The Radio City

The NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza have wowed visitors and performers alike for nearly 90 years. Today we look back at the remarkable foresight of the studios’ designers, who created spaces that would one day accommodate a new medium called television, which was still in its experimental stages.

Nov. 4, 1933 cover by Robert Day, who contributed a total of eight covers to The New Yorker.

However, before we jump in, let’s look at Robert Day’s cover for the Nov. 4 issue, which featured a familiar character who made his first appearance on the cover of issue #12 (May 9, 1925), and returned four years later looking much older in the dog days of August…

Cover of issue #12 (May 9, 1925) by Rea Irvin introduced our street sweeper, who returned Aug. 3, 1929 by the hand of Gardner Rea.

Day’s cover, however, was also a nod to the annual gathering of autumn leaves—an occasional cover theme that began with Peter Arno’s contribution to the Nov. 27, 1926 issue (below, left) and most recently expressed in Adrian Tomine’s cover for the Nov. 7, 2022 issue (with timely pandemic reference)…

Back to Radio City, Morris Markey recounted the technological wonders of the new NBC studios in his “A Reporter at Large” column, “Marconi Started It.” Markey noted the “fabulous quality” of the facilities, wired for the day when television would arrive. Excerpts:

GEE WHIZ…Morris Markey could be assured that some folks would be “goggled-eyed” by NBC studios, including the technophiles at Popular Mechanics. (westmb.org)
WHERE HISTORY WAS MADE…Studio 8H was the world’s largest radio studio when it opened in 1933. It would be converted for television in 1950. (westmb.org)

Markey marveled at NBC Studios’ various design innovations, including a revolving control room dubbed the “Clover Leaf”…

(Modern Mechanics, Jan. 1931)

Almost 90 years later, the studios continue to serve the broadcast needs of the 21st century, including Studio 8H…

LIVE FROM NEW YORK…Studio 8H was the world’s largest radio studio when it opened in 1933. Converted to television in 1950, it has been home to Saturday Night Live since 1975. Above, SNL stage manager Gena Rositano, in 2015. Below, longtime SNL director Don Roy King at the controls for Studio 8H, also in 2015. (Dana Edelson/NBC via Directors Guild of America)

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Leopold!

Conductor Leopold Stokowski was no stranger to Studio 8H. From 1941 to 1944 he led the NBC Symphony Orchestra in that venue. One of the leading conductors of the early and mid-20th century, Stokowski (1882–1977) began his musical career in New York City in 1905 as the organist and choir director at St. Bartholomew’s Church, but by 1915 he was conducting the famed Philadelphia Orchestra. Robert Simon reported on Stokowski’s return to New York for a performance at Carnegie Hall. A brief excerpt:

I GET AROUND…Portrait Of Leopold Stokowski by Edward Steichen, Dec. 1, 1933. Married three times and once romantically linked to Greta Garbo, he was married to wife #3, Gloria Vanderbilt, for ten years.(Condé Nast)

Stokowski had the distinct honor of being satirized in a 1949 Looney Tunes cartoon, “Long-Haired Hare,” in which Bugs Bunny disguised himself as the conductor and entered the stage to the astonished whispers of the orchestra…Leopold! Leopold!…

MAESTRO…Bugs Bunny as Stokowski in “Long-Haired Hare.”

Stokowski was no stranger to animation. The conductor appeared in silhouette in Disney’s Fantasia (1940), leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in the film’s score. He even shook hands with Mickey Mouse.

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Bigga Badda Wolfa

The New Yorker took a look at the popular records of the day, and in addition to tunes by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallée there was yet another release of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”…Ethel Shutta was the latest of seemingly dozens of artists to cash in on the Disney hit…

I’LL HUFF AND I’LL PUFF…Those who couldn’t get enough of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” could turn to Ethel Shutta’s rendition of the hit song on Columbia records. (discogs.com)

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Page-Turner

Writer Kay Boyle wasn’t afraid of wolves or any other subject for that matter, according to book reviewer Clifton Fadiman

TOSSING A SALACIOUS SALAD…Kay Boyle, photographed by George Platt Lynes, 1941. (The Kay Boyle Papers, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University)

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A Grapeful Nation

As New Yorkers counted the days until the end of Prohibition, The New Yorker did its part to get readers back up to speed by enlisting the talents of one of the world’s great wine experts, Frank Schoonmaker, who had the enviable job of filing a series of wine reports for the magazine. His first installment of “News From the Wine Country” featured the Champagne region. Excerpts:

THAT FIZZY FEELING…Bottling the good stuff in the Champagne region, circa 1930. (wineterroirs.com)

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From Our Advertisers

Christmas was just around the corner, and F.A.O. Schwarz was READY with its 64-page catalog…

