Keeping Their Cool

The heat came early to New York in June 1933, so folks flocked to air-conditioned cinemas or sought the cooling breezes of rooftop cafes and dance floors. And thanks to FDR, there was legal beer to be quaffed at various beer gardens popping up all over town.

June 24, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin. Providing a bookend to Constantin Alajalov’s June bride cover (May 27), Irvin gave us the newlyweds now contemplating a fixer-upper.

Lois Long kept her cool on the beach or at home with a cold Planters’ Punch, but one gets restless, and Ethel Waters was at the Cotton Club, so Long headed out into the night; an excerpt from her column “Tables for Two”…

STORMY WEATHER AHEAD…Ethel Waters was “tops” during a June 1933 performance at the Cotton Club, according to nightlife correspondent Lois Long. Left, Waters circa 1930. At right, the Cotton Club in the early 1930s. (IMDB/Britannica)
SHOWER THE PEOPLE…Children gather around a center stand sprinkler (connected to a fire hydrant) on a Harlem street in 1933.
POP-UP PLAYGROUND…Play street and street shower alongside the Queensboro Bridge, June 22, 1934. (NYC Municipal Archives)

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From Our Advertisers

Legal beer and hot summer days combined to bring some much-needed advertising revenue to The New Yorker

…here we have dear old dad telling the young ‘uns (all in formal wear, mind you) about the good old days before Prohibition took away his favorite tipple…

…notable about the magazine’s first beer ads was the target market…this is akin to the cigarette manufacturers, who were also targeting women as a new growth market for their products…curious how this PBR ad is illustrated…is she getting ready to drink the beer, or serve it?…

…also joining the party were the folks who made mixers like White Rock mineral water…note the reference at bottom right to the anticipated repeal of the 18th Amendment…

…the purveyors of Hoffman’s ginger ale were less subtle, encouraging drinkers to mix those highballs right now

…you could enjoy that cool one while sitting in front of a Klenzair electric fan, which was probably nothing like riding a dolphin—a strange metaphor, but then again perhaps something else is being suggested here besides electric fans…

…no doubt Lois Long took in one of these breezy performances on the rooftop of the Hotel Pennsylvania…

…an evening with Rudy Vallée would have been a lot cheaper than one of these “compact” air conditioners, available to only the very wealthy…

…but you didn’t need to be J.P. Morgan to own a Lektrolite lighter, which was kind of clever…this flameless lighter contained a platinum filament that would glow hot after being lowered into reactive chemicals in the lighter’s base…

…another ad from the Architects’ Emergency Committee, which looked like something an architect would design…

…our final June 24 ad told readers about the miracle of Sanforizing, which was basically a pre-shrinking technique, like pre-washed jeans…

…we kick off our cartoons with George Price at the ball game…

Alan Dunn was in William Steig’s “Small Fry” territory with this precocious pair…

James Thurber brought us back to his delightfully strange world…

…and Whitney Darrow Jr gave us a trio at a nudist colony dressing a man with their eyes…

…we move along to July 1, 1933…

July 1, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

Where in this issue we find the Nazis not keeping their cool. In an article titled “Unter Dem Hakenkreuz” (“Under the Swastika”) American journalist and activist Mary Heaton Vorse commented on the changes taking place in Berlin, where the vice, decadence and other freedoms of the Weimar years had been swept away, including women’s rights…an excerpt:

SIT UP STRAIGHT AND PROCREATE…Swastika flags hang from a Berlin building in the 1930s. In Hitler’s Germany, women of child-bearing age were expected to produce lots of babies and not much else. (collections.ushmm.org)

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Some Strings Attached

Back in the states, Alvin Johnston published the first installment of a two-part profile on John P. O’Brien (1873–1951) who served as mayor of New York from January to December 1933, the second of two short-term mayors to serve between the disgraced and deposed Jimmy Walker and the reformer Fiorello LaGuardia. Considered the last of the mayoral puppets of Tammany Hall, he was known for his brief, heartless, and clueless reign during one of the worst years of the Depression; while unemployment was at 25 percent, O’Brien was doling out relief funds to Tammany cronies. A brief excerpt (with Abe Birnbaum illustration):

