The Wayward Press

Robert Benchley is remembered today as an American humorist, and his funny side was on display in his New Yorker theater reviews and other contributions. It was his background as a journalist, however, that shown through in his column “The Wayward Press.”

Oct. 10, 1931 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Benchley’s more serious side as a reporter (though still sprinkled with wit) demonstrated his ability to expose the conspiratorial nature of the 1930s press — which seemed to be in bed with moneyed interests — and decry its insatiable appetite for sensationalism. His October 10 column took aim at the coverage of the death of banking heir Benjamin Collings, who was murdered on Long Island Sound while aboard his yacht, Penguin. The investigation went on for weeks with scant developments, but that didn’t stop the newspapers from trying to squeeze every ounce of blood from this turnip.

The New York Daily News milked the incident for all its worth, the heading of this first article featuring photos of the slain Benjamin Collings (far left), his widow (and briefly a suspect) Lillian Collings, as well as an image of their five-year-old daughter, Barbara. According to Lillian, all three were sleeping aboard the family yacht Penguin when two men paddled a canoe up to their boat. When Ben went on deck to confront the pair, these “pirates” (as she called them) seized control of the boat, and threw Ben overboard. According to Lillian, the men forced her into the canoe, then cut the Penguin’s anchor and set it adrift with little Barbara still on board. While the girl was quickly rescued by another yachtsman, the “pirates” deposited Lillian in a moored motorboat on Oyster Bay before disappearing into the night. The Suffolk County DA found Lillian’s account unbelievable, and newspapers subsequently described her story as bizarre and illogical. The Daily News headline below indicates Lillian’s family wanted her interrogation to end…

…lacking any other details, the Daily News nevertheless kept the story alive with features such as this one below that described Five Stages in Life of Mrs. Benjamin Collings, Widowed by Yacht Murder

…and in case readers still wanted more, the paper rehashed the whole thing in photos in its Sept. 12 edition…

A few days after the yacht incident the body of Ben Collings washed up on the North Shore, his hands bound and his skull bashed in. The Suffolk County DA then began hauling in pairs of suspects who somewhat matched Lillian’s description — a 50-year-old man with gray hair and a skinny teenager — but none were quite right. The crime has never been solved.

Benchley concluded his column with some quotations which he “did not believe”…

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And Now For Something Ironic…

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White teased New York Stock Exchange President Richard Whitney for blaming the market crash on “human vanity and selfishness,” when it was indeed those qualities that drove the markets in the first place. Before the decade was out Whitney would succumb to the very vices he named, and would serve three years and four months at Sing Sing for embezzlement.

HE DID TIME, THEN HE DID SOME MORE TIME…Richard Whitney made the cover of the Feb. 26, 1934 issue of Time magazine for his work as president of the New York Stock Exchange. At left, Whitney in 1937. He was sentenced to five to ten years for embezzlement, but was released early from Sing Sing for good behavior. He went on to a simpler life, managing a dairy farm and then a textile company before his death in 1974 at age 86. (Wikipedia/Time)

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The What Goes Up Department

E.B. White also commented on the latest edition of the Goodyear Blimp, christened Columbia, which he spotted hanging around the Empire State Building. Note E.B. White’s last line

Columbia was flying around the Empire State Building because Goodyear was running a sightseeing service in which passengers paid $3 for a 15-minute flight around Manhattan. The blimp also performed publicity stunts such as delivering newspapers to a man standing on the Empire State’s mooring mast — that particular stunt was supposedly a test to see if airships could anchor on the mast for passenger loading and unloading (and as we know, they couldn’t and wouldn’t).

Just four months after White watched Columbia hover over Manhattan, the airship would indeed bust into a thousand pieces, meeting its demise near the Queens airport (today’s LaGuardia). Caught in unexpected high winds, Columbia dipped into the ground, tearing off its landing gear and bending its propellers. The ground crew tried to secure the blimp but an updraft ripped the airship from their hands and sent it sailing over Flushing Bay.

As Columbia once again drifted back over land, the 23-year pilot Prescott Dixon ordered his chief mechanic, John Blair, to pull a rip cord that would release most of the air from the blimp. As Blair reached from the cabin for the cord the blimp shifted, and Blair fell to his death. Columbia then knocked two men off a warehouse roof (injuring them), then struck a factory and some power lines before crashing along the tracks of the Long Island Railroad. Dixon survived after being extricated from the crumpled gondola.

CHRISTENED WITH A BOTTLE OF LIQUID AIR, the Goodyear Blimp Columbia was readied for its inaugural flight over Akron, Ohio, in July 1931.
A SHORT LIFE…Just seven months after its inaugural flight, Columbia crashed near Flushing Bay on Feb. 12, 1932. (kathrynsreport.com)

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When Bridges Were Crowd-Pleasers

“The Talk of the Town” announced the imminent opening of the Jeffreys Hook Bridge, to be known thence as the George Washington Bridge:

GET OUT YOUR TOP HAT…New Yorkers turned out in droves to mark the official opening of the George Washington Bridge on Oct. 24, 1931. Gov. Morgan F. Larson of New Jersey, left, and Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York, right, did the ribbon honors at the dedication. (New Haven Register/AP)

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They Couldn’t Say ‘Hooters’ Either

In these coarser times it is hard to believe that 89 years ago the word “bosom” was a “no-no” on the nation’s airwaves, per this “Talk” item…

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An Actor’s Actor

Theater critic Robert Benchley wasn’t the only one who noticed the talents of newcomer Charles Laughton in his New York stage debut — Hollywood would immediately come calling for the 32-year-old English actor:

WE’LL KEEP HIM…Cicely Oates as Annie Marble and Charles Laughton as William Marble in the 1931 play Payment Deferred. (Museum of the City of New York)

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Kinda Long For Being Short

Humorist Frank Sullivan claimed to be following the trend for shorter short stories by turning in this piece with an editor’s note longer than the story itself:

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Lurid Lit

Our dear Dorothy Parker is back with another of her entertaining book columns, and in this installment we have her taking on the world of literary and not-so-literary sex romps. Excerpts:

DIRTY LITTLE BOOKS?…The three books featured in Dorothy Parker’s column included, from left, Young and Healthy by Donald Henderson Clarke (issued here under a different title in a pulp 1948 Novel Library edition); Theodore Wilde’s Moonblind, which featured a hermaphrodite character and homosexual encounters; and although attributed to Anonymous, Lady Chatterley’s Husbands was actually written by Anthony Gudaitis, aka Anton Gud, who often wrote anonymously for erotica publisher Samuel Roth. Although it was publicized as a sequel to D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Gud’s book actually had less sex than the Lawrence original. After all, in the sequel Lady Chatterley gets tired of horny old Mellors. (Goodreads/Amazon)

…and before we leave Dorothy, please note her last line in the review, where she quotes Carl Rose’s famed 1928 cartoon (with caption by E.B. White)…

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From Our Advertisers

Just a couple quick ones (I will have more in the next installment)…Lord & Taylor showed young New Yorkers how to look smart for the fall (Lord & Taylor, the oldest department store in the United States (founded 1826), recently closed all 38 of its stores due to the pandemic, and it was announced in August that Lord & Taylor would be liquidated. Apparently its name will continue as an online-only business…

…and Helen Hokinson offered this illustration of one of her “girls” shilling for Frigidaire refrigerators…

…and two more from Helen in the Oct. 10 cartoons…

…exploring men’s attitudes toward the opposite sex…

Garrett Price visited a seemingly unappetizing banquet…

Kemp Starrett gave us a man looking at life on the bright side…

William Steig explored home decor…

Barbara Shermund found some bedtime gossip…

…and recalling our earlier “Talk” item regarding bosoms, here’s Peter Arno

Next Time: Monkey Business…

 

 

From Stage to Screen

There’s good reason why one of Broadway’s finest theatres is named after Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne; no couple has lit up the stage quite like this husband-wife team.

