Front Page News

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

March 28, 1931 cover by Ruth Cairns.

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

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

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

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

Here’s Mosher’s review:

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

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

…and our inspiration, Greta Garbo circa 1930…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…a rare two-pager from Ralph Barton

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

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

Gardner Rea found offense in an unlikely setting…

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

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

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

Next Time: Last Stand for Beau James…

Killer Queen

The story of Fred Nixon-Nirdlinger isn’t exactly dinner table conversation these days, but in the spring of 1931 his death at the hands of his beauty queen wife had much of America abuzz.

March 21, 1930 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Charlotte Nash, Miss St. Louis of 1923, would have passed into obscurity like so many other beauty contestants if she hadn’t married a wealthy theater owner 30 years her senior, and then divorced and remarried him, and then shot him in the head on the French Riviera.

But first, the reason I am writing about this lurid episode: here’s E.B. White in the March 21, 1931 “Notes and Comment”…

Forty-seven-year-old Fred Nixon-Nirdlinger, wealthy owner of a Philadelphia theater chain, was serving as a judge at the 1923 Miss America competition in Atlantic City when the 17-year-old “Miss St. Louis,” Charlotte Nash, caught his eye and his fancy. By February 1924 they were married…

AIN’T I CUTE?…Seventeen-year-old Charlotte Nash strikes a pose at the 1923 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City; belated 1924 marriage announcement in the Philadelphia Inquirer; announcement in the New York Daily News. (New York Daily News/Philadelphia Inquirer)

…Fred was furious that Charlotte did not win the title in Atlantic City. He vowed to make her a movie star and sent her off to finishing school to work on her manners and elocution…

CRADLE TO GRAVE…Fred Nixon-Nirdlinger sent his young bride to finishing school for “a touch of polishing here and there.” Little did he know that one day she would finish him too…permanently. (findagrave.com/Pittsburgh Press)

…Unfortunately, Fred forgot to tell his young bride that he already had a wife —news that came to light on a trans-Atlantic voyage to Paris, where Fred and Charlotte had planned to honeymoon. Already pregnant with his child, Charlotte nevertheless divorced Fred, but remarried him some months later after the baby was born (and after considerable wooing and groveling by the theater magnate). Fred rejoined Charlotte in France, but the second honeymoon didn’t last long either. On the evening of March 11, 1931, the intensely jealous Fred accused his young wife of trafficking with “gigilos.” After Charlotte denied the charge, Fred seized her by the neck and threatened to choke her to death.

Crime Historian Laura James takes it from there:

“At some point Fred went into the kitchen for more whisky. Charlotte used the opportunity to flee to the bedroom, where she slipped a loaded pistol under her pillow. Fred’s last words to her were, “I will kill you rather than let you have an Italian lover.” Charlotte beat him to it, and as she lay on the bed she retrieved her pistol and fired. The first bullet entered just under Fred Nixon-Nirdlinger’s left eye and lodged at the base of his skull. A second bullet hit him in the chest. Two other shots went wild. Fred crumpled in a pool of blood.”

Charlotte was soon in a French jail, now a bigger star than she had ever been, or ever would be…

FINALLY GETTING SOME NOTICES…Left, detail of a March 18, 1931 New York Times account of the slaying; right, a more lurid take on the story by the July 18, 1931 edition of the Hamilton (Ohio) Evening Journal. Below, another colorful account from the San Francisco Examiner. (newspaper.com/New York Times)

During the subsequent trial, Charlotte’s defense attorneys argued that the shooting was a clear case of self-defense, and the jury agreed, acquitting the former beauty queen in just nine minutes. When she returned to the United States with her two young children, it appeared she would be entitled to a big chunk of Fred’s fortune…

…but in the end the will left her nearly penniless, so she earned what she could by telling her sensational story to the media, including this multi-installment feature she penned for the St. Louis Star and Times:

IT’S A LONG STORY…The 14th and 16th installments of Charlotte Nash’s story of her brush with fame and infamy in the St. Louis Star and Times. (newspaper.com)

Laura James notes that Charlotte might have been better off remaining in France: “The verdict was largely attributed (by the American newspapers at least) to French attitudes toward beautiful women and marriage in general (the jury included eight bachelors). But she returned to St. Louis; learned that her husband’s will left her nearly penniless; and tried to find acting jobs in Hollywood only to be snubbed Lizzie Borden-style, as Hollywood would have none of her. In the end she would declare, ‘Sometimes I’m sorry that I was ever considered beautiful. It brought me more trouble than joy.”‘

But the story doesn’t end there. Charlotte Nash Nixon-Nirdlinger (1905-2009) dropped out of public view, but would live on into the 21st century, dying at age 103 or 104 in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, where she rests today.

