Not Much to Cheer About

The cover of the Nov. 9, 1929 issue belied the mood of New Yorkers still reeling from the stock market crash. But then again, football games and other entertainments would grow in importance as much-needed distractions from the harsh realities that lay ahead.

Nov. 9, 1929 cover by Theodore G. Haupt. The title image is by James Montgomery Flagg, published in Life, November 15, 1929.

The New Yorker editors and writers were as bewildered as anyone in the aftermath of the crash. “The Talk of the Town” only gave it passing mention:

Robert Benchley, writing under the pseudonym “Guy Fawkes,” also looked at the market crash from the angle of the newspapers in “The Wayward Press” column. Naturally, Benchley tried to find humor in the midst of the disaster, noting that the crash provided some relief from tedious election coverage:

When the Nov. 9 New Yorker went to press, the stock market crash was viewed as a serious setback (in the sixth paragraph Benchley mentioned numerous reports of suicides), but not something that would result in worldwide depression. Indeed, much of the issue was devoted to lighter fare, including a rather lengthy piece in “Talk” about the latest craze among the nation’s youth — the yo-yo:

The Lumar 33, made of tin, was one of the original yo-yos produced by Louis Marx beginning in 1929. Hugely popular, it helped launch the Marx toy company empire. (WorthPoint)

BUT HE’S NO YO-YO…Louis Marx’s version of the yo-yo would help him launch a toy empire and land him on the cover of Time magazine, Dec. 12, 1955. (Time)

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Just Wait Until They Get iPads

The New Yorker showed less enthusiasm for a plan by Fox studios to introduce talking pictures into schools, hospitals and churches. Writing for “Talk,” E.B. White observed:

TECHNOLOGY INVADES THE CLASSROOM…Left to right, a still from a 1930 educational film showing archeologist Earl Morris gluing together pottery shards at a dig near Mesa Verde National Monument; ca. 1932 title card for a science film; detail from a ca. 1930 educational film demonstrating the wonders of liquid nitrogen. (archive.org)

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And Then There Was Light

The introduction of talking pictures in the classroom owed something to Thomas Edison (1847-1931), inventor of the incandescent light bulb and a pioneer in the development of motion pictures, among many other things. The invention of the light bulb was commemorated at a “Golden Jubilee” celebration in Dearborn, Michigan, and “The Talk of the Town” offered these observations on the occasion:

GIVING THEIR TWO CENT’S WORTH…Lights were ablaze in Dearborn, Mich., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the light bulb’s invention. “Light’s Golden Jubilee” was staged by public relations guru Edward Bernays on behalf of General Electric; below, commemorative postage stamp for the occasion. (prmuseum.org/Wikipedia)

The jubilee was the brainchild of Edward Bernays (1891-1995), often referred to as “the father of public relations.” The author of the 1928 book Propaganda, Bernays worked for dozens of corporations, and is known for his efforts in 1929 to promote cigarette smoking among women (branding them “torches of freedom”). Ironically, a man that helped many women develop a habit that led to their early deaths himself lived to the ripe age of 103.

Albert Einstein sent his best wishes from Berlin via transatlantic radio (see below), and special guests at the Jubilee included Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, seen here talking with the nearly-deaf Thomas Edison about the development of radio in this short “talkie” filmed at the Jubilee on Oct. 21, 1929:

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Please Release Me

Nunnally Johnson (1897-1977) was a journalist and film critic before breaking into the movies himself in the mid-1930s as a writer, producer and director of such films as The Grapes of Wrath (writer, producer) and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (writer, producer, director). As a critic Johnson learned what he didn’t like, including Al Jolson’s The Singing Fool, an early talking film that featured Jolson crooning the tear-jerker hit “Sonny Boy” to child actor Davey Lee, who portrayed his dying son. Nunnally responded with this parody titled “Sonny Boy’s Diary.” Some excerpts:

HOLD THE SCHMALTZ, AL…Nunnally Johnson, left, parodied the sentimental scenes Al Jolson shared with child actor Davey Lee in The Singing Fool. Johnson would go on to become a successful screenwriter, producer and director. (in.bookmyshow.com/virtual-history.com)

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Dream Space

New Yorker art critic Murdock Pemberton hailed the opening of a new museum, the Roerich, on the lower floors of the 27-story art deco Master Apartment Building. The building also housed the Master Institute of United Arts, founded in 1920 by Nicholas and Helena Roerich.

