A Glimpse of the Future

Just nine days after the stock market crash, three women opened a new museum on Fifth Avenue that would play a major role in defining the type of city that would emerge from the other side of the Depression and World War II.

Nov. 23, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt.

These visionary women would borrow works from modernists of the past century — the post-impressionists —  to stage the first-ever exhibit of the Museum of Modern Art. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, along with her friends Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan, had rented six rooms on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building, and on Nov. 7, 1929, they opened the doors to the museum’s first exhibition, simply titled Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh. The New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton was on hand for the opening:

THE FOUNDERS…Mary Sullivan, Lillie Bliss and Abby Rockefeller, known socially as “the daring ladies,” founded the Museum of Modern Art in 1929. (virginiafitzgerald.blogspot.com/MoMA)
OLD AND NEW…The 12th floor of the Heckscher Building (now called the Crown Building) at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street served as the first location of the Museum of Modern Art. The 1921 building was designed by Warren and Wetmore, the same architects who designed Grand Central Terminal. Note in the foreground the rooftop of the Vanderbilt mansion, demolished in 1926 to make way for the Bergdorf Goodman department store; at right, a page from the new museum’s brochure. (Museum of the City of New York/MoMA)

The gallery rooms in the Heckscher were modest — although Abby’s husband was John D. Rockefeller Jr., she had to find funding on her own (he was opposed to the museum, and to modern art). In his review, Pemberton noted the “inferiority complex” that had already set in at the new museum, which took a preemptive swipe at the Met in its pamphlet (pictured above):

AMBITIOUS…Although the museum was small and had no curatorial departments, MoMA produced a 157-page exhibition catalogue for its first show. (Image and text courtesy MoMA)
MODEST BEGINNINGS…MoMA’s first gallery spaces on the 12th floor of the Heckscher Building were indeed modest, as these photos of the first exhibition attest. (MoMA)
HOW THEY LOOKED IN COLOR…Works featured in MoMA’s first exhibition included The Bedroom (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh, and Pines and Rocks (c. 1897), by Paul Cézanne. (Art Institute of Chicago/MoMA)

Pemberton attempted to set MoMA straight regarding the Met’s reputation:

HOME AT LAST…After moving three times over the course of ten years, the Museum of Modern Art finally found a permanent home in Midtown in 1939. Although Abby Rockefeller’s husband, John D. Rockefeller Jr., was initially opposed to the museum, he eventually came around and donated the land for the 1939 museum (designed by Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone) and became one of the museum’s biggest supporters. (MoMA)

Less than three years later, the museum would point to the world to come in 1932’s Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock. The exhibition showcased an emerging architectural style that would dominate the New York skyline in the postwar years.

Top, model of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye from MoMA’s 1932 Modern Architecture: International Exhibition; below, model and photographs of works by Walter Gropius. Both architects would have major influences on the postwar New York skyline. (MoMA)

A footnote: The Museum of Modern Art hosts a remarkable website that features photographs of 4,875 exhibitions (plus images of catalogs and other materials) from 1929 to the present.

*  *  *

That’s Entertainment?

Theater critic Robert Benchley was looking for something to take his mind off the economic collapse, but he wasn’t finding it on Broadway. He found the drama Veneer to be depressing, and apparently so did a lot of other theatergoers; it closed the next month after just 31 performances at the Sam Harris Theatre:

NO LAUGHS HERE, EITHER…Joanna Roos and Osgood Perkins during a 1930 performance of the Chekhov play Uncle Vanya at the Cort Theatre. Roos was also in 1929’s Veneer, and she was singled out for praise by critic Robert Benchley, who otherwise found the play depressing. (New York Public Library)

Benchley also found little cheer in the play Cross Roads, which also closed the next month after just 28 performances at the Morosco Theatre:

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD…Actress Sylvia Sidney bawled out her lines in Cross Roads. (Photoplay, 1932)

Benchley finally found something to laugh about at the Alvin Theatre, which featured the musical comedy Heads Up! Tellingly, it ran much longer than its more somber competition: 144 performances…

CLOWNS…Victor Moore, left, and Ray Bolger delivered comic relief in Heads Up! Both actors provided much-needed levity on the Broadway stage during the Depression. (movie-mine.com/Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Ideas for a Post-Crash Christmas

Creighton Peet (1899-1977) was best known as an author of books for young people with titles ranging from Mike the Cat (1934) to How Things Work (1941). A regular contributor to the New Yorker from 1925 to 1957, in the Nov. 23 issue Peet offered up some suggestions for a post-crash Christmas in a short piece titled “Helpful Hints for Marginaires.” An excerpt:

The recent market crash was also on the mind of Howard Brubaker. In his weekly column, “Of All Things,” he looked for divine guidance…

CAN YOU PUT IN A GOOD WORD? James Cannon Jr. was a bishop of the southern Methodist Church and a relentless advocate of Prohibition. (encyclopediavirginia.org)

…in the wake of recent elections, Brubaker also made this observation about voting rights in the South…

 *  *  *

Solace of the Silver Screen

Americans would turn to the movies for a much-needed distraction from their economic woes, and critic John Mosher found a couple of mild diversions starring Greta Garbo and Clara Bow

MUM’S THE WORD…Greta Garbo and Lew Ayres in The Kiss. The film was a rare silent in the new age of the talkies (although it did feature a Movietone orchestral score and sound effects). Audiences would have to wait until 1930’s Anna Christie to hear the voice of Garbo. (IMDB)
PLEASE PASS THE BITTERS, DEAR…Greta Garbo and Anders Randolf trapped in a loveless marriage in The Kiss. (IMDB)

