Hell’s Angels

Among the films in 1930 that marked a new era in motion pictures was Howard Hughes’s epic war film Hell’s Angels. 

August 23 cover by Gardner Rea.

Originally shot as a silent, Hughes (1905-1976) retooled the film, and over a period of three years (1927-30) poured much of his own money into making what many consider to be Hollywood’s first sound action movie. The film also introduced audiences to 19-year-old Jean Harlow (1911-1937), handpicked by Hughes to replace Norwegian actress Greta Nissen in the lead role (Nissen’s accent posed a problem for the talkies). The film would make Harlow an instant star, propelling her to worldwide fame as the “Platinum Blonde” sex symbol of the 1930s.

Beset by delays due to Hughes’s incessant tinkering, the movie was famously expensive. For example, a total 137 pilots were used in just one flying scene at the end of the film. In addition to monetary costs, the filming also claimed the lives of three pilots and a mechanic, and Hughes himself would fracture his skull during a stunt flying attempt.

PRE-CODE…Before Will Hays imposed his moral code on Hollywood, films in the early thirties were frank with sexual references, as the image at left attests. When Howard Hughes switched the filming of Hell’s Angels to sound, he replaced Norwegian actress Greta Nissen with 19-year-old Jean Harlow (seen with co-star Ben Lyon). Harlow’s first major film appearance would make her an overnight star; at right, Frank Clarke and Roy Wilson flying an S.E.5A (front) and a Fokker D.VII (back, note camera) in the filming of Hell’s Angels. (Wikipedia)

The New Yorker’s John Mosher found the action scenes enticing, but the acting left something to be desired…

COSTLY VENTURE …This Sikorsky S-29A (left), repainted to represent a German Gotha bomber, would crash into the California hills during filming (right), killing mechanic Phil Jones, who failed to bail out along with the pilot. (Northrop Grumman)
GEE WHIZ…The media often reported on the progress of the film, such as in this May 1930 article in Modern Mechanics that detailed a $1 million sequence in which a fighter dives his plane into the top of a Zeppelin, causing it to explode and crash to earth. (Modern Mechanix)

We skip ahead briefly to the Aug. 30 issue, in which “The Talk of Town” featured a mini profile of Howard Hughes and his film. Note how Hughes’s extravagance is described through his frequent use of long-distance telephone calls:

A STAR IS BORN…19-year-old Jean Harlow and Ben Lyon in Hell’s Angels (1930); at right, Harlow and Howard Hughes at the premiere of the film. (IMDB/Pinterest)

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A Whale of a Movie

Critic John Mosher also took in a film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a very loose adaptation that excluded the novel’s central character, Ishmael, and invented a love story for the maniacal Capt. Ahab…

HAVE A LITTLE FAITH…From left, Noble Johnson as Queequeg, John Barrymore as Ahab, and Walter Long as Stubbs in 1930’s Moby Dick. At right, top, the whale puts the hurt on a boat; bottom, John Bennett as Faith, a contrived love interest for the old salt. (IMDB)

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Daily Dazzle

“The Talk of the Town” gushed over the lobby of the new Daily News Building, likening it to the glitz of a Broadway revue:

A HOME FOR CLARK KENT…The Daily News Building served as the model for the headquarters of the fictional Daily Planet, the building where Superman worked as mild-mannered Clark Kent; at right, an image from 1941 of the lobby, dominated by the  world’s largest indoor globe.
A LOBBY FOR LEARNING…The lobby includes an array of clocks, top left, that give the time in various global destinations. (aatlasobscura.com)

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A Busboy’s Dream

Charles Pierre Casalasco left his life as a busboy in Corsica and studied haute cuisine in Paris before arriving at the shores of Manhattan in the early 1900s. He became a renowned headwaiter who by 1929 garnered enough financial backing from New York’s most powerful families to construct the exclusive Hotel Pierre. Writing under her pseudonym, “Penthouse,” New Yorker columnist Marcia Davenport described the building’s apartments to eager readers:

FUN WHILE IT LASTED…The 41-story, 714-room Hotel Pierre officially opened in October 1930 to great fanfare. The party would be short-lived, as the deepening Depression would force the hotel into bankruptcy just two years later. At right, photo of the Rotunda, before a 2017 remodeling. (New York Public Library)