RIP CHARLOTTE. (findagrave.com)

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Turkey Trot

Dorothy Parker began to detect a pattern as she continued subbing for her friend Robert Benchley’s theater review column. All of the plays she had reviewed to date were found to be uniformly terrible; she found comfort, however, in fellow critics who also viewed Broadway’s spring lineup as a flock of “little turkeys”…

BIRDS OF A FEATHER…Dorothy Parker found Broadway’s spring lineup to be uniformly terrible, and audiences mostly agreed. Clockwise, from top left, The Admirable Crichton ran for two months and 56 performances at the New Amsterdam Theatre; Grey Shadow closed after 39 performances at the New Yorker Theatre; Napi, directed and lead-acted by the diminutive Ernest Truex (pictured) lasted just 21 shows at the Longacre; The House Beautiful bested them all by staying open for 108 performances at the Apollo. A curious side note: Mary Philips, pictured on the Apollo cover, was Humphrey Bogart’s second wife. The marriage lasted ten years — 1928 to 1938. (Playbill)

Of the plays Parker reviewed, she called The Admirable Crichton “piteously dated;” of Grey Shadow, she wrote that it would be as indelicate for her to discuss the play as it would be to “go into details of my appendectomy;” Parker deemed Napi “as grubby and unpleasant a little comedy as you could want to stay away from;” and she did not find The House Beautiful all that beautiful…”The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy.”

Parker ended the column with her usual plea to Benchley:

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Moses Parts the Swamp

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White noted the destruction of trees and swampland in Van Cortlandt Park. In 1931 Robert Moses was president of the Long Island Park Commission but held political sway over so much more. What White was witnessing were preparations for the construction of the Henry Hudson Parkway and Mosholu Parkway that would split Van Cortlandt into six separate pieces. White was right about the disappearing birds: the last remaining freshwater marsh in the state, Tibbetts Brook, was dredged to accommodate construction.

HE PAVED PARADISE…Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York attends a Jones Beach luncheon on July 26, 1931, as a guest of Robert Moses (far left), who was president of the Long Island Park Commission. (AP Photo)
A PARK DIVIDED…The Mosholu Parkway cuts a wide swath through Van Cortlandt Park, 1936. (Museum of the City of New York)

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Those Daring Young Men

Ever since Charles Lindbergh made his historic transatlantic flight in 1927, Americans were captivated by the derring-do of pilots who competed for various “firsts.” In the case of Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr., the goal was to to fly around the world and break the record of 20 days and 4 hours set by Germany’s Graf Zeppelin in 1929. In his “Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey noted the many weeks of preparation by the two pilots…

A BIT OF FUN…July 1931 newspaper illustration of Clyde Pangborn, left, and Hugh Herndon Jr., with a map of the route they followed on their attempt to set a new round-the-world flight record. (AP)

Markey noted that the two pilots claimed they were setting out on their dangerous mission “for the fun of it”…

While Pangborn and Herndon were still making flight plans at their Hotel Roosevelt headquarters, Wiley Post and Harold Gatty took to the air and claimed the record of 8 days and 15 hours. Pangborn and Herndon decided to make a go of it anyway, leaving New York on July 28, 1931, in their red Bellanca named the Miss Veedol, but poor weather in Siberia caused them to abandon their quest.

There was, however, a $25,000 prize being offered by the Tokyo newspaper Asahi Shimbun to the first pilots to cross the Pacific non-stop, so Pangborn and Herndon regrouped and successfully flew the Miss Veedol across the Pacific Ocean — in 41 hours and 13 minutes. It wasn’t exactly a smooth flight; three hours after takeoff the device used to jettison the landing gear failed, prompting Pangborn to climb out onto the wing barefoot at 14,000 feet to remove the landing gear props. After several other near-mishaps — including nearly smashing into a mountain — the duo completed their historic flight with a controlled crash landing near Wenatchee, Washington.

NO WHEELS, NO PROBLEM…More than 41 hours after departing Japan, Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr. performed a controlled crash landing near Wenatchee, Washington, completing the first-ever nonstop flight across the Pacific Ocean. (Wired.com)
STILL IN ONE PIECE…Hugh Herndon Jr., left, and Clyde Pangborn after crash-landing at Wenatchee, Wash., following their 1931 flight across the Pacific from Misawa, Japan. (Spirit of Wenatchee).

