Modernism Lite

Above: “The Fountain of Youth” mural by Ezra Winter in the Main Foyer of Radio City Music Hall. (Architectural Digest)

The opening of two new theaters at Rockefeller Center no doubt brightened a few souls at the start of 1933, but art and architecture critic Lewis Mumford wasn’t particularly dazzled by the “watered-down” modernism of the buildings’ much-ballyhooed decor.

Jan. 7, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin, in a nod to the annual automobile show in New York City.

Oddly, it was a philosophy professor from Nebraska, Hartley Burr Alexander, who was tasked with creating an artistic vision for Rockefeller Center, developed along the theme of “Frontiers of Time.” According to Mumford, Alexander’s “classic-banal” vision, executed under the “virtuous glare” of theatrical impresario Samuel L. “Roxy” Rothafel, resulted in the first “large-scale vulgar tryout of modern art.” Excerpts from Mumford’s column:

Several aluminum sculptures in Radio City Music Hall no doubt pleased Mumford — Gwen Lux’s Eve sculpture, William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance, and Robert Laurent’s Goose Girl. However, thanks to Roxy Rothafel’s “virtuous glare” and worries that the nudes might hurt ticket sales, all three sculptures were temporarily banned from RCMH.

NAKED AND AFRAID…A flare-up of puritanism led to the temporary removal of aluminum sculptures at Radio City Music Hall. At left, Eve by Gwen LuxRobert Laurent (right) working on Goose Girl in his studio. Below, William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance. (Smithsonian/viewingnyc.com)

Radio City Music Hall also featured an array of murals that should have brought some delight to Mumford…

SHOW BEFORE THE SHOW…Radio City Music Hall featured a number of murals including, clockwise from top left, a detail of Donald Deskey’s The History of Nicotine (The Life of Saint Nicotine) in a second floor men’s lounge; a textile piece titled The History of Theatre by Ruth Reeves, which covers the back wall of Radio City Music Hall; Stuart Davis’s mural Men without Women in the  men’s lounge; Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s mural in the women’s powder room. (melwithpals.medium.com/viewingnyc.com/evergreen.com)

*  *  *

Mea Cuppa

“The Talk of the Town” shared this account of fifteen Harvard freshman who dared to pay a call on the home of visiting poet T.S. Eliot

TEA-DIUM…Fifteen nervous Harvard freshman confronted this visage until one of them finally broke the ice. Photo above taken during one of T.S. Eliot’s visits to Monk’s House, the 16th century cottage of Virginia Woolf. (blogs.harvard.edu)

*  *  *

Country Cousins

During his 1932 presidential campaign Franklin D. Roosevelt paid a Sept. 29 visit to the Waterloo, Nebraska farm of Gustav “Gus” and Mary (Kenneway) Sumnick. Mary served FDR a chicken dinner and pie before he addressed a crowd of 8,000 at a rally on the Sumnick farm. Gustav, a German immigrant, and Mary, a daughter of Irish immigrants, were successful farmers even during those tough years. The visit would turn the Sumnicks into national celebrities, and in later years FDR would return to visit the family and would also stay in touch by telephone. Howard Brubaker, in “Of All Things,” made this observation about the celebrated farm family:

TIME FOR SOME VIDDLES!…Mary Sumnick chats with presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt during his Sept. 29, 1932 visit to the Sumnick farm. (douglascohistory.org)
ENOUGH FOR A FOOTBALL TEAM…A lengthy article in the Dec. 4, 1932 New York Times described life on the Sumnick farm and their upcoming visit with President Roosevelt in the spring. Gus and Mary and their 11 children all planned to make the trip. (NYT)

*  *  *

The Gang’s All Here

Siblings Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore of the famed Barrymore theatrical family appeared together in just one film — Rasputin and the Empress — and you would think that would have been enough to guarantee multiple awards along with box office gold. However, the film actually lost money, and on top of that attracted a lawsuit that further dipped into the pockets of MGM producer Irving Thalberg. Critic John Mosher was wowed by Ethel’s performance, but wasn’t exactly charmed by the overall production:

ACTING ROYALTY ACTING ROYAL…John Barrymore, Ethel Barrymore, and Lionel Barrymore with child actor Tad Alexander in Rasputin and the Empress. It is only film in which all three siblings appeared together. (Pinterest)

About that lawsuit: The film used the real-life Princess Irina Yusupov as a model for Princess Natasha, portrayed by English actress Diana Wynyard. The film implied that Rasputin raped Princess Natasha (that is, Irina), which wasn’t true, so she sued MGM and won $127,373 from an English court; MGM reportedly  settled out of court in New York for the sum of $250,000 (roughly equivalent to nearly $5 million today). The ubiquitous “all persons fictitious” disclaimer that appears in TV and film credits is the result of that lawsuit.

