Modernism Lite

Above: “The Fountain of Youth” mural by Ezra Winter in the Main Foyer of Radio City Music Hall. (Architectural Digest)

The opening of two new theaters at Rockefeller Center no doubt brightened a few souls at the start of 1933, but art and architecture critic Lewis Mumford wasn’t particularly dazzled by the “watered-down” modernism of the buildings’ much-ballyhooed decor.

Jan. 7, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin, in a nod to the annual automobile show in New York City.

Oddly, it was a philosophy professor from Nebraska, Hartley Burr Alexander, who was tasked with creating an artistic vision for Rockefeller Center, developed along the theme of “Frontiers of Time.” According to Mumford, Alexander’s “classic-banal” vision, executed under the “virtuous glare” of theatrical impresario Samuel L. “Roxy” Rothafel, resulted in the first “large-scale vulgar tryout of modern art.” Excerpts from Mumford’s column:

Several aluminum sculptures in Radio City Music Hall no doubt pleased Mumford — Gwen Lux’s Eve sculpture, William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance, and Robert Laurent’s Goose Girl. However, thanks to Roxy Rothafel’s “virtuous glare” and worries that the nudes might hurt ticket sales, all three sculptures were temporarily banned from RCMH.

NAKED AND AFRAID…A flare-up of puritanism led to the temporary removal of aluminum sculptures at Radio City Music Hall. At left, Eve by Gwen LuxRobert Laurent (right) working on Goose Girl in his studio. Below, William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance. (Smithsonian/viewingnyc.com)

Radio City Music Hall also featured an array of murals that should have brought some delight to Mumford…

SHOW BEFORE THE SHOW…Radio City Music Hall featured a number of murals including, clockwise from top left, a detail of Donald Deskey’s The History of Nicotine (The Life of Saint Nicotine) in a second floor men’s lounge; a textile piece titled The History of Theatre by Ruth Reeves, which covers the back wall of Radio City Music Hall; Stuart Davis’s mural Men without Women in the  men’s lounge; Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s mural in the women’s powder room. (melwithpals.medium.com/viewingnyc.com/evergreen.com)

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Mea Cuppa

“The Talk of the Town” shared this account of fifteen Harvard freshman who dared to pay a call on the home of visiting poet T.S. Eliot

TEA-DIUM…Fifteen nervous Harvard freshman confronted this visage until one of them finally broke the ice. Photo above taken during one of T.S. Eliot’s visits to Monk’s House, the 16th century cottage of Virginia Woolf. (blogs.harvard.edu)

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Country Cousins

During his 1932 presidential campaign Franklin D. Roosevelt paid a Sept. 29 visit to the Waterloo, Nebraska farm of Gustav “Gus” and Mary (Kenneway) Sumnick. Mary served FDR a chicken dinner and pie before he addressed a crowd of 8,000 at a rally on the Sumnick farm. Gustav, a German immigrant, and Mary, a daughter of Irish immigrants, were successful farmers even during those tough years. The visit would turn the Sumnicks into national celebrities, and in later years FDR would return to visit the family and would also stay in touch by telephone. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” made this observation about the celebrated farm family:

TIME FOR SOME VIDDLES!…Mary Sumnick chats with presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt during his Sept. 29, 1932 visit to the Sumnick farm. (douglascohistory.org)
ENOUGH FOR A FOOTBALL TEAM…A lengthy article in the Dec. 4, 1932 New York Times described life on the Sumnick farm and their upcoming visit with President Roosevelt in the spring. Gus and Mary and their 11 children all planned to make the trip. (NYT)

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The Gang’s All Here

Siblings Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore of the famed Barrymore theatrical family appeared together in just one film — Rasputin and the Empress — and you would think that would have been enough to guarantee multiple awards along with box office gold. However, the film actually lost money, and on top of that attracted a lawsuit that further dipped into the pockets of MGM producer Irving Thalberg. Critic John Mosher was wowed by Ethel’s performance, but wasn’t exactly charmed by the overall production:

ACTING ROYALTY ACTING ROYAL…John Barrymore, Ethel Barrymore, and Lionel Barrymore with child actor Tad Alexander in Rasputin and the Empress. It is only film in which all three siblings appeared together. (Pinterest)

About that lawsuit: The film used the real-life Princess Irina Yusupov as a model for Princess Natasha, portrayed by English actress Diana Wynyard. The film implied that Rasputin raped Princess Natasha (that is, Irina), which wasn’t true, so she sued MGM and won $127,373 from an English court; MGM reportedly  settled out of court in New York for the sum of $250,000 (roughly equivalent to nearly $5 million today). The ubiquitous “all persons fictitious” disclaimer that appears in TV and film credits is the result of that lawsuit.

NO HARD FEELINGS?…English actress Diana Wynyard (left) portrayed Princess Natasha in the Barrymore family vehicle Rasputin and the Empress. Her portrayal, however, drew the ire of a real Russian royal, Princess Irina Yusupov, who successfully sued MGM in 1933 for invasion of privacy and libel. (Wikipedia)

A much-less controversial film was the “glib” No Man of Her Own, a pre-Code romantic comedy-drama starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in their only film together:

LET’S PLAY HOUSE…Clark Gable romances Carole Lombard in the pre-Code romantic comedy-drama No Man of Her Own. It was their only film together, and several years before they became a married couple in real life. (ha.com)

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Vroom-Vroom

The annual National Automobile Show opened at the Grand Central Palace and other locations in Midtown, promising an array of affordable models:

DECISIONS, DECISIONS… The 1933 National Automobile Show offered a number of affordable options to car buyers including these shiny new Pontiacs on display at the Grand Central Palace. (libwww.freelibrary.org)
BUT LOOK OVER HERE…General Motors also displayed its models at the first “Motorama” held in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom in 1933. (waldorfnewyorkcity.com)

Auto Show visitors also got a glimpse of their streamlined future in the form of a 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow…

FAST & FURIOUS…Powered by a V12 engine, the aerodynamic 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow could exceed 100 miles per hour. Unveiled at the 1933 National Automobile Show, the car grabbed the spotlight with its futuristic, streamlined design. Just five of these were built, and only three are known to exist today. The Silver Arrow was one of Pierce-Arrow’s final attempts to appeal to its wealthy clientele, but even they were feeling Depression’s pinch. The company folded in 1938. (Sotheby’s)

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From Our Advertisers

The New Yorker had unusually thin issues over the holidays, so the magazine’s bean-counters must have been thrilled by the dozens of ads that poured in ahead of the National Automobile Show. As usual Walter Chrysler took out several two-page ads to promote his Chryslers, Plymouths, Dodges and DeSotos…

…while GM one-upped Walter with its own series of two-pagers — in color — sprinkled throughout the magazine…everything from the affordable Oldsmobile…

…to the high-end Cadillac…

…General Motors also featured this Peter Arno-themed ad (with sugar-daddy walrus) to promote its posh new venue at the Waldorf-Astoria…

…the folks at struggling Hupmobile tried to wow not with shiny cars but rather with the announcement of their…drum roll, please…annual report…

…companies that supported the auto industry also got in on the act, including the makers of leaded fuel…this image says a lot about the lack of safety concerns in the 1930s…

John Hanrahan, who early on served as the New Yorker’s policy council and guided it through its lean first years, be­came the publisher of Stage magazine (formerly The Theatre Guild Magazine) in 1932. In 1933 Stage became part of the Ultra-Class Magazine Group’s line-up that included Arts & Decoration and The Sportsman. Stage published its last issue in 1939, and I don’t believe the other two survived the 1930s either…

ULTRA-CLASS GROUP was the over-the-top name used to describe this line-up of magazines.

