Prophecies of 1929

E.B. White gazed 50 years into the future in the Sept. 21, 1929 issue, predicting that New York City would be much the same if not a little worse by the time the calendar turned to 1979.

Sept. 21, 1929 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

White dismissed the popular notion that the future would be one of push-button happiness and gleaming white cities. And as it turned out, he was mostly right on the mark with his predictions:

LOVE IS IN THE AIR…Autogyros (as illustrated on a 1930 cover of Modern Mechanics) were often seen as the future of transportation in the 1920s and 30s; Maureen O’Sullivan (as “LN-18”) and John Garrick (“J-21”) glide above 1980 Manhattan in 1930’s  Just Imagine. (modernmechanix.com/pre-code.com)

Instead of the antiseptic fantasy world predicted in such movies as 1930’s Just Imagine (a futuristic musical set in 1980), White correctly foresaw a city that, despite technological advances, would still be a gritty rat race. And if you lived in New York City in 1979 (I was but a visitor then, as now), you would have found a city that indeed was quite dirty and crime-ridden (check out the 1979 movie The Warriors to get a sense of how Hollywood perceived the city at that time). As White observed, “Prophets always leave out the eternal mud”…

JUST A LOT OF HOT AIR…In addition to autogyros, futurists in the 1920s and 30s also saw dirigibles as integral to future transportation. At top left is an illustration of a solar-powered aerial landing field atop a dirigible on the cover of Modern Mechanix magazine, October, 1934; top right, Manhattan in 1980 as depicted in the the 1930 film Just Imagine; bottom right, workers dismantling the Third Avenue Elevated line in 1955; bottom left, Times Square in 1979. (airships.net/IMDB/gothamist.com/viewoftheblue.com)

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Cradle of Civilization

Dorothy Parker took aim at ugly Americans abroad in a casual titled “The Cradle of Civilization.” In these excerpts, Parker commented on the pretensions of young New Yorkers in France, including their ridiculous costumes…

…their bad French, and their even worse manners…

WELL, THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT…Actors Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman don the look of French fishermen during the filming of Intermezzo: A Love Story, in 1938. Howard and Bergman were supposed to look like a couple visiting the French Riviera, but in reality it was all filmed near Hollywood. The film was Bergman’s Hollywood debut. (Pinterest)

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A Penny Saved

Back stateside, Wolcott Gibbs looked in on the dying art of the penny-arcade peepshow, and expressed his disappointment with the quality of that product in general…

DON’T JUDGE A PEEP BY ITS COVER…A patron checks out “Hot Tango” at a penny peepshow parlor of the 1920s. (Pinterest)

Gibbs seemed particularly miffed by a film with the misleading title “For Men Only”…

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Uncle Jed

Jed Harris (1900-1979) was a wunderkind of Broadway, producing and directing 31 shows between 1925 and 1956. Before he turned 28 he produced a record four consecutive Broadway hits over the course of 18 months (including the 1928 smash hit The Front Page), and so it was time for some rest. “The Talk of the Town” reported…

Although it was rumored Harris would retire at age 30, he would instead return in the spring of 1930 with a production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and continue producing on Broadway through the 1950s.

WUNDERKIND…A 1928 portrait of Jed Harris that was featured on the Sept. 3, 1928 cover of Time magazine. (Wikipedia)

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Dueling Cassandras

About a month before the big stock market crash we find this curious little item in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column…

…Considered the first “celebrity economist,” Irving Fisher stated in September 1929 that the stock market had reached “a permanently high plateau,” while around the same time (Sept. 5, 1929) rival economist Roger Babson warned in a speech that “sooner or later a crash is coming, and it may be terrific.” Note: “Ben Bolts” refers to a character in a popular 1842 poem that became an oft-parodied popular song. Each stanza begins with a variation of “Oh don’t you remember…”

