Through the Looking Glass

The next time you complain about a boring Zoom meeting, think about Morris Markey’s visit to New York’s Bell Laboratories in the spring of 1931, when he marveled at what was, perhaps, the “apotheosis” of American industry: a two-way video telephone.

May 9, 1931 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Mass-market television in the U.S. was still two decades away, but what Markey saw demonstrated in 1931 was a glimpse of the future, seeing and conversing with another man three miles away via a long wire that transmitted images from a fantastic array of spinning discs and neon tubes:

TECHNOLOGY’S MATERNITY WARD…The original Bell Labs building at 463 West Street in New York. It was the birthplace of talking movies, television, radar and the vacuum tube. (att.com)
DEFINITELY NOT HI-DEF…At left, this is most likely where Morris Markey sat for the demonstration of early video phone technology. At right (click image to enlarge), a July 1930 article in Popular Science Monthly described how the transmitting apparatus worked. (earlytelevision.org/books.google.com)
BUT WILL IT SELL?…Herbert Hoover, then secretary of commerce, became the world’s first television personality in 1927 when his voice and face (inset) were transmitted to an audience at Bell Laboratories in New York City. At the time, AT&T, Bell’s parent company, was doubtful about television’s moneymaking potential. (edn.com)
SPINNING WHEELS…Whirling metal discs, pictured at left, perforated with tiny holes, cast a series of horizontal beams of light across a viewer’s face (right), which were then transmitted to a receiver. (earlytelevision.org)

Despite its gee-whiz factor, many, including the folks at Bell Labs, seemed doubtful that the technology would come into wider use or be profitable any time soon, if ever. Markey noted that his little demonstration required many millions of dollars in research and development, but he was prophetic in suggesting that such technology might come to be dreaded if it ever came into common use.

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Uplifting Sight

That a bra and girdle maker should become the topmost tenant at the new Empire State Building was not lost on E.B. White, who commented thusly…

…and while viewers wouldn’t actually see a giant bra atop the skyscraper, many were nevertheless interested in getting a closer look at some of the building’s details, as reported in “The Talk of the Town”…

OVER THE MOON?…The moon gained some keen competition from telescope viewers when the Empire State Building climbed its way into the sky. (Pinterest/tech-notes.tv)

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Channelling Marlene

Film critic John Mosher wasn’t over the moon when it came to the acting of Tallulah Bankhead in Tarnished Lady, however he surmised it was likely the director’s fault for trying to exploit Bankhead’s passing resemblance to Marlene Dietrich. Mosher noted that lighting and staging flattering to the German actress just didn’t work with the belle from Alabama.

MIRROR, MIRROR…Tallulah Bankhead (left) might have pondered who was the fairest in the land, but the New Yorker’s John Mosher found her to be no match for German actress Marlene Dietrich (right, in 1931’s Dishonored) when it came to screen presence. (IMDB)

Despite Mosher’s blah review, Paramount touted Bankhead’s successful portrayal of a “tarnished lady” in this ad from the same issue:

Mosher, however, found redemption in another film making the rounds, Warner Brothers’ Svengali starring John Barrymore:

YOU ARE GETTING VERRRY SLEEPY…in 1931’s Svengali, 17-year-old Marian Marsh played the artist’s model Trilby, who is transformed into a great opera star by the sinister hypnotist, Svengali, played by John Barrymore. Also pictured is Bramwell Fletcher, who portrayed Trilby’s love interest, Billee. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

After a long absence Peter Arno’s Whoops Sisters returned to the pages of the New Yorker, not as a cartoon panel but as shills for the Cunard Line…

…whether traveling by boat or train, you might have considered bringing along “Salvo,” an early version of a popular game that today we call “Battleship”…

…Salvo and other Battleship-type games were originally played on pieces of paper like this…

…and here’s an ad for ice cube trays that exploited the popularity of the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” syndicated newspaper feature…

…on to our cartoonists, Ralph Barton rendered Albert Einstein as his latest “Hero”…

…and interpreted the latest headlines in his “Graphic Section”…

…among the delicate set, we got a bit risqué with Gardner Rea

…and nearly apoplectic with Gluyas Williams

Otto Soglow’s Little King, on the other hand, reigned with a steady hand…

…and we end with I. Klein, and a little bauble for the Missus…

Next Time: The Short Life of Two-Gun Crowley…

 

Front Page News

It’s hard to beat Chicago as a source for hardboiled storytelling, and two of its best newspaper reporters, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, would draw on their rough and tumble newsroom experiences to create one of Broadway’s most-beloved plays.

March 28, 1931 cover by Ruth Cairns.

Although they were Chicago boys, the New Yorker crowd viewed Hecht and MacArthur as adopted (or perhaps naturalized) Manhattanites. So when John Mosher wrote his glowing review of the film adaption of The Front Page, he was writing about the work of a pair well known to the Algonquin Round Table set.

