The Circus Comes to Town

If you lived in small town America in the 20th century, it was a big deal when the circus came to town with its entourage of clowns, acrobats and exotic animals from distant lands.

April 19, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

Even New Yorkers, it seems — who could be quite blasé about such things — got a thrill when the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus rolled into town for its annual spectacle at Madison Square Garden. The New Yorker marked the occasion with its April 12 cover by Theodore Haupt:

For the April 19 issue, E.B. White welcomed the circus on a cautionary note, airing concerns in his “Notes and Comment” column that this old-timey entertainment might be falling under the “base influences” of broadcast radio, Broadway, and Hollywood:

SEND IN THE…YOU KNOW…THOSE GUYS…Top, clowns in town for the 1931 Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. Below, circus poster announcing the arrival of “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  (potterauctions.com)

José Schorr, who wrote a number of humorous columns in the New Yorker from 1926 to 1930 on the subject of “how to the pass the time” in various situations, offered this advice on attending the spectacle at Madison Square Garden…

I’D RATHER BE FLYING…1930 poster advertising “The Human Projectile”; 1931 photo of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. (worthpoint.com/bidsquare.com)

…for example, Schorr advised circus-goers to pass the time by considering the inner lives of performers such as “The Human Projectile”…

 *  *  *

Funny Farm

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Joe Cook (1890-1950), but in the 1920s and 30s he was a household name and one of America’s most popular comedic performers. “Talk of the Town” looked in on his antics at his Lake Hopatcong farm, “Sleepless Hollow”…

BATTER UP…Comedian Joe Cook’s residence at Lake Hopatcong, NJ, was known for its celebrity-studded parties. At left, Babe Ruth takes a swing with a giant bat on Cook’s wacky three-hole golf course; at right, Cook relaxing on the steps of his farm. (lakehopatcongnews.com)

 *  *  *

Fun With Balloon Animals

One thing that distinguishes the 1930s from today is that era’s apparent lack of safety standards, or fear of liability. A case in point was Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began a tradition in the late 1920s of releasing its giant balloons into the sky at the conclusion of the parade — a $50 reward was offered by Macy’s for their return. “The Talk of the Town” explained:

GOING, GOING, GONE…When Felix the Cat (left, in 1927) was released after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it floated into a power line and caught fire; in 1931 the parade’s Big Blue Hippo (right) was apparently spotted floating over the ocean, never to be seen again. (Macy’s/hatchingcatnyc.com)

Perhaps the craziest anecdote attached to the parade’s annual balloon release belonged to Annette Gipson. While flying a biplane at 5,000 feet with her instructor, she spotted the parade’s 60-foot “Tom Cat” balloon rising high above Queens. Looking to have a bit of fun, the 22-year-old Gipson flew the plane directly into the cat. According to the book Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, “Upon impact, the balloon wrapped itself around the left wing. The plane went into a deep tailspin (nearly throwing Gipson from the cockpit) and sped toward the ground out of control.” Fearing the plane would catch fire when it hit the ground, the instructor killed the ignition, and somehow managed to pull the plane out of the spin and land it safely at Roosevelt Field.

KITTY LITTER…Annette Gipson, right, nearly killed herself and her flight instructor after she deliberately crashed her biplane into a Tom Cat balloon (left) that had been released following the 1932 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of her near-death experience,Gipson told reporters, “It was a sensation that I never felt before—the whirling housetops, rushing up to meet me—and the thoughts of a whole lifetime flashed through my mind.” (ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

A footnote: Following Gipson’s brush with death, Macy’s announced it would not give prize money to those who tried to down the balloons with their airplanes. The incident also brought an end to the company’s tradition of releasing the balloons.

 *  *  *

Birth of the Soundtrack

Songs from popular theater productions were first made available to the masses in the mid-19th century via printed sheet music and later through early recordings. Part of this lineage is the movie soundtrack, which has its origins in the early days of sound pictures. According to the New Yorker’s “Popular Records” column, these new recordings would bring the talkies into your home, albeit without the picture…

FROM MAMMY TO MAMMA MIA…Left, a 1930 Brunswick 78 RPM recording of Al Jolson’s “To My Mammy”; at right, soundtrack from the 2008 film Mamma Mia! (popsike.com/amazon.com)

 *  *  *

Cosmo Calvin

Before Helen Gurley Brown came along in the 1960s and sexed it up, Cosmopolitan was known as a somewhat bland literary magazine, and it was certainly bland enough in 1930 to welcome the scribblings of America’s blandest president to its pages. E.B. White mused in his “Notes”…

NOTHING COMES BETWEEN ME AND MY CALVIN…At left, the May 1930 issue of Cosmopolitan; Kourtney Kardashian on the cover of the October 2016 issue. (Pinterest/Cosmopolitan)

 *  *  *

How Dry I Am

After a decade of living under Prohibition, John Ogden Whedon (1905-1991) put pen to paper and shared his sentiments in a poem for the New Yorker

…Whedon would go on to a successful career as a screenwriter, especially finding acclaim for his television writing on The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show, among others. He was also the grandfather of screenwriter and director Joseph “Joss” Whedon and screenwriters Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon.