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So Much For Title IX

Then as now, women athletes were held to a separate set of standards, not only judged for their athletic abilities, but also for their “sex appeal,” as John Tunis suggests more than a few times in his profile of English tennis champion Betty Nuthall (1911-1983). Excerpts:

HOW’S THAT BACKHAND?…Betty Nuthall greets American tennis star Bill Tilden in September 1930; on the cover of Time after winning the 1930 U.S. Open. (Digital Commonwealth/Time)

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Free Expression

Robert Myron Coates (1897 – 1973) was a writer of experimental, expressionistic novels who later became a longtime art critic for the New Yorker (he is credited with coining the term “abstract expressionism” in 1946). In the Aug. 23 issue he contributed the first installment of “Dada City,” here describing street life in Harlem. Excerpts:

STREET LIFE…Scenes around Harlem’s 125th Street, clockwise from top left: the Apollo Theatre marquee punctuates a busy street scene in 1935; NW corner of 125th and Broadway, 1930; Regal Shoes storefront, 1940s, photo by Weegee; 125th and St. Nicholas Avenue in 1934. (Skyscraper City/Museum of the City of New York)
AMERICAN ORIGINAL…Robert M. Coates’s The Eater of Darkness (1926) has been called the first surrealist novel in English. (Goodreads)

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From Our Advertisers

New Yorkers who were still enduring the brutal summer of 1930 could find relief, if they could afford it, on a New York Airways flight…

…or if you had the means, you could take your yacht out to sea, like this chap in a coat and tie who calmly steers with one hand while offering a box of chocolates to his guests with the other…

…our sailor wasn’t the only one dressed to nines…here are two ads offering suggestions to young folks returning to college or prep school…

…for comparison, this is how a group of college students at Columbia University dress today…

(Columbia University)

Dr. Seuss continued to crank out drawings on behalf of Flit insecticide…

…and on to cartoons, yet another rerun (the sixth) of this Peter Arno drawing with a new caption (Dorothy Dix was a popular advice columnist)…

…and another look at country life courtesy Rea Irvin (originally printed sideways on a full page)…

…and another country scene, this time among the toffs, thanks to Garrett Price

…back in the city, some parlor room chatter as depicted by Barbara Shermund

…downtown, I. Klein looked at the economic challenges of peep shows…

…and we close with this reflection on city life, by Reginald Marsh

Next Time: Marble Halls…

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…

Transatlantic Dreaming

When Apollo astronauts landed on the moon fifty years ago, many skeptics asked the question, “What good does this accomplish?”

July 12, 1930 cover by Constantin Alajálov.

New Yorker writer Morris Markey posed the same question 89 years ago about transatlantic flights, then limited to a handful of daredevils chasing various speed and distance records. Crossing the ocean in an airplane, Markey observed, was “one of the most difficult things imaginable.” He concluded that despite the heroics of a few pilots, “we are still not much nearer to transoceanic commercial service…”

TESTING THE LIMITS…In photo at left, Charles Kingsford Smith (second from left) and the crew of his airplane, Southern Cross, pause before embarking on their east-west crossing of the Atlantic in  June 1930; photo at right: Dieudonné Costes (right) with Maurice Bellonte in Boston in 1930. On September 1-2, 1930, they flew the “Point d’Interrogation” from Paris to New York, the first heavier-than-air aircraft to reach New York in the more difficult westbound direction between the North American and European mainlands. (National Library of Ireland/Wikipedia)
BIG THINKERS…Germany’s massive Dornier Do-X made its first test flight on July 12, 1929. A few months later, it carried a world-record 169 passengers on a 40-minute flight, an astonishing number given that the largest planes at that time rarely carried more than 20 passengers. In 1930, the Do-X took off on an international publicity tour through Europe, down the west coast of Africa, across the Atlantic to Brazil and up to New York before returning to Berlin. (Mashable)

Markey went on to detail the various obstacles facing transatlantic fliers, including fairly good odds that a plane, laden with fuel and supplies for such a journey, would crash on takeoff. He noted that a little over half of the attempts succeeded, while the others seemed doomed from the start.

