Noblesse Oblige

Just three years before she would enter the White House as First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was familiar to some New Yorkers for her social work, but was known to most as the wife of the Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This week we look at two issues, March 29 and April 5, 1930, both with covers by Rea Irvin.

In a profile featured the April 5 New Yorker, Helena Huntington Smith looked at the life of a woman who was a niece to former President Theodore Roosevelt and a fifth cousin (once removed) to her husband Franklin. A somewhat reluctant mother (who nevertheless had six children) in a marriage that was mostly a political arrangement, Eleanor devoted considerable time and energy to social causes. Below is a brief excerpt, accompanied by an illustration of Eleanor by Cyrus Baldridge.

ALBANY DAYS…Clockwise, from top left: Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933; Gov. Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor, and their youngest son, John, in Albany in 1930; FDR being sworn in as Governor of New York, January 1929. (Wikipedia/Albany Group Archive)
IN HER ELEMENT…Eleanor Roosevelt with boy and girl scout volunteers at the University of Kentucky, July 1934. (eleanorroosevelt.org)

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No Laughing Matter

In a surprising twist, James Thurber took a hand at writing the “A Reporter at Large” column (titled “Cop Into College Man”) in the March 29 issue, visiting a new “Police College” in New York City. In this engaging piece, Thurber seemed thoroughly engrossed in the operation…

…and particularly in the mugshots of some of the city’s most notorious criminals, including gangster Jim Flanagan, “debonair in a Bangkok hat”…

…and in the college’s museum, filled with all manner of deadly implements…

PREPPING FOR PERPS…The April 1930 edition of Popular Science featured the opening of New York’s new Police College. (Modern Mechanix)

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Pluto’s Salad Days

In was something of a sensation in February 1930 when Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997) discovered the then-planet Pluto at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. Howard Brubaker in “Of All Things” (March 29) had this to say about the achievement:

JUST A SPECK…Clyde Tombaugh poses with the telescope through which he discovered the planet Pluto at the Lowell Observatory on Observatory Hill in Flagstaff, Ariz., 1931. At right, images of the planet (specks indicated by arrows) were all the proof Tombaugh needed to confirm his discovery. (AP/NASA)

Thanks to a 2015 flyby by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, we now have a better idea of what Pluto, now classified as a “dwarf planet,” actually looks like…

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Dandy Doodle Mayor

Fillmore Hyde, author (and four-time national amateur squash tennis champion), penned this ditty in the March 29 issue in tribute to New York City’s dandyish mayor…

HAT’S OFF…Mayor Jimmy Walker.

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Back for More

Also for the March 29 issue art critic Murdock Pemberton was back at the Museum of Modern Art — a new institution he met with skepticism when it opened in late 1929, but a place that was definitely growing on him as a destination to revel in the work of some of the world’s top modern artists, including the American Max Weber (1881-1961), whose retrospective was supposed to the big draw of MoMA’s latest show, but Pemberton seemed more impressed by French artist Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) and particularly by the Swiss-German Paul Klee (1879-1940).

AMERICAN CUBIST…Max Weber’s The Cellist, 1917, oil on canvas, was featured in Weber’s 1930 retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art; at right, Weber seated in front of Interior with Music (1930). (Brooklyn Museum/Smithsonian)
Aristide Maillol’s Crouching Woman, bronze, 1930. (MoMA)

Pemberton wrote that Klee’s show gave you “quite a feeling”…

Catalogs from Max Weber’s retrospective and Paul Klee’s exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. (MoMA)

…and when he compared Klee’s work to that of the other artists, Pemberton saw something “more potent even than electricity…signposts toward a glorious future”…

A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE…From left, Paul Klee’s Actor’s Mask, 1924, oil on canvas mounted on board; Josef Albers’ 1929 photographic portrait of Klee, 1929; Klee’s In the Grass, 1930, oil on canvas. (MoMA/Guggenheim.org)
 A week later, writing for the April 5 issue, Pemberton penned this piece for “The Talk of Town” about the work habits of artist John Marin

OLD MAN AND THE SEA…John Marin in 1921, in a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz; Marin’s Bathers, 1932, oil on canvas. (mfa.org/Dallas Museum of Art)

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Who Needs a Vet?

