Through the Looking Glass

The next time you complain about a boring Zoom meeting, think about Morris Markey’s visit to New York’s Bell Laboratories in the spring of 1931, when he marveled at what was, perhaps, the “apotheosis” of American industry: a two-way video telephone.

May 9, 1931 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Mass-market television in the U.S. was still two decades away, but what Markey saw demonstrated in 1931 was a glimpse of the future, seeing and conversing with another man three miles away via a long wire that transmitted images from a fantastic array of spinning discs and neon tubes:

TECHNOLOGY’S MATERNITY WARD…The original Bell Labs building at 463 West Street in New York. It was the birthplace of talking movies, television, radar and the vacuum tube. (att.com)
DEFINITELY NOT HI-DEF…At left, this is most likely where Morris Markey sat for the demonstration of early video phone technology. At right (click image to enlarge), a July 1930 article in Popular Science Monthly described how the transmitting apparatus worked. (earlytelevision.org/books.google.com)
BUT WILL IT SELL?…Herbert Hoover, then secretary of commerce, became the world’s first television personality in 1927 when his voice and face (inset) were transmitted to an audience at Bell Laboratories in New York City. At the time, AT&T, Bell’s parent company, was doubtful about television’s moneymaking potential. (edn.com)
SPINNING WHEELS…Whirling metal discs, pictured at left, perforated with tiny holes, cast a series of horizontal beams of light across a viewer’s face (right), which were then transmitted to a receiver. (earlytelevision.org)

Despite its gee-whiz factor, many, including the folks at Bell Labs, seemed doubtful that the technology would come into wider use or be profitable any time soon, if ever. Markey noted that his little demonstration required many millions of dollars in research and development, but he was prophetic in suggesting that such technology might come to be dreaded if it ever came into common use.

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Uplifting Sight

That a bra and girdle maker should become the topmost tenant at the new Empire State Building was not lost on E.B. White, who commented thusly…

…and while viewers wouldn’t actually see a giant bra atop the skyscraper, many were nevertheless interested in getting a closer look at some of the building’s details, as reported in “The Talk of the Town”…

OVER THE MOON?…The moon gained some keen competition from telescope viewers when the Empire State Building climbed its way into the sky. (Pinterest/tech-notes.tv)

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Channelling Marlene

Film critic John Mosher wasn’t over the moon when it came to the acting of Tallulah Bankhead in Tarnished Lady, however he surmised it was likely the director’s fault for trying to exploit Bankhead’s passing resemblance to Marlene Dietrich. Mosher noted that lighting and staging flattering to the German actress just didn’t work with the belle from Alabama.

MIRROR, MIRROR…Tallulah Bankhead (left) might have pondered who was the fairest in the land, but the New Yorker’s John Mosher found her to be no match for German actress Marlene Dietrich (right, in 1931’s Dishonored) when it came to screen presence. (IMDB)

Despite Mosher’s blah review, Paramount touted Bankhead’s successful portrayal of a “tarnished lady” in this ad from the same issue:

Mosher, however, found redemption in another film making the rounds, Warner Brothers’ Svengali starring John Barrymore:

YOU ARE GETTING VERRRY SLEEPY…in 1931’s Svengali, 17-year-old Marian Marsh played the artist’s model Trilby, who is transformed into a great opera star by the sinister hypnotist, Svengali, played by John Barrymore. Also pictured is Bramwell Fletcher, who portrayed Trilby’s love interest, Billee. (Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

After a long absence Peter Arno’s Whoops Sisters returned to the pages of the New Yorker, not as a cartoon panel but as shills for the Cunard Line…

…whether traveling by boat or train, you might have considered bringing along “Salvo,” an early version of a popular game that today we call “Battleship”…

…Salvo and other Battleship-type games were originally played on pieces of paper like this…

…and here’s an ad for ice cube trays that exploited the popularity of the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” syndicated newspaper feature…

…on to our cartoonists, Ralph Barton rendered Albert Einstein as his latest “Hero”…

…and interpreted the latest headlines in his “Graphic Section”…

…among the delicate set, we got a bit risqué with Gardner Rea

…and nearly apoplectic with Gluyas Williams

Otto Soglow’s Little King, on the other hand, reigned with a steady hand…

…and we end with I. Klein, and a little bauble for the Missus…

Next Time: The Short Life of Two-Gun Crowley…

 

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…

 

 

 

 

Happy Holidays 1930

Happy Holidays to readers of A New Yorker State of Mind! We open with an image of Christmas shoppers at 34th and Broadway, circa 1930, and peruse the Dec. 20, 1930 issue of the world’s greatest magazine.