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From Our Advertisers

Herndon and Pangborn made plans for their round-the-world flight while staying at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown…I’ve stayed there myself and enjoyed its nubby charms…as for the underground passageway to the Grand Central, it’s still there, but no longer open to the public…

…the makers of Kleenex originally marketed their tissues for makeup removal…by the 1930s, however, they saw a much bigger opportunity…

…if the Roosevelt Hotel wasn’t posh enough for you, the new Waldorf-Astoria might have been your cup of tea…

…and if you could stay at the Waldorf, you might be able to afford a Packard, which in the 1930s was a near-rival to Rolls Royce…

…I toss this one in from Goodyear because it is probably the only time an image of the Taj Mahal was used to sell tires…

…we have another lovely Carl “Eric” Erickson illustration for Camel…

…and at first glance I thought this was another two-page ad for Chesterfield cigarettes, but it appears the candy manufacturers also wanted to tie their products to exciting lifestyles…in this case, you were urged to eat candy for some quick energy…here it is implied that Schrafft’s candy will give you the energy you need for sailboating and…er…other activities…

…for comparison, Chesterfield ad from 1930…

…on to our cartoons…Otto Soglow continued the adventures of the Little King…

Perry Barlow showed us that war is hell…

…some ringside niceties courtesy E. McNerney

Mary Petty reminded us that posh folks weren’t exactly known for their intellect…

Alan Dunn examined the challenges of buying an older house…

Helen Hokinson gave us a politically precocious young lad…

…and two glimpses into high society by Barbara Shermund

…including their scintillating conversations about such things as ice makers…

Next Time: Front Page News…

 

And the Winner Is…

We lead off with a couple of winners from the Feb. 7, 1931 issue, beginning with a cover by Rea Irvin that takes measure of a lighter moment at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Feb. 7, 1931 cover by Rea Irvin.

The 1930 Best of Show winner Pendley Calling of Blarney also took the top honor in 1931, giving the wire fox terrier back-to-back Westminster wins. Overall, terriers have dominated Westminster — wire fox terriers have won Best of Show 15 times, with Scottish terriers a distant second, with eight wins.

TOP DOG…Pendley Calling of Blarney won back-to-back crowns in 1930-31 at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden. The dog’s owner, John Grenville Bates, mercifully retired the pooch after the ’31 win. (Westminster Kennel Club)
STANDARD? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?…Standard poodle Siba won Best in Show at the 144th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Feb. 11, 2020, at Madison Square Garden. (Reuters)

The other winner was Cimarron, the first film to receive more than six Academy Award nominations, winning three including Best Picture (then called Best Production). It was the first Western to win Best Picture, and it would be nearly 60 years until another Western, Dances with Wolves, would take the top honor.

HE LOST HIS SHIRT, TOO…

Despite some “sagging moments,” John Mosher mostly lavished praise on the film, which was showing at the Globe Theatre:

THAT’S NO WELCOME WAGON…Clockwise, from top left, Yancey and Sabra Cravat (Richard Dix and Irene Dunn) join the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush with their son, Cim (Junior Johnston); a less-than-friendly greeting at a boomer town; wagons line up for the big land grab; a young prostitute, Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor), outwits Yancey for a piece of prime property. (IMDB)
OH DEAR, THERE’S THAT LOOK AGAIN…Yancey (Richard Dix) takes it upon himself to establish order in the boomer town of Osage. On the bed are Yancey’s son, Cim (Junior Johnston) and wife Sabra (Irene Dunn). (IMDB)

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Handy Painter

It is hard to imagine the struggles of one-handed painter José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), who despite his handicap was able to complete huge murals in true fresco style (paint applied quickly on fresh, wet plaster), including five socially-themed frescoes at the Joseph Urban-designed New School. The murals included controversial depictions of Lenin and Stalin, but it wasn’t until the 1950s — during the McCarthy era — that school officials felt compelled to cover the images with a curtain. More protests followed, this time from faculty and students, and the curtains fell along with Joe McCarthy. “The Talk of the Town” looked in on the artist at work:

HE LOOKS FAMILIAR…José Clemente Orozco’s “The Struggle in The Occident”, 1930-1931, one of five frescoes at the New School. (Pinterest)

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Prescience of Mind

News reporter and author Elmer Davis submitted this humorous piece to the New Yorker doubtless thinking how preposterous, and therefore humorous, the following notion would be (a brief excerpt):

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Funny Cigarettes

In the early years of broadcast radio (and later TV) tobacco companies rightly saw a huge gold mine in radio show sponsorships. So when CBS radio executives accepted a sponsorship from Lorillard (the makers of Old Gold), they realized they had a challenge on their hands. “Talk” explained:

COUGH ME A MELODY…The makers of Old Gold cigarettes had CBS in their clutches in this September 1933 ad featuring bandleader Fred Waring and singer Babsie. (period paper.com)

…The above “Talk of the Town” item referred to the famous Murad ads illustrated by the New Yorker’s own Rea Irvin

…while other advertisers were scaling back a bit due to the Depression, lovely full-color ads continued to flow from tobacco companies (and oil companies)…

…Pierce-Arrow was also known for its sumptuous ads, but they wouldn’t save the luxury car maker from going under by the mid-1930s…

…Some less expensive black and white ads, such as this hand-lettered ad from Stein & Blaine, could be quite charming…

…speaking of charm, this ad from Arthur Murray could have used a little of it…note the stern visage of the woman, described as “typical of Arthur Murray’s staff of expert teachers”…

…on to our Feb. 7 cartoons, we have one of Peter Arno’s stock characters, the Sugar Daddy, in an awkward moment at a costume party…

…Arno’s party looked a lot more lively than this affair, illustrated by William Crawford Galbraith...

