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…

The Drys Are All Wet

The end of Prohibition was more than three years away, but New Yorkers could already sense that the tide was quickly turning against the “drys” who had succeeded a decade earlier in enacting a nationwide ban on most alcohol production and distribution.

Aug. 2, 1930 cover by Julian De Miskey.

In the Aug. 2 issue Alva Johnston seemed to relish the opportunity to aim some withering fire at the retreating “drys”…

NOT EXACTLY LYSISTRATA…The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (left) and the Anti-Saloon League were major forces behind a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. (Pinterest/PBS)

Johnston noted how the “wet” forces were even using the Bible to beat down the moral crusaders…

DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING…What began as moral crusade led to the rise of some of America’s most notorious gangsters. Top, left to right, early 20th century temperance supporters included attorney and politician William Jennings Bryan, Anti-Saloon League leaders William “Meat-Axe” Anderson and Wayne Wheeler, and Ella Boole, head of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union; bottom, left to right, mugshots of Jack “Legs’ Diamond and Al Capone. (Wikipedia/findagrave.com/Flickr)

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Clear as Mud

In another installment of “Answers-To-Hard-Questions Department,” James Thurber fielded a question regarding the New Yorker’s policy on drawings and sketches. Here is Thurber, posing as “Wayne Van R. Vermilye”…

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Double Standard

In its first years the New Yorker looked down on the subtle and not-so-subtle racism in American life; that is, when it applied to black intellectuals and artists (Dorothy Parker’s “Arrangement in Black and White” in the Sept. 30, 1927 is a prime example). However, in its comics and in “Talk of the Town” shorts, working class blacks were almost always depicted as minstrel characters, mammies, pickininnies and the like. In the Aug. 2 book review section, we have an example of the former, more or less…

WITHOUT LAUGHTER…Eslanda Goode Robeson, left, in the avant-garde film Borderline (1929); Langston Hughes photographed by Carl Van Vechten in the 1930s. (columbia.edu/beinecke.library.yale.edu)

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From Our Advertisers

The 38-story Barbizon-Plaza Hotel hotel was designed to appeal to artists and musicians and included soundproof practice rooms, art studios, and two performance halls. Apparently you could also enjoy a game of deck tennis on the rooftop, but one wonders how much damage one could inflict — on a car or person — with a solid rubber ring dropped from a height of nearly 400 feet…

The Barbizon-Plaza Hotel opened at 106 Central Park South in 1930 with 1,400 ensuite rooms. Designed to appeal to artists and musicians, the Depression put an end to that dream, and the property was foreclosed on in 1933. Donald Trump purchased the building in 1981 with the intent of tearing it down, but eventually converted it into 340 condo units and renamed it the “Trump Parc.” (MCNY)

…Lorillard Tobacco Company, the makers of Old Gold cigarettes, tapped into the popularity of crooner Rudy Vallée to move their product, boasting that like Vallée  their cigarette was something of an overnight sensation (residents of Chicago, the ad noted, smoked 3 million Old Golds every day)…

…on to our cartoons…a couple issues back, I noted how this Peter Arno drawing appeared in three consecutive issues with different captions…here it is again, and the story of the two lovers continues…

…also continuing were these full-page cartoons (originally displayed sideways) by Rea Irvin…his “Country Life in America,” scenes depicted common folks setting up camp and enjoying other other activities at the expense of country squires…

…and we end with Leonard Dove and a couple of city folk looking for some excitement in the country…

Note: the above cartoon refers to Texas Guinan’s move to country after reigning for a nearly a decade as Manhattan’s “Queen of the Nightclubs.” Facing declining fortunes, in 1929 she took her nightclub act to the quiet village of Valley Stream, New York, located just south of Queens in Nassau County. The venture quickly went bust.

Next Time: The Woes of Mr Monroe…

The Little King

Like his New Yorker colleague Reginald Marsh, Otto Soglow trained in the “Ashcan School” of American art, and his early illustrations favored its gritty urban realism. He had his own life experience to draw upon, being born to modest means in the Yorkville district of Manhattan.

We look at two issues this week. At left, cover of March 31 issue by Peter Arno; at right, June 7 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

But Soglow (1900-1975) would soon abandon the gritty style in the work he contributed to the New Yorker…

RAGS TO RICHES…At left, Otto Soglow’s first cartoon in the New Yorker, Nov. 14, 1925, was rendered in the Ashcan style ; at right, an example of the sparer style he later adopted, one of his manhole series cartoons from March 2, 1929.

…and in the June 7, 1930 issue, Soglow would publish his first Little King strip, which would soon launch the 29-year-old into fame and fortune…

Did Soglow know he was on to something big with that first Little King cartoon? Well Harold Ross (New Yorker founding editor) liked what he saw, and asked Soglow to produce more. After building up an inventory over nearly 10 months, Ross finally published a second Little King strip on March 14, 1931. It soon became a hit, catching the attention of William Randolph Hearst, who wanted the strip for his King Features Syndicate.

