Disappearing Act

British actor Claude Rains made his American film debut in a 1933 movie where the actor’s face isn’t revealed until the final scene.

Nov. 25, 1933 cover by Gardner Rea.

Although praised by critics in 1933 and today, the New Yorker’s John Mosher had but a paragraph to offer on the The Invisible Man, calling it a “bright little oddity” and an “absurd and diverting film.” Mosher also reviewed the Arctic adventure Eskimo, a film he found to be less than convincing about life on the frozen tundra.

FROM A TEST TUBE, BABY…Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) develops a secret formula that renders him invisible, much to the distress of his former fiancée Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart). Some of you may recall Stuart from 1997’s Titanic, in which she portrayed the 100-year-old Rose. In real life Stuart had a career spanning nearly eighty years. And wouldn’t you know, she died in 2010 at age 100. (IMDB)
NOW YOU SEE HIM…Special effects in 1933 were no mean feat. To create the effect of invisibility, Rains was covered head to foot with black velvet tights and wore whatever clothes he required for the scene. The invisibility scenes were then shot against a black set, the negative areas later manually masked to create the effect of invisibility. (IMDB)

…on to our other film, Eskimo…Mosher had doubts about the authenticity of the Eskimo family portrayed in the movie, suggesting (rather unkindly) that the lead actress, Lotus Long, looked like a client of the noted beautician Elizabeth Arden. The film was well-received by critics, but did poorly at the box office. However, it did receive the first-ever Oscar for Best Film Editing.

ICEBREAKER…Although MGM publicists portrayed Eskimo as a steamy love story set against a backdrop of adventure in the wild, the film was ahead of its time in some ways, including the use of Inuit dialogue, which was translated in English intertitles. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, who also directed 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man, the cast included (top photo, from left), Ray Mala and Lulu Long Wing (older sister of famed Hollywood actress Anna May Wong) with unidentified child actors. Bottom right, Mala with actress Lotus Long. (IMDB)

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Numbers Racket

Little known today, the sliding number puzzle “Imp” was hugely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Plastic versions were produced following World War II—I recall one of them being quietly deployed from my mother’s purse during church, to keep me occupied during lengthy sermons.

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Hammered and Sickled

“The Talk of the Town” commented on a Union Square riot in which American communists attacked a group of Ukrainians protesting the Soviet-imposed mass starvation in their country. Following is an excerpt from a longer piece that also noted the arrival of New York police, who “charged into the Square, riding their horses into the crowd and taking a crack at a head here and there.”

SEE NO EVIL…American Communists attack a group of Ukrainians protesting the Soviet-caused Holodomor famine in 1933, which killed at least four million Ukrainians. (Public domain)

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Party Girl

Elsa Maxwell (1883–1963) was an Iowa girl who grew up to become a gossip columnist and a hostess of high society parties—throughout the 1920s she was known for throwing lavish affairs for Europe’s wealthy and entitled. A 1963 Time magazine obituary noted that Maxwell developed a gift for staging games and diversions for the rich, making a living devising treasure-hunt parties, including a 1927 Paris scavenger hunt that created disturbances all over the city. Excerpts from a profile by Janet Flanner:

GETTING AN EARFUL…Elsa Maxwell hobnobbing with actress Constance Bennett and producer Darryl Zanuck in 1939. (Pinterest)

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Masked Man

Novelist Sherwood Anderson offered his impressions of the late Ring Lardner in a piece titled “Meeting Ring Lardner.” Anderson wrote that although Lardner “seemed surrounded by a little halo of something like worship wherever he went,” he had no satisfaction in his achievements. Anderson recounted Lardner’s encounter with a shy banker, when for a moment Lardner dropped the “mask” that he often wore to shield himself from humanity. Excerpts: 

SPHINX…Sherwood Anderson (right) wrote of Ring Lardner: “You wanted him not to be hurt, perhaps to have some freedom he did not have.” (AP/hilobrow.com)

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Phooey on Huey

When Louisiana Senator and former Governor Huey Long published his autobiography, Every Man a King, the reaction from the press was resoundingly negative; in the Saturday Review, Allan Nevins wrote that Long “is unbalanced, vulgar, in many ways ignorant, and quite reckless.” The New Yorker’s Clifton Fadiman went further, calling him the “Goebbels of Louisiana” and compared the senator to Adolf Hitler. Excerpts:

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME, REALLY…Huey Long’s 1933 autobiography, Every Man a King, was excoriated by the press, which largely viewed the senator as a fascistic demagogue. Long was assassinated in 1935. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

Christmas was coming, and parents with the means could consider buying a “Skippy” brand racer for their little tykes. The cartoon character at the top of the ad—Skippy—was the star of one of the most popular American comic strips of its day…

…written and drawn by Percy Crosby (1891–1964) from 1923 to 1945, the Skippy comic was a big influence on later cartoonists including Charles Schulz (Peanuts) and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)…note the football gag below later made famous by Schulz’s Lucy and Charlie Brown…

…on to some of our one-column ads…Raleigh cigarettes were promoted to the growing women’s market, while Dunhill touted a “cocktail pipe” that allowed women to get in on the fun of pipe smoking…and with Disney’s Three Little Pigs penetrating every nook and cranny of America, the makers of Stahl-Meyer sausages decided to join in the fun…

…I include this razor ad mainly for the bold typography…advertisers were in a transitional phase, experimenting with new forms and more white space, but still holding on text-heavy pitches…

…in the case of Goodyear, if you wanted to inspire confidence in your product, you propped an old codger in a rocking chair and offered some homespun wisdom…

…here is a closer look at the old-timer’s advice…

…another tobacco ad, this one displaying the glorious blooms of a tobacco plant…how could something so lovely be bad for you?…

…a small back page ad announced a big-time book for James Thurber, including a satirical blurb from Ernest Hemingway

…and that makes a nice segue to our cartoons, with Thurber again…

Otto Soglow demonstrated the unexpected effectiveness of hair tonic…

Perry Barlow gave us a look at the posh and precocious set…

…and we close with George Price, and 1933’s version of Black Friday…

Next Time: Genesis of a Genius…

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. 

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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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More From Our Advertisers

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…