…White Rock anticipated the end of Prohibition with an ad featuring a miniature colonel who apparently needed a stiff drink to prepare for his wife’s return from abroad…

…Mrs. Hamilton Fish Jr, aka Grace Chapin, was married to the New York congressman from 1920 until her death in 1960, apparently enjoying many Camels along the way…her husband would go on living another 31 years and take three more brides before expiring at age 102…

…another cautionary tale from Chase & Sanborne about the perils of undated coffee…

…and with the holidays approaching, a jolly ditty from Jones Dairy Farm, home to little piggies who merrily dash toward their inevitable slaughter…

…and we jump to another back-page ad, this from the stately Plaza, where you could get a single room for five bucks a night…

…turning to the cartoons, we find George Price hitting his stride with multiple cartoons in consecutive issues…

…and taking a look at the recent elections…

…on to James Thurber, and continuing struggles on the domestic front…

…and that brings us to our next issue…

Nov. 11, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

…in which E.B. White had a thing or two to say about the latest edition of the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden.

HORSE SENSE AND SENSIBILITY…The National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden was a major event on New York’s social calendar; top and bottom right, scenes from the 1936 show; bottom left, undated scene circa 1960. (Stills from YouTube)

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Versatile Verse

Phyllis McGinley (1905–1978) was the author of children’s books and poetry, the latter genre most notably for The New Yorker. However, she attracted a wide audience for her light verse in other publications ranging from Ladies Home Journal to The Saturday Review.

LIGHT TOUCH…Phyllis McGinley in an undated photo. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her book Times Three—the first writer of light verse to receive the prize. (wnyc.org)

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Oil and Water

Art and architecture critic Lewis Mumford found two very different visions of America in the works of contemporaries John Marin and Edward Hopper. Marin’s watercolors were featured at An American Place, while Hopper’s oil paintings and etchings were shown down the street at the Museum of Modern Art.

SIDE BY SIDE…Lewis Mumford found different visions of New York and the world at An American Place and MoMA galleries. At left, John Marin’s watercolor From the Bridge, N.Y.C. (1933); at right, Edward Hopper’s Room in New York, also from 1933. (Artists Rights Society/Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery)

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More From Our Advertisers

Okay, so I’ll buy the part about PBR’s ability to soothe “jaded nerves,” but I doubt it gave this guy “fresh energy” and “a sound, healthy body”…

…After thirteen long years, winemakers emerged from their cellars to glimpse the light of a new day…

…and yes, after thirteen long years, some folks would be yearning for their DRY SACK Sherry…

…the name Elizabeth Hawes was synonymous with high fashion in the late 1920s and 1930s—she owned one of the most exclusive couture houses in New York…

…an outspoken advocate of dress reform, Hawes (1903–1971) was referred to by one historian as “the Dorothy Parker of fashion criticism.” After attacking the fashion industry with her 1938 book, Fashion Is Spinach (Hawes wrote: “I don’t know when the word fashion came into being, but it was an evil day…”), she closed her fashion house and in 1942 took a job as a machine operator at a wartime plant in New Jersey. She became a union organizer, a champion of gender equality, and a critic of American consumerism.

IN A LEAGUE OF HER OWN…Elizabeth Hawes — writer, fashion designer and political activist, poses for a photograph in 1941. (Mary Morris Lawrence)

…speaking of consumerism, ooooh look! A radio “you can slip in your pocket,” depending of course on the size of your pocket…

…transistors would not come along until the late 1950s, so the Kadette still depended on tubes, and you had to plug it in somewhere, so no running down the beach with headphones, at least for awhile…

The Kadette Junior. (radiolaguy.com)

…it must have been a rare treat to sail on a ship like the SS Santa Rosa—situated between the ship’s two funnels, the dining room had an atrium stretching up two-and-a-half decks and featured a retractable roof…

…on to more cartoons, and more George Price

…moving along, we received some big news from one of Helen Hokinson’s “girls”…

…an aside I’ve been meaning to include…in 1952, just three years after Helen Hokinson’s untimely death, a cartoonist for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Franklin Folger, debuted a cartoon called “The Girls.” The cartoon was eventually syndicated and appeared in more than 150 newspapers worldwide before Folger retired it in 1977. Perhaps I am missing something, but I cannot find a single reference to Folger’s obvious appropriation of Hokinson’s “girls”…some examples of Folger’s work from the early 1960s and another from H.H. for comparison:

…and onward to Peter Arno, and the trials of portrait artists…

…and we close with two by Barbara Shermund

…rendered in different styles…

Next Time: Arno’s Pep Talk…

Body and Soul

After completing a major in French in just three years, 19-year-old Libby Holman became the youngest woman to graduate from the University of Cincinnati in 1923. But it was her unique style of torch-singing — a trademark throaty mumble — that would launch a career on Broadway and a life of seemingly endless scandal.