KING OF COMEDY…Otto Soglow working on an illustration for The Ambassador, a short-lived comic strip he created in 1933 for King Features Syndicate. The strip was replaced by The Little King in 1934 after Soglow fulfilled his contractual obligation to the New Yorker. (comicartfans.com)

After Soglow fulfilled his contractural obligation to the New Yorker, The Little King made its move to King Features on Sept. 9, 1934, and the strip ran until Soglow’s death in 1975. After his move to King Features, Soglow continued to contribute cartoons to the New Yorker, but with other themes.

Left, Soglow cartoon from the book Wasn’t the Depression Terrible? (1934); at right, King Features strip from Nov. 19, 1967. (Wikipedia/tcj.com)

You can read more about Soglow and The Little King in The Comics Journal.

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The Party’s Definitely Over

During the summer of 1925, a young writer at Vanity Fair named Lois Long would take over the New Yorker’s nightlife column, “When Nights Are Bold,” rename it “Tables For Two,” and set about giving a voice to the fledgling magazine as well as chronicling the city’s Jazz Age nightlife. There were accounts of Broadway actors mingling with flappers and millionaires at nightclubs and speakeasies, but Long also spoke out on issues such as Prohibition, taking the city’s leaders to task for raids on speakeasies and other heavy-handed tactics contrary to the spirit of the times. “Tables For Two” would expire with the June 7, 1930 issue, and appropriately so, as the deepening Depression gave the the city a decidedly different vibe. In her final column Long would write about the Club Abbey, a gay speakeasy operated by mobster Dutch Schultz

PARTIED OUT…In her final nightlife column, Lois Long wrote about the new Club Abbey in the basement of the Hotel Harding (left), which was operated by mobster Dutch Schultz (inset). The club’s emcee was Gene Malin (right), Broadway’s first openly gay drag performer. The club was short-lived (as were Schultz and Malin), closing in January 1931 following a mob brawl. (infamousnewyork.com/Pinterest)

…and she would update her readers on “Queen of the Night Clubs” Texas Guinan, whose Club Intime was sold to Dutch Schultz and replaced by his Club Abbey…

FINAL ACT…Clockwise, from top left, Texas Guinan at Lynbrook, circa 1930; Joseph Urban murals on the rooftop of the St. Regis Hotel; Duke Ellington and his orchestra at the Cotton Club, circa 1930s.

Long’s final nightlife column would signal a definitive end to whatever remained of the Roaring Twenties. It would also signal the end to some of those associated with those heady times. Texas Guinan’s Lynbrook plans would flop, and Gene Malin’s Club Abbey would close in less than a year. Both would both be dead by 1933. As for Dutch Schultz, he would be gunned down in 1935.

Lois Long, however, would continue to write for the New Yorker for another 40 years, and would prove to be as innovative in her fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue,” as she was as a nightlife correspondent.

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Gone to the Dogs

In another installment of his pet advice column (June 7), James Thurber gave us one of his classic dogs…a disinterested bloodhound…

…while Thurber’s buddy and office mate E.B. White commented (in the March 31 issue) on a recent poll conducted among students at Princeton, discovering among other things that New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno was preferred over the old masters…

FAN FAVORITES…The Princeton Class of 1930 named (from left) Rudyard Kipling, Lynn Fontanne and Peter Arno as favorite poet, actress and artist respectively in a student poll. (YouTube/Wikipedia/giam.typepad.com)

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We Like It Fine, Thank You

The New Yorker dedicated a full page of the March 31 issue to a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal directed at the New York Evening Journal, which had reprinted one of Peter Arno’s cartoons to illustrate the moral cost of Prohibition. I believe the author of the rebuttal is E.B. White (note how he refers to Arno as “Mr. Aloe”).

…also in the May 31 issue, Rea Irvin changed things up, at least temporarily, with some new artwork for the “Goings On About Town” section. The entries themselves were often clever, such as this listing for a radio broadcast: PRESIDENT HOOVER—Gettysburg speech. Similar to Lincoln’s but less timely…

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From Our Advertisers

New Yorker cartoonists can be found throughout the advertisements — from left, Julian De Miskey, Rea Irvin and John Held, Jr

…and in the June 7 issue we find an unusual ad for a used car…a sign of the times, no doubt…

…before it was associated with Germany’s Nazi Party (especially after it seized power in 1933), for thousands of years the swastika had been widely used as a religious or good luck symbol…

…Actress Clara Bow was famously pictured sporting a “good luck” swastika as a fashion statement in this press photo from June 1928, unaware that in a few years the symbol would become universally associated with hate, death and war…

From an unidentified publication dated June 6, 1928. (@JoHedwig/Twitter)

…on to our cartoons, I. Klein illustrated a cultural exchange…

Garrett Price gauged the pain of a plutocrat…

Alan Dunn eavesdropped on some just desserts…

Helen Hokinson found humor in the mouths of babes…

…as did Alice Harvey

Leonard Dove examined one woman’s dilemma at a passport office…

…and Peter Arno, who found some cattiness at ringside…

Next Time: Germany’s Anti-Decor…

 

A Bridge Too Far

Despite the rise of the professional classes in the 20th century (and their attendant rules for accreditation and licensing) there still existed individuals who practiced at the highest levels with little or no formal training.