Another poem in the April 19 issue was contributed by John Held Jr., who was perhaps better known to New Yorker readers for his “woodcut” cartoons…

…example of Held’s work from the April 12 issue, featured in an Old Gold advertisement…

…and that provides a segue into our ads for the April 19 issue, beginning with this spot for an early electric dishwasher…

Here’s what that bad boy looks like in color. (automaticwasher.org)

…I couldn’t find a review in the New Yorker for Emily Hahn’s new book, Seductio Ad Absurdum, but her publisher did take out an ad to get the attention of readers. Many years later the New Yorker would call the journalist and author “a forgotten American literary treasure”…

Emily Hahn circa 1930; first edition of Seductio Ad Absurdum. Author of 52 books, her writings played a significant role in opening up Asia to the West.(shanghaitours.canalblog.com/swansfinebooks.com)

…and here we have another sumptuous ad from illustrator Carl “Eric” Erickson, a far cry from the “Joe Camel” ads that would come along decades later…

…on to our cartoons, Reginald Marsh offered a blue collar perspective on city fashions…

Alice Harvey captured a moment of reflection by an overworked housewife…

…and I. Klein looked in on a couple of working stiffs in need of a dictionary…

…now over to the posh set, with Barbara Shermund

Leonard Dove found humor on the chorus line…

…and we end with this terrific cartoon by Peter Arno, and the perils of apartment life…

Next Time: Paramount on Parade…

 

 

 

Garbo Speaks

Imagine your favorite Hollywood actress, maybe someone like Meryl Streep or Judi Dench. You’ve followed their careers and watched most of their movies, but you’ve never heard their voices.

March 22, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

That’s what it was like for Greta Garbo fans before March 1930, when she spoke her first onscreen words in the 1930 MGM drama Anna Christie, which was adapted from a 1922 play by Eugene O’Neill. 

SWEDISH SPHINX…Greta Garbo’s mask-like qualities on display in this publicity still for Anna Christie. (IMDB)

The New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher, not always a fan of Garbo’s silent work (although she had plenty of fans), found a “special kind of glamour” in her first talking picture, even tossing out the word “legend” to describe this Swede who avoided publicity like a bad cold…

No doubt a few moviegoers saw the movie just to finally hear that voice, which Mosher described as “a surprise…a deep, low voice, a boy’s voice really, rather flat, rather toneless, yet growing more attractive as the picture advances”…

Director William H. Daniels (seated, left) with unidentified cameraman filming a scene from Anna Christie with actors Greta Garbo and Clarence Brown; at right, the actors contemplate the microphone hovering above them. Note how the camera in the first photo is contained in a soundproof case. (IMDB) click image to enlarge

Publicized with the tag line “Garbo talks!,” Anna Christie premiered in New York City on Feb. 21 and became the highest-grossing film of 1930. Later that year a German language version would be filmed featuring Garbo but with a different director and supporting cast.

SOUND DEBUT…Clockwise, from top left, Greta Garbo and Marie Dressler in Anna Christie; an MGM ad touting the film as one of the best pictures of the year (it would be the year’s highest-grossing, and Garbo would receive an Academy Award nomination); studio portraits of Garbo used in the film’s promotion. (IMDB)

And if you want to hear Garbo deliver those famous first lines — “Give me a whisky, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby” — here it is, in a scene about sixteen minutes into the film…

*  *  *
Chicken and Cocktails
En route to the South Seas, the French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) paid a visit to New York City, and by all accounts had a good time there. His visit was described by Murdock Pemberton in “The Talk of the Town”…

I ♥ NEW YORK…Henri Matisse arriving in New York City on the S. S. Mauretania, December 15, 1930. He described the city as “majestic.” (artistandstudio.tumblr.com)
NICE PLACE, THIS…Henri Matisse sitting on the brick roof terrace of 10 Mitchell Place (formerly Stewart Hall), the Queensboro Bridge glimpsed in the background. The photo was taken in 1930 by his son, Pierre Matisse, who was living in New York. At right, 10 Mitchell Place today. A framed photograph of Matisse sitting on the rooftop hangs on the wall of the building’s lobby. (Henri-matisse.net/Ephemeral New York)
 *  *  *
The Last Page
The death of author D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) was reported to New Yorker readers by Janet Flanner, the magazine’s Paris correspondent, who briefly detailed the writer’s rather sad decline…

FLEETING DAYS…D. H. Lawrence (right) with fellow writer Aldous Huxley at Bandol, in the South of France, 1929. (Topham Picturepoint)

 *  *  *

What Depression?

Nearly five months into the Great Depression, yet little evidence in the New Yorker of the catastrophe that was unfolding across the land. And true to form, the approach to the topic was made with humor, via E.B. White in “Notes and Comment”…

KNOW ANY GOOD JOKES?…At left, unemployed New York dockworkers; at right, folks enjoying the New York Public Library’s outdoor reading room in Bryant Park, 1930s. (Lewis Hine/National Archives and Records Administration/New York Public Library)

 *  *  *

Cathedrals of Commerce

E.B. White also observed the changing skyline, and how the towering skyscrapers were quickly overshadowing the once prominent steeples of the city’s churches…

REACHING TO THE HEAVENS…Clockwise, from top left, Trinity Church Wall Street and St. Patrick’s have been eclipsed by the towers of Mammon, but St. John’s and Riverside still dominate their surroundings today. (Wikipedia/St. John’s/Riverside)

 *  *  *

The Other House of Worship

Perhaps a certain skyscraper ennui settled in, as architecture critic George S. Chappell was not all that impressed by the “huge” Lincoln Building (which today still seems huge)…

SIZE DOESN’T MATTER…Although the new Lincoln Building proved to be a massive addition to the New York skyline, its style seemed outdated in contrast to its flashy new neighbor, the Chrysler Building — one of its gargoyles, at right, seems poised to devour the Lincoln Building. (nyc-architecture.com)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We have a bit more evidence of the Depression in the ads, including this one from Abercrombie & Fitch, with two sporting gents opting to go fishing to take their minds off the markets…

…if fishing wasn’t your thing, perhaps you just wanted to escape into the “quiet” of the wide streets in the East Seventies…

…or relax with a smoke, which artist Carl Erickson made look so appealing with his Camel ad illustrations…

…or take the humorous route to a relaxing smoke, with this ad for Murad as illustrated by Rea Irvin

…on to our cartoonists, Garrett Price captured the mood of the times…

…while Alfred Krakusin captured an altogether different mood…

...Leonard Dove examined the path to stardom…

I. Klein pondered modern art…

William Crawford Galbraith found an unlikely victim of religious zeal…

Mary Petty gave us a glimpse of a doctor’s office…

…and Leonard Dove again, this time at ringside…

Next Time: Noblesse Oblige…

 

The Non-linear Man

As Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke to the “Lost Generation” of writers and artists in the 1920s, John Dos Passos (1896-1970) drew upon the ethos of that period to usher in a new style of writing for the 1930s — modern, experimental, and deeply pessimistic.

