An Instant Star

George Cukor’s 1932 pre-Code film A Bill of Divorcement would make Katharine Hepburn an instant star in her screen debut…

Oct. 8, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

… but New Yorker critic John Mosher seems to have missed the boat in spotting this new talent, who would go on to be — at least according to the American Film Institute, “the greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema.” In A Bill of Divorcement, Hepburn portrays a young woman who fears she has inherited the same psychiatric problems that plague her father (John Barrymore). Mosher wrote:

A LOT ON HIS MIND…In A Bill of Divorcement, John Barrymore portrays a man who escapes from a mental hospital after 15 years of confinement, seeking to return to wife and family; his daughter, Sydney (Katharine Hepburn), fears she has inherited his psychiatric problems, while Sydney’s mother, Meg (Billie Burke) wants to start a new life with another man. (IMDB)

Although Mosher offered a rather tepid response to Hepburn’s debut role, critic Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called the film “intelligent, restrained and often stirring.” Of Hepburn he wrote: “Miss Hepburn’s characterization is one of the finest seen on the screen and the producers have been wise in not minimizing the importance of her part because Mr. Barrymore is the star of the film.”

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On Shaky Ground

E.B. White noted the sad state of the Pulitzer Fountain, which had stood at the Plaza since 1916. Although Joseph Pulitzer’s sons had put up funds to restore the landmark, the city had yet to act on a plan.

Fortunately the fountain still stands, thanks to restorations in 1933-35, 1971 and 1985-90. As to White’s concerns, the city finally accepted the Pulitzers’ offer, and after delays due to labor disputes it was completed in June 1935. The original limestone basin was rebuilt in Italian marble, and a limestone balustrade and columns that surrounded the fountain were demolished.

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG…The Pulitzer Fountain after it was completed in 1916. (New York Public Library)

White also mused about the nature of Long Island, soon to be transformed under Robert Moses’ system of parkways that would stretch across the island’s vast expanses.

EAT ME…Hundreds of truck farms dotted Long Island in the early 20th century, especially known for their potatoes. (Newsday)

…and we have more from White, also serving as the magazine’s theater critic and taking in the latest installment of Earl Carroll’s Vanities…I include this mainly to note the young vaudevillian Milton Berle’s first appearance on a big stage…

BEFORE UNCLE MILTIE…Milton Berle (1908–2002) made his first appearance on a big stage with Earl Carroll’s 1932 Vanities. It is also noteworthy that in that same year Chicago native Vincente Minnelli (see program cover) was getting his first breaks on Broadway as a stage and costume designer. (tralfaz.blogspot.com/Playbill)

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Delirious Nights

Although Lois Long was primarily focused on her fashion column, she continued to file an occasional “Tables for Two” that gave readers a glimpse into New York nightlife, including the star-studded (Walter Chrysler, Howard Hughes, among others) opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room…

DANCING WITH THE STARS…Lois Long reported on the star-studded opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room, which featured a series of Saturday night supper dances; images of the Sert Room left and right; at center, the New York Times’ account of the club’s opening, Oct. 2, 1932. (geographicguide.com/NYT/jstor.org)

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From Our Advertisers

Simon & Schuster promoted George Gershwin’s Song Book, illustrated by New Yorker regular Constantin Alajalov

…signed first editions go for up to $8000 these days…

(raptisrarebooks.com)

…meanwhile, Farrar & Rinehart trumpeted the release of Evelyn Waugh’s latest novel (his third)…Black Mischief satirized the ways Europeans attempted to impose their customs and beliefs on other cultures…

…Squibb helped the New Yorker’s bottom line with three separate ads scattered throughout the magazine…back in the day the Squibb brand was associated with everything from toothpaste…

…to aspirin and shaving cream…founded in 1858, it merged with Bristol Meyers in 1989 to form one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Bristol Myers Squibb, which today is mostly known for manufacturing dozens of prescription pharmaceuticals and biologics…

…Squibb & Sons were the primary tenant (the top 12 floors) of New York’s landmark Squibb Building when it opened its doors in 1930…

(Museum of the City of New York)

…moving on, here are a couple of ads that show us one thing that has definitely changed in the past 89 years…when was the last time you wore a fur coat to a football game?…