Sept. 19, 1931 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

Some say Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were modern successors, but they only appeared together on Broadway once (a 1983 revival of Noël Coward’s Private Lives, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre of all places), and they shared a tempestuous, on-and-off relationship that sharply contrasted with Lunt and Fontanne, who were inseparable both on and off the stage during their 55-year marriage. And unlike Burton and Taylor, Lunt and Fontanne appeared in just a handful of films, including a 1931 adaptation of their 1924 Broadway play, The Guardsman. John Mosher filed this review:

INSEPARABLE…Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne pose for photographer Nickolas Muray in this 1924 portrait for Vanity Fair magazine. They married in 1922, and were inseparable until Lunt’s passing in 1977. (Conde Nast)
NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY!…These were Pre-Code times, so MGM played up the film’s “saucy” and “unconventional” themes. (IMDB)
I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO YOUR FACE…Although Lunt and Fontanne appeared together numerous times on Broadway, the 1931 film adaptation of their 1924 stage play, The Guardsman, would be their only film appearance together. (Museum of the City of New York/IMDB)
STAGE TO SCREEN…at top, Lunt and Fontanne in 1924’s The Guardsman on Broadway; below, a scene from the 1931 film adaptation featuring, from left, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Maude Eburne and Zasu Pitts; at right, Fontanne reviews fashions for the film designed by Adrian Adolph Greenburg. Lunt and Fontanne would be nominated for Academy Awards as Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role, respectively. (Museum of the City of New York/IMDB)

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One Giant Leap

Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic without stopping in 1927, but it would take four more years before anyone could accomplish the same feat across the Pacific. Don Moyle and Cecil Allen took up the challenge, hoping to fly their plane, Clasina Madge, 4,400 miles from Japan to Seattle to win a $25,000 prize from a Japanese newspaper. The lads took off from Tokyo in early September, but then went missing. E.B. White wrote:

As it turned out, Moyle and Allen were caught in a storm between Japan and Alaska that forced them to land on a small, uninhabited island in the Aleutian chain. Stranded for more than a week, the flyboys were finally able to make contact through a U.S. Coast Guard patrol and report they were safe.

THESE ARE MY BOYS…at left, Cecil Allen and Don Moyle standing with financial backer John Buffelin and Buffelin’s daughter, Clasina Madge, the namesake for their hopefully record-setting airplane; At right, Moyle and Allen with a Japanese official, possibly before one of their attempts, or perhaps they are looking at their consolation prize (see below). (University of Washington)

Moyle and Allen sent word that they would return to Washington and prepare for another attempt. They flew back home by way of Nome, Alaska, where they landed on Sept. 21, 1931. Five days later they reached Fairbanks, and after weather delays finally made it to Tacoma, Washington, on Oct. 6. There they learned that Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr. had already won the $25,000 prize, having arrived from Japan the day before. The Tokyo newspaper did, however, give Moyle and Allen $2,500 for their efforts.

SPOILERS…at left, Hugh Herndon, Jr. and Clyde Pangborn pose next to their crash-landed plane in the hills of East Wenatchee, Washington, after becoming the first to fly non-stop across the northern Pacific Ocean. The 41-hour flight from Japan won them the 1931 Harmon Trophy and $25,000 from a Japanese newspaper. The crash-landing of their plane was deliberate — before the flight it was modified to carry 930 gallons of fuel. They had jettisoned the landing gear after takeoff to save fuel. (historylink.org/imagesofoldhawaii.com)

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Thurber Gets Serious

We know James Thurber as a humorist, both for his writings and his cartoons. In the Sept. 19 issue, however, Thurber offered this touching remembrance of a subway newsstand proprietor, who he later learns is killed in the crossfire of a robbery. Here are the opening passages:


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Did You Miss Me?

After a long absence (in Europe, presumably),  returned to his “Shouts and Murmurs,” column, offering this “Triple Warning” that included his observations of H.G. Wells, who wondered if all his musings for the future would fall to swarms of lowly insects…

WORK CAN WAIT…Alexander Woollcott relaxes in front of a Paris bar, late 1920s. Photo by James Abbe. (artsy.net)

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From Our Advertisers

With the arrival of fall come new fashions…these “wearables” below are suggested by B. Altman as suitable attire for attending a football game…

…smart fashions for young people weren’t confined to New York…this is how students at the University of Michigan dressed for a 1930 homecoming game against Illinois…

…well, times have changed, but folks still wear fur of a sort…

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…wearing a real fur these days will draw the ire of animal rights advocates almost everywhere, but in 1931 few had problems with turning leopards and seals into coats for fashionable young women…

…then as now, folks enjoyed their pork sausage…the Jones Family of Wisconsin apparently saw a market for their products among New Yorker readers…

…after 131 years in business, the Jones Family and their sausages are still going strong…as is their farmhouse logo (the old farmhouse is real and still stands)…

…another back pages ad promoted Helen Hokinson’s first cartoon collection, So You’re Going to Buy a Book!

…the collection including Hokinson’s beloved dowagers, but it also featured this gem…

(attemptedbloggery.blogspot.com)

…on to our cartoons from the Sept. 19 issue, we begin with William Steig and a couple of would-be renters…

E. McNerney explored the trials of teenage life…

Leonard Dove drew a crowd in a packed subway car…

Otto Soglow displayed the playful side of his Little King…

…and Rea Irvin found an actor upstaged by an unlikely rival…

Next Time: Big Fish, Little Fish…

Bonfire of the Vanities

When Earl Carroll’s Vanities hit the Broadway revue scene in 1923, it faced strong competition from George White’s Scandals and the long-running Ziegfeld Follies. Carroll’s answer: More of everything.

Sept. 5, 1931 cover by Theodore Haupt.

That included more nudity than the other revues. Critics, including the New Yorker’s Robert Benchley, found the nudity gratuitous, a titillating distraction from what was otherwise a mess of a show. It also landed Carroll in court from time to time on charges of public indecency. All of this, of course, was just more publicity to drive audiences to his theatre at 753 Seventh Avenue, which he built in 1922 and then partially tore down just nine years later to replace it with an even grander venue. This is where Benchley found himself on the evening of August 27 — at the grand opening of the Earl Carroll Theatre and the 1931 edition of the Vanities. Benchley found nothing grand about it:

AUTOGRAPHS, ANYONE?…Accompanied by his Vanities showgirls, Earl Carroll leaves the Essex Market Police Court on July 20,1930, after appearing to answer charges of public indecency. Police raided a Vanities matinee on July 9, arresting eleven including famed burlesque dancer Faith Bacon, who performed in nothing but fans made of ostrich feathers. No doubt police were tipped off by critics who called the 1930 edition the “nudest” cast in American theatre history. From the looks on their faces, it seems even the police enjoyed the spectacle. (Worthpoint)
IS THERE A PROBLEM, OFFICER?…Faith Bacon in a less-revealing pose with the ostrich-feather fans that brought the police ‘a calling. (fanpix.net)

Carroll’s ambitions were always big, whether it was the size or lavishness of his stage shows or the Art Deco theatre (designed by George W. Keister) he erected in 1931 in answer to Flo Ziegfeld’s 1927 Joseph Urban-designed theatre on Sixth Avenue. With 3,000 seats, Carroll’s theatre was nearly twice the size of Ziegfeld’s.

THEY DON’T COME FOR THE SCRIPTWRITING…Earl Carroll made it clear what audiences could expect in his 1931 Art Deco-style theatre, which featured black velvet-covered walls relieved with gold and silver-colored highlights. Its 3,000 seats made it one of the largest theatres in the world. Clockwise, from top left, portrait of Carroll (a gift from the 1930 Vanities showgirls) flanked by busts of Vanities girls Doris Andrese and Beryl Wallace in the theatre lobby; sign above theatre entrance; a two-page spread from the theatre’s “Beauty Souvenir” booklet; cover of the booklet, featuring singer Lillian Roth. (New York Historical Society).
DECO DRAMA…Clockwise, from top left, Earl Carroll circa 1925; ceiling detail inside the Earl Carroll Theatre; mezzanine lounge; the stage. (New York Historical Society).

The show itself left Benchley baffled, a mishmash of lights, colors, and effects including a drooling dinosaur that dropped a naked woman on stage for a dance number…

LAUNCH SITE….The Vanities stage helped launch the careers of many entertainers. Clockwise, from top left, undated photo of a Vanities production — some shows would feature more than 100 women on stage at one time; singer Lillian Roth was a star attraction; Vanities alumni included William Demarest (Uncle Charlie!), Jack Benny and Vincente Minnelli. (assumption.edu/flickr.com/classicmoviehub.com/amazon.com/sensesofcinema.com)

This wasn’t last word from the New Yorker on the new theatre; the Sept. 12 issue featured these observations by Creighton Peet:

In the end, Carroll’s ambitions were too big for the deepening Depression, and just six months after his theatre’s opening he would lose it to creditors. The property would be snapped up by rival Florenz Ziegfeld and renamed the Casino, but the Ziegfeld connection would be short-lived; Ziegfeld would die a few months later in July 1932. Later that year another rival, George White, would take over the venue to stage his Music Hall Varieties, which ended in 1933 with middling results. The theatre would go through several more tenants — including Billy Rose — until 1940 when the discount “dime store” Woolworth’s would move in, demolishing the lobby and walling off the remaining ceiling and walls. Woolworth’s would close the location in the late 1980s — the store, and the last remnants of the Earl Carroll Theatre, would be demolished in 1990.