March 8, 1930 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Dos Passos’ book The 42nd Parallel would be the first of three books from 1930 to 1936 that would comprise his landmark U.S.A. Trilogy. The book critic for the New Yorker (identified as “A.W.S.”) sensed that this work of avant-garde historical fiction represented a significant marker in the modernist movement, likening it to the work of the great 20th century composer Igor Stravinsky:

A WRITER FOR DEPRESSING TIMES…The 42nd Parallel was the first book in a trilogy published by John Dos Passos between 1930 and 1936. At right, Dos Passos in the early 1940s. (22.hc.com/hilobrow.com)

Dos Passos also painted throughout his life, nearly 600 canvases including this early work from his days in Spain in the 1920s…

John Dos Passos’ watercolor painting of the the Spanish countryside, circa 1922. A modernist writer, Dos Passos also painted in the style of the avant-garde. His nearly 600 paintings throughout his lifetime show influences of Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism. (johndospassos.com)

…and he joined his literary and artistic talents in 1931 when he translated and illustrated Blaise Cendrars’ long poem Le Panama et Mes Sept Oncles. Dos Passos became good friends with Cendrars, and in the book’s  foreword acknowledged his debt as a writer to the French poet…

(johndospassos.com)

 *  *  *

Don Could Also Write And Draw

Like Dos Passos, Don Herold (1889-1966) could express himself through both words and pictures, albeit in a much less serious vein. In the March 8 issue Herold wrote about the indignity of having to disrobe for a medical examination. An excerpt:

Also an illustrator and cartoonist, Herold made his debut in the New Yorker with this cartoon in the June 1, 1929 issue:

Herold began working as an illustrator around 1910, and enjoyed a long career with a number of publications, including the humor magazine Judge:

 *  *  *

Measuring Up

When the Chrysler Building was completed in May 1930, it officially became the world’s tallest building (a record it ceded 11 months later to the Empire State Building). Being the tallest gave the building the distinction of being something to be measured against, including the durability of a musical recording pressed into a material called “Durium”…

…and when advertisers were in need of something large for comparison, they also turned to the new skyscraper to drive home their selling point…

…new skyscrapers also were used to lend distinction to their tenants, such as Liberty Magazine in the new Daily News Building…

…below a 1940 postcard image of the Daily News Building, then known simply as “The News Building,” and a view of the lobby’s famous globe in 1941…

(Wikipedia)

…on to the rest of our ads, here’s a baldly misogynistic one from Longchamps restaurants…

…and as Prohibition wore on into the Thirties, we have sad little back page ads for cocktail “flavours” and Benedictine “Dessert Sauce”…

…on to our comics, Gardner Rea explored the subject of family planning…

Art Young illustrated the perils of modern art…

Otto Soglow took a stroll with a somnambulist…

Leonard Dove inked this awkward moment between the Old and New Worlds…

…and Peter Arno went to the movies…

Next Time: The Lion Roars…

 

The Wild Kingdom

A host of nature programs from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom to Planet Earth owe their origins to a few intrepid filmmakers who 100 years ago gave Americans some of their first glimpses of life in exotic, remote regions of the world.

Feb. 1, 1930 cover by Julian De Miskey.

Among the first to do it were a couple from Kansas, Osa and Martin Johnson, who together explored unknown lands and brought back footage of the wildlife and peoples of the African continent, the South Pacific Islands and British North Borneo. Their first film, Among the Cannibal Isles of the South Seas (1918), was followed by several more, including Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, which was released in early 1930.

The New Yorker film critic John Mosher was as eager as any audience to take in the adventures of the Johnsons, or even of someone who was inspired by the Johnsons, in this case a “Miss O’Brien” who had just released a “diverting diary” called Up the Congo. Mosher wrote about it in the Jan. 25 issue:

CONTACT…Image of a family from an unidentified Pygmy tribe posing with a European explorer in a 1921 Collier’s New Encyclopedia entry; a group of Mbuti posing with explorer Osa Johnson in 1930. (Wikipedia)

I can find no record of the film Up the Congo, however the exploits of the Johnsons are well documented thanks to the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, which has a treasure trove of photos and other information on the explorers.

The ad in the Feb. 1, 1930 New Yorker promoting Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson included an interesting “added attraction”…a film about Einstein’s theory of relativity that had caused a Jan. 8 “riot” at the American Museum of Natural History. That particular screening was intended for members of the Amateur Astronomers Association, but word got out and three times the invited number showed up at the museum, breaking down the lobby gates. Hard to imagine a mob today clamoring to view a science film…

Although the Johnsons made their movies under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History, much of the footage was staged or edited to maximize the thrills (Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom did this in the 1960s and 70s, as did producers of Disney’s nature films from the 50s and 60s. The practice continues to this day on cable television).

The Johnsons also didn’t hesitate to gun down animals in the course of their movie-making…

YEP, THAT’S JUXTAPOSITION…Osa Johnson poses with a Photoplay magazine, a dead rhino, and a tribesman, circa 1930. (columbia.edu)

According to a 2011 review from Wild Film History, “in stark contrast to the conservation-themed wildlife films of today, the Johnsons approached their subjects armed with both camera and rifle, with the production including provoked behaviour, staged confrontations and animals shot to death on film. Relying heavily on cutting in kills from professional marksmen, numerous hunting scenes culminate in a heart-stopping sequence where, with the use of clever editing, the adventurous Mrs Johnson appears to bring down a charging rhinoceros with one well-aimed shot.”

