Disappearing Act

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

Nov. 25, 1933 cover by Gardner Rea.

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

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

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

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

 * * *

Numbers Racket

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

 * * *

Hammered and Sickled

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

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

 * * *

Party Girl

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

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

 * * *

Masked Man

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

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

 * * *

Phooey on Huey

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

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

* * *

From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Otto Soglow demonstrated the unexpected effectiveness of hair tonic…

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

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

Next Time: Genesis of a Genius…