The Future Was a Silly Place

One of the most expensive movies of 1930 was a sci-fi musical comedy titled Just Imagine, a silly mash-up of great sets, terrible acting, and a vision of the future fifty years hence that was way off the mark.

Nov. 29, 1930 cover by Victor Bobritsky.

Not that the film ever set out to be an accurate prediction of the future. Nevertheless, it is instructive (or, at the least, amusing) to look back on “yesterday’s tomorrows” to understand the American mind in the first year of the Great Depression.

COME FLY WITH ME…Clandestine lovers LN-18 (Maureen O’Sullivan) and J-21 (John Garrick) share a romantic moment high above the streets of 1980 New York City. (scifist.net)

Just Imagine borrowed some of its look from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), a dystopian vision of the future that reflected the contentious years of Germany’s Weimar Republic. Just Imagine similarly reflected its time and place — the early years of the Depression — Hollywood responding not with gloom and doom but rather with uplifting fare — comedies, musicals, and escapist fantasies (Flash Gordon came along in 1936). The producers of Just Imagine rolled all of it into one film, and the New Yorker’s John Mosher tried to make sense of the mess:

EYE IN THE SKY…In Just Imagine, technology is advanced enough to have a traffic cop floating in the sky, but he still must rely on his arms and mechanical signals to keep the skyways in order. (YouTube clip)

The floating traffic cop is just one example of the film’s attention to set design. The New York skyline, featured in the opening scene, was constructed in a giant hangar at enormous cost…

(Reddit)

In one of the films weirder twists, vaudeville comedian El Brendel is brought back to life with an electric beam…

SMOKED HAM…Vaudeville comedian El Brendel is zapped back to life to provide the world of 1980 with comic relief. Some of the electrical equipment assembled by set designer Kenneth Strickfaden would be seen again in 1931’s Frankenstein. (scifist.net)

…and Brendel (below, center), proceeds to get drunk on booze pills and spew a series of really bad jokes throughout the duration of the film…

SHOULD HAVE LEFT HIM DEAD…Frank Albertson, El Brendel and John Garrick in Just Imagine. (scifist.net)
MARS ATTACKS…The film also took audiences to the surface of Mars via a phallus-shaped spaceship that would later be used in Flash Gordon serials. Clockwise, top left, the spaceship blasts off surrounded by a crowd of men in fedoras; aboard the spaceship; landing site on Mars; J-21 (John Garrick) encounters the Martian Queen (Joyzelle Joyner). (YouTube/scifist.net)

The movie flopped at the box office, but producers were able to recoup some of the costs by farming out clips of the futuristic sets, and some of the props, to other sci-fi films of the 1930s including the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials.

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Toys For Tots

By mid-November the New Yorker’s “On and Off the Avenue” column had lengthened to include ideas for Christmas shoppers. The Nov. 29 issue offered these ideas for children’s toys from Macy’s…

XMAS IS COMING…Patsy Ann dolls in smart berets, and dollhouses in various styles (a 1930 Triang Tudor dollhouse at right) could be had at Macy’s Herald Square flagship store. (Pinterest)

GRRRR…First introduced in 1922, the revival of “Radio Rex” proved popular to the kiddies in 1930. It was the “high tech” toy of its day, the first to respond to voice commands. Rex the dog would spring out of his doghouse at the sound of the word “Rex,” thanks to a sound-sensitive electromagnet. (ctinventor.wordpress.com)

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A Century-old-Problem

Traffic woes have been around almost as long as there have been cars. In an excerpt from “A Reporter at Large,” Morris Markey explained the challenges facing the city’s police department:

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME…Traffic clogs Fifth Avenue near 42nd Street in 1930. (Pinterest)

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Speaking of cars, this ad in the New Yorker announced the opening of the annual Automobile Salon at the Commodore Hotel…

…and the magazine was on hand to describe its various wonders. Some excerpts:

POETRY IN MOTION…Top, the Walter Dorwin Teague-designed Marmon 16-cylinder wowed crowds at the Salon, even if few could afford it. The Great Depression limited the production of the luxury Marmon, and less than 400 were produced. The company abandoned the car business altogether in 1933. Below, the sporty Ford Model L Roadster, designed by Raymond Dietrich. (supercars.net/Sotheby’s)

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Maestro Politician 

The New Yorker profiled pianist, composer and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941). Paderewski served as Poland’s prime minister in 1919, negotiated on behalf of his country at the Treaty of Versailles, and had a 60-year career as a virtuoso pianist. A brief excerpt:

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Not For the Moneychangers

Architecture critic George S. Chappell checked in on the progress of three prominent Manhattan cathedrals in his “Sky Line” column:

LANDMARKS ALL…From left, Riverside Church, the still yet-to-be completed St. John the Divine, and St. Bartholomew’s. (MCNY/masonrymagazine.com/dtjoyce.com)

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The theater review section included this illustration of a new play, Roar China, that opened Oct. 27, 1930 at the Beck Theatre.

