knuckles…

Izzy Klein conjured up a ghost who’d found a use for an executive’s wire recorder…

…and we close with Alan Dunn, and the perils of interior design…

Next Time: Music and Murder…

The Shape of Things to Come

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

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

Sept. 2, 1933 cover by William Steig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 * * *

Fine Dining

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

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

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

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

 * * *

Madame Secretary

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

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

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

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

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

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

…our cartoonists include Robert Day

George Price

…and baring it all, Peter Arno

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

Sept. 9, 1933 cover by Alice Harvey.

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

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

* * *

Huey In The News

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

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

 * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time: Rumors of War…

The Flying Season

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

Aug. 5, 1933 cover by Julian de Miskey.

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

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

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

DESCENDED LIKE FLIES…Twenty-four Savoia-Marchetti flying boats left Italy in 1933 to fly in formation to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and back, with stops along the way including New York. The squadron was led by Italo Balbo, who has featured on the cover of Time, 26 June 1933. (Wikipedia)
GOING IN STYLE, Clockwise, from top left, twenty-four Italian Savoia-Marchetti S.55X flying boats left the west coast of Italy to fly in formation to the Chicago World’s Fair, with a stop on the Hudson River (top right). The Italians were famed for sleek designs, including the Macchi-Castoldi 72, pictured here circa 1931. It was then the fastest plane in the world; James Mollison and his wife, Amy Johnson recover from their injuries after a nonstop flight from Wales to the U.S. Unable to locate the Bridgeport (Conn.) Municipal Airport—which he circled five times— he ultimately crash- landed into a field. Both were thrown from the aircraft but survived—they were later congratulated by New York society with a parade on Wall Street. (warbirdsnews.com/Wikimedia)

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

 * * *

Depression Diversions

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

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

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

…the folks at Cadillac went for pure sob appeal…

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

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

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

…as did one of our cartoonists, Otto Soglow

…and now on to the Aug 12 issue…

Aug. 12, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

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

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

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

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

 * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eli Garson paid a visit to the optometrist…

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

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

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

Next Time: Tugboat Annie…

Keeping Their Cool

The heat came early to New York in June 1933, so folks flocked to air-conditioned cinemas or sought the cooling breezes of rooftop cafes and dance floors. And thanks to FDR, there was legal beer to be quaffed at various beer gardens popping up all over town.

June 24, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin. Providing a bookend to Constantin Alajalov’s June bride cover (May 27), Irvin gave us the newlyweds now contemplating a fixer-upper.

Lois Long kept her cool on the beach or at home with a cold Planters’ Punch, but one gets restless, and Ethel Waters was at the Cotton Club, so Long headed out into the night; an excerpt from her column “Tables for Two”…

STORMY WEATHER AHEAD…Ethel Waters was “tops” during a June 1933 performance at the Cotton Club, according to nightlife correspondent Lois Long. Left, Waters circa 1930. At right, the Cotton Club in the early 1930s. (IMDB/Britannica)
SHOWER THE PEOPLE…Children gather around a center stand sprinkler (connected to a fire hydrant) on a Harlem street in 1933.
POP-UP PLAYGROUND…Play street and street shower alongside the Queensboro Bridge, June 22, 1934. (NYC Municipal Archives)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Legal beer and hot summer days combined to bring some much-needed advertising revenue to The New Yorker

…here we have dear old dad telling the young ‘uns (all in formal wear, mind you) about the good old days before Prohibition took away his favorite tipple…

…notable about the magazine’s first beer ads was the target market…this is akin to the cigarette manufacturers, who were also targeting women as a new growth market for their products…curious how this PBR ad is illustrated…is she getting ready to drink the beer, or serve it?…

…also joining the party were the folks who made mixers like White Rock mineral water…note the reference at bottom right to the anticipated repeal of the 18th Amendment…

…the purveyors of Hoffman’s ginger ale were less subtle, encouraging drinkers to mix those highballs right now

…you could enjoy that cool one while sitting in front of a Klenzair electric fan, which was probably nothing like riding a dolphin—a strange metaphor, but then again perhaps something else is being suggested here besides electric fans…

…no doubt Lois Long took in one of these breezy performances on the rooftop of the Hotel Pennsylvania…

…an evening with Rudy Vallée would have been a lot cheaper than one of these “compact” air conditioners, available to only the very wealthy…

…but you didn’t need to be J.P. Morgan to own a Lektrolite lighter, which was kind of clever…this flameless lighter contained a platinum filament that would glow hot after being lowered into reactive chemicals in the lighter’s base…