Dec. 20, 1930 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

“Notes and Comment” began with a Christmas message of sorts from E.B. White, his holiday cheer tempered by the Great Depression and the lingering effects of Prohibition…

Howard Brubaker seconded White’s mood in his “Of All Things” column…

…keeping things on the lighter side was Margaret Fishback, who turned her talents as a poet into a successful career as an ad writer for Macy’s. By the 1930s she was one of the world’s highest-paid female advertising copywriters. For the Dec. 20 issue she offered this holiday ditty:

THANKS MARG...Margaret Fishback, circa 1930s.

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More Marlene

Last week we looked at Marlene Dietrich’s breakout performance in The Blue Angel (reviewed by John Mosher in the Dec. 13, 1930 issue) that launched her into international stardom. Although Mosher had some gripes about the film’s dialogue, Dietrich’s performance nevertheless created enough of an impression to warrant a lengthy note on the German star in the Dec. 20 “Talk of the Town”…

A RED, WHITE AND BLUE ANGEL…Marlene Dietrich was a new face for many New Yorker readers in 1930, but she would soon become one of Hollywood’s most recognizable stars in the decade and beyond. She would apply for American citizenship in 1937, and later become a staunch supporter of the U.S. war effort against her native country. She is pictured above at a war charity event in the 1940s with singer and comedian Eddie Cantor. (Pinterest)

Even though John Mosher gave a rather tepid review of The Blue Angel in the Dec. 13 issue, he obviously couldn’t shake it (or Dietrich) from his head, returning to the film and its star in the opening paragraphs of his Dec. 20 cinema column.:

Mosher also observed that new Hollywood version of Dietrich (in 1930’s Morocco) was “far prettier” than the German version. You decide:

The German Marlene Dietrich in Ufa’s The Blue Angel

…and the Hollywood Dietrich in Paramount’s Morocco (with Gary Cooper)…

(both images IMDB)

…on to our advertising…Dietrich pops up again in this ad for Publix Theatres (which were owned by Paramount)…

…the same ad block also featured light fare, such as 1930’s Tom Sawyer

AIN’T THEY CUTE?...Mitzi Green as Becky Thatcher and Jackie Coogan as Tom Sawyer in 1930’s Tom Sawyer. Jackie was a famous star by 1930, thanks to his co-starring performance with Charlie Chaplin in 1921’s The Kid. In adult life Coogan would play Uncle Fester in TV’s The Addams Family. Green would have less success, and retire from films in the 1950s. (IMDB)

…not all advertisers were thinking about Christmas, but rather were turning their sights to the southern climes and the fashions they would require…here’s an appeal from Burdine’s of Miami…

…and Fifth Avenue’s Bonwit Teller…

…travel agencies created enticing scenes such as this to lure snowbirds to places like Bermuda…

…of course in those depressed times you had to be a person of means to spend your winters in the Caribbean, or to surprise your family with a new Buick for the holidays…

…and for those stuck at home, they had to console themselves with bootleg liquor, perhaps jazzed up with one of these “flavors”…

…but if you were in the holiday spirit, you might head to the Roosevelt for New Years Eve with Guy Lombardo

…once again, the issue was sprinkled with spot drawings on the holiday theme…

…and our cartoonists, Garrett Price at the doctor…

E. McNerney in Atlantic City during off-season…

Al Frueh, and the clash of modern aesthetics with Christmas traditions…

…and for those in that last, desperate holiday crush, we close with Alan Foster

Next Time: The Road to 1931…

A Blue Angel

The German actor Emil Jannings was well-known to American audiences when The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel) premiered at New York’s Rialto Theatre. Although the film was created as a vehicle for the Academy Award-winning Jannings (he won the Academy’s first-ever best actor award in 1929), it was the little-known Marlene Dietrich who stole the show and made it her ticket to international stardom.