WE ❤ NY…Chicagoans Ben Hecht, left, and Charles MacArthur were familiar faces with the Algonquin Round Table crowd. (Chicago Tribune/Amazon)
NEWSIES…Editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou) sizes up his reporter Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien) and Hildy’s fiance Peggy Grant (Mary Brian) in The Front Page. (IMDB)

MacArthur (1895-1956) was especially close to the Algonquin group, having shared an apartment with Robert Benchley and a bed with Dorothy Parker in the early 1920s. In 1928 MacArthur would marry one of Broadway’s most beloved stars, Helen Hayes.

For his part, Hecht (1893-1964) contributed short fiction pieces to the New Yorker during its lean first years, 1925-1928. After the success of The Front Page, Hecht would go on to become one of Hollywood’s greatest screenwriters.

Here’s Mosher’s review:

Playwright and essayist James Harvey observes that The Front Page was “Hecht and MacArthur’s Chicago…(and) that counts most deeply in the imagination of Hollywood. And their play, the first of the great newspaper comedies, did more to define the tone and style, the look and the sound of Hollywood comedy than any other work of its time.”

DESK JOB…Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien) and Molly Malloy (Mae Clarke) hide escaped murderer Earl Williams (George E. Stone) in a rolltop desk in 1931’s The Front Page. (Everett)
TRIUMPHANT TRIUMVIRATE… Following up on the success of his famously over-budget war film Hell’s Angels (1930), Howard Hughes (left) had another hit on his hands as co-producer of The Front Page; at the Fourth Academy Awards the film was nominated for Best Picture, Lewis Milestone (center) for Best Director, and Adolphe Menjou (right) for Best Actor. (Wikipedia/IMDB)

A footnote: Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were close throughout their careers, and remain so even in death: they are buried near each other on a hilltop in Oak Hills Cemetery, Nyack, NY.

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From Our Advertisers

In the late 1920s and early 1930s several illustrators drew inspiration from the style Carl “Eric” Erickson made famous with his elegant series of ads for Camel cigarettes…I’m not sure if this ad (part of a series promoting “The New Chevrolet Six”) is by Erickson or an imitator, but it seems the artists were likely inspired by the actress Greta Garbo and her signature beret…

…and for comparison, an Erickson Camel ad from the March 21, 1931 issue…

…and our inspiration, Greta Garbo circa 1930…

…those Chevy buyers might have considered investing in Velmo mohair upholstery to boost the resale value of their auto…

…among other technological wonders of the age — furniture crafted from aluminum, soon to become ubiquitous in workplaces across the country…

…and then there was the electric refrigerator, still new to a lot of households in 1931 as icemen began to hang up their tongs and head for the sunset…

…if you were a modern man or woman of means, you could ditch the auto altogether and get yourself a Pitcairn autogiro…

…in the 1920s and 30s the autogiro was considered by many to be the transportation of the future, a flying machine as easy to operate as driving a car…

HEY DAD, CAN I HAVE THE KEYS TO THE AUTOGIRO?…Above, a Pitcairn PCA-2. In the 1920s and 30s, many future-forward designers imagined the autogiro as the flying car of tomorrow. (Wikipedia)

…for those who preferred to be passenger rather than pilot, they could relax in the comfort of an airplane cabin and enjoy some…hmmm…beef broth! From what I understand, passenger flight was not this cosy in 1931…this was long before pressurized cabins, when you had to mostly fly in the weather, and not above it, and you probably had to fight to keep from upchucking that Torex all over the lovely flight attendant…

…while we are on the subject of flight, we turn to our cartoons, beginning with Garrett Price

…meanwhile, William Steig explored the trials of young love…

…a rare two-pager from Ralph Barton

Leonard Dove adopted an alias for a cartoon that seems inspired by a recent trip to Persia…

Otto Soglow illustrated one man’s dilemma at a bus stop…

Gardner Rea found offense in an unlikely setting…

Barbara Shermund defined pathetic in this sugar daddy’s boast…

…while on the other end of the spectrum, I. Klein illustrated the burdens of life as a Milquetoast…

…and we sign off with Mary Petty, and one woman’s terms of endearment…

Next Time: Last Stand for Beau James…

Ten Cents In Stamps

Like E.B. White, James Thurber and Dorothy Parker who came before him, S. J. Perelman was one of those New Yorker writers whose name would become synonymous with the magazine. 

Jan. 24, 1931 cover by William Crawford Galbraith.

Perelman’s first New Yorker article, “Ten Cents in Stamps,” appeared in the Jan. 24, 1931 issue, his subject a collection of self-help and “how to” books he introduced with this Editor’s Note: “Upsetting as it may seem, all the books reviewed in the following article are genuine.”

