Ziegfeld’s Folly

Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr knew how to pack a Broadway theater, and from 1907 to 1932 he staged a number of revues and plays (most notably Showboat) that featured lavish costumes and a bevy of chorus girls.

Dec. 6, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin, depicting a peephole view of a speakeasy during the holidays.

When his latest show, Smiles, hit the stage of the Ziegfeld Theatre on Nov. 18, 1930, it was greeted by an audience that had endured the first year of the Great Depression. Ziegfeld’s entertainments, on the other hand, were more associated with the high times of the Roaring Twenties. So even the popular brother-sister dance team from Omaha — Fred and Adele Astaire — seemed a bit old hat.

GO WITH THE FLO…Broadway impresario Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr with his Follies cast, 1931. (Wall Street Journal)

Or so it seemed to Robert Benchley, who observed in “The Wayward Press” that most of his readers could draw pictures of the Astaires from memory. But what really irked Benchley was the way William Randolph Hearst manipulated his mighty newspaper empire to promote Ziegfeld’s Smiles in a way that made the show appear to be the biggest hit of the year.

Ziegfeld Theatre was built with Hearst’s financial backing, so the media mogul was determined that the show would be a success, commanding his editors and writers to lavish praise on the tepid production, which would close in less than two months as a box office failure.

SAY CHEESE…Program for Smiles featuring Fred Astaire, Marilyn Miller and Adele Astaire. At right, publicity photo for Smiles featuring Fred and Marilyn. (Playbill/Pinterest)

For the Astaires, they were nearing the end of their 27-year collaboration — Adele would retire from the stage in 1932 to marry Lord Charles Cavendish, and in 1934 Fred would pair up with Ginger Rogers for the first of nine films they would make together for RKO. Marilyn Miller, one of the most popular Broadway stars of the 1920s and early 1930s, would also seek her fortune in films, but would only make three. Alcoholism and persistent sinus infections would cut her life short in 1936 — she would die at age 37 from complications following nasal surgery.

BRIEF CAREER…Marilyn Miller in 1931’s Her Majesty, Love, one of just three films she would make before her death in 1936. (IMDB)

Benchley revealed how some of Hearst’s reporters responded to the edict from their boss:

TWEAKING HIS NOSE…Walter Winchell, left, registered his protest against his boss, William Randolph Hearst, by laying it on thick in his column. (IMDB/BBC)
THE FOLLY OF FOLLIES…Robert Benchley (left) cried foul regarding Hearst’s attempt to prop up a lousy show; Ogden Nash (right) found humor in the “immorality” of Ziegfeld’s productions.  (Wikipedia/Notable Biographies)

On a related note, Ogden Nash also zeroed in on Ziegfeld’s latest show, turning the tables on religious zealots who found the Follies immoral. An excerpt:

And finally, one more theater-related item: a drawing by Al Frueh highlighting the melodrama On The Spot, which ran from Oct. 29, 1930 through March 1931 at the Forrest Theatre.

BETTER THAN ZIEGFELD, THIS…At right, Crane Wilbur and Anna May Wong in the melodrama On The Spot, which opened Oct. 29, 1930 at the Forrest Theatre. (New Yorker/Pinterest)

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In the Dec. 6, 1930 “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White shared his observations on a new type of chair that doubled as a dog house…

…and he wasn’t making it up, because the chair he described was featured in this ad from the same issue…

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Drunk History

In the fall of 1930 Scribner’s magazine published a series of three articles titled “If Booth Had Missed Lincoln,” If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg,” and “If Napoleon Had Escaped to America.” The New Yorker’s James Thurber claimed to be the author of a fourth article, “If Grant Had Been Drinking At Appomattox.” An excerpt:

REVISIONIST…James Thurber circa 1930. (thurberhouse.org)

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From Our Advertisers

The rolling pin was often deployed as a prop — especially in the comics — to illustrate marital discord; the makers of Hoffman ginger ale used the common trope to sell their fizzy drink…

…for reference, Maggie gives it to Jiggs in this comic book cover from 1953…

(Good Girl Comics)

…the issue was stuffed with ads for Christmas shoppers, ranging from colorful plastic tumblers…

…to “unforgettable” appliances…

…to a variety of accessories at Wanamaker’s…

…Macy’s offered this pajama and robe combination for (insufferable) little boys who “strive for sartorial effect”…

