Robeson’s Othello

In 1930s America there were few if any opportunities for black actors to perform in mainstream stage or screen productions unless they conformed to racial stereotypes. An exception was Paul Robeson.

June 21, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

In 1930 Robeson (1898-1976) won rave reviews for his performance in Shakespeare’s Othello. That performance, however, took place in London, not New York, which London correspondent Anthony Gibbs took pains to point out in his dispatch for the June 21, 1930 New Yorker.

English actress Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona and Paul Robeson as Othello in London’s Savoy Theatre production of Othello in 1930. Although only 22 at the time, Ashcroft was an established Shakespearean actress. The 32-year-old Robeson was already famous as both an athlete and actor. He was twice named a consensus All-American in football (Rutgers) and was the class valedictorian. He also received a law degree from Columbia while playing in the NFL. In 1930 he was already known to London audiences, having previously appeared in a 1928  London production of the American musical Show Boat. (theshakespeareblog.com)
CENTER STAGE…Left to right: Maurice Browne (Iago), Paul Robeson (Othello) and Peggy Ashcroft (Desdemona) in Othello at the Savoy Theatre, 1930. Maurice Browne was also the play’s producer; his over-the-top portrayal of Iago and his wife’s incompetent stage direction hurt the production, but Robeson nevertheless received high praise for his performance. (britishstageandscreen.tumblr.com)

Although the performance was a triumph for Robeson, the production itself was a mess. The play’s producer, Maurice Browne, enlisted his wife, Ellen van Volkenburg, to direct (Peggy Ashcroft later called her “a pretentious dud”). Writing in The Guardian (Sept. 3, 2003), Samantha Ellis observes: “Recognising that his Othello transcended the ropey production, the audience gave Robeson 20 curtain calls. He reprised the role all over the world and never lost his pleasure in it. For Robeson, it was more than just a part: it was, as he once said, “killing two birds with one stone. I’m acting and I’m talking for the negroes in the way only Shakespeare can.”

Robeson’s Othello would not make it to New York until 1943. It would run for almost 300 performances, setting an all-time record run for a Shakespearean play on Broadway.

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Restoring Order

In the aftermath of Grover Whalen’s disastrous (and sometimes violent) run as New York City Police Commissioner, E.B. White and his fellow New Yorkers welcomed the steady hand of Edward P. Mulrooney (1874-1960) to the helm:

THE COMMISH…Edward P. Mulrooney in a 1930s portrait by Edward Steichen. (Conde Nast)

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The Commander

American author and lecturer Virgilia Peterson Ross profiled Evangeline Cory Booth (1865 – 1950), who would become the fourth General of the Salvation Army in 1934. She was the first woman to hold that post. An excerpt:

Ralph Barton returned to provide this caricature for the profile, one of the last works he would create for the New Yorker before his untimely death…

HEIRESS TO A LEGACY…William Booth, an English Methodist preacher who founded The Salvation Army and became its first General, poses with his grand-daughter Evangeline Cory Booth in this 1908 postcard image. (National Portrait Gallery)

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Home of the Dome

Architecture critic George “T-Square” Chappell was gladdened by the sight of scaffolding atop St. Bartholomew’s Church, which would finally get its dome to complete architect Bertram Goodhue’s vision…

NOW YOU SEE IT…Clockwise, from top left, St. Bartholomew’s Church at 325 Park Avenue, sans dome, in 1928; the church with dome in the 1950s; interior and exterior views of dome. (nyago.com/bostonvalley.com)

…Chappell also commented on the emergence of the Chrysler Building’s blindingly shiny dome and interior appointments…

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT…The Chrysler Building’s gleaming spire emerged in all its glory in June 1930. At right, an elevator in the building’s lobby. (Wikipedia)

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Below the Belt

It wasn’t Dempsey-Tunney, but the bout between Max Schmeling (1905-2005) and Jack Sharkey (1902-1994) was the next best thing for boxing fans. The World Heavyweight Championship had been vacant since Gene Tunney’s retirement in 1928, and Sharkey and Schmeling had emerged as the sport’s No. 1 and 2 contenders.

The bout ended in a controversial decision: Although Sharkey won the first three rounds, he was disqualified after he landed a punch below the belt late in the fourth round. Schmeling became the first boxer to win the World Heavyweight Championship on a foul. The New Yorker’s Niven Busch Jr. (with illustration by Johan Bull) offered these thoughts on the fight’s disappointing outcome:

LOW BLOW…Although Jack Sharkey (far right) led after three rounds, a low blow in the fourth delivered the World Heavyweight Championship to German boxer Max Schmeling (left). Sharkey would claim the title two years later in a rematch with Schmeling. Although boxing isn’t the healthiest pursuit, both men lived into their 90s; Schmeling died in 2005 just shy of his 100th birthday. (Wikipedia/boxrec.com/thefightcity.com)

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One Of Ours

The New Yorker included this brief review of a collection of short fiction pieces by Dorothy Parker, herself a literary critic of some renown at the New Yorker

DOROTHY’S LAMENTATIONS…The New Yorker’s Dorothy Parker published this collection of short fiction in 1930.

…and on to our advertisers, this ad appeared on the opposite page of the review…

…speaking of ads, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes continued to sponsor gimmicky penmanship and writing contests to promote their deadly product…

…while promoters of the Empire State Building (still under construction) continued to draw on the historical significance of the building’s Midtown location…

…on to our cartoons, Garrett Price pondered the very real challenge of guiding a massive Zeppelin to the planned mooring mast atop the Empire State…

…a portent of what would happen to the Hindenburg just seven years later…

…the New Yorker made clever use of typesetting for this I. Klein entry…

John Murray Anderson found humor in contrasting the grand with the mundane…

Kindl eavesdropped on the small talk of a couple of ash haulers…

…and William Crawford Galbraith found humor at the public pool…

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On to the June 28 issue, with a cover featuring a satirical kakemono-style illustration by Rea Irvin, who was fond of Japanese scroll art…

June 28, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

Film critic John Mosher checked out the new documentary on Admiral Richard Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole…

A BYRD WITH WINGS…A Paramount Pictures movie poster promoting the 1930 documentary With Byrd at the South Pole; still images from the film at right. (Wikipedia/YouTube)

…if you’d like to see the actual film, here it is on YouTube…

“The Talk of the Town” also made note of the Byrd’s expedition and homecoming, contrasting his upcoming book, Little America, with the four-volume historical work planned by popular historian Will Durant.