Across the World with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson is presented as if the Johnsons were showing their film to a few friends in their New York City apartment. The film is a “silent with sound,” that is, scenes in the field are silent, but the cocktail party “home movie” opening has sound, including “mood music” Osa provides by turning on the radio as the film begins. For all of their film experience, the acting between Osa and Martin is wooden, as is Martin’s narration. The critic John Mosher, however, enjoyed the ride, writing in his Feb. 1 column:

If you are curious, you can watch some of the film here, including the opening home movie scene with Osa and Martin in cocktail attire…

*  *  *

My Kinda Town

The New Yorker occasionally enjoyed taking potshots at the Second City, as well as some good-natured jabs at a few of its former residents who were also denizens of the Algonquin Round Table. Here is E.B. White in the Feb. 1 “Notes and Comment”…

WINDY WITS…Chicagoans Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht and Ring Lardner were well-known to the New Yorker crowd. (Wikipedia)

 *  *  *

Not In This Century

This item from the Feb. 1 “Talk of the Town” is noteworthy for placing its admiration of technical achievement over any concerns for a child’s welfare. Today the couple would be arrested for this…

 *  *  *

The Perils of Aging

Irish-American actress and writer Patricia Collinge (1892-1974) wrote a series of short stories for the New Yorker, including this piece for the Feb. 1 issue written when she was 37 years old. It is a sad story about an older actress (37) who hoped to land the part of a younger woman. Some excerpts…

…the actress in the story is led to believe the part was intended for a woman of 28, and is crushed to learn that the agent was looking for “a young twenty-two”…

OH TO BE YOUNG…At left, Gladys Cooper, Alexandra Carlisle and 20-year-old Patricia Collinge in the Drury Lane production of Everywoman (1912); at right, Collinge in 1941. Unlike the sad actress in her short story, Collinge’s career spanned more than 60 years.

 *  *  *

Coming Around

In previous issues art critic Murdock Pemberton expressed skepticism about the new Museum of Modern of Art, founded by wealthy society women in November 1929. Pemberton held egalitarian views about art, and wondered if the old money set could create a venue for true modern artists. His review of “Painting in Paris,” MoMA’s third exhibition, seemed to allay his concerns…


PAINTING IN PARIS was the title of the Museum of Modern Art’s third exhibition featuring works by Georges Braque, Georges Rouault, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Robert Delauney, Fernand Leger, Henri Matisse and Andre Derain among others. Image above is from the original exhibition at MOMA’s first home in the Heckscher Building at 730 Fifth Avenue. (MOMA)
Images above in color, from left, Pablo Picasso’s Green Still Life Avignon (1914) and Seated Woman (1927); Georges Braque’s Still life (1927). (MOMA/WikiArt)
Pemeberton expressed enthusiasm for the show’s new works that contained few traces of the familiar…

 *  *  *

The King’s Speech

King George V was not known for his public speaking, but when he addressed the third meeting of the London Naval Conference it was a big deal, even to American listeners who for the first time heard his voice over broadcast radio, still a very new medium in 1930…

ON THE AIR…The voice of King George V (pictured here in 1923) was broadcast across the Atlantic for the opening of the London Naval Conference at St. James’s Palace in 1930. The third in a series of five meetings, the conference was formed with the purpose of placing limits on the naval capacity of the world’s largest naval powers. (Wikipedia/Churchill Archives Centre)

 *  *  *

Good Clean Fun?

In his theater review column, Robert Benchley lamented the state of burlesque shows at the National Winter Garden, where “leviathans of an earlier day” were being displaced by “agile wisps” in third-rate Broadway productions…

ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS…from left, Viola Clifton, a fuller-figured 1890s burlesque dancer; center and right, Margaret Bourke-White photos from Minsky’s National Winter Garden, 1936. Theater critic Robert Benchley wrote that he missed the “leviathans” of an earlier age, who were replaced by girls who were nothing but “agile wisps.”(mashable.com/theguardian.com)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Just a couple of ads from the Feb. 1 issue, including this entry from the Shelton Looms offering advice on how one should appear among the Havana social set…

…and this ad from Harper’s Bazaar, also appealing to the smart set…

…our cartoons include this two-page illustration by Rea Irvin

Alan Dunn’s look into the challenges of running a power plant…

…at the opera with Perry Barlow

Gardner Rea and some bedroom hinjinks…

…man vs. mouse, by Peter Arno

…and this by Leonard Dove, seemingly anticipating the work of Charles Addams

Next Time: We Smiled As We Danced…

 

Brave New Year

The imposing of image of a fat, fearsome banker greeted readers of the Jan. 4, 1930 issue of the New Yorker, an apt symbol for the dawn of a new decade in a country whose fate seemed wholly in the hands of the old moneymen.