ILL-ADVISED…With only 70 hours of flying experience, Montana rancher Urban F. Diteman (left, with his airplane “Golden Hind”) took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, bound for London. He was never seen again; at right, the William Randolph Hearst-sponsored “Old Glory,” a Fokker F.VIIa single-engined monoplane that was used in 1927 on an attempted transatlantic flight from Old Orchard Beach, Maine to Rome, Italy. The overloaded plane and its crew were lost approximately 700 miles east of Newfoundland, where only a section of wing was recovered. (dailymontana.com/Wikipedia)

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Glare of the New

Architecture critic George Chappell enthusiastically followed the construction of the world’s tallest building, but in its completion he found the Chrysler Building’s now-iconic spire to be little more than a stunt, and suggested that a covering of masonry might be in order:

MAYBE SOME VINYL SIDING?…George Chappell wasn’t too crazy about the Chrysler’s chrome dome, and also worried about the amount of steel that would clad the exterior of the Empire State Building, right, which is composed of limestone, chrome bars and aluminum panels. (Wikipedia)

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Bottoms Up

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White pondered the drinking habits of his fellow citizens in the tenth year of Prohibition:

MAKE THAT A DOUBLE…Finding refreshment in the dark days of Prohibition. (junkee.com)

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Good Old Summertime

Along the bottom of “The Talk of the Town,” a Reginald Marsh interpretation of Coney Island fun and games…

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Still the Same

Lois Long, who painted a picture of Jazz Age nightlife like no other in her “Tables for Two” column, teased her readers by disguising her identity, often claiming she was a frumpy old lady. With her “Tables” column now relegated to the dustbin, the fashionable and young Long maintained her pose, referring to herself as an “old war horse” in her fashion column “On and Off the Avenue.”

Problems of the Rich

John Mosher reviewed the 1930 American Pre-Code comedy Holiday, which told the story of a young man torn between his wild lifestyle and the tradition of his wealthy fiancée’s family. Films that explored the “problems” of the rich seemed particularly popular in the Depression years…

POOR LITTLE RICH GIRLS…Mary Astor and Ann Harding in Holiday. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Pond’s Cold Cream continued its campaign of endorsements by society women, including Philadelphia socialite, philanthropist and champion horsewoman Elizabeth Altemus

Altemus (1906-1988) was a prominent owner/breeder of Thoroughbred racehorses for more than 50 years. Her first marriage was to Jock Whitney, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, and president of the Museum of Modern Art. By the looks of this 1937 portrait of Altemus, the cold cream certainly didn’t do her any harm…

Mary Elizabeth Altemus Whitney in 1937. (geni.com)

…speaking of cold cream, when Kleenex was introduced in the early 1920s, it was marketed solely as a hygienic way to remove cold cream. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the makers of Kleenex began to suggest it could also be used as a tissue in place of a handkerchief. Of course it was also a great way to dramatically expand consumption of its brand, and help usher in a new age of disposable products…

…as the Depression deepened, ads for automobiles began to change with the times, most manufacturers emphasizing the affordability of their cars over performance or prestige, as this sad little ad from Packard attested….

…in three consecutive issues (June 5, 12 and 19) Peter Arno featured the same drawing with a different caption that gave readers a very brief courtship story…

Alan Dunn offered a glimpse of life among the newsboys…

Leonard Dove found Americans browsing newsstands along the Seine…

Helen Hokinson looked in on an existential crisis…

Perry Barlow was Out West at a dude ranch…

Barbara Shermund eavesdropped on a couple of debs…

Garrett Price gave us an awkward encounter among the yachting crowd…

…and finally William Crawford Galbraith, and a case of domesticus interruptus

Next Time: Aleck & Frank at Taliesin…

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…

 

 

 

Paramount on Parade

Before we launch into the latest offering from Tinseltown, a note about the cover artist for the April 26, 1930 issue.

April 26, 1930 cover by Barney Tobey.

