Headline News

The news of the day in May 1933 included a visit to the U.S. by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, a controversial Diego Rivera mural at Rockefeller Center, the abandonment of the Gold Standard, and the continuing saga of legal beer.

May 13, 1933 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

Writing under the pseudonym Guy Fawkes, Robert Benchley opined on the state of the print media in “The Wayward Press”…an excerpt:

NEWSMAKERS CIRCA 1933 included George Bernard Shaw (left), here being escorted by actors Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies from a Hollywood luncheon hosted by Davies in March 1933; other headlines touted the return of free beer and the suspension of the gold standard by the Roosevelt administration—everyone was required to deliver all gold coin, gold bullion and gold certificates owned by them to the Federal Reserve by May 1 for the set price of $20.67 per ounce. Pictured are guards stocking returned gold in New Jersey bank vaults, 1933. (Pinterest/history.com)

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Selling the Pitch

Babe Ruth was something of a freak of nature, becoming the “Sultan of Swat” despite a life of heavy drinking, poor eating habits and erratic attention to training regimens. Nevertheless, as Ruth neared the end of his career at age 38 he could still put on a show. In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White was hoping for just that sort of thing:

STILL GOT IT…E.B. White would get his wish for some “real showmanship” at the end of the 1933 season, when famed Yankee slugger Babe Ruth—in his 20th year in the majors—volunteered to pitch against the Red Sox in the final game of the season at Yankee Stadium. Not only did Ruth pitch a complete game, he also hit his 34th homer of the season in the Yankees’ 6–5 victory. (ballnine.com)

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From Our Advertisers

I wonder what it was like to cruise on the Dnieper River for fourteen days through “Colorful Ukrainia” during the Great Famine that Stalin imposed on that land, killing as many as five million people…

…more ads from the back pages touting various libations including Trommer’s “White Label” beer, a drink made from conch juice called “Konktail,” and an ad illustrated by William Steig promoting “imitation gin and other flavors” made by Red Lion…none of these products exist today…

…however you can still buy canned spaghetti, if that is your thing, but not “Force” breakfast cereal…

…still more selections from the back pages…on the left, an ad for Pear’s Soap that introduced us to “wise parents” whose children “are well-bred—the ‘nice people’ of tomorrow”…on the right, the lifeless gaze of a woman who pondered how life could be better in Tudor City…and in the middle, an unlikely one-column ad from luxury car maker Pierce Arrow…the automaker was America’s answer to Rolls Royce, but the Depression would take it down by 1938…

…I’m guessing the Velveeta is the mild one…

…technology was transforming beachwear, including this “Swagger Boy” outfit spun from Dupont’s latest synthetic, Acele…

…B. Altman, on the other hand, went full-color to promote their exclusive, imported fabric under the trade name Meadowbrook…

…and who ever thought a tire could look so posh, here dominating a gathering of the smart set…

…and look at this swell, sporting top hat and walking stick, but he also knows a good value when it comes to his tires…

…we move on to our cartoons with James Thurber and a lot of people apparently going nowhere…

Helen Hokinson’s girls were all ears at the latest club gathering…

Otto Soglow’s Little King got in on the excitement of legal beer…

…and we continue to the issue of May 20, 1933, with a cover by Arnold Hall, who did at least eight covers for The New Yorker during the 1930s…

May 20, 1933 cover by Arnold Hall.

The big news in this issue was Mexican artist Diego Rivera and his controversial mural at Rockefeller Center. Rivera’s New Yorker profile was written by Geoffrey Hellman (1907–1977), who beginning in 1929 served as the magazine’s principal writer for “The Talk of the Town.” Here’s an excerpt, with illustration by Al Frueh:

What got Rivera in hot water with John D. Rockefeller Jr. and family was a mural that departed somewhat from the artist’s earlier study sketches—Rivera had been hired to depict “man at the crossroads,” looking to the future with uncertainty but also with hope for a better world.

According to a 2014 story by NPR’s Allison Keyes, leftist organizations and various communist groups in New York criticized Rivera for agreeing to work with capitalist paragons like the Rockefellers. In response, Rivera sent assistants to find a picture of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. “If you want communism, I will paint communism,” he apparently said.

The subsequent inclusion of Lenin in the mural led to protests by the Rockefeller family, the press and the public. Rivera was ultimately asked to leave the country, losing yet another commission for the Chicago World’s Fair. Rivera got paid for his Rockefeller Center mural, but the work itself was demolished.

After returning to Mexico Rivera recreated the mural, adding some vengeful references (see below) to his 1934 work, Man, Controller of the Universe.

Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo, had accompanied him to New York, and during their time in the states (1930-34) she produced a number of now-famous paintings. However in 1933 she was not recognized as a serious artist. Indeed when she visited with the Detroit News in 1932, the headline read, “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art.” In the same vein, Hellman perceived Kahlo as nothing more than a pretty helpmeet.

MORE THAN A PRETTY FACE…At left, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo attending an art exhibition in New York, 1933; at right, Kahlo and Rivera before the controversial mural at Rockefeller Center. Although an unknown in the art world in 1933, Kahlo would one day eclipse her husband’s fame. (SFGate/Pinterest)
MISCONCEPTION…Clockwise, from top, an early sketch of the Diego Rivera’s mural differed from what he ultimately painted in Rockefeller Center. After the mural was destroyed in 1934, Rivera recreated the work under the title Man, Controller of the Universe, now on display at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. A detail of that work shows Vladimir Lenin holding hands with workers of different races. Below, juxtaposed with the image of Lenin in that painting was another famous face, that of John D. Rockefeller Jr., depicted drinking martinis with a prostitute. Touché!
(Museo Frida Kahlo)

Rivera’s Rockefeller Center mural was eventually replaced in 1937 by American Progress, painted by the Spanish artist José Maria Sert:


The irony of the Rivera controversy was not lost on E.B. White, who offered this ballad in response:

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Keep it in Your Pocket

E.B. White again, this time opening his column with thoughts on the anti-Hitler parade that was held in New York.

White refers to his “swastika watchfob”…before the Nazis came to power, the swastika was known to many cultures as a symbol of prosperity and good luck.

IT’S THE REAL THING…In 1925 Coca Cola made a lucky brass watch fob in the shape of a swastika. At that time the swastika was still a symbol of good luck. (Reddit)
SHOW OF UNITY…Anti-Hitler parade in New York protested the May 10, 1933 book burnings across Nazi Germany. (encyclopedia.ushmm.org)

In his weekly column Howard Brubaker added this observation regarding life in Nazi Germany…

Back home, folks could still enjoy a taste of Germany that wasn’t associated with violence and hate…an excerpt from “The Talk of the Town”…

GEMÜTLICHLüchow’s opened in 1882 when Union Square was still New York’s theater and music hall district, and featured seven dining rooms and a beer garden. The restaurant closed in 1982 and was demolished in 1995 to make way for an NYU dormitory. (Pinterest/MCNY)

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From Our Advertisers

The architecture profession fell on hard times during the Depression. In 1931 the Architects’ Emergency Committee began promoting the talents of unemployed architects who were willing to work for less than half their ordinary fee, limiting charges to materials, a small amount of cash, and a place to sleep…this is an example of a series of ads that ran in The New Yorker in the spring of 1933…

…one profession not feeling the hard times?—the makers of tobacco products, and specifically cigarettes…

…speaking of hard times, we turn to our cartoons and Gardner Rea

…and we close on a bright note, otherwise known as Peter Arno

Next Time: Rebirth of a Nation?

The Red House

From the 1930s until the 1950s, New York City was the one place where American communists almost became a mass movement.

Sept. 10, 1932 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Writing in the New York Times opinion section (Oct. 20, 2017), Maurice Isserman observed how in those days New York party members “could live in a milieu where co-workers, neighbors and the family dentist were fellow Communists; they bought life insurance policies from party-controlled fraternal organizations; they could even spend their evenings out in night clubs run by Communist sympathizers…” The journalist Matthew Josephson penned a report on the movement for the Sept. 17 (yes we are skipping ahead)Reporter at Large” column titled “The Red House”…excerpts:

According to Isserman (a professor of history at Hamilton College), in 1938 the Communist Party of America counted 38,000 members in New York State alone, most of them living in New York City. A Communist candidate for president of the board of aldermen received nearly 100,000 votes that same year, with party members playing a central role in promoting trade unions.

BOSS’S DAY…Communists march at Union Square against “the boss class” at a 1930 rally in New York City.  (Oxford Research Encyclopedias)
PARTY INVITATION…William Z. Foster and James W. Ford were on the Communist ticket in the 1932 U.S. presidential elections. Ford (1893–1957) was also on the 1936 and 1940 tickets as a vice-presidential candidate. (peoplesworld.org)

Josephson commented on the candidates appearing on the Communist ticket in the 1932 U.S. presidential elections, finding James W. Ford to be “much more intellectual” than his running mate:

THE HQ…Communist Party of America headquarters, 13th St., New York City, 1934; a close-up view of the Workers’ Bookshop display window in 1942. (USC Libraries/Library of Congress)
A regular New Yorker contributor, journalist Matthew Josephson (1899–1978) popularized the term “robber baron” with the publication of his 1934 book, The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists.