…while Burdine’s of Miami urged snowbirds to purchase multiple wardrobes to remain fashionable throughout the winter season…

…and in stark contrast, this ad appealed for donations to help the jobless…

…our cartoons are supplied by Art Young

…the ever reliable Barbara Shermund

…and equally reliable Peter Arno

…and Helen Hokinson

…and we close with this gem by Garrett Price

Next Time: A Blue Angel…

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Woes of Mr. Monroe

Whether probing the battle of sexes or exposing the secret lives of daydreamers like Walter Mitty, James Thurber (pictured above) had a knack for revealing the frustrations and various tics that plagued ordinary people.

Aug. 9, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

That included the fictional John Monroe, whom Thurber placed in various awkward situations in a series of humorous stories, including this encounter with some moving men that required the rather inept Monroe to make a series of decisions usually left to his wife, Ellen. Some excerpts from the Aug. 9 issue:

ODD COUPLES…Sue Randall, left, and Orson Bean portrayed John and Ellen Monroe on a 1961 episode of The DuPont Show with June Allyson…
…a decade later, William Windom, left, and Joan Hotchkis portrayed John and Ellen Monroe on the Thurber-inspired (and award-winning) NBC comedy My World and Welcome to It (1969-70). (Wikipedia/Amazon)

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Beats the Heat

In the hot August of 1930, film critic John Mosher probably found the air-conditioned theaters to be the best feature of the cinema, given the generally mediocre quality of the summer movies. Mosher also noted the new trend of adapting Broadway plays to the screen, a practice that continues to this day.

THE SOUND OF 1930…Joan Crawford (left) examines a boom microphone on the set of Our Blushing Brides. Although most films were produced with sound in 1930, it was still something of a novelty to actors who began their careers in the silent era; at right, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Anita Page in Little Accident. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Well who doesn’t love a whole chicken in jar, ready to “fry or cream” in just 20 minutes? This was actually a big deal in 1930, given that chicken dinners were not as common back in the days before factory farms and Chick-fil-A…

…the makers of Marlboro cigarettes abandoned their essay and penmanship contests and took another direction with their drab, back-page ads, appealing to a vague sense of status in the prospective smoker…

…this sad little bottom-of-the-page ad enticed readers to take a drive in the country to see Texas Guinan and her “Famous Gang” still whooping it up like it was 1925. The venture was short-lived…

…on to our cartoons, Peter Arno looked in on nightlife in the city…

William Crawford Galbraith took in an outdoor concert…

Ralph Barton offered his comic skills to a glimpse of domestic life…

Garrett Price observed some boaters on an outing that would be frowned upon today (or at least I hope so)…

…and Constantin Alajalov examined the pitfalls of modern art…

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Speaking of art, we move on the Aug. 16, 1930 issue…

Aug. 16, 1930 cover by Barney Tobey.

…in which Robert Benchley has fun with the foibles of the art world…

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Rough Riders

In his “Reporter at Large” column, Morris Markey looked in on the working world of one chain-smoking ambulance driver…some excerpts…

SOMEONE NEEDS TO CLEAN THIS UP…Clockwise, from top left, a 1930s Flexible ambulance and its rather cramped interior; scene of a 1933 Manhattan murder. (coachbuilt.com/NY Daily News)

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From Our Advertisers

Hard to believe that zippers were a novel invention just 90 years ago…in this ad from the leading manufacturer, Talon, this “hookless” wonder was still referred to as a “slide fastener”…

…the Chrysler Corporation was never the biggest car company in America, but it was always known as a leader in both technology and design, as in these graceful lines that flowed over its new “Straight Eight” models…

…the makers of Camel cigarettes continued to push their product as a sound way to stay fit and trim…

…in the cartoons for Aug. 16, this drawing by Peter Arno appeared for the fifth time in the magazine, always with a different caption (the others appeared in three consecutive issues — June 5, 12 and 19, and on Aug. 2, 1930)…

William Crawford Galbraith detected some wet vs. dry tension at the country club…

Ralph Barton returned with another full-page illustration of a weekend domestic scene…

Garrett Price found confusion in a lengthy queue…

…and Kemp Starrett gave us a bird’s eye view of a future New Yorker…

Next Time: Hell’s Angels…

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…

 

All Quiet on the Western Front

Still considered one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, All Quiet on the Western Front opened in New York on April 29, 1930 to strong reviews. Based on a Erich Maria Remarque novel of the same name, the film’s depictions of the horrors of war were so realistic and harrowing that it was banned in a number of countries outside of the U.S.

