The Power Broker

Above: Robert Moses in 1939 with a model of his proposed Battery Bridge Park Reconstruction; at right, 1934 Bryant Park renovation, view to the south on 6th Avenue from 42nd Street. (Wikipedia/NYC Parks Department)

The title for this entry comes from Robert Caro’s landmark 1974 biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, which questioned the benefit of Moses’s monumental projects.

March 10, 1934 cover by Abner Dean.

Like him or not, few unelected officials have wielded more power than Moses, who through various appointed positions, including New York City Parks Commissioner, he was able to impose his will on mayors, legislators, congressmen, wealthy burghers, and even, on occasion, The White House. In turn he imposed his will on the city itself, clearing whole neighborhoods to lay down new roads that extended from Manhattan to the tip of Long Island, where neither farmer nor landed gentry could stand in his way. A profile written by Milton MacKaye examined what made Moses tick. An excerpt:

DON’T YOU DARE PUT ME ON HOLD…Relentless doesn’t begin to describe Robert Moses’s pursuit of power. Clockwise, from top left, Moses circa 1930; one of the swimming pools at the west bathhouse at Long Island’s Jones Beach, a project that helped launch Moses’s road to power; Long Island Expressway, which transformed Long Island from farm country (and a retreat for the rich) into a land of bedroom communities and public parks; the east parking field at Jones Beach. (Britannica/Library of Congress/U.S. National Archives)

In another excerpt, MacKaye noted that Moses had been named a member of the Triborough Bridge Authority; Moses would ultimately become chairman, and through this position would possess enormous, unchecked power and influence. Moses was skilled at creating legal structures that would favor his ambitions, burying language into legislative bills and other documents that would make him impervious to influence from mayors, legislators, governors and other elected officials.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF PLAYGROUND…Moses intensely disliked former New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, who used the Central Park Casino (top left) as his personal playground. Moses exacted his vengeance by having the historic casino razed in 1935 and replaced with the Rumsey Playground; at right, the 1936 Triborough Bridge (Berenice Abbot photo), a cluster of three separate spans connecting the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens. It was developed through Moses’s Triborough Bridge Authority, which was impervious to influence from mayors, legislators and governors. While the city and state were strapped for funds, Moses reaped millions from tolls, which financed his other ambitions; bottom left, Moses in 1938. (Wikipedia/transalt.org/Library of Congress)

Final note, I highly recommend Caro’s The Power Broker—it’s a doorstop of a book, but also one of the best biographies of the 20th century and a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand how present-day New York came to be, and how it really works.

 * * *

Let’s Talk About the Weather

Robert Benchley, writing under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes, took a turn at “The Wayward Press” column, commenting on the sensationalistic coverage of the weather by the local press. In all fairness to the press, New York City had endured a blizzard as well as the coldest temperature ever recorded for the city: 15 below zero (Fahrenheit) on Feb. 9, 1934. (According to newspaper accounts, it was 14.3 below).

Benchley also commented on journalist Ernest Gruening (1887–1974), who was the editor of the New York Post for only four months in 1934, but during those four months he really shook things up.

EASY BOSS…Ernest Gruening was editor of the New York Post for only four months in 1934, but during that time he made life better for his newsroom employees by implementing an unheard of 40-hour work week. Gruening went on to serve as the governor of the Alaska Territory from 1939 until 1953, and as a U.S. Senator from Alaska from 1959 until 1969. (Photo from 1935 via Wikipedia)

Robert Benchley thought the press made too much of the city’s snowy weather, but these newsreels tell a different story:

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Punch Drunk

Critic John Mosher found slim pickings at the local movie houses, opting for Jimmy Durante’s Palooka as the best of crop:

RIBALDRY AT RINGSIDE…Clockwise from top left, Knobby Walsh (Jimmy Durante) tries to press his advantage during the weigh-in of boxer Al McSwatt (portrayed by William Cagney, the look-alike younger brother of James Cagney) in 1934’s Palooka; Durante thinks he’s found a winning fighter in Joe Palooka (Stuart Erwin); Joe’s father, Pete Palooka (Robert Armstrong) demonstrates why he’s nicknamed “Goodtime” with the help of Trixie (Thelma Todd); Durante with Lupe Vélez, who portrayed glamorous cabaret singer and fortune hunter Nina Madero. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We start with a couple ads from the back pages…the promoters of Chicago’s famed Stevens Hotel offered a unique perspective as they appealed to New Yorkers to come check out the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair, which proved so popular that it planned to reopen in May for a second year…at right, The Gotham catered to the ladies with a special cocktail bar that only allowed men in the company of a woman…

NICE DIGS…At left, The Stevens Hotel (now Hilton Chicago) and, at right, The Gotham (now The Peninsula) are happily still with us today. (Wikipedia)

