Back in the USSR

The year 1932 was a tough one for many Americans, barely scraping by in the deepening Depression. But to the suffering millions in the Soviet Union, America’s economic woes looked like a walk in the park.

Jan. 30, 1932 cover by Rose Silver.

The year marked the beginning of a catastrophic famine that swept across the Soviet countryside, thanks to the government’s bone-headed and heartless forced collectivization that caused more than five million people to perish from hunger. Those events, however, were still on the horizon when Robin Kinkead, a New York Times Moscow correspondent, ventured out into Moscow’s frigid streets in search of a lightbulb. Here is his story:

WE HAVE PLENTY OF NOTHING FOR EVERYONE…In 1930s Moscow, and in the decades beyond, much of life consisted of standing in line for everything from bread to light bulbs.
MAGIC LANTERN…Russian peasants experience electricity for the first time in their village. (flashback.com)
STALIN CAST A LARGE SHADOW over his subjects, even when they sought a bit of light in the darkness. Stalin and Lenin profiles served as glowers in this Soviet lightbulb, circa 1935. The first series of these bulbs were presented to the delegates of Soviet parliament of 1935, just in case they forgot who was in charge — or who might liquidate them at any moment, for any reason, or for no reason. (englishrussia.com)

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One of Theirs

Miguel Covarrubias was one of the first artists to contribute to the fledgling New Yorker, and his linear style was well known to readers when he opened his latest show at New York’s Valentine Gallery. It featured works he had created during a 1931 sojourn in the East Indies. Critic Murdock Pemberton found the palette reminiscent of Covarrubias’ earlier work during the Harlem Renaissance:

GLOBETROTTER…A frequent contributor to the early New Yorker, Miguel Covarrubias traveled the world in search of inspiration. His 1932 exhibition at New York’s Valentine Gallery featured his latest work, a series of “Balinese paintings” including In Preparation of a Balinese Ceremony, at right. (sothebys.com)
MAN OF MANY TALENTS…An early Covarrubias contribution to the New Yorker in the March 7, 1925 issue.
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From Our Advertisers
Listerine had been around since the late 1860s, but it wasn’t marketed as a mouthwash until 1914. The brand really took off in the 1920s when it was heavily advertised as a solution for “chronic halitosis” (bad breath), so in 1930 its makers went one step further by adding a few drops of their product to one of the chief causes of bad breath. The folks at Listerine were also keen to the growing market of women smokers — note the fifth paragraph: “They seem to appeal especially to women”…

…when you run out of ideas to amuse your grandchild, drop your top hat and walking stick and let him take you for a swing on a GE fridge door…wow, admire its “all-steel sturdiness” as it slowly tips toward the unsuspecting lad…

…on to our cartoons, Rea Irvin showed readers what he thought of the latest “rosy” economic predictions…

…but with the economy still deep in the dumps, building continued to boom, per Robert Day

Perry Barlow gave us a fellow needing a break from the daily gloom…

Richard Decker unveiled this crime-fighting duo…

Alan Dunn tempered the flames of passion…

…and we close this issue with one of James Thurber’s most famous cartoons…

…on to Feb. 6, 1932…

Feb. 6, 1932 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

…and we head straight to our advertisers……and yet with another sad Prohibition-era ad, this from the makers of Red & Gold Vintages, who promised to dress up your bootleg rotgut with many fine flavorings…

New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross couldn’t care less about the advertising department as long as it paid the bills and kept its nose out of editorial, but I wonder if a cig dropped from his puritanical (if profane) lips when he glanced at this ad…

…as noted in the Listerine ad above, tobacco companies were eager to tap the growing market of women smokers…actress Sue Carol egged on the sisterhood in this ad…Carol would have a brief acting career (including 1929’s Girls Gone Wild — not quite as racy as the 1990s DVD series) before becoming a successful talent agent…

…as noted in my previous “Dream Cars” post, women were also a fast growing market for automobiles, and manufacturers — desperate for Depression-era sales — scrambled to show women all of the swell gadgets that would make driving a snap (as if men didn’t need these gadgets too)…

…and here we have an ad from Kodak that demonstrated the ease of its home movie camera, which could go anywhere, say, like the horse races in Havana…