The staging of Roar China included this reconstruction of the bow of the H.M.S. Europa on the Beck Theatre stage…

(messynessychic.com)

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From Our Advertisers

The holiday season was in the air, and retailers were taking various approaches to entice Depression-era shoppers to consider their wares. The ads have a more conservative bent, when compared to late 1920s, and in the case of Wanamaker’s and B. Altman’s, an appeal to simpler times…

…Macy’s, on the other hand, looked to sell rather expensive lighters “to arouse the youthful enthusiasm among veteran smokers”…

…despite the Depression, New Yorker subscriptions continued to steadily increase — the magazine had nearly 45,000 subscribers in 1930, and by the end of the decade the number would approach 100,000 — below, a house ad designed to entice new subscribers…

…our cartoons include this holiday spot illustration by Barbara Shermund

…and another by Shermund of her parlor room crowd…

Otto Soglow amused us with a couple of tots…

Gardner Rea imagined a confrontation between a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon and Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini

…the balloon Rea illustrated was “The Captain” from the popular Katzenjammer Kids comic strip. Along with his “family,” the Captain appeared in the parade in 1929 and 1930 (and possibly 1931). They were the first licensed character balloons in the parade’s history…

macysthanksgiving.fandom.com

…back to cartoons, book shopping with William Crawford Galbraith

…and some holiday cheer from A.S. Foster

Next Time: Ziegfeld’s Folly…

 

 

 

The High Place

For this installment we look at two issues, Nov. 15 and 22, both featuring covers by Theodore Haupt that celebrated two autumn rituals: football and Thanksgiving.

Let’s begin with the Nov. 22 issue, which climbed to the highest place in Manhattan — no, not the Chrysler Building, but the nearby Empire State Building — with E.B. White admiring the commanding view:

Before the Empire State Building could go up, the old Waldorf-Astoria hotel had to come down. As White observed, the old hotel was built so soundly that it was too costly to deconstruct and salvage. Most of it ended up on the bottom of the ocean.

DOWN IN DAVY JONES’ LOCKER lie the remains of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which stood for just 36 years before it was razed to make room for the Empire State Building. At right, one of the hotel’s lobbies, and the Grand Ballroom. (nyc-architecture.com/Pinterest)
UPSTART…Left, in this image from November 1930, scaffolding embraces the Empire State Building’s “mooring mast,” which promoters claimed would allow dirigibles to load and unload passengers atop the tallest building in the world. Top right, although not yet complete, the actual height of the Empire State Building exceeded the Chrysler Building by October 1930. It would officially claim the crown as the world’s tallest on May 1, 1931. Bottom right, a steelworker’s view of the Chrysler Building from atop the Empire State Building, taken by photographer Lewis Hine. (Fine Art America/MCNY/Wikipedia)
A LOT OF HOT AIR…Top images: The fabled “mooring mast,” described by E.B. White in his New Yorker brief, as imagined in composite images (old-time Photoshop). In reality, the morning mast never worked; bottom right, a cutaway view of the mast featured in Popular Mechanics; bottom left, New York Times photo from March 22, 1931, announcing the completion of the Empire State Building, just 17 months after the Waldorf-Astoria began coming down. (Reddit, Pinterest, NYT)
SURVEYING THEIR KINGDOM…Most visitors to the Empire State Building can only go as high as the 86th floor observation deck. However, if you are a VIP like Serena Williams or Taylor Swift, you can get your picture snapped on the 103rd. (Empire State Building/Evan Bindelglass, CBSNewYork)

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Sore Winner

Sinclair Lewis famously declined the Pulitizer Prize for his 1925 novel Arrowsmith, upset that his 1920 novel Main Street had not previously won the prize. But when the Swedish Academy came calling with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930, he happily accepted. According to “The Talk of the Town,” this award also seemed a bit tardy, since Lewis’s small town booster archetype, George F. Babbitt, did not fit the dour days of the Great Depression. But it turned out that the 1922 novel Babbitt was ultimately what swayed the Nobel jury:

BOOST FROM A BOOSTER…George F. Babbitt helped make Sinclair Lewis famous, and landed him a Nobel. (NYT, NOVEMBER 6, 1930)

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Not So Sweet

Those of a certain age might remember Helen Hayes as a sweet old lady who appeared on a number of TV shows in the 1970s and 80s, or as the mother in real life of James MacArthur, Disney teen star and later the portrayer of Danny “Book ’em Danno” Williams on the original Hawaii 5-0 TV series. Hayes was married to playwright Charles MacArthur, and “The Talk of the Town” takes it from there…

CREATIVE TYPES…The engaged couple Charles MacArthur and Helen Hayes posed for photographer Edward Steichen for this Jan. 1, 1929 image featured in Vanity Fair magazine. (Condé Nast)

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Ain’t It Grand

Grand Hotel opened at the National Theatre on Nov. 13, 1930 to strong reviews, including the one below by Robert Benchley that he filed for the New Yorker. The play, adapted from the 1929 novel Menschen im Hotel by Austrian writer Vicki Baum, would prove to be a smash on Broadway and again on the silver screen in a star-studded 1932 film featuring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, and Joan Crawford.

THE STARS ALIGN…Left, promotional photograph of the original Broadway production of Grand Hotel. At right, Eugenie Leontovich portrayed fading Russian ballerina Grusinskaya in the play. The role would go to Greta Garbo in the 1932 film adaptation. (Theatre Magazine, February 1931/Wikipedia)

…and while we are on the subject of Broadway, the theater review section also featured this Al Frueh illustration promoting a noted production of Twelfth Night at the Maxine Elliott…

Program for the production featuring Jane Cowl. (Playbill)

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There were also big doings at the Met, where Spanish lyric soprano Lucrezia Bori (1887-1960) wowed audiences with her portrayal of Violetta in La Traviata.