…on to our cartoons, we join Peter Arno for some fine dining…

…based on the what we have seen lately from William Crawford Galbraith, he seems to be hung up on seductresses and showgirls…

…to my point, some of Galbraith’s recent entries…

…we move on to Richard Decker and a dangerous cold front…

Garrett Price pondered the wisdom of children…

Gluyas Williams was back with the latest industrial crisis…

Perry Barlow found some ill-fitting words to go with an ill-fitting coat…

…and we close with James Thurber, and some very fitting words for those times, and ours…

Next Time: March of Time…

 

Comrade Alex

If folks thought things were bad in Depression-era America, they could ponder the famine-ravaged masses in the Soviet Union…

Dec. 24, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

…not that Alexander Woollcott seemed to notice or care all that much. In the autumn of 1932 he traveled to Moscow to check out some Russian theater and enjoy the fine food and drink provided by his friend Walter Duranty, Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times. In his “Shouts and Murmurs” column…

…Woollcott reflected on his Moscow visit, his humor at odds with the stark reality  all around him…

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM…Alexander Woollcott (left) was amused by the stares of starving Russians he encountered with his substantial bulk on the streets on Moscow; Walter Duranty (1884–1957), Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times, played host to his old friend Woollcott.(Pinterest/Daily Mail)

Woollcott wrote of “spindle-shanked kids” singing cheerless songs about tractor production, recounted a conversation with a hungry moppet at a boot factory, and noted the “appreciative grin” he received from a teenager who both envied and admired his girth:

PERHAPS A SIDE TRIP TO UKRAINE?…Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933. Millions of Ukrainians died during Stalin’s enforced famine. (Wikipedia) 

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Happier Thoughts

The Dec. 24 issue marked the beginning of a New Yorker tradition: Frank Sullivan’s annual holiday poem, “Greetings, Friends!” Writing for the Dec. 17, 2009 issue of the New Yorker (“Behind the Writing: “Greetings, Friends!”) Jenna Krajeski observes that “as far as holiday poems go, ‘Greetings, Friends!’…is as much an acknowledgment of the season as a noting of the times.” Frank Sullivan faithfully continued the tradition until 1974; after his death in 1976, New Yorker editor William Shawn asked Roger Angell to take over the writing of the poem. In 2012 Angell passed the duty along to Ian Frazier, the magazine’s current Yuletide bard.

CHEERFUL BUNCH…The holiday poem “Greetings, Friends!” has been a New Yorker tradition since 1932. It was originated by Frank Sullivan (left) and carried on by Roger Angell (center) and Ian Frazier. (hillcountryobserver.com/latimes.com/gf.org)

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Waxing Poetic, Part II

In the Dec. 17, 1932 issue humorist and poet Arthur Guiterman penned this petition to Acting Mayor Joseph McKee on behalf of the city’s statues…

…to which Mayor McKee replied in the Dec. 24 issue:

DUELING POETS…Acting New York Mayor Joseph McKee (left) rarely smiled in photographs, but he seems to have been a person of good humor in his poetic reply to Arthur Guiterman. Both photos are from 1932. (Wikipedia/credo.library.umass.edu)

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From Our Advertisers

New York’s fashion merchandisers continued to tout their latest copies of Paris styles such as this “Poppy Dress” from Lord & Taylor…

…Radio City Music Hall and the RKO Roxy Theatre announced their grand openings…

…Radio City featuring a cavalcade of stars along with the “Roxyettes” (soon to be renamed “Rockettes”) while the RKO Roxy presented the pre-Code romantic comedy The Animal Kingdom

LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS…It was winter, and the Depression was still on, but there were bright spots to be found on the stage at the opening of Radio City Music Hall and on the screen at the RKO Roxy; at right, Ann Harding, Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy in The Animal Kingdom. (Pinterest/IMDB)

…the folks at R.J. Reynolds challenged smokers to “leave” their product, if they cared to, knowing full well they were hooking new smokers by the thousands every day…

…we ring in the New Year with some hijinks from James Thurber

…and this unlikely dispatch from a New York police officer via Peter Arno

…ringing in the year with Harry Brown’s Dec. 31 cover…

Dec. 31, 1932 cover by Harry Brown.