NO HARD FEELINGS?…English actress Diana Wynyard (left) portrayed Princess Natasha in the Barrymore family vehicle Rasputin and the Empress. Her portrayal, however, drew the ire of a real Russian royal, Princess Irina Yusupov, who successfully sued MGM in 1933 for invasion of privacy and libel. (Wikipedia)

A much-less controversial film was the “glib” No Man of Her Own, a pre-Code romantic comedy-drama starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in their only film together:

LET’S PLAY HOUSE…Clark Gable romances Carole Lombard in the pre-Code romantic comedy-drama No Man of Her Own. It was their only film together, and several years before they became a married couple in real life. (ha.com)

*  *  *

Vroom-Vroom

The annual National Automobile Show opened at the Grand Central Palace and other locations in Midtown, promising an array of affordable models:

DECISIONS, DECISIONS… The 1933 National Automobile Show offered a number of affordable options to car buyers including these shiny new Pontiacs on display at the Grand Central Palace. (libwww.freelibrary.org)
BUT LOOK OVER HERE…General Motors also displayed its models at the first “Motorama” held in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom in 1933. (waldorfnewyorkcity.com)

Auto Show visitors also got a glimpse of their streamlined future in the form of a 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow…

FAST & FURIOUS…Powered by a V12 engine, the aerodynamic 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow could exceed 100 miles per hour. Unveiled at the 1933 National Automobile Show, the car grabbed the spotlight with its futuristic, streamlined design. Just five of these were built, and only three are known to exist today. The Silver Arrow was one of Pierce-Arrow’s final attempts to appeal to its wealthy clientele, but even they were feeling Depression’s pinch. The company folded in 1938. (Sotheby’s)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

The New Yorker had unusually thin issues over the holidays, so the magazine’s bean-counters must have been thrilled by the dozens of ads that poured in ahead of the National Automobile Show. As usual Walter Chrysler took out several two-page ads to promote his Chryslers, Plymouths, Dodges and DeSotos…

…while GM one-upped Walter with its own series of two-pagers — in color — sprinkled throughout the magazine…everything from the affordable Oldsmobile…

…to the high-end Cadillac…

…General Motors also featured this Peter Arno-themed ad (with sugar-daddy walrus) to promote its posh new venue at the Waldorf-Astoria…

…the folks at struggling Hupmobile tried to wow not with shiny cars but rather with the announcement of their…drum roll, please…annual report…

…companies that supported the auto industry also got in on the act, including the makers of leaded fuel…this image says a lot about the lack of safety concerns in the 1930s…

John Hanrahan, who early on served as the New Yorker’s policy council and guided it through its lean first years, be­came the publisher of Stage magazine (formerly The Theatre Guild Magazine) in 1932. In 1933 Stage became part of the Ultra-Class Magazine Group’s line-up that included Arts & Decoration and The Sportsman. Stage published its last issue in 1939, and I don’t believe the other two survived the 1930s either…

ULTRA-CLASS GROUP was the over-the-top name used to describe this line-up of magazines.

…on to our cartoons, we join Peter Arno for some fine dining…

…based on the what we have seen lately from William Crawford Galbraith, he seems to be hung up on seductresses and showgirls…

…to my point, some of Galbraith’s recent entries…

…we move on to Richard Decker and a dangerous cold front…

Garrett Price pondered the wisdom of children…

Gluyas Williams was back with the latest industrial crisis…

Perry Barlow found some ill-fitting words to go with an ill-fitting coat…

…and we close with James Thurber, and some very fitting words for those times, and ours…

Next Time: March of Time…

 

Pining for Tin Lizzy

In 1922, a young Cornell graduate named E.B. White set off across America in a Model T with a typewriter and a sense of adventure.