SHE HAD SOME PIPES…right, lyric soprano Lucrezia Bori on the cover of the June 30, 1930 edition of Time magazine. At right, promotional photo of Bori circa 1930. (Time/Wikipedia)

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Bounty of Blessings

Humorist W. E. Farbstein gave readers plenty to be thankful for in this tribute to the Thanksgiving holiday…

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From Our Advertisers

Occasionally advertisements acknowledged the reality of the Great Depression, including this one from the Saturday Evening Post that offered encouraging words to prospective readers…

…County Fair, a Greenwich Village country-themed nightclub, offered the diversion of Moffatt and Bowman to take audiences’ minds off of hard times…

…and for all the supposed sophistication of New Yorker readers, there were still plenty of back page ads offering nostrums laced with superstition…

…some of the more colorful, spritely ads from the era were offered up by the producers of Texaco Motor Oil…

…our cartoons are by Gardner Rea

Barbara Shermund

William Crawford Galbraith

…and Perry Barlow

…and for another reminder of reality in the city, this sketch that ran along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” by Reginald Marsh

…and now we step back to the Nov. 15 issue, where E.B. White offered a less somber take on the Great Depression…

…White also noted a change on the faces of storefront mannequins…

YIN AND YANG…The worldly pose of a Roaring Twenties mannequin, and a more wholesome look for the leaner times in the 1930s. (Pinterest)

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Playing Telephone

Long, long before cell phones, telephones were heavy stationary devices that required a certain amount of planning before installation, as E.B. White explains:

On to our Nov. 15 ads, we have this announcement for The Third New Yorker Album…with illustration by Otto Soglow

…here is what the album looked like…

…and a couple of inside pages…

(Etsy)

…one of the contributors to the album was Rea Irvin, founding illustrator for the New Yorker and Murad cigarettes…also another Flit insecticide ad by Dr. Seuss

…Christmas ads began appearing in the magazine, including this one for Hanson scales…pity the poor chap (and his wife) who actually thought this might be a suitable present for Christmas, or any occasion for that matter…

…and with Prohibition still in force, advertisers found other uses to promote their products…

…on to our cartoons, Leonard Dove illustrated a couple who didn’t get away with the ruse…

… Alan Dunn depicted what was considered typical office behavior in the 1930s…

...Peter Arno visited the Harvard Club…

Alice Harvey also explored the college scene…

…some parlor games with Barbara Shermund

……Bruce Bairnsfather, and some existentialist chat at tea time…

…and we close with Izzy Klein, and the world of corporate competition…

…and a Happy Thanksgiving, from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade 89 years ago, Nov. 27, 1930…

(CBS)

Next Time: The Future Was a Silly Place…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hell’s Angels

Among the films in 1930 that marked a new era in motion pictures was Howard Hughes’s epic war film Hell’s Angels. 

August 23 cover by Gardner Rea.

Originally shot as a silent, Hughes (1905-1976) retooled the film, and over a period of three years (1927-30) poured much of his own money into making what many consider to be Hollywood’s first sound action movie. The film also introduced audiences to 19-year-old Jean Harlow (1911-1937), handpicked by Hughes to replace Norwegian actress Greta Nissen in the lead role (Nissen’s accent posed a problem for the talkies). The film would make Harlow an instant star, propelling her to worldwide fame as the “Platinum Blonde” sex symbol of the 1930s.

Beset by delays due to Hughes’s incessant tinkering, the movie was famously expensive. For example, a total 137 pilots were used in just one flying scene at the end of the film. In addition to monetary costs, the filming also claimed the lives of three pilots and a mechanic, and Hughes himself would fracture his skull during a stunt flying attempt.

PRE-CODE…Before Will Hays imposed his moral code on Hollywood, films in the early thirties were frank with sexual references, as the image at left attests. When Howard Hughes switched the filming of Hell’s Angels to sound, he replaced Norwegian actress Greta Nissen with 19-year-old Jean Harlow (seen with co-star Ben Lyon). Harlow’s first major film appearance would make her an overnight star; at right, Frank Clarke and Roy Wilson flying an S.E.5A (front) and a Fokker D.VII (back, note camera) in the filming of Hell’s Angels. (Wikipedia)

The New Yorker’s John Mosher found the action scenes enticing, but the acting left something to be desired…

COSTLY VENTURE …This Sikorsky S-29A (left), repainted to represent a German Gotha bomber, would crash into the California hills during filming (right), killing mechanic Phil Jones, who failed to bail out along with the pilot. (Northrop Grumman)
GEE WHIZ…The media often reported on the progress of the film, such as in this May 1930 article in Modern Mechanics that detailed a $1 million sequence in which a fighter dives his plane into the top of a Zeppelin, causing it to explode and crash to earth. (Modern Mechanix)

We skip ahead briefly to the Aug. 30 issue, in which “The Talk of Town” featured a mini profile of Howard Hughes and his film. Note how Hughes’s extravagance is described through his frequent use of long-distance telephone calls:

A STAR IS BORN…19-year-old Jean Harlow and Ben Lyon in Hell’s Angels (1930); at right, Harlow and Howard Hughes at the premiere of the film. (IMDB/Pinterest)

*  *  *

A Whale of a Movie

Critic John Mosher also took in a film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a very loose adaptation that excluded the novel’s central character, Ishmael, and invented a love story for the maniacal Capt. Ahab…