…and Carl Rose gave us this pair, who seem to having the best time of all…

Mary Petty eavesdropped on a guileless young woman…

…and Gardner Rea paid a visit to the Met…

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On to our Feb. 14 issue, and Gardner Rea once more…

Feb. 14, 1931 cover by Gardner Rea.

The Feb. 14 issue featured a profile of actress Katharine Cornell (1893-1974), written by cultural critic Gilbert Seldes. The caricature of Cornell is by Al Frueh. Excerpts:

Promotional photograph of Katharine Cornell as Elizabeth Barrett in the original 1931 Broadway production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. It was her most famous role(Theatre Magazine, March 1931)

Cornell is considered one of the greatest actors of American theater, known for her eloquence and romantic stage presence. Seldes concluded:

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Strange Bedfellows

In his column “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker referred to an exchange between American capitalists and Soviet Russians that resulted in the rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union. That actual story behind this effort is pretty amazing.

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Sneak Peek

Film critic John Mosher was so excited about Charlie Chaplin’s latest film that he offered this teaser to readers…

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From Our Advertisers

We have this ad from the developers of the Empire State Building, which was being readied for a May 1931 opening…

…the Empire State Building was erected on the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The new Waldorf-Astoria, also completed in 1931, was located more than 15 blocks away from its original site. Both the Empire State Building and the Waldorf Astoria would become Art Deco landmarks, and both shared the distinction of holding world records: the Empire State was the world’s tallest building (a record it would keep until 1970), and the Waldorf would claim the title of the world’s tallest hotel (until 1963)…

…on to our cartoonists, we have Ralph Barton contributing one of his last illustrations to the theater review section…

Richard Decker references a recent change in New York telephone numbers with this prison scene…

…Decker was referring to this bit of news, here interpreted by E.B. White in his Feb. 14 “Notes and Comment.”

James Thurber returned with his second-ever stand-alone cartoon for the New Yorker

Garrett Price mined a theme that would become common in New Yorker cartoons: the tycoon vs. meek employee…

Nancy Fay gave us a glimpse of the seamier side of family life…

R. Van Buren goes even darker with this entry…

…and we end on a high note, with Alan Dunn

Next Time: Super Tramp…

The Road to 1931

The New Yorker entered its sixth year in 1931, and despite the deepening Depression managed to stay afloat and even gain new subscribers. Perhaps more than ever folks needed that weekly dose of levity the magazine ably supplied.

Rea Irvin rang out the old and welcomed the new with back-to-back covers for the Dec. 27, 1930 and Jan. 3, 1931 issues. The second cover commemorated the New York Auto Salon, mentioned later in this blog entry.

That isn’t to say the magazine’s contributors donned rose-colored glasses. Rather, they commiserated with their fellow Americans:

CRANKY COUPLETS…Ogden Nash lent his droll verse to the nation’s economic woes. In 1931, while working as an editor at Doubleday, Nash submitted a number of poems to the New Yorker and spent three months working on the magazine’s editorial staff. (poeticous.com)

Over the course of 1930 many Americans, including Ogden Nash, woke to the fact that their business and political leaders were ill-suited to lift them out of the economic mess, and were likely responsible for it in the first place. At the top of the list was President Herbert Hoover, who was profiled in the New Yorker in three installments beginning with the Dec. 27 issue. This brief excerpt gives you a glimpse into a very different White House 89 years ago:

The first installment of the profile was accompanied by a Cyrus Baldridge portrait of the president (left), but the final two installments featured a less-than-flattering Abe Birnbaum rendering that first appeared in the New Yorker in the March 2, 1929 issue:

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Vorse Was a Force

Social critic, labor activist and novelist Mary Heaton Vorse (1874–1966) was no fan of Herbert Hoover or wealthy business tycoons, and in the first decades of the 20th century joined with Lincoln Steffens and other muckraking journalists in advocating for social reform. Vorse, however, also had a background in fiction writing and in observational pieces like the one below (excerpts) in which she commented on the rustic old ladies she found everywhere in the city:

FOR THE CAUSE…Mary Heaton Vorse (left) with fellow activists preparing to leave on a relief expedition to aid striking Kentucky miners, 1932. At right, a 1925 drawing of Vorse by Hugo Gellert. (nysut.org/Smithsonian)

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The Mystic

Before the Beatles made the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi a famed Transcendental Meditation guru in the 1960s, there was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a Russian/Greek/Armenian spiritual teacher of the “Fourth Way,” which promised a path to a higher state of consciousness and full human potential. Gurdjieff also enjoyed living in a French chateau and taking trips to New York to share his wisdom with eager Americans, including famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “The Talk of the Town” had these observations on the visiting mystic:

HE COULD SEE THINGS…George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, in an undated photo.