FOR THE BIRDS…S. J. Perelman sampled Canary Breeding for Beginners among other titles in his first humorous short for the New Yorker. The above 1935 photograph was made by Ralph Steiner, who recalled “when I made this photograph I said ‘this is a foolish thing for two grown men to be doing with their time,’ Perelman answered: ‘We may be the only two men in the world at this moment not doing harm to anyone.'”(amazon/akronartmuseum.org)

Without further ado, some excerpts…

…Perelman offered us a taste of Martini’s poetic gifts…

MARTINI WITH A TWIST…S.J. Perelman wanted “a little tighter thinking” from Martini, The Palmist, in his book, How to Read Eyes. (Etsy/johnesimpson.com)

…and also sampled the wisdom of Jacob Penn, who wrote a book titled How to Get a Job Through Help Wanted Advertisements. Perelman zeroed in on the book’s appendix, which contained “Successful Model Letters”…

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Dorothy Returns

After a long absence, Dorothy Parker returned to her immensely popular “Reading and Writing” column. Parker had been at an alpine sanitorium in Switzerland, providing moral support for her friends Gerald and Sara Murphy while their young son was treated for tuberculosis. Parker had originally fled to Europe (France, specifically) to write her “Great American Novel,” only to end up on the Swiss mountaintop, where she composed a long letter just recently published (2014) under the title Alpine Giggle Week. Back in New York, she returned to her typewriter and released her wit on Charles Noel Douglas, editor of Forty Thousand Sublime and Beautiful Thoughts.

A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS?…Charles Noel Douglas had 40,000 of them, Dorothy Parker discovered.(amazon/britannica.com)

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A ‘Tables’ Reprise

Lois Long was also back, in a way, reviving her “Tables for Two” column for on a one-off on the city’s Broadway hot-spots…

AFTER THE CURTAIN FALLS on Broadway there were plenty of nighttime diversions to keep theater crowds entertained into the wee hours.Clockwise, from top left, singer-dancer Frances Williams worked wonders with Harry Richman and his orchestra at the Club Richman; Bobby Dolan wielded a smart baton at Barney’s; and crooner Morton Downey (pictured with wife and actress Barbara Bennett)… lent his golden tenor to adoring crowds at Club Delmonico. The couple spawned the combative star of 1980s “Trash TV” Morton Downey Jr. (Pinterest)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with a full page of ads for various Broadway shows…

…and if you wanted to get tickets to one of those shows, here is 1931’s version of StubHub…

…and we are reminded that it is indeed 1931 with overtly racist ads such as this…

…back home, the help isn’t treated much better. “Cook” can suffer as long as the food remains fresh in the gleaming Frigidaire…

…meanwhile, our stylish Camel smokers (illustrated by Carl “Eric” Erickson) are keeping cool on the slopes…

…and perhaps this is the one and only time a painting by Thomas Gainsborough is compared to a tire…

…on to our illustrators and cartoons, the editors tossed in this old spot illustration by H.O. Hofman to fill space on the events page…

…an then we have this spot (sorry, I can’t identify the artist) that imagines disastrous consequences for the Empire State Building’s “mooring mast” (which was never used as such)…

…and after a long absence Ralph Barton returned to lend his artistry to the theater review section…

…for our cartoons, we begin with Sewell Johnson’s lone contribution to the New Yorker

Carl Rose was at the movies…

Izzy Klein warmed things up in this parlor scene…

Alan Dunn justified the existence of thriller author Edgar Wallace

...John Reehill gave us a look at an unlikely radio act (however, from 1936 to 1956 ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, would be hugely popular radio stars)…

Rea Irvin paid a visit to the diner in this full-page cartoon…

…and another full-pager from Peter Arno, who looked in on an intimate moment…

Next Time: The Wickersham Sham…

The Road to 1931

The New Yorker entered its sixth year in 1931, and despite the deepening Depression managed to stay afloat and even gain new subscribers. Perhaps more than ever folks needed that weekly dose of levity the magazine ably supplied.

Rea Irvin rang out the old and welcomed the new with back-to-back covers for the Dec. 27, 1930 and Jan. 3, 1931 issues. The second cover commemorated the New York Auto Salon, mentioned later in this blog entry.

That isn’t to say the magazine’s contributors donned rose-colored glasses. Rather, they commiserated with their fellow Americans:

CRANKY COUPLETS…Ogden Nash lent his droll verse to the nation’s economic woes. In 1931, while working as an editor at Doubleday, Nash submitted a number of poems to the New Yorker and spent three months working on the magazine’s editorial staff. (poeticous.com)

Over the course of 1930 many Americans, including Ogden Nash, woke to the fact that their business and political leaders were ill-suited to lift them out of the economic mess, and were likely responsible for it in the first place. At the top of the list was President Herbert Hoover, who was profiled in the New Yorker in three installments beginning with the Dec. 27 issue. This brief excerpt gives you a glimpse into a very different White House 89 years ago:

The first installment of the profile was accompanied by a Cyrus Baldridge portrait of the president (left), but the final two installments featured a less-than-flattering Abe Birnbaum rendering that first appeared in the New Yorker in the March 2, 1929 issue:

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Vorse Was a Force

Social critic, labor activist and novelist Mary Heaton Vorse (1874–1966) was no fan of Herbert Hoover or wealthy business tycoons, and in the first decades of the 20th century joined with Lincoln Steffens and other muckraking journalists in advocating for social reform. Vorse, however, also had a background in fiction writing and in observational pieces like the one below (excerpts) in which she commented on the rustic old ladies she found everywhere in the city:

FOR THE CAUSE…Mary Heaton Vorse (left) with fellow activists preparing to leave on a relief expedition to aid striking Kentucky miners, 1932. At right, a 1925 drawing of Vorse by Hugo Gellert. (nysut.org/Smithsonian)

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The Mystic

Before the Beatles made the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi a famed Transcendental Meditation guru in the 1960s, there was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a Russian/Greek/Armenian spiritual teacher of the “Fourth Way,” which promised a path to a higher state of consciousness and full human potential. Gurdjieff also enjoyed living in a French chateau and taking trips to New York to share his wisdom with eager Americans, including famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “The Talk of the Town” had these observations on the visiting mystic:

HE COULD SEE THINGS…George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, in an undated photo.