…Havana then was a playground for wealthier Americans, and many resided at a grand hotel operated by another rich American…

…but if you remained in town, you should at least know how to get tickets to the latest show (this drawing is signed “Russell”…could it be the noted illustrator Russell Patterson?)…

…on to our cartoons, Rea Irvin again commented on the latest predictions for economic recovery…

…but Alan Dunn found one woman who wanted an adventure, not a job…

…perhaps she should hang out with one of Barbara Shermund’s “New Women,” who had a flair for the dramatic…

…as for those seeking a new life, Mary Petty considered the costs…

Richard Decker took us to the high seas, where a thirsty yachtsman hailed a passing smuggler…

Otto Soglow probed the sorrows of youth…

…and William Crawford Galbraith, the joys…

…and James Thurber introduced his classic dog in a big way on this two-page spread…

…and on to one more issue, Feb. 13, 1932…

Feb. 13, 1932 cover by S. Liam Dunne.

…we begin with a nerd alert — the Feb. 13 cover represented one of the magazine’s biggest departures from the original Rea Irvin nameplate, here heavily embellished within S. Liam Dunne’s design. Departures in previous issues were more subtle, Irvin himself experimented with an elongated version in the third issue (below, left). For the April 17, 1926 issue, Katharine and Clayton Knight’s* stylish illustration (center) was the first to overlap part of the nameplate, and Sue Williams’ Nov. 17, 1928 cover (right) was the first to embellish the Irvin font.

*A note on Katharine Sturges Knight and Clayton Knight. The April 17, 1926 cover (center) was the only design by the Knights published by the New Yorker. The original picture was drawn on wood by Katharine and then cut by Clayton. Their son, Hilary Knight, is also an artist, best known as the illustrator of Kay Thompson’s Eloise book series.

…on to the advertisements, kicking off with this subtle appeal from the makers of the unfortunately named “Spud” menthol cigarettes…here a young woman experiences Spud’s “mouth-happiness” while attending the annual Beaux Arts Ball at the new Waldorf-Astoria…

…if you’re wondering why the Spud ad featured a guy in a powdered wig puffing on a cigarette, well the theme of the 1932 ball was “A Pageant of Old New York.” Every year had a different costume theme, and the ladies and gentlemen of the ruling classes delighted in dressing up for the occasion…

PLAYING DRESS-UP…Program for the 1932 Beaux Arts Ball, and two of the attendees, Frank Sanders and Frances Royce. (Pinterest)

…if stuffy events weren’t your thing, you could chuck the fancy duds and head to the sunny beaches of Bermuda…

…I include this Coty advertisement for its modern look — it easily could have appeared in a magazine from the 50s or even 60s…the artwork is by American fashion illustrator Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…

…the auto show has left town, but for some reason the makers of 12-cylinder models continued to shill their products in the New Yorker…Auburn (the middle ad) built beautiful, upscale vehicles, but the Depression would drop it to its knees by 1937…Pierce Arrow would succumb the following year…Lincoln, the highest-priced of these three, would hang on thanks to the largess of parent Ford…

New Yorker cartoonist John Held Jr. picked up some extra bucks by designing this ad for Chase and Sanborn’s…

…and on to our other cartoonists/illustrators, Reginald Marsh wrapped this busy dance hall scene around a section of “The Talk of the Town”…

Otto Soglow was back with his Little King, and the challenges of fatherhood…

Leonard Dove gave us a knight lost on his crusade…

Richard Decker explored the softer side of gangster life…

…and we sign off with Peter Arno, and a little misunderstanding…

Next Time: Winter Games…

The Mouse That Roared

In the spring of 1928, Walt Disney collaborated with cartoonist Ub Iwerks in creating a new cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, and later that year Mickey would be featured in the first-ever post-produced sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie. The film was an immediate hit, bringing almost instant fame to Disney.

Dec. 19, 1931…A classic cover by Peter Arno.