Barney Tobey (1906-1989) was known for gently humorous cartoons that appeared in the New Yorker for more than fifty years. He also contributed four covers, the first of which appears above. In the Sept. 21, 1998 issue, illustrator Richard Merkin offered this remembrance:

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Star-spangled Banter

All-star musicals were all the rage in the early sound era, as they gave studios the opportunity to showcase contract players (who were virtually owned by the studios) doing things they usually didn’t do on screen. Following the success of MGM’s Hollywood Revue of 1929, Paramount Studios released Paramount on Parade in April 1930, much to the liking of New Yorker critic John Mosher, who also praised the film’s accompanying cartoon, 1929’s The Prisoner’s Song:

You can watch The Prisoner’s Song here (and ponder how far animation has advanced)…

Mosher also praised a number of Paramount’s contract players, and especially actors Jack Oakie and Maurice Chevalier

MUCH ADO…A great crowd gathers for the premiere of “Paramount on Parade” at the New York’s Rialto Theatre in April 1930. (cinematreasures.org)
SEEING STARS…Clockwise, from top left, Helen Kane (possibly the inspiration for the cartoon character “Betty Boop”) and Jack Oakie do a little footwork; Clara Bow, Hollywood’s “It Girl,” pops through a Navy recruitment poster at the beginning of her song and dance number (with Stuart Erwin and Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher); one of Hollywood’s top actresses in 1930, Kay Francis, portrays “Carmen” in the revue; Ruth Chatterton entertains doughboys Stuart Erwin, Fredric March, Jack Oakie, and Stanley Smith in Paramount on Parade. (IMDB)
BOOP GIVES A BOP…Helen Kane (left) and child star Mitzi Green in a sketch from Paramount on Parade. (IMDB)

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Lost In the Crowd

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White lamented the fact that the world’s tallest building appeared less than lofty, since neighboring skyscrapers were nullifying its grandeur:

DOWN IN FRONT…E.B. White found the streetview of the world’s tallest building wanting after it was completed in 1930; the iconic Flatiron Building, however, enjoys some elbow room even today. (spectator.co.uk/walksofnewyork.com)

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Full of Hot Air

That was another opinion shared by E.B. White, this time regarding the Empire State Building’s top promotor, former New York Governor Al Smith, who spoke of plans to attach a mooring mast to the top of his skyscraper (which would eclipse the Chrysler as the world’s tallest in 1931):

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View From the Top

The New Yorker featured a profile of Aloysius Anthony Kelly (1893?-1952), better known as the Roaring Twenties most famous pole-sitter, “Shipwreck” Kelly. He achieved his greatest fame in the 1920s and 1930s, sitting for days at a time on elevated perches — often atop buildings — throughout the U.S.

Kelly’s fame was already on the wane when this profile appeared, and by 1934 he was reportedly working as a dance hall gigolo. Kelly’s last flagpole stunt was at a 1952 event sponsored by a Lion’s Club in Orange, Texas — he suffered two heart attacks while sitting atop their 65-foot flagpole. After climbing down he announced, “This is it. I’m through.” He died one week later after he was struck by car on West 51st Street in Manhattan.

LOFTY AMBITIONS…Alvin ‘Shipwreck’ Kelly atop a flagpole near College Park, Maryland, in October 1942. At right, undated photo circa 1940s. (CSU Archives/Digital Commonwealth)

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Brand X

Folks were still abuzz about the discovery of a ninth planet in the solar system, soon to be dubbed “Pluto” by an English schoolgirl. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” observed…

…and Kindl illustrated the problem a new planet posed for astrologers…

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I Beg Your Pardon

Will Rogers was a beloved comedian with a few rope tricks up his sleeve, but I’ve never known him for working blue. However, one critic for the New Yorker (“A.S.”– not sure who this is) found Rogers’ new radio show both humorless and gauche…

CAN YOU TAKE A JOKE?…In photo above, Will Rogers debuts his new radio show in April 1930. It would become the most popular Sunday evening radio show, and Rogers would prove to be the second biggest motion picture box office draw in the U.S. before his death in 1935. (Will Rogers Memorial Museum)

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Before He Got Axed

Ten years before he was murdered by one of Stalin’s NKVD agents, Leon Trotsky published an autobiography that was written in his first year of exile in Turkey. The review is signed “G.H.” so I am assuming the author is Geoffrey Hellman, who contributed for decades to the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” Excerpts from the review:

RED ALERT…Leon Trotsky wrote his autobiography, My Life, while exiled in Turkey. (Wikimedia)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Bozart rugs and fabrics invited New Yorker readers to “introduce a breath of summertime indoors”…

…while Macy’s urged the same by gracing a sunroom or terrace with one of their Marcel Breuer-inspired chairs…

…Colonial Airways touted an early form of radar — an “invisible pilot” — as the latest safety feature in its airplanes…

…the Douglas L. Elliman company promoted its yet unbuilt River House, which would feature a pier where residents could dock their yachts…

The 26-story River House in the 1930s. Originally, the Art Deco building featured a pier where residents could dock their yachts, but that feature was lost with the construction of FDR Drive in the early 1950s, effectively sealing the building off from the water. The building has been home to author Barbara Taylor Bradford, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and actress Uma Thurman. (observer.com)

…and then we have our more unfortunate ads, such as this one from Macy’s that shows grandpa passing along his racist tendencies to a grandchild…

…and this sad appeal from the makers of Lucky Strike to keep puffing and avoid that hideous double chin…

…our cartoons include Garrett Price and thoughts of spring…

Barbara Shermund eavesdropped on tea time…

Alice Harvey found an awkward moment in a hosiery department…

Peter Arno revisits a familiar theme — chorus girls and sugar daddies…

…and Otto Soglow looked in on a fat cat’s moment of pride…

Next Time: Minding the Gap…

 

 

 

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The Circus Comes to Town

If you lived in small town America in the 20th century, it was a big deal when the circus came to town with its entourage of clowns, acrobats and exotic animals from distant lands.

April 19, 1930 cover by Gardner Rea.

Even New Yorkers, it seems — who could be quite blasé about such things — got a thrill when the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus rolled into town for its annual spectacle at Madison Square Garden. The New Yorker marked the occasion with its April 12 cover by Theodore Haupt:

For the April 19 issue, E.B. White welcomed the circus on a cautionary note, airing concerns in his “Notes and Comment” column that this old-timey entertainment might be falling under the “base influences” of broadcast radio, Broadway, and Hollywood:

SEND IN THE…YOU KNOW…THOSE GUYS…Top, clowns in town for the 1931 Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. Below, circus poster announcing the arrival of “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  (potterauctions.com)

José Schorr, who wrote a number of humorous columns in the New Yorker from 1926 to 1930 on the subject of “how to the pass the time” in various situations, offered this advice on attending the spectacle at Madison Square Garden…

I’D RATHER BE FLYING…1930 poster advertising “The Human Projectile”; 1931 photo of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. (worthpoint.com/bidsquare.com)

…for example, Schorr advised circus-goers to pass the time by considering the inner lives of performers such as “The Human Projectile”…

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Funny Farm

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Joe Cook (1890-1950), but in the 1920s and 30s he was a household name and one of America’s most popular comedic performers. “Talk of the Town” looked in on his antics at his Lake Hopatcong farm, “Sleepless Hollow”…

BATTER UP…Comedian Joe Cook’s residence at Lake Hopatcong, NJ, was known for its celebrity-studded parties. At left, Babe Ruth takes a swing with a giant bat on Cook’s wacky three-hole golf course; at right, Cook relaxing on the steps of his farm. (lakehopatcongnews.com)

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Fun With Balloon Animals

One thing that distinguishes the 1930s from today is that era’s apparent lack of safety standards, or fear of liability. A case in point was Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began a tradition in the late 1920s of releasing its giant balloons into the sky at the conclusion of the parade — a $50 reward was offered by Macy’s for their return. “The Talk of the Town” explained:

GOING, GOING, GONE…When Felix the Cat (left, in 1927) was released after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it floated into a power line and caught fire; in 1931 the parade’s Big Blue Hippo (right) was apparently spotted floating over the ocean, never to be seen again. (Macy’s/hatchingcatnyc.com)

Perhaps the craziest anecdote attached to the parade’s annual balloon release belonged to Annette Gipson. While flying a biplane at 5,000 feet with her instructor, she spotted the parade’s 60-foot “Tom Cat” balloon rising high above Queens. Looking to have a bit of fun, the 22-year-old Gipson flew the plane directly into the cat. According to the book Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, “Upon impact, the balloon wrapped itself around the left wing. The plane went into a deep tailspin (nearly throwing Gipson from the cockpit) and sped toward the ground out of control.” Fearing the plane would catch fire when it hit the ground, the instructor killed the ignition, and somehow managed to pull the plane out of the spin and land it safely at Roosevelt Field.