June 8, 1929 cover by Julien de Miskey.

Gustav Lindenthal (1850-1935) was a case in point. An Austrian immigrant who designed New York’s Hell Gate Bridge among others had little formal education and no degree in civil engineering. Rather, he learned by working as an assistant on various construction projects and teaching himself mathematics, metallurgy, engineering, hydraulics and other principles of the building profession.

Lindenthal was praised for his innovations in bridge design as well as for his artistic eye, but one project eluded him throughout his career: the largest bridge in the world—a massive double-decker that would span the Hudson River from 57th Street in New York City to Hoboken in New Jersey. The June 8, 1929 “Talk of the Town” checked in on the nearly 80-year-old bridge builder:

A cornerstone for the Hudson bridge was laid in 1895, but a series of bad breaks, including the 1898 Depression and various political setbacks, served to continually delay the project. The New York Tribune anticipated the bridge in its April 28, 1907 edition…

(untapped cities) click to enlarge

…and three years later the Tribune seemed confident that work was finally underway…

(untapped cities) click to enlarge

…however by the 1920s the bridge was still a dream. In 1921 Scientific American offered the latest glimpse of Lindenthal’s proposed 57th Street — a span 6,000 feet in length, with a 200-foot-wide double deck accommodating 24 lanes of traffic and 12 railroad tracks. An artist’s rendering included a massive building, on an arched plinth, positioned over the bridge deck:

BIG PLANS…Clockwise, from top left: Artist’s rendering of Gustav Lindenthal’s proposed 57th Street bridge from the June 25, 1921 issue of Scientific American. That same issue featured a size comparison with the then-tallest building in the world. Below, the 1895 cornerstone, recently recovered from a crumbling pier on the New Jersey side of the Hudson and relocated to the grounds of Steven’s Institute of Technology in Hoboken. (untappedcities.com) click to enlarge

The New Yorker suggested that Lindenthal’s legacy was already secure, and with his determination and vigorous constitution, he still might still win the day:

Despite his vigor, Lindenthal would not live to see his dream realized. However, he is remembered for building some of New York’s most iconic bridges, including the Hell Gate and Queensboro:

LEGACY…Clockwise, from top left, Hell Gate Bridge; Gustav Lindenthal, circa 1920; Queensboro Bridge. (Library of Congress/Britannica/Pinterest)

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Keeping Up With the Lindberghs

Despite his worldwide fame, Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) detested the limelight, particularly when it came to his personal life. Writing in the column “The Wayward Press,” humorist Robert Benchley mocked the newspapers for their invasions into the lives of the celebrated, including newlyweds Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

MIND YOUR OWN BEESWAX…Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh after their marriage in a private ceremony on May 27, 1929, at the home of her parents in Englewood, New Jersey. (Library of Congress)

Benchley wasn’t buying the newspaper industry’s insistence that the public demanded to know the facts about the flyboy’s nuptials:

SENSATIONAL, ISN”T IT?…An NEA Wire Service account of the “secret” Lindbergh-Morrow wedding. Click image to enlarge.

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Let the Good Times Roll

With the newly remodeled Central Park Casino officially christened by Mayor Jimmy Walker and his cronies, the New Yorker’s Lois Long (in her column “Tables for Two”) decided to pay a visit to see what all the fuss was about:

PARTY LIKE IT’S 1933…Revelers at the Central Park Casino (top) celebrate the end of Prohibition in 1933. Below, the Casino in 1929. (Corbis/New York Times)

Long also commented on the declining fortunes of another familiar face of New York nightlife, Texas Guinan, who had fled Manhatten’s smoky speakeasy scene for the bucolic climes of Nassau County…

GOODBYE CITY LIFE…Texas Guinan took her nightclub to the quiet village of Valley Stream, New York, located just south of Queens in Nassau County. Guinan didn’t abandon all the trappings of city life: she drove to Valley Stream in a lavender Rolls Royce, and continued to greet her patrons with her famous “Hello, Sucker!” (Pinterest/texasguinanblogspot.com)

Long concluded that regardless where one ended up on a summer evening, one should be aware that a shabbier crowd awaited their company:

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Cuba Libre

Now we look at another New Yorker contributor who today is not exactly a household name: Donald Barr Chidsey (1902-1981), an American writer, biographer, historian and novelist best known for his adventure fiction. In this short column he offered some insights into the Cuban drinking scene:

ADVENTURESOME LAD…Donald Barr Chidsey wrote more than 50 books, including many action-adventure titles such as Captain Adam, from 1953. Note the resemblance of the hero on the cover to the author. (etsy/Amazon)

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Waxing Poetic

From its very first issue, the New Yorker also published a wide variety of poets, including Nicholas Samstag (1904-1968),who contributed several poems to the magazine in 1928 and 1929. Samstag later went on to a successful career in advertising, and was a close associate of  Edward Bernays, considered the father of public relations and propaganda.