HAVE A LITTLE FAITH…From left, Noble Johnson as Queequeg, John Barrymore as Ahab, and Walter Long as Stubbs in 1930’s Moby Dick. At right, top, the whale puts the hurt on a boat; bottom, John Bennett as Faith, a contrived love interest for the old salt. (IMDB)

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Daily Dazzle

“The Talk of the Town” gushed over the lobby of the new Daily News Building, likening it to the glitz of a Broadway revue:

A HOME FOR CLARK KENT…The Daily News Building served as the model for the headquarters of the fictional Daily Planet, the building where Superman worked as mild-mannered Clark Kent; at right, an image from 1941 of the lobby, dominated by the  world’s largest indoor globe.
A LOBBY FOR LEARNING…The lobby includes an array of clocks, top left, that give the time in various global destinations. (aatlasobscura.com)

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A Busboy’s Dream

Charles Pierre Casalasco left his life as a busboy in Corsica and studied haute cuisine in Paris before arriving at the shores of Manhattan in the early 1900s. He became a renowned headwaiter who by 1929 garnered enough financial backing from New York’s most powerful families to construct the exclusive Hotel Pierre. Writing under her pseudonym, “Penthouse,” New Yorker columnist Marcia Davenport described the building’s apartments to eager readers:

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…The 41-story, 714-room Hotel Pierre officially opened in October 1930 to great fanfare. The party would be short-lived, as the deepening Depression would force the hotel into bankruptcy just two years later. At right, photo of the Rotunda, before a 2017 remodeling. (New York Public Library)

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So Much For Title IX

Then as now, women athletes were held to a separate set of standards, not only judged for their athletic abilities, but also for their “sex appeal,” as John Tunis suggests more than a few times in his profile of English tennis champion Betty Nuthall (1911-1983). Excerpts:

HOW’S THAT BACKHAND?…Betty Nuthall greets American tennis star Bill Tilden in September 1930; on the cover of Time after winning the 1930 U.S. Open. (Digital Commonwealth/Time)

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Free Expression

Robert Myron Coates (1897 – 1973) was a writer of experimental, expressionistic novels who later became a longtime art critic for the New Yorker (he is credited with coining the term “abstract expressionism” in 1946). In the Aug. 23 issue he contributed the first installment of “Dada City,” here describing street life in Harlem. Excerpts:

STREET LIFE…Scenes around Harlem’s 125th Street, clockwise from top left: the Apollo Theatre marquee punctuates a busy street scene in 1935; NW corner of 125th and Broadway, 1930; Regal Shoes storefront, 1940s, photo by Weegee; 125th and St. Nicholas Avenue in 1934. (Skyscraper City/Museum of the City of New York)
AMERICAN ORIGINAL…Robert M. Coates’s The Eater of Darkness (1926) has been called the first surrealist novel in English. (Goodreads)

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From Our Advertisers

New Yorkers who were still enduring the brutal summer of 1930 could find relief, if they could afford it, on a New York Airways flight…

…or if you had the means, you could take your yacht out to sea, like this chap in a coat and tie who calmly steers with one hand while offering a box of chocolates to his guests with the other…

…our sailor wasn’t the only one dressed to nines…here are two ads offering suggestions to young folks returning to college or prep school…

…for comparison, this is how a group of college students at Columbia University dress today…

(Columbia University)

Dr. Seuss continued to crank out drawings on behalf of Flit insecticide…

…and on to cartoons, yet another rerun (the sixth) of this Peter Arno drawing with a new caption (Dorothy Dix was a popular advice columnist)…

…and another look at country life courtesy Rea Irvin (originally printed sideways on a full page)…

…and another country scene, this time among the toffs, thanks to Garrett Price

…back in the city, some parlor room chatter as depicted by Barbara Shermund

…downtown, I. Klein looked at the economic challenges of peep shows…

…and we close with this reflection on city life, by Reginald Marsh

Next Time: Marble Halls…

Aleck and Frank at Taliesin

From the late I.M. Pei to Frank Gehry, America has its share of “starchitects,” but only one architect in the history of the profession could claim to be a true household name: Frank Lloyd Wright. 

July 19, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

In a profile titled “The Prodigal Father,” Alexander Woollcott wrote about Wright’s “return” to American acceptance after nearly two decades of scandal and tragedy. Woollcott took great pains to defend Wright’s reputation, marred by his extramarital affair with Mamah Cheney, her murder in 1914 along with six others (including her children) at Wright’s Wisconsin home, Taliesin, and his subsequent remarriage, divorce, and remarriage that followed.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN…Clockwise, from top left, Reginald Marsh illustration for the profile; Frank Lloyd Wright, circa 1930; Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, completed in 1923. Designed in the Maya Revival Style Wright favored throughout the 1920s, it was damaged by the 1923 Great Tokyo Earthquake just months after opening. It was demolished in 1967, however the iconic central lobby wing and the reflecting pool were disassembled and rebuilt near Nagoya. (Library of Congress/dezeen.com)

Woollcott also wrote of his visit to Taliesin (the third version of the house, after the first two were destroyed by fires). It’s a shame these two headstrong fellows never met — it would have been a lively conversation, no doubt. One thing that does stand out about this profile is that it is a rare hagiography from a man renowned for his savage wit.