CLOSING NUMBER…At left, a sneak peek behind the false walls of Woolworth’s in 1988 shows a detail of the theatre’s proscenium, ceiling and sidewall. At right, top to bottom, the second Earl Carroll Theatre at 7th Avenue & 50th Street; the Woolworth’s store that replaced it, circa 1980; the site today. (Large image from the book Lost Broadway Theatres, via drivingfordeco.com/Google Maps)

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From Our Advertisers

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…on the other hand, the more established brand Chesterfield had the resources to run a color back-cover ad with endorsements from the brother-sister dance team Fred and Adele Astaire

…Fleishmann’s continued to run their full-page ads touting the wonders of daily yeast consumption (“Eat three cakes a day”). The ads were there because Raoul Fleishmann used his wealth from the family baking business to keep the New Yorker afloat during its fledgling years…

…Farrar and Rinehart announced the arrival of Otto Soglow’s first book, Pretty Pictures

…here is the cover of the book…

…and we move on to the cartoons with the character that would make Soglow rich and famous…The Little King

…although Fleischmann likely saved the New Yorker with large infusions of cash, its cartoonists, including Gardner Rea, still took an occasional poke at the company’s health claims…

…anticipating his “Small Fry” cartoons, William Steig finds two of them examining the wonders of human physiology…

Rea Irvin looked in on some stuffy Western Union censors…

…newcomer Robert Day illustrated the challenges of a doorman (Day would be a longtime contributor)…

Garrett Price found humor abuzz between the bold and the meek…

Alan Dunn tracked down a clueless hunter…

…and we end with Leonard Dove, who takes flight and anticipates our next installment…

Next Time: A Big Bird…

 

Rooftop Romance

In the days before air conditioning, New Yorkers took to the higher rooftops in the city to escape the summer heat and reconnect with familiar entertainers.

June 6, 1931 cover by Theodore Haupt. The title image is a detail from a Sept. 5, 1970 cover by Arthur Getz.

Among those reconnecting was Lois Long, who had abandoned her nightlife column “Tables for Two” the previous year but revived it in the June 6, 1931 issue, perhaps in reaction to the “boundless trouble” that had marched into her “quiet life,” namely her bitter divorce that month from cartoonist Peter Arno. Soon to be single again, Long dusted off her “Table” for another night out.

PRE-AC…As far back as the Gilded Age of the 19th century New Yorkers escaped the summer heat by seeking entertainment on one of the city’s rooftop gardens. Pictured is the Paradise roof garden atop Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre, 1901. (MCNY)

THE BUCK STARTS HERE…It wasn’t a rooftop, but the Central Park Casino was a cool retreat from city streets, especially for Mayor Jimmy Walker, who conducted much of city business there (much of it shady). After reform-minded Mayor Fiorello La Guardia replaced Walker in 1934, he had the place torn down. (New York City Parks Photo Archive)
I COULD HAVE DANCED ALL NIGHT…Mayor Jimmy Walker and his mistress, showgirl Betty Compton, were often the last to leave the Casino in the wee hours of the morning, dancing in the black-glass ballroom (above) to the Leo Reisman Orchestra. (drivingfordeco.com)

Higher up in the city, Long also paid a visit to the elegant rooftop of the St. Regis, designed by the famed architect and theatrical designer Joseph Urban

DAZZLING…The St. Regis rooftop, designed by Joseph Urban.
ANOTHER VIEW of the St. Regis rooftop as illustrated in the July 7, 1928 issue of the New Yorker by Alice Harvey. 

Long also visited the roof of the 42-story Hotel Pierre. The New York Sun described the top two floors as “decorated to resemble the interior of a zeppelin cabin.”

THE COOLEST…Top of the Hotel Pierre. A popular summer ballroom in the years before air-conditioning, the Pierre advertised itself as having “the highest and coolest hotel roof in Manhattan.” (NYT)

If you were in the mood for a little crooning, Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees were taking in the breeze atop the Hotel Pennsylvania, per this ad in the back pages of the June 6 New Yorker

Advertisers must have been paying attention to Long’s column, because the back pages of the following issue (June 13) had plenty of ads touting various rooftops…

Long also sampled the offerings of less savory venues, such as the Club Argonaut, which was apparently frequented by mobsters…

NOT AMUSED…Lois Long didn’t care for the antics of Gene Malin (center, and inset) who performed in front of a tough-looking crowd at the Club Argonaut. A popular drag artist who helped ignite the “Pansy Craze” in the 1920s and 30s, Malin was one of the first openly gay performers in Prohibition-era speakeasy culture. His career ended abruptly at age 25 in a car accident. (Pinterest)

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Sexy Soviet Tractors

One place you could find an early form of air conditioning was at the movies (critic John Mosher referred to these theatres as “iced), and no doubt many lowered their cinematic standards just to get a few hours respite from the heat. For some unknown reason the Central Theatre thought it could entice audiences not with air-conditioning, but with a Soviet propaganda film titled The Five-Year Plan.

STAY CALM AND CARRY ON…Soviet poster for The Five Year Plan (1930), and a 1930 image of the Volograd (Stalingrad) tractor factory. You wonder how many of those blokes got wiped out by Stalin’s purges, or by the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43. (Wikipedia)

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Laughing at Death

A couple of posts ago I wrote about a very public gun battle that brought diminutive killer Frances Crowley to justice (“The Short Life of Two-Gun Crowley”). In the June 6 installment of “A Reporter at Large,” Morris Markey recounted the courtroom scene where the 18-year-old Crowley winked at girls and nonchalantly chewed his gum as judge and jury determined his fate.

OH WELL…Frances Crowley’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Helen Walsh, left, was positively bored during the trial that would send her beau to Sing Sing’s electric chair. Crowley himself (shown above at the trial) seemed to be amused by the proceedings, and enjoyed the attention. (NY Daily News)

Markey also noted the unseemly behavior of Crowley’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Helen Walsh, who seemed bored by the whole thing. “She was not a creature of your world or of mine,” wrote Markey, who noted at one point that she put her hands to her face “to conceal a faint smile that sprang from some incalculable amusement within her.” Markey offered this sample of Walsh’s questioning.

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Summer Frost

Novelist and poet Raymond Holden penned a profile of famed poet Robert Frost, who among things apparently enjoyed apples and a bit of gossip. A brief excerpt:

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Dead Ball

E. B. White lamented in his “Notes and Comment” the changes to the official golf ball, which was to be made slower in a time when Depression-weary businessmen could use a little lift:

GET ‘EM WHILE THEY LAST…This 1930 golf ball, signed by golf legend Bobby Jones, can be yours for $15,000 on eBay.

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From Our Advertisers

Gender-bending trends in clothing continued from the 1920s with flowing trousers for women (unthinkable a decade earlier)…

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…and this might be one of the first ads that linked cigarette smoking to the myth of the Western cowboy…

…on to our cartoons, we begin out in the country with Perry Barlow

…and Kemp Starrett, with this charming bucolic scene…

…back in the drawing room, we have this canine encounter from Leonard Dove

Helen Hokinson explored the violent side of bridge…

Barbara Shermund went into the garden to sample the trials of the rich…

Carl Rose pondered the art of grammar in crowded places…

Chon Day gave us yet another take on the familiar boss vs secretary trope…

…and Gardner Rea gets the last laugh with this hapless prodigal son…

Next Time: A Star is Born…

 

From Bad to Awful

In the previous issue, New Yorker film critic John Mosher examined the morals of pre-code, “underworld films” such as Edward G. Robinson’s Little Caesar. Mosher didn’t seem all that impressed with these new gangster films, that is, until James Cagney lent his talents to The Public Enemy.

May 2, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Despite its violence (by yesterday’s standards), Mosher believed that even the preachers and various women’s committees who decried the sex and violence in pre-code movies would have little to gripe about with The Public Enemy, since it clearly depicted the wages of the sins of Tom Powers, a bootlegger on the rise portrayed by Cagney.