A frequent contributor to the New Yorker, writer, poet and critic Mark Van Doren (1894-1972) published more than three dozen poems in the magazine from 1929 to 1972. Here is his first contribution, in the June 8, 1929 issue:

Van Doren’s last contribution to the New Yorker was published on Nov. 18, 1972, less than a month before his death. It was appropriately titled “Good Riddance”…

DID THE APPLE FALL FAR FROM THE TREE?…At left, a circa 1925 portrait of Mark Van Doren. He was the father of Charles Van Doren, who achieved brief renown as the 1957 winner of the rigged game show Twenty One. He is pictured at far right with fellow contestant Vivienne Nearing and game show host Jack Barry. (art.net/Wikipedia)

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From Our Advertisers

As summer approached some distinct themes emerged in ads aimed at female consumers. Here is a collection of ads from the June 8 issue that capitalized on the new tanning craze of the late 1920s…

click to enlarge

…and another big craze of the 1920s, the permanent wave, seemed to be a necessity as summer approached…

click to enlarge

…as for the gents, check out this new line of Jantzen swimwear modeled by what appear to be identical twins…

…and when you’re out of the water, a pair of “fashion welts” were all the rage for tip-toeing across the hot sands of Southampton…

…this ad from B. Altman depicted two women clad for “open motoring” (not sure how those long, lithe figures will fit in that tiny rumble seat)…

…for a less dusty mode of transportation, you could hop aboard The Broadway Limited for a quick 20-hour jaunt to Chicago…

…or better yet, have a relaxing smoke with one of your chums aboard a Sikorsky seaplane…

…our cigarette ad for this week comes from Philip Morris, makers of Marlboro, who once again exploited the nation’s youth with a bogus handwriting contest that doubled as a product endorsement…

…our June 8 comics are from Helen Hokinson, who offered a full page of illustrations from a “Fifth Avenue Wedding”…

…while Leonard Dove peeked in on a wastrel son and his disappointed father…

…and we have an awkward moment revealed by an unknown cartoonist (ID anyone?)…

…and an observation by C.W. Anderson on the minimalism of modernist design…

…and finally, Peter Arno’s take on the challenges of shooting sound motion pictures…

Caption: “Lord, Mr. Rolbert, you’ll have to develop a more robust sneeze—the public will think you’re a sissy!”

Next Time: Something Old, Something New…

Queen of the Night Clubs

In the Roaring Twenties, Mary Louise Cecilia—aka Texas Guinan—was the undisputed queen of New York’s boozy, bawdy nightclub and speakeasy scene.

March 23, 1929 cover by Gardner Rea.

During the 1920s Guinan operated one of New York’s most famed speakeasies, The El Fey Club, which attracted the likes of Mayor Jimmy Walker, actors George Raft and Peggy Hopkins Joyce, writers including Ring Larder and Damon Runyon, and gossip columnists Walter Winchell, Mark Hellinger, and Ed Sullivan (yep, the same Ed who later hosted TV’s most famous variety show).

It was still months before the big stock market crash, but in the pages of the New Yorker you could already sense a change in its voice; it was maturing, to be sure, but it also seemed to be growing weary of the party. The magazine’s nightlife correspondent, Lois Long, contributed sporadically to her once-lively “Tables for Two” column (she was now a mother, and would abandon the column altogether in 1930). As for the queen of nightlife, Texas Guinan, New Yorkers were ready for something different.

BEATING THE RAP…In June 1928 Texas Guinan and other New York speakeasy operators were arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury. Guinan beat the rap, and was acquitted in April 1929. (ephemeralness york)

In a review of her latest movie, Queen of the Night Clubs, the New Yorker found that Guinan lacked her famed charm and vitality, and that the camera was “not kind to her looks.”

THE FINAL CURTAIN…Clockwise from top left: Texas Guinan in a nightclub scene from Queen of the Night Clubs; trading lines in the film with John Davidson; a 1929 portrait of Guinan by Cecil Beaton; and a scene from the film with co-star Lila Lee (far right). The film is considered lost. (boweryboyshistory.com/texasguinan.blogspot.com)

The film in many ways marked the end of Texas Guinan, not so much because it was a bad film but because she had simply run her course and was going out of style. The market crash later that year was the final straw. She took her show on the road, made an unsuccessful attempt at a European tour, then returned to the States. She made one final film, Broadway Thru A Keyhole, which was based on a story by Guinan acolyte Walter Winchell. Guinan died on Nov. 5, 1933, three days after the film’s release; her death was due to ulcerative colitis brought on by a case of amoebic dysentery contracted during a visit to Chicago. She was 49. One month later, Prohibition would be repealed.