A PIOUS, LABORIOUS DULLARD and “a hack given to malapropisms” is how writer George Lankevich describes John P. O’Brien. According to Lankevich, to a crowd in Harlem O’Brien proudly proclaimed, “I may be white but my heart is as black as yours.” (TIME)

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That Pepsodent Smile

The author James Norman Hall (1887–1951), known for the trilogy of novels that included Mutiny on the Bounty, offered these sobering thoughts about a famed actor he spotted on a South Pacific holiday:

IT ISN’T EASY BEING ME…Fifty-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Sr, teeth and all, was apparently looking worse for the wear when he was spotted by writer James Norman Hall in Tahiti. His glory days of the Silent Era behind him, Fairbanks would die in 1939 at age 56. (fineartamerica.com)

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More cool ones for those hot summer days courtesy of Schaefer…

…and Rheingold, here served by a sheepish-looking woman who doubtless wished that the tray supported champagne or cocktail glasses…and leave it to the Dutch to be one of the first countries to get their foot into the import market…when I was in college this was as good as it got, beer-wise…

Dr. Seuss again for Flit, and even though this is a cartoon, it demonstrates how in those days no one really cared if you sprayed pesticides near your breakfast, or pets, or kids…

…here’s one of just four cartoons contributed to The New Yorker in the early 1930s by Walter Schmidt

Otto Soglow’s Little King found an opportunity to stop and smell the flowers…

Mary Petty gave us two examples of fashion-conscious women…

James Thurber explored the nuances of parenting…

…and we close with George Price, master of oddities…

Next Time: The Night the Bed Fell…

An American Classic

Immigration over the centuries transformed New York City into a cosmopolitan metropolis, with many of those migrants drawn from America’s hinterlands. What they found in the city was not only economic opportunity, but also a place to grow artistically and intellectually.

Aug. 8, 1931 cover by Theodore Haupt.

Such was the case of Willa Cather, who while living in New York City would draw on her Nebraska childhood to write a succession of novels about prairie life and its people (including My Antonia and O Pioneers!) that would culminate in a 1923 Pulitzer Prize.

Louise Bogan, in 1931 a new poetry editor for the New Yorker (and a poet herself), wrote a profile of Cather for the Aug. 8 issue. An excerpt:

TWO FACES…Hugo Gellert rendering of Willa Cather for the profile; undated photo at right gives you some idea of the look Cather aimed at the affected behavior of others. (New York Times)
FORMATIVE YEARS…Clockwise, from top left, Willa Cather as a student at the University of Nebraska in the early 1890s; classmates at Nebraska included author and activist Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Alvin Johnson, later a co-founder of New York’s New School. Both Cather and Fisher took fencing lessons from John J. Pershing, who taught military science at Nebraska; Cather’s childhood home in Red Cloud, Neb., and the prairie that inspired much of her writing. (news.unl.edu/Wikipedia/new school.edu/literaryamerica.net)
CITY LIFE…Clockwise, from top: S. S. McClure, Willa Cather, Ida Tarbell, and Will Irvin visit in Washington Square Park, 1924; Cather in the meadow of High Mowing farm near Jaffrey, N.H., where she wrote part of My Antonia; on the cover of Time, Aug. 3, 1931; one of Cather’s New York residences at 82 Washington Place. (Indiana University/Southwick Collection, University of Nebraska/time.com/jschumacher.typepad.com)

Bogan concluded the profile with this note about Lèon Bakst, who was commissioned in 1923 to paint a portrait of Cather while she visiting Paris (image courtesy Omaha Public Library):

My dear late friend Susan Rosowski, who was a preeminent Cather scholar, wrote that Cather was “the first to give immigrants heroic stature in serious American literature.” In these times when immigration is so hotly debated, it is worth revisiting My Antonia and O Pioneers! to recall what once made America truly great.

