The Last Hurrah

Avery Hopwood’s 1919 Broadway hit, The Gold Diggers, was among cultural events of the late teens that signaled the dawn of new age; namely, the Jazz Age.

Sept. 7, 1929 cover by Sue Williams.

So it seems appropriate that the play, when adapted to the screen in 1929 as a Technicolor talkie, would also signal the end of that age. As the New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher observed in his review of The Gold Diggers of Broadway, the themes that seemed new and daring a decade earlier had been played out, the “general humors” of the picture having “become very familiar”…

The film featured Nancy Welford, Winnie Lightner and Ann Pennington as three chorus girls who try to entice a wealthy backer to invest money in their struggling Broadway show. The film was a big hit, and it made a star of Winnie Lightner (1899-1971), who played the boldest “Gold Digger” of the trio.

PROSPECTORS…Clockwise from top left, Ina Claire as the original “Gold Digger” with Bruce McRae in the 1919 Broadway play The Gold Diggers; lobby card for the 1929 film Gold Diggers of Broadway; image from the film’s “Tiptoe Thru the Tulips” song-and-dance number; Winnie Lightner works her charms on Albert Gran in a scene from the film. (Wikipedia/IMDB/TCM-YouTube)
IT’S FUN MAKING PICTURES…Helen Foster, Ann Pennington, Nancy Welford and William Bakewell in a publicity photo from 1929’s Gold Diggers of Broadway. (IMDB)

Lightner wasn’t the only actor to steal the show. The film also proved a winner for crooner Nick Lucas (1897-1982), who performed two hit songs written for the movie — “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine” and “Tiptoe through the Tulips.” Yes, that second song was the very same tune Tiny Tim rode to fame nearly 40 years later.

TIPTOE THROUGH HISTORY…At left, Nick Lucas sings what would be become his signature song “Tiptoe through the Tulips” to Lilyan Tashman in the Gold Diggers of Broadway. At right, forty years later, Lucas sang the song on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson (apparently using the same guitar) on the occasion of singer Tiny Tim’s televised wedding to Victoria Mae Budinger (“Miss Vicky”). Tiny Tim (inset) also made “Tiptoe through the Tulips” his signature song, although his was a campier version, sung in a falsetto, vibrato voice accompanied by his trademark ukulele. (YouTube)

Here’s a clip from the film, featuring Nick Lucas, Lilyan Tashman, and a cast of singers and dancers performing “Tiptoe through the Tulips”…

The Gold Diggers of Broadway was a “pre-code” film, that is, a film made during a brief period of the early sound era (roughly 1929 through mid-1934) when censorship codes were not enforced and many films openly depicted themes ranging from promiscuity and prostitution to amoral acts of violence.

A LEG UP ON THE CENSORS…Warner Brothers publicity photo of Dorothy Mackaill, who played a secretary-turned-prostitute in 1931’s Safe in Hell. (Wikipedia)

Those unenforced codes had their origins in the early 1920s. In response to outcries from preachers and politicians alike over the immortality of Hollywood (both on- and off-screen), the president of Paramount Pictures, Adolph Zukor  — fearing that cries for censorship would cut into his profits — called a February 1921 meeting of his studio rivals at Delmonico’s restaurant on 5th Avenue. At the meeting Zukor (1873-1976) distributed a set of 14 rules that would guide every Paramount production (Zukor’s studio at that time was actually known as Famous Players-Lasky). The rules covered everything from “improper sex attraction” to “unnecessary depictions of bloodshed.”

It was also Zukor’s idea to appoint the former U.S. Postmaster General, Will Hays, as President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. It would be Hays’ job to enforce the code and generally “clean up” Hollywood. However, until mid-1934 both Hays and the code served mostly as publicity ploys to keep the preachers and politicians off the backs of studio execs.