Nov. 12, 1932 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Years later, 1936 exactly, White would recall the America he had discovered as a 22-year old in his book From Sea to Shining Sea, which would include an essay “Farewell to Model T” that first appeared in the New Yorker as “Farewell My Lovely.” For this Nov. 12, 1932 “Notes and Comment” column, it appears White is already pondering his paen to the Model T, contrasting its freedom with the glassed-in claustrophobia of modern cars:

OUT WITH THE NEW, IN WITH THE OLD…Despite their many shortcomings, E.B. White seemed to prefer the cars of yesteryear, including (above) the 1904 Pope Tribune and 1917 Ford Model T Roadster; White likened modern cars, such as the 1932 Ford and Chevrolet sedans (bottom, left and right) to riding in a “diving bell.”(Wikimedia/vintagecarcollector.com/Pinterest)

Here’s the cover of From Sea to Shining Sea, which features a photo of White and his wife, Katharine, in a Model T Roadster…

*  *  *

An Appreciation

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was an American painter who for most of her adult life lived in France among fellow Impressionists. Like her friend Edgar Degas, Cassatt excelled in pastels, works that were admired by critic Lewis Mumford in an exhibition at New York’s Durand-Ruel Galleries:

TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS…Mothers and children were Mary Cassatt’s favorite subjects. Among the examples shown in 1932 at the Durand-Ruel Galleries’ Exhibition of Pastels were Cassatt’s A Goodnight Hug (1880) and Françoise, Holding a Little Dog, Looking Far to the Right (1909). (Sotheby’s/Christie’s)

*  *  *

Hollywood Slump

We go from treasure to trash with John Mosher’s latest cinema dispatch, in which he recounts his experience watching the “strenuous melodrama” Red Dust, starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. Mosher assured readers that the film is trash, but better trash than Scarlet Dawn with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Nancy Carroll.

DUMB AND DUMBER…Jean Harlow attempts to distract Clark Gable from his work in Red Dust; at right, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is tempted by a servant girl’s affection (Nancy Carroll) in Scarlet Dawn. (IMDB)

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

The folks at W.J. Sloane decided that the best way to sell their housewares would be to build an actual house in their Fifth Avenue store…

…do you really want to buy Kraft cheese after looking at this ad? From the look on the woman’s face, that tiresome old wheeze-bag probably smells like aged cheese, and not in a good way…

…The makers of Log Cabin syrup continued to parody the popular taglines of tobacco companies with ads featuring a several New Yorker cartoonists, here Peter Arno

…yep, when I’m relaxing on the beach I like to talk about ink pens, especially those Eversharp ones…

…nor do I mind some weirdo in a dark coat seeking my opinion of said pen while I frolic near my fashionable Palm Beach hotel…

…yes, we all know that Chesterfields are milder, but will someone help that poor man on the left who appears to be blowing out his aorta…

…the New Yorker’s former architecture critic George S. Chappell (who wrote under the pen-name T-Square) had moved on to other things, namely parodies of societal mores, including this new book written under his other pen-name, Walter E. Traprock, with illustrations by Otto Soglow

…on to our cartoons, we begin with James Thurber and the travails of menfolk…

Richard Decker gave us the prelude to one man’s nightmare…

Carl Rose found a titan of industry puzzling over his vote for a socialist candidate…

…and we move on to Nov. 19, 1932…

Nov. 19, 1932 cover by William Steig.

…and this compendium of election highlights by E.B. White

…and Howard Brubaker’s wry observation of the same…

BUSY DAYS AHEAD…Franklin D. Roosevelt celebrates his landslide victory over Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential elections. (AP)

…and on an even lighter side, poet David McCord’s take on a Robert Louis Stevenson classic…

…speaking of children, the New Yorker was looking ahead to Christmas, and what the little ones might be hoping for under the tree…

ALL HUNG UP ON MICKEY…Mickey Mouse puppet was popular with the kiddies in 1932. (Ebay)

…if Mickey Mouse wasn’t your thing, you could spring for The Fifth New Yorker Album

…on to our other Nov. 19 advertisements, Mildred Oppenheim (aka Melisse) illustrated another whimsical Lord & Taylor ad…

…while B. Altman maintained its staid approach to fashion to tout these duty-free, “practically Parisian” nighties created by “clever Porto Ricans”…