…cigarette manufacturers continued to work on their biggest growth market with ads like this one from the Lorillard Tobacco Company…here a perceptive woman chooses to ignore the “brazen claims” of other tobacco companies and makes an informed decision to inhale an Old Gold…

…Liggett & Myers, on the other hand, stuck with this subservient pose, suggesting both are happy with their cigarette, and their station in life…

…another colorful ad from the makers of Schlitz beer…following the end of Prohibition Schlitz quickly became the world’s top-selling brewery, a position it would hold into the 1960s until it switched to cheaper brewing methods…

…the makers of Fisher car bodies (owned by General Motors) continued their lavish two-page spreads touting the homey comforts of their interiors…

…and no more staid ads from luxury carmaker Packard, who ran this full-color, full-bleed spot…

…it’s almost springtime for Hitler, and Germany welcomed American tourists with promises of “Dreaming Villages” (whatever those are), charming health spas and places of romance and beauty…hmmm, no mention of swastika flags hanging from every building, or parades of goose-stepping thugs…

…this public service ad promoted the effectiveness of the National Recovery Act, offering the uptick in underwear sales as a sure sign of economic growth…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with Helen Hokinson experiencing the results of the recent blizzard…

…as did Henry Anton, with a befuddled meteorologist…

Alain (Daniel Brustlein) gave us this wordless gem…

…while Garrett Price presented a sculptor’s greatest challenge…

Alan Dunn gave us two women who expected more pizzazz from a recent funeral…

Peter Arno contended with some Peeping Toms…

…and James Thurber looked in on recent maneuvers in his war between the sexes…

Next Time: Art of the Machine…

And Now We Are Nine

Above: It took a few issues for the editors to sort out regular features and their order of appearance. The opening section of Issue No. 1 featured the famous Rea Irvin masthead that would introduce “The Talk of Town” for many issues to come. In Issue No. 1, however, “Of All Things” appeared first under the masthead, followed by “The Talk of the Town." Let us hope the magazine restores the original Rea Irvin masthead for its 100th anniversary.

Despite the lingering Depression The New Yorker entered its ninth year on strong financial footing. With nearly equal numbers of subscribers and single copy sales, circulation would approach 125,000 in 1934, with more than $2.2 million in advertising income.

Feb. 17, 1934 cover by Rea Irvin (naturally).

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White commented on the “more vigorous times” the magazine was enjoying, declaring “it is fine to be nine.”

THE NEW YORKER SEVEN…In 1924, baking product heir Raoul Fleischmann put up $25,000 to help Harold Ross get his new magazine off the ground. To assuage Fleischmann’s doubts regarding his investment, Ross persuaded some of his Algonquin Round Table cronies to appear on the magazine’s purely ceremonial masthead. The seven who appeared on the first masthead were, from top left, Ralph Barton, Marc Connelly, Rea Irvin, and George S. Kaufman; bottom row, from left, are Alice Duer Miller, Dorothy Parker, and Alexander Woollcott.

 * * *

Daffy Dilettante 

Another Algonquin Round Table crony, Harpo Marx, was a skilled artist when it came to comedy, pantomime, or the harp, but when he decided to take up a brush and palette he struggled to properly paint a female nude. In this account from “The Talk of the Town,” Harpo eventually abandoned his painting and switched places with the model.

BRUSHING UP ON HIS ART…Undated photo of Harpo Marx putting finishing touches on his painting of an accordion player; Harpo was a one of the Algonquin Round Table originals: a 1919 photo features (standing, left to right) Art Samuels and Harpo Marx; (sitting) Charles MacArthur, Dorothy Parker, and Alexander Woollcott. (Twitter/Wikipedia)

 * * *

Ode to Faraway Lands

A renowned author of children’s poetry, David McCord (1897-1997), was also a frequent contributor to The New Yorker for thirty years (1926-56). For the Feb. 17 issue he penned these sonnets to the Baedeker travel guide.

 * * *

Wimpy Vernacular

Architecture, art and cultural critic Lewis Mumford paused in his criticism of everything from liquor stores to cheap restaurants to offer some surprising praise to his city’s “black-and-white hamburger palaces.”

RED MEAT RIVALS White Tower and White Castle vied for customers in 1930s New York. Above, a 1933 photo of a White Tower in the 200 block of 2nd Avenue; below, a circa 1930 photo of a White Castle in the Bronx. (gothamist.com/Cision)

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From Our Advertisers

Advertising income reached an all-time high at The New Yorker in 1934, and it showed with the numerous color ads enticing travel to Bermuda…

…or to the French wine country…

…Hiram Walker presented their Canadian Club whisky on what appeared to be a cloth napkin…

…artist Hans Flato continued his unusual Ruppert’s Beer series of mannequin people (and dogs) going about their lives stuck to yellow discs…

…according to the Ruppert’s ad, for six bottle caps you could get a tin coaster like those pictured below…

(1stdibs.com)