In collaboration with his wife, Ariel, Durant would end up publishing an eleven-volume history of civilization (four million words across nearly 10,000 pages), written between 1935 and 1975. Will Durant was at work on a twelfth volume when he died in 1981 at age 96.

Admiral Richard Byrd’s Little America, left, and the 11-volume The Story of Civilization, by Will and Ariel Durant.

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American Lenin

The June 28 profile, written by Alva Johnston, featured radical American labor organizer and Marxist politician William Z. Foster. Despite Johnston’s portrayal of Foster as something of a genial pinko, in reality Foster was a strong supporter of Joseph Stalin and a dedicated and loyal ally of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party until his death in 1961. The Soviets even gave him a state funeral, with Nikita Khrushchev personally heading an honor guard in Red Square. An excerpt of Johnston’s profile:

RED AS A ROSE…Left, a campaign photo of William Z. Foster when he headed the Communist Party ticket in the 1928 U.S. presidential election; at right, illustration of Foster for the profile, by Abe Birnbaum.

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And to close…a colorful advertisement in the June 28 issue from Rex Cole…from the signature it appears to be the work of Mario Cooper, but this doesn’t look at all like his other work…

…and a two-page Rea Irvin cartoon, which demonstrates his visual storytelling skills…

click to enlarge

Next Time…Happy Fourth!

 

 

The Little King

Like his New Yorker colleague Reginald Marsh, Otto Soglow trained in the “Ashcan School” of American art, and his early illustrations favored its gritty urban realism. He had his own life experience to draw upon, being born to modest means in the Yorkville district of Manhattan.

We look at two issues this week. At left, cover of March 31 issue by Peter Arno; at right, June 7 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

But Soglow (1900-1975) would soon abandon the gritty style in the work he contributed to the New Yorker…

RAGS TO RICHES…At left, Otto Soglow’s first cartoon in the New Yorker, Nov. 14, 1925, was rendered in the Ashcan style ; at right, an example of the sparer style he later adopted, one of his manhole series cartoons from March 2, 1929.

…and in the June 7, 1930 issue, Soglow would publish his first Little King strip, which would soon launch the 29-year-old into fame and fortune…

Did Soglow know he was on to something big with that first Little King cartoon? Well Harold Ross (New Yorker founding editor) liked what he saw, and asked Soglow to produce more. After building up an inventory over nearly 10 months, Ross finally published a second Little King strip on March 14, 1931. It soon became a hit, catching the attention of William Randolph Hearst, who wanted the strip for his King Features Syndicate.

KING OF COMEDY…Otto Soglow working on an illustration for The Ambassador, a short-lived comic strip he created in 1933 for King Features Syndicate. The strip was replaced by The Little King in 1934 after Soglow fulfilled his contractual obligation to the New Yorker. (comicartfans.com)

After Soglow fulfilled his contractural obligation to the New Yorker, The Little King made its move to King Features on Sept. 9, 1934, and the strip ran until Soglow’s death in 1975. After his move to King Features, Soglow continued to contribute cartoons to the New Yorker, but with other themes.

Left, Soglow cartoon from the book Wasn’t the Depression Terrible? (1934); at right, King Features strip from Nov. 19, 1967. (Wikipedia/tcj.com)

You can read more about Soglow and The Little King in The Comics Journal.

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The Party’s Definitely Over

During the summer of 1925, a young writer at Vanity Fair named Lois Long would take over the New Yorker’s nightlife column, “When Nights Are Bold,” rename it “Tables For Two,” and set about giving a voice to the fledgling magazine as well as chronicling the city’s Jazz Age nightlife. There were accounts of Broadway actors mingling with flappers and millionaires at nightclubs and speakeasies, but Long also spoke out on issues such as Prohibition, taking the city’s leaders to task for raids on speakeasies and other heavy-handed tactics contrary to the spirit of the times. “Tables For Two” would expire with the June 7, 1930 issue, and appropriately so, as the deepening Depression gave the the city a decidedly different vibe. In her final column Long would write about the Club Abbey, a gay speakeasy operated by mobster Dutch Schultz

PARTIED OUT…In her final nightlife column, Lois Long wrote about the new Club Abbey in the basement of the Hotel Harding (left), which was operated by mobster Dutch Schultz (inset). The club’s emcee was Gene Malin (right), Broadway’s first openly gay drag performer. The club was short-lived (as were Schultz and Malin), closing in January 1931 following a mob brawl. (infamousnewyork.com/Pinterest)

…and she would update her readers on “Queen of the Night Clubs” Texas Guinan, whose Club Intime was sold to Dutch Schultz and replaced by his Club Abbey…

FINAL ACT…Clockwise, from top left, Texas Guinan at Lynbrook, circa 1930; Joseph Urban murals on the rooftop of the St. Regis Hotel; Duke Ellington and his orchestra at the Cotton Club, circa 1930s.

Long’s final nightlife column would signal a definitive end to whatever remained of the Roaring Twenties. It would also signal the end to some of those associated with those heady times. Texas Guinan’s Lynbrook plans would flop, and Gene Malin’s Club Abbey would close in less than a year. Both would both be dead by 1933. As for Dutch Schultz, he would be gunned down in 1935.

Lois Long, however, would continue to write for the New Yorker for another 40 years, and would prove to be as innovative in her fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue,” as she was as a nightlife correspondent.