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Parental Advisory

Fifty-five years before Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center pushed the music industry to place warning labels on records containing explicit lyrics, there was much ado about “lascivious lyrics” uttered on “race records” — the term referred to 78-rpm records marketed to African Americans from the 1920s and 1940s. The Sept. 21 “Popular Records” column looked at the controversy surrounding Ethel Waters’ “Second Handed Man,” and didn’t find any…

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING…Ethel Waters (circa 1930) and her recording of “Second Handed Man.” (discogs.com/YouTube)

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New Kids on the Block

Architecture critic George S. Chappell (aka “T-Square”) concluded his Sept. 21 column with praise for the designs of the yet-to-be-built Daily News and Chrysler buildings, but expressed dismay at the recently completed Lincoln Building…

BAD COMPANY…New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell was excited about the designs for the Daily News Building (left) and Chrysler Building (center), but the Lincoln Building left him wanting. No doubt its gothic topper seemed dated in contrast to the sleek lines of the other buildings. (nyc-architecture.com)

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Movie critic John Mosher took in a couple of new films including Paramount’s  1929 pre-Code drama Jealousy…

FINAL CURTAIN…Jeanne Eagels and Fredric March in a publicity photo for Jealousy. Eagels died of a drug overdose on Oct. 3, 1929, just days after Mosher’s review appeared in the New Yorker. (IMDB)

…and Mosher also reviewed the musical drama The Great Gabbo, which was derived from a story by occasional New Yorker contributor Ben Hecht

WHO ARE YOU CALLING A DUMMY?…Erich von Stroheim has issues with his co-star in The Great Gabbo. (MoMA)

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From Our Advertisers

What appeared to be an unassuming ad from General Motors was actually a plan for world domination, at least in the area of ground transportation. GM gobbled up a number of car companies in the 1920s (see the ad’s fine print) as well as shares in power plants and home appliances. It would overtake Ford in sales in the late 1920s, and thanks to propaganda efforts including those illustrated in the ad below, it would lead a streetcar removal conspiracy that would destroy intercity train transport systems across the U.S. (and convert them to GM buses, naturally)…

Here we have yet another “distinguished handwriting contest” ad from the makers of Marlboro, this time exploiting the efforts of Corinne B. Riley of Sumter, S.C….

…Riley would win more than a handwriting contest, however. She would be elected as a Democrat to Congress in 1962 to fill a vacancy left by her husband, Congressman John Jacob Riley.

Corrine B. Riley in 1962. (Wikipedia)

On to our illustrators and comics, we begin with this two-page drawing by Reginald Marsh that appeared along the the bottom of “Talk of the Town” (click to enlarge)

Gardner Rea lent his spare style to this peek into Wall Street…

Peter Arno appeared to be experimenting with yet another style of drawing…

…that is in some ways looked similar to Alan Dunn’s

…the British cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather provided this sumptuous drawing of an exchange at a card shop…

…and I. Klein gave a vertiginous perspective to home buying…

Next Time: Frigidity in Men…

Son of Hammerstein

The Hammerstein name looms large in the history of both stage and screen, an extended family of theater impresarios and composers descended from the German-born Oscar Hammerstein I (1846 – 1919).

Sept. 14, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

It was Oscar’s son, Arthur Hammerstein (1872 – 1955), who would bring the nostalgic musical Sweet Adeline to the Broadway stage, with music by Jerome Kern. Arthur’s nephew, Reginald Hammerstein, directed, and Reginald’s brother, Oscar Hammerstein II, provided the lyrics (and would later collaborate on such Broadway hits as Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music). Sweet Adeline opened on Sept. 3, 1929 at Arthur’s Hammerstein Theatre (known today as Ed Sullivan Theater), and the New Yorker’s Robert Benchley was on hand for opening night…