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Sunny Days

Forget about financial woes or spiritual dilemmas. What are you going to wear next summer? Fashion writer Lois Long (“On and Off the Avenue”) asked the question and looked to the south for some answers:

…numerous ads peppered the Dec. 27 issue urging Manhattan’s snowbirds to dress appropriately for the warmer climes…

…and operators of “PlaneTrains” promised to get them there as quickly as possible…

…and if you were headed to Cuba you could stay at the brand new National Hotel…

…here’s what it looked like three years ago when I was in Havana…I can guarantee you the hotel service was WAY better in 1931…

…whether home or abroad, New Yorkers were celebrating the New Year by “dancing to the melodies of Old Vienna” and smoking like chimneys…

…a popular New Year’s Eve destination was the The Roosevelt Hotel, where Guy Lombardo’s orchestra helped ring in the New Year from 1929 (radio’s first nationwide New Year’s Eve broadcast) to 1959…

I stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel in late December, and found Lombardo still presiding over the bar…

…we also find New Year’s revelry in the cartoons, with Mary Petty

Izzy Klein

Otto Soglow...

…and Leonard Dove

…and for those who stayed home, we have this scene of domestic bliss from Don Herold

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On to the Jan. 3, 1931 issue, we have Howard Brubaker (“Of All Things”) waxing sour on the state of the economy…

…so what a better way to cheer up than to look at shiny new cars, especially the ones almost no one could afford? The New Yorker paid another visit to the New York Automobile Salon at the Grand Central Palace…

…according to the article, 1931 was “a streamline year,” and leading the way was the REO motor car company, which despite its innovative ways would drop its car line altogether in 1936 — a casualty of the Depression…

FLOWING FENDERS…The 1931 REO Royale was a trendsetter, introducing streamlining designs. The Great Depression would cause REO to abandon the manufacture of automobiles in 1936. (historicvehicle.org)

…over at the Chrysler Building, which served as that corporation’s headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s, new cars were on display on the building’s first two floors…

CATHEDRAL OF CARS…The first two floors of the Chrysler Building served as an auto showroom during the building’s first decade. (Wikipedia/thewelcomeblog.com)

…we segue to our advertisements, many from car companies touting their displays at the New York Automobile Salon. Like REO, Marmon was noted for various innovations, including the introduction of the rear-view mirror. It also manufactured a stunning 16-cylinder automobile that was on display at the 1931 Salon. But also like REO, the Depression proved too much for Marmon, and it was defunct by 1933…

SLEEK…The 1931 Marmon Sixteen. (RM Auctions)

…another car company that would fall to the Depression was the luxury brand Pierce Arrow. Without a lower-priced car in its lineup to provide cash flow, the company ceased operation by 1938…

…by contrast, the Chrysler Corporation had several low-priced models to help it survive the lean years and enable it to produce its luxury model, the Imperial…

ANOTHER FIRST…Chrysler was also known for its innovative ways. A custom version of the Chrysler Imperial Eight included a dictaphone. (hemmings.com)

…the Hudson Motor Car Company is long gone, but in 1930 it was the third largest carmaker after Ford and Chevrolet, and instead of luxury it touted the affordability of its cars, especially its low-priced Essex line, priced $1,000 less than its predecessor from ten years earlier. The $595 Essex would be comparable to a $9,000 to $10,000 car today (by comparison, the 1931 Marmon or Imperial would set you back somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000, roughly equivalent to a $46,000 – $78,000 range today)…

…so let’s say the Depression has wiped you out and you can’t even afford an Essex…well you could try to “smoke your way back to normalcy”…

…or be like this pair, who seem content with their Chesterfields…

…of course the movies were another means of escape from the cruel world, and Paramount’s Publix Theatres promised plenty of sex to ease troubled minds…

PRE-CODE WORLD…During a brief period of the early sound era, many films used both sex and violence to attract audiences to theaters. The Publix Theatres ad above implied that these three films had plenty of sex, or “it” — clockwise, from top left, Fredric March ran around in his skivvies in The Royal Family of Broadway (1930); Mary Brian and Ina Claire portrayed acting sisters Gwen and Julie Cavendish in The Royal Family of Broadway; David Manners and Ruth Chatterton shared an embrace in The Right to Love (1930); and Marlene Dietrich lured a schoolmaster into a life of madness and despair in The Blue Angel (1929-30).

…and we close with our cartoonists…Reginald Marsh heralded the new year with this two-page spread depicting the heavens glorifying dental hygiene…

Leonard Dove inked two cartoons featuring table talk…

E. McNerney continued the New Yorker tradition of cartoons featuring rich old men and their gold diggers…

Gardner Rea pondered the value of kitsch in a regal setting…

A.S. Foster looked in on a crowd of John Does at a speakeasy…

…and Lillian Reed took us shopping with a very specific request…

Next Time: Requiem For the Flapper…

 

Risky Business

The Irish American gangster JackLegsDiamond was often referred to as the “clay pigeon of the underworld” due to surviving several attempts on his life.

