The Shape of Things to Come

Above: Maurice Passworthy (Kenneth Villiers) and Catherine Cabel (Pearl Argyle) prepare for a trip to the moon in Things to Come.

In his 1933 science fiction novel The Shape of Things to Come, H.G. Wells foresaw how an international economic depression could eventually lead to world war.

Sept. 2, 1933 cover by William Steig.

The book also predicted that such a war would feature whole cities destroyed by aerial bombing and the eventual development of weapons of mass destruction. However, New Yorker book critic Clifton Fadiman found Wells’ other predictions to be fanciful, “scientific-romantic” notions, such as a post-war Utopia (headquartered in Basra, Iraq, of all places) ruled by super-talents that would advance scientific learning in a world without nation-states or religion. And naturally everyone would speak English.

YOU MAY SAY I’M A DREAMER…H.G. Wells envisioned a world of war, pestilence and economic collapse that would eventually give way to an English-speaking Utopia free of nation-states and religion. (Wikipedia)

Three years later Wells would adapt his book to the screen in 1936’s Things to Come, produced by Alexander Korda and starring Raymond Massey as a heroic RAF pilot John Cabal and Ralph Richardson as “The Boss,” a man who stands in the way of Cabal’s utopian dreams.

FUTURE TENSE…Clockwise, from top left, H.G. Wells visits with actors Pearl Argyle and Raymond Massey on the set of Things to Come—Swiss designer René Hubert created the futuristic costumes; in the year 1970 RAF pilot John Cabal (Massey) lands his sleek monoplane in Everytown, England, proclaiming a new civilization run by a band of enlightened mechanics and engineers; city of the future as depicted in Things to Come; poster for the film’s release. (IMDB)

An afternote: A 1979 Canadian science fiction film titled The Shape of Things to Come was supposedly based on Wells’ novel but bore little resemblance to the book. The film is a considered a turkey, lovingly mocked by the same audiences that gave Plan 9 from Outer Space a second life.

WE MEAN YOU NO HARM…Actor Jack Palance—wearing what appears to be a jug from a water cooler— headed a cast that included Barry Morse and Carol Lynley in 1979’s The Shape of Things to Come. 

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Fine Dining

Director George Cukor turned a hit Ferber-Kaufman Broadway play into a hit movie by the same title when Dinner at Eight premiered in September 1933. While the film received high marks from leading critics, New Yorker film reviewer John Mosher found it a bit routine, if well-crafted:

BLONDE ON BLONDE…Judith Wood (left) portrayed the character Kitty Packard in the 1932 stage production of Dinner at Eight; Jean Harlow took on the role for the 1933 film version. (IMDB)

Mosher, however, continued to admire the acting chops of veteran Marie Dressler

FUNNY LADIES…Clockwise, from top left: Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler square off in Dinner at Eight; movie poster highlights the “Blonde Bombshell” Harlow along with a star-studded cast; a scene with Harlow, Wallace Beery and Edmund Lowe; to avoid wrinkling her gown between takes, Harlow reviewed her lines in a special stand-up chair. (IMDB/

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Madame Secretary

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins was the first woman in the U.S. to serve as a cabinet secretary, but she was a lot more that—she was the driving force behind FDR’s New Deal. Here are excerpts from a two-part profile written by Russell Lord, with illustration by Hugo Gellert.

TRIAL BY FIRE…Frances Perkins watched in horror as young women leapt to their deaths in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire—146 perished on that day Perkins recalled as the moment the New Deal was born her mind. In the wake of the fire Perkins, an established expert on worker health and safety, was named executive secretary of the NYC Committee on Safety. (

Even if some men couldn’t come around to a woman moving through the circles of power, Perkins had many admirers including prominent Tammany Hall leader “Big Tim” Sullivan.