…from magicians and salesmen to sportsmen and high society, the folks pushing Camel cigarettes seemed to try every angle to get their product into the mouths of as many consumers as possible…

…the makers of Spud menthol cigarettes, on the other hand, tried a little humor to get smokers hooked on their “mouth happiness”…

…as one of the world’s most popular car brands, Chevrolet has long been considered a car for the masses, although this ad campaign launched in 1934 suggested that the ubiquitous Chevy was just the car for a connoisseur of the finer things…

…the staid luxury auto maker Pierce Arrow broke with tradition by placing this very modern, minimalist ad…

…the folks at Steinway also adopted a modern look with this single column ad touting the durability of their grand pianos…

…The Viking Press took out this full-page ad to announce the publication of Alexander Woollcott’s While Rome Burns, a collection of some of Woollcott’s writings for The New Yorker and other magazines…

…according to the ad, for six bucks you could get one of 500 limited edition signed copies…as of this writing, the inscribed and signed edition below was available for $350…

(capitolhillbooks-dc.com)

…on to our cartoonists, Al Frueh offered up this interpretation of Ziegfeld entertainers Willie Howard and Fannie Brice

Helen Hokinson took the plunge with 1930s water aerobics…

Kemp Starrett demonstrated how beauty is in the eye of the beholder…

Reginald Marsh returned, taking temporary leave from life on the streets to look at life above the streets…

James Thurber’s “War Between Men And Women” took some new twists…

…and we end with Carl Rose, and one man’s solution to being stuck in the middle…

Next Time: Rocky’s Cover-up…

Made In Germany

Above: Adolf Hitler at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new section of the Reichsautobahn highway system, 1933. (Bundesarchiv)

Mildred Gilman was one of the highest paid female reporters in the 1920s, interviewing everyone from murderers to heads of state. But when she arranged to interview Adolf Hitler in 1933, the Gestapo got nervous and threw her out of the country.

Feb. 10, 1934 cover by Harry Brown.

Gilman (1896-1994) doubtless sought a modicum of satisfaction when she penned “Made in Germany” for the Feb. 10, 1934 issue. I am including generous excerpts below, which describe the day in the life of an average Berliner named Emil Pfalz, a man who doesn’t question the omnipresent Nazi propaganda and often worries about his ability to keep in step with the new regime (Note: these first two clips should be read as one continuous piece).

THERE’S SOMETHING HAPPENING HERE…Berliners (left) and residents of Worms (top) inspect Nazi propaganda that instructed Germans not to do business with Jewish people (on Jan. 24, 1934, the German government banned Jews from membership in the German Labor Front, effectively depriving them of the opportunity to find employment); below, in early 1934 a simulated uprising was staged in Berlin (with people posing as casualties) as part of Nazi maneuvers. Later that summer SS and Gestapo forces would conduct a purge known as “Night of the Long Knives,” eliminating any known or suspected dissenters of the Nazi regime. Hundreds were murdered and many more arrested. (digitallibrary.usc/Wikipedia)
GRIM FAIRY TALE…As a loyal citizen, Emil Pfalz was sure to teach his children the Nazi salute. Image from a Nazi propaganda booklet. (British Library Board)

Emil’s story continues as he contemplates his duties as a father and husband in the Third Reich…

…and heeds the call to produce more Aryan babies.

What the Nazis did not want more of was chronically ill or disabled persons. The sick minds of Nazi propagandists produced this image below, which argues that for the same daily amount of reichsmarks you could either support an entire Aryan family or a single mentally disabled person…in 1933 the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was passed, allowing for the forced sterilization of those regarded as ‘unfit’. In 1939 the regime began killing the disabled (up to 250,000 people).

A final note about the writer, Mildred Gilman. In addition to being a journalist of both daring and flair, she wrote eight novels including the bestseller Sob Sister. In her younger days she was employed as a secretary for New York World columnist Heywood Broun and partied with Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, and Robert Benchley. She wrote a profile of Paul Robeson for the Sept. 21, 1928 issue of the New Yorker.

Mildred Gilman in 1938.

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Up In Smoke

George Cecil Cowing, known for his whimsical “Boulevardier” column for the Pasadena Star-News, commented on the changing themes adopted by cigarette manufacturers, namely the folks at R.J. Reynolds who abandoned their magician-themed ads for their Camel brand (“It’s Fun to Be Fooled”) for spots featuring endorsements from second-tier society women…

POSH PUFFERS…”Mrs. Thomas M. Carnegie Jr.” (Virginia Beggs) and “Mrs. J. Gardner Coolidge II” (Mary Louise Coolidge) shared their favorite dishes and their love for smoking Camels in these ads, which appeared in the New Yorker in early 1934.