Jan. 4, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

However bleak the outlook, the show still had to go on, and automakers did their best to entice crowds to the National Automobile Show at the Grand Central Palace. The New Yorker’s Nicholas Trott wrote of a “tentative modernism” on display at the show as automobile styles continued to transition from “horseless carriages” to something that looked decidedly modern. Trott’s column, illustrated by Peter Arno

…made note of the modern angles of Art Deco that were creeping into the designs…

DAZZLING DASHES…Clockwise, from top left, the 1930 Essex sported an Art Deco instrument panel, as did the 1930 Hudson Great Eight Sedan. (hemmings.com/Free Library of Philadelphia)

…Trott also noted the increasing popularity of eight-cylinder cars (as evidenced in ads featured later in this blog post)…

TEMPLE OF TRANSPORTATION…Top left, postcard image of the Grand Central Palace exhibition building, circa 1916. At right and below, new automobiles on display at the Palace in the early 1930s. (Wikipedia/NY Daily News)

 *  *  *

Flappers Get Flappy

Automobile designs weren’t the only changes seen on the streets of New York. In “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White lamented the introduction of “ear flaps” on women’s hats…

THEY FLOP, JUST LIKE THE STOCK MARKET…A selection of women’s hats from a 1930 Chicago Mail Order Company catalog. (elfsacks.com)

…while on the other hand, in “The Talk of the Town” White welcomed the addition of a namesake hotel to the New York skyline…

NAMESAKE…The 43-story Hotel New Yorker at 481 Eighth Avenue, by architects Sugarman and Berger, opened on January 2, 1930, with more than 2,500 rooms starting at $3.50 a night. At left, the hotel following its completion; top right, construction on the hotel began just 22 months earlier; bottom right, the Terrace Room nightclub was a popular spot for dancing in the 1930s and 40s. (The New Yorker Hotel/americanfoodroots.com)

…White noted that the “New Yorker” name seemed to be popping up everywhere…

A NEW LEASE ON LIFE…The hotel as it appears today. With the decline of train travel (the hotel was near Penn Station), the Hotel New Yorker closed in 1972 and was purchased by the Unification Church in 1975. Subsequently much of the original Art Deco detailing was lost, and the hotel’s famed Louis Jambor murals were painted over. Beginning in the mid-1990s the New Yorker Hotel Management Company launched a $100 million capital improvement project (top right). Fortunately, the Art Deco doors of the Manufacturers Trust Company offices (below) were preserved, as was company’s lobby. (Wikipedia/Daytonian in Manhattan)
…and White marveled at the building’s massive scale…
WHAT LIES BENEATH…Popular Science (April 1930) offered a view into the bowels of Hotel New Yorker, 78 feet below street level. (tparents.org)
According to Tom Miller’s excellent blog Daytonian in Manhattan, the New Yorker was the largest hotel in city: “it boasted 2,500 rooms, murals by renowned artist Louis Jambor, the largest barber shop in the world (42 chairs and 20 manicurists), 155 chefs and cooks for the five restaurants. Employing 92 telephone operators, the hotel had one of the largest switchboards in the country…Its basement power plant was the largest private plant in the United States. The Great Depression apparently never heard of the New Yorker Hotel as satin-gowned movie stars and top-hatted politicians crossed its marble-floored lobby.” (Inventor Nikola Tesla spent the last ten years of his life in near-seclusion in Suite 3327).
The Unification Church purchased the building in 1975,  removing Art Deco details and painting over the Jambor murals. In 1994 the New Yorker Hotel Management Company launched what would be a $100 million capital improvement project. Miller writes that during the renovation “the original marble floors were exposed from under yards of threadbare carpeting.” And happily, “when the doors to the old Manufacturer’s Trust Company were opened, the old 1929 lobby was intact…the Jambor murals (in the Trust’s lobby) survived. The Art Deco terrazzo floors remained. And the tiled corridor to Penn Station still stretches diagonally beneath 8th Avenue, now used as storage for security reasons.”
EPHEMERAL ART…Murals by renowned artist Louis Jambor, seen in this photo of the ballroom in the 1940s. The murals were painted over in the 1970s after the hotel was acquired by the Unification Church. (The New Yorker Hotel)
*  *  *

Ways of Seeing

Art critic Murdock Pemberton (1888-1982) continued to ponder the meaning of the new Museum of Modern Art, which was staging its second-ever exhibition in its galleries on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building on Fifth Avenue:

ARE WE NOT MODERN? Charles Demuth’s My Egypt, (oil on composition board, 1927) was among works featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s second exhibition, Paintings by Nineteen Living Americans. From left, cover of the exhibition catalog, a page from the catalog featuring Demuth’s painting, and as the work appears in color. (MoMA/WikiArt)

No doubt Pemberton, who came from humble Kansas roots, found it difficult to warm up to a gallery founded in November 1929 by three society women — Mary Sullivan, Lillie Bliss and Abby Rockefeller

…and wryly suggested that perhaps another museum could be founded, “The Modernest Modern Museum,” for those who lacked clout or patronage with MoMA’s well-heeled board of directors…

Pemberton’s grumblings caught the attention of Alfred Barr Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, who sought a correction (printed in the back pages of the Jan. 4 issue) regarding some of Pemberton’s earlier observations of the museum. No doubt Barr was feeling some Rockefeller heat as well:

HERE’S MUD IN YOUR EYE…Murdock Pemberton, apparently endorsing Taylor’s Port in 1937. (observer.com)

For some insight into Pemberton’s populist views (the old meaning of the word, not the new one), the critic’s granddaughter, Sally Pemberton, had this to say in a 2012 New Yorker interview:

“Being from humble roots in Kansas and having worked to help support his family since he was a young boy, Murdock had a love-hate relationship with the upper echelon of society. He visited “plush hung galleries” and saw how museums treated art and artists in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, and he wanted art to be more accessible. He asked that the Met set aside a room for the work of living artists. He called for art to be displayed in libraries and universities, and in some cases to be sold in department stores. He wrote about what a wonderful thing it was when the W.P.A. put murals in post offices around the country and how that changed the American public’s perception of art.”

Ms. Pemberton is the author of Portrait of Murdock Pemberton: The New Yorker’s First Art Critic.