Zukor was profiled by Niven Busch, Jr. in the Sept. 7 issue (with portrait by George Shellhase). In his opening paragraph, Busch commented on “Pop” Zukor’s efforts to stave off the censors:

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Delmonico’s Redux

The famed Delmonico’s restaurant that provided the setting for Adolph Zukor’s “14 rules” meeting in 1921 closed its doors in 1923, a victim of Prohibition (more people dined at home, where they could still drink). Writing in the Sept. 7 “Talk of the Town,” Bernard A. Bergman described plans for the long-awaited opening of a new Delmonico’s in a skyscraper bearing the same name…

RICH DESSERTS…Dinner in honor of French Navy Admiral Paul Campion at the old Delmonico’s in 1906. (Wikipedia/Library of Congress)
AND SALAD DAYS…Delmonico’s wait staff pose for a photograph in 1902. (Museum of the City of New York)

A former Delmonico’s chef, Nicholas Sabatini, hoped to bring back some of old waiters and cooks from the restaurant’s glory days, but it seemed most were far too long in the tooth. It is unclear if he ever got his dream off the ground, or if the grill room was able to crank out fare comparable to that of the old Delmonico’s. Probably not…

THE KITCHEN IS CLOSED…The 1928 Hotel Delmonico, as shown in a 1937 photograph. It was purchased by Donald Trump in 2002 and converted into luxury condominiums. It would not host a great restaurant, but the Beatles would stay there in 1964. (New York Public Library)

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Relax. You’re in Omaha

This “Notes and Comment” entry in the Sept. 7 “Talk of the Town” described travel on the Union Pacific’s Overland Limited, and the “mystic dividing line” that  separated laid-back Westerners from buttoned-up Easterners:

MIND YOUR MANNERS, AT LEAST UNTIL YOU LEAVE CHICAGO…Tinted photo postcard depicting the dining car on a Union Pacific train that traveled the Chicago to Denver route in the 1920s. (myutahparks.com)

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Write What You Know

The Wisconsin-born Marion Clinch Calkins (1895 – 1968) often wrote humorous rhymes for the New Yorker under the pen name Majollica Wattles. While many writers reveled in the party atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties, Calkins worked as a vocational counselor and social worker at New York’s Lillian Wald’s Henry Street Settlement. This experience doubtless led her to more serious writing after the 1929 market crash — her critically acclaimed book, Some Folks Won’t Work (1930), is considered a seminal document on the Great Depression.

But in September 1929, Calkins was still in a humorous vein, and published this satirical piece on the role of an ideal housewife in the Sept. 7 issue. Excerpts:

CALL ME CLINCH…Marion Clinch Calkins circa 1905 and 1945. She wrote under the name of Clinch Calkins because she wanted her authorship to be gender-neutral. (evansvillehistory.net/NEH)

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Information Please

The New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton did not suffer fools gladly, and whenever the local museums seemed less than up to snuff, he was there to provide some correctional advice…

NEED AN AUDIO GUIDE? STILL WORKING ON THAT…The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s H.O. Havemeyer Collection, 1930. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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From Our Advertisers

Despite the advances made by women in the 1920s, they still lived under a patriarchy, especially when it came to the patrician classes. And so the young bride of Gifford Pinchot II was identified only as a “Mrs.” in the headline for this Pond’s cold cream ad…

…Mrs. Gifford Pinchot II was actually Janine Voisin (1910-2010). She must have had more than a healthy complexion, as she lived 100 years…

Janine Voisin Pinchot in 1933. (history.blogberth.com)

Another woman known for her beauty in the 1920s was the model Marion Morehouse (who was married to poet E.E. Cummings from 1934 until his death in 1962). Considered by some to be the first “supermodel,” I include an image of Morehouse below (right) to demonstrate how artists exaggerated the female form in fashion ads of the day…

…the body wasn’t the only thing subject to exaggeration, or hyperbole, as this ad from Harper’s Bazar attested in defining the exclusivity of its readership…

…the New York Sun also appealed to social mores in an attempt to sell more newspapers…

…the Curtiss Robin Flying Service touted their latest achievement — the St. Louis Robin being refueled during its flight to a new world’s endurance record of 420 hours — greatly surpassing the record of 150 hours set by the Army’s “Question Mark” airplane at the beginning of 1929…

…our cartoonists from the Sept. 7 issue include Gluyas Williams, who had some fun at the expense of Alice Foote MacDougall, who was the “Starbucks” of her day, at least in New York…

…MacDougall turned her coffee business into a restaurant empire in the 1920s. She opened several restaurants in Manhattan, all decorated in a signature style meant to evoke European cafés…

EURO AMBIENCE…Interior of Alice Foote MacDougall’s Firenze, 6 West 46th Street, New York City, 1925. (New York Historical Society)

…other cartoons included this commentary on public advertising by Leonard Dove

Peter Arno’s unique take on the seafaring life…

Helen Hokinson eavesdropped on some tween talk…

…and Alan Dunn gave us some perspective on the fast pace of city life…

Next Time: From Stage to Screen…