Nov. 1, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

In his “Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey checked up on the fleet-footed bootlegger, adored by the public for his various brushes with the law and escapes from sure death. In his opening paragraph, Markey referred to one of the attempts on Diamond’s life: On October 12, 1930, he survived being shot five times at Manhattan’s Hotel Monticello:

Markey’s column attempted to remove some of the glamour from Diamond’s flamboyant life, a life that would be cut short about a year later in an Albany rooming house…

OUT WITH THE BOYS…Legs Diamond leaves the federal court in New York with his attorney and a couple of cronies on Aug. 8, 1931, after being convicted of owning an unlicensed still and conspiring to violate Prohibition laws. (digitalcommonwealth.org)
BEDFELLOWS…Legs Diamond had a number of mistresses, but the best known was Marion “Kiki” Roberts, who was with Diamond shortly before he was slain. (The Mob Museum/Pinterest)
DEADLY TRIO…Clockwise, from top left, Legs Diamond is comforted by his wife, Alice Kenny Diamond, after being shot three times at a roadhouse near Cairo, NY, on April 27, 1931. His enemies finally succeeded in killing him on Dec. 18, 1931, shooting him three times in the back of the head in an Albany rooming house. Alice would be shot and killed less than two years later, possibly by Diamond’s enemies to keep her quiet. And sadly, the New Yorker’s “Reporter at Large” columnist Morris Markey would also meet a violent end, dying of a gunshot wound to the head in 1950. Whether it was by his hand or another’s, it was never determined. (Albany Archives/NY Times)

An afternote: Enemies would finally catch up to Legs Diamond and kill him on Dec. 18, 1931. Diamond’s wife, Alice Kenny Diamond, would be shot and killed less than two years later. Diamond’s mistress and former Ziegfeld Follies performer Marion “Kiki” Roberts would return to the stage and cash in on her notoriety. In 1937 it was reported she was the big draw in a touring “Crazy Quilt” burlesque revue. And according to the writer William Kennedy, who wrote about Diamond in his 1975 novel Legs, the last record of Kiki Roberts was in Boston in the 1940s, where “she was still appearing as ‘Jack (Legs) Diamond’s Lovely Light o’ Love.’ ”

Here is newsreel footage of Diamond’s mistress Marion “Kiki” Roberts, shortly after the gangster’s death. In this brief interview with a Boston reporter (and with her mother at her side) Roberts advises girls to “live good clean lives and obey their parents wishes.” Note how it appears she is reading from cue cards.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

A precursor to the helicopter, the autogyro was considered by many to be the next logical step in aircraft development, and especially in the development of smaller craft that could serve as safe, affordable transportation options for commuters. The New Yorker’s E.B. White, an aviation enthusiast, demonstrated to readers the wonders of this aircraft:

EASY AS PIE…A Cierva Autogiro C30 takes flight circa 1933. (findmypast.co.uk)

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Baker’s Big Show

Nineteen-year-old American-born French entertainer Josephine Baker became an instant symbol of Jazz Age Paris when she starred in La Revue Nègre in October 1925. Her erotic dance routines wowed Paris audiences, and she quickly moved on to the famed Folies Bergère. In 1930 she opened a new show at the Casino de Paris that also featured her pet cheetah, Chiquita. The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner was there to take it all in:

HEAR THE THUNDER…Nineteen-year-old Josephine Baker took Paris by storm when she appeared in La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in October 1925. (harleminmontmartre.paris/artphotolimited.com)
HEAR ME ROAR…The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner was wowed by Josephine Baker’s newest show at the Casino de Paris that also featured her pet cheetah, Chiquita. (pictorem.com/vam.ac.uk/artphotolimited.com)

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Grim Reminder

Despite the deepening Depression across the country, few mentions of it were made in the pages of the New Yorker. Howard Brubaker, in his “Of All Things” column, offered this not-so-gentle reminder:

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From Our Advertisers

We feature Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, a Swiss-born American socialite shilling for Pond’s cold cream. At the time of this ad she was the mother of six-year-old Gloria Vanderbilt (who would become a famous fashion designer and artist and the mother of CNN’s Anderson Cooper)…

POOR LITTLE RICH GIRLS…Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and her husband, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt with daughter Gloria, circa 1924-25. Reginald died in 1925, and a famous custody battle over little Gloria (who recently died at age 95) would take place in 1934. At right, portrait of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt by Dorothy Wilding, 1933. (Perkins Library, Duke University)

…the makers of Ybry lipstick apparently did not have the budget to garner a patrician endorsement, so they settled for this illustration by New Yorker cartoonist Barney Tobey

…and we have another lovely color ad from R.J. Reynolds, once again linking cigarettes to athletic prowess…

…on to our cartoons, we mark election season with Carl Rose

Barbara Shermund explored the generation gap…

Peter Arno gathered his sugar daddies for a game of chess…

Kemp Starrett introduced us to an unlikely life of the party…

Alan Dunn examined the influences of popular cinema…

Mary Petty gave us an Ivy League perspective of the Great Depression…

…and Arno again, with a cartoon that was featured along with the New Yorker’s “Wayward Press” column…

Next Time: Body and Soul…

 

Garbo Speaks

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

March 22, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Depression?