The art deco landmark Master Building on Riverside Drive (left, in 1929) originally housed the Roerich Museum in its lower floors. Today the Roerich is located in this brownstone at 319 West 107th. (Wikipedia)

FOOTNOTES FROM A FULL LIFE…Two of Nicholas Roerich’s paintings from the 1920s: at top, Remember, 1924; below, Drops of Life, 1924. (roerich.org)

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A Tenor for the Times

The crooner Rudy Vallée (1901-1986) became an overnight sensation after his Oct. 24, 1929 debut on national radio. Already a popular New York bandleader (and sometime local radio personality), his appearance on NBC’s Fleischmann’s Yeast Radio Hour made him a national sensation, especially among young women. According to Ian Whitcomb in his book, The Coming of the Crooners, Vallée’s thin, wavering tenor was not well-suited to the stage (especially in pre-microphone days when booming voices prevailed) but it worked magic on the radio, soft voices ideal for this more intimate medium (Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and other popular crooners would soon follow). The New Yorker’s “On The Air” column (signed “A.S.”) had this to say about Vallée’s return:

BALM FOR WEARY SOULS…Rudy Vallée’s soothing voice and easy-going manner were just what the nation needed days after the stock market crash. According to Anthony Rudel of Old Time Radio, “At 8 pm on the night of October 24th, 1929, just after the ubiquitous Graham McNamee introduced him, Vallée became a national radio star.” It was the debut of NBC’s Fleischmann’s Yeast Radio Hour, which soon came to be known as the Rudy Vallée Show. (Fleischmann was also a major benefactor of the New Yorker). Photo at left, Vallée with McNamee; at right, child actor Dorothy Gray and Vallée in the comedy talkie, The Vagabond Lover (1929). (otrcat.com/IMDB)

A giant among conductors of the 20th century, Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) was already well-known to live audiences in New York, having conducted at both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. Unlike Vallée, the Italian conductor’s radio broadcast was limited to the range of the New York radio station WOR. Toscanini would make his national radio debut in the States in 1937, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

THE MAESTRO…Arturo Toscanini, renowned for his intensity and perfectionism, was said to have perfect pitch. After leaving fascist Italy in 1936, he became a household name across the US thanks to the NBC Symphony Orchestra’s presence both on national radio (beginning in 1937) and television (1948-1952). (The Economist)

The New Yorker also noted the successful transmission of three transatlantic broadcasts, including remarks spoken by Albert Einstein from Berlin to the Electric Light Golden Jubilee in Dearborn, Michigan:

RELATIVELY SPEAKING…Albert Einstein prepares to congratulate Thomas Edison via transatlantic radio on the 50th anniversary of the incandescent light bulb, Oct. 21, 1929. (UT College of Liberal Arts)

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From Our Advertisers

Now that we are post-market crash, we will be seeing the effects of that crash on New Yorker advertisers. Here are three advertisers from the Nov. 9 issue not long for the world: from left, the high-fashion salon Stewart & Company would file for bankruptcy and go out of business by the spring of 1930; Pierce-Arrow, maker of rolling status symbols for the wealthy, ceased car production in 1933; Hanan & Son, a leader in the mass production of shoes, would go bankrupt and fold by 1935.