Perkins’ appointment to FDR’s cabinet made the Aug. 14, 1933 cover of TIME magazine. (TIME/

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From Our Advertisers

Even the staid executives at Packard were getting into the modern advertising game, where sometimes the product itself was not even pictured…

…our cartoonists include Robert Day

George Price

…and baring it all, Peter Arno

…on to Sept. 9, and what I believe is Alice Harvey’s first New Yorker cover…

Sept. 9, 1933 cover by Alice Harvey.

…and where “The Talk of the Town” paid a visit to the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island, a favorite haunt of those magnificent men and women and their flying machines:

SHIFTING SANDS…Opened in 1927 to attract upscale crowds to Coney Island away from the rabble of the Midway, the elegant Half Moon Hotel started strong but teetered on the doorstep of bankruptcy during the Depression; it gained notoriety in 1941 when mob turncoat Abe Reles fell to his death from a sixth floor window while under police protection. The hotel was demolished in 1996. (Pinterest)

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Huey In The News

In his column “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker offered this brief take on Huey Long’s visit to a Long Island party, where one guest apparently socked the controversial “Kingfish,” giving the former Louisiana governor (and then senator) a shiner.

A CHIP ON HIS SHOULDER?…Controversy followed Huey Long wherever he went. At left is a New York Times account of Long’s alleged black eye incident on Long Island. He would be assassinated two years later at the Louisiana State Capitol; Long circa 1933. (NYT/Wikipedia)

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More From Our Advertisers

As a follow-up from the previous issue’s Packard ad, this two-page spread showed us what those 1200 men were gawking at…check out that 12-cylinder model on the left, which appears to be better than 20 feet long…

…according to this ad, you could thank Camel cigarettes for getting the mail through the gloom of night…

…if you needed a cigarette to steady your nerves, you also needed fresh coffee to avoid being ostracized by your friends…

…summer-stock barn theatres were popular across America in the 1930s…this ad (illustrated by Wallace Morgan) hailed the end of the summer season and the return of “Winter Broadway”…

…on to our cartoons, out in the countryside we also find William Crawford Galbraith, here continuing to ply one of his favorite themes, namely pairing shapely seductresses and showgirls with clueless suitors…

Helen Hokinson gave us one woman who believed “what happens in the Riviera, stays in the Riviera”…

…and we close with Gardner Rea, and a scout troop on a mission…

Next Time: Rumors of War…

The Final Curtain

Nearly a century after his passing, many still regard Florenz Ziegfeld Jr as the most important and influential producer of Broadway musicals. His theatrical revues, filled with leggy chorines and wisecracking comics, set a standard for everything from Busby Berkeley productions to the Fats Waller stage celebration Ain’t Misbehavin’.

March 19, 1932 cover by Madeline S. Pereny, who gave us a glimpse of the annual International Flower Show at Grand Central Palace.

But when Robert Benchley checked out Ziegfeld’s latest revue, Hot-Cha, which opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre on March 8, 1932, he found it tiresome, and no amount of expensive scenery could keep the show from ending on a “particularly sickening thud.” What Benchley couldn’t know, however, was that Hot-Cha would be the last original musical-comedy produced by Ziegfeld, who in just four months would punch his last ticket.

NOT SO HOT-CHA!…Florenz Ziegfeld’s final revue brought out the stars, but it wasn’t enough to dazzle drama critic Robert Benchley. Clockwise, from top left, program for the revue; Lupe Velez, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and June Knight in Hot-Cha; Benchley was more critical of Bert Lahr’s material than of the comedian himself — many years later Lahr’s son, John Lahr, would follow in Benchley’s footsteps and serve as the New Yorker’s drama critic; Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza were among the highest-paid dance acts in the 1930s and 40s, but Benchley had simply lost his appetite for yet another tango. (

Selections from the Ziegfeld Theatre program promised a stageful of talents, including 75 “Glorified Girls”…

…and Ziegfeld (1867–1932) would be back in May for a revival of Show Boat, which once again proved to be a hit, but a bout of pleurisy would claim his life on July 22, 1932. As Benchley alluded in his review, these lavish shows led to equally lavish expenses, and Ziegfeld, having lost much of his money in the stock market crash, would leave his actress wife Billy Burke with substantial debts. The plucky Burke, however, marched on with a successful acting career that included her appearance as Glinda the Good Witch in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.