The April 5 issue featured James Thurber’s latest installment of “Our Pet Department…

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Spend It Quickly

April 5’s “Talk” also featured this item about Al Capone’s release from prison in Philadelphia, lavishing money and gifts on prison employees as he made his exit from Eastern Penitentiary…

…it was no wonder, because officials at the prison didn’t treat Capone like some ordinary prisoner…

SALUTARY CONFINEMENT…Arrested outside a Philadelphia movie theater for carrying a concealed, unlicensed .38 caliber revolver, Al Capone was sentenced to a year in Eastern State Penitentiary. His last seven months were served in a cell (right) with fine furniture, oriental rugs, paintings, and a console radio, among other frills. (easternstate.org)

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This Al Could Sing

Upon the DVD release of Al Jolson’s 1930 film, Mammy, Dave Kehr of the New York Times wrote that Jolson was “Simultaneously one of the most significant and most embarrassing show business figures of the 20th century.”

That was not view of most audiences 89 years ago, when Jolson reigned as one of America’s most famous entertainers. In his review of Mammy for the April 5, 1930 issue of the New Yorker, critic John Mosher admitted that he didn’t care for minstrel shows depicted in the film, but not for any of the reasons we would cite today…

UGH…Clockwise from top left, Al Jolson and Lois Moran in Mammy; a studio promotional poster; Jolson as a minstrel performer in the film. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

We have more racial stereotypes, this time to sell Stetson shoes…

Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) continued to pay the bills by illustrating ads for Flit insecticide…

…while professional golfer Walter Hagen picked up some extra cash by launching his own line of golf underwear…

…Walter has been gone for 50 years, but you can still get his branded clothing from Dick’s Sporting Goods…

Julian De Miskey picked up some extra work illustrating this house ad for the New Yorker

…and then we have this spot from the American Austin Car Company, which produced cars licensed from the British Austin Motor Company from 1930 through 1934…interestingly, the ad doesn’t feature the car itself…

…which looked like this…

(theoldmotor.com)

…on to our comics, Alan Dunn looked in on a devoted listener of S. Parkes Cadman’s Sunday radio broadcast…Cadman (1864-1936) was a British-born clergyman whose NBC radio broadcasts reached millions of listeners across America…

…signs of spring were noted by Otto Soglow

Don Herold shared an observation on stage entertainments…

…William Crawford Galbraith found unrequited love at the circus…

…while Barbara Shermund found a more agreeable pairing at a Manhattan cocktail party…

Garrett Price found humor in the growing numbers of the down and out…

…and Peter Arno turned in this epic two-pager that illustrated the challenges of filming in nature…

Next Time: Hot Jazz in Stone and Steel…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mutt & Jeff

We close out November 1927 by looking at a hugely popular comic strip–Mutt & Jeff–that made cartoonist Harry Conway (Bud) Fisher both famous and wealthy.

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Nov. 19 and Nov. 26, 1927 covers by Rea Irvin.

The editors of the Nov. 26, 1927 issue of the New Yorker thought Fisher interesting enough to feature in a lengthy “Profile,” written by Kelly Coombs. A brief excerpt:

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According to John Adcock’s terrific Yesterday’s Papers blog, by 1916 Bud Fisher was the highest paid cartoonist on earth. The New Yorker suggested his annual income was $300,000 (roughly equivalent to more than $4 million today). In addition to the strips, created by Fisher and a team of ghost illustrators/writers, Mutt & Jeff were featured in vaudeville engagements, theatrical shows, animated cartoons, comic books and toys.

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DIE LAUGHING…Mutt & Jeff themed toys included this joke kit from Mysto Manufacturing. I don’t quite get the joke featured on the cover, depicting Jeff’s casually twisted approach to murdering poor Mutt. (melbirnkrant.com)
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IT’S A LIVING…Harry Conway (Bud) Fisher, drawing a likeness of the character “Jeff” at a Chicago Daily News event in 1915. (Chicago History Museum)

Fisher began his career as a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle and started his strip about “two mismatched tinhorns” in 1907. It went into syndication the following year. Mutt and Jeff, originally titled A. Mutt, is regarded as the first American newspaper cartoon published as a strip of panels, making it the first “comic strip.”