For a few laughs, moviegoers could check out Clara Bow’s second talkie, The Saturday Night Kid. A sex symbol of the Roaring Twenties, Bow’s career began to wane with the advent of the talkies and the onset of the Depression. Her kind would be eclipsed by a new type of sex symbol — the platinum blonde — embodied by the likes of Jean Harlow, who also appeared in The Saturday Night Kid, her first credited role…

SIBLING RIVALRY…Sisters Mayme (Clara Bow) and Janie (Jean Arthur) vie for the affections of next door neighbor William (James Hall) in a scene from The Saturday Night Kid. (doctormacro.com)
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER…Jean Arthur, Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Leone Lane in a publicity photo for The Saturday Night Kid. (IMDB)

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with a couple of ads featured on back-to-back pages of products that no longer exist — the first promotes the use of Ethyl gasoline to increase performance and eliminate engine knock. Ethyl (tetraethyl lead) — a big contributor to soil, air and water lead pollution — was removed from gasoline beginning in the 1970s…the Marmon Motor Car Company introduced a more affordable (under $1,000) car to New Yorker readers in 1929, but it was too late for the struggling company, which due to the Depression folded in 1933…

…this seems an unusual ad for the New Yorker, but then again perhaps the White Company hoped to reach well-heeled readers who were also owners of companies in need of such things, although it is doubtful a lot of truck-buying was taking place after the crash…

…the 1920s are considered a golden age for American road-building, but if you wanted to travel across country, the national highway system was limited to just a few, mostly two-lane routes…

…with their frayed nerves, folks were doubtless smoking like chimneys…the makers of Fatima cigarettes acknowledged the pain felt by the market crash, while nevertheless justifying the higher cost of their brand…

…the holiday season was fast-approaching, and Bergdorf Goodman was ready to set the mood…

…on the lower end of the scale, the California Fruit Growers offered up this dandy “juice extractor” as the gift to delight a loved one (with illustration by Don Herold)…

…I suppose given its quasi-medicinal (digestif) qualities, Cointreau was able to sell their product at 6% alcohol content to dry Americans (although the full- strength Cointreau, not legally available to Americans, was rated at 40%)…at right, another back page ad from Reuben’s restaurant, with more handwritten endorsements from stars including singer Helen Kane (Boop-Boop-a-Doop), cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and Paramount Studio co-founder Jesse Lasky

Helen Hokinson’s society women were featured in two separate ads in the Nov. 23 issue…

…and the folks at Frigidare got an extra plug thanks to Leonard Dove

Lois Long’s “On and Off the Avenue” column began to grow in length as the holiday season approached, peppered with spot drawings including these two by Julian De Miskey and Barbara Shermund

…and I. Klein offered his own take on the holiday shopping scene…

Rea Irvin reprised his folk-satirical approach to life at the Coolidge house…

John Reynolds found more humor in the clash of cultures…

Helen Hokinson contributed this very modern rendering of writer’s block…

…and Peter Arno looked in on the challenges of commuting…

…and a quick note regarding a recent issue of the New Yorker (Dec. 3, 2018)…the cover featured a reprint of a Matias Santoyo cover from April 2, 1927…very cool…

Next Time: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Writer…

 

 

 

Not Much to Cheer About

The cover of the Nov. 9, 1929 issue belied the mood of New Yorkers still reeling from the stock market crash. But then again, football games and other entertainments would grow in importance as much-needed distractions from the harsh realities that lay ahead.

Nov. 9, 1929 cover by Theodore G. Haupt. The title image is by James Montgomery Flagg, published in Life, November 15, 1929.

The New Yorker editors and writers were as bewildered as anyone in the aftermath of the crash. “The Talk of the Town” only gave it passing mention:

Robert Benchley, writing under the pseudonym “Guy Fawkes,” also looked at the market crash from the angle of the newspapers in “The Wayward Press” column. Naturally, Benchley tried to find humor in the midst of the disaster, noting that the crash provided some relief from tedious election coverage:

When the Nov. 9 New Yorker went to press, the stock market crash was viewed as a serious setback (in the sixth paragraph Benchley mentioned numerous reports of suicides), but not something that would result in worldwide depression. Indeed, much of the issue was devoted to lighter fare, including a rather lengthy piece in “Talk” about the latest craze among the nation’s youth — the yo-yo:

The Lumar 33, made of tin, was one of the original yo-yos produced by Louis Marx beginning in 1929. Hugely popular, it helped launch the Marx toy company empire. (WorthPoint)

BUT HE’S NO YO-YO…Louis Marx’s version of the yo-yo would help him launch a toy empire and land him on the cover of Time magazine, Dec. 12, 1955. (Time)

 *  *  *

Just Wait Until They Get iPads

The New Yorker showed less enthusiasm for a plan by Fox studios to introduce talking pictures into schools, hospitals and churches. Writing for “Talk,” E.B. White observed:

TECHNOLOGY INVADES THE CLASSROOM…Left to right, a still from a 1930 educational film showing archeologist Earl Morris gluing together pottery shards at a dig near Mesa Verde National Monument; ca. 1932 title card for a science film; detail from a ca. 1930 educational film demonstrating the wonders of liquid nitrogen. (archive.org)