SECOND ACT…Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. and his wife, actress Billie Burke, pose for an Edward Steichen photo, 1927. At right, Burke as Glinda the Good Witch in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.

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Everyone’s a Critic

The March 19 issue also featured drama criticism from Alexander Woollcott in his “Shouts and Murmurs” column. In this case, Woollcott had a bone to pick with the famed playwright Eugene O’Neill, as well as with Guild Theatre’s coughing patrons, who called to mind a chorus of frogs:

SHSSS!…Alexander Woollcott would have preferred an empty Guild Theatre to one filled with “bronchial” patrons. (

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Down in Old Mexico

The New Yorker’s latest “Out of Town” feature assured travelers that Mexico was a safe destination, and advised men to pack “spring suits and a dinner jacket” if they planned to visit Mexico City. The author of this piece (signed “P.L.”) cautioned travelers “to get insulated against liquid lightning before getting flip with the national drinks: pulque and tequila. Bootleg liquor is no preparation for the havoc these work even on the sternest drinker.”

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Sweating With the Stars

The March 19 “A Reporter at Large” column carried the simple title “Exercise.” Written by journalist Russell Lord* (1895-1964), this excerpt revealed some high-powered clients of one of the world’s first celebrity trainers:

GUY LOMBARDO’S DOOR IS ON THE LEFT…Izzy Winter’s health and exercise “institute” was tucked away on the second floor of the Roosevelt Hotel. Patrons passed through the hotel’s lobby to access an “honest sweat.” Izzy is pictured at right. (Roosevelt Hotel/Yale University)

In Lord’s conclusion, he noted that after a workout patrons were treated to a doze under a sunlamp and a cigarette…

* In his day, Russell Lord was a noted agricultural writer and editor of the agricultural literary journal The Land, which promoted ecologically responsible agricultural practices.

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Fame and Infamy

I include this snippet from John Mosher’s film column to note the first reference in the New Yorker to the March 1, 1932 kidnapping of the baby of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh…the lives and various doings of the Lindberghs were frequent subjects in the early days of the magazine…

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From Our Advertisers

We’ll start by sampling some of the wares in the back pages…looks like Ziegfeld got a big bang for his small investment with his Hot-Cha ad…

…while Ziegfeld ran a cheap ad for his lavish production, the R.F. Simmons Company decided to go big with this ad for…drum roll please…watch chains…

…the makers of Cliquot Club Ginger Ale also did their best to promote a mundane product, claiming their beverage had a “piquant personality”…yeah, especially with a splash or two of some bootleg whisky…

…the makers of Spuds were staying with their stupid “Mouth-Happy” theme, assuring menthol cigarette smokers they will be the life the party…a party filled with old gasbags, that is…

…R.J. Reynolds continued to push their Camels on the growing market of women smokers, demonstrating the effects of a fresh cigarette with this image of a rosy-cheeked nurse…

…DeSoto (a division of Chrysler) gave Depression-era readers something to smile about with this full-color, two-page advertisement featuring a sunny beach scene and an affordable automobile…

…on to our cartoons, here’s Carl Rose’s perspective on the Disarmament Conference taking place in Geneva, Switzerland…

…while the Otto Soglow’s Little King had his own way of projecting power…

…on the domestic scene, Barbara Shermund’s modern women were channeling  René Descartes

…and William Steig showed us a couple debating an equally weighty matter…

…and via Richard Decker, some well-groomed polar explorers…

…two of Helen Hokinson’s “girls” stopped by the International Flower Show at Grand Central Palace…

…and we end with another classic from James Thurber

Next Time: Dirge for a Dirigible…