Paramount on Parade

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

April 26, 1930 cover by Barney Tobey.

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

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Star-spangled Banter

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

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

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

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

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Lost In the Crowd

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

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

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Full of Hot Air

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

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View From the Top

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

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

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

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Brand X

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

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

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I Beg Your Pardon

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

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

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Before He Got Axed

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…our cartoons include Garrett Price and thoughts of spring…

Barbara Shermund eavesdropped on tea time…

Alice Harvey found an awkward moment in a hosiery department…

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

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

Next Time: Minding the Gap…

 

 

 

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Generation of Vipers

I’d spotted Nancy Hoyt’s byline in the New Yorker before, but I had no idea of the joys and sorrows (mostly sorrows) that were attached to it.

April 13, 1929 cover by Rose Silver.

Nancy McMichael Hoyt was the younger sister of poet and writer Elinor Wylie, the latter a beloved figure at the New Yorker. Indeed when Wylie died suddenly on Dec. 16, 1928, the editors paid tribute by reprinting her autobiographical profile, “Portrait,” in the Dec. 29, 1929 issue:

Elinor and Nancy were the daughters of U.S. Solicitor General Henry Martyn Hoyt, Jr. and Anne Morton McMichael. Both came from prominent Pennsylvania families and loomed large in Washington society. The sisters became notorious for their multiple marriages and love affairs, and it was often thought that Nancy lived in imitation of her older sister when she took on a writing career of her own.

Elinor Wylie would contribute at least a dozen poems or short fiction pieces to the New Yorker between 1925 and 1929 (three of them posthumously). Her sister Nancy would contribute three pieces of short fiction (1927-28) and one poem, “These Vanities,” published in the March 12, 1927 issue:

IMITATION OF LIFE…Nancy Hoyt (left) followed in the footsteps of her older, more successful sister, Elinor Wylie (right). The undated photo of Hoyt was taken by Sherril Schell. Wylie’s 1922 portrait was taken by her friend Carl Van Vechten. (CondeNast, alchetron)

The April 13, 1929 issue featured Hoyt’s sharp satirical piece about a fictional Southern Girl…

No doubt Hoyt drew on her own observations of Washington society and the clash of debutantes from the North and South. She continued her skewering of the Southern girl, likening her to something of a country bumpkin…

…and not very bright at that…

The last paragraph is telling, because in many ways it describes Hoyt’s own life. In her 2003 book, A Private Madness: The Genius of Elinor Wylie, Evelyn Helmick Hively wrote that Hoyt “scandalized Washington by cancelling her wedding after society guests arrived for the ceremony” (apparently Elinor helped her reach the decision). Her various love affairs and marriages provided rich material for reporters who wrote about her flings with the Earl of Donegal and and the heir to the Reynolds Tobacco fortune. The Washington Herald reported her attempt to elope to Canada with a taxi driver she had known for only ten days.

Hively observed that each member of the Hoyt family “seemed fated to flame briefly, to struggle, and too often to die tragically.” Indeed, Elinor and Nancy’s mother Anne once told a reporter that she had given birth to a “generation of vipers,” and predicted she would outlive them all. And she nearly did:

• The eldest child, Elinor Wylie, suffered from extremely high blood pressure that gave her unbearable migraines. She died of a stroke on Dec. 16, 1928, while going over a typescript of her poetry collection, Angels and Earthly Creatures, with her estranged third husband, William Rose Benét. She was 43.

• The eldest son, Henry Martyn Hoyt, became a poet and painter. He killed himself in 1920 at age 33 by inhaling through a tube attached to a gas jet.

• Daughter Constance A. Hoyt married a German diplomat (against her family’s wishes) and became Baroness von Stumm-Halberg. She was either 33 or 34 when she committed suicide in Bavaria in 1923.

• Morton McMichael Hoyt would marry the same woman—Eugenia Bankhead (sister of actress Tallulah Bankhead)—three times. Heavy drinking ended his life in 1949, at age 50.

• Just fifteen days later Nancy Hoyt would succumb to the drink at age 47.