…another ad from the Architects’ Emergency Committee, which looked like something an architect would design…

…our final June 24 ad told readers about the miracle of Sanforizing, which was basically a pre-shrinking technique, like pre-washed jeans…

…we kick off our cartoons with George Price at the ball game…

Alan Dunn was in William Steig’s “Small Fry” territory with this precocious pair…

James Thurber brought us back to his delightfully strange world…

…and Whitney Darrow Jr gave us a trio at a nudist colony dressing a man with their eyes…

…we move along to July 1, 1933…

July 1, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Where in this issue we find the Nazis not keeping their cool. In an article titled “Unter Dem Hakenkreuz” (“Under the Swastika”) American journalist and activist Mary Heaton Vorse commented on the changes taking place in Berlin, where the vice, decadence and other freedoms of the Weimar years had been swept away, including women’s rights…an excerpt:

SIT UP STRAIGHT AND PROCREATE…Swastika flags hang from a Berlin building in the 1930s. In Hitler’s Germany, women of child-bearing age were expected to produce lots of babies and not much else. (collections.ushmm.org)

 * * *

Some Strings Attached

Back in the states, Alvin Johnston published the first installment of a two-part profile on John P. O’Brien (1873–1951) who served as mayor of New York from January to December 1933, the second of two short-term mayors to serve between the disgraced and deposed Jimmy Walker and the reformer Fiorello LaGuardia. Considered the last of the mayoral puppets of Tammany Hall, he was known for his brief, heartless, and clueless reign during one of the worst years of the Depression; while unemployment was at 25 percent, O’Brien was doling out relief funds to Tammany cronies. A brief excerpt (with Abe Birnbaum illustration):

A PIOUS, LABORIOUS DULLARD and “a hack given to malapropisms” is how writer George Lankevich describes John P. O’Brien. According to Lankevich, to a crowd in Harlem O’Brien proudly proclaimed, “I may be white but my heart is as black as yours.” (TIME)

 * * *

That Pepsodent Smile

The author James Norman Hall (1887–1951), known for the trilogy of novels that included Mutiny on the Bounty, offered these sobering thoughts about a famed actor he spotted on a South Pacific holiday:

IT ISN’T EASY BEING ME…Fifty-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Sr, teeth and all, was apparently looking worse for the wear when he was spotted by writer James Norman Hall in Tahiti. His glory days of the Silent Era behind him, Fairbanks would die in 1939 at age 56. (fineartamerica.com)

 * * *

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More cool ones for those hot summer days courtesy of Schaefer…

…and Rheingold, here served by a sheepish-looking woman who doubtless wished that the tray supported champagne or cocktail glasses…and leave it to the Dutch to be one of the first countries to get their foot into the import market…when I was in college this was as good as it got, beer-wise…

Dr. Seuss again for Flit, and even though this is a cartoon, it demonstrates how in those days no one really cared if you sprayed pesticides near your breakfast, or pets, or kids…

…here’s one of just four cartoons contributed to The New Yorker in the early 1930s by Walter Schmidt

Otto Soglow’s Little King found an opportunity to stop and smell the flowers…

Mary Petty gave us two examples of fashion-conscious women…

James Thurber explored the nuances of parenting…

…and we close with George Price, master of oddities…

Next Time: The Night the Bed Fell…

Making Hays

The name Will Hays will always be linked to the Motion Picture Production Code, a set of guidelines for self-censorship that studios adopted to avoid government intervention.

June 10, 1933 cover by Harry Brown.

Hays, however, played both sides in the culture wars. A Republican politician, Hays (1879–1954) managed the 1920 election of Warren G. Harding before moving on to Postmaster General and then chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. During the so-called pre-Code era, roughly 1930 to 1934, the Production Code was barely enforced, giving filmmakers the freedom to explore themes ranging from prostitution to gangster violence. When Alva Johnston wrote a two-part profile on Hays for The New Yorker, pressure from Catholic Church and other morality groups was building for Hays to strictly enforce the Code, or else. An excerpt:

CLEAN IT UP, JOAN…Will Hays (top left) felt pressure in 1933 to start seriously enforcing the Production Code, and scenes such as the one at top right from Blonde Crazy (1931) with Joan Blondell would probably not pass muster after 1934; the Hays Code would also lengthen the animated Betty Boop’s skirts, and tone down gratuitous violence (James Cagney and Edward Woods in 1931’s Public Enemy). (Wikimedia/pre-code.com/Warner Brothers)