AN ADMIRER…Alexander Woollcott praised the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright in his profile. He doesn’t mention actually meeting Wright. It would have been fascinating to see these headstrong individuals match wits.
MAYA OH MAYA…Clockwise, from top left, Frank Lloyd Wright favored the Maya Revival Style in the 1920s, which is evident in the Alice Millard House in Pasadena (1923) and the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles (1919-21). At bottom, the third version of Taliesin (built in 1925) that Woollcott would have visited. (Wikipedia/Taliesin Preservation)

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No Surprise Endings, Please

Although sometimes confused with Alexander Woollcott because of his first name, the timid, taciturn Wolcott Gibbs was a force at the New Yorker in his own right, perhaps even more so as he served the magazine from 1927 to 1958 as a jack-of-all-trades: copy editor, feature writer, theater critic, and overall wordsmith. So when the editors of The Writer’s Digest posed a question regarding the New Yorker’s policy for submissions, it was Gibbs who was tapped to compose a response, which was a particular challenge given the magazine didn’t have a clear set of editorial requirements. So Gibbs conjured up an “Answers-To-Hard-Questions Department,” and signed it “Mr. Winterbottom.” Some excerpts:

IN HIS ELEMENT…Wolcott Gibbs, left, relaxes at the Algonquin Hotel in 1937. At right is his New Yorker colleague Dorothy Parker. (Time)

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Munitions of Bremen

The German Ocean liner SS Bremen was one of the most technologically advanced ocean liners of its day, known for its speed and luxury. Author Eric Hodgins climbed aboard to file a report for the New Yorker, and in the excerpt below marveled at the “mechanical perfection” of the ship’s engine room:

PLOUGHSHARES INTO SWORDS…More than the length of three football fields, the streamlined SS Bremen, launched in 1928, was designed to have a cruising speed of  27.5 knots (50.9 km/h). After a 1941 fire, the ship was largely dismantled, its steel used to manufacture war munitions. (Wikipedia/greatoceanliners.com)

You can get some idea of the ship in this clip from the 1936 German comedy Spiel an Bord (Game on Board). Location shooting took place in Bremerhaven, New York, and on the Atlantic crossing of the SS Bremen (at about :53 there is an image of a Nazi flag salute that I don’t believe was in the original film, but that flag undoubtedly flew on this ship in 1936)…

In 1941, while docked in Bremerhaven, a disgruntled crew member set fire to the ship, completely gutting its luxurious interior. During the war the ship was stripped of its steel for use in munitions, and in 1946 what remained was destroyed by explosives.

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From Our Advertisers

In my readings of recent issues I’ve noted numerous references to hot weather, and for good reason. The summer of 1930 would see record high temperatures and diminished rainfall that would usher in the “Dust Bowl” era of the 1930s. The Wallach Brothers adjusted by offering this “Dixie Weave Suit”…

…the hot weather also called for a tall glass of sparkling soda (mixed with your favorite bootleg beverage, of course)…

…smokers could keep cool by puffing on a Spud, the first menthol cigarette…

…or you could stick with your Luckies, endorsed by none other than this generic, genial doctor and some bogus survey…

…on to our cartoons…I. Klein showed us a downside of Edison’s invention…

…and Leonard Dove gave us two gentlemen on the skids, a frequent sight in Depression-era New York…

…after a long absence, we see suddenly see a flurry of activity from the pen of Ralph Barton, including this rare sequential cartoon…

…and with the hot summer New Yorkers took to the waters, at Coney Island with Denys Wortman

…and Southampton, with Helen Hokinson

Next Time: For the Byrds…

 

Transatlantic Dreaming

When Apollo astronauts landed on the moon fifty years ago, many skeptics asked the question, “What good does this accomplish?”

July 12, 1930 cover by Constantin Alajálov.

New Yorker writer Morris Markey posed the same question 89 years ago about transatlantic flights, then limited to a handful of daredevils chasing various speed and distance records. Crossing the ocean in an airplane, Markey observed, was “one of the most difficult things imaginable.” He concluded that despite the heroics of a few pilots, “we are still not much nearer to transoceanic commercial service…”

TESTING THE LIMITS…In photo at left, Charles Kingsford Smith (second from left) and the crew of his airplane, Southern Cross, pause before embarking on their east-west crossing of the Atlantic in  June 1930; photo at right: Dieudonné Costes (right) with Maurice Bellonte in Boston in 1930. On September 1-2, 1930, they flew the “Point d’Interrogation” from Paris to New York, the first heavier-than-air aircraft to reach New York in the more difficult westbound direction between the North American and European mainlands. (National Library of Ireland/Wikipedia)
BIG THINKERS…Germany’s massive Dornier Do-X made its first test flight on July 12, 1929. A few months later, it carried a world-record 169 passengers on a 40-minute flight, an astonishing number given that the largest planes at that time rarely carried more than 20 passengers. In 1930, the Do-X took off on an international publicity tour through Europe, down the west coast of Africa, across the Atlantic to Brazil and up to New York before returning to Berlin. (Mashable)

Markey went on to detail the various obstacles facing transatlantic fliers, including fairly good odds that a plane, laden with fuel and supplies for such a journey, would crash on takeoff. He noted that a little over half of the attempts succeeded, while the others seemed doomed from the start.