YOU AGAIN?…New Yorker film critic John Mosher thought very little of Jean Harlow’s acting, but Warner Brothers heavily promoted their new sex symbol, giving her equal billing even though she contributed little to the film. In the previous issue, Mosher had reviewed the film Iron Man, which also featured Harlow. He found it distressing that it was her “platinum blonde” status, rather than her acting, that landed her in that picture. (IMDB)

WOMEN IN HIS LIFE…James Cagney played a small-time bootlegger, Tom Powers, who rose in the criminal underworld in Public Enemy. Top left: Powers with Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow), a woman with a weakness for bad men. Top right: Joan Blondell portrayed Mamie, the girlfriend of Powers’ friend, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods). Blondell, one of the biggest stars of the 1930s, worked often with Cagney. In 1930 they were in Penny Arcade on Broadway and co-starred in the film Sinner’s Holiday. They would make several more films together after Public Enemy. Bottom photo: Tom smashes a grapefruit into the face of his first girlfriend, Kitty (Mae Clarke). Although this is one of Public Enemy’s most iconic scenes, Clarke was uncredited in the film. (IMDB)
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU’RE NAUGHTY…Top, Tom Powers (Cagney) and his buddy, Matt Doyle (Woods) shoot it out in an alleyway. Bottom, the film ends with one of cinema’s greatest death scenes — awaiting the return of his brother to the family home, Mike Powers (Donald Cook) opens the door to be greeted by Tom’s corpse, which falls over the threshold. Just in case the audience didn’t get the message, Warner Brothers included this epilogue after the death scene. (IMDB/YouTube)

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Flag of a Father

Speaking of morality, no voice was louder, or carried farther, than that of Charles Edward Coughlin (1891-1979), known familiarly as “Father Coughlin,” an enormously popular radio priest who had an estimated following of 30 million listeners in the 1930s. E.B White took notice of this phenomenon, and also the Father’s stand against “internationalism,” which in a few years would morph into a virulent nationalism and anti-semitism that would find the Father finding common cause with Hitler and Mussolini. Yes, those guys. But for now, we are still in 1931…

SAVING SOULS?…Fr. Charles Coughlin preached nationalism and anti-semitism in his widely broadcast radio show in the 1930s. He was one of the first demagogues to effectively use the mass media to his advantage.

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Paradise Lost

Far up the Henry Hudson Parkway, just before you cross Spuyten Duyvil Creek (Harlem River) into Younkers, is a park with a history that goes back to a Lenape tribe that occupied the site prior to European settlement. Inwood Hill Park is where, legend has it, Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan from the Lenape on behalf of the Dutch West India Company.

ORIGIN STORY…It was purportedly under this tulip tree that the Lenape tribe sold Manhattan to Peter Minuit in 1626. The tree was felled by a storm in 1933. A large stone (inset) marks the spot today.

Inwood served as a location for a fort during the Revolutionary War, and was dotted with working farms including one owned by the Jan Dyckman family, established in 1661. In the 19th century a number of wealthy New Yorkers built country retreats around Inwood, which became a park in 1926. Squatters continued to live in abandoned estates around the edge of the park until Robert Moses came along in the 1930s and cleared them out. E.B. White, in “The Talk of the Town,” takes it from there.

WE CALL IT HOME…In 1931, Marie Naomie Boulerease Constantine Kennedy, an American Indian known as Princess Naomie (left) was a caretaker of the old Dyckman farm (below), which had fallen into disrepair by the late 1800s and was restored in 1916. At right, LePrince Voorhees and her husband, Harry Voorhees, at the door of their ramshackle Inwood Hill Pottery. (myinwood.net/MCNY)

The Dyckman farmhouse fell into disrepair by the late 1800s, seen here in 1892…

(myinwood.net)

…but it was restored in 1916, and still stands today at Broadway and 204th Street…

(myinwood.net)

White wondered how Inwood would appear in ten years, now that parks workers were paving over the old Indian trails and landmarks like the Libby Castle were being torn down to make way for John D. Rockefeller’s Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park.

Built around 1855, Libby Castle was home to several New York bigwigs including William “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall fame. It was bulldozed in 1930-31 to make way for John D. Rockefeller’s Cloisters.

(myinwood.net)

Inwood contained the last remaining farms in Manhattan — below are cows grazing in 1900 at site today now occupied by Isham Park, located on the southeast edge of Inwood Park. The next photo, from 1895, identifies “the last field of grain on Manhattan Island.” In the background is the Seaman Mansion at Broadway and 216th Street…

(myinwood.net/MCNY)

Below is a closer view of Seaman Mansion, a white marble, 30-room pile built around 1852. When this photo was taken in 1895, it had just become the new home of a riding club. Entry to the mansion was through a gatehouse, pictured below at right. The mansion was demolished in 1938 as the area around it filled up with cheap commercial buildings. Only the gatehouse remains, crumbling behind an auto body shop as seen in this 2015 image (bottom left):

(daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/Google Maps)

And here’s the latest view from Google maps. Note how the business is now renamed (ironically, yes) after the crumbling arch behind it…

But let’s be fair; there is still much beauty to be had at Inwood. Check out this lovely fall panorama…

(Wikipedia/Barry Solow, November 2010)

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Rub-a-Dub-Dub

One of the great British modernists of the 20th century — perhaps best known for his 1915 novel, The Good Soldier — Ford Madox Ford (1873 – 1939) led a complicated personal life filled with indecision and anxiety. It makes sense that a man, in search of some order in his life, imposed a strict routine on bath time (and also found time for a bit of humor). Here is an excerpt from Ford’s submission to the May 2, 1931 New Yorker:

LITERARY LIONS…Ford Madox Ford (left) poses with other literary greats of the 20th century in a photo taken in Paris, November 1923. Next to Ford are James Joyce, Ezra Pound and John Quinn. (justewords.com)

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Tete-a-tete

Humorist and poet Arthur Guiterman was a regular contributor of comic verse to the New Yorker from its first days in 1925 until his death in 1943. In the April 18, 1931 issue, he dashed off this poem to Ralph Pulitzer, imploring him to give his family’s namesake Plaza fountain, and its “goddess of abundance,” a much-needed scrubbing…

KEEP IT CLEAN, RALPH…Arthur Guiterman, shown here seated with his Scottish terrier in August 1931, asked Ralph Pulitzer to do a bit of scrubbing on the family’s namesake Grand Plaza fountain. (UMassAmherst)

No doubt to Guiterman’s delight, he received a reply in the May 3 issue, also in verse, from Ralph Pulitzer himself…

Well, Pulitizer was good for his word, and the fountain was cleaned and restored in 1933. There have been other restorations in 1971, 1985-90. Here is how it looks today:

(Central Park Conservancy)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

The Empire State Building officially opened its doors for business, and to mark the occasion the building’s promoters ran this full page ad that said it all: we are the biggest. Period.

In the back pages another ad touted the amazing views one could afford from the highest spot in the city…note the couple in formal wear having a leisurely smoke as they gaze over the metropolis, their view unobstructed by fencing later added in 1947 to prevent suicidal leaps…

…speaking of large things, folks in the 19th and 20th centuries marveled at the gigantic scale of the man-made world — the Empire State Building, the Hindenburg, Hoover Dam, and ships with names like Titanic and Leviathan, the latter seen below in this ad from the United States Line…

…one of the largest and most popular ocean liners of the 1920s, the U.S.S. Leviathan was actually built in 1914 for Germany’s Hamburg-American Line and christened the Vaterland. During World War I the American government seized the ship while it was docked in Hoboken, New Jersey and used it to transport troops. After the war, it was refurbished and re-christened Leviathan. It was scrapped in 1938…

The U.S.S. Leviathan at dry dock in Boston, 1930. (digitalcommonwealth.org)

…if you took the boat to Paris, you probably had enough money to make an overseas call back home…it would set you back almost $34 for three minutes of static-filled chat, about $550 in today’s dollars…

…and despite the Depression, the thrills of the modern world still abounded, such as GE’s “all-steel” electric refrigerator so artfully depicted in this ad…

…and check out these Chryslers, looking absolutely luxurious…

…as do these Dodge boats, their polished wooden hulls gliding effortlessly through placid waters…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin again with Ralph Barton’s “Hero of the Week”…

…and Barton’s graphic take on the week’s headlines…

Carl Rose examined envy reaching new heights…

…or in the case of Leonard Dove, romance…

…back to earth, more romance from E. McNerney

…and below ground, C.W. Anderson showed how romantic notions can go sour, in this case a man who felt duped by those rags-to-riches tales…

…and we end with Alan Dunn, and a little girl getting an education through the pages of a scandal rag…

Next Time: Through the Looking Glass…

An Unmarried Woman

When New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno hooked up with his colleague, nightlife columnist Lois Long, it was like twisting together two sticks of dynamite.