The title of the musical was a pun on the famous barbershop quartet song first published in 1903 — a time that seemed quaint to Jazz Agers. To get a sense of how rapidly American society had changed in the 1920s, in the paragraph above, Benchley referred to the musical’s setting (1898) as “old-time.” I’m not sure we would refer to 1987 as “old-time,” but who knows? Benchley continued…

OLD-FASHIONED FUN…Clockwise, from top left, the famed 1920s torch singer Helen Morgan (pictured on sheet music for one of her songs from the musical) starred as “Addie” in 1929’s Sweet Adeline; Arthur Hammerstein in undated photo; stage and screen actress and vaudeville comedian Irene Franklin portrayed a burlesque queen in the musical, while comedic actor Charles Butterworth played the part of a “young rounder.” (YouTube/findagrave.com/Wikipedia/lbarsanti.wordpress.com)

As for the performances by Helen Morgan (who more or less invented the torch singer’s boozy, draped-over-the-piano style), Benchley noted that her personality was “almost oppressively lush at times”…

A note regarding Helen Morgan: She began her career singing in Chicago speakeasies before moving to New York in the mid-1920s, where she continued to sing in nightclubs (including one attached to her name, Chez Morgan) while also performing on Broadway. Morgan became a heavy drinker, and was often drunk during performances (hence Benchley’s comment regarding her “lush personality”). Cirrhosis of the liver would claim Morgan’s life in 1941. The same disease would claim Benchley four years later.

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While we are the topic of Broadway, the Sept. 14 “Talk of the Town” featured a brief profile of John Murray Anderson, (1886 – 1954) who was celebrating the success of his own Broadway musical revue Almanac

HE WORE MANY HATS…John Murray Anderson made his Broadway debut in 1919 as writer, director, and producer of The Greenwich Village Follies, which had a five-year run. At left, a cover for sheet music from a 1920 production. At right, postcard image of the Follies from 1922. (Pinterest)

In this excerpt, “Talk” recounted how Anderson finally hit it big in 1919 with his  Greenwich Village Follies. It noted that he had a “genius”…

Clockwise from top left, Almanac featured comedians Roy Atwell and Jimmy Savo; singer and comedian Trixie Friganza; and actress Eleanor Shaler. (royatwell.net/American Vaudeville Museum/secondhandsongs.com/Pinterest)

…and a bit more about Anderson…

In Michael Maslin’s terrific book, Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist, Maslin notes that Arno “was whisked onto the Manhattan theater scene by Murray Anderson, whose twenty-nine scene Almanac opened to excellent reviews at the two-year-old Erlanger Theater, just off Times Square.” Maslin cites the famed New York columnist O.O. McIntyre, who wrote “Arno was one of several ‘conspirators’ responsible for Broadway backdrops whose ‘exaggerated whimsicalities…in black and white…when unfolded usually get what Variety calls a belly laugh.'”

At left, Peter Arno contributed this advertisement for Camel cigarettes in the Playbill edition for Almanac; top right, John Murray Anderson at work; cover for sheet music from the revue. (attemptedbloggery.blogspot.com / Wikipedia)

And in the following issue of the New Yorker (Sept. 21), Peter Arno contributed this drawing for the theater review section (it doesn’t look like an Arno, but then again his style at this time seemed to fluctuate almost weekly)…

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Flapper Joan

No stranger to Broadway herself, the young actress Joan Crawford was making a name for herself in Hollywood and garnering consistently positive reviews from the New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher, who found that the 25-year-old actress— who portrayed a fun-loving flapper in Modern Maidens — could shine even in the midst of an average screenplay:

THEY’RE NOT ACTING…At top, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Crawford in MGM’s Our Modern Maidens (1929). The film led to a widely publicized romance and marriage between the co-stars; below, publicity photo for the film, with (from left) Josephine Dunn, Crawford, and Anita Page. (IMDB/joancrawfordbest.com)

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Silence is Golden

Cultural critic Gilbert Seldes contributed a casual titled “In a Loud Voice With the Tongues of Angels,” joining the chorus of voices at the New Yorker skeptical of (but resigned to) the advent of sound motion pictures. Excerpts:

SOMETHING HAS COME BETWEEN US…a microphone moves in close on Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis in a scene from 1932’s 20,000 Years In Sing Sing. (cinecollage.net)

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Das Speedboat

“The Talk of the Town” reported on the fuss created by the German passenger liner Bremen after it completed its maiden voyage to New York. It set a new world record in the process — four days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes later —and captured the westbound “Blue Riband” from the famed Mauretania with an average speed of 27.83 knots (the Blue Riband was an unofficial honor bestowed on the fastest passenger liners crossing the Atlantic)…

LOWRIDER…Top, the low, streamlined profile of the Bremen against the backdrop of the New York skyline. Center and below, among its many unique features, the Bremen had a catapult on the upper deck between the two funnels that launched a small seaplane, which facilitated faster mail service ahead of the ship’s arrival. (YouTube/nnapprentice.com)
(Ebay community post)

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Up In Smoke

Another “Talk” item explored the decline of cigar and pipe smokers thanks to the rise of cigarette advertising (and women smokers) in the 1920s…

…as an aside, it appeared golfer Walter Egan was still a pipe smoker, as this illustration by Johan Bull for the issue’s “Tee and Green” column attested…

…”Talk” laid the blame (or the credit) on Lucky Strike’s successful ad campaigns that that particularly made a “big impression” on women…

…and to begin our advertising section, a Lucky Strike ad from the same issue:

…the Liggett & Myers tobacco company, on the other hand, promoted their Fatima brand as a higher quality, and slightly more expensive, alternative…

…in this ad for The Shelton Looms we find the elongated style popular in fashion ads of the era…the illustration is by LeBrun, but also evokes the style of Carl “Eric” Erickson, known for his Camel ad illustrations of the same period…

…and now a couple of ads from the back pages: the ad at left promoted a “country style” supper club near Washington Square. I haven’t found a record (yet) for the County Fair, but I believe it was one of the themed restaurants Don Dickerman operated around Greenwich Village before the Depression (Dickerman, an illustrator, also provided the art for the ad)…the ad on the right—for Odorono deodorant— appeared regularly in the back pages of the New Yorker, illustrated by the magazine’s own Julian De Miskey. The ads featured vignettes of unfortunate young women whose B.O. was so bad that it caused all potential suitors to flee…

…on to our cartoons, Al Frueh (artist of the first two cartoons in the New Yorker’s first issue)…contributed another of his familiar multi-panel “silent” cartoons…

…I like the modern feel of this cartoon by William Crawford Galbraith

…and we close with a couple of cartoons under the moonlight, by Bruce Bairnsfather…

…and Peter Arno.

Next Time: Looking Ahead to 1979…

 

Hooray for Hollywood

MGM piled so many stars and gimmicks into the premiere of The Hollywood Revue of 1929 that even the New Yorker’s jaded film critic John Mosher had to admit he was entertained.

Aug. 24, 1929 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Although today’s audiences would find the film quaint and corny (not to mention its tinny sound and crude editing), it was a big hit in 1929. A plotless revue featuring nearly all of MGM’s stars (Greta Garbo said no — she had a clause in her contract exempting her from such silly things; Lon Chaney, on the other hand, was in failing health), the film followed a variety format similar to such vaudeville productions as the Ziegfeld Follies. The Arthur Freed/Herb Nacio Brown song “Singin’ In the Rain” was introduced in this film, and would inspire the Gene Kelley musical by the same name 23 years later. A rarity for the time, the Hollywood Revue included four skits in an early version of Technicolor, including an all-cast performance of “Singing’ In the Rain.” Mosher observed:

