Paramount on Parade

Before we launch into the latest offering from Tinseltown, a note about the cover artist for the April 26, 1930 issue.

April 26, 1930 cover by Barney Tobey.

Barney Tobey (1906-1989) was known for gently humorous cartoons that appeared in the New Yorker for more than fifty years. He also contributed four covers, the first of which appears above. In the Sept. 21, 1998 issue, illustrator Richard Merkin offered this remembrance:

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Star-spangled Banter

All-star musicals were all the rage in the early sound era, as they gave studios the opportunity to showcase contract players (who were virtually owned by the studios) doing things they usually didn’t do on screen. Following the success of MGM’s Hollywood Revue of 1929, Paramount Studios released Paramount on Parade in April 1930, much to the liking of New Yorker critic John Mosher, who also praised the film’s accompanying cartoon, 1929’s The Prisoner’s Song:

You can watch The Prisoner’s Song here (and ponder how far animation has advanced)…

Mosher also praised a number of Paramount’s contract players, and especially actors Jack Oakie and Maurice Chevalier

MUCH ADO…A great crowd gathers for the premiere of “Paramount on Parade” at the New York’s Rialto Theatre in April 1930. (cinematreasures.org)
SEEING STARS…Clockwise, from top left, Helen Kane (possibly the inspiration for the cartoon character “Betty Boop”) and Jack Oakie do a little footwork; Clara Bow, Hollywood’s “It Girl,” pops through a Navy recruitment poster at the beginning of her song and dance number (with Stuart Erwin and Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher); one of Hollywood’s top actresses in 1930, Kay Francis, portrays “Carmen” in the revue; Ruth Chatterton entertains doughboys Stuart Erwin, Fredric March, Jack Oakie, and Stanley Smith in Paramount on Parade. (IMDB)
BOOP GIVES A BOP…Helen Kane (left) and child star Mitzi Green in a sketch from Paramount on Parade. (IMDB)

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Lost In the Crowd

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White lamented the fact that the world’s tallest building appeared less than lofty, since neighboring skyscrapers were nullifying its grandeur:

DOWN IN FRONT…E.B. White found the streetview of the world’s tallest building wanting after it was completed in 1930; the iconic Flatiron Building, however, enjoys some elbow room even today. (spectator.co.uk/walksofnewyork.com)

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Full of Hot Air

That was another opinion shared by E.B. White, this time regarding the Empire State Building’s top promotor, former New York Governor Al Smith, who spoke of plans to attach a mooring mast to the top of his skyscraper (which would eclipse the Chrysler as the world’s tallest in 1931):

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View From the Top

The New Yorker featured a profile of Aloysius Anthony Kelly (1893?-1952), better known as the Roaring Twenties most famous pole-sitter, “Shipwreck” Kelly. He achieved his greatest fame in the 1920s and 1930s, sitting for days at a time on elevated perches — often atop buildings — throughout the U.S.

Kelly’s fame was already on the wane when this profile appeared, and by 1934 he was reportedly working as a dance hall gigolo. Kelly’s last flagpole stunt was at a 1952 event sponsored by a Lion’s Club in Orange, Texas — he suffered two heart attacks while sitting atop their 65-foot flagpole. After climbing down he announced, “This is it. I’m through.” He died one week later after he was struck by car on West 51st Street in Manhattan.

LOFTY AMBITIONS…Alvin ‘Shipwreck’ Kelly atop a flagpole near College Park, Maryland, in October 1942. At right, undated photo circa 1940s. (CSU Archives/Digital Commonwealth)

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Brand X

Folks were still abuzz about the discovery of a ninth planet in the solar system, soon to be dubbed “Pluto” by an English schoolgirl. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” observed…

…and Kindl illustrated the problem a new planet posed for astrologers…

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I Beg Your Pardon

Will Rogers was a beloved comedian with a few rope tricks up his sleeve, but I’ve never known him for working blue. However, one critic for the New Yorker (“A.S.”– not sure who this is) found Rogers’ new radio show both humorless and gauche…

CAN YOU TAKE A JOKE?…In photo above, Will Rogers debuts his new radio show in April 1930. It would become the most popular Sunday evening radio show, and Rogers would prove to be the second biggest motion picture box office draw in the U.S. before his death in 1935. (Will Rogers Memorial Museum)

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Before He Got Axed

Ten years before he was murdered by one of Stalin’s NKVD agents, Leon Trotsky published an autobiography that was written in his first year of exile in Turkey. The review is signed “G.H.” so I am assuming the author is Geoffrey Hellman, who contributed for decades to the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” Excerpts from the review:

RED ALERT…Leon Trotsky wrote his autobiography, My Life, while exiled in Turkey. (Wikimedia)

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From Our Advertisers

The makers of Bozart rugs and fabrics invited New Yorker readers to “introduce a breath of summertime indoors”…

…while Macy’s urged the same by gracing a sunroom or terrace with one of their Marcel Breuer-inspired chairs…

…Colonial Airways touted an early form of radar — an “invisible pilot” — as the latest safety feature in its airplanes…

…the Douglas L. Elliman company promoted its yet unbuilt River House, which would feature a pier where residents could dock their yachts…

The 26-story River House in the 1930s. Originally, the Art Deco building featured a pier where residents could dock their yachts, but that feature was lost with the construction of FDR Drive in the early 1950s, effectively sealing the building off from the water. The building has been home to author Barbara Taylor Bradford, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and actress Uma Thurman. (observer.com)

…and then we have our more unfortunate ads, such as this one from Macy’s that shows grandpa passing along his racist tendencies to a grandchild…

…and this sad appeal from the makers of Lucky Strike to keep puffing and avoid that hideous double chin…

…our cartoons include Garrett Price and thoughts of spring…

Barbara Shermund eavesdropped on tea time…

Alice Harvey found an awkward moment in a hosiery department…

Peter Arno revisits a familiar theme — chorus girls and sugar daddies…

…and Otto Soglow looked in on a fat cat’s moment of pride…

Next Time: Minding the Gap…

 

 

 

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From Broadway to Babylon

While the introduction of sound to motion pictures ended the careers of some silent film stars in the late 1920s, Hollywood’s “talkies” offered new opportunities for Broadway stage actors who could now take their vocal talents to the screen and to audiences nationwide.

May 4, 1929 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

And so began the so-called “Broadway Exodus.” Humorist and frequent New Yorker contributor Robert Benchley offered his wry observations on the phenomenon in the May 4, 1929 “A Reporter at Large” column:

AW SHUCKS…Broadway mainstay and a perennial performer with the Ziegfeld Follies, humorist Will Rogers found his element in Hollywood’s new talkies, appearing here with Fifi D’Orsay in 1929’s They Had to See Paris. (Wikipedia)
TALE OF TWO CITIES…Broadway in 1925 (left) and Hollywood Boulevard in 1929. (Daily Mail/USC Digital Library)

Benchley observed that regardless how many Broadway stars moved west, Hollywood Boulevard would never be mistaken for Broadway. However, Benchley himself would catch the bug and head to Tinseltown, appearing in dozens of feature films and shorts including How to Sleep, which would win an Academy Award for “Best Short Subject, Comedy,” in 1935.

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT…Robert Benchley in the 1935 Oscar-winning short, How to Sleep. (YouTube)

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One Who Stayed on Broadway

James Thurber reported in “The Talk of the Town” that famed boxing champion Jack Johnson was a common sight on the sidewalks of Broadway. Thurber noted that Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908–1915), had fallen on less glamorous days, but still appeared fit at age 51.

IN FIGHTING FORM…Jack Johnson visits with writer Joe Butler at the Scranton Times-Tribune offices on Nov. 30, 1929. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

Thurber noted that Johnson was planning to sell stories of his life, and possibly get into vaudeville. The boxer also mused that who could lick either of the heavyweight champs of the 1920s, Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey

CUPCAKES…The 51-year-old Jack Johnson claimed he could defeat either of the famed heavyweight champions of the 1920s, Gene Tunney (left) or Jack Dempsey. (Reemus Boxing)

…and Thurber shared a strange account regarding the thickness of Johnson’s skull, which apparently bested that of an ox…

FIGHT TO THE LAST…The 67-year-old Jack Johnson prepares for an exhibition boxing match at a war bond show in New York City on May 1945. Along with making public appearances, Johnson also performed on Broadway during his retirement. (Houston Chronicle)

Johnson continued professional boxing until age 60, and thereafter participated in boxing exhibitions in various venues until his death at age 68 in a car crash near Raleigh, NC. It was reported that Johnson was racing angrily from a nearby diner that had refused to serve him when he lost control and hit a light pole.