There was obviously a time when American readers thought Mutt & Jeff hilarious, but I don’t quite get its appeal. In this strip from 1926, Jeff gets a pie in the face. The giant question mark was frequently employed by Fisher, as were the dotted eye lines and explanatory arrows like the one in the last panel. No, Jeff didn’t get his brains blown out by Mutt. It is only a pie! Hah Hah!

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Click on image to enlarge

Another visual cliché from comics of yore was the angry wife wielding a rolling pin. Apparently Jeff refers to Mutt’s wife as an “Old Buzzard” and assumes she is already in bed (sorry about the poor quality of the reproduction). Jeff subsequently gets whacked with the rolling pin, and Mutt takes it on the bean with a flatiron. That is quite a feat, throwing a grown man through a window while simultaneously hitting him on the head with a flatiron…

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Click on image to enlarge (Both strips courtesy University of Michigan)

The duo were also featured in more than 300 animated “half-reelers” produced between 1913 and 1926, including Mutt and Jeff: On Strike from 1920. The short film (which can be viewed here) even includes rare footage of Bud Fisher himself, since the story–sort of a film within a film–involves the penniless Mutt and Jeff going on strike after they see a movie featuring Fisher’s lavish home.

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STRIKEBREAKER…Still images from the silent half-reeler, Mutt and Jeff: On Strike. Fisher is shown at home discussing terms over the phone with his striking characters. They lose. (www.filmpreservation.org)

Coombs concluded the New Yorker “Profile” with these observations concerning Fisher’s personal habits:

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Fisher employed a number of assistants on the strip, including  George Herriman (Krazy Kat) and a high-school boy named Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are). When Fisher appeared to lose interest in the strip in the 1930s, assistant Al Smith took over and drew the strip for nearly fifty years (but Smith didn’t sign his own name on the strip until after Fisher’s death in 1954).

In Yesterday’s Papers, Adcock notes that Fisher “was the unlikeliest person you could think of to draw Mutt and Jeff…along with most of his contemporary cartoonist-journalists pals, (he) enjoyed fights, chorus girls, gambling, and saloons. Fisher liked to shoot up hotel rooms with his pistols, one of which was a gift from Pancho Villa, indoors when he was drunk.”

Heads in the Clouds

Thanks to the race to fly across the Atlantic, toy models of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and other planes were in high demand for the Christmas season, according to this item in the Nov. 26, 1927, “Talk of the Town:”

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BUILT TO LAST…A Metalcraft model kit (box, upper image, contents below) from the late 1920s. It was all metal in the days before plastic model kits. (eBay)

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At a Loss For Words

Jumping back to the Nov. 19, 1927 issue, we go from the low art of Bud Fisher to the high art of John Marin featured in “The Art Galleries” section of the New Yorker. Art critic Murdock Pemberton wrote:

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SAVAGE WORK…John Marin, White Horses – Sea Movement off Deer Isle, Maine, 1926. (Whitney Museum of American Art)

But perhaps “high art” is not an accurate description of Marin’s paintings, since Marin himself wasn’t into “highfalutin words” to describe his work…

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HAUNTING BEAUTY…John Marin, Echo Lake Franconia Range White Mountain Country, 1927 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.)

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In the previous week’s issue (Nov. 12) Marmon 8 was advertised as an ideal car for women. Not to be outdone, the folks at Buick shot back with this colorful ad in the Nov. 19 issue of the New Yorker:

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The Nov. 19 issue also featured this strange advertisement from the famed Wanamaker department store. Strange mainly because of the illustration, which features a fashionable woman departing a fanciful aircraft studded with mullioned windows(!) and a staircase that stretches to improbable depths…oh, and in case the reader might miss the snob appeal associated with French furs, the words Paris, Parisian or French are featured ten times…

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And finally, the ubiquitous New Yorker cartoon featuring the humorous mismatch of rich old duffer and ditzy young mistress, courtesy of Julian de Miskey…

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Next Time: More Funny Business…

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