Just three years after the birth of Mickey, Disney had already carved a place for himself in American culture, drawing the attention of millions of Mickey fans —  and one critic for the New Yorker — Gilbert Seldes, who penned a “Profile” of the “Mickey-Mouse Maker” (illustration by Hugo Gellert). Note in the second of these two excerpts how Disney was already connecting his product to patriotism and clean living through his Mickey Mouse Clubs:

CASH COW…ER…MOUSE…Left, Walt Disney poses with his famous creation in 1935; top right, the Disney family in 1915: Parents Elias and Flora Disney in back row, right; Walt is seated with sister Ruth in front; photo of Disney proves the merchandising value of his little mouse from the very start.
A THING OF NIGHTMARES…Before the television show there was a theater-based Mickey Mouse Club. Pictured above is an early meeting of the Club at a theater in Ocean Park, California. Although the Club had 1 million members in the U.S. by 1932, Disney pulled the plug on the clubs in 1935. They were revived through several television series in 1955-59, 1977-79, and 1989-1994 (that last class featured a number of future stars including Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake. (www.vintag.es)

In his conclusion, Seldes marveled at Disney’s productivity — a new picture made every two weeks — and his seemingly endless creativity. Little could Seldes imagine that one day the man and his mouse would become a multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate.

I’M YOUR VEHICLE, BABY…Mickey gives Minnie a ride in his cab in 1931’s Traffic Troubles.

You can watch 1931’s Traffic Troubles here:

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Big Man on Canvas

It seems the earth almost shook when Mexican artist Diego Rivera arrived in New York for only the second one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art. His work habits, his comings and goings, and his enormous size (modest by today’s standards) were reported in the New Yorker, including this entry in “The Talk of the Town”…

COME TO MOMA…Cover of the Museum of Modern Art’s catalog for the Diego Rivera exhibition.
MAN AT WORK…Left, Diego Rivera at work on The Uprising, at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1931. Rivera painted five frescoes on portable supports of steel-braced cement in conjunction with his MoMA exhibition. Among the works featured was The Rivals (right), which sold for $9.76 million in 2018, overtaking an auction record for Latin American art previously set by his wife, Frida Kahlo. Her Two Nudes in the Forest sold for $8 million in 2016. (MoMA/Pinterest)

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Winds of War

It’s the end of 1931, but one can already detect the rumblings of the future to come, namely world war. The former Allied and Axis powers of the First World War were all busy developing new weapons, particularly of the airborne variety that all believed would provide a decisive edge if (or rather when) the next war commenced. Japan was already making moves on China, and in just four years the Germans would reoccupy the Saarland and Italy would invade Ethiopia. E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” found the current state of affairs more than a bit troubling…

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE…Wars and rumors of wars drove rapid advances in aviation in the 28 years following the Wright Brothers’ first flight. The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company developed the A-8 (above) in 1930-31 to serve as a ground-attack aircraft. (ww2aircraft.net)

…and hints of the world to come could also be found in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column, where he made this observation:

Brubaker was likely referring to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cautious approach to announcing his candidacy for president. The outcome, of course, proved quite different for the German people.

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From Our Advertisers

Preparations for war drove the development of the aircraft industry, which quickly adapted its designs during peacetime for civilian purposes. This ad from United Airlines touted the advantages of plane over train travel for corporate executives. Within 30 years the airlines would indeed supplant railroads as the preferred means for business travel…

…Prohibition would remain in force until the end of 1933, so brewers like Anheuser-Busch continued finding ways to link their non-alcoholic products to the ghosts of drinking past…

…on to our cartoons, James Thurber rendered this apt portrait of our civilization…

Barbara Shermund gave us an actress with a reputation to protect…

…and Garrett Price presented an unlikely harmonica player…

…on to our next issue, where we find more Diego Rivera

Dec. 26, 1931 cover by Madeline S. Pereny. Artist’s note: Pereny (1893–1970) was born in Kecskemet, Hungary. A baroness, she studied at Vienna Art Academy before emigrating to the U.S. in the early 1930’s. In addition to creating cover art and illustrations for The New Yorker, she was also a cartoonist for the Disney Studios.

…and we begin with this entry from “The Talk of the Town,” attributed to James Thurber

WHERE’S DIEGO?…in December 1931 he could be found working on his frescoes on the sixth floor of the Heckscher Building — the Museum of Modern Art’s first home. In the foreground is the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion, demolished in 1926. (Library of Congress)
GET THE POINT?…Thurber referred to Diego Rivera’s Indian Warrior, one of five frescoes Rivera created during his Museum of Modern Art exhibition.

