Belle Geste

“Nobody said not to go” was a phrase often used by Emily “Mickey” Hahn when returning from one of her far-flung and often wild adventures.

Feb. 4, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

And nobody ever told Hahn (1905–1997) what she could write about, and so she wrote, with brio and authority, on a variety of subjects ranging from feminism, diamond mining, and animal behavior to Chinese history and cooking. The author of 54 books, Hahn also penned a number of biographies including those of Leonardo da Vinci, Chiang Kai-shek, and D. H. Lawrence among others. In the Feb. 4 issue Hahn wrote about spending the night at a New York flophouse, not out of necessity but rather to write about the experience. Excerpts:

NO RITZ, THIS…Entrance to a flophouse in the Bowery, photo by Walker Evans, 1934.

In the following two excerpts, Hahn described her sleepless night, and her exit from the flophouse the following morning…

More on Emily Hahn, who defied convention from the very start of her adult life: before graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1926 (the first woman to earn a degree in mining engineering there), she drove across the U.S. in a Model T, dressed a man. She wrote about her experiences in letters to her brother-in-law who, unbeknownst to Hahn, shared them with New Yorker editors. This would lead to a longtime relationship with the magazine, to which she would contribute nearly 200 articles (and one poem) between 1929 and 1996. She would also serve as China correspondent from 1935 to 1943.

In 1930 she traveled to the Belgian Congo, where she lived for two years with a pygmy tribe while working for the Red Cross; she later crossed Central Africa alone on foot. In his 2006 memoir, Let Me FinishRoger Angell described Hahn as the magazine’s “Belle Geste,” a woman “deeply, almost domestically, at home in the world. Driven by curiosity and energy, she went there and did that, and then wrote about it without fuss.”

AT HOME IN THE WORLD…Clockwise, from top left, Emily “Mickey” Hahn poses with her pet gibbon, Mr. Mills, in Shanghai, circa 1935; undated photo with more of her furry friends; Hahn as a teenager, circa 1920; cover photo from her 1944 book, China to Me; Hahn in 1944 with her daughter Carola, following their return from occupied China. (Wikipedia/Lilly Library, Indiana U)

 *  *  *

Chief Stooge

Theatrical promoter Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal (1885–1957) was well-known to New Yorkers in the 1920s and 30s as a speakeasy owner, buddy to Mayor Jimmy Walker and husband to actress Peggy Fears. Although “Blumey” is largely forgotten today, in 1933 he merited a two-part profile by Alva Johnston. Here are excerpts from the opening lines:

ONLY THE SHADOW KNOWS…A.C. “Blumey” Blumenthal (at left in the light suit) was often seen shadowing Mayor Jimmy Walker in his role as chief counselor and chief stooge. Here the mayor is escorted by Blumey and New York’s finest during corruption hearings in 1931. At right, Blumey’s wife Peggy Fears (1903–1994) in her most notable film role, 1935’s The Lottery Lover. Their tempestuous marriage lasted from 1927 to 1950.  (

 *  *  *

Coward’s Ménage

Playwright Noel Coward existed in the orbit of the Algonquin Round Table crowd, so it was doubtless challenging for Robert Benchley to critically review his friend’s work. Fortunately, Benchley found Design For Living mostly to his liking. Note how Benchley subtly refers to the play’s gay subtext, and to the fact that it mirrored the real-life relationships of the play’s trio.

THREE’S COMPANY…A studio in Paris. A penthouse in New York. A flat in London. These were the settings for Noël Coward’s play Design for Living at the Ethel Barrymore Theatrewhich starred the wife-husband team Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt and their close friend Coward in a Broadway run of 135 performances from January to May 1933. (Vandamm theatrical photos via

Benchley did have a few quibbles, but reasoned there was no need to be overly critical when there was such a dearth of quality stage entertainment. Note the great caricatures by Al Frueh (below) that accompanied the review.

Benchley had a different sort of dilemma criticizing Elmer Rice’s earnestly patriotic We, the People, a play about the misfortunes of a working class family in Depression America.

Rice, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1929, was an occasional contributor to The New Yorker from 1929 to 1931, including his sci-fi satire on the film industry, Voyage to Purila, which was serialized in 11 installments (with illustrations by Peter Arno) in The New Yorker from Oct. 12 to Dec. 21, 1929.