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From Our Advertisers

Appropriately we turn to our advertisers, where we find the Camel brand trying out a new theme that demonstrated their product’s appeal to plainer folks…

…Brown & Williamson’s first national brand, Raleigh, was launched as a premium cigarette in 1928, here marketed with a plain or cork tip (“to please her and save her lips”)…

…in his parody of Camel ads, George Cecil Cowing wrote that he preferred Chesterfields, a big-time brand of mid-century America…

…the makers of White Rock reveled in the newly found freedoms of legalized alcohol…

…the folks at Fisher were sticking with their lavish two-page color ads and what has always been a tiresome double entendre…

…Lord & Taylor took to the skies to promote their “country clothes” to the smart set…

…and cartoonist Herbert Roese, who apparently never published a cartoon in the New Yorker, turned in this very New Yorker-looking illustration for Piel’s…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with Clarence Day, better known for his Life With Father stories…

…the Valentine’s issue featured several themed cartoons, including these by Richard Decker

…and John Reehill

…love was also in the air for Gilbert Bundy

…while William Crawford Galbraith continued to ply the waters of the creepily lustful…

…and we test different waters with Richard Yardley, a popular editorial cartoonist for The Baltimore Sun…this is the only cartoon he published in the New Yorker

…the Westminster Kennel Club dog show was in town, here tapped by Helen Hokinson to also explore the theme of fatherhood…

Perry Barlow was the latest New Yorker contributor to mock the futuristic, aerodynamic style of Chrysler’s Airflow

…and James Thurber’s “War Between Men and Women” paused as the two sides made preparations for the next battle…

Next Time: And Now We Are Nine…

A Joycean Odyssey

Above, James Joyce and his longtime partner Nora Barnacle, in Zurich, 1930. They would marry the following year when Joyce established residency in the UK. (SUNY Buffalo)

It began 103 years ago when the American literary magazine The Little Review published its latest installment of James Joyce’s landmark novel Ulysses—a chapter that featured an account of a wanker on a beach.

Jan. 20, 1934 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

More specifically, the passage described the novel’s main character, Leopold Bloom, pleasuring himself while gazing at a teenage girl. It didn’t take long for the pearl-clutchers at the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to go after the editors of The Little Review, who were ultimately fined for obscenity and banned from publishing the remainder of the novel, which, by the way, Joyce had structured along the lines of Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey.

Scenes in the novel that frankly described sexual acts and mocked rituals of the Catholic Church kept the book off American shelves until 1934, when District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that the book was neither pornographic nor obscene. One wonders if Judge Woolsey took a cue from the end of Prohibition.

Lovers of literature, including New Yorker book reviewer Clifton Fadiman, rejoiced at the judge’s decision. We skip ahead to the Jan. 27 issue for Fadiman’s thoughts on the matter:

DUBLINER…James Joyce in 1928, as photographed by Berenice Abbott; announcement by Shakespeare & Company (Paris) of the first publication of Ulysses, 1921; cover of the American first edition, 1934, with Ernst Reichl’s “calmly audacious” jacket design. (Wikipedia/Abe Books)

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Pleasurable Diversion

We now turn to the Jan. 20 issue, in which Robert Benchley concluded his stage reviews with a generous nod to his dear friend and colleague, Dorothy Parker, whose short stories were being performed as sketches at the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel, the first fully-equipped music and arts residential center in the U.S.

INCIDENTAL ATTRACTION…Stories from Dorothy Parker’s 1933 collection After Such Pleasures were performed as sketches at the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel; at left, Parker with her husband, actor/author Alan Campbell. (Pinterest/Biblio)

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Une Séduction Américaine

Janet Flanner began writing her weekly New Yorker column “Letter from Paris” in September 1925, keeping readers informed on a variety of subjects ranging from arts and culture to politics and crime. In the Jan. 20 issue she introduced readers to French actor Charles Boyer (1899–1978), who was preparing to try his luck in Hollywood. Actually, Boyer made his first trip to Tinseltown in 1930, but his return would mark the beginning of a successful run in American cinema, including the 1944 mystery-thriller Gaslight and the 1967 romantic-comedy Barefoot in the Park.

MAKING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC…Charles Boyer as the ” gypsy” vagabond Latzi, with Jean Parker (center) and Loretta Young in 1934’s Caravan. (MoMA)

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The Way Of All Flesh

Lois Long continued to chronicle New York nightlife in her “Tables for Two” column, exuding “rapture” over the new theatre/restaurant Casino de Paree, which featured ample nudity as well as top performers dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and comedienne Sheila Barrett.

The Casino de Paree featured revues, dancing, and side shows such as fire-eaters and animal acts. It closed in 1937, and the building later became home to the trendy 80s–90’s hot spot Studio 54.

CLOTHES OPTIONAL…A 1934 brochure offered glimpses of the entertainment to be had at the new theatre/restaurant Casino de Paree.