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Gone to the Dogs

In another installment of his pet advice column (June 7), James Thurber gave us one of his classic dogs…a disinterested bloodhound…

…while Thurber’s buddy and office mate E.B. White commented (in the March 31 issue) on a recent poll conducted among students at Princeton, discovering among other things that New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno was preferred over the old masters…

FAN FAVORITES…The Princeton Class of 1930 named (from left) Rudyard Kipling, Lynn Fontanne and Peter Arno as favorite poet, actress and artist respectively in a student poll. (YouTube/Wikipedia/giam.typepad.com)

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We Like It Fine, Thank You

The New Yorker dedicated a full page of the March 31 issue to a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal directed at the New York Evening Journal, which had reprinted one of Peter Arno’s cartoons to illustrate the moral cost of Prohibition. I believe the author of the rebuttal is E.B. White (note how he refers to Arno as “Mr. Aloe”).

…also in the May 31 issue, Rea Irvin changed things up, at least temporarily, with some new artwork for the “Goings On About Town” section. The entries themselves were often clever, such as this listing for a radio broadcast: PRESIDENT HOOVER—Gettysburg speech. Similar to Lincoln’s but less timely…

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From Our Advertisers

New Yorker cartoonists can be found throughout the advertisements — from left, Julian De Miskey, Rea Irvin and John Held, Jr

…and in the June 7 issue we find an unusual ad for a used car…a sign of the times, no doubt…

…before it was associated with Germany’s Nazi Party (especially after it seized power in 1933), for thousands of years the swastika had been widely used as a religious or good luck symbol…

…Actress Clara Bow was famously pictured sporting a “good luck” swastika as a fashion statement in this press photo from June 1928, unaware that in a few years the symbol would become universally associated with hate, death and war…

From an unidentified publication dated June 6, 1928. (@JoHedwig/Twitter)

…on to our cartoons, I. Klein illustrated a cultural exchange…

Garrett Price gauged the pain of a plutocrat…

Alan Dunn eavesdropped on some just desserts…

Helen Hokinson found humor in the mouths of babes…

…as did Alice Harvey

Leonard Dove examined one woman’s dilemma at a passport office…

…and Peter Arno, who found some cattiness at ringside…

Next Time: Germany’s Anti-Decor…

 

All Quiet on the Western Front

Still considered one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, All Quiet on the Western Front opened in New York on April 29, 1930 to strong reviews. Based on a Erich Maria Remarque novel of the same name, the film’s depictions of the horrors of war were so realistic and harrowing that it was banned in a number of countries outside of the U.S.

May 10, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Banned, that is, by nations gearing up for war. In Germany, Nazi brownshirts disrupted viewings during its brief run in that country, tossing smoke bombs into cinemas among other acts of mayhem. Back in the U.S., the New Yorker’s John Mosher attended a screening at a “packed” Central Theatre:

WAR IS HELL…Clockwise, from top left, movie poster for 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front; German soldier Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres), falls into a shell crater with a French soldier and draws his knife; in one of the most moving scenes in cinema, Bäumer is forced to spend the night in the crater, where he vainly tries to safe the life of the Frenchman he has mortally wounded; a German soldier crawls through the mud in a German training camp. (IMDB/Universal).

Mosher found the film’s adaption from the novel wanting in places, but overall praised the acting and the quality of the picture…

…and just in case some audiences were put off by the blood and guts, Universal promoted other themes on its lobby cards…

(IMDB)

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More Than a Stunt

In her profile of aviator Elinor Smith (1911-2010), writer Helena Huntington Smith took great pains to distinguish Elinor from other “lady fliers” who were little more than passengers in various flying exploits. Like Amelia Earhart, Elinor Smith had the bona fides of a true aviator: in 1927 Smith become the youngest licensed pilot in the world at age 16, learning stunt flying at an early age. At age 17, she smashed the women’s flying endurance record by soloing 26½ hours, and in the following month set a woman’s world speed record of 190.8 miles per hour. In March 1930 she set a women’s world altitude record of 27,419 feet (8,357 m), breaking that record in 1931 with a flight reaching 32,576 feet. Smith would continue to fly well into old age. In 2000 she flew NASA’s Space Shuttle vertical motion simulator and became the oldest pilot to succeed in a simulated shuttle landing. In 2001 (at age 89) she would pilot an experimental flight at Langley AFB. An excerpt from the profile:

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS…Elinor Smith’s flying career would extend from age 16 and into her 90s. At left, Smith poses in Long Island with the Bellanca monoplane she used to beat the solo flight record in 1929. Right, portrait of Smith circa 1930s. (findagrave.com)

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I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia

Theatre critic Robert Benchley was over the moon regarding a performance of Lysistrata staged by the Philadelphia Theatre Association. Benchley suggested the Philadelphians had “put New York to shame” in staging such a “festival of beauty and bawdiness…never seen on an American stage before.”

NO MORE HANKY PANKY…Left, actress Miriam Hopkins in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, as photographed by Edward Steichen; at right, Sydney Greenstreet with unidentified actress from the 1930 Philadelphia production of Lysistrata. (timeline.com)

Benchley praised the seemingly advanced tastes of Philadelphia audiences as he continued to the lament the fact that the City of Brotherly Love had beaten New York to the punch with the staging of the play. He needn’t have worried much longer; the play would open on Broadway on June 5, 1930, at the 44th Street Theatre.

LOVER COME BACK…Production photograph for Norman-Bel Geddes’s staging for Lysistrata, titled “the women of Greece return to their men.” (hrc.utexas.edu)

While we are on the subject of theater, Constantin Alajálov provided this lovely illustration of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for the New Yorker’s theater review section…

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Make ‘Em Dance, Boys

The author Robert Wilder contributed this interesting casual about the appearance of gangster Al Capone at a Chicago nightclub. Excerpts:

LIGHT ON HIS FEET…Al Capone in 1930. (Wikipedia)

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You Say You Want a Revolution?