Josephson concluded his article with observation of a party protest event, and one unmoved police officer…

Postscript: The Cold War in the 1950s and a renewed Red Scare spelled the end of the party’s heyday, as did Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 speech that denounced the murderous legacy of his predecessor, Josef Stalin.

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Très Chic

For those with means, the idea of living in the same building with other non-family humans seemed unseemly, but in 1870 Rutherford Stuyvesant hired Richard Morris Hunt to design a five-story apartment building for middle-class folks that had a decidedly Parisian flair. The Sept. 10 “Talk of the Town” explained:

According to Ephemeral New York, the apartments were initially dubbed a “folly,” but the building’s 16 apartments and four artists’ studios — located near chic Union Square — were quickly snapped up, creating a demand for more apartments. The building remained fully occupied until it was demolished in 1958. According to another favorite blog — Daytonian in Manhattan—demolition of Morris Hunt’s soundly built, sound-proof building was a challenge.

IT DIDN’T GO QUIETLY…Stuyvesant Flats at 142 East 18th Street, 1935, in a photo by Berenice Abbott. It was demolished in 1958. (New York Public Library)

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Some Characters

I include this brief snippet of the Sept. 10 “Profile” for the jolly illustration by Abe Birnbaum of Al Smith, Jimmy Hayes and the Prince of Wales…

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Down In Front

E.B. White was always on the lookout for the newfangled in the world of transportation, but this latest development by the Long Island Railroad was not a breath of fresh air…

STACK ‘EM UP…A woman wears a bemused expression (left) as she takes in her surroundings on one of the Long Island Railroad’s new double-decked cars in 1932. (trainsarefun.com)

White also looked in on the latest news from the world of genetics—with hindsight we can read about these developments with a degree of alarm, since Hitler was months away from taking control of Germany…

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Showing His Colors

On to lighter matters, critic John Mosher enjoyed an eight-minute animated Walt Disney short, Flowers and Trees—the first commercially released film made in full-color Technicolor…

SEEING GREEN…Walt Disney’s Flowers and Trees won the very first Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1932. (intanibase.com)

…Mosher also took in light entertainment of the live-action variety with Marion Davies and Billie Dove providing some amusement in Blonde of the Follies, although the picture could have used a bit more Jimmy Durante, billed as a co-star but making an all-too-brief appearance…

WHERE’S THE DUDE WITH THE SCHNOZ?…Billie Dove (left) starred with headliner Marion Davies in Blondie of the Follies, but another co-star, comedian Jimmy Durante, was mostly absent from the picture. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Lord & Taylor announced the return of Edwardian styles as the latest in fashion among the younger set, once again proving what goes around comes around, ad infinitum

…except when it comes to “college styles”…I don’t see this look returning to our campuses anytime soon…

…the end of Prohibition was still a year away, but at least in New York it was all but over…I like the Hoffman ad and its winking line “with or without”…

…as a courtesy to readers (and to fill a blank space) the New Yorker    “presented” a full page of signature ads touting a variety of specialty schools and courses…the Carson Long Military Academy (right hand column) closed in 2018 after 182 years of “making men”…

…on to our cartoonists and illustrators, we begin with this Izzy Klein illustration in the opening pages…

Rea Irvin gave us a nervous moment at the altar…

…and Richard Decker showed us one groovy grandma…

…on to the Sept. 17 issue (which we dipped into at the start)…and what a way to begin with this terrific cover by Peter Arno

Sept. 17, 1932 cover by Peter Arno.

…in his “Notes and Comments,” E.B. White offered some parting words for the departing (and scandal-ridden) Mayor Jimmy Walker

THAT’S ALL FOLKS…Deposed New York Mayor Jimmy Walker skipped town shortly after he left office and caught a boat to Europe. He is seen here at his wedding to Betty Compton in Cannes, April 1933. (Library of Congress)

…and Howard Brubaker added his two cents regarding Walker and his replacement, Joseph McKee, who served as acting mayor until Dec. 31, 1932…

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Heady Role

The British actor Claude Rains earned his acting chops on the London Stage before coming to Broadway, where in 1932 he appeared in The Man Who Reclaimed His HeadE.B. White was subbing for regular critic Robert Benchley, and concluded that Rains should have used his own head before agreeing to appear in such silly stuff…

NO MORE HEAD JOKES, PLEASE…Although he got a late start on his Hollywood career, Claude Rains (1889—1967) became one of the silver screen’s great character stars. (Playbill)

…and speaking of the silver screen, we turn to critic John Mosher and his review of the 1931 German film

WOMEN IN REVOLT…The New York Times (in 2020) describes 1931’s  “expression of anti-fascism and a lesbian coming-out story.” The film was a success throughout Europe, but was later banned as “decadent” by the Nazi regime. Above, Ellen Schwanneke, left, and Hertha Thiele in Mädchen in Uniform. (Kino Lorber)

Mädchen in Uniform was almost banned in the U.S., but Eleanor Roosevelt spoke highly of the film, resulting in a limited US release (albeit a heavily-cut version) in 1932–33.

