Flying the Friendly Skies

A few posts ago (the April 11 issue) I wrote about E.B. White’s love of flying, and how his (and the nation’s) exuberance for aviation suddenly came crashing down along with Knute Rockne’s plane in a Kansas wheat field.

May 23, 1931 cover by Garrett Price.

The death of the famed Notre Dame football coach had White pondering a new, safer path for aviation that seemed to be embodied in a contraption called the autogiro. White had previously written about the potential of the autogiro back in 1929 (Dec. 7 issue). Half-helicopter and half-airplane, it was considered not only safer, but easier to fly, possibly opening up the sky to everyday commuters.

PHOTO OP…A Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogiro paid a visit to the White House on April 22, 1931. President Herbert Hoover is second from left. (Library of Congress)

On a windy day White boarded the autogiro at an airport “in awful Queens” — most likely the current site of La Guardia — and filed this report for the “A Reporter at Large” column:

In the article, White referenced this Pitcairn Autogiro ad from the April 25, 1931 issue. No doubt the folks at Pitcairn had the Rockne accident in mind when they touted the safety of their craft, which seemed impossible to crash.

White wasn’t the only one enthused about the autogiro. It was the darling of modernist architects and futurists of 1920s and 30s, who saw the flying machine taking its place alongside the automobile in the house of the future.

SWEET…The Swiss-born architect and designer William Lescaze rendered this “House of the Future” in the late 1920s with a bullet-shaped motorcar in the carport and an autogiro perched on the roof. (From blog author’s collection)
COMMONPLACE, AT LEAST IN THE IMAGINATION…The autogiro appealed to the average Joe or Jill as well, featured in magazines such as the U.K.’s Practical Mechanics (June 1934) and Meccano Magazine (May 1931). At center, a Pitcairn ad from 1930. (vtol.org)
WELL, IT WORKED…This two-seat AC-35 Autogiro (left) was developed for a Department of Commerce competition to create an “Aerial Model T.” James G. Ray, vice president and chief pilot of the Autogiro Company of America, landed the AC-35 in a small downtown park in Washington. D.C. on Oct. 2, 1936; at right, a still image from a 1936 film, Things to Come, which showed people of the year 2036 getting around in autogiros while wearing groovy futuristic togas. (Smithsonian/gutenberg.net.au)

Prompted by a New York Times editorial, White pondered the day when the air would be thick with personal aircraft:

AND THEY LAND WHERE?…The idea of city skies filled with flying commuters is nothing new, as this 1911 illustration by Richard Rummell from King’s Views of New York attests. (The Guardian)

White offered still more observations on aviation safety in his “Notes and Comment” column…

…and in the same column he also pondered the future in terms of his infant son, Joel White:

Sadly, Joel didn’t quite make it to the turn of the century — he died in 1997. He did, however, have a successful life as a noted naval architect and founder of the Brooklin Boat Yard in Brooklin, Maine.

ON GOLDEN POND…Joel White took to the water at a very young age, seen at left rowing a boat in an image from a home movie by E.B. and Katharine White; at right, Joel in his design office at the Brooklin Boat Yard, which he founded in 1960. (E.B. White Collection, Northeast Historic Film/Billy Black)

One more from E.B. White, this the lead item for his column which made jest of a debate at Yale over dropping the requirement for Latin. It says something to the effect that “Yale’s lead on the issue frees the rest of us to follow our fiduciary duty, toss tradition into the fire, and focus on practical matters such as traffic studies.” Latin students, please forgive me, and if someone can offer a better interpretation, please let me know.

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Dawn “Ring-Lit” cigarettes seemed to have a winner on their hands with a smoke you could light like a match, but I can’t find any record of the company. Most likely this was a local brand sold at nightclubs, restaurants and hotels, and not through retail…

…Murad, on the other hand, was widely available, but the brand faded as tastes moved away from Turkish-style cigarettes…Rea Irvin illustrated a long series of ads for the brand, presenting various “embarrassing moments,” including this familiar trope involving office hijinx…

…summer was on the way, and the makers of Jantzen swimwear were establishing their brand as both the choice for athletes as well as the fashion-conscious…

…and you might have packed a Jantzen or two for this around-the-world cruise on the Empress of Britain, arranged through Canadian Pacific. Your fare, if you wanted an “apartment with a bath,” would set you back $3,950, or a cool $63,000 in today’s currency…

…if the cruise was too rich for your budget, perhaps you could put your money toward a durable good like a GE all-steel refrigerator. Note how GE contrasted its product with the overly complicated gadgets demonstrated on stage by popular vaudeville comedian Joe Cook

…on to the cartoons, William Steig gave us a glimpse of the important work taking place behind an exec’s closed doors…

Helen Hokinson eavesdropped on a couple’s travel plans…

Wallace Morgan took us on a trot through Central Park…

Perry Barlow probed labor relations in an estate garden (and a caption with the New Yorker’s signature diaeresis on the word “coöperation”)

…and Carl Kindl gave a look into the latest maneuvers in the canned soup wars…

…and we end our May 23 cartoons on a sad note, with Ralph Barton’s final contribution to the New Yorker, a “Hero of the Week” illustration featuring the Prince of Wales:

On May 19, 1931, Ralph Waldo Emerson Barton, who suffered from severe manic-depression, shot himself through the right temple in his East Midtown Manhattan penthouse. He was 39 years old.