Alva Johnston offered his thoughts on how America could stage its own “Red Revolution,” given that Russia and several European countries had already experienced communist uprisings of their own, and also given that New York Police Commissioner Grover Whalen, always in search of problems that didn’t exist, had announced a new “Red Scare” in his fight against communism.

Tongue firmly in cheek, Johnston suggested how American know-how could be brought to bear in inciting a Red Terror. An excerpt:

YANKEE INGENUITY…Alva Johnston, left, offered some innovative ideas for a uniquely American “Red Revolution.” At right, soldiers stand behind a barricade during Germany’s communist Spartacist uprising of January 1919. (Wikipedia)

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Speaking of Revolutionaries

Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello is one of America’s most-visited historical sites, but in 1930 it was still something of a regional curiosity, having only been acquired in 1923 for the purposes of turning it into a public museum. Although Jefferson is well known today for his various inventions at Monticello, E.B. White was just learning about this side of the president in his weekly “Notes and Comment” dispatch:

THIS OLD HOUSE…Left, a combination of neglect and Civil War vandalism left Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello enmeshed in weeds and in a state of near collapse by the 1870s. At right, students of the University of Virginia pose outside Monticello in 1930. (UVA/Hulton Archive)

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Play Ball?

We are well into the spring of 1930, yet the New Yorker stood firm in its complete lack of baseball coverage. As I’ve noted before, the magazine covered virtually every sport from horse racing to rowing to badminton, and even lowered itself to regular features on college football and professional hockey, but not a line on baseball, save for an occasional note about the antics of Babe Ruth or the homespun goodness of Lou Gehrig. There were signs, however, that baseball was being played in a city blessed with three major league teams; we do find game times in the “Goings On About Town” section, as well as occasional baseball-themed filler art, and a comic panel in the May 10 issue by Leonard Dove:

From Our Advertisers

We begin with an endorsement for Chase & Sanborn coffee by the soprano Alma Gluck, wife of famed violinist and composer Efrem Zimbalist Sr. Originally I thought she was enjoying coffee with a sister in law named “Mrs. Zimbalist,” but as reader Frank Wilhoit astutely points out, the “Alma Gluck” (celebrity) and “Mrs. Zimbalist” (housewife) are alternate personae of the same individual. And now that I look at the ad again, the clothes and hair styles are identical. I will try to locate a clearer image of the ad…

…and from the makers of White Rock we have a group of swells and their airborne friends enjoying some bubbles that are doubtless mixed with illegal hootch…

Dr. Seuss continued to offer his artistry on behalf of Flit insecticide…

…and on to our comics, Peter Arno illustrated the hazards of the road…

…while Leonard Dove explored the hazards high above the streets of Manhattan…

Constantin Alajálov explored an odd encounter in a park…

I Klein mused on the tricks of mass transit…

…and two from Barbara Shermund, who looked in on one tourist’s plans for a trip to Mussolini’s Italy…

…and some helpful advice at a perfume counter…

Next Time: Red Alert…

 

 

 

The Circus Comes to Town

If you lived in small town America in the 20th century, it was a big deal when the circus came to town with its entourage of clowns, acrobats and exotic animals from distant lands.

April 19, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

Even New Yorkers, it seems — who could be quite blasé about such things — got a thrill when the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus rolled into town for its annual spectacle at Madison Square Garden. The New Yorker marked the occasion with its April 12 cover by Theodore Haupt:

For the April 19 issue, E.B. White welcomed the circus on a cautionary note, airing concerns in his “Notes and Comment” column that this old-timey entertainment might be falling under the “base influences” of broadcast radio, Broadway, and Hollywood:

SEND IN THE…YOU KNOW…THOSE GUYS…Top, clowns in town for the 1931 Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. Below, circus poster announcing the arrival of “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  (potterauctions.com)

José Schorr, who wrote a number of humorous columns in the New Yorker from 1926 to 1930 on the subject of “how to the pass the time” in various situations, offered this advice on attending the spectacle at Madison Square Garden…

I’D RATHER BE FLYING…1930 poster advertising “The Human Projectile”; 1931 photo of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. (worthpoint.com/bidsquare.com)

…for example, Schorr advised circus-goers to pass the time by considering the inner lives of performers such as “The Human Projectile”…

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Funny Farm

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Joe Cook (1890-1950), but in the 1920s and 30s he was a household name and one of America’s most popular comedic performers. “Talk of the Town” looked in on his antics at his Lake Hopatcong farm, “Sleepless Hollow”…

BATTER UP…Comedian Joe Cook’s residence at Lake Hopatcong, NJ, was known for its celebrity-studded parties. At left, Babe Ruth takes a swing with a giant bat on Cook’s wacky three-hole golf course; at right, Cook relaxing on the steps of his farm. (lakehopatcongnews.com)

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Fun With Balloon Animals

One thing that distinguishes the 1930s from today is that era’s apparent lack of safety standards, or fear of liability. A case in point was Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began a tradition in the late 1920s of releasing its giant balloons into the sky at the conclusion of the parade — a $50 reward was offered by Macy’s for their return. “The Talk of the Town” explained:

GOING, GOING, GONE…When Felix the Cat (left, in 1927) was released after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it floated into a power line and caught fire; in 1931 the parade’s Big Blue Hippo (right) was apparently spotted floating over the ocean, never to be seen again. (Macy’s/hatchingcatnyc.com)

Perhaps the craziest anecdote attached to the parade’s annual balloon release belonged to Annette Gipson. While flying a biplane at 5,000 feet with her instructor, she spotted the parade’s 60-foot “Tom Cat” balloon rising high above Queens. Looking to have a bit of fun, the 22-year-old Gipson flew the plane directly into the cat. According to the book Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, “Upon impact, the balloon wrapped itself around the left wing. The plane went into a deep tailspin (nearly throwing Gipson from the cockpit) and sped toward the ground out of control.” Fearing the plane would catch fire when it hit the ground, the instructor killed the ignition, and somehow managed to pull the plane out of the spin and land it safely at Roosevelt Field.