 * * *

The Trouble With Money

In their investigation of the probable causes of the 1929 market crash, the Senate Banking and Currency Committee summoned J.P. Morgan Jr (1867–1943) on June 1, 1933, to testify on questionable banking practices. Committee counsel Ferdinand Pecora (1882–1971) set out to prove, among other things, that Morgan sold stock below market price to some of his cronies. Pecora also learned that Morgan and many of his partners paid no income tax in 1931 and 1932, big news to Americans still suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. E.B. White made these observations:

Although not mentioned by White, the hearing began with an odd little sideshow. Writing for the U.S. Capitol Historical Society blog, Joanna Hallac notes that because the hearings were slow to get started, newspaper reporters grew desperate to get something for the evening papers. Then one enterprising reporter, Ray Tucker, spotted circus dwarf Lya Graf with her agent, Charles Leef, outside of the hearing room (the Barnum & Bailey Circus was in town) and suggested Graf meet the famed banker. Hallac writes: “Although he was initially startled, Morgan was genial and rose and shook her hand. Naturally, the photographers were stepping all over each other to get a picture of the exchange. Leef, seeing a perfect press opportunity for himself and the circus, waited for Morgan to sit down and then scooped up Graf and placed her in J.P. Morgan’s lap. Morgan apparently laughed and had a brief exchange with the demure lady, in which he told her he had a grandchild bigger than her.”

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF FINANCE…Before being grilled by Senate counsel Ferdinand Pecora at a June 1, 1933 banking hearing,  J.P. Morgan Jr was paid a surprise visit by Lya Graf, a Barnum & Bailey circus dwarf. At right, Pecora, circa 1933. Sadly, Graf, who was German, perished in a concentration camp after she returned to her homeland in 1935. She was condemned to death in 1937 for being half Jewish and “abnormal.” (NY Magazine/Wikipedia)

 * * *

Single Member Plurality

Among other attributes, E.B. White was known for his use of the first person plural, the editorial or clinical “we.” White himself offered this insight:

I, ME, MINE…E.B. White at work in 1945. (Britannica.com)

 * * *

Uncle Tom, Revived

Plays based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin were wildly popular throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but by the 1930s the story seemed antiquated and no longer relevant. That didn’t stop the Players (a Gramercy park actors club) from mounting a 1933 Broadway revival that proved popular with audiences and a New Yorker stage critic, namely E.B. White, sitting in for Robert Benchley…an excerpt…

SAY UNCLE…Otis Skinner (1858–1942), a beloved broadway actor, portrayed Uncle Tom in the 1933 Broadway revival. The all-white cast performed in blackface.

…on the other hand, White found the Frank Faye/Barbara Stanwyck play Tattle Tales tedious, a thin veneer over the stars’ crumbling marriage off-stage…

THAT’S ALL, FOLKS…Publicity photo of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Faye for the Broadway production of Tattle Tales at the Broadhurst Theatre. The co-stars’ real-life marriage supposedly inspired the 1937 film A Star is Born (as well as subsequent remakes). As Stanwyck’s star rose, Faye’s faded—his heavy drinking and abuse led to their 1935 divorce. The play itself closed after 28 performances. (ibdb)

 * * *

Frothy Air

E.B. White (via “The Talk of the Town”) took a stroll through Coney Island and found the place somewhat revived, perhaps thanks to the return of legal beer and Bavarian-style beer gardens…

RECALLING THE GOOD OLD DAYS…Feltman’s Restaurant on Coney Island operated this popular Bavarian Beer Garden in 1890s. (Westland.net)

 * * *

Peace, He Said

Adolf Hitler was talking peace, but the French weren’t buying it according to The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet Flanner—in just seven years her beloved City of Light would fall to the Nazis…

IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE…Adolf Hitler makes his first radio broadcast as German Chancellor, February 1933. Hitler spoke of peace in Europe while preparing his country for war. (The Guardian)

…speaking of Janet Flanner, apparently her “Paris Letter” implied that the author Edna Ferber had married. Ferber offered this correction, in good humor:

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Class anxieties were (and still are) gold to Madison Avenue—look at this poor woman, pondering her very existence, lacking as she did the horsepower to lay some rubber at a green light…

…or this woman, who thought ahead and made sure she had some hair lotion to ward off cackles from the beach harpies…

…on the other hand, this cyclist seems to care less about appearances as she races toward us with a crazed smile, half-human, half-illustration…

…and then there’s this fellow, playing it cool in a white linen suit, which for a sawbuck seems like a bargain, even in 1933…