The family patriarch, Henry Martyn Hoyt, Jr., was long gone by then, dying at age 54 in 1910. The family matriarch, Anne Morton McMichael, almost outlived them all (odd, considering that she was in ill health much of her life and often remained confined to her room). She died in her late 80s, in 1949, the same year as her two youngest children.

Top left, Henry Martyn Hoyt, Jr., U.S. Solicitor General and patriarch of the Hoyt family; in addition to Elinor Wylie and Nancy Hoyt, his children included (clockwise, from top right) the painter and poet Henry Martyn Hoyt III (in a self-portrait); Constance Hoyt (pictured riding in a car with Baron Ferdinand von Stumm-Halberg); and Morton Hoyt, seen here with his three-time wife Eugenia Bankhead. (Wikipedia, hokku.wordpress.com, theesotericcuriosa.blogspot.com, historic images.com)

And as a final, sad note (did you expect anything else?) Nancy’s daughter, Edwina Curtis, would eventually inherit the bulk of the Hoyt estate, which was quickly squandered.

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Silence is Golden

During the silent era, actress Mary Pickford was hands down the queen of the movies. Pickford and her husband, actor Douglas Fairbanks, were also the original Hollywood power couple, founding the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio and later joining forces with Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith to create United Artists. Pickford was also one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the “Oscar” presenters).

AMERICA’S SWEETHEART…Mary Pickford with her signature curls, surrounded by fan mail, circa 1920. (AMPAS)

Although she was born in Canada, she was beloved in the States as a symbol of female virtue, affectionately dubbed “America’s Sweetheart.” According to writer Eileen Whitfield (Pickford: the Woman Who Made Hollywood), one silent movie reporter described Pickford as “the best known woman who has ever lived, the woman who was known to more people and loved by more people than any other woman that has been in all history.”

Also known as the “girl with the curls” for her famous ringlets, fans were shocked to find those ringlets replaced by a short bob in Pickford’s first talking film, Coquette, in which she played a reckless socialite. The New Yorker was not shocked; on the contrary, it found Pickford’s depiction of a coquette rather forced, and not altogether believeable:

THUS SPOKE MARY PICKFORD…Crowds lined up at the United Artists Theatre in Los Angeles to get a first glimpse of the “new” talking Mary Pickford in Coquette.

Not only did the New Yorker find Pickford’s performance less than plausible, but the storyline itself seemed a bit fanciful. As for the “Southern drawl” used in the dialogue, the magazine found it “almost unintelligible to Manhattan ears…”

You be the judge. Here’s a brief clip from the film:

Coquette was a box office success, and Pickford would win an Oscar for her first sound performance. Nevertheless, her best days were in the silent era, and she retired from acting in 1933.

100% MARY…(Left to Right) Matt Moore, John St. Polis, and Mary Pickford in Coquette (1929), a film directed by Sam Taylor. (Wikimedia)

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Today we associate popular songs with a particular performer or group, but in the first half of the 20th century most songs were recorded by many different artists, and such was the case with Ray Henderson’s hit “Button Up Your Overcoat” (from the musical comedy Follow Thru), recordings of which were available under three different labels by three popular artists of the day—Helen Kane, Zelma O’Neal, and Ruth Etting. As the New Yorker suggested, you could “pick your own fashions”…

PICK YOUR FASHION…Left to right, Helen Kane, Ruth Etting and Zelma O’Neal all recorded renditions of the “Button Up Your Overcoat” in 1929. (bennypdrinnon.blogspot.com/ruthettig.com/Getty)

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From Our Advertisers

Spring had sprung and so did “fashion welts” and rubber-soled Plytex shoes suitable for ship decks or leisurely strolls along Palm Beach…

…while the folks at Texaco referenced the future with dirigibles and airplanes to hawk its higher octane “premium” gasoline…

For our comics, we have this entry by C.W. Anderson, who was born in Wahoo, Nebraska, and went on to author the popular Billy and Blaze books for young readers. I know this thanks to Michael Maslin’s indispensable The New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z.

…and we close with this cartoon by John Reynolds, who contributed a total of 34 drawings to the New Yorker between 1928 and 1930…

Next Time: The So-So Soprano…