Thurber refers to “a lady” who accompanied Rivera, most likely Frida Kahlo, who was emerging as an artist in her own right around this time.

PORTRAIT OF A LADY…Wedding photograph of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1929. (Throckmorton Fine Art)

More on Diego could be found in the art review section, where critic Murdock Pemberton offered a cautionary message to the rabble who might not abide some of the artist’s controversial themes:

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Head Cracker

In the 1920s and 30s Johnny Broderick was known as New York’s toughest cop, known for personally assaulting gangsters (and suspects) and for once facing down armed gunmen during a prison break at the Tombs. His valor won him many fans (and some detractors), making him a local celebrity and a subject of gossip columns. Reporter Joel Sayre offered his assessment of Broderick in a “Profile” for the Dec. 26 issue (illustration by Abe Birnbaum). Excerpts:

WISE GUY, EH?…Johnny Broderick (see arrow) escorts an unfortunate perp in 1927. (Public Domain)

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Something to Cheer About

On the lighter side, Hollywood took a shot at Noel Coward’s 1930 comedy of manners, Private Lives. The original play featured Gertrude Lawrence and Laurence Olivier, while the Hollywood version Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery.  For once, critic John Mosher actually liked this screen adaptation:

GIVE ME THAT LOVIN’ FEELING…Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery in the film adaptation of Noel Coward’s Private Lives. (TCM)

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From Our Advertisers

Just one ad from the Dec. 26 issue to close out the year, and what better way to say “Merry Christmas” than with a fresh cigarette…

…on to our cartoonists, William Crawford Galbraith offered a look backstage in this two-page illustration across the bottom of “The Talk of the Town”…

Richard Decker showed us the importance of making oneself clear, especially when aloft in a dirigible…

Robert Day found humor in a barren landscape…

Garrett Price offered us a cheesy predicament…

Helen Hokinson found a man about to make an important point…

…and we end 1931 with this classic from James Thurber

Next Time: Thurber’s Dogs…

Bonfire of the Vanities

When Earl Carroll’s Vanities hit the Broadway revue scene in 1923, it faced strong competition from George White’s Scandals and the long-running Ziegfeld Follies. Carroll’s answer: More of everything.

Sept. 5, 1931 cover by Theodore Haupt.

That included more nudity than the other revues. Critics, including the New Yorker’s Robert Benchley, found the nudity gratuitous, a titillating distraction from what was otherwise a mess of a show. It also landed Carroll in court from time to time on charges of public indecency. All of this, of course, was just more publicity to drive audiences to his theatre at 753 Seventh Avenue, which he built in 1922 and then partially tore down just nine years later to replace it with an even grander venue. This is where Benchley found himself on the evening of August 27 — at the grand opening of the Earl Carroll Theatre and the 1931 edition of the Vanities. Benchley found nothing grand about it:

AUTOGRAPHS, ANYONE?…Accompanied by his Vanities showgirls, Earl Carroll leaves the Essex Market Police Court on July 20,1930, after appearing to answer charges of public indecency. Police raided a Vanities matinee on July 9, arresting eleven including famed burlesque dancer Faith Bacon, who performed in nothing but fans made of ostrich feathers. No doubt police were tipped off by critics who called the 1930 edition the “nudest” cast in American theatre history. From the looks on their faces, it seems even the police enjoyed the spectacle. (Worthpoint)
IS THERE A PROBLEM, OFFICER?…Faith Bacon in a less-revealing pose with the ostrich-feather fans that brought the police ‘a calling. (fanpix.net)

Carroll’s ambitions were always big, whether it was the size or lavishness of his stage shows or the Art Deco theatre (designed by George W. Keister) he erected in 1931 in answer to Flo Ziegfeld’s 1927 Joseph Urban-designed theatre on Sixth Avenue. With 3,000 seats, Carroll’s theatre was nearly twice the size of Ziegfeld’s.