A final note: Queen of the Night Clubs would be Texas Guinan’s final starring role (the film is considered lost), but before she became a night club fixture she was a popular star in dozens of shorts and two-reelers—with mostly Western themes— from 1917 to 1921.

HAPPIER TRAILS…Texas Guinan featured in a movie poster and publicity photo for The Two-Gun Woman, 1918. (Columbia University)

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A Film of Biblical Proportions

The New Yorker’s May 23 film review also sized up the latest epic to come out of Hollywood—Noah’s Ark—a picture with parallel storylines known mostly for its innovations in special effects.

The film premiered in late 1928 as a silent and was re-released in 1929 as a “part-talkie.” It told the story of Noah and the Great Flood, connected to another story featuring cabaret singers, soldiers and espionage during the First World War. Here is the New Yorker’s take on the film:

IDENTITY CRISES…Various promotional posters touted different aspects of the partial-sound film, Noah’s Ark. The one at left promoted the film’s biblical story, while the one at right played up Dolores Costello’s sex appeal. (IMDB)

The New Yorker concluded that the film was worth seeing for the Noah story’s special effects, despite its attachment to a “dreary and banal” war picture.

DUAL ROLES…Dolores Costello (seated, at left) played both a cabaret dancer, Marie, and Noah’s handmaiden Miriam, in Noah’s Ark. Note in the first photo the actress at far left, with her leg propped up on the chair—that’s Myrna Loy, who would become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 30s and 40s. As for Costello, known as “The Goddess of the Silent Screen,” her greatest success was in the silent era. Click image to enlarge. (1stdibs.com, IMDB)
BIG SHOW…Portions of Noah’s Ark were filmed at the famed Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California, including the opening shot that featured a massive ark (top, left) beached on the boulders of the movie ranch’s Garden of the Gods. Other scenes from the film included (moving clockwise, from top right) Paul McAllister as Noah, issuing a warning to the heathen as Noah’s son Japheth (George O’Brien) and servant girl Miriam (Dolores Costello) cower at right; the heathen masses desperately clamoring to board the ark as they are engulfed by the flood (600,000 gallons of water was used in the scene—three of the extras actually drowned during the filming); Japheth carries the rescued Miriam into the ark. Click image to enlarge. (IMDB, Wikipedia, dukewayne.com, medium.com)

Notable about these silent epics is the lack of precaution they took with both the actors and the extras. A huge amount of water—600,000 gallons—was used to film the the climactic flood scene. Three extras drowned and many others suffered broken bones and other serious injuries. One extra had to have his leg amputated. As for the stars, Dolores Costello caught a severe case of pneumonia during the filming.

Here’s a clip to give you an idea of what the extras had to deal with:

Some trivia: John Wayne was an extra in the film, and also worked in the prop department. The director of Noah’s Ark, Michael Curtiz, would go on to direct some of the most well-known films of the 20th century, including The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, Angels with Dirty Faces with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca with Bogart and Ingrid BergmanMildred Pierce with Joan Crawford, and White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. He would also direct an Elvis Presley movie, King Creole, and in his final film would reunite with John Wayne in 1961’s The Comancheros.

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While Americans were enjoying epic filmmaking, Russian audiences were being served up the latest in propaganda, although this was propaganda presented with stunning film innovations and avant-garde sequences. In this item from the March 23 “Talk of the Town” the film is referred to as Through Russia With A Camera, but today it is known as Man with a Movie Camera. This experimental silent film from 1929 supposedly documented ordinary life in Soviet Union (with no signs of the famine that claimed 5 million Soviet citizens in the early 1920s). Directed by Dziga Vertov, the documentary’s famed cinematography was by Mikhail Kaufman. “Talk” observed:

AVANT GARDE…Poster for Man with a Movie Camera rendered in the Constructivist style. At right, cinematographer Mikhail Kaufman risks his life for a unique camera angle. (Wikipedia)
Clockwise, from top left: Cinematographer Mikhail Kaufman prepares to set up for a Black Sea beach sequence near Odessa; images of ordinary life include a woman at a hairdresser and a young woman fastening her bra; the eye through the camera lens, the film’s final image. (ascmag.com)

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From Our Advertisers

A sampling of advertisements from the pages of the March 23 issue include this nearly two-page spread for Pond’s cold cream…no doubt Pond’s was thrilled with this endorsement by “Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr,” otherwise known as Mary Weir of Davenport, Iowa. Mary was wife No. 2 of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s seven wives. Mary and Cornelius were married in 1928 and divorced in 1931…

…and then we have this advertisement from Knox hatters, illustrated by the New Yorker’s own Rea Irvin