…the last two pages of the magazine featured friends racing to some swell destination…the lads at left are being propelled to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair thanks to the wonders of leaded gasoline, while the women at right seem to be doing at least eighty…note neither car has a windshield, so you wonder how many bugs they will pick out of their teeth…

…an apt segue to our cartoons, where Peter Arno showed us a couple going nowhere fast…

Otto Soglow’s Little King had his own marital situation to ponder after a visit from a sultan…

…a very unusual cartoon from Helen Hokinson, who rarely delved into serious socio-political issues (although her captions were often provided by others at The New Yorker)…this cartoon referred to a cause célèbre of the 1930s, the case of the prejudicial sentences of the Scottsboro boys that recalled the Tom Mooney frame-up two decades earlier…

…on to lighter topics, Robert Day checked in on the progress at Mt. Rushmore…

George Price also went aloft for a challenge…

…and Carl Rose found this dichotomy in the conquest of nature…

…on to June 17, 1933…

June 17, 1933 cover by Perry Barlow.

…where Frank Curtis reported on the military-style schedule that put young men to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps…excerpts:

MARCHING ORDERS…CCC reforestation recruits in Virginia in 1933. (New York Times)

…just one ad from this issue, another Flit entry from Dr. Seuss, who wouldn’t publish his first book until 1937…

…our cartoons are courtesy Otto Soglow, with some bedside manner…

Kemp Starrett set up what should prove to be an interesting evening…

Gluyas Williams considered the woes of J.P. Morgan Jr

…and we close with another from George Price, doing some tidying up…

Next Time: Home Sweet Home…

Headline News

The news of the day in May 1933 included a visit to the U.S. by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, a controversial Diego Rivera mural at Rockefeller Center, the abandonment of the Gold Standard, and the continuing saga of legal beer.

May 13, 1933 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

Writing under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes, Robert Benchley opined on the state of the print media in “The Wayward Press”…an excerpt:

NEWSMAKERS CIRCA 1933 included George Bernard Shaw (left), here being escorted by actors Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies from a Hollywood luncheon hosted by Davies in March 1933; other headlines touted the return of free beer and the suspension of the gold standard by the Roosevelt administration—everyone was required to deliver all gold coin, gold bullion and gold certificates owned by them to the Federal Reserve by May 1 for the set price of $20.67 per ounce. Pictured are guards stocking returned gold in New Jersey bank vaults, 1933. (Pinterest/history.com)

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Selling the Pitch

Babe Ruth was something of a freak of nature, becoming the “Sultan of Swat” despite a life of heavy drinking, poor eating habits and erratic attention to training regimens. Nevertheless, as Ruth neared the end of his career at age 38 he could still put on a show. In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White was hoping for just that sort of thing:

STILL GOT IT…E.B. White would get his wish for some “real showmanship” at the end of the 1933 season, when famed Yankee slugger Babe Ruth—in his 20th year in the majors—volunteered to pitch against the Red Sox in the final game of the season at Yankee Stadium. Not only did Ruth pitch a complete game, he also hit his 34th homer of the season in the Yankees’ 6–5 victory. (ballnine.com)

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From Our Advertisers

I wonder what it was like to cruise on the Dnieper River for fourteen days through “Colorful Ukrainia” during the Great Famine that Stalin imposed on that land, killing as many as five million people…

…more ads from the back pages touting various libations including Trommer’s “White Label” beer, a drink made from conch juice called “Konktail,” and an ad illustrated by William Steig promoting “imitation gin and other flavors” made by Red Lion…none of these products exist today…

…however you can still buy canned spaghetti, if that is your thing, but not “Force” breakfast cereal…

…still more selections from the back pages…on the left, an ad for Pear’s Soap that introduced us to “wise parents” whose children “are well-bred—the ‘nice people’ of tomorrow”…on the right, the lifeless gaze of a woman who pondered how life could be better in Tudor City…and in the middle, an unlikely one-column ad from luxury car maker Pierce Arrow…the automaker was America’s answer to Rolls Royce, but the Depression would take it down by 1938…

…I’m guessing the Velveeta is the mild one…

…technology was transforming beachwear, including this “Swagger Boy” outfit spun from Dupont’s latest synthetic, Acele…

…B. Altman, on the other hand, went full-color to promote their exclusive, imported fabric under the trade name Meadowbrook…

…and who ever thought a tire could look so posh, here dominating a gathering of the smart set…

…and look at this swell, sporting top hat and walking stick, but he also knows a good value when it comes to his tires…

…we move on to our cartoons with James Thurber and a lot of people apparently going nowhere…

Helen Hokinson’s girls were all ears at the latest club gathering…

Otto Soglow’s Little King got in on the excitement of legal beer…

…and we continue to the issue of May 20, 1933, with a cover by Arnold Hall, who did at least eight covers for The New Yorker during the 1930s…

May 20, 1933 cover by Arnold Hall.