One of the film’s color skits featured John Gilbert and Norma Shearer in a Romeo and Juliet parody filled with Jazz Age slang. It would mark the beginning of the end of Gilbert’s career and, sadly, his life. He was one of the silent era’s most popular leading men, but it was purported that his voice was not suited to the talkies. What really ended Gilbert’s career, however, was studio head Louis B. Mayer, who clashed with the actor both personally and professionally…click any image below to enlarge…

FAREWELL ROMEO…A lobby card promoting The Hollywood Revue of 1929 featured John Gilbert and Norma Shearer in one the film’s color sequences, a parody of Romeo and Juliet filled with Jazz Age slang. At right, a scene from the skit in which the director (played by Lionel Barrymore, far right) tells Shearer and Gilbert to put more pizzazz into the act. (IMDB/YouTube)
STAR-STUDDED…Left to right, early silent film comedian Marie Dressler hammed it up in a royal court skit; co-emcee Jack Benny, with his trademark violin, and Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, and his trademark uke. (vickielester.com/doctormacro.com/thejumpingfrog.com)
DANCING IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH…Chorus girl Carla Laemmle in the film’s “Tableau of Jewels,” in which she emerged from a seashell to perform a seductive (and weird) dance number while other showgirls posed on a revolving crown — all set to a tune sung offstage by James Burroughs. The niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, Carla Laemmle was one of the longest surviving actors of the silent era. She died in 2014 at age 104. (songbook1.wordpress.com)
GALAXY OF STARS…Clockwise, from top left, lobby card for The Hollywood Revue of 1929; Charles King, Joan Crawford, Conrad Nagel (a co-emcee along with Jack Benny) and Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards show off their dancing skills; lobby card featuring actress Marion Davies; a popular act in vaudeville and on Broadway, the Brox Sisters—Lorayne, Patricia and Bobbe (along with Cliff Edwards) introduced the song “Singin’ in the Rain,” also sung by the entire cast near the finale of the movie. (joancrawfordbest.com/mubi.com)

…MGM deployed a number of stunts to generate publicity at the film’s New York premiere at the Astor Theatre, including a “human billboard” that featured scantily clad chorus girls precariously perched on a huge letters high above the theatre’s entrance. In a rather less dangerous stunt—during the movie’s “Orange Blossom Time” skit—a faint scent of orange blossoms wafted into the theatre. “The Talk of the Town” observed…

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?…Showgirls arranged along narrow catwalks atop the glowing HOLLYWOOD REVUE sign would pose for hours above crowds of gawkers; top, an advertisement promoting “The Stunt of the Century”; bottom, chorus girls lined up on somewhat safer ground in a skit from the movie titled “Lon Chaney’s Gonna Get You If You Don’t Watch Out.” Chaney himself was near death and did not appear in the film. (oldphotoarchive.com/anndvorak.com)
Another angle shows just how precarious this stunt proved to be for these brave chorus girls, who held their poses for hours on end. (legendaryjoancrawford.com)

…here’s a clip from the film featuring MGM stars “Singin’ in the Rain”…see how many stars you can recognize…

…in the first row the camera pans by George Arthur, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Buster Keaton…second row, Bobbe Brox, Cliff Edwards, Patricia Brox, Gus Edwards, Lorayne Brox, Conrad Nagel, Anita Page, Charles King, Marie Dressler…not sure about the last two…

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Technological Adjustments

If you listened to the above clip, then you will understand what James Thurber was getting at when he observed that actors in talking pictures all sound as if they are speaking into cracker boxes. In this hilarious piece (titled “The Roaring Talkies”), he proposed a solution. An excerpt:

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A Happy Diversion

“The Talk of the Town” (via Theodore Pratt) looked in on the hobbyists who raced model boats at Central Park’s Conservatory Lake, a happy tradition that began in the late 19th century and continues to this day:

A DAY AT THE RACES….Model sailboats (left) prepare to face off in 1910 at Conservatory Lake (also called Conservatory Water); at right, model sailors at the same lake around 1920. (Library of Congress)