KITTY LITTER…Annette Gipson, right, nearly killed herself and her flight instructor after she deliberately crashed her biplane into a Tom Cat balloon (left) that had been released following the 1932 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of her near-death experience,Gipson told reporters, “It was a sensation that I never felt before—the whirling housetops, rushing up to meet me—and the thoughts of a whole lifetime flashed through my mind.” (ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

A footnote: Following Gipson’s brush with death, Macy’s announced it would not give prize money to those who tried to down the balloons with their airplanes. The incident also brought an end to the company’s tradition of releasing the balloons.

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Birth of the Soundtrack

Songs from popular theater productions were first made available to the masses in the mid-19th century via printed sheet music and later through early recordings. Part of this lineage is the movie soundtrack, which has its origins in the early days of sound pictures. According to the New Yorker’s “Popular Records” column, these new recordings would bring the talkies into your home, albeit without the picture…

FROM MAMMY TO MAMMA MIA…Left, a 1930 Brunswick 78 RPM recording of Al Jolson’s “To My Mammy”; at right, soundtrack from the 2008 film Mamma Mia! (popsike.com/amazon.com)

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Cosmo Calvin

Before Helen Gurley Brown came along in the 1960s and sexed it up, Cosmopolitan was known as a somewhat bland literary magazine, and it was certainly bland enough in 1930 to welcome the scribblings of America’s blandest president to its pages. E.B. White mused in his “Notes”…

NOTHING COMES BETWEEN ME AND MY CALVIN…At left, the May 1930 issue of Cosmopolitan; Kourtney Kardashian on the cover of the October 2016 issue. (Pinterest/Cosmopolitan)

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How Dry I Am

After a decade of living under Prohibition, John Ogden Whedon (1905-1991) put pen to paper and shared his sentiments in a poem for the New Yorker

…Whedon would go on to a successful career as a screenwriter, especially finding acclaim for his television writing on The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show, among others. He was also the grandfather of screenwriter and director Joseph “Joss” Whedon and screenwriters Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon.

Another poem in the April 19 issue was contributed by John Held Jr., who was perhaps better known to New Yorker readers for his “woodcut” cartoons…

…example of Held’s work from the April 12 issue, featured in an Old Gold advertisement…

…and that provides a segue into our ads for the April 19 issue, beginning with this spot for an early electric dishwasher…

Here’s what that bad boy looks like in color. (automaticwasher.org)

…I couldn’t find a review in the New Yorker for Emily Hahn’s new book, Seductio Ad Absurdum, but her publisher did take out an ad to get the attention of readers. Many years later the New Yorker would call the journalist and author “a forgotten American literary treasure”…

Emily Hahn circa 1930; first edition of Seductio Ad Absurdum. Author of 52 books, her writings played a significant role in opening up Asia to the West.(shanghaitours.canalblog.com/swansfinebooks.com)

…and here we have another sumptuous ad from illustrator Carl “Eric” Erickson, a far cry from the “Joe Camel” ads that would come along decades later…

…on to our cartoons, Reginald Marsh offered a blue collar perspective on city fashions…

Alice Harvey captured a moment of reflection by an overworked housewife…

…and I. Klein looked in on a couple of working stiffs in need of a dictionary…

…now over to the posh set, with Barbara Shermund

Leonard Dove found humor on the chorus line…

…and we end with this terrific cartoon by Peter Arno, and the perils of apartment life…

Next Time: Paramount on Parade…

 

 

 

Hot Jazz in Stone and Steel

With the Chrysler Building nearing completion and the Empire State Building beginning to rise from the old Waldorf-Astoria site, the New York City skyline was taking on the iconic form most of us now associate with the city.