From the outside one would have thought Barton had a wonderful life as a successful artist who lived in style, who spent long vacations relaxing in France, and who hobnobbed with celebrities such as his close friend Charlie Chaplin.

To lose a longtime contributor and friend must have been a real blow to the staff at the New Yorker. Barton had been there from the beginning, his name appearing on the magazine’s first masthead as an advisory editor:

He was a prominent contributor to the magazine, from recurring features like his weekly take on the news — “The Graphic Section” — to theatrical caricatures that included clever caption-length reviews. He was married four times in his short life, most notably to actress Carlotta Monterey, his third (he was also her third marriage). She divorced Barton in 1926 and married playwright Eugene O’Neill in 1929.

In his suicide note, Barton wrote that he had irrevocably lost the only woman he ever loved, referring to Carlotta. But some speculate this claim was a final dramatic flourish, and that the end came because he feared he was on the verge of total insanity. He also wrote in the note: “I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife and house to house, visited great countries of the world—but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up twenty-four hours of the day.”

A CHARMED, TROUBLED LIFE…Clockwise, from top left, Ralph Barton with the love of his life, his third wife, actress Carlotta Monterey; Barton with best friend Charlie Chaplin, photographed by Nickolas Muray in 1927; after leaving Barton, Monterey would marry playwright Eugene O’Neill, who in a weird coincidence would become Chaplin’s father-in-law in 1943; a 1922 portrait of Carlotta by Barton; and a self-portrait from 1925, in the style of El Greco. “The human soul would be a hideous object if it were possible to lay it bare,” Barton wrote in 1926. (illustrationart.com/Pinterest/MCNY/curiator.com/npg.si.edu)

The following issue of the New Yorker (May 30, 1931)…

May 30, 1931 cover by Barney Tobey.

…featured this brief obituary on the bottom of page 28. I like this observation from the last line…his work had the rare and discomforting tingle of genius.

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The Gray & The Blue

We are reminded of the span of time and history that separate us from 1931 with this small item in “The Talk of the Town” that notes “fewer than a hundred” Civil War veterans were still alive in New York City. We just marked the 76th anniversary of D-Day, an event still 13 years into the future for this New Yorker writer:

OLD WARRIORS…Union Civil War veterans stand in front a monument at Gettysburg, July 12, 1931. (National Geographic)

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From Our Advertisers

American brewers could sense the tide was turning on Prohibition laws, among them Augustus Busch, who took out a full page ad featuring “An Open Letter to the American People” that suggested a return to beer brewing would help relieve the unemployment situation caused by the Depression — note how the ad featured a variety of non-alcoholic products, but put the alcoholic beer at the head of the line…

…Walking east on 24th Street past Chelsea’s London Terrace and on to Madison Square Park is one of my favorite strolls in Manhattan…there is something almost cozy about walking by this massive building, once the largest apartment house in the world…Electrolux found it impressive enough to pair with their latest model refrigerator…

…a photo of London Terrace I took in December…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with Otto Soglow’s Little King…

Richard Decker gave us another familiar comic trope, the postman and the housewife…

Helen Hokinson eavesdropped on some small talk…

Garrett Price explored the joys of parenthood…

…I’m surprised this got by Harold Ross, who could be a bit of a prude…we close with Peter Arno’s unique take on family life…

Next Time: Rooftop Romance…

Will It Play In Peoria?

Cecil B. DeMille was known for his epic films (e.g. The Ten Commandments, 1923 and 1956) and cinematic showmanship, but in 1930 he puzzled his audiences with a very weird pre-Code musical, Madam Satan.

Oct. 11, 1930 cover by Theodore Haupt.

The film centered on a wealthy couple, Angela and Bob Brooks (played by Kay Johnson and Reginald Denny). Bob is unfaithful to his wife (a common pre-Code theme), and she attempts to lure him back by disguising herself as a mysterious devil woman at a masquerade ball held aboard a dirigible. Quite a plot indeed. Here’s what the New Yorker’s John Mosher had to say about it.