Nov. 8, 1930 cover by Sue Williams.

After performing in the The Greenwich Village Follies, Holman (1904 – 1971) landed her first big role in 1925 in the Rodgers and Hart production of Garrick Gaieties. But it was a signature song, “Moanin’ Low,” from Clifton Webb’s The Little Show that would make her a star. When Three’s a Crowd (by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz) opened at the Selwyn Theater on October 15, 1930, Holman was well-known to audiences not only for her voice but also for her unconventional lifestyle.

Three’s a Crowd proved to be a hit for Holman, and it gave her another hit song, “Body and Soul,” which was banned from the radio for “obscenity” but nevertheless became one of the year’s most popular songs. So popular, in fact, that it was recorded by Holman as well as by fellow torch singer Helen Morgan and Ziegfeld star Ruth Etting. This was the age of the Great American Songbook, when the song itself, and not necessarily its performer, reigned supreme. So when sheet music was distributed from a popular stage show, any number of entertainers would record it.

NAME THAT TUNE…From top to bottom, Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting and Libby Holman all recorded versions of “Body and Soul,” but Holman would make it one of her signature numbers. (YouTube/ruthetting.com/Wikipedia)

…for the hoofers, there were also a couple of dance versions of “Body and Soul” created by bandleaders Ozzie Nelson and Leo Reisman

GOOD BEAT, EASY TO DANCE TO…Bandleaders Ozzie Nelson and Leo Reisman recorded dance versions of “Body and Soul.” (YouTube)

Openly bisexual, Holman partied hard and swore like a sailor, and during her life she would lose one husband in a suspected murder (Holman herself was briefly a suspect) and another to suicide. She would take her own life in 1971. You can read more about Holman’s colorful, tragic life in the Jewish Women’s Archive.

We temporarily skip to the next issue of the New Yorker (Nov. 15, 1930), which featured Holman in a “Talk of the Town” brief, and some insight into her unique singing style. An excerpt:

The same issue also featured this drawing of the “Three’s a Crowd” cast by Al Frueh in the theater review section:

and finally, a publicity photo of the cast from 1930-31:

A FUN CROWD…Clifton Webb, Libby Holman and Fred Allen in Three’s a Crowd. At right, undated publicity photo of Holman. (performerstuff.com)

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Horsin’ Around

The National Horse Show was a major event on New York’s social calendar, first held at the original Madison Square Garden in 1883 before moving to the second Madison Square Garden in 1890 and again to the third Madison Square Garden in 1926. This account in the Nov. 8, 1930 New Yorker noted how the horse show’s patrician air contrasted with the rodeo held at MSG the previous week.

NOT FOR GOAT-ROPERS, THIS…The coaching parade on display at the 1927 National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden. (National Sporting Library & Museum)
SOON WE’LL BE FIGHTING EACH OTHER…The National Horse Show began including a military competition in 1925. This photo from the Nov. 6, 1930 New York Times featured some international guests at the 1930 show. (NY TIMES)

Along with the above photo, the Times included this partial lists of guests to the Horse Show Luncheon, a who’s who of New York society. Indeed, the National Horse Show’s 1887 directory provided the basis for the first New York Social Register.

DRESSING UP FOR THE HORSES…Champion horsewoman Mary Elizabeth Whitney (left) with actors Loretta Young and William Powell at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, Nov. 5, 1937. Standing behind Mary Elizabeth is her husband, Jock Whitney, a noted ambassador, art collector, philanthropist and investor. (Christian Anderson Collection)
HIGH STEPPIN’…After a brief stint in Florida, the National Horse Show moved to Kentucky in 2011. Perhaps a tad less formal, it nevertheless remains an important society event. Above, noted horsewoman Misdee Wrigley Miller rides World Grand Champion Grande Gil at the 2012 National Horse Show. (Doug Shiflet)

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A Lesson in Poetry 

In a casual for the Nov. 8 issue, E.B. White instructed readers on how to “Tell a Major Poet From a Minor Poet.” An excerpt.