May 10, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Banned, that is, by nations gearing up for war. In Germany, Nazi brownshirts disrupted viewings during its brief run in that country, tossing smoke bombs into cinemas among other acts of mayhem. Back in the U.S., the New Yorker’s John Mosher attended a screening at a “packed” Central Theatre:

WAR IS HELL…Clockwise, from top left, movie poster for 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front; German soldier Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres), falls into a shell crater with a French soldier and draws his knife; in one of the most moving scenes in cinema, Bäumer is forced to spend the night in the crater, where he vainly tries to safe the life of the Frenchman he has mortally wounded; a German soldier crawls through the mud in a German training camp. (IMDB/Universal).

Mosher found the film’s adaption from the novel wanting in places, but overall praised the acting and the quality of the picture…

…and just in case some audiences were put off by the blood and guts, Universal promoted other themes on its lobby cards…

(IMDB)

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More Than a Stunt

In her profile of aviator Elinor Smith (1911-2010), writer Helena Huntington Smith took great pains to distinguish Elinor from other “lady fliers” who were little more than passengers in various flying exploits. Like Amelia Earhart, Elinor Smith had the bona fides of a true aviator: in 1927 Smith become the youngest licensed pilot in the world at age 16, learning stunt flying at an early age. At age 17, she smashed the women’s flying endurance record by soloing 26½ hours, and in the following month set a woman’s world speed record of 190.8 miles per hour. In March 1930 she set a women’s world altitude record of 27,419 feet (8,357 m), breaking that record in 1931 with a flight reaching 32,576 feet. Smith would continue to fly well into old age. In 2000 she flew NASA’s Space Shuttle vertical motion simulator and became the oldest pilot to succeed in a simulated shuttle landing. In 2001 (at age 89) she would pilot an experimental flight at Langley AFB. An excerpt from the profile:

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS…Elinor Smith’s flying career would extend from age 16 and into her 90s. At left, Smith poses in Long Island with the Bellanca monoplane she used to beat the solo flight record in 1929. Right, portrait of Smith circa 1930s. (findagrave.com)

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I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia

Theatre critic Robert Benchley was over the moon regarding a performance of Lysistrata staged by the Philadelphia Theatre Association. Benchley suggested the Philadelphians had “put New York to shame” in staging such a “festival of beauty and bawdiness…never seen on an American stage before.”

NO MORE HANKY PANKY…Left, actress Miriam Hopkins in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, as photographed by Edward Steichen; at right, Sydney Greenstreet with unidentified actress from the 1930 Philadelphia production of Lysistrata. (timeline.com)

Benchley praised the seemingly advanced tastes of Philadelphia audiences as he continued to the lament the fact that the City of Brotherly Love had beaten New York to the punch with the staging of the play. He needn’t have worried much longer; the play would open on Broadway on June 5, 1930, at the 44th Street Theatre.

LOVER COME BACK…Production photograph for Norman-Bel Geddes’s staging for Lysistrata, titled “the women of Greece return to their men.” (hrc.utexas.edu)

While we are on the subject of theater, Constantin Alajálov provided this lovely illustration of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for the New Yorker’s theater review section…

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Make ‘Em Dance, Boys

The author Robert Wilder contributed this interesting casual about the appearance of gangster Al Capone at a Chicago nightclub. Excerpts:

LIGHT ON HIS FEET…Al Capone in 1930. (Wikipedia)

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You Say You Want a Revolution?

Alva Johnston offered his thoughts on how America could stage its own “Red Revolution,” given that Russia and several European countries had already experienced communist uprisings of their own, and also given that New York Police Commissioner Grover Whalen, always in search of problems that didn’t exist, had announced a new “Red Scare” in his fight against communism.

