A Carnival in the Air

When Charles Lindbergh gunned his Wright Whirlwind engine on Roosevelt Field and took to the skies on his historic flight, he sparked such an interest in flying that just two years later that very same field was hosting huge weekend crowds that came to marvel at the airborne wonders of a new age.

August 31, 1929 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Writing for “The Talk of the Town,” James Thurber was on hand to take in the spectacle, noting how the announcer sold air-mindedness to the mob “in great clamorous phrases and resonant assurances.” Among those taking their first flight was a “Mr. Galleger, aged 101.” Thurber also observed:

AIRBORNE SPECTACLES…Clockwise, from top, a 1931 aerial view looking southeast at a group of Army twin-engine biplane bombers overflying Roosevelt Field; parachute records were broken when 14 men and 2 women leaped from a Sikorsky bombing plane at Roosevelt Field in November 1929 (in the photo they seem to be standing precariously close to the plane’s whirling blades); Jack Cope waved to onlookers in Chicago before he performed a 15,000 foot jump in 1929. (tripod.com/Worthpoint/Chicago Tribune)

Although there were thrills galore up in the sky, Thurber seemed equally impressed by the spectacle on the ground…

THE SUN GOD…Clockwise, from top, a 1928 photo of biplanes lined up by a row of hangars at Roosevelt Field; the spectacle of mid-air refueling was demonstrated above Roosevelt Field by Texaco Oil’s Spokane Sun God. (Tom Heitzman/barnstmr.blogspot.com/Wikipedia)

One of the big attractions was Texaco Oil’s Spokane Sun God, which traveled around the country to demonstrate the art of mid-air refueling. Note in the excerpt below (second paragraph) how the Sun God’s pilot communicated with his ground crew: He tossed some notes—tied to a heavy piece of lead(!)—out of the airplane’s window. It nearly landed in a crowd of onlookers…

AND HOW WAS YOUR DAY?…For some perspective, the first attempt at refueling in mid-air was made in 1921. In the photo above, Wesley May climbs from the lower biplane to the upper while carrying a 5-gallon can of fuel strapped to his back. After lifting himself onto the wing, he worked his way between the wings and into the cockpit. He then poured the fuel into the engine. (Seattle Museum of Flight) 

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Falling Short

As I noted in a previous post (The Last Summer), the race to build the tallest building was erroneously reported by the New Yorker as a man against himself (namely, architect William Van Allen). In the Aug. 31 issue, the magazine’s “Talk of the Town” corrected the error, and added another curious note about another plan to build an “airplane lighthouse” taller than the Eiffel Tower…

As noted above, Col. Edward Howland Robinson Green (son of the notorious miser Hetty Green) wanted to build a thousand-foot tower on his estate in Massachusetts. Here is what he settled for instead:

WORK-LIFE BALANCE…Edward Green, radio enthusiast and son of the miserly Hetty Green, erected huge radio towers at his Massachusetts estate in the 1920s to operate an early broadcast station, WMAF. (Wikipedia)

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When Trains Fly

Cashing in on the enthusiasm over aviation, the City of New York promoted its elevated train system as an “Air Line.” According to “Talk”…

Click on the video below to take a ride on the “L”. Most of the 1929 footage begins at 4:47…

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Haw Haw

One more “Talk” item: a self-referential piece in which the New Yorker pondered its “mission” as a humor magazine…

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Audax Minor

For more than five decades, George Francis Trafford Ryall (1887-1979) wrote the horse racing column for the New Yorker under the pseudonym Audax Minor. He published his first column on July 10, 1926, and his last on Dec. 18, 1978. He was the writer of longest record at the magazine when he died at age 92 in 1979 (52 years, a record that has been shattered by the nearly 98-year-old Roger Angell, who has published in the New Yorker from 1944 to 2018).