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Sunny Days

Forget about financial woes or spiritual dilemmas. What are you going to wear next summer? Fashion writer Lois Long (“On and Off the Avenue”) asked the question and looked to the south for some answers:

…numerous ads peppered the Dec. 27 issue urging Manhattan’s snowbirds to dress appropriately for the warmer climes…

…and operators of “PlaneTrains” promised to get them there as quickly as possible…

…and if you were headed to Cuba you could stay at the brand new National Hotel…

…here’s what it looked like three years ago when I was in Havana…I can guarantee you the hotel service was WAY better in 1931…

…whether home or abroad, New Yorkers were celebrating the New Year by “dancing to the melodies of Old Vienna” and smoking like chimneys…

…a popular New Year’s Eve destination was the The Roosevelt Hotel, where Guy Lombardo’s orchestra helped ring in the New Year from 1929 (radio’s first nationwide New Year’s Eve broadcast) to 1959…

I stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel in late December, and found Lombardo still presiding over the bar…

…we also find New Year’s revelry in the cartoons, with Mary Petty

Izzy Klein

Otto Soglow...

…and Leonard Dove

…and for those who stayed home, we have this scene of domestic bliss from Don Herold

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On to the Jan. 3, 1931 issue, we have Howard Brubaker (“Of All Things”) waxing sour on the state of the economy…

…so what a better way to cheer up than to look at shiny new cars, especially the ones almost no one could afford? The New Yorker paid another visit to the New York Automobile Salon at the Grand Central Palace…

…according to the article, 1931 was “a streamline year,” and leading the way was the REO motor car company, which despite its innovative ways would drop its car line altogether in 1936 — a casualty of the Depression…

FLOWING FENDERS…The 1931 REO Royale was a trendsetter, introducing streamlining designs. The Great Depression would cause REO to abandon the manufacture of automobiles in 1936. (historicvehicle.org)

…over at the Chrysler Building, which served as that corporation’s headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s, new cars were on display on the building’s first two floors…

CATHEDRAL OF CARS…The first two floors of the Chrysler Building served as an auto showroom during the building’s first decade. (Wikipedia/thewelcomeblog.com)

…we segue to our advertisements, many from car companies touting their displays at the New York Automobile Salon. Like REO, Marmon was noted for various innovations, including the introduction of the rear-view mirror. It also manufactured a stunning 16-cylinder automobile that was on display at the 1931 Salon. But also like REO, the Depression proved too much for Marmon, and it was defunct by 1933…

SLEEK…The 1931 Marmon Sixteen. (RM Auctions)

…another car company that would fall to the Depression was the luxury brand Pierce Arrow. Without a lower-priced car in its lineup to provide cash flow, the company ceased operation by 1938…

…by contrast, the Chrysler Corporation had several low-priced models to help it survive the lean years and enable it to produce its luxury model, the Imperial…

ANOTHER FIRST…Chrysler was also known for its innovative ways. A custom version of the Chrysler Imperial Eight included a dictaphone. (hemmings.com)

…the Hudson Motor Car Company is long gone, but in 1930 it was the third largest carmaker after Ford and Chevrolet, and instead of luxury it touted the affordability of its cars, especially its low-priced Essex line, priced $1,000 less than its predecessor from ten years earlier. The $595 Essex would be comparable to a $9,000 to $10,000 car today (by comparison, the 1931 Marmon or Imperial would set you back somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000, roughly equivalent to a $46,000 – $78,000 range today)…

…so let’s say the Depression has wiped you out and you can’t even afford an Essex…well you could try to “smoke your way back to normalcy”…

…or be like this pair, who seem content with their Chesterfields…

…of course the movies were another means of escape from the cruel world, and Paramount’s Publix Theatres promised plenty of sex to ease troubled minds…

PRE-CODE WORLD…During a brief period of the early sound era, many films used both sex and violence to attract audiences to theaters. The Publix Theatres ad above implied that these three films had plenty of sex, or “it” — clockwise, from top left, Fredric March ran around in his skivvies in The Royal Family of Broadway (1930); Mary Brian and Ina Claire portrayed acting sisters Gwen and Julie Cavendish in The Royal Family of Broadway; David Manners and Ruth Chatterton shared an embrace in The Right to Love (1930); and Marlene Dietrich lured a schoolmaster into a life of madness and despair in The Blue Angel (1929-30).