Tongue firmly in cheek, Johnston suggested how American know-how could be brought to bear in inciting a Red Terror. An excerpt:

YANKEE INGENUITY…Alva Johnston, left, offered some innovative ideas for a uniquely American “Red Revolution.” At right, soldiers stand behind a barricade during Germany’s communist Spartacist uprising of January 1919. (Wikipedia)

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Speaking of Revolutionaries

Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello is one of America’s most-visited historical sites, but in 1930 it was still something of a regional curiosity, having only been acquired in 1923 for the purposes of turning it into a public museum. Although Jefferson is well known today for his various inventions at Monticello, E.B. White was just learning about this side of the president in his weekly “Notes and Comment” dispatch:

THIS OLD HOUSE…Left, a combination of neglect and Civil War vandalism left Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello enmeshed in weeds and in a state of near collapse by the 1870s. At right, students of the University of Virginia pose outside Monticello in 1930. (UVA/Hulton Archive)

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Play Ball?

We are well into the spring of 1930, yet the New Yorker stood firm in its complete lack of baseball coverage. As I’ve noted before, the magazine covered virtually every sport from horse racing to rowing to badminton, and even lowered itself to regular features on college football and professional hockey, but not a line on baseball, save for an occasional note about the antics of Babe Ruth or the homespun goodness of Lou Gehrig. There were signs, however, that baseball was being played in a city blessed with three major league teams; we do find game times in the “Goings On About Town” section, as well as occasional baseball-themed filler art, and a comic panel in the May 10 issue by Leonard Dove:

From Our Advertisers

We begin with an endorsement for Chase & Sanborn coffee by the soprano Alma Gluck, wife of famed violinist and composer Efrem Zimbalist Sr. Originally I thought she was enjoying coffee with a sister in law named “Mrs. Zimbalist,” but as reader Frank Wilhoit astutely points out, the “Alma Gluck” (celebrity) and “Mrs. Zimbalist” (housewife) are alternate personae of the same individual. And now that I look at the ad again, the clothes and hair styles are identical. I will try to locate a clearer image of the ad…

…and from the makers of White Rock we have a group of swells and their airborne friends enjoying some bubbles that are doubtless mixed with illegal hootch…

Dr. Seuss continued to offer his artistry on behalf of Flit insecticide…

…and on to our comics, Peter Arno illustrated the hazards of the road…

…while Leonard Dove explored the hazards high above the streets of Manhattan…

Constantin Alajálov explored an odd encounter in a park…

I Klein mused on the tricks of mass transit…

…and two from Barbara Shermund, who looked in on one tourist’s plans for a trip to Mussolini’s Italy…

…and some helpful advice at a perfume counter…

Next Time: Red Alert…

 

 

 

Learning To Be Modern

On March 1, 1930, the Empire State Building was still just a bunch of sketches and blueprints, as was much of the yet-to-be-built modern cityscape of Manhattan. But as the Depression slowly worked its gnarled fingers into the American landscape, some still dreamed of the sleek, streamlined world to come.

March 1, 1930 cover by Rea Irvin.

The New Yorker’s architecture critic, George S. Chappell, kept readers apprised of changes on the city’s skyline, as well as of the trends in modern design that were being displayed at various exhibitions including one held annually by the city’s Architectural League. Chappell observed:

A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE…Opening pages of the Architectural League’s 45th Annual Exhibition, featuring an image of the Empire State Building. Construction had just begun on the iconic building at the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. (mullenbooks.com)

The exhibition featured a variety of projects, from the Aluminaire House in Long Island to Boardman Robinson’s murals in Pittsburgh to Bertram Goodhue’s Nebraska State Capitol featuring Lee Lawrie’s sculptures and friezes…

ECLECTIC…Model of the Aluminaire House erected in full scale for the 45th Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York; Boardman Robinson’s The History of Trade murals in Kaufmann’s Department Store, Pittsburgh; detail of one of Boardman’s 10 murals displayed at Kaufmann’s; Lee Lawrie’s “The Sower,” a 19-foot-tall bronze statue mounted on top of Bertram Goodhue’s Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. In 1937 Lawrie would install his “Atlas” sculpture in front of Rockefeller Center. (archleague.org/archive.triblive.com/capitol.nebraska.gov)

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And Now For Something Old

While George Chappell contemplated the world to come, “The Talk of Town” looked back in time to Greenwich Village’s oldest drugstore…

FORM FOLLOWED FUNCTION…Quackenbush Pharmacy in 1930. Manager James Todd at right. (Library of Congress)