According to Ryall’s obituary in the New York Times, he adopted the nom de plume Audax Minor in a nod to Arthur F. B. Portman, who wrote about racing in England under the name of Audax Major. Ryall’s writing was so entertaining that many of his readers had never even been to a racetrack. According to Brendan Gill in his book, Here at the New Yorker, “(Ryall’s) world is a romantic fiction and they (the readers) are grateful when they learn that, with his green tweeds, his binoculars hung smartly athwart his chest, and his jaunty stride, Ryall resembles a character out of some sunny Edwardian novel.” An excerpt of his column from the Aug. 31 issue, with illustrations by Johan Bull:

A DAY AT THE RACES…At left, a crowded second floor dining area in the clubhouse at Saratoga, 1929; a postcard image of the track, with expanded clubhouse at left, circa 1929. (Saratoga Springs Historical Museum/Boston Public Library)

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Shut Out

As I’ve noted before, the New Yorker covered nearly every imaginable sport except baseball. Here is a rare mention of the game in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column:

The Cubs would win the NL pennant, but they would fall to the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1929 World Series.

Rough and Ready

When Fiorello La Guardia challenged incumbent Jimmy Walker for New York City mayor in 1929, the city’s voters were presented with two colorful candidates who could not have been more different in their styles. Walker, a product of Tammany Hall, was a svelte dandy with a taste for the refined, whereas the reform-minded La Guardia was often coarse and unkempt. If they had anything in common, it was their dislike of Prohibition. La Guardia was featured in the Aug. 31 profile, written by Henry F. Pringle. Some excerpts:

JUST TRY TO STOP ME…Congressman Fiorello La Guardia pouring beer in his office during Prohibition, when he served New York’s 20th district in U.S. House of Representatives. (La Guardia Wagner Archives)

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Praise for the King

The New Yorker’s film critic John Mosher found most of Hollywood’s output to be pedestrian, but occasionally he saw a bright spot, including King Vidor’s latest production, Hallelujah:

William E. Fountaine, Nina Mae McKinney and Daniel Haynes in Hallelujah. The 17-year-old McKinney was the first African-American actress to hold a principal role in a mainstream film, and the first African-American actor to sign a long-term contract with a major studio—MGM. (IMDB)

As for another film, Paramount’s The Sophomore, Mosher probably felt a bit obligated to say something nice, since it was a derived from a story by humorist Corey Ford, an early contributor to the New Yorker and part of the Algonquin Round Table orbit:

BOY MEETS GIRL…Lobby card for The Sophomore. (IMDB)

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A Bright Interval for Nancy

The New Yorker gave a brief but approving mention of Nancy Hoyt’s latest book, Bright Intervals, in its book review section…

Hoyt was a member of a socially prominent but deeply troubled family that included her recently deceased sister, the poet and writer Elinor Wylie (I wrote about the Hoyt family in my post Generation of Vipers). Characters in Hoyt’s novels often resembled the women in her family.

Nancy Hoyt in an undated photo by Sherril Schell. (Conde Nast/Amazon)

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From Our Advertisers

It was back to college time, and Macy’s had a thrifty new fall lineup ready for the “Junior Deb”…

…and on the less thrifty side, Best & Company offered these new looks for fall…

…note in the above ad that the first model is Virginia Maurice, the very same model we encountered in a recent post (The Last Summer) posing for Chesterfield cigarettes…

Model Virginia Maurice posed for this 1929 Chesterfield ad, illustrated by artist Charles Edward Chambers.

…the other model in the Best & Company ad, Babs Shanton, also wasn’t averse to taking money from the tobacco companies…

Undated newspaper ad for Lucky Strikes featuring Babs Shanton, a sometime performer with the Ziegfeld Follies and a singer with the Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra. (Stanford University)

…the makers of Studebakers tried to add sex appeal in this ad for their President Roadster. The artist was obviously challenged to work all of the necessary elements into the picture—car, swimming pool, diving board—not to mention the block of superfluous text where the steps to this impossibly long diving board should have been located…

…and sex not only sold cars…its also sold printing services…

…instead of sex, the promoters of Tudor City chose strangulation to get their pitch across, equating a man’s daily train commute to death at the gallows (Danny Deevers refers to a character in a Rudyard Kipling poem who is hanged for murder)…