The Casino de Paree’s menu gave patrons some idea of what could be expected on the stage…

…but if food and drink was the only thing on your mind, you could enjoy lobster thermidor for a buck seventy-five…

(The Culinary Institute of America Menu Collection; Craig Claiborne Menu Collection)

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From Our Advertisers

How reliable were Goodyear’s tires? Hopefully more reliable than this adage, which Abraham Lincoln apparently never uttered…

…major exhibitions at the Grand Central Palace changed like the seasons, the National Automobile Show ceding to the National Motor Boat & Engine Show…

…if you’d rather have someone else do the sailing, the Bermuda line could take you on a round-trip cruise for as little as $60…

…with the end of Prohibition, the folks at White Rock were doubtless pleased to overtly advertise their product as a cocktail mixer…

…on to our cartoonists, Al Frueh contributed this rendering for the theatre review section…

Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein found this salon conversation a bit Mickey Mouse…

Helen Hokinson explored the results of family planning…

E. Simms Campbell gave us an unlikely den of thieves…

Gilbert Bundy had us wondering what ensued at this gentlemen’s club…

…and James Thurber fired the first shot in The War Between Men And Women…

…on to Jan. 27, 1934…

Jan. 27, 1934 cover by Rea Irvin.

…where writer W.E. Woodward profiled Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), whose manner had changed noticeably after receiving the Nobel Prize. An excerpt (with caricature by Al Frueh):

I’M SOMEBODY NOW…Sinclair Lewis (far right) with his 1930 Nobel Prize for literature. Other 1930 prize winners were, from left, Venkata Raman (physics), Hans Fischer (chemistry), and Karl Landsteiner (medicine).

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More From Our Advertisers

We begin with this lovely color illustration by Helen Hokinson, which also graced the cover of the January 1934 issue of The Stage

…the vintners at Moët & Chandon let New Yorkers know that their fine Champagne could be had from sole distributors Labourdette and Company…

…cultural critic Gilbert Seldes advised drinkers to abandon their degraded ways and return to the civilized consumption of an old favorite…

…while the folks at Guinness reminded us of their product’s deep history as well as its health benefits…

…and for the teetotalers the purveyors of Joyz Maté encouraged Yankees to take up this “strange” South American drink…the ad claimed it “fortifies the body against fatigue” (thanks to the generous amount of caffeine) and acts as a “corrective and a balancer” (it helped stimulate bowel movements)…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Gardner Rea, borrowing from a running gag in the Marx Brothers’ 1930 film Animal Crackers, which featured Harpo chasing a sexy blonde around a mansion (apologies for the poor reproduction quality—the archival image was quite faint)…

Gilbert Bundy gave us a couple confronting the subtleties of Times Square…

Robert Day commented on the latest trend in taxicab conveniences: coin-operated radios for passengers…

…this two-page Little King cartoon by Otto Soglow revealed another side to our diminutive potentate…

…and the war between the sexes raged on, with James Thurber

Next Time: Under the Knife…

 

In the Cold Light of Day

When Rockefeller Center’s design was unveiled in 1931, New Yorker architecture critic Lewis Mumford wrote that it followed ”the canons of Cloudcuckooland.”

Dec. 23, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Today we know 30 Rock as one of the most iconic and beloved places in Manhattan, but after Mumford saw the plans for this future “Radio City” he went into exile in upstate New York, upset over the “weakly conceived, reckless, romantic chaos” of the project. Mumford wasn’t alone in his opinion; indeed it was his commentary that helped fuel negative reactions from citizens and newspapers alike.

No doubt the scale of the project bothered a lot of people, as it was slated to replace four- and five-story brownstones and other smaller buildings with a series of massive structures (for Mumford, it was rare that any skyscraper found his favor—to him they were oversized symbols of corporate tyranny).

IMMODEST PROPOSAL…In the fall of 1928 John D. Rockefeller leased this property from Columbia University for the future site of Rockefeller Center. The project covered nearly all of the area in the three square blocks bordered by Fifth Avenue, Sixth Avenue, and 48th and 51st Streets. (ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

As the Rockefeller Center towers rose, some softened their criticisms, including E.B. White—in the Dec. 9 issue he said he would eat his words after viewing the floodlit 30 Rock by night: “the whole thing swims up tremendously into the blue roxyspheres of the sky.”

Two weeks later, in his Dec. 23 “Sky Line” column, Mumford agreed that the floodlit buildings looked impressive, recalling Hugh Ferriss’ romantic, futuristic visions of the city; however, the darkness also concealed a decorative scheme that was ”bad with an almost juvenile badness.” 