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

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

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Cathedrals of Commerce

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

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

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The Other House of Worship

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

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

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From Our Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

…while Alfred Krakusin captured an altogether different mood…

...Leonard Dove examined the path to stardom…

I. Klein pondered modern art…

William Crawford Galbraith found an unlikely victim of religious zeal…

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

…and Leonard Dove again, this time at ringside…

Next Time: Noblesse Oblige…

 

Hooray for Hollywood

MGM piled so many stars and gimmicks into the premiere of The Hollywood Revue of 1929 that even the New Yorker’s jaded film critic John Mosher had to admit he was entertained.

Aug. 24, 1929 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Although today’s audiences would find the film quaint and corny (not to mention its tinny sound and crude editing), it was a big hit in 1929. A plotless revue featuring nearly all of MGM’s stars (Greta Garbo said no — she had a clause in her contract exempting her from such silly things; Lon Chaney, on the other hand, was in failing health), the film followed a variety format similar to such vaudeville productions as the Ziegfeld Follies. The Arthur Freed/Herb Nacio Brown song “Singin’ In the Rain” was introduced in this film, and would inspire the Gene Kelley musical by the same name 23 years later. A rarity for the time, the Hollywood Revue included four skits in an early version of Technicolor, including an all-cast performance of “Singing’ In the Rain.” Mosher observed:

One of the film’s color skits featured John Gilbert and Norma Shearer in a Romeo and Juliet parody filled with Jazz Age slang. It would mark the beginning of the end of Gilbert’s career and, sadly, his life. He was one of the silent era’s most popular leading men, but it was purported that his voice was not suited to the talkies. What really ended Gilbert’s career, however, was studio head Louis B. Mayer, who clashed with the actor both personally and professionally…click any image below to enlarge…

FAREWELL ROMEO…A lobby card promoting The Hollywood Revue of 1929 featured John Gilbert and Norma Shearer in one the film’s color sequences, a parody of Romeo and Juliet filled with Jazz Age slang. At right, a scene from the skit in which the director (played by Lionel Barrymore, far right) tells Shearer and Gilbert to put more pizzazz into the act. (IMDB/YouTube)
STAR-STUDDED…Left to right, early silent film comedian Marie Dressler hammed it up in a royal court skit; co-emcee Jack Benny, with his trademark violin, and Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, and his trademark uke. (vickielester.com/doctormacro.com/thejumpingfrog.com)
DANCING IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH…Chorus girl Carla Laemmle in the film’s “Tableau of Jewels,” in which she emerged from a seashell to perform a seductive (and weird) dance number while other showgirls posed on a revolving crown — all set to a tune sung offstage by James Burroughs. The niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, Carla Laemmle was one of the longest surviving actors of the silent era. She died in 2014 at age 104. (songbook1.wordpress.com)
GALAXY OF STARS…Clockwise, from top left, lobby card for The Hollywood Revue of 1929; Charles King, Joan Crawford, Conrad Nagel (a co-emcee along with Jack Benny) and Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards show off their dancing skills; lobby card featuring actress Marion Davies; a popular act in vaudeville and on Broadway, the Brox Sisters—Lorayne, Patricia and Bobbe (along with Cliff Edwards) introduced the song “Singin’ in the Rain,” also sung by the entire cast near the finale of the movie. (joancrawfordbest.com/mubi.com)

…MGM deployed a number of stunts to generate publicity at the film’s New York premiere at the Astor Theatre, including a “human billboard” that featured scantily clad chorus girls precariously perched on a huge letters high above the theatre’s entrance. In a rather less dangerous stunt—during the movie’s “Orange Blossom Time” skit—a faint scent of orange blossoms wafted into the theatre. “The Talk of the Town” observed…

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?…Showgirls arranged along narrow catwalks atop the glowing HOLLYWOOD REVUE sign would pose for hours above crowds of gawkers; top, an advertisement promoting “The Stunt of the Century”; bottom, chorus girls lined up on somewhat safer ground in a skit from the movie titled “Lon Chaney’s Gonna Get You If You Don’t Watch Out.” Chaney himself was near death and did not appear in the film. (oldphotoarchive.com/anndvorak.com)
Another angle shows just how precarious this stunt proved to be for these brave chorus girls, who held their poses for hours on end. (legendaryjoancrawford.com)

…here’s a clip from the film featuring MGM stars “Singin’ in the Rain”…see how many stars you can recognize…