Walter Chrysler continued to spend big advertising bucks to promote his company’s “floating power”…

…in my last entry I noted E.B. White’s musings regarding Lucky Strike’s new “raw” campaign…this appeared on the Nov. 19th issue’s back cover…

…on to our cartoons, we have Helen Hokinson’s girls pondering the social implications of a cabbie’s identity…

James Thurber explored the dynamic tension provided by passion dropped into mixed company…

Carl Rose offered a bird’s eye view of the 1932 election…

William Crawford Galbraith showed us one woman’s idea of sage advice…

…and George Price continued to introduce his strange cast of characters to the New Yorker in a career that would span six decades…

…on to our Nov. 26 issue, and a cover by William Crawford Galbraith that recalled the post-impressionist poster designs of Toulouse-Lautrec

Nov. 26, 1932 cover by William Crawford Galbraith.

…and in this issue we have Lewis Mumford back on the streets assessing New York’s ever-changing landscape, including an unexpectedly “monumental” design for a Laundry company:

ALL WASHED UP?…Irving M. Fenichel’s Knickerbocker Laundry Building seemed a bit too monumental for Lewis Mumford. (ribapix.com)

…the building still stands, but is substantially altered (now used as a church)…

 *  *  *

Wie Bitte?

Attributed to E.B. White, this “Talk of the Town” item, “Besichtigung” (sightseeing) told readers — in pidgen German — about a visit to the German Cruiser Karlsruhe docked in the New York harbor.

…I try my best to avoid contemporary political commentary (this blog should be a respite from all that!), so I will let Howard Brubaker (in “Of All Things”) speak for himself regarding the outcome of the 1932 presidential election:

…in researching the life and work of Lois Long, there seems to be a consensus out there in the interwebs that her “Tables for Two” column ended in June 1930, however she continued the write the column from time to time, including this entry for Nov. 26 with a bonus illustration by James Thurber

MARLENE DIETRICHING…was how Lois Long described the star’s appearance at the Bohemia club. Above is a photo of Marlene Dietrich and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney dancing at the New York club El Morocco in the 1930s. (New York Daily News)

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

More Christmas ideas from the folks at Rogers Peet…hey, I could use a new opera hat!…and look at all those swell ash trays…

…yes, Prohibition is still around for another year, but the wets are ascendent, FDR is in office, so let’s get the party started…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with this illustration by James Thurber for the magazine’s events section…note the familiar theme of the sculpture, pondered by the young man…

…we are off to the races with William Steig, and some news that should kick this fella into high gear…

…and we close, with all due modesty, via the great James Thurber

Next Time: Cheers For Beer…

The Faux Prince

He was variously a restaurateur, con man and actor, but one thing Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitry Obolensky Romanoff was not was a prince.

Oct. 29, 1932 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

But apparently to many movers and shakers he was a lot of fun, and so much of a character that Alva Johnston penned a five-part profile of Romanoff. A brief excerpt of Part One:

Born Hershel Geguzin in Lithuania, Romanoff (1890–1971) immigrated to New York City in 1900 and changed his name to Harry F. Gerguson. An odd-jobber and sometime crook (passing bad checks, etc.), at some point Romanoff raised the ante to become a professional imposter, and among other guises began passing himself off as a member of Russia’s royal House of Romanov. Few believed him, but it didn’t matter because his antics (aided by an eager press) got him invited to all sorts of soirees. And what better place than America to re-invent yourself, and especially Hollywood, where in 1941 Romanoff cashed in on his fame to establish a popular Rodeo Drive restaurant.

ALL THAT GLITTERS…Although Romanoff’s attracted all matter of glitterati, from Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield (in a famous photo) to Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, Romanoff mostly ignored his clientele, preferring to dine with his dogs. (stuffymuffy.com)

Here’s the terrific cover of the Romanoff’s menu:

Romanoff appeared in various films — both credited and uncredited — from 1937 to 1967…

ON THE SCREEN…Michael Romanoff (right) with Louis Calhern in 1948’s Arch of Triumph. (IMDB)

…and apparently he didn’t ignore all celebrities…

…AND OFF…Romanoff in the 1950s and early 60s with some of his pals including, clockwise, from top left, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, rat-packers Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope. (Pinterest)

…and if you are hungry for more, there is a recipe named for Romanoff, still available from the folks at Betty Crocker:

 *  *  *

Return to Sender

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White exposed the corrupt ways of the Tammany-dominated Department of Taxes and Assessments thanks to the New Yorker’s fictional figurehead Eustace Tilley:

IN ARREARS…Neither death, nor taxes, bothered the inimitable Eustace Tilley.