 *  *  *

And Then There Was Light

The introduction of talking pictures in the classroom owed something to Thomas Edison (1847-1931), inventor of the incandescent light bulb and a pioneer in the development of motion pictures, among many other things. The invention of the light bulb was commemorated at a “Golden Jubilee” celebration in Dearborn, Michigan, and “The Talk of the Town” offered these observations on the occasion:

GIVING THEIR TWO CENT’S WORTH…Lights were ablaze in Dearborn, Mich., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the light bulb’s invention. “Light’s Golden Jubilee” was staged by public relations guru Edward Bernays on behalf of General Electric; below, commemorative postage stamp for the occasion. (prmuseum.org/Wikipedia)

The jubilee was the brainchild of Edward Bernays (1891-1995), often referred to as “the father of public relations.” The author of the 1928 book Propaganda, Bernays worked for dozens of corporations, and is known for his efforts in 1929 to promote cigarette smoking among women (branding them “torches of freedom”). Ironically, a man that helped many women develop a habit that led to their early deaths himself lived to the ripe age of 103.

Albert Einstein sent his best wishes from Berlin via transatlantic radio (see below), and special guests at the Jubilee included Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, seen here talking with the nearly-deaf Thomas Edison about the development of radio in this short “talkie” filmed at the Jubilee on Oct. 21, 1929:

 *  *  *

Please Release Me

Nunnally Johnson (1897-1977) was a journalist and film critic before breaking into the movies himself in the mid-1930s as a writer, producer and director of such films as The Grapes of Wrath (writer, producer) and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (writer, producer, director). As a critic Johnson learned what he didn’t like, including Al Jolson’s The Singing Fool, an early talking film that featured Jolson crooning the tear-jerker hit “Sonny Boy” to child actor Davey Lee, who portrayed his dying son. Nunnally responded with this parody titled “Sonny Boy’s Diary.” Some excerpts:

HOLD THE SCHMALTZ, AL…Nunnally Johnson, left, parodied the sentimental scenes Al Jolson shared with child actor Davey Lee in The Singing Fool. Johnson would go on to become a successful screenwriter, producer and director. (in.bookmyshow.com/virtual-history.com)

 *  *  *

Dream Space

New Yorker art critic Murdock Pemberton hailed the opening of a new museum, the Roerich, on the lower floors of the 27-story art deco Master Apartment Building. The building also housed the Master Institute of United Arts, founded in 1920 by Nicholas and Helena Roerich.

The art deco landmark Master Building on Riverside Drive (left, in 1929) originally housed the Roerich Museum in its lower floors. Today the Roerich is located in this brownstone at 319 West 107th. (Wikipedia)

FOOTNOTES FROM A FULL LIFE…Two of Nicholas Roerich’s paintings from the 1920s: at top, Remember, 1924; below, Drops of Life, 1924. (roerich.org)

 *  *  *

A Tenor for the Times

The crooner Rudy Vallée (1901-1986) became an overnight sensation after his Oct. 24, 1929 debut on national radio. Already a popular New York bandleader (and sometime local radio personality), his appearance on NBC’s Fleischmann’s Yeast Radio Hour made him a national sensation, especially among young women. According to Ian Whitcomb in his book, The Coming of the Crooners, Vallée’s thin, wavering tenor was not well-suited to the stage (especially in pre-microphone days when booming voices prevailed) but it worked magic on the radio, soft voices ideal for this more intimate medium (Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and other popular crooners would soon follow). The New Yorker’s “On The Air” column (signed “A.S.”) had this to say about Vallée’s return:

BALM FOR WEARY SOULS…Rudy Vallée’s soothing voice and easy-going manner were just what the nation needed days after the stock market crash. According to Anthony Rudel of Old Time Radio, “At 8 pm on the night of October 24th, 1929, just after the ubiquitous Graham McNamee introduced him, Vallée became a national radio star.” It was the debut of NBC’s Fleischmann’s Yeast Radio Hour, which soon came to be known as the Rudy Vallée Show. (Fleischmann was also a major benefactor of the New Yorker). Photo at left, Vallée with McNamee; at right, child actor Dorothy Gray and Vallée in the comedy talkie, The Vagabond Lover (1929). (otrcat.com/IMDB)

A giant among conductors of the 20th century, Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) was already well-known to live audiences in New York, having conducted at both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. Unlike Vallée, the Italian conductor’s radio broadcast was limited to the range of the New York radio station WOR. Toscanini would make his national radio debut in the States in 1937, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

THE MAESTRO…Arturo Toscanini, renowned for his intensity and perfectionism, was said to have perfect pitch. After leaving fascist Italy in 1936, he became a household name across the US thanks to the NBC Symphony Orchestra’s presence both on national radio (beginning in 1937) and television (1948-1952). (The Economist)

The New Yorker also noted the successful transmission of three transatlantic broadcasts, including remarks spoken by Albert Einstein from Berlin to the Electric Light Golden Jubilee in Dearborn, Michigan:

RELATIVELY SPEAKING…Albert Einstein prepares to congratulate Thomas Edison via transatlantic radio on the 50th anniversary of the incandescent light bulb, Oct. 21, 1929. (UT College of Liberal Arts)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Now that we are post-market crash, we will be seeing the effects of that crash on New Yorker advertisers. Here are three advertisers from the Nov. 9 issue not long for the world: from left, the high-fashion salon Stewart & Company would file for bankruptcy and go out of business by the spring of 1930; Pierce-Arrow, maker of rolling status symbols for the wealthy, ceased car production in 1933; Hanan & Son, a leader in the mass production of shoes, would go bankrupt and fold by 1935.