PAJAMA GAMES…Lillian Roth, Roland Young, and Kay Johnson in Madam Satan. At right, Reginald Denny falls for the charms of his wife (Kay Johnson), disguised as a devil woman at a masked ball held aboard a giant dirigible. (IMDB/cecilbdemille.com)
AIRHEADS…Via a giant mooring mast, partygoers board a dirigible for the masquerade ball in Madam Satan. Curiously, developers of the Empire State Building (which was under construction) envisioned a similar use for the mast that would top out their tower. In reality, winds that whipped around high towers would have prevented this type of boarding. (twitter.com)
SOMEONE CALL THE FAA…At right, the lavish masquerade ball aboard a giant dirigible in Madam Satan. At right, the dirigible is damaged by lightning in a scene that foreshadowed the Hindenberg disaster of 1937. (cecilbdemille.com/precode.com)
SEEMS PLAUSIBLE…In a silly ending to a silly film, partygoers float on parachutes away from the damaged dirigible. (twitter.com)

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Let Them Eat Cake

Somerset Maugham regarded his comic novel, Cakes and Ale, to be his favorite. The book took aim at snobs as well as at the legacy of one overrated, late-Victorian writer — a character many believe was based on the recently departed Thomas Hardy (Maugham denied the inspiration). The New Yorker had this to say about Cakes and Ale:

THROW HARDY INTO THE DUSTBIN…Somerset Maugham as photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1934. (Wikipedia)

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He Meant What He Said

Howard Brubaker, in his “Of All Things” column, found humor in the words of a rising figure in German politics, you know who…

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Throw Him a Softball

The famed French artist Henri Matisse paid a visit to New York City, and according to this account in “The Talk of Town,” seemed to be seeking some peace of mind…

AN OPPOSITE VIEW…Henri Matisse struck a thoughtful pose atop a Manhattan apartment at 10 Mitchell Place in 1930. The Queensboro Bridge can be glimpsed in the background. (ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

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Still Barred From the Bar

We are still about three years away from the official repeal of the 18th Amendment, but as we know the partying continued in houses and speakeasies across the great city. E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” wistfully recalled the days when good booze was legal:

White did find some cheer in the pro-wet platforms of the two major parties…

A GIMLET IN EVERY POT…The major political parties in 1932’s U.S. presidential race were represented by incumbent Herbert Hoover (Republican) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democratic). Both favored repeal of the 18th Amendment. Pictured at the center, a New Yorker cocktail, the object of E.B. White’s longing. (Wikipedia)

And while we are on the subject, we have this Wallace Morgan illustration of a lively speakeasy with the ironic caption, “The Saloon Must Go!” — referencing an old Anti-Saloon League Slogan.

You didn’t have to go to a speakeasy if you wanted a glass of wine. During Prohibition American winemakers found a lucrative loophole by selling perfectly legal concentrated grape juice (called “wine bricks”) to home brewers and bootleggers alike.

According to an article in the Smithsonian, winemakers marked the wine bricks with warnings that they were “for non-alcoholic consumption only.” However, the package would also bear a note explaining how to dissolve the brick in a gallon of water, and yet another “warning” instructing the buyer not to leave the jug in a cool cupboard for 21 days, lest it turn into wine.

Here’s an ad in the Oct. 11, 1930 New Yorker that not-so-subtly offered a selection of varietals…

Here’s what a wine brick looked like:

A wine brick from San Francisco’s Vino Sano company. The label reads: “Each Brick dissolve in one gallon of water. To prevent fermentation, add 1-10% Benzoate of Soda.” Yeah right. (vinepair.com)

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From Our Advertisers

No doubt Prohibition caused more than a few people to take up smoking. Women adopted the habit in droves during the Roaring Twenties, and by the Depression it seemed everyone was lighting up. Advertisers explored various ways to market cigarettes, and long before the Marlboro Man made the scene, that brand pushed its product through a series of dopey handwriting and essay contests,,,

…the makers of Luckies used a combination of sex and bogus health claims to sell their products…

…cigarettes were not confined to ads by tobacco companies; here they are accessories to fine furs…

…even the New Yorker’s spot illustrations (this by Frank McIntosh) featured smokers…

…as did cartoons, such as this one by Barbara Shermund in the Oct. 4 issue…

…and we have one more ad, this one from Chrysler, which acknowledged the new world of the Great Depression, but only through use of careful euphemisms (the New Yorker editorial side practiced much of the same)…

…on to our cartoons, beginning with an exploration of city vs. country life, by Alice Harvey

…a depiction of what commuter flying was actually like in 1930, thanks to Leonard Dove

…a glimpse at modern parenting, with Helen Hokinson

…humor in a gentleman’s drawing room, courtesy Peter Arno

…and 89 years later, a hilarious update on the subject by Edward Steed in the Sept. 9, 2019 issue…

…and finally, the joys of urban life brought to us by Alan Dunn

Next Time: Ghosts of Gotham…