KITTY LITTER…Annette Gipson, right, nearly killed herself and her flight instructor after she deliberately crashed her biplane into a Tom Cat balloon (left) that had been released following the 1932 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of her near-death experience,Gipson told reporters, “It was a sensation that I never felt before—the whirling housetops, rushing up to meet me—and the thoughts of a whole lifetime flashed through my mind.” (ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

A footnote: Following Gipson’s brush with death, Macy’s announced it would not give prize money to those who tried to down the balloons with their airplanes. The incident also brought an end to the company’s tradition of releasing the balloons.

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Birth of the Soundtrack

Songs from popular theater productions were first made available to the masses in the mid-19th century via printed sheet music and later through early recordings. Part of this lineage is the movie soundtrack, which has its origins in the early days of sound pictures. According to the New Yorker’s “Popular Records” column, these new recordings would bring the talkies into your home, albeit without the picture…

FROM MAMMY TO MAMMA MIA…Left, a 1930 Brunswick 78 RPM recording of Al Jolson’s “To My Mammy”; at right, soundtrack from the 2008 film Mamma Mia! (popsike.com/amazon.com)

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Cosmo Calvin

Before Helen Gurley Brown came along in the 1960s and sexed it up, Cosmopolitan was known as a somewhat bland literary magazine, and it was certainly bland enough in 1930 to welcome the scribblings of America’s blandest president to its pages. E.B. White mused in his “Notes”…

NOTHING COMES BETWEEN ME AND MY CALVIN…At left, the May 1930 issue of Cosmopolitan; Kourtney Kardashian on the cover of the October 2016 issue. (Pinterest/Cosmopolitan)

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How Dry I Am

After a decade of living under Prohibition, John Ogden Whedon (1905-1991) put pen to paper and shared his sentiments in a poem for the New Yorker

…Whedon would go on to a successful career as a screenwriter, especially finding acclaim for his television writing on The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show, among others. He was also the grandfather of screenwriter and director Joseph “Joss” Whedon and screenwriters Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon.

Another poem in the April 19 issue was contributed by John Held Jr., who was perhaps better known to New Yorker readers for his “woodcut” cartoons…

…example of Held’s work from the April 12 issue, featured in an Old Gold advertisement…

…and that provides a segue into our ads for the April 19 issue, beginning with this spot for an early electric dishwasher…

Here’s what that bad boy looks like in color. (automaticwasher.org)

…I couldn’t find a review in the New Yorker for Emily Hahn’s new book, Seductio Ad Absurdum, but her publisher did take out an ad to get the attention of readers. Many years later the New Yorker would call the journalist and author “a forgotten American literary treasure”…

Emily Hahn circa 1930; first edition of Seductio Ad Absurdum. Author of 52 books, her writings played a significant role in opening up Asia to the West.(shanghaitours.canalblog.com/swansfinebooks.com)

…and here we have another sumptuous ad from illustrator Carl “Eric” Erickson, a far cry from the “Joe Camel” ads that would come along decades later…

…on to our cartoons, Reginald Marsh offered a blue collar perspective on city fashions…

Alice Harvey captured a moment of reflection by an overworked housewife…

…and I. Klein looked in on a couple of working stiffs in need of a dictionary…

…now over to the posh set, with Barbara Shermund

Leonard Dove found humor on the chorus line…

…and we end with this terrific cartoon by Peter Arno, and the perils of apartment life…

Next Time: Paramount on Parade…

 

 

 

Garbo Speaks

Imagine your favorite Hollywood actress, maybe someone like Meryl Streep or Judi Dench. You’ve followed their careers and watched most of their movies, but you’ve never heard their voices.

March 22, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

That’s what it was like for Greta Garbo fans before March 1930, when she spoke her first onscreen words in the 1930 MGM drama Anna Christie, which was adapted from a 1922 play by Eugene O’Neill. 

SWEDISH SPHINX…Greta Garbo’s mask-like qualities on display in this publicity still for Anna Christie. (IMDB)

The New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher, not always a fan of Garbo’s silent work (although she had plenty of fans), found a “special kind of glamour” in her first talking picture, even tossing out the word “legend” to describe this Swede who avoided publicity like a bad cold…

No doubt a few moviegoers saw the movie just to finally hear that voice, which Mosher described as “a surprise…a deep, low voice, a boy’s voice really, rather flat, rather toneless, yet growing more attractive as the picture advances”…

Director William H. Daniels (seated, left) with unidentified cameraman filming a scene from Anna Christie with actors Greta Garbo and Clarence Brown; at right, the actors contemplate the microphone hovering above them. Note how the camera in the first photo is contained in a soundproof case. (IMDB) click image to enlarge

Publicized with the tag line “Garbo talks!,” Anna Christie premiered in New York City on Feb. 21 and became the highest-grossing film of 1930. Later that year a German language version would be filmed featuring Garbo but with a different director and supporting cast.