Already at this early date advertisers were responding to tightening belts — this appeal from the Cuban Tourism Commission offered “an opportunity to forget business” while traveling on the cheap…

…other ads were the usual fare, this one from Lux Toilet soap featured its latest young celebrity, Dorothy McNulty (1908-2003), who changed her name to Penny Singleton in 1937 before starring in more than two-dozen Blondie-themed comedies (based on the Chic Young comic strip) with co-star Arthur Lake (who portrayed Dagwood Bumstead). She dyed her naturally brunette hair (as seen in the ad) blonde for the first Blondie movie in 1938, and continued to do so for the rest of her long life. A career that truly spanned several generations, she also provided the voice for Jane Jetson in The Jetsons in its original airing in the early 1960s and in later revivals through 1990…

THE MANY FACES OF PENNY SINGLETON…At left, before she was the film star Penny Singleton, Dorothy McNulty was a popular star on Broadway, as this ad from the Nov. 9 New Yorker attests. At top, Singleton with Blondie co-star Arthur Lake in the first installment of that popular 27-film series, 1938; a still from The Jetsons 1962-63, for which Singleton provided the voice of Jane Jetson. (IMDB/Hanna-Barbera)

…on to other ads, the one on the left is another sad example of how manufacturers of spirits tried to market non-alcoholic versions of their libations to Prohibition-starved Americans (“especially distilled for the American market”)…at right, an ad from Knox hatters, with a somber rendering of a young woman (maybe she’s headed to the party in the other ad) wearing a fashion that would be popular in the early Thirties…the old flapper hat, along with the Jazz Age, was dead as a doornail…

…oh well, at least you could stay healthy by smoking lots of cigarettes…

…we’ve seen ads illustrated by other New Yorker cartoonists including Peter Arno, Rea Irvin, and Julian De Miskey; Helen Hokinson got in on the action with this ad touting G. Washington instant coffee…the first instant coffee to be produced on a mass scale, G. Washington was so well known it was referred to as a “cup of George.” The brand was discontinued in 1961…

…on to our comics, an awkward moment courtesy Peter Arno

W.P. Trent illustrated a backstage exchange regarding the ado over a popular dance troupe, the Albertina Rasch Girls…

…for reference…

MGM publicity photo from 1929 of the Albertina Rasch Girls, who traveled to Hollywood to appear in the Technicolor finale of the film Hollywood Revue of 1929. (dimitritiomkin.com)

…and John Reynolds explored the clash of the Old World and the New…

…and before I go, a correction from my last post, in which I incorrectly attributed this poem in the Nov. 2 issue to British humorist P.G. Wodehouse:

An alert reader kindly pointed out that “Ode to Peter Stuyvesant” isn’t by Wodehouse, but by another person with the initials PGW — Philip G. Wylie.

Screenwriter and satirist Philip G. Wylie in an undated photo. (Wikipedia)

I always enjoy hearing from readers of this blog, and especially appreciate comments that help me keep this account historically accurate, as well as fun and informative.

Next Time: Back to Business…

 

While You Were Away

During the Roaring Twenties New Yorkers took a wrecking ball to much of their past, and at a breathtaking pace that left many residents little time to ponder what was lost.

March 30, 1929 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Writer and cultural critic Gilbert Seldes succinctly summed up this spirit of the times in a tongue-in-cheek “reminiscence” of the “old” New York—that is, how the city appeared the previous fall before he left to spend the winter in Bermuda:

NOW WHERE WILL I GET A WALDORF SALAD? Writer Gilbert Seldes (top left) ticked off some of the many changes to his city while he was away for the winter, including (clockwise, from top right), the murder of racketeer Arnold Rothstein; the planned demolition of the Waldorf Astoria to make room for the Empire State Building (photo of the partially demolished hotel); and perhaps the first song to be overplayed on the radio ad nauseumAl Jolson’s “Sonny Boy.” (Wikipedia, Daily News, New York Public Library, musicals101.com)

A member of the intellectual elite but also a strong advocate for cultural democracy, Seldes began writing for the New Yorker in late 1925 and would be a frequent contributor through 1936. In 1937 he would join CBS as its first director of television programs, and would also become one of television’s first critics thanks to his 1937 Atlantic Monthly article, “The ‘Errors’ of Television.” (Note: There were only 50 experimental TV sets in the New York area in 1937, and the first commercially available sets weren’t sold until 1939). In 1958—when there would be 42 million U.S. households with a television—Seldes would serve as the host of NBC’s The Subject is Jazz.

THE SUBJECT IS JAZZ host Gilbert Seldes in 1958 visiting with the show’s producer, George Norford; at right, Seldes interviewing Duke Ellington. (Getty Images)

 *  *  *

Peggy Bacon Did It All

Another early contributor to the New Yorker was Peggy Bacon, who displayed her sharp wit in her nearly 50 articles and poems for the magazine from 1926 to 1950. But Bacon was also well-known for displaying her talent and wit in the many paintings and illustrations she created throughout her long career. The New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton sang her praises in the March 30, 1929 issue after visiting her show at the Weyhe Gallery.