April 18, 1930 cover by Charles Donelan, his only cover for the New Yorker. See more about the artist at the end of this post.

Married in 1927, they were the glamour couple at the New Yorker, and each played an outsized role in giving the early magazine a distinctive, cosmopolitan voice and look. Hard-drinking hell raisers, they both loved the Roaring Twenties nightlife in what seemed like an endless party. But when the party ended, so did their brief, volatile marriage.

HELLRAISERS…Peter Arno and Lois Long were the toast of the New Yorker office and the toast of the town with their office romance, marriage (in 1927), and much-publicized split. The hard-partying couple separated in 1930 and divorced the following year.

As the end of her marriage neared, the 29-year-old Long had become almost circumspect, and in a series of columns under the title “Doldrums,” she took a skeptical look at the world around her, the sad ways of the younger generation, and in this fifth installment, subtitled “Can’t We Be Friends?”, she probed the inequities of a society that encouraged women to be hard-working, super competent and attractive while men still did as they pleased (the question remains today: recall 2018, when Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg asked women to “Lean In”).

LIFE WITH LOIS…Peter Arno drew on his domestic experiences with wife Lois Long for comic inspiration. Clockwise, top left, Arno and Long with baby daughter Patricia, 1928; a wedding day wakeup call from Arno’s 1930 cartoon collection Hullabaloo; Nov. 18, 1929 cover and a Aug. 24, 1929 cartoon suggesting a lack of maternal instinct. By all accounts Long was a doting mother and grandmother.

In Vanity Fair, Ben Schwartz (“The Double Life of Peter Arno,” April 5, 2016) quotes Arno’s and Long’s daughter, Patricia (Pat) Arno, about her parents’ wild relationship: “There were lots of calls to (gossip columnist Walter) Winchell or some other columnist about nightclub fights…with my mother calling and saying, ‘Oh, please don’t print that about us,’ trying to keep their names out of the papers.”

Here’s another excerpt from Long’s “Doldrums,” asking about the state of Modern Men (apologies for the missing fifth line — “novels”)…

Long had not only given up on marriage — and apparently men — for the time being, but she’d also had it with the partying life. She had ended her nightlife column, “Tables for Two,” the previous year, turning her attentions to her popular fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue,” while continuing to contribute unsigned pieces to “The Talk of the Town” and occasional pieces like “Doldrums.”

Arno and Long separated in 1930, and in early 1931 Arno moved to Reno, Nevada, which granted quick divorces to anyone who took up residency for five months. According to a 2016 book written by New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin (Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist), Arno found more trouble in Reno when newspaper publisher Neely Vanderbilt accused him of having an affair with his wife, Mary, and threatened violence against Arno. Maslin writes that “Nearly lost in the whole Arno/Vanderbilt dust-up was the end of Arno and Long’s marriage. On June 29th, Lois was granted a Reno divorce on the grounds of intolerable cruelty.” I highly recommend Maslin’s book, filled with anecdotes drawn from a fascinating life lived in some of New York’s headiest times.

Vanderbilt would also divorce his wife in 1931. Mary Weir Logan Vanderbilt was the second of his seven wives.

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON…On the same month as his Reno divorce (June 1931), Vanity Fair ran this photo of Arno pretending to conduct bandleader Fred Waring and two of his Pennsylvanians. (CondeNast)

Arno and Long would get joint custody of Patricia, but the child would remain living with her mother. Long had this to say about the future of her “Little Persimmon”…

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A Man’s World?

E.B. White wondered in his “Notes and Comment” after encountering a barroom (had to be a speakeasy) with a carpeted floor…

KEEPING IT REAL…Patrons relax at McSorley’s Old Ale House near Cooper Square, circa 1935. (Pinterest)

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Long Before Social Distancing

There were many diversions around the old city, including baseball games and the circus at Madison Square Garden…some clips from the “Goings On” section…

Reginald Marsh marked the arrival of the circus with a drawing that encircled pages 20-21…here is a detail…

and how the whole thing appeared…

 *  *  *

The Twain Never Met

Once a star attraction with the Ziegfeld Follies, comedian Will Rogers was also finding success on radio and in the films. His latest talkie, A Connecticut Yankee, referenced Mark Twain’s 1889 novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, in name only, as noted by reviewer John Mosher. But then again, Rogers himself was not a Yankee, but an Okie.

MARK WHO?…Inspired by a Mark Twain novel, 1931’s A Connecticut Yankee was mostly a Will Rogers vehicle. Top right, Sagramor (Mitchell Harris) confronts the “Connecticut Yankee” Hank Martin (Will Rogers). Below, the queen (Myrna Loy) tries to make nice with Hank. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

If you had the time but not the means to travel to Europe (it was the Depression, after all), you might have considered a trip to “Old Québec,” just 500 miles up the road from New York City, although in those days you likely took the train, or possibly a boat, since routes between cities were still a uneven patchwork of roads…

…and you could look stylish at the station or the boat dock with these handsome Hartmann trunks…

…these spring travelers opted for a car, filled with the aroma of burning tobacco…

…spring was also time for the latest Paris fashions, and Macy’s suggested you could “put one over on Paris” by donning a garment spun from from DuPont’s miracle fiber, Rayon…

…however, those operating the finer dress shops would never consider letting any synthetic hang in their windows, or touch their skin for that matter, and proudly proclaimed the latest shipments from Paris…

…those shopping for Paris fashions might have consulted Majorie Dork to get slim in all the right places…

…on to our illustrations and cartoons, we have two by Ralph Barton, his “Hero of the Week”…

…and his “Graphic Section” take on the week’s news…

Gardner Rea kicks off our cartoons with a look at the machine age…

…Rea’s cartoon referred to the popular vaudeville comedian Joe Cook, who was known for his demonstrations of needlessly complex machines…here he is featured in the September 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics magazine…

…Erlanger’s Theatre advertised Cook’s “Newest, Maddest Musical” in the back pages of the New Yorker

…it’s not often you find Mahatma Gandhi as the subject of a cartoon…this one is by Bruce Bairnsfather

…a unique form of stage fright was illustrated by John Floherty Jr

Jack Markow gave us a little night music…

Leonard Dove and the possibly reluctant apple of someone’s eye…

…I would love to know more about this Rea Irvin cartoon, which seems to be a parody of a cartoon from the British Punch…

John Reehill rendered a portentous moment at the barbershop…

…and finally, today’s cover (bottom left) by Charles Donelan caught my eye because the early New Yorker rarely noted the existence of baseball, except in the events section. Up to this point there had been just two covers featuring baseball: May 8, 1926, by Victor Bobritsky

…and, at right, the Oct. 5, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt...

…as for Charles Donelan (1889-1973), this would be his only New Yorker cover, but throughout his career he would illustrate for various publications, including the sports section of the Boston Traveler (this is from the March 21, 1921 edition)…

…and a comic strip featured in the Boston Globe called “Russett Appul” (this is from Oct. 11, 1929)…Donelan also performed Russett and other characters on Boston radio stations and stage shows…

Next Time: Cinema’s Underworld…

 

Fear of Flying

The early New Yorker loved two things about modern life — college football and air travel. Tragedy would bring them together on the last day of March 1931.

April 11, 1931 cover by Peter Arno. A brilliant cover, contrasting the skinny, lightly clad runner with one of Arno’s stock characters from the Taft era —  a millionaire with a walrus mustache.

The New Yorker’s sportswriter John Tunis was especially keen on Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame football team, which played an annual rivalry game against Army at Yankee Stadium. Tunis’s colleague, E.B. White, was the flying enthusiast, never missing a chance to hop aboard a plane and marvel at the scene far below. In the Nov. 30, 1929 issue, White was eager to join passengers on a test of the Fokker F-32, and suggested that flying was becoming so routine that one could be blasé about its risks:

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?…Title card from a silent Paramount newsreel reporting on a November 1929 test flight of the Fokker F-32 at Teterboro, possibly the same flight enjoyed by E.B. White. At right, a celebration of the plane’s arrival in Los Angeles. (YouTube/petersonfield.org)

All of that exuberance came crashing down in a Kansas wheat field on March 31, 1931. It was Rockne’s fame — which the New Yorker and countless other magazines and newspapers helped to spread — that put the coach on a TWA flight to Hollywood, where director Russell Mack was filming The Spirit of Notre Dame. Rockne stopped in Kansas City, where he visited his two oldest sons, before boarding a Fokker F-10 destined for Los Angeles. About an hour after takeoff one of the airplane’s wings broke to pieces, sending Rockne and seven others to their deaths.