April 12, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Dubbed “hot jazz in stone and steel” by modernist architect Le Corbusier, the Chrysler Building’s gleaming spire beckoned the New Yorker’s E.B. White and real estate journalist David G. Bareuther (New York Sun) to its summit for a closer look…

BARE BONES…The spire in place atop the Chrysler building, the dome awaiting its metal skin. (skyscraper.org)
WHAT LIES BENEATH…The stainless steel spire still gleams atop the Chrysler Building; beneath the spire, a maze of scaffolding — navigated by E.B. White and David G. Bareuther for their “Talk of the Town” piece, supports the upper portions of the building’s dome. (yahoo.com/nygeschichte.blogspot.com)
THE HIGH LIFE…The Chrysler Building’s exclusive Cloud Club was located on the 66th, 67th, and 68th floors. At one time it was the highest lunch club in the world. It closed in 1979. (decopix.com)

If you want to get a sense of what E.B. White and David Bareuther experienced during their climb through the Chrysler’s dome, take a look at this video featuring American radio personality “Opie” (Gregg Hughes) and Hidden Cities author Moses Gates…

The article also noted that an “observation balcony” would be available for visitors to the 71st floor (actually an enclosed room inside the dome), but I’m sure the expectations for revenue fell quite short, given the competition it would soon receive from the much larger, higher, open air observation deck of the Empire State Building…

REACHING FOR THE STARS…When the Chrysler Building officially opened in 1931, visitors could go up to the 71st-floor observatory (in the dome) and view the city through its triangular windows. The observatory closed in 1945. (nygeschichte.blogspot.com)

…a bit of a digression, but I couldn’t help but notice the observatory’s resemblance to this set from the 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

(silent-volume.blogspot.com)

…and here is a terrific graphic from Popular Science (August 1930) demonstrating how the spire, which was assembled inside the dome, was raised into its final position…

…and finally, some great archival footage documenting the achievement…

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Tragic Theater

We continue our forays into the built environment of 1930 New York by looking at what was lost, including two beloved Broadway theaters. “The Talk of the Town” lamented the decline of the Garrick…

FINAL CURTAIN…Built in 1890 and originally named Harrigan’s Theatre, The Garrick closed as a playhouse in 1929. After a short run of burlesque, the building was demolished in 1932.

…and the Casino…

You can read more about the Casino at one of my favorite blogs, Daytonian in Manhattan.

HEYDAY…Clockwise, from top left, circa 1910 postcard image of The Casino Theatre at Broadway & 39th; an audience on the Casino’s roof garden glimpses the performance below; interior of the Casino; the British musical comedy Floradora would become one of Broadway’s greatest hits — the New York production opened in 1900 and ran for 552 performances. (Museum of the City of New York )

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From Jazz to Gothic

We return our gaze to the skies with three more new buildings reviewed by architecture critic George S. Chappell in his “Sky Line” column. He began with the Manhattan Towers Hotel, which thanks to the Depression would soon fall on hard times, going into foreclosure by October of 1931 and becoming a favorite gangster hideout (read more about the hotel at Daytonian in Manhattan)…

GOD AND MAMMON…Clockwise, from top left, the Manhattan Congregational Church in 1927. The church was torn down in 1928 and replaced by the Manhattan Towers Hotel at Broadway and 76th; the completed hotel, designed to wrap around the three-story Jones Speedometer Building, seen in the lower right of the photo; the first five floors of the building were dedicated to church use; after falling into disrepair, in 1980-83 the 626-room hotel was converted into 113 cooperative apartments. Note that the Speedometer Building still stands, sadly shorn of its ornamentation. (New York Public Library/Daytonian in Manhattan)

…Chappell also found much to admire in the new Fuller and Squibb buildings…

FULLER HOUSE…Clockwise, from top left, the 1929 Fuller Building was the third home of the George A. Fuller Company (its second home was the 1903 Flatiron Building); detailed views of the building’s tiled pinnacle and unique glass display windows that distinguish the building’s first six stories; an advertisement from the March 2, 1929 New Yorker that touted these gallery spaces for “superior merchandise”; detail of a coffered panel on an elevator door. (deskgram.net/nyc-architecture.com)
Clockwise, from top left, entrance to the Squibb Building, now known as 745 Fifth Avenue; the cool white marble of the building’s base so admired by critic George Chappell; today, the building at dusk, the slender profile of 432 Park Avenue rising in the background. (pinterest.com/OzBibliophile/paramount-group.com/landmarkbranding.com)