SOUND DEBUT…Clockwise, from top left, Greta Garbo and Marie Dressler in Anna Christie; an MGM ad touting the film as one of the best pictures of the year (it would be the year’s highest-grossing, and Garbo would receive an Academy Award nomination); studio portraits of Garbo used in the film’s promotion. (IMDB)

And if you want to hear Garbo deliver those famous first lines — “Give me a whisky, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby” — here it is, in a scene about sixteen minutes into the film…

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Chicken and Cocktails
En route to the South Seas, the French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) paid a visit to New York City, and by all accounts had a good time there. His visit was described by Murdock Pemberton in “The Talk of the Town”…

I ♥ NEW YORK…Henri Matisse arriving in New York City on the S. S. Mauretania, December 15, 1930. He described the city as “majestic.” (artistandstudio.tumblr.com)
NICE PLACE, THIS…Henri Matisse sitting on the brick roof terrace of 10 Mitchell Place (formerly Stewart Hall), the Queensboro Bridge glimpsed in the background. The photo was taken in 1930 by his son, Pierre Matisse, who was living in New York. At right, 10 Mitchell Place today. A framed photograph of Matisse sitting on the rooftop hangs on the wall of the building’s lobby. (Henri-matisse.net/Ephemeral New York)
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The Last Page
The death of author D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) was reported to New Yorker readers by Janet Flanner, the magazine’s Paris correspondent, who briefly detailed the writer’s rather sad decline…

FLEETING DAYS…D. H. Lawrence (right) with fellow writer Aldous Huxley at Bandol, in the South of France, 1929. (Topham Picturepoint)

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What Depression?

Nearly five months into the Great Depression, yet little evidence in the New Yorker of the catastrophe that was unfolding across the land. And true to form, the approach to the topic was made with humor, via E.B. White in “Notes and Comment”…

KNOW ANY GOOD JOKES?…At left, unemployed New York dockworkers; at right, folks enjoying the New York Public Library’s outdoor reading room in Bryant Park, 1930s. (Lewis Hine/National Archives and Records Administration/New York Public Library)

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Cathedrals of Commerce

E.B. White also observed the changing skyline, and how the towering skyscrapers were quickly overshadowing the once prominent steeples of the city’s churches…

REACHING TO THE HEAVENS…Clockwise, from top left, Trinity Church Wall Street and St. Patrick’s have been eclipsed by the towers of Mammon, but St. John’s and Riverside still dominate their surroundings today. (Wikipedia/St. John’s/Riverside)

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The Other House of Worship

Perhaps a certain skyscraper ennui settled in, as architecture critic George S. Chappell was not all that impressed by the “huge” Lincoln Building (which today still seems huge)…

SIZE DOESN’T MATTER…Although the new Lincoln Building proved to be a massive addition to the New York skyline, its style seemed outdated in contrast to its flashy new neighbor, the Chrysler Building — one of its gargoyles, at right, seems poised to devour the Lincoln Building. (nyc-architecture.com)

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From Our Advertisers

We have a bit more evidence of the Depression in the ads, including this one from Abercrombie & Fitch, with two sporting gents opting to go fishing to take their minds off the markets…

…if fishing wasn’t your thing, perhaps you just wanted to escape into the “quiet” of the wide streets in the East Seventies…

…or relax with a smoke, which artist Carl Erickson made look so appealing with his Camel ad illustrations…

…or take the humorous route to a relaxing smoke, with this ad for Murad as illustrated by Rea Irvin

…on to our cartoonists, Garrett Price captured the mood of the times…

…while Alfred Krakusin captured an altogether different mood…

...Leonard Dove examined the path to stardom…

I. Klein pondered modern art…

William Crawford Galbraith found an unlikely victim of religious zeal…

Mary Petty gave us a glimpse of a doctor’s office…

…and Leonard Dove again, this time at ringside…

Next Time: Noblesse Oblige…

 

Prophet of Doom

The October 1929 stock market crash took most people by surprise, but one man, Roger Babson, knew all along it was coming…thanks to Sir Isaac Newton

Feb. 15, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

Babson (1875-1967) is perhaps best known today as the man who predicted the market crash and the Great Depression that followed. He employed an economic assessment tool called the “Babsonchart” that was based on Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the Feb. 15, 1929 “Profile” (titled “Prophet of Doom”) Henry Pringle tried to make sense of this eccentric businessman, who would go on to wage war against gravity itself:

TOLD YOU SO…Illustration by Hugo Gellert for the profile on Roger Babson, who famously predicted the stock market crash; at right, Babson circa 1930. (Gravity Research Foundation)
BIG THINKER…Roger Babson dedicates the world’s largest spinning globe at Babson College in 1955; at right, the globe as it appears today. Founded by Babson in 1919, Babson College is often ranked as the most prestigious entrepreneurship college in the U.S. (babson.edu/Wikipedia)

Pringle concluded his profile on a confused note, wondering if his subject — a product of sober New England stock — could possibly be a socialist in disguise…

In any case, it is difficult to assign Babson to any one category. Some considered him a genius and visionary, while others thought him a crackpot, particularly in the late 1940s when, following the death of a grandson by drowning, he began to wage war against gravity itself. In 1948 essay “Gravity – Our Enemy Number One,” he wrote: “Broken hips and other broken bones as well as numerous circulatory, intestinal and other internal troubles are directly due to the people’s inability to counteract Gravity at a critical moment.”

That same year Babson founded the Gravity Research Foundation to expedite the discovery of a “gravity shield.” The foundation is still in operation, but rather than seeking to block gravity it works to better understand it. It continues to hold an annual essay prize contest — remarkably, five of its winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in physics. The essay contest’s 1971 winner was none other than physicist Stephen Hawking.

ROCK STAR…Clockwise, from top left: Roger Babson at home with a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton; Babson was the Prohibition Party’s candidate for President of the United States in 1940; Babson provided charitable assistance to unemployed stonecutters in Gloucester, Mass., during the Great Depression, commissioning them to carve inspirational inscriptions on more than 20 boulders near the abandoned settlement of Dogtown. (centennial.babson.edu/Wikipedia)

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An Imperfect Romance

Born in the midst of the Jazz Age, it would seem that the New Yorker would have been a perfect fit for the most prominent chronicler of that era, F. Scott Fitzgerald. But it was mostly not to be: Fitzgerald would publish just two poems and three humorous shorts in the New Yorker between 1929 and 1937, including “Salesmanship in the Champs-Élysées” in Feb. 15 issue.