(University of Notre Dame) click image to enlarge

The accident rattled E.B. White. In his April 11, 1931 “Notes and Comment,” White pondered the eulogies Rockne received from President Herbert Hoover and others, calling into question the fame a college football coach could attain while achievements of college faculty go unheralded. White also seemed to have lost some of his faith in the progress of aviation, suggesting that the autogiro (a cross between an airplane and a helicopter) might be the safest way to proceed into the future:

Knute Rockne, in undated photo. (University of Notre Dame)

Ironically, it was thanks to Rockne’s fame that the aviation industry began to get serious about safety. A public outcry over the crash led to sweeping changes in everything from design to crash investigation, changes that have made flying one of the safest forms of transportation today.

SAFETY FIRST…The crash that claimed the life of Knute Rockne resulted in a public outcry for greater safety in the air. This article in the July 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics suggested parachutes for passengers and for the plane itself. (modernmechanix.com)

As for the cause of crash, it was determined that the plywood covering one of the Fokker F-10’s wings had separated from the wing’s supporting structure — the wing had been bonded together with a water-based glue that likely deteriorated as the result of rainwater seeping into the wing.

Unfortunately, the investigation into the crash was hampered by souvenir-seekers, who carried away most of the large parts of the plane even before the bodies were removed. So much for honest Midwestern values, at least in this case.

(clickamericana.com)

 *  *  *

Give My Regards

Back in Manhattan, Dorothy Parker was writing a eulogy of her own, bidding farewell to her interim role as theater critic. Parker subbed for Robert Benchley during his extended European vacation, and often noted that it was just her luck  to be stuck with a string of plays that likely comprised one of Broadway’s worst spring line-ups.

In an earlier column Parker had alluded to the fact that Benchley was in Europe, no doubt staying part of the time with their mutual friends, Gerald and Sara Murphy, at their fashionable “Villa America” at Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera.

SIGHT FOR SORE EYES…Dorothy Parker was glad to have her old friend Robert Benchley back at the theater desk, she having endured a “rotten time” reviewing a long string of bad plays. (dorothy parker.com)

Hopeful to review at least one play of redeeming value before her friend returned, Parker was to be sorely disappointed as evidenced in her final review column. Of the terribly dated Getting Married, a play written by George Barnard Shaw way back in 1908, Parker was more afraid of Getting Bored, especially when Helen Westley (portraying Mrs. George Collins) entered the stage to deliver a 15-minute monologue…

Things got no better with the second play Parker reviewed, Lady Beyond the Moon, a “dull, silly, dirty play” that was frequently interrupted by various sounds from the restless audience — “comments, titters and lip-noises…” The play must have been terrible, because it closed after just fifteen performances.

As for the third play Parker reviewed, the misnamed Right of Happiness, the audience had every excuse “for displayed impatience,” yet conducted itself “like a group of little lambs.” Right of Happiness, observed Parker, “fittingly concluded the horrible little pre-Easter season…” The play closed after just eleven performances.

 *  *  *

Turning Up the Heat

If anyone thought he had a right to happiness it would have been New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, who was preparing to face a grilling from Judge Samuel Seabury. Walker loved the nightlife and left most of his duties to a bunch of Tammany Hall cronies whose activities drew the attention of reformers like Seabury and Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his “A Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey observed:

 *  *  *

Walking Tall

Raymond Hood (1881-1934) might have been short in stature, but he stood tall among the architects of some of New York’s most iconic skyscrapers — Rockefeller Plaza, American Radiator, Daily News, McGraw Hill (Sadly, both his career and his life were cut short when he died in 1934 at age 53 from complications related to rheumatoid arthritis). Allene Talmey, a former reporter for the New York World and managing editor of Conde Naste’s original Vanity Fair, gave Hood his due (see brief excerpt) in a New Yorker profile, with a portrait by Cyrus Baldridge:

LANDMARKS…The 1931 McGraw-Hill Building and the 1929-30 Daily News Building. (MCNY/Wikipedia)
And of course, Hood’s 30 Rock. I took this last December before everything shut down.

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From Our Advertisers

Speaking of big and tall, Al Smith and his gang took out this full page ad to announce the availability of office rentals in the world’s tallest building. Thanks to the Depression, only 23 percent of the available space in the Empire State Building was rented out in its first year. Thankfully, the building was also an instant tourist attraction, with one million people each paying a dollar to ride elevators to the observation decks in 1931, matching what the owners made in rent that year…

…for those who could afford more than a dollar ride up the Empire State’s elevators, the cooling breezes of coastal California beckoned…

…those with even greater means and leisure time could hop on a boat to Europe…note that you could still cruise on the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship…also note that the illustration of the posh couple was rendered by Helen Wills (1905-1998), better known at the time as the top women’s tennis player in the world…

HELEN, MEET HELEN…American tennis star Helen Wills in 1932, and a self-portrait from the same year. Wills was the world’s top women’s tennis player for nine of the years between 1927 and 1938. She played tennis into her 80s, and sketched and painted all of her life. (Wikipedia/invaluable.com)

…Guess who’s coming to dinner?…hopefully not William Seabrook, who had just released his latest book on his adventures as an explorer…in Jungle Ways, Seabrook devoted an entire section to cannibalism in the French Sudan and how to cook human flesh; apparently he tried some himself…but then again by most accounts he was a weird dude who dabbled in occultism and possibly believed in zombies…Seabrook’s 1929 book, The Magic Island, is credited with introducing the concept of zombies to popular culture…

…speaking of weird, an ad for Michelsen’s “Bay Rum” body rub…

…when Marlboro cigarettes were introduced in the mid-1920s, they were marketed as “luxury” cigarettes and sold mostly at resorts and hotels. In the late 1920s, however, they were marketed as a “lady’s cigarette,” with ads in the New Yorker featuring handwriting and penmanship contests to promote the brand. This ad from November 1930 featured the “second prize” winner of their amateur copywriting contest…

…it appears marketing tactics changed a bit in 1931…still the dopey contest, but instead of real photos of winners, like the schoolmarmish “Miss Dorothy Shepherd” above, this ad featured a rather tawdry image of a model, more gun moll than schoolmarm…

…on to our cartoonists…Ralph Barton, who was with the New Yorker from Day One, had been increasing his contributions to the magazine after a notable absence from spring 1929 to summer 1930…beset by manic-depression, he would take his own life in May 1931, so what we are seeing are Barton’s last bursts of creativity before his tragic end, reviving old favorites like “The Graphic Section”…

Barbara Shermund entertained with some parlor room chatter…

Leonard Dove looked in on a couple of frisky old duffers…

William Crawford Galbraith, and a crashing bore…

John Held Jr gave us one of his “naughty” engravings…

…and two by our dear Helen Hokinson, stuck in traffic…

…and enjoying cake and ice cream, with a dab of culture…

Next Time: An Unmarried Woman…

Last Stand for Beau James

“Everyone in this life draws bad cards with the good. The great trouble with most of us is that we do not know when to discard quickly,” observed New York Mayor Jimmy Walker.

April 4, 1931 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Signs that the first bad card was being turned were apparent in the April 4, 1931 edition of the New Yorker. In his weekly collection of quips — “Of All Things” — Howard Brubaker suggested that Walker — known for his frequent trips and general lack of attention to governance — had a different sort of homecoming awaiting his return from California…

…Walker was no doubt hobnobbing with the Hollywood crowd back in the Golden State…the mayor loved donning fine attire (thus the nickname “Beau James”) and enjoyed throwing lavish events for famous people…

MIGNIGHT MAYOR was one of the many nicknames New Yorkers bestowed on Mayor Jimmy Walker, known for his love of nightlife, fine clothes, and beautiful people (another nickname was “Beau James”). Although he was married at the time, he conducted a very open affair with actress Betty Compton (left), who later became his wife. At right, in his element, Walker (center) accompanies actress Colleen Moore to the October 1928 premiere of her film, Lilac Time. (IMDB/konreioldnewyork.blogspot.com)

…which made him an easy target for parody, such as this 1932 Vanity Fair cover, where the mayor even welcomes himself to the city…

(Conde Nast)

Ralph Barton revived his “Hero of the Week” feature to welcome the mayor back to the city…Barton alluded to the fact that Walker preferred conducting his office outside of the official confines:

Walker (1881-1946) made a far more interesting personality than an effective mayor. When he took office in 1926 he proved to be a terrible administrator, partying at speakeasies late into night, sleeping till noon, and leaving city matters (except the lavish ceremonies) to Tammany Hall cronies. This didn’t seem to bother voters when the economy boomed in the 1920s, and indeed they re-elected him by an overwhelming margin in 1929.