 *  *  *

Chinese Checkered

White actors portraying Asian characters was all too common in the 20th century (and still persists to this day) but Alla Nazimova’s portrayal of O-Lan in the Guild Theatre’s stage adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth was just too much for critic Robert Benchley:

WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT IT?…Claude Rains as Wang Lung and Alla Nazimova as O-Lan in the Guild Theatre’s The Good Earth. At right, Nazimova as O-Lan. (allanazimova.com)

In all fairness to Rains and Nazimova, many of their white Hollywood compatriots portrayed Asian characters, including Katherine Hepburn in another adaptation of a Pearl Buck novel:

IN ON THE ACT…Luise Rainer as O-Lan and Paul Muni as Wang Lung in the 1937 film adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth; at right, Katherine Hepburn in the 1944 film adaptation of Buck’s Dragon Seed. For the record, the New Yorker’s John Mosher called the 1937 film “vast and rich.”  (IMDB/history.com)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with some good old-fashioned sexism from the makers of Packard automobiles…if this woman had a job outside of the home (uncommon before the war) she could have just gone and bought the damn car…right?…

…and don’t forget the ANTI-FREEZE, as this two-page ad from Union Carbide helpfully suggested (Prestone anti-freeze, that is, not the other crap on the market)…

…some back-page ads…the one on right featured a rather somber-looking Jack Denny, appearing at the Waldorf’s famed Empire Room…and then there is the Schick Dry Shaver…I owned a Schick in the 1980s and had a permanent 5 o’clock shadow until I switched to blades; I can’t imagine how these things would have performed 89 years ago…

…cartoonist Otto Soglow continued to extoll the virtues of decaf coffee…

…and on to our cartoons, William Crawford Galbraith eavesdropped on a backstage political discussion…

Peter Arno found a lovelorn soul in a furniture department…

Soglow again, this time hinting at the Little King’s naughty side…

…as a former newspaper editor, this entry from Garrett Price really hit home…I used to get calls about all sorts of interesting critters and misshapen vegetables…

Rea Irvin gave us a former bank teller all washed up by the Depression…

…and James Thurber continued to explore the growing war between the sexes…

…we continue on to Nov. 5, 1932…

Nov. 5, 1932 cover by William Cotton.

…and this observation by E.B. White on the state of cigarette ads, namely the latest from Lucky Strike…

…one of the ads that caught White’s eye…

…the Nov. 5 issue featured another edition of the parody newspaper “The Blotz,” but what caught my eye was the upper right-hand corner…

…intended as a joke, of course, referring to political changes in Germany…but to our eyes quite ominous…

…and here we have a Lord & Taylor ad that begs the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Aside from the weirdly attenuated figures (admittedly standard in fashion illustration), the fellow in the lounger appears to be sitting at floor level, contemplating a photograph that seems to be of some interest to his companions, none of whom appear to be all that cheerful

…the Nov. 5 issue also offered readers several options for stockings…

…on to our cartoonists, James Thurber provided these sketches for the magazine’s football column (except the one at bottom left, which appeared in the events section in the Oct. 29 issue)…

…Americans were turning out for the 1932 presidential elections, some in their own way per Helen Hokinson

…twenty-year old Syd Hoff gave us some late night hijinks…

William Crawford Galbraith continued to probe the entertainment world…

…and we close with Alan Dunn, who takes us out with a bang…

Next Time: Pining for Tin Lizzy…

 

Gas Tanks & Towers

Lewis Mumford (1895–1990) is best known as a critic of art, architecture and urban design, but he was unique — especially for his time — in how he approached these subjects, going far beyond aesthetics to consider how things aligned, or mis-aligned, with necessary human qualities ranging from comfort and scale to the quality of our air, water and even diet.

Oct. 22, 1932 cover by Peter Arno.