A FEW IDEAS was the title of this 1927 drypoint work featured in Peggy Bacon’s Weyhe Gallery show. At right, Bacon, circa 1920s. (artnet.com/wikipedia)
A sampling of Peggy Bacon drypoint works from the 1920s, clockwise, from top: Frenzied Effort, 1925; Vanity, 1929; Penguin Island, 1926. (Brooklyn Museum/Artnet/1stdibs.com)

 *  *  *

The March 30 profile featured aviation innovator Giuseppe Mario Bellanca, who in 1922 designed the first enclosed-cabin monoplane in the U.S. Perhaps even more significant, his design in 1913 of a plane with a propeller in front, a wing in the middle and tail at the end set the standard for all aircraft built since. (Before 1913 many planes were propelled from the rear, with the “tail” projected in front of the craft). The profile writer, William Weimer (with art by Hugo Gellert) admired Bellanca’s ability to stand toe-to-toe with the mighty du Pont family:

Bellanca founded the Roos-Bellanca Aircraft Company in Omaha in 1927, and was featured on the cover of Time. In 1929 he created the Delaware-based Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America in a financial partnership with the du Ponts.

AVIATION PIONEER Giuseppe Mario Bellanca (center) at the new Bellanca Airfield in New Castle, Delaware, 1928. Bellanca’s planes would establish numerous records for altitude, endurance, and speed. (Delaware Public Archives)

 *  *  *

Showing Some Restraint

In his “Sky Line” column, the New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell (aka “T-Square”) praised an award-winning 1928 apartment at 3 East 84th Street for its contemporary charm and “fine restraint.” Designed by Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells, the 9-story building was commissioned by Joseph Medill Patterson, owner of the New York Daily News. The design would be influential in Hood’s much more ambitious projects two years later—the Daily News Building (1930) and Rockefeller Center (1931).


The Raymond Hood– and John Mead Howells-designed 3 East 84th Street. Top right, the front entrance; and bottom right, ceiling’s silver leaf squares. (Susan DeMark–mindfulwalker.com)

 *  *  *

Advertisers in the March 30 issue offered various garments for the gentleman, including this sports-country ensemble at left from Finchley and a custom lounging robe from Macy’s…

…and for fashionable, amusingly mischievous woman there was the new “Scalawag” hat by Knox (ad illustrated by the great Carl Erickson)

…Blue Moon’s blonde fairy girl was one of the Jazz Age’s most recognizable labels…here she is matched with an Art Deco-inspired spectrum of stocking colors…

…Ligget & Myers Tobacco Company joined the ranks of sophisticated advertisers who touted a product—in this case Fatima cigarettes—without actually showing the product…

…on the other hand, American Tobacco Company, the makers of Lucky Strike, made doubly sure you wouldn’t forget that bright red bullseye, or Rosalie Adele Nelson, “The Original Lucky Poster Girl”…

Nelson’s image for Lucky Strike was almost as ubiquitous as the fairy in the Blue Moon ads. Apparently she was also a member the Nelson family of circus acrobats and performed her own signature act with baby elephants:

Rosalie Adele Nelson with her baby elephant act, 1929 (eBay)

Philip Morris took an entirely different (and unusual) approach to selling its relatively new brand of Marlboro cigarettes by touting the achievements of Gretchen Colnik, winner of the “1928 Marlboro Contest for Distinguished Handwriting….”

Like Rosalie Adele Nelson, Gretchen Colnik would go on to minor fame of her own. She was managing editor of the Great Neck, NY, newspaper before returning to her hometown—Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From 1952 to 1966 Gretchen was the Martha Stewart of Milwaukee, hosting a TV show that provided advice on interior design, food and crafts. “The Gretchen Colnik Show” was sponsored by Mrs. Karl’s Bread.

Our cartoon is by Leonard Dove, who looks in on an architect at work:

The Cruelest Month

The film reviews for the April 6, 1929 issue found the New Yorker once again at odds with Hollywood and favoring cinematic products from the Old World.

April 6, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

In the case it was a French film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, which even today is regarded as a cinematic landmark.

A LOT AT STAKE…American poster for The Passion of Joan of Arc; at right, Maria Falconetti in the title role. (Wikipedia/Film Forum)

The New Yorker review praised the film as “one of the few of the year which merit serious attention”…

On the other hand, there were the latest products from Hollywood, which stood on the other side of a “vast abyss” from the French film:

HO HUM FOR HOLLYWOOD…At left, Mary Dugan (Norma Shearer) with her conniving lawyer, Edward West (Lewis Stone) in The Trial of Mary Dugan; Lewis Stone was a apparently a busy man in the late 1920s—here he is again (center image), this time portraying John Sterling, a tea plantation investor lacking the mojo to keep up with his much younger wife, Lillie (Greta Garbo) in Wild Orchids; and at right, Janet Gaynor as a little Dutch girl in Christina, a film now considered lost. Click image to enlarge (normashearer.com/pinterest)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

The April 6 issue found Charlie Chaplin getting in on the action of Old Gold cigarette endorsements…

…while Curtiss Flying Service thought it might interest some of the more well-heeled New Yorker readers in the purchase of an airplane…

…a couple weeks later, in the April 20 issue, the New Yorker would make this observation about the ad in “The Talk of the Town”…

…and finally, our cartoon by R. Van Buren, looking in on yet another sugar daddy and his much younger companion on a night out…

Next Time: Generation of Vipers…

A Bird’s Eye View

The New Yorker’s E.B. White was an aviation enthusiast who rhapsodized about his flights into the clouds, but also had prescience to see the darker side of this modern thrill ride.