In all fairness, the New Yorker wasn’t exactly enamored of the young author. In its book review section for the May 23, 1925 issue, the magazine singled out three books for review, the first (and longest) review was devoted to James Boyd’s historical novel Drums. This was followed by a brief review of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the reviewer writing that the book revived his interest in the author but “not in a Byronic promise he probably never had,” and referred to the character of Jay Gatsby as “a good deal of a nut.”

The following year Fitzgerald was the subject of a New Yorker profile titled “That Sad Young Man.” In the magazine’s March 12, 2017 issue, Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman note that the profile (by John Mosher) would be called “snarky” in today’s lingo. They also point out that “Fitzgerald, for his part, appeared to take a rather snobbish view of Harold Ross’s new publication, referring to the short stories he published in it as “hors d’oeuvres.”

With that, here is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “hors d’oeuvres” … “Salesmanship in the Champs-Élysées.”

SOUR GRAPES…The Champs-Elysées in 1929; F. Scott Fitzgerald with his daughter, Scottie, and wife Zelda in Paris in 1925. Despite being products of the Jazz Age, the author and the New Yorker were mostly at odds. In a letter to his daughter, Scottie, Fitzgerald advised that she expand her knowledge of literature “instead of skimming Life + The New Yorker.”  (fr.wikibooks.org/AP)

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The Empire-less State

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White pondered the possibilities of a large lot at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street previously occupied by the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Although construction of the Empire State Building would soon commence at the site, White mused about other possibilities…

LIGHT THERE BE LIGHT…E.B. White found the newly excavated space at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street (former site of the Waldorf-Astoria) to be a refreshing change. It would be short-lived, as the first beams of the Empire State Building would begin to rise from the site in March 1930. (NYPL Digital Gallery)

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Westminster People Show

Although it’s now customary to retire Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show winners, back in 1930 a wire terrier called Pendley Calling of Blarney won Best of Show in 1930 and won the title again the following year. Alice Frankforter was on hand for the event, but found the people at the show every bit as diverting as the animals. Some excerpts…

DOGGONE FUN…The 1932 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, NYC. (westminsterkennelclub.org)

REIGN OF TERRIER…Wire Fox Terrier Pendley Calling of Blarney, left, won back-to-back Westminster Kennel Club Best of Show titles in 1930-31. At right, King’s Best of Show win in February 2019 made him the 15th Wire Fox Terrier in Westminster history to earn the top prize. Terriers are by far the winningest breed at Westminster. (aka.org)

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Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Robert Benchley struck a pre-emptive pose in his review of a new Broadway play titled Rebound — written by his good friend (and fellow Algonquin Round Table alumnus) Donald Ogden Stewart (1894-1980) — and responded to “a chorus of yawps” that accused him of log-rolling…

A FRIEND INDEED…Robert Benchley (right) said his friendship with playwright and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart (left) had no influence over his review of Stewart’s latest play, Rebound. It seems Benchley was in safe territory here, since Stewart’s output was generally high in quality. Indeed, in 1940 Stewart would win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the The Philadelphia Story.

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Georgia On His Mind

The opening of the Museum of Modern Art in late 1929 had a profound effect on the New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton. In the beginning he dismissed the museum as just another place for the old money crowd to throw parties, but with the opening of its third exhibition, “Painting in Paris” — which featured an extensive display of the works of French modernists — Pemberton began to come around to the idea that this new MoMA was a place to see groundbreaking works of art. In his Feb. 15 column Pemberton looked beyond France for signs of talented modernists in the States, and found only one who stood out — Georgia O’Keeffe.

MOD COUPLE…Clockwise, from left, Alfred Stieglitz attached this photograph to a letter for Georgia O’Keeffe, dated July 10, 1929; Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition of Paintings (1919-1934), at Stieglitz’s An American Place gallery, 1935; O’Keeffe’s Trees at Glorieta, New Mexico, 1929. (Beinecke Library, Yale/Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation)

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From Our Advertisers

Just as hemlines were dropping after the stock market crash, so were the brims of women’s hats — the flapper caps of the 1920s now sprouted droopy ears…

…this ad for Chase and Sanborn coffee featured a weirdly distended image of the writer and humorist Irvin Cobb

…Cobb as he actually appeared, circa 1930…

(talesofmytery.blogspot.com)

…G. Washington coffee, on the other hand, continued to draw from the New Yorker’s stable of cartoonists, including Garrett Price, for its illustrated ads…

…I was surprised to see this ad for two reasons: I wasn’t aware floss was in common use 90 years ago, or that it once came in the handle of a toothbrush…

…and then we have this sad little back page ad (just above a tiny ad for piano lessons) promoting Peggy Joyce’s ghostwritten “tell all” — Men, Marriage and Me. A former Ziegfeld girl and occasional actress who cultivated fame for fame’s sake, Joyce (1893-1957) was mostly known for her six marriages and extravagant lifestyle. By feeding the media a steady stream of scandals and other adventures (she often received reporters in her bedroom, dressed in a see-through negligee) she remained in the celebrity spotlight throughout the 1920s…

Peggy Joyce in 1923; cover of the first edition of her “tell all” — Men, Marriage and Me. Celebrated in the 1920’s as a swinging golddigger, her fame quickly evaporated into the mists of the Great Depression. (Wikipedia/Abe Books)

…speaking of celebrity, advertisers were so eager for endorsements of the famous that even “Mrs. Ring Lardner” (Ellis Abbott) got a piece of the action…

…as travel by airplane became more fashionable, automobile manufacturers increasingly paired their products with flying machines…

…for those who wished to stay on the ground, the Pickwick-Greyhound bus system featured “Nite Coaches” with 14 sleeping compartments (for 28 passengers), hot and cold water in each compartment, and hot meals served by stewards…

…on to our comics, I. Klein illustrated the excitement of heavyweight boxing…

Perry Barlow paid a visit to a writer and his dimwitted visitor…

Helen Hokinson looked in on a prep school dance…

Barbara Shermund demonstrated the finer points of beauty…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and one woman’s plan for a costume party…

Next Time: Five Years in the Making…

Strike Up the Band!