LET’S MAKE A MOVIE…Elmer Rice (standing) joins theatre producer Joseph P. Bickerton, Jr. (left), and Universal’s Carl Laemmle Jr. to sign a contract for the film version of Rice’s 1931 Broadway play Counsellor at Law. The film proved to a critical success. (Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, film critic John Mosher was trying his best to enjoy the latest Hollywood fare, another Broadway play adapted to the silver screen. Whistling in the Dark…

MURDER MOST AMUSING…The 1933 American pre-Code comedy-mystery film Whistling in the Dark starred Ernest Truex and Una Merkel. (IMDB)

However, Mosher was surprisingly enthused by the rustic charms of Iowa country folk in State Fair…

THE TRIUMPH OF PRIZE PICKLES and other delights awaited viewers of 1933’s State Fair, which gave star billing to Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor. At right, Lew Ayres sweet-talks Gaynor at the fairgrounds. (IMDB)

 *   *   *

Form Follows Function

E.B. White paid close attention to all of the little details of daily life, including the advertisements that appeared in The New Yorker. In “The Talk of the Town” he wrote about a Camel ad that inspired a sudden fashion trend:

…here is the Dec. 24, 1932 New Yorker ad to which White referred:

 *   *   *

From Our Advertisers

We keep our cigs lit for our first ad, from Lucky Strike, keeping it simple with their familiar slogan…

…this ad from Powers Reproduction shows us the beach caps that were all the rage in the early ’30s…

…this may look like an old car to modern eyes, but in 1933 these sweeping curves were la dernière mode in the auto world…

…and then there was Hupmobile, trying its best to stay relevant in the Depression…

…the company folded in 1939, but a few reminders live on…

HUP HUP HOORAY…The 1917 Hupmobile dealership at 25th and Farnam in Omaha, NE, was located along the old Lincoln Highway and is the last preserved Hupmobile dealership in the United States. On the National Register since 2014, it now houses apartments. (Flickr)

…Valentine’s Day was just around the corner, so time to buy your sweetheart something special, like this scarf that was all the rage among the Miami snowbirds…

…Greenwich Village restaurateur and personality Don Dickerman took out this two-page ad to trumpet his partnership with puppeteer and illustrator Tony Sarg at the Bohemia restaurant on Broadway…

…the German-American Sarg is also known as the creator, in 1927, of the first giant balloons for Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade…

THE OLD GASBAG…Tony Sarg (upper right hand corner) and assistants painting one of his Macy’s parade balloons. (Fotograms News Photo Service via Pinterest)

…on to our cartoons, and what a big day for The New Yorker…the Feb. 4, 1933 issue featured the first captioned cartoon by Charles Addams

…for the record, Addams’s very first contribution to the magazine was this spot illustration (below) featured on page 65 of the Feb. 6, 1932 issue…

…one of the original contributing artists to The New Yorker, Gardner Rea, continued his skewering of America’s plutocrats…

William Steig took us before the bench to make an honest plea…

James Thurber gave us another skirmish between the sexes…

…and recalling my Jan. 12 post (about the Jan. 7, 1933 issue), in which the puritans got their knickers in a bunch over Robert Laurent’s Goose Girl sculpture in the Radio City Music Hall lobby…

…we end with Helen Hokinson, inspired by Laurent’s work…

Next Time: Role Reversal…

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)

 *  *  *

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. (

 *  *  *

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:

 *  *  *

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. (

 *  *  *

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…

Jan 1, 201USA TODAY Sports

…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…


…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…

Back to Broadway

From the 1920s to the 1950s the husband-wife acting team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were the most celebrated couple on the Broadway stage, and even today many rank them as the greatest acting team in the history of American theatre.