The 1929 market crash quickly changed things. The Roaring Twenties abruptly ended, and with people losing their jobs (and fortunes), the mayor’s antics didn’t seem so amusing anymore. Reform was in the air, and leading the charge was Gov. Franklin Roosevelt, who was no fan of Walker’s.

IF LOOKS COULD KILL…Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt meets with Mayor Jimmy Walker in conference at Roosevelt’s home on E. 65th St. in December 1928; at left, campaign banner for Walker on Tammany Hall, 4th Avenue and 17th Street, Oct. 28, 1929. Walker was a product of the Tammany Hall political machine, and much of the mayor’s backroom dealings were conducted there, as well as at various speakeasies and nightclubs. (NYC Municipal Archives/NY Daily News)

Investigations into corruption in Walker’s administration landed Walker before an investigative committee of led by Judge Samuel Seabury in 1931…

IN THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY…Mayor Jimmy Walker takes the stand in the New York County Courthouse on May 25, 1932, to answer questions from Judge Samuel Seabury (left). Thousands of New Yorkers showed up to cheer the mayor when he entered the courthouse, but those cheers soon became jeers as details of the administration’s corruption were made public. (NY Daily News).

…Mayor Walker resigned the following year and fled to Europe, where he married his mistress, Betty Compton (1904-1944) in Cannes, France, on April 19, 1933. We will revisit this tale in later issues…

SEE YA…

 *  *  *

On the Lighter Side

“The Talk of the Town” included this note about the play Peter Pan, which was being staged at the Fourteenth Street Theatre. Much was made of the wizardry that enabled actors to float above the audience.

Eva Le Gallienne (1899-1991), who portrayed the title character, made the theatre home of her stage company in 1926, and renamed it the Civic Repertory Theatre. Le Gallienne played the role of Peter Pan 129 times, and although the flying effects were quite hazardous, she said she “took to flying like the proverbial duck to water.”

NO STAGE FRIGHT HERE…The Fourteenth Street Theatre, originally constructed in 1866, was dubbed the Civic Repertory Theatre when Eva Le Gallienne (center) made it the home of her stage company. Le Gallienne played the role of Peter Pan 129 times on the theatre’s stage, and loved performing the dangerous flying stunts. Images of Le Gallienne from Bruce K. Hanson’s book, Peter Pan on Stage and Screen, 1904-2010. (Wikipedia/Bruce K. Hanson).
DARLINGS…The Darling family as portrayed in the Civic Repertory Theatre’s production of Peter Pan. At bottom, right, “The Wendy House” as it appeared on stage. And a bit of trivia: the young lad who portrayed John Darling (see arrow) was none other than Burgess Meredith, who would go on to a long and successful career on the stage, television (he played the Penguin in the 1960s Batman TV series), and in film, seen top right as Sylvester Stallone’s trainer Mickey in 1976’s Rocky. (Bruce K. Hanson/IMDB)

Eva Le Gallienne lived 92 years, and Burgess Meredith made it to 89. Such was not the fate of the Civic Repertory Theatre, which closed in 1934 due to the Depression. The 1866 building was demolished in 1938. Not a trace remains.

 *  *  *

Fightin’ Words

I have to say it’s really too bad Dorothy Parker didn’t stay on as theatre critic for the New Yorker (she was subbing for her friend, Robert Benchley) because her weekly forays into the middlebrow world of Broadway produced some of her most entertaining writing. For the April 4 issue Parker offered some thoughts about The Silent Witness, which ran from March to June at the Morosco Theatre.

Instead of turning cartwheels, Parker took aim at actress Kay Strozzi, “who had the temerity to wear as truly horrible a gown as ever I have seen on the American stage. … Had she not luckily been strangled by a member of the cast while disporting this garment, I should have fought my way to the stage and done her in, myself.”

She ended the review with another plea to Benchley, who was traveling abroad:

WHAT ABOUT THIS OUTFIT, DOROTHY?…I don’t have a photo of the “horrible” gown worn by Kay Strozzi (left) in The Silent Witness, so you’ll have to settle for this image of Ms. Strozzi from the 1931 film Captain Applejack. At right, and dressed to kill, Dorothy Parker posed for Edward Steichen in this 1931 portrait. (IMDB/Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Tipsy Tots

Tired of Prohibition, and its farcical enforcement, Wolcott Gibbs had some fun with the official Wickersham Report’s conclusions regarding the success of the 18th Amendment:

Wolcott Gibbs (wsj.com)

On a loftier note, we have this ode to the new Empire State Building from Price Day, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and noted editor of the Baltimore Sun:

The profile, written by Gilbert Seldes, featured artist Gaston Lachaise…I include a brief excerpt for personal reasons, because I first encountered this artist in the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery’s sculpture garden in Lincoln, Nebraska (my hometown), many years ago, via his “Floating Figure”…

WEIGHTLESS…”Floating Figure” by Gaston Lachaise was cast in bronze at the end of 1934 after a retrospective held in January 1935 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This is one of seven casts, at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. (Lincoln Arts Council)

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From Our Advertisers

Pierce Arrow would struggle to promote its luxury cars in the Great Depression (and they would go under by the mid-1930s) but their advertising still harked back to the carmaker’s early days of refined travel…

…the folks at Ethyl would make that car run smoother, thanks to the lead they added to gasoline (and to the air folks were breathing)…

…tired of driving? Then hop a freighter and fire up a Chesterfield…

…or go for a more cushy ride on the French Line…

…we turn to our cartoons, and Ralph Barton’s revival of his old “Graphic Section”…

Helen Hokinson showed us the nuances of the DMV…

Leonard Dove showed us a pet on the wild side…

Otto Soglow zigzagged across the pages with his Little King…

…and Gardner Rea revealed the wonders of world travel…

Next Time: Fear of Flying…

Front Page News

It’s hard to beat Chicago as a source for hardboiled storytelling, and two of its best newspaper reporters, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, would draw on their rough and tumble newsroom experiences to create one of Broadway’s most-beloved plays.

March 28, 1931 cover by Ruth Cairns.

Although they were Chicago boys, the New Yorker crowd viewed Hecht and MacArthur as adopted (or perhaps naturalized) Manhattanites. So when John Mosher wrote his glowing review of the film adaption of The Front Page, he was writing about the work of a pair well known to the Algonquin Round Table set.

WE ❤ NY…Chicagoans Ben Hecht, left, and Charles MacArthur were familiar faces with the Algonquin Round Table crowd. (Chicago Tribune/Amazon)
NEWSIES…Editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou) sizes up his reporter Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien) and Hildy’s fiance Peggy Grant (Mary Brian) in The Front Page. (IMDB)

MacArthur (1895-1956) was especially close to the Algonquin group, having shared an apartment with Robert Benchley and a bed with Dorothy Parker in the early 1920s. In 1928 MacArthur would marry one of Broadway’s most beloved stars, Helen Hayes.

For his part, Hecht (1893-1964) contributed short fiction pieces to the New Yorker during its lean first years, 1925-1928. After the success of The Front Page, Hecht would go on to become one of Hollywood’s greatest screenwriters.

Here’s Mosher’s review:

Playwright and essayist James Harvey observes that The Front Page was “Hecht and MacArthur’s Chicago…(and) that counts most deeply in the imagination of Hollywood. And their play, the first of the great newspaper comedies, did more to define the tone and style, the look and the sound of Hollywood comedy than any other work of its time.”

DESK JOB…Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien) and Molly Malloy (Mae Clarke) hide escaped murderer Earl Williams (George E. Stone) in a rolltop desk in 1931’s The Front Page. (Everett)
TRIUMPHANT TRIUMVIRATE… Following up on the success of his famously over-budget war film Hell’s Angels (1930), Howard Hughes (left) had another hit on his hands as co-producer of The Front Page; at the Fourth Academy Awards the film was nominated for Best Picture, Lewis Milestone (center) for Best Director, and Adolphe Menjou (right) for Best Actor. (Wikipedia/IMDB)

A footnote: Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were close throughout their careers, and remain so even in death: they are buried near each other on a hilltop in Oak Hills Cemetery, Nyack, NY.