…and Alexander Woollcott’s continuing account of his visit to Moscow, where he was shown the town by his friend Walter Duranty. In this excerpt, Woollcott makes a rare political observation regarding his friend: “Except for a few such men from Mars as Walter Duranty, all visitors might be roughly divided into two classes: those who come here hoping to see the Communist scheme succeed, and those who come here hoping to see it fail.”

For the record, Duranty has been widely criticized, especially since the 1950s, for his failure to report on the 1932-33 famine (which claimed as many as 7 million lives) and for covering up other atrocities of the Stalin regime. In the 1990s there were even calls to revoke Duranty’s 1932 Pulitzer Prize, which was awarded for his reporting on the Soviet Union.

GOOD & PLENTY…Walter Duranty (center, seated) at a dinner party in his Moscow apartment.

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Rocky Theme

As Rockefeller Center prepared to open its doors to its first buildings (there would be 14 in all) American playwright and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood  penned this hymn to the “Citadel of Static”…

STANDING TALL…American playwright and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood, one of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table, was moved to verse by the opening of Rockefeller Center’s first buildings. At left, Rockefeller Center in 1933. (Wikipedia)

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Oh Chute

In 1929 Geoffrey Hellman secured a position with the New Yorker as a writer for “The Talk of Town” and also contributed a number of profiles, including this one about a parachute stunt-jumper named Joe Crane. Here is the opening paragraph and an illustation by Abe Birnbaum:

On Feb. 18, 1932, Joe Crane amazed crowds at Roosevelt Field with double parachute descent, in which he opened a second parachute through the first. If you are wondering, Crane died in 1968…of natural causes.

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From Our Advertisers

Illustrator Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952) is best remembered for his patriotic poster designs of World War I, which might explain why this fellow looks a bit outdated…

…Christy also originated the popular “Christy Girl,” the embodiment of the ideal American woman in the early 1900s (note the Christy Girl’s resemblance to the woman in the ad above)…

A “Christy Girl,” from 1906.

…speaking of ideal, imagine a movie featuring this trinity of actors: John, Ethel and Lionel BarrymoreJohn Mosher will give us his review in Jan. 7 issue…

…the Lyric Theatre saw its glory years during the 1920s when it hosted stage shows featuring such talents as The Marx Brothers, Fred and Adele Astaire and a young Cole Porter, who hit it big in 1929 with Fifty Million Frenchmen…the 1930s, however, saw the Lyric’s fortunes diminish and in another year it would be converted into a movie house…also note the influence of Italian Futurists in this ad for an Italian theater troupe…

…and there’s also a futuristic bent to this Garrett Price cartoon, which steers more in a Kandinsky direction…

…cartoonists were also finding inspiration in the magazine’s advertising, Pond’s cold cream providing the spark for Alain (aka Daniel Brustlein)…

…for reference, a Pond’s ad from 1933 comparing Lady Diana Manners complexion to her former visage, circa 1924…

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence, was banned for obscenity in the United States in 1929, but Helen Hokinson’s enterprising librarian was still able to deliver the goods…

…on the other hand, it is doubtful George Price’s sales clerk will also deliver…

…a great one by James Thurber, with more detail than his usual spare line…

…and we say goodbye to 1932 with Alain, and a New Year’s Eve party with some familiar faces…

Next Time: Modernism Lite…

Cheers For Beers

Good cheer was in short supply during the worst year of the Depression, but as 1933 approached many New Yorkers could at least look forward to legal beer in the New Year.

Dec. 3, 1932 cover by Helen Hokinson.