…the gawkers at Roosevelt Field weren’t the only folks with their heads in the clouds…an ad for Flit insecticide by Dr. Seuss…

…this ad for Raleigh cigarettes, which appeared on the back cover of the Aug. 31 issue, assumed that folks were so familiar with their mascot that no further explanation was needed…

…here is a 1929 ad from House Beautiful that featured the same mascot with the Van Dyke beard…both ads were rendered by French illustrator Guy Arnoux

…on to our cartoonists…Helen Hokinson contributed this two-page spread on the challenges of visiting an old friend (click to enlarge)

Peter Arno looked in on a cheapskate at a posh restaurant…

Bruce Bairnsfather visited the talkies…

Justin Herman examined the literary life of the street…

Kindl explored an awkward moment from the annals of technological advancements…

…and I. Klein illustrated the hazards of the tonsorial trade…

Next Time: The Last Hurrah…

Hello Molly

While the New Yorker was happy to send singer Marion Talley packing back to Midwest (see last post), it was wholly embracing one of its own, Molly Picon. But as we will see, it had every reason to do so.

April 27, 1929 cover by Rea Irvin.

The daughter of Polish immigrants, Molly Picon (1898-1992) was born Małka Opiekun in New York City on Feb. 28, 1898, and became of a star of Yiddish theatre and film before moving to English language productions in the 1930s.

Writing in “The Talk of the Town,” James Thurber described Picon as an “idol of the East Side”…

PRECOCIOUS…Molly Picon began performing in the Yiddish Theatre at age six. Pictured, from left, is 10-year-old Molly in a 1908 Nickelodeon short of a vaudeville act, Fagan’s Decision; an undated press photo; in The Jolly Orphan, 1929. (Jewish Women’s Archive/Wikipedia/Museum of the City of New York)
At left, music sung by Molly Picot in the a Yiddish theatre production, Tsirkus meydl (The Circus Girl), 1928. At right, a scene from the play. (Museum of the City of New York)
PUT ‘EM UP…Molly Picot tries her hand at boxing in the silent comedy, East and West, originally produced in Austria in 1923. In this film about assimilation and Jewish values, a sophisticated New Yorker travels back to his village to attend his niece’s traditional wedding. There he encounters the rambunctious Molly, whose hijinks include boxing, and teaching other young villagers to shimmy. (Image: National Center for Jewish Film / Caption: UC Berkeley Library)

Thurber described Picon’s personal life as simple and focused on her family, a path she followed throughout her 94 years:

Picon met her husband, Jacob “Yonkel” Kalich (1891-1975) in 1918 and they married a year later. In an exhibition at the American Jewish Historical Society, Picon is quoted on how meeting Kalich changed her life:

“When we met in Boston, I was the All-American Girl full of hurdy-gurdys and absolutely illiterate about Jewish culture. Yonkel, on the other hand, was the complete intellectual who knew not only classic Yiddish but its plays, theater and writers.”

After they married in 1919, the couple toured Eastern European cities with large Jewish populations in order that she could improve her Yiddish and gain experience as a performer. Kalich served as her manager and creator of many of her roles, and they often performed together, including in two films nearly 50 years apart—East and West (1923) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971).

Top photos, left to right, Molly Picon in the Yiddish Theatre comedy Di Tsvey Kuni Lemels (The Two Kuni Lemels), 1926; with husband Jacob “Yonkel” Kalich in the 1923 silent film comedy, East and West; with Kalich that same year in Vienna. Bottom row, left to right, Picon tapes the Maxwell House Radio Show, 1938, and below, on the set of the Fiddler on the Roof (1971) with husband Jacob “Yonkel” Kalich; with Frank Sinatra in Come Blow Your Horn (1963); and on the TV show The Facts of Life (1979). (Wikimedia Commons/American Jewish Historical Society/Jewish Women’s Archive/Getty)

Picon appeared on a variety of TV shows from the 1960s through the 1980s including Car 54, Where Are You?, Gomer Pyle, The Facts of Life, and Trapper John M.D. Movie appearances during that time included Fiddler on the Roof (1971); For Pete’s Sake (with Barbra Streisand, 1974); and perhaps one of her oddest roles, as Roger Moore’s longsuffering mother in The Cannonball Run (1981) and 1984’s The Cannonball Run II (In those films, Moore portrayed Seymour Goldfarb, heir to the Goldfarb Girdles fortune, who preferred the life of pretending to be a spy to girdle manufacturing).