Pratt also described the old wooden boathouse, which was replaced in 1954 with a somewhat grander structure, Kerbs Boathouse, where model boats are still stored…

STILL SAILING…The copper-roofed Kerbs Boathouse replaced a wooden structure in 1954. Conservatory Lake served as the setting for a model boat race in E.B. White’s Stuart Little. (centralparknyc.org)

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On the Other Hand…

Leaving the cool and quiet of the park brought one quickly back into the dust and clamor of the metropolis. Pratt observed that the summer season lasted two weeks longer in the city than in the country, thanks to the city’s heat island effect— perhaps an unwelcome observation given the usually hot summer of 1929. Not only did the city’s heat extend the season, but it also kept the city enveloped in “an enormous cloud of dust”…

HAZY DAYS OF SUMMER…A dusty haze hangs over Lower Manhattan as the Third Avenue elevated train rumbles by in this circa 1950 photo. (AP)

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Already Feeling Old?

I found this “Talk” item curious for exploring the sentimental attachment some folks had developed for old cars from the 1910s, given those cars were barely 20 years old and cars in general hadn’t been in common use much longer…

…as for another “Talk” item, I doubt modern New Yorker readers would find any humor in this observation:

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On to sillier things, Robert Benchley turned in a casual titled “Boost New York!” Benchley ridiculed a promotional brochure from the New York Merchants Association that touted various statistics in a manner reminiscent of the fictional George Babbitt. Benchley imagined how an Iowa couple might respond to such dazzling numbers:

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A Drinking Life

Occasionally I like to feature infrequent or one-time New Yorker contributors who are nearly lost to history. Frank Ward O’Malley (1875-1932), a reporter for the New York Sun from 1906-19, was known for his humorous stories. In 1928 he published a book titled The Swiss Family O’Malley. In this casual (titled “The Fatty Degeneration of Broadway”) from the Aug. 24 issue, O’Malley described an alcohol intervention of sorts and then his fall off the wagon. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs, along with his photo circa 1910s.

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From Our Advertisers

This week we have an advertisement for the Drake Apartment Hotel, claiming to be the “smartest” in New York. Note how they employed what seems to be the same pointy-nosed, haughty couple that we saw last week (below) who endorsed the Park Lane (I want to believe there is a subtle joke here)…

…just 25 years removed from the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk, advertisers were treating flying as though it were routine…

A better photo of the Ireland Neptune Amphipian (aerofiles.com)

…and this young woman seemed to think flying was nothing more than “playing ring around the rosy with the clouds”…

…I like the reviews included in this bookseller’s ad, especially the first one for the book Ex-Wife by Anonymous (it was written by Ursula Parrott, a writer of romantic fiction)…

…our illustrations include Abe Birnbaum’s contribution to the casuals section (breaking up the copy of one of Josie Turner’s Elsie Dinsmore parodies)…

Reginald Marsh illustrated the late summer beach scene at Coney Island…

…and for kicks this nice little filler by Constantin Alajalov

…thanks to the skills of the New Yorker’s first layout artist, Popsy Whitaker, we have this whimsical pairing of Otto Soglow and Dorothy Parker

Mary Petty contributed a cartoon that looks contemporary…

Peter Arno paid a visit to the doctor’s office…

…and commented on his life as a new father…the woman holding the baby was doubtless inspired by his wife, New Yorker columnist Lois Long

…for reference, Peter Arno and Lois Long are pictured here with baby daughter Patricia Arno in 1928…Lois clearly had a better grasp on the situation than Arno had imagined…

Arno and Long with their baby daughter, Patricia, in 1928. (Vanity Fair)

Alice Harvey eavesdropped on a conversation between teenagers…

…and like Peter Arno, Leonard Dove had two cartoons in this issue…here an editor finds the former Prohibition enforcer no longer newsworthy…

…and over on the East Side, rumors of gentrification…

Next Time: A Carnival in the Air…