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

More ink for the newly opened Hotel New Yorker in this advertisement on page 47…

…and with the automobile show in town, the magazine was filled with numerous splashy car ads…Franklin with its air-cooled engine, Hupmobile with its powerful eight, and Pierce-Arrow—America’s answer to Rolls Royce—would all fall victim in the 1930s to the Great Depression…

…the magazine also featured numerous ads beckoning the well-heeled to warmer southern climes, including society snowbirds seeking respite at Palm Beach…

…this ad from Flit (drawn by Dr. Seuss) seemed to recall the old filler joke from the first issues of the New Yorker, a riddle told backwards:

POP: A man who thinks he can make it in par.
JOHNNY: What is an optimist, pop?

Peter Arno offered his talents in this illustration for the theater review section…

…and this cartoon peek into society night life…

…glimpses of domestic life were provided by Perry Barlow

Garrett Price

Alice Harvey

…and Leonard Dove

Next Time: A Backward Glance…

 

In Search of Yuletide Cheer

E.B. White’s “Notes and Comment” column led off the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town,” and as such helped set the tone for what was to follow in the magazine.

Dec. 14, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt. Opening image: Construction workers line up for pay beside the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York in 1931. (NY Daily News)

For the Dec. 14 issue White attempted to strike a positive note in the aftermath of the stock market crash, offering a few nuggets of hope for the holiday season:

HEAVYWEIGHTS…Both President Herbert Hoover and retired prizefighter Gene Tunney offered signs of stability to a nation reeling from economic collapse. At right, Gene and Mary Tunney return to New York on the ocean liner Vulcania after 14 months in Europe. (Wikipedia/AP)

Alexander Woollcott, however, described his financial woes in his “Shouts and Murmurs” column, where he parodied newspapers that listed charity cases during the Christmas season:

BOOK-END POOR…Alexander Woollcott, in a 1939 portrait by Carl Van Vechten. (Wikipedia)

Paris correspondent Janet Flanner noted how the ripples of the market crash were being felt in Paris: Americans no longer had wads of cash to lavish on booze, jewelry, antiques and real estate:

DON’T RAIN ON OUR PARADE…The Place de la Nation, Paris, 1930. (thevintagenews.com)

Flanner added that despite the past boorish behavior of American tourists, the level of schaudenfreude among the French was remarkably low…

 *  *  *

Sinful Diversions

For yet another sign that the Roaring Twenties were decidedly over, it appeared that even “Sex” had run its course. Theater critic Robert Benchley noted that Mae West’s scandalous 1926 play inspired a spate of shows that had little new to offer, save for amping up the salacious content: A Primer for Lovers, The Amorous Antic, and Young Sinners. Audiences were unimpressed. A Primer for Lovers closed after just 24 performances, The Amorous Antic after just eight. Only Young Sinners would survive into the spring season.

JUST LOOK WHAT YOU STARTED…”Sex” was panned by critics as vulgar, but Broadway audiences in 1926 loved it. After 375 performances police arrested Mae West on obscenity charges, which landed her in a prison workhouse for ten days. (boweryboyshistory.com)
Actress Phoebe Foster (left) found success on Broadway, but not so much in The Amorous Antic, which closed after just eight performances. Dorothy Appleby (right) had better success with Young Sinners, which ran for 289 performances through August 1930. (IMDB)

 * * *

Final Bows

Theater was changing in other ways too. In the late 19th and early 20th century audiences patronized various playhouses based more on their reputation and tradition than on a particular play. E.B. White, in the “Talk of the Town” noted the imminent passing of one such house, the Knickerbocker Theatre, slated for demolition in 1930. The 33-year-old theater was Broadway’s first to display a moving electric sign (1906).

A HOUSE OF GOOD REPUTE…The Knickerbocker Theatre at 1396 Broadway was built in 1896 and demolished in 1930. (Internet Broadway Database)

White noted that smaller venues like the Knickerbocker, with their own distinct character and clientele, were falling victim to big theater-owning corporations that introduced more homogeneity into the play-going scene. In White’s estimation just two old-timers remained:

Both buildings still stand. The New Amsterdam, constructed in 1902–03, is now the oldest theater on Broadway. In the 1910s and 1920s it hosted the Ziegfeld Follies on its main stage and the racier Ziegfeld Midnight Frolics on the building’s rooftop. The Music Box was constructed in 1921 by composer Irving Berlin and producer Sam H. Harris to house Berlin’s Music Box Revues.

DISNEYFIED…The New Amsterdam, constructed in 1902–03, still stands today, now operated by the Disney Company, which signed a 99-year lease with the city in 1993. When it was built it was the largest theater in New York, with a seating capacity of 1,702. (Wikipedia)
IRVING’S PLACE…The Music Box Theatre at 239 West 45th Street was constructed in 1921 by composer Irving Berlin and producer Sam H. Harris to house Berlin’s Music Box Revues. It was later co-owned by Berlin’s estate and the Shubert Organization until Shubert assumed full ownership in 2007. (Wikipedia)

 * * *

Stocks Down, Arno Up

Peter Arno could be found all over the Dec. 14 issue: an ad promoting his new book Peter Arno’s Parade, a blurb in the book section touting the same…this ad for Peck & Peck featuring his handiwork…

…in the comics, a full pager with the economy as a theme…

…and this submission that was doubtless inspired by Arno’s own home life and his brief, tempestuous marriage to New Yorker colleague Lois Long

…here’s a couple of comics featuring Milquetoast characters…this one by Garrett Price

…and another by Leonard Dove

…and two submissions from one of my favorite cartoonists, Barbara Shermund, so ahead of her time…

 

Helen Hokinson examined a physician’s bedside manner…

…and I. Klein offered his take on the new economy…

 * * *

We move right along to the Dec. 21, 1929 issue, where things seemed to turn a bit more sour…

Dec. 21, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

Elmer Rice’s serialized novel, A Voyage to Purilia, finally concluded in its 11th installment in the New Yorker…and E.B. White took on a more choleric disposition in his “Notes and Comment”…