Already at this early date advertisers were responding to tightening belts — this appeal from the Cuban Tourism Commission offered “an opportunity to forget business” while traveling on the cheap…

…other ads were the usual fare, this one from Lux Toilet soap featured its latest young celebrity, Dorothy McNulty (1908-2003), who changed her name to Penny Singleton in 1937 before starring in more than two-dozen Blondie-themed comedies (based on the Chic Young comic strip) with co-star Arthur Lake (who portrayed Dagwood Bumstead). She dyed her naturally brunette hair (as seen in the ad) blonde for the first Blondie movie in 1938, and continued to do so for the rest of her long life. A career that truly spanned several generations, she also provided the voice for Jane Jetson in The Jetsons in its original airing in the early 1960s and in later revivals through 1990…

THE MANY FACES OF PENNY SINGLETON…At left, before she was the film star Penny Singleton, Dorothy McNulty was a popular star on Broadway, as this ad from the Nov. 9 New Yorker attests. At top, Singleton with Blondie co-star Arthur Lake in the first installment of that popular 27-film series, 1938; a still from The Jetsons 1962-63, for which Singleton provided the voice of Jane Jetson. (IMDB/Hanna-Barbera)

…on to other ads, the one on the left is another sad example of how manufacturers of spirits tried to market non-alcoholic versions of their libations to Prohibition-starved Americans (“especially distilled for the American market”)…at right, an ad from Knox hatters, with a somber rendering of a young woman (maybe she’s headed to the party in the other ad) wearing a fashion that would be popular in the early Thirties…the old flapper hat, along with the Jazz Age, was dead as a doornail…

…oh well, at least you could stay healthy by smoking lots of cigarettes…

…we’ve seen ads illustrated by other New Yorker cartoonists including Peter Arno, Rea Irvin, and Julian De Miskey; Helen Hokinson got in on the action with this ad touting G. Washington instant coffee…the first instant coffee to be produced on a mass scale, G. Washington was so well known it was referred to as a “cup of George.” The brand was discontinued in 1961…

…on to our comics, an awkward moment courtesy Peter Arno

W.P. Trent illustrated a backstage exchange regarding the ado over a popular dance troupe, the Albertina Rasch Girls…

…for reference…

MGM publicity photo from 1929 of the Albertina Rasch Girls, who traveled to Hollywood to appear in the Technicolor finale of the film Hollywood Revue of 1929. (dimitritiomkin.com)

…and John Reynolds explored the clash of the Old World and the New…

…and before I go, a correction from my last post, in which I incorrectly attributed this poem in the Nov. 2 issue to British humorist P.G. Wodehouse:

An alert reader kindly pointed out that “Ode to Peter Stuyvesant” isn’t by Wodehouse, but by another person with the initials PGW — Philip G. Wylie.

Screenwriter and satirist Philip G. Wylie in an undated photo. (Wikipedia)

I always enjoy hearing from readers of this blog, and especially appreciate comments that help me keep this account historically accurate, as well as fun and informative.

Next Time: Back to Business…

 

The Art of Peace

In July of 1928, war was officially banned from the earth. Or so it was hoped when the Kellogg–Briand Pact became effective on July 24, 1929.

Aug. 3, 1929 cover by Gardner Rea.

Also known as the “Pact of Paris” and more officially the “General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy,” its authors, United States Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and French foreign minister Aristide Briand, gathered world powers in Paris on Aug. 28, 1928 to sign a treaty that denounced the use of war and called for the peaceful settlement of all future disputes. The New Yorker, in the opening “Notes and Comment” section of “The Talk of the Town,” took its usual “What, Me Worry?” approach to world affairs, finding the whole thing unnecessary given that (in its view) Europe was already a peaceful, even benign continent:

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE…French foreign minister Aristide Briand, Myron T. Herrick (U.S. ambassador to France), and U.S. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg meet in the French Foreign Office for the signing of the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, August 1928; at right, Briand speaking to the assembly. (NYTimes/Wikipedia)

In January 1929 the U.S. Senate officially ratified the Kellogg–Briand Pact with a nearly unanimous vote, 85-1. John James Blaine, senator from Wisconsin, cast the lone dissenting vote (although four years later Blaine would author another piece of legislation that would have a much greater impact, at least at the time: the 21st Amendment, which ended Prohibition).