…From the Chrysler Building to the Fuller and Squibb, these new buildings, their architects, and the city’s ever-changing skyline were famously celebrated at the January 1931 Beaux Arts Ball…

HEADS IN THE CLOUDS…the Chrysler Building’s architect, William Van Alen (center), flanked by, from left to right, Stewart Walker (The Fuller Building), Leonard Schultze (The Waldorf-Astoria), Ely Jacques Kahn (The Squibb Building), Ralph Walker (1 Wall Street), D.E. Ward (The Metropolitan Tower), and Joseph H. Freelander (Museum of the City of New York). The New York Times referred to the group as “a tableau vivant of the New York Skyline.” (Van Alen Institute)

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Quiet on the Set

The early days of sound movies created numerous challenges for directors who not only had to adjust the action to accommodate cumbersome microphones, but also to keep out unwanted noises or bad enunciation. “The Talk of the Town” explained…

CLOSETED…In the early days of the talkies, cameras had to be soundproofed in cabinets so their noisy motors would not be picked up by primitive sound equipment. (coloradocollege.edu/Library of Congress)

Peter Arno illustrated the predicament of filming in nature in this cartoon from the April 5, 1930 issue…

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One of Ours

In the story of the New Yorker, Alexander Woollcott and Marc Connelly were there at the beginning as founding members of the Algonquin Round Table and advisory editors to the first issues of the magazine. Basking in the success of his latest play, The Green Pastures (for which he would receive a 1930 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), he was the subject of a April 12, 1930 profile, titled “Two-Eyed Connelly,” which was written by Woollcott. Some excerpts, and a caricature by Al Frueh

FAMILIAR WITH THE SUBJECT…Alexander Woollcott, left, explored the life of his old friend Marc Connelly in the April 12 profile. (goodreads.com/Fine Art America)

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The Party is Really Over

Lois Long’s column “Tables for Two,” which in the 1920s was a must-read for those interested in Jazz Age night life, appeared intermittently in its last year, and its April 12 installment was not even written by Long, but by a writer who signed the column “F.D.” — I assume this is Fairfax Downey, who tried his best to capture Long’s style…

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From Our Advertisers

Warner Brothers opened their pocketbooks to publicize John Barrymore’s latest film, The Man From Blankey’s, which the studio described as a “Modern High Hat Comedy”…

WHEN ALCOHOLISM WAS FUNNY…Loretta Young, John Barrymore and Angella Mawby in The Man from Blankley’s. (IMDB)

…Thanks to William Randolph Hearst and his King Features Syndicate, Robert Ripley, the P.T. Barnum of the funny pages, soared to fame in the 1930s with his “Believe It or Not” panel…here he begins his 14-year run on the radio…

HELLO SUCKERS…Robert Ripley in 1930 with a drawing of “the Horned Man of South Africa.” (RIPLEY ENTERTAINMENT INC.)

…and here’s an ad for another questionable but very American diversion — Fred Harvey’s “Indian Detours”…

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE…The Fred Harvey Company was renowned for its chain of eating houses hosted by the famed “Harvey Girls” along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad between 1876 and 1968. To encourage train travel (and Harvey business) in the Southwest, the Harvey company developed “Indian Detours.” The photo at left is of an “Indian Building” in Albuquerque, which featured displays of art and “live exhibits” that included Native Americans from many tribes around New Mexico. (santafeselection.com)
EASY RIDER…1929 Cadillac Harvey Indian Detour Car outside La Fonda, Santa Fe. (Palace of the Governors photo archive)

…if you preferred to travel abroad, Texaco wanted you to know that you could still gas up with their product, even in distant Singapore…

…we begin our cartoons with the spare stylings of Gardner Rea

…and Otto Soglow

…we find one of Helen Hokinson’s ladies on her way to fitness…

William Crawford Galbraith showed us an enterprising young man…

Art Young illustrated the challenges of the lecture circuit…

…and one of my all-time favorite Peter Arno cartoons…

Next Time: The Circus Comes to Town…