…cigarette manufacturers had plenty of money to advertise during the depths of the Depression, but apparently so did the folks at Wamsutta Mills…Wamsutta sheets are no longer made in New Bedford — part of the circa 1847 mill complex is now loft-style housing…however, the Wamsutta brand still exists in the U.S. through Bed, Bath & Beyond and internationally as part of a Brazilian textile conglomerate…

…Micarta was a substance developed by Westinghouse in the early 20th century for use with electrical equipment…produced from a combination of linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass and other materials processed under heat and pressure, Westinghouse found a new use for this laminate — serving trays designed by George Switzer…you can read more about Micarta trays at Driving for Deco…reader Chris notes that Micarta is “still available in a wide range of grades and designer colors and is popular with hobbyists and craftsmen the world over”…

…in the Oct. 29 issue, E.B. White made this observation about Micarta trays…

…on to our cartoons, William Steig’s “Small Fry” learned about the birds and the bees…

Gardner Rea visited some tobacco researchers challenged to keep pace with advertising claims…

Barbara Shermund looked into the love lives of the modern woman…

…and Peter Arno got playful at the pipe organ…

…on to our Oct. 15, 1932 issue…

Oct. 15, 1932 cover by William Steig.

…where we check in on John O’Hara (1905–1970), who defined the short story at the New Yorker (and contributed more shorts to the magazine than any other writer). For the Oct. 15 issue O’Hara submitted a profile titled “Of Thee I Sing, Baby.” The profile is unusual because it is told as a story rather than as a biography, and the subject, a chorus girl, is not identified by her real name. A brief excerpt:

WRITING MACHINE…John O’Hara (pictured here in 1945) contributed more short stories to the New Yorker than any other writer. (Library of Congress)

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William Steig (1907–2003) was both a writer and illustrator, and every bit as prolific as O’Hara, publishing more than 50 books during his long life and career, including his very first, which received this mention at the end of the Oct. 15 book review section:

…on to our Oct. 15 advertisers, we have the makers of Chesterfields pairing their product with the sophistication of Paris fashions…

Carl “Eric” Erickson illustrated a number of ads for R.J. Reynolds’ Camel cigarettes in the late 1920s and early 1930s…here he employed his signature sophisticated style for the French Line…

…RCA promoted the next great advance in radio technology — “bi-acoustic” sound that added “two more octaves” to radio broadcasts…it would take thirty more years to roll out something we take for granted today — stereo…

…on to our cartoons, Robert Day joined a misdirected fox hunt…

Richard Decker gave us one man’s simple solution to a perilous situation…

…and we close with a classic from James Thurber

Next Time: City On a Hill…

Prelude to a Crash

Although two months remained in the decade, the New Yorker of the Roaring Twenties effectively ended with this issue, just days before a massive market crash sent the nation spiraling into the Great Depression.

Oct. 26, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt. Wonderful rendering of The New York Central Building, with shades of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Not a soul at the New Yorker had an inkling of the bleakness that lay ahead — rampant unemployment, the rise of the Nazi party, the Dust Bowl, Busby Berkeley musicals

E.B. White, in “Notes & Comment,” was concerned with little more than the changing countryside…

MADE YOU LOOK…Examples of roadside vernacular architecture from the 1920s included the Airplane Cafe in in the San Fernando Valley (1924) and a 1927 Wadham’s gas station in West Allis, Illinois, now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. More than 100 of Wadham’s “pagodas” were built, but like much of roadside America, few examples remain. At top, right, a 1920s billboard advertising Moxie soft drinks. (last1onthebus.com/Pinterest/Wikipedia)
THE DUCK STOPS HERE…The Big Duck in Flanders, New York, was built in 1930-31 by Long Island duck farmer Martin Maurer to sell duck and duck eggs to passing motorists. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. (Google Maps)

…and further on in “The Talk of the Town,” White shared these observations regarding the popularity of shirts worn by French actor Maurice Chevalier

THAT’S SHA-VAHL-YEY…Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier in 1930’s The Big Pond. (IMDB)

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Born to Be

The book review featured an autobiography, Born to Be, written by Taylor Gordon (1893-1971), a famed singer of the Harlem Renaissance, that traced his life journey from Montana to New York. The book included 10 full-page illustrations by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, and forwards by Carl Van Vechten and Muriel Draper.