ILL-ADVISED…With only 70 hours of flying experience, Montana rancher Urban F. Diteman (left, with his airplane “Golden Hind”) took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, bound for London. He was never seen again; at right, the William Randolph Hearst-sponsored “Old Glory,” a Fokker F.VIIa single-engined monoplane that was used in 1927 on an attempted transatlantic flight from Old Orchard Beach, Maine to Rome, Italy. The overloaded plane and its crew were lost approximately 700 miles east of Newfoundland, where only a section of wing was recovered. (dailymontana.com/Wikipedia)

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Glare of the New

Architecture critic George Chappell enthusiastically followed the construction of the world’s tallest building, but in its completion he found the Chrysler Building’s now-iconic spire to be little more than a stunt, and suggested that a covering of masonry might be in order:

MAYBE SOME VINYL SIDING?…George Chappell wasn’t too crazy about the Chrysler’s chrome dome, and also worried about the amount of steel that would clad the exterior of the Empire State Building, right, which is composed of limestone, chrome bars and aluminum panels. (Wikipedia)

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Bottoms Up

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White pondered the drinking habits of his fellow citizens in the tenth year of Prohibition:

MAKE THAT A DOUBLE…Finding refreshment in the dark days of Prohibition. (junkee.com)

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Good Old Summertime

Along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” a Reginald Marsh interpretation of Coney Island fun and games…

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Still the Same

Lois Long, who painted a picture of Jazz Age nightlife like no other in her “Tables for Two” column, teased her readers by disguising her identity, often claiming she was a frumpy old lady. With her “Tables” column now relegated to the dustbin, the fashionable and young Long maintained her pose, referring to herself as an “old war horse” in her fashion column “On and Off the Avenue.”

Problems of the Rich

John Mosher reviewed the 1930 American Pre-Code comedy Holiday, which told the story of a young man torn between his wild lifestyle and the tradition of his wealthy fiancée’s family. Films that explored the “problems” of the rich seemed particularly popular in the Depression years…

POOR LITTLE RICH GIRLS…Mary Astor and Ann Harding in Holiday. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Pond’s Cold Cream continued its campaign of endorsements by society women, including Philadelphia socialite, philanthropist and champion horsewoman Elizabeth Altemus

Altemus (1906-1988) was a prominent owner/breeder of Thoroughbred racehorses for more than 50 years. Her first marriage was to Jock Whitney, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, and president of the Museum of Modern Art. By the looks of this 1937 portrait of Altemus, the cold cream certainly didn’t do her any harm…

Mary Elizabeth Altemus Whitney in 1937. (geni.com)

…speaking of cold cream, when Kleenex was introduced in the early 1920s, it was marketed solely as a hygienic way to remove cold cream. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the makers of Kleenex began to suggest it could also be used as a tissue in place of a handkerchief. Of course it was also a great way to dramatically expand consumption of its brand, and help usher in a new age of disposable products…

…as the Depression deepened, ads for automobiles began to change with the times, most manufacturers emphasizing the affordability of their cars over performance or prestige, as this sad little ad from Packard attested….

…in three consecutive issues (June 5, 12 and 19) Peter Arno featured the same drawing with a different caption that gave readers a very brief courtship story…

Alan Dunn offered a glimpse of life among the newsboys…

Leonard Dove found Americans browsing newsstands along the Seine…

Helen Hokinson looked in on an existential crisis…

Perry Barlow was Out West at a dude ranch…

Barbara Shermund eavesdropped on a couple of debs…

Garrett Price gave us an awkward encounter among the yachting crowd…

…and finally William Crawford Galbraith, and a case of domesticus interruptus

Next Time: Aleck & Frank at Taliesin…

Germany’s Anti-Decor

The annual Salon of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in Paris reflected the growing importance of design as a profession, although it was primarily attuned to an affluent urban elite. Then along came the Germans.

June 14, 1930 cover by Helen Hokinson.

A radical new wind blew through Paris in 1930 when Bauhaus designers were invited to exhibit in their own special section at the Salon. According to the New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet Flanner, the Germans put on a display in their Section Allemande that left some French designers scratching their heads.

KEEPING IT CLEAN…Members of the Bauhaus Werkbund displayed their wares in the Section Allemande (German section) of the annual Salon of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in Paris. Clockwise, from top left, examples of reception areas and workspaces by Walter Gropius; bottom left, inside pages of the exhibition catalogue for the Section Allemande. (journal.eahn.org)
STAIRWAY TO THE FUTURE…A staircase fashioned from galvanized chicken wire, by Walter Gropius, on display in Section Allemande of the 1930 Salon of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs. (journal.eahn.org)
UNKNOWN THEN, COMMON NOW…The Section Allemande also featured building models, including this multi-story apartment with communal facilities, designed by Walter Gropius. (Journal of Design History, 2004)
HOW IT STACKED UP…Rather than dazzle audiences with the latest in posh decor, the Germans confronted Salon audiences with their radical approaches to furniture and interior spaces. At left, chairs by Marcel Breuer and others; at right, Light Prop for an Electric Stage by László Moholy-Nagy. (journal.eahn.org/Artists rights Society)

Many critics and commentators at the time characterized the Salon as a nationalistic showdown between French luxury decor and German efficiency and standardization. Flanner suggested that while the Germans seemed to be throwing out the rule book, the French were accepting modernity at a much slower pace:

MODE DE VIE…Salon entries by French designers had a more art deco bent. Clockwise, from top left, vestibule of a boudoir by Jean Dunand; cover of the Salon’s catalogue; Petit Salon by André Groult; a living room by Jules Leleu. (Pinterest/art-utile.blogspot.com)

Of course we know how this story in turns out. In just three years the Nazis would shut down the Bauhaus, scattering its faculty and students abroad, including many to America, where they would find fertile soil to continue their work and eventually spread their design philosophy and aesthetic (for better or worse) across the U.S. and to every corner of the world.