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Pet Project

The March 1 issue featured James Thurber’s second installment of “Our Pet Department”…

And while Thurber was doling out pet advice, his pal E.B. White was worrying over changes to the design of the Shredded Wheat box…

HORSELESS CARRIAGES replaced animal power on the packages of Shredded Wheat, much to the dismay of E.B. White. (oldshopstuff.com)

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A Prince of a Guy

A refugee from the Bolshevik Revolution, the Georgian Prince Matchabelli (Guéorgui Vassilievitch Matchabelli) was penniless when he landed on American shores in 1924. Two years later he launched a perfume business with three scents  — Ave Maria, Princess Norina, and Queen of Georgia — sold in bottles that were said to be small replicas of the Prince’s lost Georgian crown. “The Talk of the Town” paid the royal perfumer a visit for the March 1 issue:

HIS CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT…A bottle of Princess Norina perfume from 1926, and its creator, Prince Matchabelli. (Pinterest/Wikipedia)

Those who were around the late 1970s and 1980s no doubt recall the Prince Matchabelli Windsong Perfume commercials and the catchy tune that kind of stuck in your head (for better or worse)…

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Low Life Revue

Ben Hecht continued his exploration of the hardboiled world of journalists, bootleggers, nightclub singers and other lowlifes in his screenplay for Roadhouse Nights, a film that was apparently enjoyed by New Yorker film critic John Mosher. As for Hecht, an erstwhile member of the Algonquin Round Table and occasional contributor to the New Yorker in the 1920s, the film was just one of many to follow in a Hollywood career that the former Chicago journalist held in some disdain (see recent New Yorker article by David Denby)…

IT’S MOIDER, I SAY…Helen Morgan, Eddie Jackson Jimmy Durante, Fred Kohler, and Lou Clayton in 1930’s Roadhouse Nights. (IMDB)

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The Winds of Wynn

Ed Wynn wowed theater critic Robert Benchley in his portrayal of “Simple Simon” at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Wynn was one of the most popular comedians of his time, but is best known today for his portrayal of “Uncle Albert” in the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins

AGELESS…Ed Wynn in Simple Simon, 1930; at right as Uncle Albert in 1964’s Mary Poppins. (secondhandsongs.com/Pinterest)

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He Was No Palooka

The March 1 and 9 issues of the New Yorker gave considerable ink to Niven Busch Jr’s success story of a middleweight prizefighter. Titled “K.O. Middleweight,” the two-part article was about Stanislas Kalnins, who went by the name K.O. Keenen because it would go over better with the large majority of Irishmen at the fights. Peter Arno provided the art for the piece:

From Our Advertisers

We have another ad from the Franklin motorcar company touting its air-cooled engines, which thanks to the Depression were not long for the world…

…Saks shamelessly appealed to the “poor” little rich girl in this ad aimed at aspiring debutantes…

…Lenthric perfumes offered this all-French ad to those seeking Continental refinement…

…and this ad from Talon, advertising zippers before the word “zipper” came into common use…

Garrett Price was the latest New Yorker cartoonist to pick up some extra cash from G. Washington instant coffee…

…while John Held Jr. even lent his image (along with some drawings) to promote Chase and Sanborn’s coffee…

…this artist for Spud cigarettes borrowed Carl Erickson’s style from his famed Camel ads (see examples below)…

…examples of Carl “Eric” Erickson’s Camel ads from the late 1920s…

…and here we have another New Yorker cartoonist, Rea Irvin, helping the makers of Murad cigarettes move their product…

…Irvin also illustrated this cartoon for the March 1 issue…

Reginald Marsh contributed these cartoons, no doubt based on a recent winter stay in sunny Havana (I’ve been to Sloppy Joe’s, and still looks pretty much like this)…

…back stateside, Peter Arno looked in on a cultural exchange…

…and we close with two from the issue by Barbara Shermund

Next Time: The Non-linear Man…

Prophet of Doom

The October 1929 stock market crash took most people by surprise, but one man, Roger Babson, knew all along it was coming…thanks to Sir Isaac Newton