Dec. 13, 1930 cover by Ralph Barton, surprisingly his only cover for the New Yorker. The illustration sadly belies Barton’s state of mind at the time; he would take his own life the following spring.

New Yorker film critics, including John Mosher, generally found foreign films, particularly those of German or Russian origin, to be superior to the treacle produced in Hollywood, and Jannings was a particular favorite, delivering often heart-wrenching performances in such silent dramas as The Last Laugh (1924) and The Way of All Flesh (1927). In those films he depicted once-proud men who fell on hard times, and such was the storyline for The Blue Angel, in which a respectable professor falls for a cabaret singer and descends into madness.

NO CONTEST…Emil Jannings had star billing for the English language version of Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, but it was Marlene Dietrich’s portrayal of cabaret singer Lola Lola that stole the show. (IMDB)

I was surprised by Mosher’s somewhat tepid review of this landmark film, which was shot simultaneously in German and English (with different supporting casts in each version). He referenced “bum dialogue,” which was doubtless the result of German actors struggling with English pronunciations. Filmed in 1929, it is considered to be Germany’s first “talkie.”

PRIDE BEFORE THE FALL…A proud and stern schoolmaster named Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings) falls for cabaret singer Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich), and from there his life unravels; he loses the respect of his pupils, then resigns his post to marry Lola. To make ends meet, Rath tries to sell racy photos of his wife, and then becomes a clown in her troupe and is regularly humiliated on stage. Destitute, he dies at the end of the film. (IMDB)

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All Wet

Sergei Tretyakov’s avant-garde play Roar China made an impression on the New Yorker for the striking realism of its set, which featured an 18,000-gallon tank of water onstage at the Martin Beck Theatre. “The Talk of the Town” described some of the demands of the production:

STAYING AFLOAT…The elaborate set for Roar China featured a model battleship in 18,000 gallons of water.
ROAR CHINA! was an anti-imperialist play depicting the Wanhsien Incident during the Chinese Civil War. Many in the Chinese cast members were non-professional actors. (New York Public Library)

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By Any Other Name

Like many college football teams in first decades of the 20th century, Notre Dame was referred to by a number of nicknames, including the “Fighting Irish.” In this “Talk of the Town” item, however, the team was known as the “Ramblers.” According to the University of Notre Dame, this nickname (along with “The Rovers”) was considered something of an insult: “(Knute) Rockne’s teams were often called the Rovers or the Ramblers because they traveled far and wide, an uncommon practice before the advent of commercial airplanes. These names were also an insult to the school, meant to suggest it was more focused on football than academics.”

RAMBLERS NO MORE…The 1930 National Champion Notre Dame football team. (nd.edu)

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The Wright Stuff

Eric Hodgins penned a profile of aviation pioneer Orville Wright, who just 27 years earlier made a historic “first flight” with his brother, Wilbur, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. An excerpt:

DRESSED FOR SUCCESS: Aviation pioneer Orville Wright (1871 – 1958) sits in one of his biplanes dressed in a three-piece suit and a cap, Dayton, Ohio, 1909. (ge.com)

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No Love Parade, This

French singer and actor Maurice Chevalier made his Hollywood debut in 1928 and quickly soared to stardom in America. French audiences, however, were not so easily swayed, especially the elite patrons Chevalier faced, alone on the stage, at the cavernous Théâtre du Châtelet. Janet Flanner explained in this dispatch from Paris:

THEY LIKE ME IN TINSELTOWN…Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier in The Love Parade (1929). (IMDB)
GULP…Maurice Chevalier faced a tough crowd — his compatriots — at Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet. (en.parisinfo.com)

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Man’s Best Friend

The New Yorker’s book section recommended the latest from Rudyard Kipling, Thy Servant a Dog…