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A Gay Old Time

New Yorkers could escape the summer heat by taking in the latest incarnation of the Garrick Gaities at Broadway’s Guild Theatre. Character and voice actor Sterling Holloway Jr., (1905-1992) best known today as the voice of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh, appeared in all three Garrick Gaiety revues (1925, 1926, 1930), which were staged as benefits for New York’s Theatre Guild. Robert Benchley offered this review:

                   Sterling Holloway, left, with June Cochran in Garrick Gaieties.

Another familiar face in the Garrick Gaieties was Imogene Coca (1908-2001), a pioneer of early television (with Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows) who is best known today for her role as Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983).

KEEP ‘EM LAUGHING…Clockwise, from top left, Scene from the 1930 Garrick Gaieties revue, with Philip Loeb in the high hat and Thelma Tipson standing behind him. Also from left are Ruth Chorpenning, Donald Stewart and Ted Fetter; cover of the program for the 1930 revue; publicity photo from 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, with Imogene Coca as Aunt Edna at right; Coca, far left, in the chorus line for the 1930 Garrick Gaieties. (New York Public Library/IBDB/ifccenter.com/Pinterest)

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Ahh-Choo

A child of New York City’s suburbs, E.B. White developed a love of the natural world thanks to a severe bout of hay fever he had as a child — on the advice of a doctor, he was sent to Maine for the summer. White’s allergies, and his love of country living, would prompt him to buy a summer residence on the Maine Coast in 1933. He and his wife, New Yorker writer and fiction editor Katherine Angell White, would make it their permanent home four years later. In 1930, however, White was still putting up with the bad summer air of the city:

THANK GOD I’M A COUNTRY BOY…E.B. White on the beach with his dog Minnie, circa 1940s. (Wikipedia)

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It Didn’t Work Then, Either

Some things never change. The HawleySmoot Tariff Act, sponsored by Representative Willis C. Hawley and Senator Reed Smoot and approved June 17, 1930, raised tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods. Promoted as a way to protect American businesses and farmers, it put additional strain on international markets already reeling from the effects of the Depression. A resulting trade war severely reduced imports and exports. Writing for “The Wayward Press,” Robert Benchley (under the pen name Guy Fawkes) shared these observations:

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How Dry I Ain’t

Despite his sober demeanor, Henry Hastings Curran (1877-1966) was a champion for those seeking the repeal of Prohibition laws. A longtime city manager in several roles, in 1930 he was president of the Association Against Prohibition Amendment. According to profile writer Henry Pringle, Curran predicted the end of Prohibition in five years. Happily for the wet side, they would get their wish in just three. A brief excerpt from the profile, titled “The Wet Hope.”

Henry H. Curran (Underwood and Underwood)

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From Our Advertisers

The Hotel Algonquin ran a series of ads in the back pages of the New Yorker that capitalized on its reputation as a place where stars and other notables gather. And although the Algonquin Round Table was a thing of the past, the hotel made sure to showcase names forever associated with the famed table, including Robert Benchley and the hotel’s manager, Frank Case

…hoping for some crossover interest from New Yorker readers, William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan (then a publisher of fiction, not sex tips) promoted this fictionalized autobiography of a famous tap dancer in this full page ad…

…introduced in 1924, Kleenex was originally marketed as a cold cream remover, and not as something you would blow your nose into, for goodness sake…

…however, after 1930 Kleenex was being marketed with the slogan “Don’t Carry a Cold in Your Pocket”…

DON’T BLOW IT…Kleenex boxes circa 1925. (Kleenex.com)

…and artist Carl Erickson remained busy making Camel cigarettes look so darn appealing…

…from Macy’s we have a jolly ad illustrated by Helen Hokinson

…and for our cartoons, Peter Arno, and an awkward moment in a parking lot…

Reginald Marsh visited Coney Island…

…fresh off his first “Little King” strip for the New Yorker, Otto Soglow returned with this wry observation…

...Garrett Price looked in on a clash of cultures at a golf course (an image that seems quite relevant today)…

Barbara Shermund found a bit of trouble at home…

…while Art Young offered this woman a choice of her daily mayhem…

Next Time: Robeson’s Othello…

 

Red Alert

The New Yorker had a number of favorite punching bags, among them one Grover Whalen (1886–1962), a product of Tammany Hall politics who in 1928 was appointed New York City Police Commissioner by another Tammany alumnus, Mayor Jimmy Walker.

May 17, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

Ironically, a mayor known for openly flouting prohibition laws had placed into office a man who would become known as a ruthless enforcer of those laws (excepting Mayor Walker, of course). Whalen was also known for fighting crimes that didn’t necessarily exist, including those committed by “Reds” organizing protests by the city’s growing numbers of unemployed.