…in the first row the camera pans by George Arthur, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Buster Keaton…second row, Bobbe Brox, Cliff Edwards, Patricia Brox, Gus Edwards, Lorayne Brox, Conrad Nagel, Anita Page, Charles King, Marie Dressler…not sure about the last two…

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Technological Adjustments

If you listened to the above clip, then you will understand what James Thurber was getting at when he observed that actors in talking pictures all sound as if they are speaking into cracker boxes. In this hilarious piece (titled “The Roaring Talkies”), he proposed a solution. An excerpt:

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A Happy Diversion

“The Talk of the Town” (via Theodore Pratt) looked in on the hobbyists who raced model boats at Central Park’s Conservatory Lake, a happy tradition that began in the late 19th century and continues to this day:

A DAY AT THE RACES….Model sailboats (left) prepare to face off in 1910 at Conservatory Lake (also called Conservatory Water); at right, model sailors at the same lake around 1920. (Library of Congress)

Pratt also described the old wooden boathouse, which was replaced in 1954 with a somewhat grander structure, Kerbs Boathouse, where model boats are still stored…

STILL SAILING…The copper-roofed Kerbs Boathouse replaced a wooden structure in 1954. Conservatory Lake served as the setting for a model boat race in E.B. White’s Stuart Little. (centralparknyc.org)

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On the Other Hand…

Leaving the cool and quiet of the park brought one quickly back into the dust and clamor of the metropolis. Pratt observed that the summer season lasted two weeks longer in the city than in the country, thanks to the city’s heat island effect— perhaps an unwelcome observation given the usually hot summer of 1929. Not only did the city’s heat extend the season, but it also kept the city enveloped in “an enormous cloud of dust”…

HAZY DAYS OF SUMMER…A dusty haze hangs over Lower Manhattan as the Third Avenue elevated train rumbles by in this circa 1950 photo. (AP)

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Already Feeling Old?

I found this “Talk” item curious for exploring the sentimental attachment some folks had developed for old cars from the 1910s, given those cars were barely 20 years old and cars in general hadn’t been in common use much longer…

…as for another “Talk” item, I doubt modern New Yorker readers would find any humor in this observation:

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On to sillier things, Robert Benchley turned in a casual titled “Boost New York!” Benchley ridiculed a promotional brochure from the New York Merchants Association that touted various statistics in a manner reminiscent of the fictional George Babbitt. Benchley imagined how an Iowa couple might respond to such dazzling numbers:

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A Drinking Life

Occasionally I like to feature infrequent or one-time New Yorker contributors who are nearly lost to history. Frank Ward O’Malley (1875-1932), a reporter for the New York Sun from 1906-19, was known for his humorous stories. In 1928 he published a book titled The Swiss Family O’Malley. In this casual (titled “The Fatty Degeneration of Broadway”) from the Aug. 24 issue, O’Malley described an alcohol intervention of sorts and then his fall off the wagon. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs, along with his photo circa 1910s.

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From Our Advertisers

This week we have an advertisement for the Drake Apartment Hotel, claiming to be the “smartest” in New York. Note how they employed what seems to be the same pointy-nosed, haughty couple that we saw last week (below) who endorsed the Park Lane (I want to believe there is a subtle joke here)…

…just 25 years removed from the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk, advertisers were treating flying as though it were routine…

A better photo of the Ireland Neptune Amphipian (aerofiles.com)

…and this young woman seemed to think flying was nothing more than “playing ring around the rosy with the clouds”…

…I like the reviews included in this bookseller’s ad, especially the first one for the book Ex-Wife by Anonymous (it was written by Ursula Parrott, a writer of romantic fiction)…

…our illustrations include Abe Birnbaum’s contribution to the casuals section (breaking up the copy of one of Josie Turner’s Elsie Dinsmore parodies)…

Reginald Marsh illustrated the late summer beach scene at Coney Island…

…and for kicks this nice little filler by Constantin Alajalov

…thanks to the skills of the New Yorker’s first layout artist, Popsy Whitaker, we have this whimsical pairing of Otto Soglow and Dorothy Parker

Mary Petty contributed a cartoon that looks contemporary…

Peter Arno paid a visit to the doctor’s office…

…and commented on his life as a new father…the woman holding the baby was doubtless inspired by his wife, New Yorker columnist Lois Long

…for reference, Peter Arno and Lois Long are pictured here with baby daughter Patricia Arno in 1928…Lois clearly had a better grasp on the situation than Arno had imagined…

Arno and Long with their baby daughter, Patricia, in 1928. (Vanity Fair)

Alice Harvey eavesdropped on a conversation between teenagers…

…and like Peter Arno, Leonard Dove had two cartoons in this issue…here an editor finds the former Prohibition enforcer no longer newsworthy…

…and over on the East Side, rumors of gentrification…

Next Time: A Carnival in the Air…