October 6, 1928 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Writing in the “Reporter at Large” column for the Oct. 6, 1928 issue, White described his visit to Curtiss Field, where he inquired about a pilot who could fly him over New York City. He was told someone named Bill would take him up.

EARLY BIRD…This Fairchild FC-2 Cabin Monoplane, with strut-supported wing, was probably similar to the plane E.B. White rode in his flight over New York City. (Quora)

After a half hour wait, a man in a gray felt hat and sack suit offered White a cigarette and said, “You want to fly over New York?” Although the man didn’t look like a pilot, White followed him to a “little cabin monoplane.” Without saying another word the man took the plane up into the air, much to White’s surprise:

FLYBOY…E.B. White (left) with friend and New Yorker colleague James Thurber in 1929. (University of Virginia)

White described the various sites from 800 feet up, including Coney Island, a view at once beautiful and foreboding…

AMUSING SIGHT…Aerial view of Coney Island in 1920. (Pinterest)

…and the thrill of the approaching city skyline as his plane soared up the Bay toward Manhattan:

Lower Manhattan looking northeast from the Bay in July 1927. This is approximately the view described by E.B. White as his plane approached Manhattan. (Favrify.com)
A closer view of lower Manhattan as it would have appeared to E.B. White on his 1928 flight over New York City. (Fairchild Aerial Survey photo, 1928)

Once over the city, White could not help but contain his exuberance, soaring high above the towering spires and teeming crowds below:

And yet as I noted earlier, his observations were tinged with melancholy and foreboding. In describing his flight over Coney Island, for example, White concluded that “the world in general seems sadly beautiful, it is so soon to be gone entirely.”

Perhaps he referred to the rapid changes seen daily in the city during the 1920s, when nothing seemed permanent. Or did this bird’s eye view suggest something else to White? Twenty years later, in his 1948 essay “Here is New York,” White would write:

A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.

Unlike 1928, White had the hindsight of World War II, of entire cities leveled by waves of heavy bombers, or in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just a single bomb. The foreshadowing of 9/11 is contained in his words as well.

Back on the ground at Curtiss Field, White would finally learn the identity of the man who didn’t look like a pilot, but had just flown him over the city:

Another Vantage Point

With buildings rising ever higher in Manhattan, you could get a pretty good view of the surrounding city by taking an elevator to the rooftop of the latest skyscraper. The Oct. 6 “Talk of the Town” found a good perch atop the 680-foot-tall Chanin building on the southwestern corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street.

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP…The Chanin Building at Lexington and 42nd. Sloan & Robertson Architects, 1928. (Favrify.com)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Something you never see in the New Yorker anymore, or in most magazines for that matter, are ads promoting various brands of gasoline. This one touts the benefits of Tydol, produced by the (now defunct) Tide Water Oil Company of New York:

For our Oct. 6 cartoon, here is one of Rea Irvin’s occasional multi-panel, two-page comic spreads, this one exploring the ordeal of a man who couldn’t think of the word for a type of natural plastic used in the 1920s (click to enlarge image):

 *  *  *

The Oct. 13, 1928 issue featured a notable short story by Thyra Samter Winslow, a writer who contributed nearly a dozen pieces to the New Yorker in 1927 and 1928.

October 13, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Her short story on page 25, “But for the Grace of God,” was a “key transitional work” for the magazine, according to Ben Yagoda in his book About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made. He writes: “Realistic fiction thrives in periods of social ambiguity and flux, and the attention to class was on of the factors working to propel New Yorker writing from two-dimensional sketches to fleshed out short stories.” Yagoda observes that Winslow’s story, “in its carefully selected details, its mild epiphany, and its attention to the potency of class…is an accomplished and poignant piece of short fiction.” Excerpts:

GROUNDBREAKER…Thyra Samter Winslow, circa 1920s. She wrote more than 200 pieces for New York magazines between 1915 to 1955, as well as Hollywood screenplays, early television scripts, and several books. She was married to New Yorker staff writer Fillmore Hyde. (playinginthepages.blogspot.com)

You can read more about Thyra Samter Winslow in Savannah Fry’s excellent blog, Playing the Pages.

* * *

The New Yorker continued its stubborn refusal to report on baseball in its sports section, even though the Yankees were in the process of taking their second consecutive World Series title with a 4-0 sweep over the favored St. Louis Cardinals. The magazine did, however, mention the game in the Oct. 13, 1928 “Talk of the Town” — not on how it was played, but rather on how the championship money was distributed among players and assistants:

Money matters in the game of sport were more informal 90 years ago, with players themselves divvying up money to other players, trainers, mascots and batboys. For example, in 1927 Yankees batboy Eddie Bennett received $700 for the one-eighth World Series share voted him by the team. This sum earned over the four days of the series nearly equalled a batboy’s pay for a full year.

GOOD LUCK CHARM…Yankee batboy Eddie Bennett in the 1920s. Although a spinal injury as an infant left him hunchbacked, Bennett would serve as Yankee batboy for 12-years — a period that would include seven pennants and four World Series titles. (sabr.org)

 *  *  *

Although European-inspired modern furniture was all the rage among certain members of the New York smart set, writer Joseph Fulling Fishman (best known for his writing on contemporary prison conditions) offered a dissenting view in the Oct. 13 edition. An excerpt:

In the art review section, critic Murdock Pemberton also seemed a bit perplexed by modern design, in this case by the work of Ukrainian-born avant-garde artist Alexander Archipenko. His Archipentura was an electronic machine that displayed pre-loaded images of a female undressing by rolling painted canvas through a complex system of sprockets and belts. He intended the machine “to do for painting what the motion picture did for photography.” Pemberton observed:

THINK DIFFERENTLY…Alexander Archipenko (right, circa 1920), intended his intended his Archipentura machine (pictured in front and side views) “to do for painting what the motion picture did for photography.” (Wikipedia/Archipenko Foundation)

*  *  *

From Our Oct. 13 Advertisers

Yet another endorsement for cigarettes from the posh set. This time Melachrino Cigarettes got in on the action with this endorsement by Augusta Barney Harriman.