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From Our Advertisers

I’m featuring this detail from an Elizabeth Arden ad because the illustrator’s style is so distinct…if someone knows the identity of the artist, please let us know (on other drawings I’ve seen a signature that looks like “coco”)…

…invented in 1918, this “cheese food” made from milk, water, whey, milk protein concentrate, milkfat, whey protein concentrate and sodium phosphates — among other things — was acquired by Kraft in 1927 and marketed in the 1930s as a nutritious health food…I have to say I haven’t seen any Velveeta ads in the New Yorker as of late…

…”Pier 57, North River!” barks the successful-looking man to the admiring cabby who’s thinking “lucky dog!”…

…on the other hand, Peter Arno (kicking off our Sept. 17 cartoons) gave us a Milquetoast who wasn’t getting anywhere near the French Line, or First Base…

…and speaking of the mild-mannered, James Thurber offered up this fellow…

Helen Hokinson’s “girls” were perhaps wondering if their driver was among the Commies at Union Square…

John Held Jr. entertained with another “naughty” Victorian portrait…

Robert Day, and wish unfulfilled at the zoo…

…and we close with Richard Decker, and trouble in the Yankee dugout…

Next Time: A Picture’s Worth…

Dirge for a Dirigible

There was a time when dirigibles were considered the future of transatlantic transportation. In the 1930s they could carry more passengers than any other type of aircraft while offering amenities usually associated with ocean liners such as private cabins, dining rooms and large observation decks. They were also faster than those water-borne vessels.

March 26, 1932 cover by Bela Dankovsky.

Dirigibles, however, were challenging to operate — with crew members outnumbering passengers — and sometimes they fell from the sky. Such was the fate of the USS Shenandoah during a 1925 publicity flight over Ohio. On board was the Navy’s Lt. Cmdr. Charles Emery Rosendahl (1892 – 1977), who had to act quickly when the airship encountered a severe thunderstorm. Hitting a violent updraft that carried it beyond the pressure limits of its gas bags, the airship was torn apart. For the March 26 “Profile,” writer Henry Pringle recounted Rosendahl’s experience:

HE LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT…Clockwise, from top left, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Rosendahl, USN, circa 1930; the USS Shenandoah in pieces near Caldwell, Ohio; the airship in better days; close-up view of the wreckage. (Wikipedia/airships.net)
IT WAS A GAS…Like other other early dirigibles, the USS Shenandoah was designed for war (fleet reconnaissance) rather than passenger service. It was the first rigid airship to use a safer gas, helium, rather than hydrogen to gain lift. However, helium was scarce at the time, and the Shenandoah used almost all of the world’s reserves to fill its gas cells, which held 2,100,000 cubic feet. (fly.historicwings.com)









ON THE CATWALK…Lt. Cmdr. Charles Rosendahl hurried through this area while the USS Shenandoah was being torn apart in mid-air. Rosendahl was ordered out of the control car by the airship’s pilot, Cmdr. Zachery Landsdowne, to check on the Shenandoah’s oil and gas tanks. It was an order that ultimately saved Rosendahl’s life: Eight crew members in the control car, including Landsdowne, perished. In all, 14 crew members lost their lives. (airships.net)

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Untouchable Unmentionables

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White mused about one Boston store’s promotion of a line of women’s underwear as “Gandhi panties,” apparently inspired by the loincloth worn by Indian liberator Mahatma Gandhi:

THE SIMPLE LIFE…Mahatma Gandhi held numerous hunger strikes during his years of protest against India’s caste system and British Imperial rule. He is pictured here in jail in September 1932 during the second of his fasts, protesting the British government’s decision to separate India’s electoral system by caste. (history.com)

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Hearst Wurst

Film critic John Mosher was not happy with the happy ending (or much else) in the William Randolph Hearst-backed Polly of the Circus, which starred Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies, along with emerging star Clark Gable, who portrayed a small-town minister who risked his career for love with a trapeze artist.