WOOF…Illustrations for Rudyard Kipling’s Thy Servant a Dog, by Marguerite Kirmse. (Etsy)

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Fun and Games

As an extension to her fashion column, Lois Long shared some recommendations for holiday cocktail-party games:

KEEPING THINGS MERRY…Pokerette and Gee-Wiz were popular cocktail party diversions during the Christmas season of 1930. (Worthpoint/Invaluable)

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From Our Advertisers

We start with this ad from Horace Liveright promoting Peter Arno’s third cartoon collection, Hullaballoo, featuring one of Arno’s leering old “Walruses”…

…Doubleday Doran offered a few selections for last-minute Christmas shoppers, led by the Third New Yorker Album

…The UK’s Harold Searles Thorton invented the table top game we now call “foosball” in 1921 and had it patented in 1923. Below is possibly the game’s first appearance in the U.S. — an ad for a “new” game called “Kikit.” Foosball would be slow to catch on, but would rapidly gain popularity in Europe in the 1950s and in the U.S. in the 1970s…

Early foosball players circa 1930. (foosball.org)

Horace Heidt and his Californians were doing their best to make the season bright at the Hotel New Yorker…

…Peck & Peck tried to make the most of Prohibition by stuffing scarves and other wares into empty Champagne bottles…

…and Franklin Simon reminded readers that it would be a “Pajama-Negligee Christmas,” whatever that meant…

…pajamas and negligees were doubtless preferable, and more romantic, than this array of kitchen appliances…

…whatever the holiday revelry, the makers of Milk of Magnesia had our backs…

…on to our cartoonists, Julian De Miskey and Constantin Alajalov contributed spot drawings to mark the season…

A.S. Foster contributed two cartoons to the issue…

Gardner Rea, a full-pager…

Leonard Dove, possibly having some fun with playwright Marc Connelly

I. Klein demonstrated the fun to be had with a kiddie scooter, before they had motors…

…and we close with John Reynolds, and some bad table manners…

Next Time: Happy Holidays…

 

 

Wild & Woolly

Eugene Gise threw a beach party on the July 3, 1926 cover of The New Yorker with an explosion of color that was a departure from the somewhat spare covers of previous issues. It had been an unseasonably cool June, so folks were ready to frolic in the sun.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 11.17.43 AMIt should be noted that the woman in the foreground basking in the sun is most likely wearing a wool bathing suit. Although Jantzen was making suits you could actually swim in, these wool numbers were still the norm. As the website Vintage Dancer notes, “functionality in swimwear was not as important as fashion, so the prevailing theory was that wool would help keep you warm.” Check out this newspaper advertisement from 1926:

1926-CW-3_Page_19-mens-swimsuit
(Vintage Dancer)

In the previous issue (June 26, 1926) theatre critic Charles Brackett looked at all the fuss over the opening of George White’s Scandals revue, so in this issue he gave the Ziegfeld Follies–the revue show that inspired the Scandals–its proper due.

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20130923214629-2288ec2c-me
Claire Luce was a star attraction at the Ziegfeld Follies. Here Clarence F. Busch paints her portrait in an ostrich costume she wore for the Follies (Historical Ziegfeld Group)

Needless to say, Brackett found the Ziegfeld Follies as pointless as its imitator:

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Moving on to other things, I found this tidbit in “The Talk of Town” interesting. Even 90 years ago city dwellers were complaining about having to sort their garbage:

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A state-of-the-art garbage truck in 1920s NYC looked like this…

garbagenewtruck
(nyamcenterforhistory.org)

…and since the 1890s the city had employed street sweepers known as “White Wings” to keep things tidy, apparently even in the middle of traffic:

24-BOOK-articleLarge
(The New York Times)

After decades of petticoats, the Roaring Twenties marked the beginning of androgynous fashion in America, with actress Marlene Dietrich leading the way in defying standards of femininity. Cartoonist Raymond Thayer took a humorous look at the trend in the July 3 issue:

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Marlene Dietrich on Hollywood Street, Jan. 25, 1933. (New York Magazine)

Next Time: A Tarnished Tinseltown…

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