NIGHT VISION…In his 1929 book, The Metropolis of Tomorrow, Hugh Ferriss published the image at left of an imaginary city of the future. At right, photo by Paul J. Woolf of the RCA tower at Rockefeller Center shortly after its completion. Ferriss was an architect, illustrator, and poet who explored the psychological condition of urban life, and was known for his conte crayon drawings of skyscrapers—nighttime scenes from a futuristic Babylon that are influential in popular culture (e.g. Tim Burton’s vision for Gotham in 1989’s Batman). (archive.org/mutualart.com)
A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE…Lewis Mumford thought the RCA tower looked “scrawny” when viewed in broad daylight between the British and French empire buildings. (smarthistory.com/Pinterest)

Having finished his excoriation of the buildings’ scale and placement, Mumford proceeded to carve up the ornamental features, including the sunken plaza (today an iconic site for ice skating), which he thought looked “a little silly” in relation to the mass of the RCA building. 

TRAINED EYE…Lewis Mumford believed the work of the great Gaston Lachaise was diminished in the Rockefeller Center concept, noting that the Lachaise sculptures on Sixth Avenue (top and right photos) were only visible from the “L” station (Mumford doesn’t mention that the elevated placement of the sculptures was deliberate—they were put there so train riders on the “L” could see them); below, Mumford found the sunken plaza to be out of scale with the RCA tower—for decades it has been one of Manhattan’s most iconic sites. (Wikipedia/Vincent Tullo for The New York Times)

Revisiting Rockefeller Center in his May 4, 1940 “Sky Line” column, Mumford wouldn’t exactly eat his words, but he did admit that the collection of structures formed “a composition in which unity and coherence have to a considerable degree diminished the fault of overemphasis. In other words, they get by.” Mumford still believed 30 Rock was too tall—he would have preferred 32 stories, less than half its actual size: “Good architecture is designed for the human beings who use or view the buildings, not for publicity men or photographers.”

I have to disagree. Every time I look up at 30 Rock I feel my heart soar.

 * * *

Yule Like This

The Dec. 23 issue marked the return of Frank Sullivan’s annual holiday poem, “Greetings, Friends!” Sullivan published his first holiday poem in 1932 and faithfully continued the tradition until 1974; after his death in 1976, New Yorker editor William Shawn asked the late Roger Angell to take on the poem. In 2012 Angell passed the duty along to Ian Frazier, the magazine’s current Yuletide bard (Frazier’s latest poem can be found in the Dec. 26, 2022 issue).

 * * *

Success, In Spite of it All

“The Talk of the Town” looked in on singer Ethel Waters, who apparently wasn’t brooding over the difficulties of her past life, given that she was seeing so much success as a recording artist and as a Broadway star in As Thousands Cheer. Although her material life was better, she still faced racism wherever she went, including on stage—although she received equal billing, she was segregated from her co-stars in As Thousands Cheer.

BORN INTO THE BLUES…Raised in crushing poverty, Ethel Waters became a major singing star in the 1930s. She was one of the first singers to confront racism in a popular 1933 song, “Suppertime.” (Facebook)

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Enigma

Geoffrey T. Hellman examined the life of American entrepreneur Armand Hammer in a profile titled “Innocents Abroad.” Hammer’s business interests around the world helped him cultivate a wide network of friends and associates. Called “Lenin’s chosen capitalist” by the press, Hammer (1898-1990) started a pencil factory in the Soviet Union in 1926 and later became head of Occidental Petroleum. Throughout his career he maintained close ties with Soviet leaders—which raised many suspicions in the West—but Hammer also served as a citizen diplomat for the U.S., an important go-between during the Cold War. An excerpt:

PROLETARIAN PENCILS…Clockwise, from top left: A 1928 Soviet advertising poster for “A. Hammer” pencils. The factory began work in Moscow in April 1926 as a private American industrial concession; Armand Hammer in the 1920s; Hammer (at right) shares a laugh with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in the 1970s. Hammer is also the great-grandfather of American actor Armie Hammer. (crwflags.com/New York Times)

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From Our Advertisers

With Prohibition over, New Yorkers were looking forward to celebrating the holidays with Richard Himber and his orchestra at the Ritz-Carlton or enjoying a cocktail at the new Continental Grill and Bacchante Bar at the Hotel St. Moritz…

…and no less of an authority than Santa was advising shoppers to give tobacco products to their loved ones this holiday season…

…or perhaps you could be persuaded by elegant holiday wishes from the owners of Lucky Strike, who included their cigarettes among “the best of good things”…

…good living, apparently, could also be found in a bottle of Bud…

…or in American-distilled “London Dry Gin”…or in a pint of Guinness…

…our cartoons begin with Gardner Rea, and a course in mixology…

Otto Soglow’s Little King found a surprise in his Christmas stockings…

Helen Hokinson offered some passing holiday cheer… 

Mary Petty gave us this unusual Christmas seal…

…and from James Thurber, this earnest prayer…

…and we close with another prayer-themed cartoon from Jan. 4, 1982—Lee Lorenz, who died Dec. 8 at age 90, joined the New Yorker staff in 1958, the same year his first cartoon appeared in the magazine’s pages. He also served as art editor (1973–1993) and cartoon editor (1993–1997) for the New Yorker. Michael Maslin penned an appreciation on his Ink Spill site.