JUST READ THE NAUGHTY BITS…Top image: With the backing of William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies was able to bill her latest MGM film as a “Marion Davies Production.” Davies had star billing over Clark Gable in Polly of the Circus, but as his star rose in the 1930s, Davies saw her fortunes (and Hearst’s) drain away during the Depression years. Bottom image: the Reverend John Hartley (Gable) and trapeze artist Polly Fisher (Davies) “look for something hot” in the Book of Ruth. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Electric refrigerators for home use had been around for less than decade in 1932, but as more companies got into the business, the drive to distinguish one’s product from the competitor’s became keen…the distinctive “Monitor Top” GE refrigerators were touted by Rex Cole in both their ads and in the design of their showrooms…

…Allen-Ingraham, on the other hand, demonstrated how their “dual-automatic” Westinghouse could bring harmony to a party of bootleg-swilling old gents…

…the makers of Electrolux invoked the inevitable march of time and progress in promoting their “automatic” refrigerator…

…on to sundry things, the upscale British department store Fortnum & Mason employed this simple ad to demonstrate the superiority of old money over the preening lower orders…

…and in the back pages we find these cheap ads for corsets, a prep school and a shorthand lessons…

…the makers of Listerine reminded readers of the connection between their old line of antiseptic products and their new line of cigarettes…

…the Santa Fe Railroad invited travelers to the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles…

…while the Missouri Pacific line promoted the wonders of Kansas City, the “Heart of America”…

…makers of the autogiro — part airplane, part helicopter — continued to promote the advantages of this supposedly easy to fly contraption…in the 1930s the autogiro was seen as the future of personal air travel, some predicting that the craft would join the automobile in many a garage…

…on to our cartoons, Alice Harvey found one man who was ready for the autogiro lifestyle…

…and Peter Arno gave us an old walrus ready to take advantage of an unsuspecting host…

……and Helen Hokinson’s “girls” also found themselves involved in a scandalous situation…

…on to the April 2, 1932 issue…

April 2, 1932 cover by Julian de Miskey.

…where this time critic John Mosher took a look at a new film (and a new film genre) — Tarzan, the Ape Man, starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan.

Weissmuller (1904-1984) was well known in the 1920s as a five-time Olympic Gold Champion swimmer, so the 28-year-old was a familiar face when he stepped into the title role. The Irish-born O’Sullivan (1911-1998) had appeared in seven films in 1930-31 before she was cast as Jane Parker in Tarzan, the Ape Man. Mosher found the film silly, but entertaining nonetheless.

THAT PRE-CODE LOOK…Before decency codes were strictly enforced in Hollywood, many early 1930s films featured scenes that were pretty racy for those times. Both Maureen O’Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller were scantily clad for their roles in 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man. (IMDB/fanpop.com/manapop.com/YouTube)

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Cancel Me, Kate

“That’s Why Darkies Were Born” was a popular song in those days of casual racism, written by Ray Henderson and Lew Brown for George White’s Scandals of 1931. It was recorded by a number artists including Paul Robeson (see below) and Kate Smith — it was one of Smith’s biggest records and also the reason she was recently “cancelled” in some sports venues.

In 2019 the New York Yankees announced that Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” would no longer be played at Yankee Stadium, citing not only Smith’s version of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” but also her past performances of the song “Pickaninny Heaven.” The Philadelphia Flyers followed the Yankees example, covering up and later removing a statue of Smith outside the Wells Fargo Center.

THAT’S WHY YOU WERE CANCELLED…One of Kate Smith’s biggest early hits was her performance of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” In 2019 the Philadelphia Flyers organization covered and later removed a statue of Smith outside the Wells Fargo Center. (mprnew.org)

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From Our Advertisers

We have more inducements to travel, this time abroad and in style aboard the French Line…

…or if you were looking for something a bit more exotic, Intourist could book you passage to the Soviet Union…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with this great spot illustration by Victor De Pauw, who contributed to the New Yorker from 1928 to 1948…

William Crawford Galbraith offered some insight into the cultural tastes of the upper orders…

…while Alan Dunn illustrated the Depression’s domestic woes…

…and we have what I believe is the first appearance of William Steig’s “Small Fry” children identified as such…many more would follow, later to be collected into a popular book by the same name…

…and another by Steig of a person contemplating his life’s desire…

…and we end with James Thurber, with all of his familiar themes tied up in one drawing…

Next Time: A Return to the Nightlife…


Diamond Mae

Although the Roaring Twenties saw the relaxing of many moral strictures — particularly in major cities like New York — Mae West’s frank portrayals of sex on an off-Broadway stage could still create a stir in the newspapers and among arbiters of American probity.