COMBINED TALENTS come together in Taylor Gordon’s Born to Be: Mexican painter, caricaturist, and illustrator Miguel Covarrubias (left, in a 1920s photo by Nickolas Muray) and Harlem Renaissance singer Gordon (center, in a photo by Carl Van Vechten, who is pictured in a self-portrait at right). (Pinterest/minormoderns.blogspot.com/Wikipedia)

FROM MONTANA TO HARLEM…First edition of Taylor Gordon’s Born to Be, and illustrations from the book by Miguel Covarrubias (including cover image). The image at bottom left features patron of the Harlem Renaissance Carl Van Vechten, with Gordon. (qbbooks.com/klinebooks.com/Pinterest)

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Little Narcissus

Although today she is known mostly as Errol Flynn’s first wife, the tempestuous French actress Lily Damita (1904-1994) knew how to light up New York and get noticed in Hollywood when she made her American debut in 1929. Henry F. Pringle looked in on Damita’s daily life in the Oct. 26 “Profile.” A brief excerpt:

Lily Damita in a 1931 publicity photo. (Flickr)
DEBUT FILM…Lily Damita and Ronald Coleman in 1929’s The Rescue, Damita’s first Hollywood film. (Dr. Macro)

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A Master Achievement

Architecture critic George Chappell gazed upward in admiration for the new Master Building on Riverside Drive. It was one of the city’s first mixed-use structures and the first New York skyscraper to feature corner windows. The apartment building originally housed a museum, a school of the fine and performing arts, and an international art center on its first three floors. The building fell into decline in the late 1960s, but today it thrives as a housing co-operative. The Master was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

…on to our advertisements, we find another art deco landmark, the 1930 Squibb building, designed Ely Jacques Kahn

The Squibb Building at 745 5th Avenue, circa 1930. (Museum of the City of New York)

…Halloween was just around the corner (yes, I’m running a bit behind!) and although it wasn’t a huge holiday as it is today, its presence still permeated the pages of the New Yorker, including a humorous piece by John O’Hara on the challenges of planning a Halloween party…

From left, excerpt from John O’Hara’s piece; an ad from Doubleday featuring a jack-o-lantern; an ad from Breyer’s ice cream that employed the older spelling of the holiday; at bottom, a filler illustration by Julian De Miskey.

…the makers of Marmon autos offered this lovely  autumn scene…

…here is an unusual ad from a milliner named Mercedes who bid adieu to former clients in this hand-written, full-page entry…

…the name Michael Arlen no doubt caught many a reader’s eye in the Oct. 26 issue. The comings-and-goings of this hugely popular author of thrillers such as The Green Hat (1924) provided much-needed fodder for readers of the first issues of the fledging New Yorker. In this ad, Arlen’s wife, the Countess Atalanta Mercati, shills for Cutex nail polish…

The Countess Atalanta Mercati of Greece and author Michael Arlen were married in France in 1928. (Conde Nast/insiderguide.me)

…and we have more of the torch singer Helen Morgan, this time in an ad for Lux Toilet Soap…

…a couple of back page ads…the now ubiquitous metal folding table (and chairs) was something of a novelty in 1929…the ad on the right from Brunswick Records offers up the latest schmaltz from Al Jolson (I know it’s 1929, but come on Al, really?)…

…and since this is the last edition before the big market crash, here’s a collection of images clipped from various ads in the Oct. 26 issue…featuring high-living folks who should appear a bit less smug after they lose their mink coats and boiled shirts to the Depression…

Clockwise, top left, a sampling of illustrations from ads in the Oct. 26 issue: there seemed to be no item too mundane for the posh treatment—an illustration that graced an ad from Frigidaire; superior airs displayed on behalf of the Drake apartments, and below, also on behalf of (sniff) Gotham Gold Stripe stockings; “Arabella” surveys two of her hapless conquests as she descends the stair in an illustration for a Marie Earle salon ad; and an appeal to the city’s rampant Anglophilia from De Pinna of Fifth Avenue.

…on to our comics, Garner Rea demonstrated his mastery of space in this full-page entry…

Alice Harvey eavesdropped on the chit-chat of some toffs at dinner…

…and Alice Harvey again in this sparer illustration of a spoiler at the opera…

Peter Arno illustrated unexpected intimacy on a commuter train…

…and from John Reynolds, with a sign of things to come…

Next Time: An Inconvenient Truth…