April 28, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Lunt (1892-1977) and Fontanne (1887-1983) were so inseparable as a team that it was virtually impossible to write about just one of them, as Timothy Vane discovered when he contributed this profile of Lunt to the April 28, 1928 issue of the New Yorker:

INSEPARABLE…The Lunts in the 1920s, as photographed by Nickolas Muray. In 1999 the U.S. Postal Service paid tribute to them with a first- class stamp. (Conde Nast/USPS)

Vane described the couple’s tireless comings and goings, in which even a vacation abroad entailed preparations for future performances:

OLD FRIENDS…Noel Coward (left) Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Coward’s 1932 play Design For Living. A close friend of Lunt and Fontanne, Coward enjoys a relaxing moment (right) at the couple’s “Ten Chimneys” estate in Lunt’s home state of Wisconsin. (Playbill/
IT REALLY HAS TEN CHIMNEYS…At left, the main house at Lunt and Fontanne’s “Ten Chimneys.” At right, the estate’s ‘Falu-Red’ Cottage. The estate was named a National Historic Landmark in 2003. (

Although it was long rumored that Lunt and Fontanne had a lavender marriage, the couple were truly inseparable during their 55-year union.

According to the Ten Chimneys Foundation, by the mid 1920s Lunt and Fontanne were the two most popular, critically acclaimed, and highest-paid stage actors in the country. Lunt and Fontanne also believed that creating great theatre with broad impact was far more important than money, so at the height of their careers they took enormous pay cuts to sign on with The Theatre Guild—a new company dedicated to performing avant-garde work by writers such as Ibsen and Shaw. Because they took such large cuts in salary, they were able to stipulate in their contracts that they only act together, rather than in separate plays. From 1928 until they retired in 1960, the Lunts never appeared on stage separately.

And Then There Were Hearst & Davies

Another famed duo of the 1920s, Marion Davies (1897-1961) and William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), were perhaps a less successful partnership, and particularly so for Davies, who traded a promising career as a comedic actress for a romantic (and scandalous) relationship with the famed newspaper tycoon.

Davies was emerging as a talented film comedian when Hearst took over her career—financing her films, promoting her through his media empire, and, most critically, pressuring studios to cast her in historical dramas which were not her forté. This is why she is remembered today as Hearst’s mistress and the hostess of lavish events for the Hollywood elite at San Simeon, and not for her acting chops, which were considerable when she was given the chance. When Hearst did allow her to show her comedic side in The Patsy,  even the New Yorker’s irascible critic “O.C.” took notice and offered rare praise:

SHOWING HER FUN SIDE…Left, publicity photo of Marion Davies, late 1920s. At right, Patricia Harrington (Marion Davies) vies for the attentions of her mother, Ma Harrington (Marie Dressler) and sister Grace Harrington (Jane Winton) in King Vidor’s 1928 hit comedy The Patsy. The film was co-produced by William Randolph Hearst along with Davies and Vidor.(

A 2012 review of The Patsy by the Cinema Arts Center (Long Island, NY), noted that “Davies radiates comic charm, highlighted by her dead-on impersonations of the three cinema divas, in this audience pleaser…Gloriously fun and frothy, The Patsy was the biggest hit of Davies’ career.”

One of the actresses parodied in The Patsy by Davies, Pola Negri, did not fare so well in O.C.’s crosshairs in her “stilted” Three Sinners.

PSSST…LIGHTEN UP, WILL YA?…Warner Baxter and Pola Negri in Three Sinners (1928). (Paramount)

 *  *  *

Another Bad Girl

Not well known today, but after 1928 Viña Delmar (1903-1990) was practically a household name thanks to her breakthrough novel, Bad Girl, which she published at the tender age of 23. A cautionary tale about premarital sex and married life among the proles, the book was banned in Boston but was also the April 1928 selection by the Literary Guild. It was one the year’s best sellers.

On the heels of Bad Girl, in 1929 Delmar published two more books with risqué titles, Kept Woman and Loose Ladies. She would write a total of 23 novels between 1928 and 1976, and with her husband, Eugene, would write or adapt 18 plays that were produced as films. Among those was the screenplay to the acclaimed screwball comedy, The Awful Truth, for which she was nominated for a 1937 Academy Award.

BAD GIRL, GOOD SALES…Clockwise, from upper left: a screenshot of Delmar from the trailer for 1934’s Sadie McKee, a film starring Joan Crawford based on Delmar’s 1933 short story “Pretty Sadie McKee”; an ad for Bad Girl in the April 28, 1928 New Yorker; original jacket cover for Bad Girl; a 1930 advertisement for the film Dance Hall, based on a 1929 Delmar short story. (Wikipedia/New Yorker/Amazon/

*  *  *

And finally, our cartoon from April 28, 1928, courtesy Peter Arno:

Next Time: After Hours…