…Happy Holidays one and all, as we end with this GIF from Disney’s 1933 short, The Night Before Christmas

…and this scene from December 1933, when Rockefeller Center decided to make the Christmas Tree an annual tradition and held the very first tree lighting ceremony…

At left, image from December 1933—the very first tree lighting ceremony at 30 Rock, when the Christmas Tree became an annual tradition; at right, the tree on the Plaza in 1934, before ice skaters occupied the space. (rockefellercenter.com/MCNY)

Next Time: Happy New Year, 1934…

Genesis of Genius

It’s hard to believe in this day and age that a theoretical physicist could enjoy rock star status, but then Albert Einstein wasn’t your everyday theoretical physicist.

Dec. 2, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

A two-part profile of Einstein (1879–1955) by Alva Johnston (with terrific caricature by Al Frueh) examined the life and “idol” status of a man who would define the idea of genius in the 20th century. Although Einstein desired to live an almost reclusive existence at Princeton University, Johnston noted that he had become “fairly reconciled to the occupation of popular idol.”

Einstein was at Princeton thanks to the rise of Adolf Hitler, who came to power in Germany in early 1933 while Einstein was visiting the United States. Returning to Europe that March, Einstein knew he could not return to his home country (indeed, the Gestapo had raided his Berlin apartment and eventually seized all of his property), so when Einstein landed in Antwerp, Belgium on March 28, 1933, he immediately went to the German consulate and surrendered his passport, formally renouncing his German citizenship.

I’M OUTTA HERE…Albert Einstein with a Zionist delegation from France, Belgium, and England upon leaving the SS Belgenland in Antwerp, Belgium, 1933. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

After some time in Europe and Great Britain, in October 1933 Einstein accepted an offer made earlier by from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey to serve as a resident scholar. When he arrived with his wife, Elsa, he said he would seclude himself at the Institute and focus on his teaching and research.

(NY Times, Oct. 18, 1933)
EINSTEIN WASN’T FIDDLIN’ AROUND when he played his cherished violin—he once said that if he hadn’t been a scientist, he would have been a musician. This photo was taken at Einstein’s Princeton home in November 1933—he and fellow members of a string quartet were practicing for a December concert at the Waldorf-Astoria to raise money for German-Jewish refugees. From left to right, sitting: Arthur (Ossip) Giskin, Toscha Seidel, Albert Einstein, and Bernard Ocko; standing: Estelle Manheim (Seidel’s wife), Elsa Einstein and unidentified man. (Leo Baeck Institute)

 * * *

Stop and Go

E.B. White devoted his “Notes and Comment” to Manhattan’s traffic situation, which he found manageable as long as tourists stayed out of the way…

White also noted the perils of Park Avenue, especially the taxi drivers (distracted by those newfangled radios) darting between the islands…

Park Avenue in the 1930s. (geographicguide.com)

…and then there was Fifth Avenue, notorious for traffic jams, made worse on weekends by the tourist traffic…

Fifth Avenue in 1932. (New York State Archives)

…later in “The Talk of the Town” White continued his thoughts on New York taxis, namely the introduction of coin-operated radios installed for use by passengers…

 * * *

Fly Newark

Albert L. Furth took us off the mean streets and into the air when he filed this account about the Newark Metropolitan Airport for “A Reporter at Large.” Furth seemed put off by the cachet of European airports and their many amenities, given that the Newark airport—although admittedly utilitarian—was the busiest in the world. An excerpt:

FREQUENT FLIER…Albert Furth noted that Newark Municipal Airport logged a landing or departure every thirteen-and-a-half minutes. Above, passengers boarding a Boston-bound American Airlines Condor at Newark Airport in 1930. In those simpler times, passengers just walked to the runway and climbed on board. The airport had opened two years earlier on 68 acres of reclaimed swampland along the Passaic River. It was the first major commercial airport in the New York metro area and the first anywhere with a paved runway. (njmonthly.com)

 * * *

Goodnight, Speakeasy

Lois Long was an 17-year-old Vassar student when Prohibition went into effect in 1919, so when she started her career in New York in 1922 the only nightlife she knew revolved around speakeasies. Although she held Prohibition officers in disdain, she also believed that the repeal of the 18th Amendment would lower the quality of New York nightlife—the food, the “adroit service,” and the “genial din” of the speakeasy. Excerpts:

FROM LOUCHE TO LEGAL…Lois Long was saying a sad goodbye to her beloved speakeasies; perhaps the Algonquin Hotel (here, circa 1930) would offer some cheer. (Pinterest)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

Abercrombie & Fitch (then an outfitter for the elite outdoorsman) was offering holiday shoppers everything from multi-tool knives to cocktail shakers…

…while the folks at Clerevu telescopes found a growing market for folks who used their product for anything but stargazing…

