Making Hays

The name Will Hays will always be linked to the Motion Picture Production Code, a set of guidelines for self-censorship that studios adopted to avoid government intervention.

June 10, 1933 cover by Harry Brown.

Hays, however, played both sides in the culture wars. A Republican politician, Hays (1879–1954) managed the 1920 election of Warren G. Harding before moving on to Postmaster General and then chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. During the so-called pre-Code era, roughly 1930 to 1934, the Production Code was barely enforced, giving filmmakers the freedom to explore themes ranging from prostitution to gangster violence. When Alva Johnston wrote a two-part profile on Hays for The New Yorker, pressure from Catholic Church and other morality groups was building for Hays to strictly enforce the Code, or else. An excerpt:

CLEAN IT UP, JOAN…Will Hays (top left) felt pressure in 1933 to start seriously enforcing the Production Code, and scenes such as the one at top right from Blonde Crazy (1931) with Joan Blondell would probably not pass muster after 1934; the Hays Code would also lengthen the animated Betty Boop’s skirts, and tone down gratuitous violence (James Cagney and Edward Woods in 1931’s Public Enemy). (Wikimedia/ Brothers)

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The Trouble With Money

In their investigation of the probable causes of the 1929 market crash, the Senate Banking and Currency Committee summoned J.P. Morgan Jr (1867–1943) on June 1, 1933, to testify on questionable banking practices. Committee counsel Ferdinand Pecora (1882–1971) set out to prove, among other things, that Morgan sold stock below market price to some of his cronies. Pecora also learned that Morgan and many of his partners paid no income tax in 1931 and 1932, big news to Americans still suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. E.B. White made these observations:

Although not mentioned by White, the hearing began with an odd little sideshow. Writing for the U.S. Capitol Historical Society blog, Joanna Hallac notes that because the hearings were slow to get started, newspaper reporters grew desperate to get something for the evening papers. Then one enterprising reporter, Ray Tucker, spotted circus dwarf Lya Graf with her agent, Charles Leef, outside of the hearing room (the Barnum & Bailey Circus was in town) and suggested Graf meet the famed banker. Hallac writes: “Although he was initially startled, Morgan was genial and rose and shook her hand. Naturally, the photographers were stepping all over each other to get a picture of the exchange. Leef, seeing a perfect press opportunity for himself and the circus, waited for Morgan to sit down and then scooped up Graf and placed her in J.P. Morgan’s lap. Morgan apparently laughed and had a brief exchange with the demure lady, in which he told her he had a grandchild bigger than her.”

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF FINANCE…Before being grilled by Senate counsel Ferdinand Pecora at a June 1, 1933 banking hearing,  J.P. Morgan Jr was paid a surprise visit by Lya Graf, a Barnum & Bailey circus dwarf. At right, Pecora, circa 1933. Sadly, Graf, who was German, perished in a concentration camp after she returned to her homeland in 1935. She was condemned to death in 1937 for being half Jewish and “abnormal.” (NY Magazine/Wikipedia)

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Single Member Plurality

Among other attributes, E.B. White was known for his use of the first person plural, the editorial or clinical “we.” White himself offered this insight:

I, ME, MINE…E.B. White at work in 1945. (

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Uncle Tom, Revived

Plays based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin were wildly popular throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but by the 1930s the story seemed antiquated and no longer relevant. That didn’t stop the Players (a Gramercy park actors club) from mounting a 1933 Broadway revival that proved popular with audiences and a New Yorker stage critic, namely E.B. White, sitting in for Robert Benchley…an excerpt…

SAY UNCLE…Otis Skinner (1858–1942), a beloved broadway actor, portrayed Uncle Tom in the 1933 Broadway revival. The all-white cast performed in blackface.

…on the other hand, White found the Frank Faye/Barbara Stanwyck play Tattle Tales tedious, a thin veneer over the stars’ crumbling marriage off-stage…

THAT’S ALL, FOLKS…Publicity photo of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Faye for the Broadway production of Tattle Tales at the Broadhurst Theatre. The co-stars’ real-life marriage supposedly inspired the 1937 film A Star is Born (as well as subsequent remakes). As Stanwyck’s star rose, Faye’s faded—his heavy drinking and abuse led to their 1935 divorce. The play itself closed after 28 performances. (ibdb)

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Frothy Air

E.B. White (via “The Talk of the Town”) took a stroll through Coney Island and found the place somewhat revived, perhaps thanks to the return of legal beer and Bavarian-style beer gardens…

RECALLING THE GOOD OLD DAYS…Feltman’s Restaurant on Coney Island operated this popular Bavarian Beer Garden in 1890s. (

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Peace, He Said

Adolf Hitler was talking peace, but the French weren’t buying it according to The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet Flanner—in just seven years her beloved City of Light would fall to the Nazis…

IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE…Adolf Hitler makes his first radio broadcast as German Chancellor, February 1933. Hitler spoke of peace in Europe while preparing his country for war. (The Guardian)

…speaking of Janet Flanner, apparently her “Paris Letter” implied that the author Edna Ferber had married. Ferber offered this correction, in good humor:

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From Our Advertisers

Class anxieties were (and still are) gold to Madison Avenue—look at this poor woman, pondering her very existence, lacking as she did the horsepower to lay some rubber at a green light…

…or this woman, who thought ahead and made sure she had some hair lotion to ward off cackles from the beach harpies…