…and we close with our cartoonists…Reginald Marsh heralded the new year with this two-page spread depicting the heavens glorifying dental hygiene…

Leonard Dove inked two cartoons featuring table talk…

E. McNerney continued the New Yorker tradition of cartoons featuring rich old men and their gold diggers…

Gardner Rea pondered the value of kitsch in a regal setting…

A.S. Foster looked in on a crowd of John Does at a speakeasy…

…and Lillian Reed took us shopping with a very specific request…

Next Time: Requiem For the Flapper…

 

A Blue Angel

The German actor Emil Jannings was well-known to American audiences when The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel) premiered at New York’s Rialto Theatre. Although the film was created as a vehicle for the Academy Award-winning Jannings (he won the Academy’s first-ever best actor award in 1929), it was the little-known Marlene Dietrich who stole the show and made it her ticket to international stardom.

Dec. 13, 1930 cover by Ralph Barton, surprisingly his only cover for the New Yorker. The illustration sadly belies Barton’s state of mind at the time; he would take his own life the following spring.

New Yorker film critics, including John Mosher, generally found foreign films, particularly those of German or Russian origin, to be superior to the treacle produced in Hollywood, and Jannings was a particular favorite, delivering often heart-wrenching performances in such silent dramas as The Last Laugh (1924) and The Way of All Flesh (1927). In those films he depicted once-proud men who fell on hard times, and such was the storyline for The Blue Angel, in which a respectable professor falls for a cabaret singer and descends into madness.

NO CONTEST…Emil Jannings had star billing for the English language version of Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, but it was Marlene Dietrich’s portrayal of cabaret singer Lola Lola that stole the show. (IMDB)

I was surprised by Mosher’s somewhat tepid review of this landmark film, which was shot simultaneously in German and English (with different supporting casts in each version). He referenced “bum dialogue,” which was doubtless the result of German actors struggling with English pronunciations. Filmed in 1929, it is considered to be Germany’s first “talkie.”

PRIDE BEFORE THE FALL…A proud and stern schoolmaster named Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings) falls for cabaret singer Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich), and from there his life unravels; he loses the respect of his pupils, then resigns his post to marry Lola. To make ends meet, Rath tries to sell racy photos of his wife, and then becomes a clown in her troupe and is regularly humiliated on stage. Destitute, he dies at the end of the film. (IMDB)

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All Wet

Sergei Tretyakov’s avant-garde play Roar China made an impression on the New Yorker for the striking realism of its set, which featured an 18,000-gallon tank of water onstage at the Martin Beck Theatre. “The Talk of the Town” described some of the demands of the production:

STAYING AFLOAT…The elaborate set for Roar China featured a model battleship in 18,000 gallons of water.
ROAR CHINA! was an anti-imperialist play depicting the Wanhsien Incident during the Chinese Civil War. Many in the Chinese cast members were non-professional actors. (New York Public Library)

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By Any Other Name

Like many college football teams in first decades of the 20th century, Notre Dame was referred to by a number of nicknames, including the “Fighting Irish.” In this “Talk of the Town” item, however, the team was known as the “Ramblers.” According to the University of Notre Dame, this nickname (along with “The Rovers”) was considered something of an insult: “(Knute) Rockne’s teams were often called the Rovers or the Ramblers because they traveled far and wide, an uncommon practice before the advent of commercial airplanes. These names were also an insult to the school, meant to suggest it was more focused on football than academics.”

RAMBLERS NO MORE…The 1930 National Champion Notre Dame football team. (nd.edu)

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The Wright Stuff

Eric Hodgins penned a profile of aviation pioneer Orville Wright, who just 27 years earlier made a historic “first flight” with his brother, Wilbur, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. An excerpt:

DRESSED FOR SUCCESS: Aviation pioneer Orville Wright (1871 – 1958) sits in one of his biplanes dressed in a three-piece suit and a cap, Dayton, Ohio, 1909. (ge.com)

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No Love Parade, This

French singer and actor Maurice Chevalier made his Hollywood debut in 1928 and quickly soared to stardom in America. French audiences, however, were not so easily swayed, especially the elite patrons Chevalier faced, alone on the stage, at the cavernous Théâtre du Châtelet. Janet Flanner explained in this dispatch from Paris:

THEY LIKE ME IN TINSELTOWN…Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier in The Love Parade (1929). (IMDB)
GULP…Maurice Chevalier faced a tough crowd — his compatriots — at Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet. (en.parisinfo.com)

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Man’s Best Friend

The New Yorker’s book section recommended the latest from Rudyard Kipling, Thy Servant a Dog…

WOOF…Illustrations for Rudyard Kipling’s Thy Servant a Dog, by Marguerite Kirmse. (Etsy)

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Fun and Games

As an extension to her fashion column, Lois Long shared some recommendations for holiday cocktail-party games:

KEEPING THINGS MERRY…Pokerette and Gee-Wiz were popular cocktail party diversions during the Christmas season of 1930. (Worthpoint/Invaluable)

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From Our Advertisers

We start with this ad from Horace Liveright promoting Peter Arno’s third cartoon collection, Hullaballoo, featuring one of Arno’s leering old “Walruses”…