Before we launch into the Jan. 25 issue, the rendering of the old New York Aquarium in this Sue Williams cover bears some consideration.

Jan. 25, 1930 cover by Sue Williams.

The aquarium was housed within the historic walls the South West Battery, constructed off the tip of Manhattan between 1808 and 1811 as a defense against the British. Renamed Castle Clinton in 1817 (in honor of former Mayor/Governor Dewitt Clinton), it was deeded to the city in 1823 to be used as an entertainment center. From 1855 to 1890 it served as an immigrant landing depot, then remodeled in 1896 (by the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White) to become the popular New York City Aquarium.

FISH OUT OF WATER…Postcard image of the New York City Aquarium from the early 1900s; aerial view of the aquarium circa 1934; postcard image of aquarium interior; demolition of the aquarium in 1941, on orders from city planner Robert Moses. (thebattery.org/nycgovparks.org)

Although the aquarium proved to be a cultural and educational magnet, it stood in the way of master planner Robert Moses’s designs to build a bridge from The Battery to Brooklyn. After residents, preservationists and even Eleanor and President Franklin Roosevelt protested, the city opted instead to construct a tunnel under the East River. Nevertheless, Moses managed to get the aquarium knocked down before demolition was halted by the outbreak of World War II. After the war, Congress passed a bill declaring the site a National Monument, and preserved the walls of Castle Clinton.

HIGH AND DRY…Until it was demolished in 1941, the New York City Aquarium occupied the space in the center of Castle Clinton, which was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1966. (nps.gov)

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Now, About That Band…

A play that satirized America’s enthusiasm for war — Strike Up the Band — was loved by critics but spurned by audiences when it opened in Philadelphia in 1927. Written by George S. Kaufman, with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, the play had the pedigree for success, but audiences weren’t quite ready for a show that poked fun at the U.S. military just nine years after the end of World War I (in the original play, America is goaded into declaring war on Switzerland by an American cheese tycoon).

Enter lyricist Morrie Ryskind, who reworked the script, softening its political message and remaking the war plot into a dream sequence. The revised play proved to a be hit, running for 191 performances at the Times Square Theatre. It also introduced a number of popular songs, including “The Man I Love” and “Strike Up the Band.” Robert Benchley was on hand for opening night:

TEAMWORK…Clockwise, from top, Ira (left) and George Gershwin at work circa 1930; lyricist Morrie Ryskind, who softened the tone of George S. Kaufman’s original script. (U of Michigan/Wikipedia)

Benchley noted that the antics of comedian Bobby Clark caused him to laugh so loud that his guffaws were even noted in the Herald Tribune’s review:

MAKE ‘EM LAUGH…The comedy team of Paul McCullough (left) and Bobby Clark were one of the play’s big draws. At right, Herald-Tribune illustration by Al Hirschfeld announcing the Broadway opening of Strike Up the Band. (aaronneathery.org)

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Duncan Yo-Yos

We’ve seen the Duncan Sisters (Rosetta and Vivian) before in this blog, the sister vaudeville act that became famous with the 1923 hit musical Topsy and Eva, which inspired a silent 1927 film starring the duo. They were back on the screen in late 1929 with It’s a Great Life, which the New Yorker’s John Mosher found to be “pretty dreary”…

NOT SO GREAT, THIS…Clockwise from top, promotional poster for It’s a Great Life; a scene from a dance number in the film; Rosetta (in blackface) and Vivian Duncan as Topsy and Eva (characters derived from the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin). It’s a Great Life flopped at the box office, along with the Duncan’s brief movie careers. In the years to follow the duo would became popular nightclub entertainers and would continue to perform their Topsy and Eva routine even though appearing in blackface was increasingly considered offensive. (Wikipedia/freewebs.com)

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Miracle Worker

The New Yorker profile, written by Robert Coates, featured Helen Keller (with illustration by Hugo Gellert). A brief excerpt:

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From Our Advertisers

Advertisers in the Jan. 25 issue included the new Fortune magazine, which announced its first issue with this full-page ad:

…the table of contents is fascinating, spare in descriptions of everything from “Hogs” to “Orchids”…

From left, issue No. 1, February 1930; table contents for the issue; a prototype of the magazine, September 1929. (Fortune) please click to enlarge

…also listed in the new magazine’s table of contents was the name of a 24-year-old photographer, Margaret Bourke-White

A photo of coal piles by Margaret Bourke-White in the first issue of Fortune magazine. At right, Bourke-White photographing atop a skyscraper circa 1930. (Fortune)

…on to our other advertisements, we have this entry from Elizabeth Arden…ads from this salon chain in the 1920s and 30s featured this ubiquitous image of a woman with a distant stare, her head tightly bound — mummy-like — as part of a firming treatment called “muscle-strapping”…

…in contrast to the rather cold, clinical look of Elizabeth Arden ad, the Primrose House appealed more to social climbing than skin toning…

…while the makers of Pond’s cold cream continued to draw from their stable of debutantes and society ladies to move their product…

…long before there was Joe Camel, R.J. Reynolds also appealed to social climbers with a series of ads beautifully illustrated by fashion artist Carl Erickson

…society’s smokers were advised to pack a tube of Bost toothpaste, or have their French maid do it for them…

…and once again we have an ad by Dr. Seuss for Flit insecticide that is very much of its time…

…as is this cartoon by I. Klein, perhaps the first in the New Yorker that depicted African Americans as something other than minstrel show stereotypes. Nevertheless, the rendering is still a bit crude — especially the boy’s face — as is the idea behind the “joke” —  that a black boy could actually aspire to be a great violinist like Jascha Heifetz

John Reynolds explored a less troubling juxtaposition among the bohemian set…

…and we end with this peek into society life courtesy Barbara Shermund… 

Next Time: The Wild Kingdom…