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From Our Advertisers

In the late 1920s and early 1930s several illustrators drew inspiration from the style Carl “Eric” Erickson made famous with his elegant series of ads for Camel cigarettes…I’m not sure if this ad (part of a series promoting “The New Chevrolet Six”) is by Erickson or an imitator, but it seems the artists were likely inspired by the actress Greta Garbo and her signature beret…

…and for comparison, an Erickson Camel ad from the March 21, 1931 issue…

…and our inspiration, Greta Garbo circa 1930…

…those Chevy buyers might have considered investing in Velmo mohair upholstery to boost the resale value of their auto…

…among other technological wonders of the age — furniture crafted from aluminum, soon to become ubiquitous in workplaces across the country…

…and then there was the electric refrigerator, still new to a lot of households in 1931 as icemen began to hang up their tongs and head for the sunset…

…if you were a modern man or woman of means, you could ditch the auto altogether and get yourself a Pitcairn autogiro…

…in the 1920s and 30s the autogiro was considered by many to be the transportation of the future, a flying machine as easy to operate as driving a car…

HEY DAD, CAN I HAVE THE KEYS TO THE AUTOGIRO?…Above, a Pitcairn PCA-2. In the 1920s and 30s, many future-forward designers imagined the autogiro as the flying car of tomorrow. (Wikipedia)

…for those who preferred to be passenger rather than pilot, they could relax in the comfort of an airplane cabin and enjoy some…hmmm…beef broth! From what I understand, passenger flight was not this cosy in 1931…this was long before pressurized cabins, when you had to mostly fly in the weather, and not above it, and you probably had to fight to keep from upchucking that Torex all over the lovely flight attendant…

…while we are on the subject of flight, we turn to our cartoons, beginning with Garrett Price

…meanwhile, William Steig explored the trials of young love…

…a rare two-pager from Ralph Barton

Leonard Dove adopted an alias for a cartoon that seems inspired by a recent trip to Persia…

Otto Soglow illustrated one man’s dilemma at a bus stop…

Gardner Rea found offense in an unlikely setting…

Barbara Shermund defined pathetic in this sugar daddy’s boast…

…while on the other end of the spectrum, I. Klein illustrated the burdens of life as a Milquetoast…

…and we sign off with Mary Petty, and one woman’s terms of endearment…

Next Time: Last Stand for Beau James…

Age of Wonders

Despite the deepening economic depression, work continued apace on a number of large building projects that were transforming the Manhattan skyline, including the Empire State Building, which was being readied for its May grand opening.

March 14, 1931 cover by Rea Irvin.

Developers also looked to the future, including the Rockefeller family, who commissioned a massive project in Midtown — 14 buildings on 22 acres — that would be one of the greatest building projects in the Depression era…

SAY ‘CHEESE’…A group of dour-looking developers unveil an early model for Rockefeller Center, March, 1931. (drivingfordeco.com)

…so great that even E.B. White found the proposed Rockefeller Center difficult to fathom:

DECO DREAM…Conceptual rendering of the Rockefeller Center complex by architectural illustrator John C. Wenrich. (beyondarchitecturalillustration.blogspot.com)

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Star Power

The Depression years also offered lesser diversions, and there’s nothing like celebrity culture to distract one’s mind from daily woes. For our amusement, E.B. White offered up the recent nuptials of Olympic swimmer (and future Tarzan movie star) Johnny Weissmuller and Ziegfeld singer/showgirl Bobbe Arnst…

MONKEY’S UNCLE…Newlyweds Johnny Weissmuller and Bobbe Arnst pose for photographers in 1931. The marriage would last two years. In 1932 Weissmuller would appear in his first “Tarzan” movie, Tarzan the Ape Man, and after divorcing Arnst would marry four more times. (Pinterest)

…of course there’s no better place to find celebrities than Hollywood, where Marlene Dietrich was collecting good reviews for her latest film, Dishonored. The New Yorker’s John Mosher was absolutely gah gah over the German actress…

COME HITHER IF YOU DARE…Marlene Dietrich portrayed Agent X-27 in Josef Von Sternberg’s 1931 spy film Dishonored. (IMDB)

…if you preferred the stage to the screen, you could check out a show on Broadway, but if you were Dorothy Parker (subbing as theater critic for her pal Robert Benchley), you’d have trouble finding anything worth watching. Her latest review was something of a double-whammy: not only was the play a stinker, but it was written by one of Parker’s least-favorite authors, A. A. Milne

…AND MY MONEY BACK, TOO…

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Cinéma Vérité

However, Dorothy Parker could have found consolation in the fact that someone, somewhere, had it a lot worse. For example, the eight defendants in a Soviet show trial, filmed for the edification of the masses and as a warning to opponents of the Bolshevik Revolution. In this warm-up for the Great Terror to come, five of the eight were condemned to death after making what were obviously forced confessions. John Mosher had this to say about the real-life horror film:

PRELUDE TO MADNESS…Scenes from the Treason Trial of the Industrial Party of Moscow. Above, filming the proceedings; below, one of the accused scientists confessing his “crimes” against the state. (moderntimes.review/YouTube)

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End of the World, Part II

In my last post we saw how E. B. White mourned the end of the New York World newspaper in a lengthy “Notes and Comment” entry. By contrast, White’s colleague Morris Markey wasn’t shedding any tears for a newspaper he believed had seen its better days. Markey shared his observations in his March 14 “Reporter at Large” column…

AFRAID OF THE DENTIST? Murder suspect Arthur Warren Waite, a dentist from Grand Rapids, Michigan, appeared at Criminal Courts in New York City on May 22, 1916, to face double murder charges (he poisoned his in-laws). He was sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing on May 24, 1917. According to Morris Markey, the World’s coverage of the story was the newspaper’s swan song.(Criminal Encyclopedia)

…Markey described the newspaper’s final day with veteran rewrite man Martin Green quietly typing his last story amid the tears and wisecracks of reporters suddenly out of work…

LONG GONE…Veteran rewrite man Martin Green (inset) filed his last story for the New York World on Feb. 27, 1931. Above, the New York World building was located on Manhattan’s “Newspaper Row” near City Hall. Commissioned by the newspaper’s owner, Joseph Pulitzer, the 20-story building was the world’s tallest office building when in was completed in 1890. It was demolished in 1955 to make way for an expanded car ramp entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. (New York Times/Library of Congress)

…the end of the World was also on the mind of Gardner Rea, who contributed this cartoon to the March 21 issue: 

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The State of Modern Man

Lois Long continued her “Doldrums” series by looking at the condition of bachelor life in the city, and like everything else among the younger generation she found it wanting. Lois was a ripe old 29 when she wrote this, but given how radically life had changed since the Roaring Twenties, a wide gulf now separated those days from the more somber Thirties. Note how Long, who embodied flapper life in her defunct “Tables for Two” column, described herself as a “modest, retiring type” who knew nothing about men. Around this time Long was preparing to divorce husband (and New Yorker cartoonist) Peter Arno after a brief, tempestuous marriage…

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From Our Advertisers

In those depressed days the makers of Buick automobiles decided to look to a brighter future, imaging how the boys of the present would be drivers of Buicks in the future…this kid probably ended up driving a tank or a Jeep rather than a Buick when 1942 rolled around…

Adele Morel also wanted you to think about the future, and how to hold off those inevitable wrinkles…note the message near the bottom: “Do you realize that a youthful appearance means happiness?”…

…I included this ad for River House because of its sumptuous detail…it rather resembles a 17th century European silk tapestry, and the people depicted look like they could be from that time as well…

…speaking of another age, we have this Murad ad by Rea Irvin, illustrating office behavior that was quite common in the 20th century…

…on a related note, in the cartoons E. McNerney illustrated a “Me Too” moment…

…when Otto Soglow published his first Little King strip in the June 7, 1930 issue, it caught the eye of Harold Ross (New Yorker founding editor), who asked Soglow to produce more. After building up an inventory over nearly 10 months, Ross finally published a second Little King strip, which you see below. The strip would become a hit, and would launch Soglow into cartoon stardom…

William Dwyer offered a dim view of a man’s stages of life in the first of two cartoons he contributed to the New Yorker

James Thurber shared tears with some sad sacks…

…in a few years Leonard Dove’s housewife would see her fears realized as another world war would loom on the horizon…

…and we end with Garrett Price, and an appreciation for fine art…

Next Time: Killer Queen…