…Doubleday Doran offered a few selections for last-minute Christmas shoppers, led by the Third New Yorker Album

…The UK’s Harold Searles Thorton invented the table top game we now call “foosball” in 1921 and had it patented in 1923. Below is possibly the game’s first appearance in the U.S. — an ad for a “new” game called “Kikit.” Foosball would be slow to catch on, but would rapidly gain popularity in Europe in the 1950s and in the U.S. in the 1970s…

Early foosball players circa 1930. (foosball.org)

Horace Heidt and his Californians were doing their best to make the season bright at the Hotel New Yorker…

…Peck & Peck tried to make the most of Prohibition by stuffing scarves and other wares into empty Champagne bottles…

…and Franklin Simon reminded readers that it would be a “Pajama-Negligee Christmas,” whatever that meant…

…pajamas and negligees were doubtless preferable, and more romantic, than this array of kitchen appliances…

…whatever the holiday revelry, the makers of Milk of Magnesia had our backs…

…on to our cartoonists, Julian De Miskey and Constantin Alajalov contributed spot drawings to mark the season…

A.S. Foster contributed two cartoons to the issue…

Gardner Rea, a full-pager…

Leonard Dove, possibly having some fun with playwright Marc Connelly

I. Klein demonstrated the fun to be had with a kiddie scooter, before they had motors…

…and we close with John Reynolds, and some bad table manners…

Next Time: Happy Holidays…

 

 

The High Place

For this installment we look at two issues, Nov. 15 and 22, both featuring covers by Theodore Haupt that celebrated two autumn rituals: football and Thanksgiving.

Let’s begin with the Nov. 22 issue, which climbed to the highest place in Manhattan — no, not the Chrysler Building, but the nearby Empire State Building — with E.B. White admiring the commanding view:

Before the Empire State Building could go up, the old Waldorf-Astoria hotel had to come down. As White observed, the old hotel was built so soundly that it was too costly to deconstruct and salvage. Most of it ended up on the bottom of the ocean.

DOWN IN DAVY JONES’ LOCKER lie the remains of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which stood for just 36 years before it was razed to make room for the Empire State Building. At right, one of the hotel’s lobbies, and the Grand Ballroom. (nyc-architecture.com/Pinterest)
UPSTART…Left, in this image from November 1930, scaffolding embraces the Empire State Building’s “mooring mast,” which promoters claimed would allow dirigibles to load and unload passengers atop the tallest building in the world. Top right, although not yet complete, the actual height of the Empire State Building exceeded the Chrysler Building by October 1930. It would officially claim the crown as the world’s tallest on May 1, 1931. Bottom right, a steelworker’s view of the Chrysler Building from atop the Empire State Building, taken by photographer Lewis Hine. (Fine Art America/MCNY/Wikipedia)
A LOT OF HOT AIR…Top images: The fabled “mooring mast,” described by E.B. White in his New Yorker brief, as imagined in composite images (old-time Photoshop). In reality, the morning mast never worked; bottom right, a cutaway view of the mast featured in Popular Mechanics; bottom left, New York Times photo from March 22, 1931, announcing the completion of the Empire State Building, just 17 months after the Waldorf-Astoria began coming down. (Reddit, Pinterest, NYT)
SURVEYING THEIR KINGDOM…Most visitors to the Empire State Building can only go as high as the 86th floor observation deck. However, if you are a VIP like Serena Williams or Taylor Swift, you can get your picture snapped on the 103rd. (Empire State Building/Evan Bindelglass, CBSNewYork)

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Sore Winner

Sinclair Lewis famously declined the Pulitizer Prize for his 1925 novel Arrowsmith, upset that his 1920 novel Main Street had not previously won the prize. But when the Swedish Academy came calling with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930, he happily accepted. According to “The Talk of the Town,” this award also seemed a bit tardy, since Lewis’s small town booster archetype, George F. Babbitt, did not fit the dour days of the Great Depression. But it turned out that the 1922 novel Babbitt was ultimately what swayed the Nobel jury:

BOOST FROM A BOOSTER…George F. Babbitt helped make Sinclair Lewis famous, and landed him a Nobel. (NYT, NOVEMBER 6, 1930)

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Not So Sweet

Those of a certain age might remember Helen Hayes as a sweet old lady who appeared on a number of TV shows in the 1970s and 80s, or as the mother in real life of James MacArthur, Disney teen star and later the portrayer of Danny “Book ’em Danno” Williams on the original Hawaii 5-0 TV series. Hayes was married to playwright Charles MacArthur, and “The Talk of the Town” takes it from there…

CREATIVE TYPES…The engaged couple Charles MacArthur and Helen Hayes posed for photographer Edward Steichen for this Jan. 1, 1929 image featured in Vanity Fair magazine. (Condé Nast)

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Ain’t It Grand

Grand Hotel opened at the National Theatre on Nov. 13, 1930 to strong reviews, including the one below by Robert Benchley that he filed for the New Yorker. The play, adapted from the 1929 novel Menschen im Hotel by Austrian writer Vicki Baum, would prove to be a smash on Broadway and again on the silver screen in a star-studded 1932 film featuring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, and Joan Crawford.