Feb. 15, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

Babson (1875-1967) is perhaps best known today as the man who predicted the market crash and the Great Depression that followed. He employed an economic assessment tool called the “Babsonchart” that was based on Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the Feb. 15, 1929 “Profile” (titled “Prophet of Doom”) Henry Pringle tried to make sense of this eccentric businessman, who would go on to wage war against gravity itself:

TOLD YOU SO…Illustration by Hugo Gellert for the profile on Roger Babson, who famously predicted the stock market crash; at right, Babson circa 1930. (Gravity Research Foundation)
BIG THINKER…Roger Babson dedicates the world’s largest spinning globe at Babson College in 1955; at right, the globe as it appears today. Founded by Babson in 1919, Babson College is often ranked as the most prestigious entrepreneurship college in the U.S. (babson.edu/Wikipedia)

Pringle concluded his profile on a confused note, wondering if his subject — a product of sober New England stock — could possibly be a socialist in disguise…

In any case, it is difficult to assign Babson to any one category. Some considered him a genius and visionary, while others thought him a crackpot, particularly in the late 1940s when, following the death of a grandson by drowning, he began to wage war against gravity itself. In 1948 essay “Gravity – Our Enemy Number One,” he wrote: “Broken hips and other broken bones as well as numerous circulatory, intestinal and other internal troubles are directly due to the people’s inability to counteract Gravity at a critical moment.”

That same year Babson founded the Gravity Research Foundation to expedite the discovery of a “gravity shield.” The foundation is still in operation, but rather than seeking to block gravity it works to better understand it. It continues to hold an annual essay prize contest — remarkably, five of its winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in physics. The essay contest’s 1971 winner was none other than physicist Stephen Hawking.

ROCK STAR…Clockwise, from top left: Roger Babson at home with a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton; Babson was the Prohibition Party’s candidate for President of the United States in 1940; Babson provided charitable assistance to unemployed stonecutters in Gloucester, Mass., during the Great Depression, commissioning them to carve inspirational inscriptions on more than 20 boulders near the abandoned settlement of Dogtown. (centennial.babson.edu/Wikipedia)

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An Imperfect Romance

Born in the midst of the Jazz Age, it would seem that the New Yorker would have been a perfect fit for the most prominent chronicler of that era, F. Scott Fitzgerald. But it was mostly not to be: Fitzgerald would publish just two poems and three humorous shorts in the New Yorker between 1929 and 1937, including “Salesmanship in the Champs-Élysées” in Feb. 15 issue.

In all fairness, the New Yorker wasn’t exactly enamored of the young author. In its book review section for the May 23, 1925 issue, the magazine singled out three books for review, the first (and longest) review was devoted to James Boyd’s historical novel Drums. This was followed by a brief review of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the reviewer writing that the book revived his interest in the author but “not in a Byronic promise he probably never had,” and referred to the character of Jay Gatsby as “a good deal of a nut.”

The following year Fitzgerald was the subject of a New Yorker profile titled “That Sad Young Man.” In the magazine’s March 12, 2017 issue, Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman note that the profile (by John Mosher) would be called “snarky” in today’s lingo. They also point out that “Fitzgerald, for his part, appeared to take a rather snobbish view of Harold Ross’s new publication, referring to the short stories he published in it as “hors d’oeuvres.”

With that, here is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “hors d’oeuvres” … “Salesmanship in the Champs-Élysées.”

SOUR GRAPES…The Champs-Elysées in 1929; F. Scott Fitzgerald with his daughter, Scottie, and wife Zelda in Paris in 1925. Despite being products of the Jazz Age, the author and the New Yorker were mostly at odds. In a letter to his daughter, Scottie, Fitzgerald advised that she expand her knowledge of literature “instead of skimming Life + The New Yorker.”  (fr.wikibooks.org/AP)

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The Empire-less State

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White pondered the possibilities of a large lot at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street previously occupied by the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Although construction of the Empire State Building would soon commence at the site, White mused about other possibilities…

LIGHT THERE BE LIGHT…E.B. White found the newly excavated space at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street (former site of the Waldorf-Astoria) to be a refreshing change. It would be short-lived, as the first beams of the Empire State Building would begin to rise from the site in March 1930. (NYPL Digital Gallery)

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Westminster People Show

Although it’s now customary to retire Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show winners, back in 1930 a wire terrier called Pendley Calling of Blarney won Best of Show in 1930 and won the title again the following year. Alice Frankforter was on hand for the event, but found the people at the show every bit as diverting as the animals. Some excerpts…