But as with all things political, new rules and regulations would need to be hashed out before the taps could flow, and both brewers and beer drinkers would have to recalibrate a relationship that had been suspended for nearly 13 years. Alva Johnston gave this (excerpted) report in “A Reporter at Large”…

WHILE YOU WERE AWAY…Vaudeville star Rae Samuels holds what was purportedly the last bottle of beer (a Schlitz) distilled before Prohibition went into effect in Chicago on Dec. 29, 1930. The bottle was insured for $25,000. After Prohibition ended in late 1933, Schlitz reappeared with gusto and quickly became the world’s top-selling brewery. (vintag.es)

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National Treasure

Chester Dale (1883–1962) began his career in finance at age 15, working as a runner for the New York Stock Exchange. Just 12 years later he would marry painter and art critic Maud Murray Dale, and together they would amass an art collection that would include significant works by Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Amedeo Modigliani, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. In 1932 the Dales were well on their way to building a collection that would eventually end up in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. “The Talk of the Town” featured the Dales in this except:

WAYS OF SEEING…Maud Dale was a staunch supporter of artist Amedeo Modigliani, whose 1919 painting Gypsy Woman with Baby (top left) was among 21 of his works collected by the Dales. Maud also commissioned a number of her own portraits, including (clockwise, from top center) ones rendered by George Bellows in 1919, by Jean-Gabriel Domergue in 1923, and by Fernand Léger in 1935. At bottom left is a 1945 portrait of Chester Dale by Diego Rivera. (National Gallery of Art)
SAINTED PATRONS…Clockwise, from top left, a 1943 photo of Chester Dale in the West Garden Court of the National Gallery of Art, which today holds the Chester Dale Collection of 240 paintings among other items; Maud Dale, c. 1926; Madame Picasso (1923) by Pablo Picasso on view in the Dale residence, c. 1935; a 1926 caricature of Chester by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, a close friend of the Dales and early New Yorker contributor. (National Gallery of Art)

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Smoke Screen

E.B. White noted the historic meeting of outgoing U.S. President Herbert Hoover and his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt. White speculated on at least one topic of discussion:

DO YOU INHALE?…Outgoing President Herbert Hoover (left) and President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt on their way to the inauguration ceremonies, 1933. (National Archives)

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No Longer “It”

Here is how IMDB describes the 1932 pre-Code drama Call Her Savage: “Sexy Texas gal storms her way through life, brawling and boozing until her luck runs out, forcing her to learn the errors of her ways.” The actress who portrayed that “Texas Gal,” Clara Bow, was getting sick of Hollywood and would make just one more film before retiring at age 28. Although in some circles the silent era’s “It Girl” sex symbol was finally beginning to earn some credit as an “artiste,” critic John Mosher was reserving judgment:

WHIP IT GOOD…Clara Bow brawls her way through life in her second-to-last film role, Call Her Savage. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Is this really how the smart set lived in 1932 Manhattan? Here we have an old toff dressed like Santa (in a top hat) sneaking presents onto the Christmas tree…and caught in the act by, I presume, his wife and a chambermaid?…

…in sharp contrast, here is an ad from the Golden Rule Foundation, which annually designated the second week in December as “Golden Rule Week”…the foundation raised funds to help needy children throughout the world…

…and here’s a bright, back cover ad from Caron Paris…apparently the face powder industry had been good to them in 1932…

…on to our cartoons, we start with a smoking tutorial from William Steig

…some sunny optimism from one of Helen Hokinson’s “girls”…

…in this two-pager by Garrett Price, an artist asks his patron: All right then, what was your conception of the Awakening of Intelligence through Literature and Music?…

Izzy Klein dedicated this cartoon to the much-anticipated launch of a new literary magazine, The American Spectator (not to be confused with today’s conservative political publication by the same name) and its illustrious line-up of joint editors…

Crawford Young’s caption recalled the precocious child in Carl Rose’s 1928 cartoon caption, a collaboration with E.B. White — “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it”…

…and speaking of Carl Rose, this next cartoon by James Thurber has an interesting history…New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin explains in this Carl Rose Inkspill bio: In 1932, Rose submitted a drawing captioned, “Touche!” of two fencers, one of whom has just cut off the head of the other. Harold Ross (according to Thurber in The Years With Ross) thinking the Rose version “too bloody” suggested Thurber do the drawing because “Thurber’s people have no blood. You can put their heads back on and they’re as good as new”…

…as we close out December 2021 (which I am dutifully trying to do the same in 1932), we move on to the Dec. 10 issue…

Dec. 10, 1932 cover by William Steig.