THE STARS ALIGN…Left, promotional photograph of the original Broadway production of Grand Hotel. At right, Eugenie Leontovich portrayed fading Russian ballerina Grusinskaya in the play. The role would go to Greta Garbo in the 1932 film adaptation. (Theatre Magazine, February 1931/Wikipedia)

…and while we are on the subject of Broadway, the theater review section also featured this Al Frueh illustration promoting a noted production of Twelfth Night at the Maxine Elliott…

Program for the production featuring Jane Cowl. (Playbill)

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There were also big doings at the Met, where Spanish lyric soprano Lucrezia Bori (1887-1960) wowed audiences with her portrayal of Violetta in La Traviata.

SHE HAD SOME PIPES…right, lyric soprano Lucrezia Bori on the cover of the June 30, 1930 edition of Time magazine. At right, promotional photo of Bori circa 1930. (Time/Wikipedia)

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Bounty of Blessings

Humorist W. E. Farbstein gave readers plenty to be thankful for in this tribute to the Thanksgiving holiday…

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From Our Advertisers

Occasionally advertisements acknowledged the reality of the Great Depression, including this one from the Saturday Evening Post that offered encouraging words to prospective readers…

…County Fair, a Greenwich Village country-themed nightclub, offered the diversion of Moffatt and Bowman to take audiences’ minds off of hard times…

…and for all the supposed sophistication of New Yorker readers, there were still plenty of back page ads offering nostrums laced with superstition…

…some of the more colorful, spritely ads from the era were offered up by the producers of Texaco Motor Oil…

…our cartoons are by Gardner Rea

Barbara Shermund

William Crawford Galbraith

…and Perry Barlow

…and for another reminder of reality in the city, this sketch that ran along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” by Reginald Marsh

…and now we step back to the Nov. 15 issue, where E.B. White offered a less somber take on the Great Depression…

…White also noted a change on the faces of storefront mannequins…

YIN AND YANG…The worldly pose of a Roaring Twenties mannequin, and a more wholesome look for the leaner times in the 1930s. (Pinterest)

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Playing Telephone

Long, long before cell phones, telephones were heavy stationary devices that required a certain amount of planning before installation, as E.B. White explains:

On to our Nov. 15 ads, we have this announcement for The Third New Yorker Album…with illustration by Otto Soglow

…here is what the album looked like…

…and a couple of inside pages…

(Etsy)

…one of the contributors to the album was Rea Irvin, founding illustrator for the New Yorker and Murad cigarettes…also another Flit insecticide ad by Dr. Seuss

…Christmas ads began appearing in the magazine, including this one for Hanson scales…pity the poor chap (and his wife) who actually thought this might be a suitable present for Christmas, or any occasion for that matter…

…and with Prohibition still in force, advertisers found other uses to promote their products…

…on to our cartoons, Leonard Dove illustrated a couple who didn’t get away with the ruse…

… Alan Dunn depicted what was considered typical office behavior in the 1930s…

...Peter Arno visited the Harvard Club…

Alice Harvey also explored the college scene…

…some parlor games with Barbara Shermund

……Bruce Bairnsfather, and some existentialist chat at tea time…

…and we close with Izzy Klein, and the world of corporate competition…

…and a Happy Thanksgiving, from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade 89 years ago, Nov. 27, 1930…

(CBS)

Next Time: The Future Was a Silly Place…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hell’s Angels

Among the films in 1930 that marked a new era in motion pictures was Howard Hughes’s epic war film Hell’s Angels. 

August 23 cover by Gardner Rea.

Originally shot as a silent, Hughes (1905-1976) retooled the film, and over a period of three years (1927-30) poured much of his own money into making what many consider to be Hollywood’s first sound action movie. The film also introduced audiences to 19-year-old Jean Harlow (1911-1937), handpicked by Hughes to replace Norwegian actress Greta Nissen in the lead role (Nissen’s accent posed a problem for the talkies). The film would make Harlow an instant star, propelling her to worldwide fame as the “Platinum Blonde” sex symbol of the 1930s.

Beset by delays due to Hughes’s incessant tinkering, the movie was famously expensive. For example, a total 137 pilots were used in just one flying scene at the end of the film. In addition to monetary costs, the filming also claimed the lives of three pilots and a mechanic, and Hughes himself would fracture his skull during a stunt flying attempt.