The big news in this issue was Mexican artist Diego Rivera and his controversial mural at Rockefeller Center. Rivera’s New Yorker profile was written by Geoffrey Hellman (1907–1977), who beginning in 1929 served as the magazine’s principal writer for “The Talk of the Town.” Here’s an excerpt, with illustration by Al Frueh:

What got Rivera in hot water with John D. Rockefeller Jr. and family was a mural that departed somewhat from the artist’s earlier study sketches—Rivera had been hired to depict “man at the crossroads,” looking to the future with uncertainty but also with hope for a better world.

According to a 2014 story by NPR’s Allison Keyes, leftist organizations and various communist groups in New York criticized Rivera for agreeing to work with capitalist paragons like the Rockefellers. In response, Rivera sent assistants to find a picture of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. “If you want communism, I will paint communism,” he apparently said.

The subsequent inclusion of Lenin in the mural led to protests by the Rockefeller family, the press and the public. Rivera was ultimately asked to leave the country, losing yet another commission for the Chicago World’s Fair. Rivera got paid for his Rockefeller Center mural, but the work itself was demolished.

After returning to Mexico Rivera recreated the mural, adding some vengeful references (see below) to his 1934 work, Man, Controller of the Universe.

Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo, had accompanied him to New York, and during their time in the states (1930-34) she produced a number of now-famous paintings. However in 1933 she was not recognized as a serious artist. Indeed when she visited with the Detroit News in 1932, the headline read, “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art.” In the same vein, Hellman perceived Kahlo as nothing more than a pretty helpmeet.

MORE THAN A PRETTY FACE…At left, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo attending an art exhibition in New York, 1933; at right, Kahlo and Rivera before the controversial mural at Rockefeller Center. Although an unknown in the art world in 1933, Kahlo would one day eclipse her husband’s fame. (SFGate/Pinterest)
MISCONCEPTION…Clockwise, from top, an early sketch of the Diego Rivera’s mural differed from what he ultimately painted in Rockefeller Center. After the mural was destroyed in 1934, Rivera recreated the work under the title Man, Controller of the Universe, now on display at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. A detail of that work shows Vladimir Lenin holding hands with workers of different races. Below, juxtaposed with the image of Lenin in that painting was another famous face, that of John D. Rockefeller Jr., depicted drinking martinis with a prostitute. Touché!
(Museo Frida Kahlo)

Rivera’s Rockefeller Center mural was eventually replaced in 1937 by American Progress, painted by the Spanish artist José Maria Sert:

(Flickr)

The irony of the Rivera controversy was not lost on E.B. White, who offered this ballad in response:

 * * *

Keep it in Your Pocket

E.B. White again, this time opening his column with thoughts on the anti-Hitler parade that was held in New York.

White refers to his “swastika watchfob”…before the Nazis came to power, the swastika was known to many cultures as a symbol of prosperity and good luck.

IT’S THE REAL THING…In 1925 Coca Cola made a lucky brass watch fob in the shape of a swastika. At that time the swastika was still a symbol of good luck. (Reddit)
SHOW OF UNITY…Anti-Hitler parade in New York protested the May 10, 1933 book burnings across Nazi Germany. (encyclopedia.ushmm.org)

In his weekly column Howard Brubaker added this observation regarding life in Nazi Germany…

Back home, folks could still enjoy a taste of Germany that wasn’t associated with violence and hate…an excerpt from “The Talk of the Town”…

GEMÜTLICHLüchow’s opened in 1882 when Union Square was still New York’s theater and music hall district, and featured seven dining rooms and a beer garden. The restaurant closed in 1982 and was demolished in 1995 to make way for an NYU dormitory. (Pinterest/MCNY)

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From Our Advertisers

The architecture profession fell on hard times during the Depression. In 1931 the Architects’ Emergency Committee began promoting the talents of unemployed architects who were willing to work for less than half their ordinary fee, limiting charges to materials, a small amount of cash, and a place to sleep…this is an example of a series of ads that ran in The New Yorker in the spring of 1933…

…one profession not feeling the hard times?—the makers of tobacco products, and specifically cigarettes…

…speaking of hard times, we turn to our cartoons and Gardner Rea

…and we close on a bright note, otherwise known as Peter Arno

Next Time: Rebirth of a Nation?