Strike Up the Band!

Before we launch into the Jan. 25 issue, the rendering of the old New York Aquarium in this Sue Williams cover bears some consideration.

Jan. 25, 1930 cover by Sue Williams.

The aquarium was housed within the historic walls the South West Battery, constructed off the tip of Manhattan between 1808 and 1811 as a defense against the British. Renamed Castle Clinton in 1817 (in honor of former Mayor/Governor Dewitt Clinton), it was deeded to the city in 1823 to be used as an entertainment center. From 1855 to 1890 it served as an immigrant landing depot, then remodeled in 1896 (by the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White) to become the popular New York City Aquarium.

FISH OUT OF WATER…Postcard image of the New York City Aquarium from the early 1900s; aerial view of the aquarium circa 1934; postcard image of aquarium interior; demolition of the aquarium in 1941, on orders from city planner Robert Moses. (thebattery.org/nycgovparks.org)

Although the aquarium proved to be a cultural and educational magnet, it stood in the way of master planner Robert Moses’s designs to build a bridge from The Battery to Brooklyn. After residents, preservationists and even Eleanor and President Franklin Roosevelt protested, the city opted instead to construct a tunnel under the East River. Nevertheless, Moses managed to get the aquarium knocked down before demolition was halted by the outbreak of World War II. After the war, Congress passed a bill declaring the site a National Monument, and preserved the walls of Castle Clinton.

HIGH AND DRY…Until it was demolished in 1941, the New York City Aquarium occupied the space in the center of Castle Clinton, which was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1966. (nps.gov)

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Now, About That Band…

A play that satirized America’s enthusiasm for war — Strike Up the Band — was loved by critics but spurned by audiences when it opened in Philadelphia in 1927. Written by George S. Kaufman, with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, the play had the pedigree for success, but audiences weren’t quite ready for a show that poked fun at the U.S. military just nine years after the end of World War I (in the original play, America is goaded into declaring war on Switzerland by an American cheese tycoon).

Enter lyricist Morrie Ryskind, who reworked the script, softening its political message and remaking the war plot into a dream sequence. The revised play proved to a be hit, running for 191 performances at the Times Square Theatre. It also introduced a number of popular songs, including “The Man I Love” and “Strike Up the Band.” Robert Benchley was on hand for opening night:

TEAMWORK…Clockwise, from top, Ira (left) and George Gershwin at work circa 1930; lyricist Morrie Ryskind, who softened the tone of George S. Kaufman’s original script. (U of Michigan/Wikipedia)

Benchley noted that the antics of comedian Bobby Clark caused him to laugh so loud that his guffaws were even noted in the Herald Tribune’s review:

MAKE ‘EM LAUGH…The comedy team of Paul McCullough (left) and Bobby Clark were one of the play’s big draws. At right, Herald-Tribune illustration by Al Hirschfeld announcing the Broadway opening of Strike Up the Band. (aaronneathery.org)

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Duncan Yo-Yos

We’ve seen the Duncan Sisters (Rosetta and Vivian) before in this blog, the sister vaudeville act that became famous with the 1923 hit musical Topsy and Eva, which inspired a silent 1927 film starring the duo. They were back on the screen in late 1929 with It’s a Great Life, which the New Yorker’s John Mosher found to be “pretty dreary”…

NOT SO GREAT, THIS…Clockwise from top, promotional poster for It’s a Great Life; a scene from a dance number in the film; Rosetta (in blackface) and Vivian Duncan as Topsy and Eva (characters derived from the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin). It’s a Great Life flopped at the box office, along with the Duncan’s brief movie careers. In the years to follow the duo would became popular nightclub entertainers and would continue to perform their Topsy and Eva routine even though appearing in blackface was increasingly considered offensive. (Wikipedia/freewebs.com)

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Miracle Worker

The New Yorker profile, written by Robert Coates, featured Helen Keller (with illustration by Hugo Gellert). A brief excerpt:

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From Our Advertisers

Advertisers in the Jan. 25 issue included the new Fortune magazine, which announced its first issue with this full-page ad:

…the table of contents is fascinating, spare in descriptions of everything from “Hogs” to “Orchids”…

From left, issue No. 1, February 1930; table contents for the issue; a prototype of the magazine, September 1929. (Fortune) please click to enlarge

…also listed in the new magazine’s table of contents was the name of a 24-year-old photographer, Margaret Bourke-White

A photo of coal piles by Margaret Bourke-White in the first issue of Fortune magazine. At right, Bourke-White photographing atop a skyscraper circa 1930. (Fortune)

…on to our other advertisements, we have this entry from Elizabeth Arden…ads from this salon chain in the 1920s and 30s featured this ubiquitous image of a woman with a distant stare, her head tightly bound — mummy-like — as part of a firming treatment called “muscle-strapping”…

…in contrast to the rather cold, clinical look of Elizabeth Arden ad, the Primrose House appealed more to social climbing than skin toning…

…while the makers of Pond’s cold cream continued to draw from their stable of debutantes and society ladies to move their product…

…long before there was Joe Camel, R.J. Reynolds also appealed to social climbers with a series of ads beautifully illustrated by fashion artist Carl Erickson

…society’s smokers were advised to pack a tube of Bost toothpaste, or have their French maid do it for them…

…and once again we have an ad by Dr. Seuss for Flit insecticide that is very much of its time…

…as is this cartoon by I. Klein, perhaps the first in the New Yorker that depicted African Americans as something other than minstrel show stereotypes. Nevertheless, the rendering is still a bit crude — especially the boy’s face — as is the idea behind the “joke” —  that a black boy could actually aspire to be a great violinist like Jascha Heifetz

John Reynolds explored a less troubling juxtaposition among the bohemian set…

…and we end with this peek into society life courtesy Barbara Shermund… 

Next Time: The Wild Kingdom…

 

 

 

 

Life Among the Snowbirds

Florida’s Palm Beach became a popular destination in the 1920s for well-heeled New Yorkers seeking a respite from winter’s cold and gloom.