Lois Long contributed a “Tables for Two” column, a feature that had become infrequent and would soon be shelved as she turned her full attentions to her fashion column “On and Off the Avenue.” In this installment of “Tables” we get her first mention of the market calamity…

Robert Benchley finally found something to like on Broadway, because Billie Burke was the star attraction…

SHE”S THE GOOD ONE…Billie Burke in 1933. Most of us know her today for her performance as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. (Wikipedia)

 * * *

Violin Prodigy 2.0

The New Yorker raved about the 12-year-old violinist Yehudi Menuhin when he wowed audiences at the Berlin Philharmonic earlier in the year. So when the 10-year-old Ruggiero Ricci expertly fiddled with the Manhattan Symphony, well…

YEAH, I GOT THIS…Ruggiero Ricci, about 1930, by then a touring professional. At age 6 Ricci began lessons with Louis Persinger, who also taught another San Francisco prodigy, Yehudi Menuhin. (Text and image, The New York Times)

 * * *

Namesake

Despite the market crash, the skyline continued to change at a rapid pace, and as we enter the 1930s the city would add some of its most iconic buildings to the skyline. George Chappell, the New Yorker’s architecture critic, had this to say about the magazine’s “namesake”…

ROOMY…The New Yorker Hotel, at 481 Eighth Avenue. When the 43-story Art Deco hotel opened 1930, it contained 2,500 rooms, making it the city’s largest for many years. (Wikipedia)

 * * *

Art critic Murdock Pemberton continued his quest to make sense of the upstart Museum of Modern Art…

…and the American artists showcased there…

…I would add Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Lyonel Feininger, and Rockwell Kent (also displayed at the exhibition) but then again, I have the advantage of hindsight…

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

We have more New Yorker cartoonists augmenting their income through advertising, including (once again) Rea Irvin for Knox Hatters…

Raeburn Van Buren for G. Washington’s instant coffee (also a client of Helen Hokinson’s)…

…and Helen Hokinson for Frigidaire…

…and on to cartoons for Dec. 21, Hokinson again…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and another peek into marital bliss…

Next Time: The Curtain Falls…

 

 

 

Feeling the Holiday Pinch

The effects of the October stock market crash were finally beginning to show in the pages of the New Yorker in the last month of the 1920s.

Dec. 7, 1929 cover by Julien De Miskey.

E. B. White was doing his best to keep things light, stating in his “Notes and Comment” column that despite the “time of panic,” the ad-packed Dec. 7 issue contained a whopping 176 pages…

Advertising income for the New Yorker would drop a bit in 1930 (from $1,929,000 to $1,922,000) and would continue to decline through 1932 (down to $1,448,000) before recovering slightly in 1933 and then really taking off again in 1934. And as White noted, even if they had to borrow the 15 cents, folks would still buy the magazine: circulation would top 100,000 in 1930, and except for a dip in 1932 would steadily grow past 150,000 by decade’s end.

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON…E.B. White in 1946. (National Endowment for the Humanities)

The magazine was stuffed with ads as well as an extended “On and Off the Avenue” —which offered advice to holiday shoppers — and the continued serialization of Elmer Rice’s novel A Voyage to Purilia (installment No. 9).

But not all was sweetness and light. The biggest economic collapse in U.S. history was simply too pervasive to ignore, and even a feeling of hopelessness was creeping into magazine — here’s an observation by Howard Brubaker in his “Of All Things” column…

…and writing under the pseudonym “Guy Fawkes,” humorist Robert Benchley found little to laugh about in his “The Wayward Press” column. He chided the media for giving the public false hopes (which he labeled “propaganda”) regarding the state of the economy, and for concealing the suicide of prominent New York banker James J. Riordan, whose death announcement was postponed until Riordan’s bank closed for the weekend…

MARKET CASULTY…News of the suicide of prominent New York banker James J. Riordan (left) was suppressed to avoid a run on his County Trust Company. Robert Benchley (right) criticized the newspapers for working with power brokers to feed positive economic news to the masses. (NY Daily News/amsaw.org)

The following account excerpted from the Nov. 10, 1929 New York Times reveals how a nervous banking community responded to the market crash-related suicide of Riordan:

The popular historian Frederick Lewis Allen (1890 – 1954) offered a more lighthearted take on the events surrounding the market crash in his tongue-in-cheek casual, “Liquidation Day Parade,” in which he proposed a holiday to commemorate the end of the Big Bull Market.

Allen, who also served as editor of Harper’s Magazine, would go on to write Only Yesterday, which chronicled American life in the Roaring Twenties. The 1931 book was a huge bestseller at the dawn of the Depression, and critically acclaimed, both then and now. Writing for the Washington Post (Nov. 28, 2007), book critic Jonathan Yardley observed: “It is testimony to both the popularity and the staying power of Only Yesterday that for more than three-quarters of a century it has remained steadily in print, and to this day enjoys sales that would please plenty of 21st-century writers.”