Returning home from a trip to Europe, Mumford pondered the New York skyline as his ship approached the harbor, contrasting his city’s approach to architecture with what he had seen abroad. He was not pleased:

NOT JUST ANOTHER PRETTY FACE…Lewis Mumford praised the sense of “space, clarity and order” he found in the buildings of Rotterdam — perhaps he was referring in part to Leendert van der Vlugt’s 1931 Van Nelle Factory (top) and H.F. Mertens’ 1931 Unilever office building. (metalocus.es/Wikimedia)
WELCOME BACK, LEWIS…Manhattan skyline with gas tank, 1932. (nycurbanism.com)

Mumford was among the few in 1931 who saw a bright side to the Depression, since a pause in building would afford American architects an opportunity to reflect on their past transgressions…

Mumford, among others, was regarded as a visionary in urban planning, anticipating the “New Urbanism” of the late 20th century which was proposed as an antidote to the dehumanizing free-market development Mumford rightly feared would degrade the quality of urban life, not to mention its deleterious effects on the natural environment.

Inspired by the Garden City movement in the U.K., Robert D. Kohn (mentioned above) founded the Regional Planning Association of America, which led to the development of some of the first modern zoning standards in the U.S.

MAVERICKS…Robert D. Kohn (seated in light-colored suit) was president of AIA when the association held their convention in San Antonio in 1931. Seated at left is Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, a prominent San Antonio physician who established the famed Miraflores gardens (mostly gone, sadly) in that city. (sanantonioreport.org)
Along with Mumford and Kohn, Henry Wright (left) and Frederick Ackerman were strong advocates for zoning laws unsullied by free market forces. Wright (1878–1936) was the brainchild behind the Hillside Group Housing model (described by Mumford below) and he also co-designed Radburn (pictured below) among other projects. Ackerman (1878–1950) became the first Technical Director of New York City Housing in 1934.(sunnysidegardens.us)

Mumford praised the work of architect and planner Henry Wright (1878–1936), who had co-created a “Garden City” plan for Radburn, N.J. (with Clarence Stein) and had recently produced a proposal for “Hillside Group Housing”…

NICE PLACE, THIS…Apartments around a courtyard in Radburn, a community designed by Henry Wright and Clarence Stein. Stein was an early supporter of bicycle paths. (thepolisblog.org)

 *  *  *

Shining Some Light

Now I’d like to offer a tribute of sorts to the almost-forgotten Maddy Vegtel, a writer known in 1920s and 30s for her Vanity Fair profiles (she penned “Blonde Venus and Swedish Sphinx” — about Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo in the June 1934 issue of VF) and articles about her European roots (Holland) in the New Yorker from 1926 to 1956. She particularly enjoyed skewering smug upper middle-class types. Here is her short piece, “Paris.”

…and for the record, the opening spread of Vegtel’s 1934 Vanity Fair piece on Garbo and Dietrich…

(Vanity Fair)

 *  *  *

Play It Again

Robert Benchley was back to writing stage reviews, this time taking in the drama I Loved You Wednesday (at the Sam Harris Theatre) featuring Frances Fuller and Humphrey Bogart — Bogie appeared in a number of stage productions before becoming the familiar hardboiled antihero of Hollywood’s golden age.

Bogart began his stage career in 1921, delivering one line (as a Japanese butler!) in the play Drifting. He would go on to appear in 17 Broadway productions between 1922 and 1935, and would make his screen debut in 1930 in A Devil With Women.

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID…Francis Fuller and Humphrey Bogart in a 1932 stage production of I Loved You Wednesday. It ran for 63 performances at the Sam Harris Theatre. (Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Off-white Christmas

In the midst of wading through poetry submissions to the New Yorker, E.B. White allowed his thoughts to drift toward the coming winter…

…and what would likely be his winter scene in Manhattan…actually this is a screenshot from the 1945 comedy Christmas in Connecticut, and this was the view through writer Elizabeth Lane’s (Barbara Stanwyck) window, which was actually part of a Hollywood sound stage…

(hookedonhouses.net)

 *  *  *

Seeing Red

Along with the poetry submissions, E.B. White also received a letter from the local Communists urging the New Yorker to join hands with the oppressed classes. White, however, found that class divisions weren’t always what they seemed…

FREEDOM AND FREE STUFF, PLEASE…About 10,000 Communists and unemployed march on New York’s City Hall in 1932. (NY Daily News)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