PRE-CODE…Before Will Hays imposed his moral code on Hollywood, films in the early thirties were frank with sexual references, as the image at left attests. When Howard Hughes switched the filming of Hell’s Angels to sound, he replaced Norwegian actress Greta Nissen with 19-year-old Jean Harlow (seen with co-star Ben Lyon). Harlow’s first major film appearance would make her an overnight star; at right, Frank Clarke and Roy Wilson flying an S.E.5A (front) and a Fokker D.VII (back, note camera) in the filming of Hell’s Angels. (Wikipedia)

The New Yorker’s John Mosher found the action scenes enticing, but the acting left something to be desired…

COSTLY VENTURE …This Sikorsky S-29A (left), repainted to represent a German Gotha bomber, would crash into the California hills during filming (right), killing mechanic Phil Jones, who failed to bail out along with the pilot. (Northrop Grumman)
GEE WHIZ…The media often reported on the progress of the film, such as in this May 1930 article in Modern Mechanics that detailed a $1 million sequence in which a fighter dives his plane into the top of a Zeppelin, causing it to explode and crash to earth. (Modern Mechanix)

We skip ahead briefly to the Aug. 30 issue, in which “The Talk of Town” featured a mini profile of Howard Hughes and his film. Note how Hughes’s extravagance is described through his frequent use of long-distance telephone calls:

A STAR IS BORN…19-year-old Jean Harlow and Ben Lyon in Hell’s Angels (1930); at right, Harlow and Howard Hughes at the premiere of the film. (IMDB/Pinterest)

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A Whale of a Movie

Critic John Mosher also took in a film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a very loose adaptation that excluded the novel’s central character, Ishmael, and invented a love story for the maniacal Capt. Ahab…

HAVE A LITTLE FAITH…From left, Noble Johnson as Queequeg, John Barrymore as Ahab, and Walter Long as Stubbs in 1930’s Moby Dick. At right, top, the whale puts the hurt on a boat; bottom, John Bennett as Faith, a contrived love interest for the old salt. (IMDB)

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Daily Dazzle

“The Talk of the Town” gushed over the lobby of the new Daily News Building, likening it to the glitz of a Broadway revue:

A HOME FOR CLARK KENT…The Daily News Building served as the model for the headquarters of the fictional Daily Planet, the building where Superman worked as mild-mannered Clark Kent; at right, an image from 1941 of the lobby, dominated by the  world’s largest indoor globe.
A LOBBY FOR LEARNING…The lobby includes an array of clocks, top left, that give the time in various global destinations. (aatlasobscura.com)

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A Busboy’s Dream

Charles Pierre Casalasco left his life as a busboy in Corsica and studied haute cuisine in Paris before arriving at the shores of Manhattan in the early 1900s. He became a renowned headwaiter who by 1929 garnered enough financial backing from New York’s most powerful families to construct the exclusive Hotel Pierre. Writing under her pseudonym, “Penthouse,” New Yorker columnist Marcia Davenport described the building’s apartments to eager readers:

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…The 41-story, 714-room Hotel Pierre officially opened in October 1930 to great fanfare. The party would be short-lived, as the deepening Depression would force the hotel into bankruptcy just two years later. At right, photo of the Rotunda, before a 2017 remodeling. (New York Public Library)

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So Much For Title IX

Then as now, women athletes were held to a separate set of standards, not only judged for their athletic abilities, but also for their “sex appeal,” as John Tunis suggests more than a few times in his profile of English tennis champion Betty Nuthall (1911-1983). Excerpts:

HOW’S THAT BACKHAND?…Betty Nuthall greets American tennis star Bill Tilden in September 1930; on the cover of Time after winning the 1930 U.S. Open. (Digital Commonwealth/Time)

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Free Expression

Robert Myron Coates (1897 – 1973) was a writer of experimental, expressionistic novels who later became a longtime art critic for the New Yorker (he is credited with coining the term “abstract expressionism” in 1946). In the Aug. 23 issue he contributed the first installment of “Dada City,” here describing street life in Harlem. Excerpts:

STREET LIFE…Scenes around Harlem’s 125th Street, clockwise from top left: the Apollo Theatre marquee punctuates a busy street scene in 1935; NW corner of 125th and Broadway, 1930; Regal Shoes storefront, 1940s, photo by Weegee; 125th and St. Nicholas Avenue in 1934. (Skyscraper City/Museum of the City of New York)
AMERICAN ORIGINAL…Robert M. Coates’s The Eater of Darkness (1926) has been called the first surrealist novel in English. (Goodreads)

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From Our Advertisers

New Yorkers who were still enduring the brutal summer of 1930 could find relief, if they could afford it, on a New York Airways flight…

…or if you had the means, you could take your yacht out to sea, like this chap in a coat and tie who calmly steers with one hand while offering a box of chocolates to his guests with the other…

…our sailor wasn’t the only one dressed to nines…here are two ads offering suggestions to young folks returning to college or prep school…

…for comparison, this is how a group of college students at Columbia University dress today…

(Columbia University)

Dr. Seuss continued to crank out drawings on behalf of Flit insecticide…

…and on to cartoons, yet another rerun (the sixth) of this Peter Arno drawing with a new caption (Dorothy Dix was a popular advice columnist)…

…and another look at country life courtesy Rea Irvin (originally printed sideways on a full page)…

…and another country scene, this time among the toffs, thanks to Garrett Price

…back in the city, some parlor room chatter as depicted by Barbara Shermund

…downtown, I. Klein looked at the economic challenges of peep shows…

…and we close with this reflection on city life, by Reginald Marsh

Next Time: Marble Halls…