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW…in a little more than year after the Roaring Twenties came to a close, historian Frederick Lewis Allen would chronicle that decade in Only Yesterday, his most famous book. (Wikipedia/raptisrarebooks.com)

 *  *  *

Clipped Wings

We turn back to E.B. White, the New Yorker’s most enthusiastic proponent of the aviation age. In the previous issue (Nov. 30) White had rhapsodized about a  flight he took on a huge, new Fokker F-32. In the Dec. 7 “Talk of the Town” White reported that the very same plane had crashed and burned (and also noted that another plane on which he had been a passenger, a Ford Trimotor, had crashed earlier that year in Newark). White speculated that aviation would soon head in a different, safer, direction along the lines of the autogyro, a flying contraption that was widely favored by futurists of the day:

IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE…In the 1920s and 30s the autogyro — part airplane, part helicopter — was seen as the future of air transportation. From left, cover of Modern Mechanics magazine from January 1930; an article on the autogyro from the March 1931 issue of Popular Science; an XOP-1 autogiro at the Naval Air Station Anacostia in Washington D.C., 1931. (modernmechanix.com/navalaviationmuseum.org) Click image to enlarge

 *  *  *

Wonders Never Cease

“Talk” also reported the growing popularity of newsreel theaters, and marveled at the speed with which camera crews could deliver their finished product to movie screens. An example was the crash of a small plane onto the side of a YMCA (an incident also noted by White in the previous issue); a newsreel crew was able to go from scene to screen in about four hours:

BEFORE GERALDO…Fox Movietone news crew in 1930 (City of Toronto archives)

 *  *  *

High Wire Act

The artist Alexander Calder was already well known for his wire sculptures (his colorful mobiles would come later) when he embarked on his Cirque Calder in Paris in 1926. He brought “the show” to New York in 1929, where he used everything from eggbeaters to balloons to bring his wiry performers to life. Presumably art critic Murdock Pemberton wrote this account for “Talk of the Town”…

UNDER THE LITTLE TOP…Invitation to a performance of Cirque Calder (1926–31) at the Hawes-Harden apartment, August 28, 1929; Alexander Calder with Cirque Calder (1926–31), 1929; Lion Tamer and Lion from Cirque Calder (1926–31). (calder.org)

And we also have Pemberton over at his art column, where once again he tried to make sense of the new upstart Museum of Modern Art. He seemed to be surprised by the large crowds drawn to the new museum as he pondered its next show…

AMERICAN MODERN…Among works featured at MoMA’s second exhibition, Paintings by Nineteen Living Americans, were, at left, Georgia O’Keefe’s Radiator Building (1927); top right, Edward Hopper’s Automat (1927); and Max Weber’s Three Jugs (1929). (Wikipedia/theartstack.com)

Pemberton had yet to see MoMA’s stunning second exhibition, Paintings by Nineteen Living Americans, but had to (grudgingly) conclude that the museum was filling a need…

 *  *  *

The Toy Bazaar

From its beginnings in 1862 until the end of the 19th century, the F.A.O. Schwarz toy store was known to New Yorkers as the “Toy Bazaar,” and by 1929 was something of an institution. As part of a lengthy column featuring ideas for Christmas shoppers, the New Yorker offered some tips on what shoppers might find at the famed toy store:

FUNLAND…Left, the cover the 1929 F.A.O. Schwarz Christmas catalog; at right, the store’s location in 1929, 303 Fifth Avenue. (oldwoodtoys.com)

Some of the toys mentioned in the New Yorker article, from the 1929 F.A.O. Schwarz Christmas catalog. There’s nothing plastic here — plastics as we know them, such as polypropylene, would be developed in the 1950s:

The 1929 F.A.O. Schwarz Christmas catalog also featured a color spread of its stock of Lionel Electric Trains:

If you want to look at the entire 1929 F.A.O. Schwarz Christmas catalog, you can find it at this terrific site.

The column also offered advice on “gifts for servants,” at least for those who weren’t getting laid off due to the market crash. Note the patronizing tone, especially the final paragraph regarding nurses and governesses:

As usual, the shopping column was sprinkled with spot drawings celebrating the season: here are three from Julian De Miskey and one from Barbara Shermund:

*  *  *

The Bard Does the Talkies

At the movies, critic John Mosher found much to like at the Rivoli, which was screening The Taming of the Shrew featuring the husband/wife team of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford:

WILD AT HEART…Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in 1929’s The Taming of the Shrew. (IMDB)

 *  *  *

Somerset Saga

When I first spotted this I thought it was an early edition of the New Yorker’s famed Christmas poem, but from what I can gather those were started by Frank Sullivan in 1932. Nevertheless, here is a clever “Saga of Somerset County” from our dear E.B. White:

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

For men who hadn’t lost their shirts and had an “ingrained taste for luxury,” here was a men’s toilet set from Coty featuring a talcum shaker that would have doubled as a fine whiskey flask…

…did the folks at Bergdorf Goodman miss the news of the market crash? Read the fine print about the coming “revolution in fur fashion”…

Helen Hokinson illustrated another ad for G. Washington instant coffee…

…Atwater Kent offered up this sumptuous appeal to holiday shoppers…

…at first glance I thought this was an ad for a luxury apartment…the copy is almost identical, save for a couple of words like “death” and “crypt”…

…on to our artists, here is a spot by Constantin Alajalov that ran along the bottom of “Talk of the Town”…

…and a sight that would become more familiar as the Depression deepened, a look at an estate sale, courtesy Helen Hokinson

…signs of the economic collapse were starting to creep into the cartoons, including offerings by Raeburn Van Buren

Leonard Dove

…and Paul Webb

…while the economy was headed into the pits, cartoonist Peter Arno saw his fortunes soaring as he headed into a new decade. In his excellent 2016 biography, Peter Arno: The Mad Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist, Michael Maslin writes, “By the time The New Yorker’s December 7, 1929 issue hit the newsstands, its readership had, within the year, seen three Arno covers and fifty-seven of his drawings.” Maslin notes that drawing number fifty-eight, which appears below, “ended the 1920s with a bang (so to speak).” The drawing, writes Maslin, “became a lightning rod for two New Yorker camps: the (James) Thurber camp, who chose to believe Harold Ross (the magazine’s founding editor, who forbade sex as a subject) was naive in sexual matters, and the (E.B.) White camp, convinced Ross would never have let the drawing appear in the magazine if he hadn’t understood its meaning.” If you enjoy Arno’s work, Maslin’s book is a must-read…

Next Time: In Search of Holiday Cheer…