Thurber observed that Picon was only interested in comedic roles, a preference she stuck to throughout her long career.

Molly Picon as Mrs. Bronson in the television show Car 54, Where Are You? (1962) (Wikimedia Commons)

To learn more about Molly Picon’s fascinating life, visit the online exhibition at the American Jewish Historical Society.

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Sober as a Judge

Despite Prohibition, booze flowed freely in New York in the late 1920s thanks to bootleggers and corrupt cops. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt tried her best to crack down on violations, arresting (among many others) the operators of two of Manhattan’s most popular nightclubs, actress Texas Guinan (300 Club) and torch singer Helen Morgan (Chez Morgan). In the “Talk of the Town,” the New Yorker found hope in the acquittal of Guinan and Morgan, and in the opinion of one of the jurors:

OFF THE HOOK…U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt (left) tried her best to crack down on New York’s lackadaisical enforcement of Prohibition laws, but failed to convict two of its most celebrated violators—actress Texas Guinan (center) and torch singer Helen Morgan. (Library of Congress/Getty/http:/kickintina.blogspot.com)

In the same issue, this cartoon by Oscar Howard tells us a lot about New York’s approach to Prohibition enforcement in 1929…

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Captive Audience

In the April 27 “Talk of the Town” Thurber also turned his attention to the latest treacle flowing out of Hollywood—the premiere of The Rainbow Man, starring Eddie Dowling in his first talking picture. Thurber found the film to be “alarmingly bad.” But that was only the beginning…

TIRED OF ME YET?…Lloyd Ingraham, Eddie Dowling, and Marian Nixon in The Rainbow Man (1929) (IMDB)

Thurber wrote that the film was followed by live performances from “a Kate Smith” and by Eddie Dowling himself, who piled more ham on the proceedings.

PILING IT ON…Eddie Dowling gave audiences more than they needed (at least in the view of James Thurber) at the premiere of The Rainbow Man. Dowling would share the stage with Kate Smith, apparently unknown to Thurber at that time. She would go on to massive stardom. Dowling, not so much. (IMDB/Pinterest)

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Slow Man River

Things didn’t look much better in the magazine’s movie review section, where the 1929 film version of the huge 1927 Broadway hit musical Showboat seemed stuck on sandbar:

SLOW BOAT…Scene from the 1929 film Show Boat featuring Laura LaPlante as Magnolia Hawks and Joseph Schildkraut as Gaylord Ravenal. (Wikipedia)

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Elsie Dinsmore Revisited

Phyllis Crawford (writing under the pseudonym Josie Turner) contributed another parody of the Elsie Dinsmore book series. The original books (28 in all), were written in the late 19th and early 20th century and featured an impossibly upright eight-year-old as the main character.

Crawford, herself an author of children’s books (including the award-winning Hello, the Boat!), had some fun with the Dinsmore books, her parody featuring a still pious and innocent Elsie living with her father in New York, where she encounters his circle of friends including gamblers and chorus girls (the collected pieces were published as a book in 1930: Elsie Dinsmore on the Loose). In this brief excerpt from Crawford’s piece in the April 27 issue (“Elsie Dinsmore Entertains at Tea”), little Elsie tries her best to entertain a friend of her “dear Papa”…

On the topic of books, Dorothy Parker, in her “Reading and Writing” column, took aim at middlebrow book clubs such as the Literary Guild, expressing (in her way) surprise that such a club would actually recommend something with literary merit…

Advertisement in the April 27 issue for Ring Lardner’s Round Up. At right, Lardner and Dorothy Parker, circa 1930. (thenationalpastimemuseum.com/selectedshorts.org)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with a colorful ad from the makers B.V.D., a brand name that would become synonymous with men’s underwear…

…Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova demonstrated the wonders of Cutex nail polish in her famous “Dying Swan” costume (Pavlova would be dead herself in less than two years)…

…while the Wizard of Menlo Park applied his genius to the cause for better toast…

…and actor John Gilbert was the latest actor to “reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet”…

…this ad in the back pages enticed readers to visit the International Exposition of Barcelona…those fortunate enough to have made the trip would have seen Mies Van Der Rohe’s “Barcelona House” (pictured) and the first-ever Barcelona chair…

(thomortiz.tumblr.com)

…on to cartoons and illustrations, in the theatre section this contribution by Miguel Covarrubias

…Covarrubias (pictured) was an early contributor to the New Yorker, indeed he contributed to the very first issue with this rendering of Italian opera manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza for the first-ever profile…

Gluyas Williams illustrated the collective shaming of a commuter by residents of Tudor City…

…Tudor City was touted in many early New Yorker ads as having all the amenities of the suburbs but within walking distance of the city…here is an ad from the March 26, 1927 issue of the New Yorker

…and then we have the English cartoonist Leonard Dove, who looks in on a couple who are obviously not from Tudor City…

…and finally, a terrific cartoon by an artist I have failed to identify (if anyone knows, please comment!)…

Next Time: From Broadway to Babylon…

The Garden City

The last days of winter on the streets of 1920s Manhattan — remnants of snow and slush mixed with coal soot and car exhaust — were quickly forgotten with the advent of spring. The New Yorker (March 26, 1927) turned its attention to more pleasant diversions including the annual Madison Square Garden flower show…

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March 26, 1927 cover by unknown artist.

…and to the people it attracted, rendered in illustrations for “The Talk of the Town” by Alice Harvey…

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Backyard gardens and window boxes also welcomed spring, as did a two-part feature that offered helpful advice to amateur urban gardeners. An excerpt:

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No doubt the writer saw something akin to what we can see in Frances Benjamin Johnston’s rare color photographs of backyard gardens in the early 1920s Manhattan (all photos courtesy Library of Congress):

turtle-bay-secret-gardens-nyc
Turtle Bay Gardens, 227-247 East 48 Street and 228-46 East 49 Street. View east to common garden.
Ingalls
George Hoadly Ingalls house, 154 East 78 Street.
Stafford
Laura Stafford Stewart house, 205 West 13th Street.
jones-wood-nyc
“Jones Wood” townhouses, north terrace fountain.

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Let’s look at a couple of advertisements from March 26 issue…why fight the crowds on the commuter train? — you could live a life of ease and convenience in the new Tudor City…

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…and perhaps you could afford a car almost as prestigious as a Cadillac…introducing the new LaSalle, manufactured by Cadillac but priced lower to “satisfy that other great market”…

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For industrial design buffs, the 1927 LaSalle in many ways marked the beginning of modern American automotive styling. The LaSalle line, designed by Harley Earl, would be eliminated in 1940, but Earl’s career as the man in charge of design at General Motors would last into the late 1950s.

Earl was a pioneer in auto design, one of the first to use modeling clay to develop forms for cars. He also established an “Art and Color Section at GM,” a radical notion at a time when American automobile manufacturers paid little attention to the appearance of automobile bodies, which were merely engineered for functionality and cost.

Earl also pioneered the idea of planned obsolescence in cars (which he termed “Dynamic Obsolescence”) in which annual model changes were used to induce sales. It was Earl who convinced GM to build a sports car–the Corvette–and it was Earl who also oversaw the introduction of the tail fin — culminating in the 1959 Cadillac — the year he retired from GM.

In the course of just 32 years, Earl’s designs went from this…

1926-Harley-Earl-at-the-wheel-of-a-1927-LaSalle-Series-303-Roadster-720x500
Harley Earl at the wheel of a 1927 LaSalle Series 303 Roadster. (carbodydesign.com)

…to this…

1959-Cadillac-Eldorado-1024
Harley Earl’s swan song, a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. (photobucket.com)

Next Time: Dinosaurs of Upper West Side…

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