Jan. 26, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin / Feb. 2, 1929 cover by Sue Williams.

Among them was the New Yorker’s nightlife correspondent and fashion critic Lois Long, who (writing in the Feb. 2 issue) discovered that many snowbirds left their fashion sense back home, or in some cases didn’t have any in the first place…

THOSE GENTLE BREEZES…Dining at the Coconut Grove in Palm Beach, 1928. (Town and Country)
Sufficiently appalled by the fashion scene, Long then offered some advice for those seeking a smarter look in the southern climes…

AHOY THERE…Beach pajamas were a popular choice in the 1920s. (artdecogal.com)
BIG BOOSTER…The financier Otto Kahn was one of Palm Beach’s biggest promoters. Here he relaxes with friends at one of his Palm Beach “cottages” (this one is the Oheka Cottage, designed by August Geiger, on North Ocean Boulevard). L to R: New York socialite  Sarah Jane Sanford, Otto Kahn, Margaret “Nin” Kahn Ryan (Kahn’s eldest daughter), Betty Bonstetten (of the Rothschild banking fortune), and seated, Nancy Yuille (tobacco heiress who would later marry the Viscount Adair and become the Countess of Dunraven) and Swiss architect Maurice Fatio. (Ellen Glendinning Ordway Collection via New York Social Diary)
LOIS IS WATCHING YOU…A sampling of 1920s Palm Beach fashions Lois Long might have spotted during her visit. (vintage.es/picgran.com)

Long concluded her fashion advice with the dictum that when in doubt, keep it simple…

Long must have made the trip with her husband, the New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, since he contributed his own take on the scene in the Feb. 16, 1929 issue — a two-page illustration titled “Go South, Young Man, Go South.” (click image to enlarge)

Palm Beach was also on the minds of the New Yorker editors when they composed the Jan. 26 issue, which featured a parody by Josie Turner of the popular Elsie Dinsmore book series: “Elsie Dinsmore at Palm Beach.” A brief excerpt:

Note: The Elsie Dinsmore books (there were 28 of them) featured an impossibly upright eight-year-old and were hugely popular in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The Feb. 2, 1929 issue featured another Palm Beach-themed parody — this one by Frank Sullivan — that took a poke at Addison Mizner (1872-1933) a fixture of Palm Beach social life who designed resorts and houses for the rich and famous. He is often credited with giving South Florida its signature Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival styles of architecture (Augustus Mayhew, writing for the New York Social Diary, begs to differ: he notes that architect August Geiger established the style in Palm Beach three years before Mizner). An excerpt from Sullivan’s New Yorker parody:

Later in the piece, Sullivan took a crack at a fictitious member of Palm Beach society, a “Mrs. Twink,” who was engaged in the latest “fad” — fishing:

STORYTELLER IN BRICK AND STONE…Addison Mizner epitomized the “society architect.” He was known for making new buildings look like they had taken centuries to construct, even creating stories for his houses that described how they “evolved” through their many owners and historical eras. At right, Mizner’s own Palm Beach residence, Villa Mizner, on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. It was built in 1924. (palmbeachdailynews.com/Merritt Hewitt)
HIS KIND OF PEOPLE…Fashionably dressed members of the Mizner-designed Everglades Club gather in the Marble Patio in the 1920s. (Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
STILL THERE…The Everglades Club today. Opened in January 1919, it was Mizner’s first big commission. (Wikipedia)

The Feb. 2 issue also featured this Peter Arno cartoon of one snowbird’s reaction to Palm Beach living:

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The New Yorker loved to take potshots at the news media, and particularly at the then rather staid New York Times, which apparently had secured exclusive rights to cover Admiral Richard Byrd’s famed exploration of the South Pole by airplane. In his Jan. 26 “Of All Things” column, Howard Brubaker quipped:

In the following issue, Feb 2, Rea Irvin imagined how a coddled Times reporter might cover the historic expedition:

ONE TOUGH BYRD…Admiral Robert Byrd (inset) led expeditions in the Antarctic from 1928 to 1930 by snowshoe, dog-sled, snowmobile and three airplanes that were transported (partially disassembled) by ship to a base camp on the Ross Ice Shelf. Pictured are Harold June, Commander Byrd, and Bernt Balchen in front of a Fairchild airplane, dubbed “Stars and Stripes.” The plane was used to take aerial photographs. (Richard E. Byrd Papers, The Ohio State University)

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Grouchy Groucho

Near the back of the Feb. 2 issue (page 61), comedian Groucho Marx contributed this tongue-in-cheek demand for a retraction from the New Yorker editors:

WIT…A young Groucho Marx in 1930. (Wikipedia)

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Fun With the Rockefellers

John K. Winkler contributed this piece to the Feb. 2, 1929 “Talk of the Town” that described a “playhouse” John D. Rockefeller Jr. had built for his five sons:

NOT FOR PEEWEE…The three-story playhouse on the Rockefeller estate at Pocantico Hills. (New York Social Diary)

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From Our Advertisers

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…and we close with these comic observations of life among New York society, again featuring the work of Peter Arno

…and back to the cold New York City winter, with Leonard Dove

Next Time: Million Dollar Mermaid…