…and Samuel N. Behrman’s profile (titled “Chutspo”) of comedian Eddie Cantor, who made his way from vaudeville and the Ziegfeld Follies to fame on the radio, in film and on early television. Theater great Katherine Cornell certainly appreciated Cantor’s gift for making his routine look easy: Here’s an excerpt:

AH, IT WAS NOTHIN’…Comedian Eddie Cantor was adored by millions of radio listeners as the “Apostle of Pep.” At right, caricature for the profile by Al Frueh. (bizarrela.com)

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Christmess

Lois Long’s “On and Off the Avenue” column was thus titled to reflect the annual challenge of buying that special something for that special someone. Here is the opening paragraph:

One of the items suggested in Long’s column was a game named for our friend Eddie Cantor called “Tell it to the Judge”…

…or you could select one of these gifts from A.G. Spaulding…my grandfather had one of those perpetual desk calendars…I would stave off boredom by endlessly flipping those numbers while the adults conversed in German…

…on to our cartoonists, James Thurber provided this nice bit of art for a two-page spread…

Kemp Starrett gave us some biscuit (cookie) execs contemplating a new, streamlined design for their product…

Norman Bel Geddes is perhaps best known for designing the “Futurama” display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair…here is Bel Geddes’ “Cobra Lamp”…

George Price gave us a fellow peddling more than a simple top…

…and with Peter Arno, the party never ends…

…on to Dec. 17, 1932…

Dec. 17, 1932 cover by Harry Brown.

…and Arno’s ex Lois Long was back with another “Tables for Two,” still feigning the old spinster (see “shawl and slippers” reference in first graf) when in fact she was an attractive, 31-year-old divorcee who apparently still had plenty of fire for late night revelry…

According to the Jeremiah Moss blog Vanishing New York, Long was likely describing 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues that “began as a row of speakeasies, which turned into jazz clubs that then evolved into burlesque houses.” The speakeasies got their start when the city lifted residential restrictions on the brownstones and businesses moved in, including Tony’s, the Trocadero and later Place Pigalle…

(vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com via NYPL)

…it was at the new Place Pigalle that Long enjoyed the “knockout” after-midnight show featuring ballroom dancers Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza and the diminutive singer Reva Reyes

AFTER HOURS entertainment at the Place Pigalle included Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza (left, in a 1930 portrait by Edward Steichen) and Mexican singer Reva Reyes. (Vanity Fair/El Paso Museum of History)

…and there was more entertainment to be had in Midtown with the upcoming opening (Dec. 27, 1932) of Radio City Music Hall, a dream project of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel. Hugh Blake had the scoop for the New Yorker in the “A Reporter at Large” column…an excerpt:

AIN’T IT GRAND?..of Radio City Music Hall would open its doors on Dec. 27, 1932, fulfilling a dream of theater owner Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel. (nypap.org/Wikipedia/dobywood.com)

…Radio City Music Hall was built to host stage shows only, but within a year of its opening it was converted into a movie venue…and speaking of movies, we have film critic John Mosher finally finding a movie to his liking, and a novel-to-film adaptation to boot…

FAREWELL TO ALL OF THOSE ARMS…Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes and Adolphe Menjou in Paramount’s A Farewell to Arms, directed by Frank Borzage. The film received Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound. (buffalo.edu)

…and back to the stage, Al Frueh lent his artistry to the play Dinner At Eight, which opened October 22, 1932, at the Music Box Theatre, and would close May 6, 1933, after 232 performances. The popular play had revivals in 1933, 1966 and 2002 as well as a George Cukor film adaptation in 1933 with an all-star cast.

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with this helpful advice from the folks at the Lombardy…

…while we have a much less stuffy invitation from the French Line…

…the usually staid Brooks Brothers sprung for an all-color Christmas ad, featuring items that would suit any aspiring Bertie Wooster…

…and what would be the holidays without canned meat, eh?…

…and we end with James Thurber, who gets us into the proper mood for the New Year…

Next Time: Comrade Alex…