For our cartoon, Peter Arno once again looked in on the mannerisms of the upper class, contrasting a lithe young flapper with the imposing presence of a battle-axe. Note how the young woman uses the archaic British “mater” in reference to her mother…

Next Time: The Prohibition Portia…

Mutt & Jeff

We close out November 1927 by looking at a hugely popular comic strip–Mutt & Jeff–that made cartoonist Harry Conway (Bud) Fisher both famous and wealthy.

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-10-05-52-am
Nov. 19 and Nov. 26, 1927 covers by Rea Irvin.

The editors of the Nov. 26, 1927 issue of the New Yorker thought Fisher interesting enough to feature in a lengthy “Profile,” written by Kelly Coombs. A brief excerpt:

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-50-02-pm

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-50-10-pm

According to John Adcock’s terrific Yesterday’s Papers blog, by 1916 Bud Fisher was the highest paid cartoonist on earth. The New Yorker suggested his annual income was $300,000 (roughly equivalent to more than $4 million today). In addition to the strips, created by Fisher and a team of ghost illustrators/writers, Mutt & Jeff were featured in vaudeville engagements, theatrical shows, animated cartoons, comic books and toys.

muttmagicdark1380
DIE LAUGHING…Mutt & Jeff themed toys included this joke kit from Mysto Manufacturing. I don’t quite get the joke featured on the cover, depicting Jeff’s casually twisted approach to murdering poor Mutt. (melbirnkrant.com)
m902d5g
IT’S A LIVING…Harry Conway (Bud) Fisher, drawing a likeness of the character “Jeff” at a Chicago Daily News event in 1915. (Chicago History Museum)

Fisher began his career as a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle and started his strip about “two mismatched tinhorns” in 1907. It went into syndication the following year. Mutt and Jeff, originally titled A. Mutt, is regarded as the first American newspaper cartoon published as a strip of panels, making it the first “comic strip.”

There was obviously a time when American readers thought Mutt & Jeff hilarious, but I don’t quite get its appeal. In this strip from 1926, Jeff gets a pie in the face. The giant question mark was frequently employed by Fisher, as were the dotted eye lines and explanatory arrows like the one in the last panel. No, Jeff didn’t get his brains blown out by Mutt. It is only a pie! Hah Hah!

muttjeff052326b
Click on image to enlarge

Another visual cliché from comics of yore was the angry wife wielding a rolling pin. Apparently Jeff refers to Mutt’s wife as an “Old Buzzard” and assumes she is already in bed (sorry about the poor quality of the reproduction). Jeff subsequently gets whacked with the rolling pin, and Mutt takes it on the bean with a flatiron. That is quite a feat, throwing a grown man through a window while simultaneously hitting him on the head with a flatiron…

muttjeff112429a
Click on image to enlarge (Both strips courtesy University of Michigan)

The duo were also featured in more than 300 animated “half-reelers” produced between 1913 and 1926, including Mutt and Jeff: On Strike from 1920. The short film (which can be viewed here) even includes rare footage of Bud Fisher himself, since the story–sort of a film within a film–involves the penniless Mutt and Jeff going on strike after they see a movie featuring Fisher’s lavish home.

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-12-50-34-pm
STRIKEBREAKER…Still images from the silent half-reeler, Mutt and Jeff: On Strike. Fisher is shown at home discussing terms over the phone with his striking characters. They lose. (www.filmpreservation.org)

Coombs concluded the New Yorker “Profile” with these observations concerning Fisher’s personal habits:

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-50-19-pm

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-50-30-pm

Fisher employed a number of assistants on the strip, including  George Herriman (Krazy Kat) and a high-school boy named Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are). When Fisher appeared to lose interest in the strip in the 1930s, assistant Al Smith took over and drew the strip for nearly fifty years (but Smith didn’t sign his own name on the strip until after Fisher’s death in 1954).

In Yesterday’s Papers, Adcock notes that Fisher “was the unlikeliest person you could think of to draw Mutt and Jeff…along with most of his contemporary cartoonist-journalists pals, (he) enjoyed fights, chorus girls, gambling, and saloons. Fisher liked to shoot up hotel rooms with his pistols, one of which was a gift from Pancho Villa, indoors when he was drunk.”

Heads in the Clouds

Thanks to the race to fly across the Atlantic, toy models of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and other planes were in high demand for the Christmas season, according to this item in the Nov. 26, 1927, “Talk of the Town:”

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-42-51-pm

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-42-56-pm

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-9-48-40-am
BUILT TO LAST…A Metalcraft model kit (box, upper image, contents below) from the late 1920s. It was all metal in the days before plastic model kits. (eBay)

 *  *  *

At a Loss For Words

Jumping back to the Nov. 19, 1927 issue, we go from the low art of Bud Fisher to the high art of John Marin featured in “The Art Galleries” section of the New Yorker. Art critic Murdock Pemberton wrote:

the-art-galleries-marin-1

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-10-01-51-am
SAVAGE WORK…John Marin, White Horses – Sea Movement off Deer Isle, Maine, 1926. (Whitney Museum of American Art)

But perhaps “high art” is not an accurate description of Marin’s paintings, since Marin himself wasn’t into “highfalutin words” to describe his work…

marin-2-signed-mp

12032401444_4bb042eb04_b
HAUNTING BEAUTY…John Marin, Echo Lake Franconia Range White Mountain Country, 1927 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.)