…this advertisement for the new Lincoln Building played up the building’s dominating form on Madison Avenue…

…a dominance that continues to this day. I know it’s not cool to gaze up at buildings in Manhattan, but if you’re ever in the neighborhood you must look upward at least once and gaze at the canyon that splits the Lincoln Building’s massive facade…

Lincoln Building, circa 1950. (Museum of the City of New York)

…this Remington typewriter was the closest thing to a desktop computer in 1929…I own one of these and I must attest that it isn’t exactly noiseless…

…this next ad caught my eye because it encouraged people to commit negligent homicide by throwing their product out of a high-rise window…it is also interesting because today Crosley is still a big name in radios and record players, although today’s Crosley is similar in name only. The original Crosley Corporation was a major player in early radio broadcasting, and in addition to manufacturing radios Crosley would go on to build refrigerators, a line of inexpensive subcompact cars and trucks (from 1939 to ’52) cars, and even small airplanes (1929-’36). Crosley ceased as a brand name in 1956, but the name was revived in 1984 by Modern Marketing Concepts. Today Crosley is a leading manufacturer of vintage-styled turntables, radios and other electronics…

…speaking of encouraging ridiculous behavior, some clever marketer at Ronson lighters found a great way not only to sell lighters, but also to encourage customers to waste lots of lighter fluid…

…and then we have this, one of the unlikeliest advertisements ever to appear in the New Yorker—at first I thought it was one of E.B. White’s fake newspapers, but it was actually a two-page spread promoting Davey Tree Surgeons of all things…

…just for fun I am tossing in this illustration by Constantin Aladjalov that appeared along the bottom of a two-page spread…

…and finally, our cartoon from Otto Soglow, in which our subject is either referring to a popular board game from 1929, or a particular sequence in a domino game…

Next Time: While You Were Away…

 

The Midnight Frolic

What do you do after an evening at the theater when the night is young and the city still thrums with excitement? In 1929 Manhattan, those willing to shell out a $5 cover charge (equivalent to nearly $120 today) and another $3 for front row seats could take in a show on the rooftop of the New Amsterdam Theatre — Florenz Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic.

Jan. 12, 1928 cover by Julian de Miskey.

The New Yorker’s Lois Long was on hand for opening night of the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, where the rich and famous gathered to enjoy after hours performances by Paul Whitman’s orchestra, singer and comedian Eddie Cantor (performing in blackface), and the boozy torch singer Helen Morgan. In her nightlife column, “Tables for Two,” Long observed:

Among the celebrities Long spotted at the Midnight Frolic’s opening night was actress and dancer Peggy Hopkins Joyce, famed for collecting men along with diamonds and furs:

FAMOUSLY FAMOUS…Largely unknown today, during the Roaring Twenties actress and dancer Peggy Hopkins Joyce was one of the decade’s most famous celebrities, her noteriety mostly deriving from her flamboyant lifestyle that included six marriages, dozens of engagements and affairs with celebrities ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Walter Chrysler, who reportedly gave her $2 million in jewelry including a 134-karat diamond necklace. (http://jenniferfabulous.blogspot.com)
WHAT THEY DID FOR FUN…Ziegfeld girl Olive Thomas wearing her balloon costume on the stage of the New Amsterdam’s rooftop theatre during the original run of the Midnight Frolic. Male patrons were encouraged to use their cigars and cigarettes to pop the balloons. Photo circa 1915. (Pinterest)

According to a Museum of the City of New York blog (posted by Nimisha Bhat), Flo Ziegfeld was tired of seeing his audiences leave after performances of his Ziegfeld Follies at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street (and spend money elsewhere), so in 1915 he staged a new revue — the Danse de Follies! (later to be called Midnight Frolic) on the New Amsterdam’s underused 680-seat roof-top level that included tables, box seats, and a balcony. Ziegfeld added a glass walkway that would allow chorus girls to dance above the audience, affording some customers a more risqué perspective on the dancers.

Bhat writes that the club “stayed open year-round for seven years and while World War I couldn’t stop the Midnight Frolic, Prohibition was ultimately what led Ziegfeld to end the show in 1922.” In 1921 Ziegfeld told The New York Times: “The best class of people from all over the world have been in the habit of coming up on the roof … and when they are subjected to the humiliation of having policemen stand by their tables and watch what they are drinking, then I do not care to keep open any longer.” The show Lois Long attended in January 1929 was a revival of the Midnight Frolic, and although Prohibition was still the law, by 1929 it was widely flaunted if not completely ignored by many New Yorkers. Long also noted changes to the rooftop, including a new decor by famed theatrical designer Joseph Urban:

Clockwise, from top left, Hazel Forbes poses in her costume for Ziegfeld’s 1929 Midnight Frolic; Dolores (also known as Rose Dolores) plays the part of “The White Peacock” in the Tropical Birds number for the Midnight Frolic of 1919. Considered to be first celebrity clothes model, Dolores is often credited as the inventor of the “blank hauteur” look of modern fashion models; Jean Ackerman & Evelyn Groves from the 1929 show; program for the 1929 Midnight Frolic. (White Studios/Pinterest/Playbill)
READY TO FROLIC…Stage ensemble from the 1917 Midnight Frolic included, at center left, actor/humorist Will Rogers. (Museum of the City of New York)
EXTROVERTS…Margaret Morris, Kay Laurell, and Florence Cripps on the infamous glass walkway in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic of 1916. (talesofamadcapheiress.blogspot.com)
THEY WERE HAMMERED…Insisting that theater-goers would have sore hands after applauding so much, Flo Ziegfeld provided little wooden hammers at Frolic tables, so audiences could bang out their appreciation. (Museum of the City of New York)

There is a filmed performance of Eddie Cantor allegedly made that night at the Ziegfeld Theatre Roof Garden, but it was actually filmed on a soundstage at the Paramount Astoria studio in Queens. You can tell it is staged because during Cantor’s performance he recognizes some of the celebrities who were at the opening (the camera shifts to them as they take bows), but when he calls out Peggy Joyce the camera stays on Cantor. Apparently she didn’t find it necessary to participate in this charade. Nevertheless, this video gives you some idea of what was presented at the Midnight Frolic. And one wonders why Cantor performed in blackface, since it’s just his standard song and gags schtick:

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Mea Culpa

Also in the Jan. 12 issue was this small ad in the back pages — an apology from Texas Guinan, actress, producer, and entrepreneur well-known to New York nightlife (and to the vice squad):

QUEEN OF THE NIGHTCLUBS…or so they called Texas Guinan, pictured here from a 1929 film by the same name. (texasguinan.blogspot.com)

 * * *

Nevertheless, Prohibition Continued to Suck…

The Jan. 12 “Talk of the Town” addressed the sheer folly of Prohibition enforcement:

DON’T JUDGE A BOTTLE BY ITS COVER…An assortment of confiscated, adulterated spirits from the Prohibition era. (prohibition.themobmuseum.org)

SUPPLY AND DEMAND…In 1925 there were an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasies in New York City alone. Near the end of the ban on alcohol in 1933 Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White captured some of the city’s elite speakeasies. (Life)

The “Talk” item also addressed the new police commissioner’s approach to enforcement of the unpopular law:

And as it happened, Grover Whalen was also the subject of the Jan. 12 “Profile,” which included this illustration by Peter Arno:

 

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How’s the Old Ticker?

The “Talk of the Town” also marveled at the technology behind the famed news ticker in Times Square, inaugurated on election night the previous November:

JUNE 6, 1944…Crowd watching D-Day headlines on the New York Times building. (Library of Congress)

The news ticker, known as the “zipper” (which inspired the news crawl at the bottom of today’s cable news channels), made Times Square the place to be when big events were announced. According to Wired magazine, the zipper, invented by Frank C. Reilly, “was the technological marvel of its day, extending 380 feet around the Times Tower and, with a band 5-feet tall, the moving letters were visible from a distance of several city blocks.” Wired cites a 2005 New York Times column to describe how it worked:

“Inside the control room, three cables poured energy into transformers. The hookup to all the bulbs totaled 88,000 soldered connections. Messages from a ticker came to a desk beside a cabinet like the case that contained type used by old-time compositors. The cabinet contained thin slabs called letter elements. An operator composed the message letter-by-letter in a frame. The frame, when filled with the letters and spaces that spelled out a news item, was inserted in a magazine at one end of a track. A chain conveyor moved the track, and each letter in the frame brushed a number of contacts. Each contact set a light flashing on Broadway.” Reilly calculated that there were 261,925,664 flashes an hour from the zipper’s 14,800 bulbs.

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From Our Advertisers

A couple of clothing store ads which demonstrated a more modern look in graphic design…

…and two terrific illustrations (out of four in a two-page spread) by Reginald Marsh that decorated the “Profile” section of the magazine, featuring scenes from the Webster Hall nightclub in the East Village…

…and our cartoon, courtesy of Roch King:

Next Time: The Bootleg Spirit…

After Hours

Broadway shows were a popular nightlife diversion for New York’s upper middle-class, but plays and musicals were only part of an evening’s entertainment. The city’s “after theatre” clubs beckoned those who enjoyed an evening of dance with the Astaires or a light comedy with Lunt and Fontanne, but believed the night was still young.

May 5, 1928 cover by Leonard Dove.

And who better to chronicle the late night revelry than Lois Long, who through her “Tables For Two” column (signed “Lipstick”) was a leading voice of after hours Manhattan and a nightly presence in its various clubs and speakeasies. Longtime New Yorker writer Brendan Gill (Here at the New Yorker) observed that Long, who joined the New Yorker in 1925, “had plunged at once, joyously, into a New York that seemed always at play — a city of speakeasies, night clubs, tea dances, football weekends, and steamers sailing at midnight.”