…with Repeal just days away, the Pleasant Valley Wine Company of New York hoped folks would pop a few of their corks before the good stuff arrived from France…

…the British were coming to the rescue via the Berry Brothers, who were overseeing the importation of liquor from their offices at Rockefeller Center’s British Empire Building…

…let’s look at an assortment of one-column ads…the center strip features an ad promoting Angna Enters’ appearance for “one evening only” at The Town Hall (123 West 43rd Street)…Enters (1897–1989) was an American dancer, mime, painter and writer who likely performed her piece Moyen Age…

FEEL THAT STRETCH…Angna Enters performing Moyen Age, circa early 1930s. (NYPL)

…we begin our cartoons with Gardner Rea, and a dedicated bell ringer…

Otto Soglow showed us a softer side of The Little King…

Peter Arno revealed the human side of the posh set…

…and we close the Dec. 2 issue with this classic from James Thurber

…on to Dec. 9, 1933, and a cover by an artist we haven’t seen in awhile, Ilonka Karasz

Dec. 9, 1933 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

…and we open with this comment by E.B. White, who along with critic Lewis Mumford had once voiced displeasure over the massive Rockefeller Center project. However, while viewing the floodlit tower by night, he decided that he would have to eat his words, observing how “the whole thing swims up tremendously into the blue roxyspheres of the sky”… 

MEA CULPA…E.B. White gained a new perspective on Rockefeller Center, pictured here in December 1933. (Wikipedia)

…we continue with White, who also offered his thoughts on something heretofore unthinkable—a proposal to start putting beer in cans… 

…it would happen about a year later…on Jan. 24, 1935, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company, in partnership with the American Can Company, delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale to drinkers in Richmond, Virginia…

(seletyn.com)

…and despite White’s doubts, apparently ninety-one percent of the first drinkers of the product approved of the canned beer, although when Krueger’s launched their ad blitz they had to include instructions (and a new tool) to open the darn things…

(seletyn.com)

 * * *

Dreamscapes

Critic Lewis Mumford offered his thoughts on a recent exhibit by a young surrealist named Salvador Dali

MIDDLEBROW SURREALIST…The Triangular Hour by Salvador Dali, 1933. (wikiart.org)

…and we move along to moving pictures, where John Mosher was showing some appreciation for Joan Crawford (1906–1977) in the pre-Code film Dancing Lady

SHE HAD IT ALL…Audiences and critics alike were wowed by Joan Crawford’s performance in Dancing Lady, which featured a star-studded and eclectic cast. Clockwise from top left, Clark Gable plays a Broadway director who becomes Crawford’s love interest; Crawford displays her dancing talent in a Broadway rehearsal; Dancing Lady featured an early film appearance by The Three Stooges, pictured here with Gable and the Stooges’ leader at the time, Ted Healy; Crawford with Stooge Larry Fine—in the original film, Fine completes his jigsaw puzzle only to discover (to his disgust) that it’s a picture of Adolf Hitler. The Hitler scene was removed by the Production Code; its enforcers claimed it insulted a foreign head of state. (IMDB)

In addition to Crawford, the star-studded cast included Clark Gable, Fred Astaire (in his film debut), Franchot Tone (who was married to Crawford from 1935-39 and made seven movies with her), The Three Stooges, Nelson Eddy, and Robert Benchley, who played a reporter in the film.

Dancing Lady was the film debut of Astaire, making Crawford the first on-screen dance partner of the famed hoofer…

(IMDB)

 * * *

More From Our Advertisers

We begin with this full-page advertisement from Heinz, which went to great lengths and expense to make their ad appear to part of the New Yorker’s editorial content, even featuring a Perry Barlow cartoon of a boy making a mess with their product…

…another New Yorker contributor who occasionally went over to the advertising side was Alexander Woollcott, here shilling for Chrysler… 

…Kayser, purveyor of women’s hosiery and underthings, was going for some humorous holiday cheer, but the effect is a bit unsettling…

…liquor-related ads began to proliferate with the end of the Prohibition…this one from Martini & Rossi…

…Continental Distilling was hoping to grab its share of gin sales with its Dixie Belle American gin…

…from the same folks who brought us Fleishmann’s yeast (and kept The New Yorker afloat in its early lean years) came this American dry gin…

…Ruppert’s Beer was back with another full-page color ad by Hans Flato

…on to our cartoons, and Santa again, this time besieged by an aggressive tot as rendered by Helen Hokinson

Carl Rose found an unlikely customer at a newsstand…

…here is the last of four cartoons Walter Schmidt published in the New Yorker between 1931 and 1933…

Peter Arno left his glamorous world of nightclubs and high society parties to look in on life at a boarding house…

…and we close with the delightful Barbara Shermund

Next Time: Going With the Flow…

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)

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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.

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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)

 * * *

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:”

 * * *

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)

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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)

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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)

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From Our Advertisers

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…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)

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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)

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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)

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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…