…on the other hand, this cyclist seems to care less about appearances as she races toward us with a crazed smile, half-human, half-illustration…

…and then there’s this fellow, playing it cool in a white linen suit, which for a sawbuck seems like a bargain, even in 1933…

…the last two pages of the magazine featured friends racing to some swell destination…the lads at left are being propelled to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair thanks to the wonders of leaded gasoline, while the women at right seem to be doing at least eighty…note neither car has a windshield, so you wonder how many bugs they will pick out of their teeth…

…an apt segue to our cartoons, where Peter Arno showed us a couple going nowhere fast…

Otto Soglow’s Little King had his own marital situation to ponder after a visit from a sultan…

…a very unusual cartoon from Helen Hokinson, who rarely delved into serious socio-political issues (although her captions were often provided by others at The New Yorker)…this cartoon referred to a cause célèbre of the 1930s, the case of the prejudicial sentences of the Scottsboro boys that recalled the Tom Mooney frame-up two decades earlier…

…on to lighter topics, Robert Day checked in on the progress at Mt. Rushmore…

George Price also went aloft for a challenge…

…and Carl Rose found this dichotomy in the conquest of nature…

…on to June 17, 1933…

June 17, 1933 cover by Perry Barlow.

…where Frank Curtis reported on the military-style schedule that put young men to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps…excerpts:

MARCHING ORDERS…CCC reforestation recruits in Virginia in 1933. (New York Times)

…just one ad from this issue, another Flit entry from Dr. Seuss, who wouldn’t publish his first book until 1937…

…our cartoons are courtesy Otto Soglow, with some bedside manner…

Kemp Starrett set up what should prove to be an interesting evening…

Gluyas Williams considered the woes of J.P. Morgan Jr

…and we close with another from George Price, doing some tidying up…

Next Time: Home Sweet Home…

No More Monkey Business

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August 1, 1925 cover by Garrett Price.

For all of The New Yorker’s attention to the Scopes Monkey Trial, the August 1, 1925 issue had little to say about the trial’s outcome.

The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes was decided in the Criminal Court of Tennessee on July 21, 1925, with Scopes found guilty and fined $100 (equivalent to $1,345 in 2015), but the verdict was overturned on a technicality.

“The Talk of the Town” offered this brief observation under its weekly wrap-up column: “Mr. Scopes, found guilty, goes home to Paducah, Kentucky…”

And then this item toward the end of “Talk,” announcing the death of the Scopes Trial defense attorney (and one of the magazine’s favorite punching bags) William Jennings Bryan:

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“The Graphic Section” offered this cynical twist on the trial’s outcome:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

In a related item under “Of All Things,” Howard Brubaker wrote, “Representative Upshaw of Georgia will introduce an anti-evolution bill in Congress. Upshaw is never happy unless the Ship of State is making twenty thou-shalt-nots an hour.”

Clarence Darrow, a famous Chicago lawyer, and William Jennings Bryan, defender of Fundamentalism, have a friendly chat in a courtroom during the Scopes evolution trial.  Darrow defended John T. Scopes, a biology teacher, who decided to test the new Tenessee law banning the teaching of evolution. Bryan took the stand for the prosecution as a bible expert. The trial in 1925 ended in conviction of Scopes. ca. 1925 Dayton, Tennessee, USA
Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan have a friendly chat during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Following the trial Bryan traveled hundreds of miles, delivering speeches in multiple towns. On July 26, 1925, he returned from Chattanooga, Tennessee to his home in Dayton. After attending church services he ate a large meal, then died during a nap that afternoon, five days after the trial’s conclusion. When someone remarked to Darrow that Bryan died from a “broken heart”, Darrow responded, “Broken heart, hell, he died of a busted belly!” (Wikipedia)

Brubaker also quipped, “Tennessee is not the only State where there is arrested mental development, but it is the only one so far where it has been fined.”

Back to “The Talk of the Town,” the design for a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt was approved, to be erected as part of the east façade of the Museum of Natural History. It was noted that the design featured Ionic columns that Roosevelt “would have detested in favor of a “native expression of the arts…”

The Museum of Natural History façade designed by John Russell Pope. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Talk” continued: “One recalls that Colonel Roosevelt wrote the American Institute of Architects deprecating the use of the lions which doze at the entrance to the Public Library, and advocating the placing there of bisons instead…The memorial to the man who insisted thus on American art, rather than imitation of foreign models, is to be a severely classic as the facade of –let us say—the First National Bank of Dubuque, Iowa.”

Lion guards New York Public Library entrance. Teddy would have preferred the native bison. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Profiles” featured Walter L. Clark, a “genius who made art into business.” The movie reviews included Theodore Shane’s fumings on prudishness of American censors (Will Hays in particular) especially when compared to more liberal European productions by directors such as Ernst Lubitsch:

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In books, the magazine continued its admiration for the jottings of A.A. Milne:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

As for night life, The New Yorker lamented (“When Nights Are Bold) that the rooftop garden at the Biltmore “was the only bower worthy of the name left in town where quiet or startling simplicity reigns”:

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The Biltmore Cascades (Museum of the City of New York)
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Illustration of the Cascades by Helen Hokinson (New Yorker Digital Archive)

And speaking of society pursuits, Philip Pratt offered this parody on falconry, while Hans Stengel took aim at the starving artists:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

And we end with a detail of summertime images (by Helen Hokinson) from the center spread of the August 1 issue:

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)

Next time: The dog days of summer.

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