In May 1928 Long had been married for about nine months to colleague and cartoonist Peter Arno, who was also a regular fixture of the nightclub scene. But in Long’s column for May 5, 1928, one can detect a bit of weariness setting in, the 27-year-old sensing the next generation didn’t know how to have a good time.

And it didn’t help that the younger people were dancing to “canned music,” what with the spread of broadcast radio and improvements in phonograph records…

LIPSTICK WAS A FAN of the Paul Specht Orchestra, seen here in 1928. (YouTube)
BUT NOT A FAN of those darn kids who preferred records to live music, and didn’t know how to party at the clubs. (Pinterest)

For those on the wilder side, Lois Long recommended a number of after-hours entertainments, including Texas Guinan’s latest all-night club, Salon Royal, and its snake-charming hootch dancer.

WHOOPEE was the order of the day at Texas Guinan’s Salon Royal on West 58th Street, now refurbished as the 6 Columbus Hotel. Guinan was well known to New Yorker writers and editors and was a frequent guest of the numerous parties hosted by Harold Ross and Jane Grant in their Hell’s Kitchen brownstone. (texasguinan.blogspot)
A FAVORITE HAUNT…A bartender at the 21 Club speakeasy in New York, as photographed by Margaret Bourke-White circa 1930. The 21 was Lois Long’s favorite watering hole. (Timeline)

Because so many New Yorker readers were both theatre and after-theatre-goers, the magazine included some of the after-dinner destinations in its “Goings On About Town” section. Excerpts follow.

Rubberneckers

A May 5 “Talk of the Town” segment (written by James Thurber) commented on the challenges film crews faced when they shot on location in the city, in this case the production of Harold Lloyd’s latest comedy, Speedy:

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION…Silent film star Harold Lloyd (leaning on car at right) and his crew draw a crowd under Queensboro Bridge during the filming of Speedy. (silentlocations.wordpress.com)
BABE IN THE CITY…Harold Lloyd takes baseball legend Babe Ruth for a wild spin in 1928’s Speedy. (YouTube)

 *  *  *

Before Mommie Dearest

The actress Joan Crawford is best known today as the subject of the 1981 biopic, Mommie Dearest, which portrayed Crawford as an insecure, abusive parent to her adopted daughter Christina (the film was based on a 1978 memoir and exposé of the same name written by Christina Crawford).

But in the 1920s and 30s the former dancer and chorus girl was better known for her sex appeal, attractive to men for her looks and to women for the roles in which she portrayed hard-working women who find both romance and success.

PRETTY PICTURE…Ramon Novarro and Joan Crawford in Across to Singapore, 1928. (Silent Hollywood)

The New Yorker took notice of Crawford in its review of Across to Singapore, the critic O.C. noting that Crawford “gets prettier in every picture”…

Another film released later in 1928, Our Dancing Daughters, would make Crawford a star and a symbol of the liberated, 1920s flapper. Even the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald would observe that “Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see in smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living.”

Another actress with a talent for living was 34-year-old Mae West, who was appearing on Broadway in Diamond Lil. Already a 21-year veteran of the stage (she began performing in vaudeville in 1907 at age 14), West was known for writing and performing in risqué plays beginning in 1926, when she appeared in Sex, which was panned by conservative critics but enjoyed hot ticket sales.

Subsequent plays aroused controversy and kept her name in the newspapers, but her play Diamond Lil would become the Broadway hit that would cement her image as a sex symbol, one she would maintain until her death at age 87 in 1980. In the May 5 issue artist Miguel Covarrubias offered his vision of the Queen of the Bowery:

THEATRE CARD for the Broadway production of Diamond Lil at the Royale Theatre. (maewest.blogspot.com)
STILL AT IT 50 YEARS LATER…The 86-year-old Mae West in her last film, 1978’s Sextette. In a 1979 review, New York Times film critic Vincent Canby called the film “a disorienting freak show in which Mae West, now 87 years old, does a frail imitation of the personality that wasn’t all that interesting 45 years ago. The movie, which opens today at the Victoria and other theaters, is a poetic, terrifying reminder of how a virtually disembodied ego can survive total physical decay and loss of common sense. (filmcomment.com)

From Our Advertisers

It’s interesting to see how 1920s advertisers made even the most mundane gadgets appear to be vital to one’s survival. The ad for the “Sesamee” auto switch lock is a case in point, appealing to upscale female readers of the New Yorker with this odd scenario in which the gadget enables the driver to avoid the awkward and potentially hazardous situation depicted below, although it hard to see what the actual threat might be from a dandy in a tie and waistcoat. Perhaps death from boredom.

Our cartoon is courtesy of Mary Petty,  who would become a renowned illustrator for the New Yorker, best remembered for a series of covers featuring her gentle satirization of the upper class Peabody family.

Next Time: Dog’s Best Friend…