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One Arm Restaurant

If you wanted to get lunch fast and cheap in 1931 you might have stopped at one of John Thompson’s New York restaurants. According to Tom Miller (daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com), there were no waiters in Thompson’s restaurants. “Customers purchased foods like cold corned beef, cold boiled ham, smoked boiled tongue or hot frankfurters at a counter. They then took their trays to ‘one arm’ chairs lined up along the wall. There were no tables; instead customers ate at what was similar to turn-of-the-century school desks.” E.B. White stopped in for a visit:

YOU CAN’T MISS IT…John Thompson’s name is emblazoned no less than four times on the front of his restaurant at No. 33 Park Row. No-frills interior featured “one-arm” chairs and a self-service coffee urn. (Museum of the City of New York /daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)

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Cinematic Eyeful

The Pre-Code comedy-drama Transatlantic was light on plot but heavy on deep-focus cinematography (by James Wong Howe) that wowed New Yorker critic John Mosher in 1931…and still wows critics today.

High Seas Hijinks…The pre-code comedy-drama Transatlantic wowed critic John Mosher not so much for its storyline as for its style and cinematography. Clockwise, from left, Edmund Lowe has his hands full with Lois Moran, Greta Nissen and Myrna Loy. (IMDB)
NIFTY NOIR…John Mosher loved the avant-garde, noir-ish stylings of Transatlantic. This film by director William K. Howard and cinematographer James Wong Howe is still admired today. A MoMA cinema site notes that the film’s style anticipates Citizen Kane by ten years. (pre-code.com)

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From Our Advertisers

We begin with another socialite endorsing Pond’s Cold Cream — Mrs. Potter d’Orsay Palmer nee Maria Eugenia Martinez de Hoz. She was wife No. 2 of Potter d’Orsay Palmer, son of the wealthy family of Chicago Palmer House fame…they would divorce in 1937, and the playboy Potter would marry two more times before dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1939 (the result of a drunken brawl). Maria Eugenia would remarry and return to her homeland of Argentina to raise a family…

…it seems Maria Eugenia didn’t limit herself to endorsing cold cream, as this next ad attests (from the May, 1934 Delineator magazine)…

…Maria Eugenia endorsed Camels because they were marketed to women back then, as were Marlboro cigarettes, the makers of which continued their silly handwriting and jingle-writing contests to promote the brand (note the examples “Miss Eileen Fitzgerald” offered of what defined a modern lifestyle)…

…the makers of Chesterfield cigarettes, on the other hand, originally marketed their product to men, but they made sure women were included in the copy beneath the image — “yes, there’s a big woman vote” …

…you may recall the subtle ways Liggett & Myers began to lure women smokers back in 1928 with this ad campaign…

…you see a lot of tobacco ads because cigarette manufacturers were one of the few industries still turning a profit during the first years of the Depression…men and women were smoking like crazy, maybe to calm their nerves over the performance of their refrigerators…

…one could always calm the nerves by taking a spin in a new Plymouth, bargain-priced at just $535…

…and we have another Arno-esque ad by Herbert Roese, touting the wonders of “New York’s Most Interesting Newspaper”…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with this wonderful spot drawing by Barbara Shermund

…and an illustration by Reginald Marsh of a Coney Island crowd that graced facing pages in “The Talk of the Town”…

…here’s one of four drawings Walter Schmidt contributed to the New Yorker between 1931 and 1933…

Perry Barlow illustrated the joys of dining out with the kiddies…

…back to Barbara Shermund, who eavesdropped on her debs…

Kemp Starrett gave us a proud moment at the county fair…

I. Klein offered up a new twist on the term “family planning”…

John Held Jr assessed the aesthetic value of chunky mission-style furniture…

…and Peter Arno reappeared in the cartoons with this full-page illustration of some desperate climbers…

Next Time: Asphalt Jungle…