SURE, WHY NOT?…The U.S. Senate approved the Kellogg–Briand Pact on Jan. 15, 1929. The treaty went into effect later that year on July 24. (NYTimes)

Another item in “The Talk of the Town” made further reference to the pact…

…and Howard Brubaker, in his column “Of All Things,” made special mention of the Sino-Soviet border conflict in referencing the pact:

Brubaker mockingly suggested that the pact marked the beginning of a thousand years of peace, an inadvertently prescient remark considering that in less than four years Hitler would seize power in Germany and announce the beginning of his “Thousand Year Reich” — which we know was quite the opposite of peace. Brubaker was also off the mark with this crude observation:

Just two years after Brubaker wrote those words, Japan would invade Manchuria. And only a decade would pass before Germany and Russia would invade Poland and ignite the biggest war of all time.

PARTY POOPERS…The New Yorker wasn’t alone in poking fun at the Kellogg–Briand Pact. At left, the pact is mocked during the Paris Carnaval in 1929; at right, British cartoonist Sidney Conrad Strube reminded readers of the outcome of America’s earlier efforts at world peace. (Wikipedia/Pinterest) click to enlarge.
WE JUST CAME TO SAY HELLO…Germany, the first signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Pact banning all war, invaded Poland just 10 years after that treaty went into effect. Above, German troops parade through Warsaw after the invasion, September 28-30, 1939. (National Archives and Records Administration)

Although the pact was ridiculed for its perceived naïveté, and for the fact that it did not prevent the largest war in human history, some modern scholars see otherwise. Political scientists Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro observed (in 2017) that the pact “catalyzed the human rights revolution, enabled the use of economic sanctions as a tool of law enforcement, and ignited the explosion in the number of international organizations that regulate so many aspects of our daily lives.” In his recent book Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker notes “virtually every acre of land that was conquered after 1928 has been returned to the state that lost it. Frank Kellogg and Aristide Briand may deserve the last laugh.”

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Gallows Humor

Other items in “The Talk of Town” included this brief anecdote, which I doubt many would find humorous today:

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On The Bowery

In the “Reporter at Large” column, Niven Busch Jr. paid a visit to “The Yellow Bowery,” as the piece was titled. Notable in this article (and in Brubaker’s quip above) is the use of term “Chinaman,” a term considered offensive today but in the 1920s was used indiscriminately for East Asians. In the following excerpts, the term seems pejorative:

THE BLOODY ANGLE…Clockwise, from top, this bend in Chinatown’s Doyer Street was known as “The Bloody Angle” due to the numerous killings among the Tong gangs that lasted into the 1930s. Hatchets were a popular weapon of choice, leading to the creation of the expression, “hatchet man”; another perspective of Doyer Street from 1932; the street was also the site of the first Chinese language theater in New York City. (boweryboyshistory.com/Museum of the City of New York/Wikipedia)

Busch’s piece was rife with stereotypes…

…and referenced the unsolved Bowery murder of 19-year-old Elsie Sigel, a missionary in Chinatown who was found strangled inside a trunk in 1909…

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS…2 Doyer Street was the address of the Chinese Tuxedo Restaurant. It attracted non-Chinese patrons, particularly those who considered themselves ‘Bohemians’ as well as businessmen looking for an ‘exotic’ night on the town. And it helped that the Tuxedo was near the elevated train. (Courtesy Flickr/straatis/thelodownny.com)

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It Grows on You

The rapid demolition of old New York was a recurring theme in the New Yorker of the 1920s, the magazine often wavering between nostalgia and the thrill of the new. No place was perhaps more sacred than the stately row houses of Washington Square. When news circulated that a section consisting of the old Rhinelander mansion would soon fall (for the sake of a new apartment building), “Talk” tried its best to process the change:

IT LOOMS, BUT WE GOT USED TO IT…The New Yorker once resented the intrusion of the One Fifth Avenue building (built in 1927), looming above the cobbles of the early 19th century Washington Mews. (newyorkitecture.com/Viola Mai, Washington Square News)
MIND THE GAP…Clockwise, from top, just east of this row of houses stood the mansion of William Rhinelander; although the New Yorker noted that its demolition was imminent in 1929, the mansion stood until 1951, when it was demolished and replaced by the 20-story 2 Fifth Avenue; next to the gap between the old row houses and the apartment stands the Roger Shattuck House, No. 19 Washington Square North. The Shattuck House was the scene of one of most sensational robberies in the city’s history—in 1922. (nyc-architecture.com/Google Maps)