Nov. 19, 1928 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

Before she appeared in films (mostly in the 1930s) Mae West was well known to New Yorkers both in vaudeville and on Broadway. Her wider fame came in 1927, when many Americans read about her arrest on obscenity charges linked to a scandalous play simply titled Sex. A story of a Montreal prostitute, Sex opened at Daly’s 63rd Street Theatre on April 1926 to modest audiences and mostly scathing reviews. The New York Times, for examplecalled it a “crude and inept play, cheaply produced and poorly acted.” Perhaps because of the negative reviews, which mostly focused on the play’s morality, curious audiences flocked to see it. Ironically (at least, I imagine, to the critics), Sex was the only play on Broadway in 1926 to stay open through the summer and into the following year.

NOW THAT I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION…Mae West in a publicity photo from 1926. At right, promotional poster for Sex, which touted the play as the “Biggest Sensation Since The Armistice.” (maewest.blogspot.com/boweryboyshistory.com)

The fun ended when New York City police raided West’s production company in February 1927 and charged her with obscenity. In another ironic and hypocritical twist (many in the police department and in the city’s court system had enjoyed the play themselves, along with approximately 325,000 others during the play’s 10-month run), authorities fined West $500 and sentenced her to 10 days in a workhouse on Welfare Island. Always the entrepreneur, West used the sentence to her advantage, and even arrived at the prison in a limousine. It was during her short stint in prison that she began work on her smash hit Diamond Lil.

Thyra Samter Winslow, a writer who often exposed the hypocrisy and prejudice in American life in her short fiction, profiled West for the Nov. 10, 1928 issue:

Note Winslow’s surprise to find West to be much smaller than she imagined (indeed, West barely stood five feet tall). Because West preferred a curvy, buxom figure to the thin flapper look, many like Winslow assumed her to be a much larger woman. No doubt her lavish costumes also suggested greater proportions:

West explained to Winslow that she was simply giving the people what they wanted, whether it was outlandish costumes or some “dirt” in their entertainments. Behind this facade, however, was a private, hard-working woman who wrote much of her own material and had the savvy to market it.

BE STILL MY HEART…Page from a 1926 Playbill. (New York Public Library, Shubert Archive)

In her profile, Winslow noted West’s marketing savvy during her incarceration, where she won many new friends along the way:

ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE…Mae West with Sex co-star Barry O’Neill during a 1927 trial for obscenity charges. During the trial the judge asked the defendant: “Miss West, are you trying to show contempt for this court?” West replied, “On the contrary, your Honor. I was doin’ my best to conceal it.” (gvshp.org)

Winslow concluded her piece wondering if West had peaked in her success, and would “fade out” along with so many other vaudeville stars…

…. In less than seven years, West at age 42 would become Hollywood’s highest paid star and second only to William Randolph Hearst as the highest paid person in America. Ninety-two years after Sex, West remains an icon of popular culture around the world.

ALL THAT GLITTERS…Drawing of Mae West that accompanied the New Yorker profile. At right, publicity photo for Diamond Lil, 1928. (Playbill)

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From Our Advertisers

The Nov. 10 issue featured this all American endorsement for Lucky Strike cigarettes from World Series winning pitcher Waite Hoyt…never mind that the New Yorker itself completely ignored the World Series and baseball in general.

…and Charles of the Ritz used a combination of vanity, snob appeal and class anxiety to promote their latest beauty ensemble…

The comics glimpsed the foibles of the upper classes, including this terrific entry by 22-year-old Ben Hur Baz, a Mexico-born artist who would go on to become famous for his pin-ups in the 1940s and 50s, many of them appearing in Esquire:

…and a game of blind man’s buff (or some say ‘bluff’) as rendered by Peter Arno:

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The Nov. 17 issue featured an unusual entry by E.B. White, who, like many of his New Yorker colleagues, found many reasons to be critical of the media, including the dumbing down of newspapers that increasingly favored trivia, sensation and promotion over serious discourse.

Nov. 17, 1928 cover by Sue Williams.

White skewered the news of the day in this two-page spread that parodied the look and language of contemporary newspapers (click to enlarge):

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The issue’s “Talk of the Town” featured a lengthy entry on Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne, a figure greatly admired and generally lauded by the magazine’s sportswriters. A brief excerpt:

The Nov. 17 film reviews gave a rare thumbs up to an American movie, Show People, which starred Marion Davies.