In the May 10, 1930 issue, New Yorker writer Alva Johnston penned a tongue-in-cheek assessment of America’s “Red Revolution” (see previous post). In the following issue (May 17), Morris Markey took a few swipes at Whalen’s “Crimson Menace” in his “A Reporter At Large” column:

FLYING HIGH…Mayor Jimmy Walker (second from left) and his new Police Commissioner Grover Whalen (far right) visit Mitchell Field on Long Island in 1928; portrait of Whalen circa 1930. (Amazon/WNYC)

Whalen’s career as police commissioner came to an end around the time Markey’s column appeared. Whalen was under fire for how his police responded to an International Unemployment Day demonstration, where 1,000 baton-wielding police went to work on a crowd of more than 35,000 demonstrators. The New York Times reported: “From all parts of the scene of battle came the screams of women and cries of men with bloody heads and faces.”

IDLE HANDS…The International Unemployment Day demonstration in Union Square on March 6, 1930, turned ugly  when 1,000 baton-wielding police went to work on the protestors, identified by the then-staid New York Times as “Reds.” (Pinterest)

And in the May 24 issue, E.B. White took his own swipe at Whalen in his “Notes and Comment”…

In ensuing years Whalen found more peaceful pursuits, serving as New York City’s official greeter of dignitaries and organizer of ticker tape parades. In 1935 he was named president of the New York World Fair Corporation and became the face of the forward-looking 1939 New York World’s Fair.

DAWN OF A NEW DAY was the opening slogan for the 1939 World’s Fair. At left, preparing to lower the fair’s time capsule into it’s 5,000-year resting place are A.W. Robertson, Westinghouse Electric Company’s chairman of the board (left) and Grover Whalen, president of the New York World’s Fair; at right, the fair’s iconic symbols, the Trylon and Perisphere. (heinzhistorycenter.org/Flickr-Ricksoloway)

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It’s In The Stars

E.B. White led off his “Notes and Comment” with thoughts on the latest trends in product endorsement, including the use of astrology to boost the sales of toothpaste and perfume:

A FORTUNE IN TOOTHPASTE…The makers of Forhan’s Toothpaste promote their Astrology Hour radio show in the Akron Beacon Journal, May 1931. At right, 1931 ad for Perfum Astrologique. (newspapers.com)
THAT WAS THEN…White actors Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll portrayed Amos ’n’ Andy on the radio from 1928 to 1960. Here they shill for Pepsodent toothpaste on circa 1930 stand-up cards. (thetimes.co.uk)

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More Advice on Troublesome Pets

The May 17 issue featured James Thurber’s latest advice on pet care in the “Talk of the Town” section…

…and this two-page illustration by Reginald Marsh ran along the bottom of “Talk.”

click image to enlarge

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A Fighter for Rights

The May 17 issue featured the first installment of a two-part profile on social reformer Samuel Untermyer (1858-1940) titled “Little Giant.” The profile’s author, Alva Johnston, praised Untermyer’s legacy, and chided New Yorkers for not giving him his proper due. Known for defending the public trust against powerful corporations, he laid the groundwork in the U.S. for the Federal Reserve Law, the Clayton Anti-Trust Law, the Federal Trade Commission Bill and the Securities and Exchange Act. A fierce defender of Jewish rights, Untermyer served as attorney for Herman Bernstein, who filed suit against automaker Henry Ford for anti-semitic articles published in Ford’s Dearborn Independent. 

Johnston concluded his two-part profile with these words:

BRING IT ON…Samuel Untermyer was known as a fierce defender of the public trust. At right, illustration that accompanied the New Yorker profile. (findagrave.com)

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Julian De Miskey picked up some extra work with this illustration for Macy’s…

…while in cartoons, Barbara Shermund discovered the challenges of exercise by radio…

Helen Hokinson looked at the challenges of city driving…

Gardner Rea explored the mysteries of street food…

…and Peter Arno greeted one Manhattan couple at sunrise…

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On to the May 24, 1930 issue, with a lovely cover by Madeline Pereny…

May 24, 1930 cover by Madeline Pereny.

As construction continued on the Museum of the City of New York, the New Yorker’s architecture critic George Chappell liked what was taking shape:

THE STORY OF A CITY…The Museum of the City of New York opened its doors at 104th Street and Fifth Avenue in early 1932. (nyctourist.com/www.ennead.com)

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Travel by train in the States wasn’t always miserable as this ad attested…

…a bit of color courtesy the Lenthéric salon…

Fontaine Fox, best known for his long-running Toonerville Folks comics, contributed this cartoon on behalf of Talon Slide Fasteners, or “zippers” as they came to be known in the late 1920s and early 30s, when they were still something of a novelty…

…I believe this is the first-ever image of the Empire State Building in the New Yorker, an artist’s rendering since the building wouldn’t be completed until the spring of 1931…note how this ad links the building’s site location to New York history and specifically the Astor family…

…here is how the Empire State Building looked in June 1930…

(New York Public Library)

…the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was torn down to make way for the Empire State Building, and that provides a nice segue to our cartoons…this one by Garrett Price featured a modest work crew contemplating the razing of a building that recalled the old hotel…

…across the pond, one of Helen Hokinson’s ladies was busy trying to procure a banned book…

…while William Crawford Galbraith gave us a young woman in search of a love song (with the help of a seriously timid man)…

Barbara Shermund found some bedside humor…

…and Peter Arno took us back to the nightlife, with our familiar gold-digger and sugar daddy…

…and finally, over the course of 12 issues (Feb. 8 to May 10, 1930) Abe Birnbaum provided illustrations of New York’s “Restaurant Royalty.” These usually ran in or near “The Talk of the Town” section. Please click to enlarge.

Next Time: The Little King…