And in his “Notes and Comment,” White suggested that criticism of the press was a major no-no for a sitting U.S. President:

Christmas shopping suggestions began to trickle into Lois Long’s section on fashion, house and home, including this bit of advice that reminds us just how distant 1930 is from our own time:

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Film critic John Mosher took in the latest offering from silent film star Harold Lloyd, who was making his second foray into the talkies with his portrayal of a hapless shoe salesman in Feet First

NICE TEETH…Theater card for 1930’s Feet First featuring Barbara Kent and Harold Lloyd. (IMDB)
GETTING A LEG UP…Top, Harold Lloyd practices the art of shoe salesmanship with a pair of dummy legs in Feet First; below, Lloyd once again finds himself in a precarious situation high above a city street. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

The National Horse Show was on the minds of several advertisers in the New Yorker, including these fashion merchants targeting the patrician set…

…speaking of the well-heeled, with winter approaching travel agencies enticed those with means to take a steamer through the Panama Canal to California, or for the more adventurous, a three-continent tour package…

…and of course Hawaii beckoned snowbirds, who could make their way across the Lower 48 by train and then hop a boat to the islands…

…the makers of Chesterfield cigarettes were on board with the travel theme…

…while the folks at Marlboro stuck with their dopey handwriting and jingle contests to push their smokes…

…as the luxury market grew ever tighter in the Depression, the sellers of finer things sought to distinguish their wares from competitors. L.P. Hollander kicked off a series of wordy ads regarding the provenance of their hats, gloves and other accessories (in short, they ain’t cheap copies)…

…no doubt the folks at L.P. Hollander were looking down their noses at the likes of Russeks, which offered copies of Lucien Lelong gowns. Apparently old Lucien was okay with this, as this “Radiogram” purportedly attests…

…Lucien pops again in another ad, this one for his perfume line…

…and for reference, here’s a photo of Monsieur Lelong, circa 1940…

…on to our cartoonists, the Nov. 8 issue featured these great spot illustrations by Constantin Alajalov, the first, running along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” referenced the horse show at Madison Square Garden…

Alice Harvey listened in on a radio soap…

William Crawford Galbraith found some admirers of art…

Barbara Shermund continued to share her sharp observations of parlor hijinks…

Garrett Price illustrated the challenges of modern design…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and a stomach-turning moment…

Next Time: The High Place…

The Sporting Life

One of the strangest things about the fall 1926 issues of The New Yorker is the almost complete absence of baseball coverage, even though the 1926 Yankees had turned things around from an abysmal 1925 season and found themselves in the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

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November 20, 1926 cover by Andre De Schaub.

The Yankee’s star Babe Ruth had recovered his health from the previous season and played exceptional all-around baseball in 1926, even setting a World Series record of three homers in the fourth game. According to (now disputed) newspaper reports at the time, Ruth had promised a sickly boy named Johnny Sylvester that he would hit a home run for him in Game 4. The papers reported that after Ruth’s three-homers, the boy’s condition miraculously improved.

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SNUBBED…Babe Ruth knocked in three homers during Game 4 of the exciting 1926 World Series, an event completely ignored by the football-crazed New Yorker. (Bronx Banter)

The Yankees would lose the series in seven games (it would be the first of the Cardinals’ 11 WS championships), but nevertheless the season represented a dramatic turnaround for the team.

But The New Yorker was obsessed with college football, mostly Ivy League contests and the exploits of Knute Rockne and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

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Johan Bull provided lively illustrations for Tunis’s columns.

Sportswriter John Tunis cranked out lengthy accounts of football games, including the Princeton-Yale contest covered in the Nov. 20, 1926 issue.

The same issue also included an article by Herbert Reed, who wrote about Notre Dame’s victory over Army at Yankee Stadium and proclaimed the Fighting Irish to be the greatest team in the country.

The New Yorker caught the Notre Dame bug the previous season. When attendance dropped at Yankee Stadium due to an ailing Babe Ruth and his team’s losing record, college football took center stage at the stadium that fall, with the fiercely competitive Notre Dame–Army game the marquee match-up (the rivals would continue their annual meeting at Yankee Stadium until 1947).

The “other” game–professional football–was still in its infancy, and the editors of “The Talk of Town” made it clear that the college atmosphere was more to their liking. It is interesting that even today when fans compare college to pro football, the same observations are made:

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STAR ATTRACTION…After playing his first professional season with the Chicago Bears, in 1926 Red Grange joined the short-lived New York Yankees professional football team. (ourgame.mlb)

As for other sports, The New Yorker also offered extensive coverage of tennis, golf, and polo in its issues. And there would also be rowing, boat and auto racing, and steeplechase events such as National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. An advertisement promoting that event appeared on the inside back cover:

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The editors of “Talk of the Town” continued their sad refrain on the city’s changing landscape, the wrecking ball this visiting Gramercy Park:

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white house
The Stanford White house referred to in “The Talk of the Town.”
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The Dining Room ceiling in the Stanford White House came from a 16th century chapel in Florence.
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Gramercy Park Hotel on the site today. (All 3 photos: Daytonian in Manhattan)

And to close, this terrific advertisment for the Greenwich Village Inn, illustrated by Hans Flato:

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Next Time: Holiday Shopping…

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