HE LOOKS FAMILIAR…William Haines (left) and Marion Davies meet Charlie Chaplin in the 1928 Hollywood send-up film, Show People, directed by King Vidor. Chaplin made this rare appearance as himself, without his “Little Tramp” makeup. He was uncredited in the film, and asked to be paid the extra’s fee of only $7.50. (silent-volume.blogspot.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Although you couldn’t legally procure a drink in 1928, you could (unlike today) legally purchase of box of Cuban cigars for you special someone:

…or if you preferred, a carton Chesterfields. Apparently someone in marketing thought conjuring up the horrors of trench warfare would help sell some smokes…

And finally, Peter Arno found out what’s for dinner at the table of a great outdoorsman:

Next Time: What Santa Brought in 1928…


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/tenchimneys.org)
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. (tenchimneys.org)

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.(cinemaartscentre.org)

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/immortalephemera.com)

*  *  *

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

Next Time: After Hours…

The Castle Builder

Publisher William Randolph Hearst was a larger-than-life personality who inspired writer Herman Mankiewicz* — an early New Yorker contributor — to pen the screenplay for Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane.

April 23, 1927 cover by Andre De Schaub.

* Stuart Cooke adds this clarification: Herman Mankiewicz did not write the screenplay of Citizen Kane. He contributed to it along with many others. (See Citizen Welles by Frank Brady). However, Welles credited him as the co-writer and at the last minute, graciously put Mankiewicz’s before his in the credits.

So when the New Yorker featured Hearst in its April 23, 1927 “Profile,” it required five lengthy installments by the writer (and Hearst biographer) John K. Winkler, who began the profile with this observation:

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MAKE NO SMALL PLANS…William Randolph Hearst reviews blueprints with the architect of Hearst Castle, Julia Morgan, in 1926. (Wikipedia)

Winkler detailed Hearst’s plunder of European art and architecture — much of it sitting on a wharf below his “castle” at San Simeon on California’s Central Coast — awaiting architect Julia Morgan’s decision on where it might fit into the fabric of what became one of America’s most famous “homes.” Later in the profile Winkler described Hearst’s purchase of St. Donat’s Castle in Wales, and his acquisition of another castle that he had dismantled and shipped to San Simeon.

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Hearst Castle at San Simeon. (sfgate)
LEGENDARY PARTIES FOR THE LEGENDS…Hollywood actors pose for a photo at one of the famed Hearst costume parties…(back row) Douglas Montgomery, Leslie Howard, Marion Davies, unidentified man (front row) Bruce Cabot, George K. Arthur, Ramon Navarro & Eileen Perry. (moviemorlocks.com)
HOST & HOSTESS…Hearst and his mistress, actress Marion Davies, at one of their famous San Simeon costume balls (oldloves.tumblr.com)

The mid-1920s to the mid-1930s were glory days at San Simeon. In his Great Hall Hearst “held court” with movie stars and statesmen who also attended famous costume parties hosted by Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies.

The profile writer, John K. Winkler, would publish two books on Hearst in 1928 and 1955, as well as books on other captains of industry including Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, F.W. Woolworth, J. Pierpont Morgan and the DuPont family.

 *  *  *

The Germany-based Hamburg America Line had been a major player in moving both passengers and freight between Europe and North America since 1847. In 1914, its passenger flagship, the Vaterland, was caught in port at Hoboken, New Jersey at the outbreak of World War I. She was later seized, renamed Leviathan after the declaration of war on Germany in 1917, and served as a U.S. troopship. So it was significant to European travelers (including many New Yorker readers) that the line was out to regain its former glory with the launch of the New York.

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Cover of the passenger list for the New York.
Photo of the departure of the steamship New York.

 * * *

Lois Long chronicled nightly escapades of drinking, dining, and dancing for The New Yorker in her column “Tables for Two,” and she often teased her readers about her true identity. Although in reality she was young (26), attractive and a big partier, she often described herself to readers as a bit of wallflower, or a “short squat maiden of forty.” When her marriage to The New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno was announced in August 1927, her true identity was revealed.

Long seemed to be growing bored with New York nightlife, as evidenced by shorter “Tables” columns (the feature would end in 1930) while her fashion column — On and Off the Avenue — took on more importance. In her “Tables” column for the April 23, 1927 issue, she devoted most of it to yet another playful deception for her readers.

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The artwork that accompanied Lois Long’s “Tables for Two” column often featured this pair of bored nightclub patrons. Lois Long, with stylish bob, shown during her New Yorker days in the 1920s.

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This time she portrays herself as a bookish spinster…

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In other diversions, “Talk of the Town” made this mention of the Orteig Prize, a reward offered to the first aviator to fly non-stop from New York City to Paris or vice versa. Of course we know Charles Lindbergh would capture the prize the following month (and six others would die trying):

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In advertising, the issue featured this promotion for radio station WOR. Broadcast radio was in its infancy in 1927, and this is one of the first ads of its kind to appear in the New Yorker:

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The following advertisement for Balcrank auto bumpers tells you a lot about the bourgeois New Yorker reader it is trying to reach. It suggests the addition of these bumpers to your car will lend an upper class touch people will admire and notice — everyone from the traffic cop in the signal tower to the smart couple who seem to be inches away from having their feet run over.