 *  *  *

In the previous week’s issue (Nov. 12) Marmon 8 was advertised as an ideal car for women. Not to be outdone, the folks at Buick shot back with this colorful ad in the Nov. 19 issue of the New Yorker:

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-19-18-pm

The Nov. 19 issue also featured this strange advertisement from the famed Wanamaker department store. Strange mainly because of the illustration, which features a fashionable woman departing a fanciful aircraft studded with mullioned windows(!) and a staircase that stretches to improbable depths…oh, and in case the reader might miss the snob appeal associated with French furs, the words Paris, Parisian or French are featured ten times…

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-20-53-pm

And finally, the ubiquitous New Yorker cartoon featuring the humorous mismatch of rich old duffer and ditzy young mistress, courtesy of Julian de Miskey…

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-25-20-pm

Next Time: More Funny Business…

dec-3

 

 

Fighting For Respect

Screenshot 2015-07-09 11.55.39
Oct. 17, 1925 cover by Max Ree.

The New Yorker catered to both Anglo- and Francophile readers in its early issues, especially in advertisements, although such pretensions were also satirized in its pages. The fledgling magazine, however, took great pains to show that it was something new, modern and very American.

A case in point is the treatment of artist George Bellows, whose untimely death from appendicitis earlier that year, at the age of 43, was followed by a memorial exhibition of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

George_bellows
George Bellows. (Wikipedia)

Bellows was from Columbus, Ohio, and was a pupil of fellow Midwesterner Robert Henri (Nebraska) at the New York School of Art. There Bellows became closely associated with Henri’s Ashcan School, a group of artists who advocated painting contemporary American society in all its grittiness.

In Bellows The New Yorker saw a fresh voice that gave form to the roiling life of a great city (Joseph Mitchell would later do the same with words for the magazine). The magazine also used the memorial exhibit as an opportunity to chide the Metropolitan Museum and its old-fashioned, Euro-centric tastes in art.

Bellows_George_Dempsey_and_Firpo_1924
One of Bellow’s last and perhaps most famous paintings from 1924 depicted the famous 1923 Dempsey-Firpo fight at the Polo Grounds (Wikipedia)

In the previous week’s issue (Oct. 10), “The Talk of the Town” noted that the upcoming memorial exhibition was “not quite the usual thing” for the Met (that is, to accord such recognition to an American artist). The “lanky Midwesterner” Bellows offered something unique:

Screenshot 2015-07-09 12.07.44

The same column noted that Bellows possessed something of a wit:

Screenshot 2015-07-09 12.08.12

In the Oct. 17 issue, art critic Murdock Pemberton offered these pointed observations of the opening of the memorial exhibition:

Screenshot 2015-07-10 16.24.53

murdock1
Murdock Pemberton (New York Observer)

Murdock Pemberton himself is something of an interesting story. He co-hosted the luncheon that started the Algonquin Round Table, and was art critic at The New Yorker for more than seven years. The dismissal of this gifted and influential writer was probably one of Harold Ross’s biggest screw-ups as editor. You can read more about Pemberton in this Jan. 24, 2012, New Yorker article by Andrea Scott, who wrote that Pemberton “may be the most interesting person you’ve never heard of.”

Screenshot 2015-07-10 16.14.58
Sumner, by Johan Bull

The Oct. 17 issue also included an interview with John Saxton Sumner, who headed the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, a state censorship body empowered to recommend obscenity cases to prosecutors.

Sumner was quoted as saying it “may be impossible to legislate morals into humanity. But we can legislate decent conduct into humanity.” He also offered these insights:

Screenshot 2015-07-10 16.14.44

As I mentioned in my last post, thanks to an ailing Babe Ruth and the slumping Yankees, college football took center stage in “Sports of the Week,” especially with “rivalry” games that drew crowds (and revenue) to Yankee Stadium. John R. Tunis continued his coverage of the sport with an account of a game between the North and the South (Penn State and Georgia Tech) in Yankee Stadium. Georgia Tech prevailed 16-7.

“Profiles” examined the life of Doctor Abraham Arden Brill, an Austrian-born psychiatrist who was the first psychoanalyst to practice in the United States and the first translator of Freud into English. It was no surprise that Brill found America ripe for this new type of therapy.

In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long pondered the popularity of “the Charleston” at smart night clubs:

Screenshot 2015-07-10 16.30.17

C’MON…Teens dancing the Charleston in the 1920s. (flavorwire.com)

And to close, another political ad that seems out of place in The New Yorker:

Screenshot 2015-07-10 16.05.39

There’s something chilling about the ad. Perhaps it’s because the unsmiling faces of Tammany Hall suggest more a rogue’s gallery than a political line-up. As we know, Walker will get elected and go down in scandal in 1932, with McKee then serving as acting mayor for remainder of Walker’s term–just three months.

Next Time: A French Twist.

Screenshot 2015-07-10 16.32.07