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Old Boy

In one of my recent posts (Not Your Grandpa’s Tammany Hall) I noted a “Talk” item that described the new Tammany headquarters. In the August 3 issue the magazine introduced the patriotic society’s new leader, John Francis Curry, in a profile written by Henry F. Pringle. In the piece, titled “Local Boy Makes Good,” Pringle suggested that Curry’s old-fashioned approach to politics stood in contrast to the new image Tammany Hall was attempting to project:

Curry’s tenure would end abruptly in 1934 — the first Tammany boss to be booted out by his own followers. Curry made some bad decisions during a time when the political winds were shifting away from machine politics. It was under his leadership that Tammany backed Al Smith over the reform-minded Franklin Roosevelt for the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination. That same year, Tammany-backed New York Mayor Jimmy Walker would be forced from office amid scandal.

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Well, She Didn’t Write the Script

We all know Greta Garbo as one of the greatest film stars of classic Hollywood. Her mysterious aura and subtlety of expression are still lauded by film critics today. The New Yorker, however, never seemed particularly enamored of the star’s performances. Here is a review of her 1929 silent film, The Single Standard:

THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE…Little Wally Albright played Greta Garbo’s son in The Single Standard. We just saw four-year-old Wally in my last post, in which he also appeared as Peggy Wood’s son in Wonder of Women. Apparently when a director needed a cute, curly head kid, they went for Wally—he appeared in seven films in 1929 alone. (Rotten Tomatoes)

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From Our Advertisers

Our first advertisement (image at right) is from the back pages of the Aug. 3 issue. It announced the opening of Long Island’s Atlantic Beach Club, which featured the entertainment of Rudy Vallée and his orchestra…

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? Images, top to bottom, aerial view of The Atlantic Beach Club; Rudy Vallée performing with emblematic megaphone, 1929; postcard image of the Nautilus Hotel on the Boardwalk of Atlantic Beach, Long Island. (longbeachlibrary.org/YouTube)

…a brand-new car—The Ruxton— was introduced to New Yorker readers in this color advertisement that spanned four pages (click image to enlarge)…

…produced in 1929-30 by the New Era Motors company of New York, the car was marketed for its innovative front-wheel drive and its distinctive low profile (a feat accomplished by eliminating the drive shaft to the rear wheels). While most cars in the late 1920s had an average height of 6 feet (1.8 meters); the Ruxton was less than 4 and half feet (1.3 meters) high. Producers of the car hoped to sell the rights of the Ruxton to an established car manufacturer. Moon Motors of St. Louis built just 96 of the cars during regular production (from June to October, 1930) before the whole deal fell apart…

SHORT RUN…Clockwise, from top left, Ruxton logo affixed to grille; dancer Rita La Roy poses with her Ruxton, 1930; some models sported Joseph Urban color schemes designed to lengthen the appearance of the car. (allcarcentral.com/Pinterest/hemmings.com)

…if you were one of the fortunate few to own a Ruxton, you might take it for a spin on the Lincoln Highway…or maybe not. Despite the appearance of this ad, a fully paved, transcontinental highway was still an incomplete dream in 1929. Although sections of the road were quite smooth from New York to Omaha, further west things could get a bit bumpy, especially on the unpaved stretches. However, as the ad claims, what really made the road viable was the availability of regularly spaced gas stations along the way…

…I liked this ad just for its sheer complexity…

…and then we have this ad from Saks, which somehow conflated new shoes and an intimate encounter with Aphrodite.,,

…on to our cartoonists, we have Helen Hokinson’s observations at “Old Narragansett…

…while out to sea, Alan Dunn found humor in a sensitive swabbie…

Alice Harvey observed those still skeptical of human flight…

Perry Barlow peeked in on a moonstruck woman…

…and finally, I. Klein visited an antique shop…

Next Time: The Last Summer…