THEY DON’T COME FOR THE SCRIPTWRITING…Earl Carroll made it clear what audiences could expect in his 1931 Art Deco-style theatre, which featured black velvet-covered walls relieved with gold and silver-colored highlights. Its 3,000 seats made it one of the largest theatres in the world. Clockwise, from top left, portrait of Carroll (a gift from the 1930 Vanities showgirls) flanked by busts of Vanities girls Doris Andrese and Beryl Wallace in the theatre lobby; sign above theatre entrance; a two-page spread from the theatre’s “Beauty Souvenir” booklet; cover of the booklet, featuring singer Lillian Roth. (New York Historical Society).
DECO DRAMA…Clockwise, from top left, Earl Carroll circa 1925; ceiling detail inside the Earl Carroll Theatre; mezzanine lounge; the stage. (New York Historical Society).

The show itself left Benchley baffled, a mishmash of lights, colors, and effects including a drooling dinosaur that dropped a naked woman on stage for a dance number…

LAUNCH SITE….The Vanities stage helped launch the careers of many entertainers. Clockwise, from top left, undated photo of a Vanities production — some shows would feature more than 100 women on stage at one time; singer Lillian Roth was a star attraction; Vanities alumni included William Demarest (Uncle Charlie!), Jack Benny and Vincente Minnelli. (assumption.edu/flickr.com/classicmoviehub.com/amazon.com/sensesofcinema.com)

This wasn’t last word from the New Yorker on the new theatre; the Sept. 12 issue featured these observations by Creighton Peet:

In the end, Carroll’s ambitions were too big for the deepening Depression, and just six months after his theatre’s opening he would lose it to creditors. The property would be snapped up by rival Florenz Ziegfeld and renamed the Casino, but the Ziegfeld connection would be short-lived; Ziegfeld would die a few months later in July 1932. Later that year another rival, George White, would take over the venue to stage his Music Hall Varieties, which ended in 1933 with middling results. The theatre would go through several more tenants — including Billy Rose — until 1940 when the discount “dime store” Woolworth’s would move in, demolishing the lobby and walling off the remaining ceiling and walls. Woolworth’s would close the location in the late 1980s — the store, and the last remnants of the Earl Carroll Theatre, would be demolished in 1990.

CLOSING NUMBER…At left, a sneak peek behind the false walls of Woolworth’s in 1988 shows a detail of the theatre’s proscenium, ceiling and sidewall. At right, top to bottom, the second Earl Carroll Theatre at 7th Avenue & 50th Street; the Woolworth’s store that replaced it, circa 1980; the site today. (Large image from the book Lost Broadway Theatres, via drivingfordeco.com/Google Maps)

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From Our Advertisers

Fall is upon us, and so the social season begins, according to the Hotel St. Regis…

…and what better way to prepare for the season than to acquire a new mink coat…

…maybe politics and world affairs were more your bag, in which case you probably wanted to get a subscription to the Herald Tribune and read the latest from commentator Walter Lippmann

…the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, an upstart brand that initially targeted women, continued with their prize contests, but now they began courting men as well…

…on the other hand, the more established brand Chesterfield had the resources to run a color back-cover ad with endorsements from the brother-sister dance team Fred and Adele Astaire

…Fleishmann’s continued to run their full-page ads touting the wonders of daily yeast consumption (“Eat three cakes a day”). The ads were there because Raoul Fleishmann used his wealth from the family baking business to keep the New Yorker afloat during its fledgling years…

…Farrar and Rinehart announced the arrival of Otto Soglow’s first book, Pretty Pictures

…here is the cover of the book…

…and we move on to the cartoons with the character that would make Soglow rich and famous…The Little King

…although Fleischmann likely saved the New Yorker with large infusions of cash, its cartoonists, including Gardner Rea, still took an occasional poke at the company’s health claims…

…anticipating his “Small Fry” cartoons, William Steig finds two of them examining the wonders of human physiology…

Rea Irvin looked in on some stuffy Western Union censors…

…newcomer Robert Day illustrated the challenges of a doorman (Day would be a longtime contributor)…

Garrett Price found humor abuzz between the bold and the meek…

Alan Dunn tracked down a clueless hunter…

…and we end with Leonard Dove, who takes flight and anticipates our next installment…

Next Time: A Big Bird…