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Anyone who thinks the recent squabbles over Planned Parenthood are anything new might do a little reading on the life of Margaret Sanger, who opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. in 1916 (in Brooklyn) and was subsequently arrested for distributing information on contraception. In 1929 she was again arrested for operating a “secret” birth control clinic in the basement of a Manhattan brownstone. On March 22, 1929, the New York Police Department sent an undercover female detective, Anna McNamara, to Sanger’s clinic. Posing as a patient who wished to avoid another pregnancy, McNamara was advised on various forms of contraception. She later returned to the clinic as part of the police raid, during which she seized a number of confidential patient files. At Sanger’s subsequent court hearing, McNamara learned first-hand about the importance of patient confidentiality. From the May 4 “Talk of the Town”…

Recalling her arrest in a 1944 article, “Birth Control: Then and Now,” Sanger wrote that McNamara taunted her during the raid when she was told that she had no right to touch private medical files. Sanger wrote “I shall never forget the color of Mrs. McNamara’s face when she heard this medical testimony recited several days later in Magistrates’ Court at the hearing. She was totally unprepared for this embarrassing revelation of her own organs.” The New Yorker made note of this…

Sanger would continue to work for birth control until her death in 1966. Although her name is still invoked in debates over abortion, Sanger herself was generally opposed to abortion, maintaining that contraception was the only practical way to avoid it.

GAG ORDER…In April 1929 Margaret Sanger planned to speak at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum on Free Speech. Ironically, the topic of birth control was banned in Boston at the time, so Sanger appeared onstage with a gag over her mouth while historian Arthur M. Schlesinger read her remarks on free speech to the assembly. At right, the February 1926 issue of Birth Control Review. Founded by Sanger in 1917, she served as editor until 1928. It ceased publication in 1940. (womensstatus.weebly.com/sangerpapers.wordpress.com)

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Please Sit Still

The “Talk of the Town” also looked on American Impressionist painter Childe Hassam, who demonstrated the challenges of painting en plein air…

LOVELY SCENE…Childe Hassam’s Landscape at Newfields, New Hampshire, oil on canvas, 1909. Hassam in his studio circa 1920. (Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia)

…and found it difficult to finish a farmhouse sketch when a door was unexpectedly closed on his subject…

THIS ONE HE FINISHED…Childe Hassam’s etching, The Old Dominy House (East Hampton), 1928. This work was probably created during Hassam’s visits to East Hampton described in “The Talk of the Town.”(Smithsonian)

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All That Jazz

As Lois Long’s contributions to her “Tables for Two” column grew ever more infrequent, it was clear that she was wearying of the nightlife scene. Now 28 and a young mother, “Lipstick” was shedding her image as a fun-loving flapper and devoting more time and energy to her fashion column, “On and Off the Avenue.” Nevertheless, she still found the time to visit the Cotton Club and proclaim Duke Ellington’s jazz orchestra as “the greatest of all time”…

…although her other observations of the New York nightclub scene appear to have been hastily dashed off…

THE BEST…Duke Ellington and his orchestra (top), circa 1930. Below, Vincent Lopez conducts his orchestra in 1923. (oldtimeblues.net / www.jazzhound.net © Mark Berresford)

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Electric Wonders

The May 4 issue updated readers on some of the latest gadgets available to modern households in 1929. I particularly like the device that allowed your vacuum to blow “moth poison” into your garments…

NOW THIS DOES NOT SUCK…Garments and other household items could be fumigated against moths using a new reverse vacuum attachment, available at Lewis & Conger. (Cyberspace Vacuum Cleaner Museum / Columbia University)

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From Our Advertisers

One thing you notice about 1920s advertising is the amount of turgid copy they contain…I suppose without distractions such as TV and iPhones people actually took the time to read all of these bloated messages, such as this one from Whitman’s that suggested a box of candy is more than a box of candy…

…or how about this lengthy appeal from Kodak, which used guilt to convince you to get some film of grandma while she was still “at her best…”

…the makers of Spud promised a “new freedom” and a “16% cooler smoke” to the users of its menthol-laced cigarettes. Spuds were the first menthol cigarettes, developed in 1924 by Ohioan Lloyd “Spud” Hughes, who sold them out of his car until the brand was acquired in 1926 by The Axton-Fisher Tobacco Company. By 1932 Spud was the fifth-most popular brand in the U.S., and had no competitors in the menthol market until Brown & Williamson launched their Kool brand in 1933. The Spud brand died out by 1963 (along with, presumably, many of its customers)…

…leveraging the popularity in the 1920s of knights and fairies, as well as the Anglo- and Francophila of New Yorker readers, “Mrs. Marie D. Kling” hoped to entice city dwellers up to the burbs in Scarsdale…

…our cartoons are courtesy of Barbara Shermund, who looked in on a couple of debs performing their daily exercises…

…while down in the parlor, Rea Irvin captured the horrors inflicted by an author’s tedious reading…

…and finally, Peter Arno probed the depths of sanctimony…

Next Time: Waldorf’s Salad Days…