I love the smug expression worn by the female passenger. Of course the actual old money upper class wouldn’t see this ad — they could care less about bumpers — and would be reading Town & Country, the Social Register, or nothing at all. Funny how the early New Yorker loved to tweak the nose of the upper class, all the while running ads that appealed to a grasping bourgeois desire for status. The bumper ad says it all.

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The issue included this cartoon by Wallace Morgan, set in Central Park. Displayed across a two-page spread, the caption reads: SHE: “Let’s just sit back Wilmot, and pretend we’re living in grandmother’s day.” (click to enlarge)

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And finally, the Barnum and Bailey Circus was in town, so we end with this cartoon by Carl Rose:

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Next Time: Unfit to Print…


Euthenics: It’s Not What You Think

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Nov 7, 1925 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

A brief item in “The Talk of the Town” for Nov. 7, 1925, mentioned the groundbreaking for a new building at Vassar (Lois Long’s alma mater) dedicated to the study of something called “Euthenics.” The term was used by Ellen H. Swallow Richards (Vassar, Class of 1870), based on the Greek Euthenia, which described a good state of the body, including prosperity, good fortune and abundance.

After Richards died in 1911, the idea was taken up by another Vassarite Julia Lathrop (’80) who teamed up with fellow alumnae Minnie Cumnock Blodgett (’84) to create a program of Euthenics at Vassar, against the protestations of some faculty who found this new field of interdisciplinary study suspect. It didn’t help that some even confused it with the racist “eugenics” movement.

At a time when many academic disciplines were moving in the direction of specialization, students in euthenics could study horticulture, food chemistry, sociology, statistics, education, child study (Lathrop would serve as the first chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau), economics, economic geography, physiology, hygiene, public health, psychology, domestic architecture and furniture. The New Yorker had this to say about the new area of study:

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The “daisy chains” referred to above are one of the oldest traditions at Vassar. Every year, the senior class chooses sophomore women who demonstrate superior leadership and class spirit to carry a 150-foot chain of daisies and laurel at Commencement.

Carrying the “Daisy Chain” at Vassar, 1925 (Vassar College)

The New Yorker was also anticipating the upcoming Automobile Salon at the Commodore Hotel, including the news that autos would break from sober black and navy into a palette of colors:Screenshot 2015-07-20 09.35.10Screenshot 2015-07-20 09.35.19

1925 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost (conceptcarz.com)

“Profiles” featured Gen. John J. Pershing, while “Sports of the Week” featured the Oct. 31 “Cornell-Columbia battle” at the Polo Grounds (Cornell prevailed 17-14). That same day in New Haven, Yale humbled Army 28-7.

In her fashion column “Fifth Avenue,” Lois Long paid a visit to designer Paul Frankl’s store, where she admired his collection of “four-dimensional furniture, including his “skyscraper” bookcases:

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Paul Frankl “skyscraper” bookcase, ca. 1927. Fashioned from maple and trimmed with Bakelite (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

In her “Tables For Two” column, Long’s previous criticism of Sardi’s (lack of celebrity sightings) received this reply:

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Main Dining Room of the old Sardi’s, 234-36 West 44th St. New York. (Museum of the City of New York)

In her latest dispatch from Paris, Janet Flanner wrote that Philadelphia movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum was making a haul of Rodin sculptures. The French found it interesting but not alarming:

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Mastbaum would die the following year and donate his Rodin collection to the city of Philadelphia. It is the largest collection of Rodin’s works outside Paris. Flanner also offered this tidbit on a new, scandalous book by Texan Gertrude Beasley:

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In a 2000 article for Texas Monthly (“A Woman of Independent Means”), Don Graham wrote that “no other book in Texas literature is quite like Gertrude Beasley’s little-known memoir, My First Thirty Years. For one thing, it was published in Paris in 1925 by the avant-garde press Contact Editions (it was banned in Britain and America), which included among its authors Ernest Hemingway.” He wrote that Beasley’s book established itself “as a provocative and highly subversive text: She recounts her birth as the violent outcome of marital rape by her father…Things go downhill from there…” You can read more about Beasley, and her “disappearance,” in this Texas Observer article.

In “Motion Pictures,” The New Yorker (via critic Theodore Shane) cuts actress Marion Davies a little slack:

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Channelling her inner Pickford: Marion Davies in The Lights of Old Broadway.

And if you doubt the Francophile ambitions of New Yorker readers, here are two ads written almost entirely in French:

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And to end on an amusing note, more perils of Prohibition, courtesy of Rea Irvin:

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Up Next: Party Time!

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