DOGGONE FUN…The 1932 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, NYC. (westminsterkennelclub.org)

REIGN OF TERRIER…Wire Fox Terrier Pendley Calling of Blarney, left, won back-to-back Westminster Kennel Club Best of Show titles in 1930-31. At right, King’s Best of Show win in February 2019 made him the 15th Wire Fox Terrier in Westminster history to earn the top prize. Terriers are by far the winningest breed at Westminster. (aka.org)

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Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Robert Benchley struck a pre-emptive pose in his review of a new Broadway play titled Rebound — written by his good friend (and fellow Algonquin Round Table alumnus) Donald Ogden Stewart (1894-1980) — and responded to “a chorus of yawps” that accused him of log-rolling…

A FRIEND INDEED…Robert Benchley (right) said his friendship with playwright and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart (left) had no influence over his review of Stewart’s latest play, Rebound. It seems Benchley was in safe territory here, since Stewart’s output was generally high in quality. Indeed, in 1940 Stewart would win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the The Philadelphia Story.

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Georgia On His Mind

The opening of the Museum of Modern Art in late 1929 had a profound effect on the New Yorker’s art critic Murdock Pemberton. In the beginning he dismissed the museum as just another place for the old money crowd to throw parties, but with the opening of its third exhibition, “Painting in Paris” — which featured an extensive display of the works of French modernists — Pemberton began to come around to the idea that this new MoMA was a place to see groundbreaking works of art. In his Feb. 15 column Pemberton looked beyond France for signs of talented modernists in the States, and found only one who stood out — Georgia O’Keeffe.

MOD COUPLE…Clockwise, from left, Alfred Stieglitz attached this photograph to a letter for Georgia O’Keeffe, dated July 10, 1929; Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition of Paintings (1919-1934), at Stieglitz’s An American Place gallery, 1935; O’Keeffe’s Trees at Glorieta, New Mexico, 1929. (Beinecke Library, Yale/Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation)

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From Our Advertisers

Just as hemlines were dropping after the stock market crash, so were the brims of women’s hats — the flapper caps of the 1920s now sprouted droopy ears…

…this ad for Chase and Sanborn coffee featured a weirdly distended image of the writer and humorist Irvin Cobb

…Cobb as he actually appeared, circa 1930…

(talesofmytery.blogspot.com)

…G. Washington coffee, on the other hand, continued to draw from the New Yorker’s stable of cartoonists, including Garrett Price, for its illustrated ads…

…I was surprised to see this ad for two reasons: I wasn’t aware floss was in common use 90 years ago, or that it once came in the handle of a toothbrush…

…and then we have this sad little back page ad (just above a tiny ad for piano lessons) promoting Peggy Joyce’s ghostwritten “tell all” — Men, Marriage and Me. A former Ziegfeld girl and occasional actress who cultivated fame for fame’s sake, Joyce (1893-1957) was mostly known for her six marriages and extravagant lifestyle. By feeding the media a steady stream of scandals and other adventures (she often received reporters in her bedroom, dressed in a see-through negligee) she remained in the celebrity spotlight throughout the 1920s…

Peggy Joyce in 1923; cover of the first edition of her “tell all” — Men, Marriage and Me. Celebrated in the 1920’s as a swinging golddigger, her fame quickly evaporated into the mists of the Great Depression. (Wikipedia/Abe Books)

…speaking of celebrity, advertisers were so eager for endorsements of the famous that even “Mrs. Ring Lardner” (Ellis Abbott) got a piece of the action…

…as travel by airplane became more fashionable, automobile manufacturers increasingly paired their products with flying machines…

…for those who wished to stay on the ground, the Pickwick-Greyhound bus system featured “Nite Coaches” with 14 sleeping compartments (for 28 passengers), hot and cold water in each compartment, and hot meals served by stewards…

…on to our comics, I. Klein illustrated the excitement of heavyweight boxing…

Perry Barlow paid a visit to a writer and his dimwitted visitor…

Helen Hokinson looked in on a prep school dance…

Barbara Shermund demonstrated the finer points of beauty…

…and we end with Peter Arno, and one woman’s plan for a costume party…

Next Time: Five Years in the Making…