While the Communists marched for jobs and free milk, another class of New Yorkers pondered this ad for a V-16 Cadillac…

…in my last post we saw how RCA’s mascot “Nipper” enjoyed the newfangled “bi-acoustic” radio…

…and so General Electric answered in the Oct. 22 issue with a two-legged expert, who perhaps didn’t have the same range of hearing as a terrier mix, but was nevertheless blessed with “keenly discriminating ears”…

Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel’s greatest achievement was the Roxy Theatre, which opened March 11, 1927. He was also behind the opening of Radio City Music Hall, home of the Roxyettes (later renamed The Rockettes). Rothafel (1882–1936) is also the great-grandfather of actress Amanda Peet

S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel greets wife Rosa Freedman (right) and daughter Beta Rothafel after their return from abroad aboard the S.S. Paris, Sept. 19, 1932. (AP)

…and we continue in the back pages, which included signature ads for various entertainments and an ad for American Airways, which depicted a jaunty young man announcing his plans for “week-ending in Los Angeles”…now read the fine print…in order to “breeze into Los Angeles on Saturday morning,” this fellow would need to depart on Thursday evening, and no doubt experience some bumps along the way…

…here’s a couple of ads featuring New Yorker talent, cartoonists Peter Arno and Helen Hokinson

…Mori was an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village (144 Bleecker Street) that managed to survive Prohibition and most of the Depression before closing in 1937…the building is still there, sans the charm…

A photograph of Mori’s Restaurant taken by Berenice Abbott for the Federal Art Project in 1935. (New York Public Library)

Lois Long had this to say about Mori in her Oct. 29, 1932 “Tables for Two” column:

…on to our cartoonists, beginning with Rea Irvin

…this relatively straightforward cartoon feels like a departure from James Thurber’s usual work…

…and here we have Henry Anton’s first-ever cartoon in the New Yorker (Anton was William Steig’s brother)…

John Floherty Jr. found some racy action among the amoeba…

…while William Crawford Galbraith dialed up the familiar sugar daddy trope…

…and we close with Peter Arno, on firm ground with a bit of his own naughtiness…

Next Time: The Faux Prince…

On Detention

Twentieth century New York saw a lot of paradise paved (see Moses, Robert), but there is one spot in New York that saw paradise reclaimed — not from a parking lot but from an eleven-story prison that once stood at 10 Greenwich Avenue.

June 18, 1932 cover by William Crawford Galbraith.

The Jefferson Market Garden in Greenwich Village was once the site of a women’s prison designed to be a more humane corrections facility, but between its opening in 1932 and its closing in 1971 the Women’s House of Detention went from noteworthy to notorious.

It was designed by a firm known for its Art Deco buildings — Sloan and Robertson — and although it still looked rather stark and institutional on the inside, attempts were made to gussy it up with artworks commissioned by the WPA. The New Yorker’s E.B. White found a certain “sanitary elegance” to the place.

WELCOME INMATES!…When the Women’s House of Detention opened in 1932 it focused on more humane practices, including vocational training and other reform measures. Clockwise from top right, a 1938 photo shows how the prison once loomed over the Sixth Avenue El;

by the late 1960s the jail had become squalid, overcrowded and violent. He wrote: “I can still hear the desperate pleas of inmates shouting through the windows as I walked home from school every day.”

BIG, BAD HOUSE…Clockwise from top, left, protestor outside the New York Women’s House of Detention at the Prisoners’ Rights and “Free the Panther 21” demonstration in 1970; illustrious inmates at the prison included Ethel Rosenberg (pictured Aug. 8, 1950), Angela Davis, and Valerie Solanas (who shot Andy Warhol in 1968); demonstrators outside the prison in 1970; 1956 publicity still taken by the Department of Corrections. (Diana Davies via Smith College/

In the late 1960s Village residents began holding town hall meetings to discuss the removal of the overcrowded prison, many complaining of the friends and families of inmates who lingered outside day and night, yelling up to their loved ones behind bars. The protests were successful; the prison closed in 1971 and was demolished three years later.

A BIT OF EARTH…Top photo is an overhead view of the Jefferson Market Garden, planted on the site of the former Women’s House of Detention. Below, a verdant pathway takes a turn through Jefferson Market Garden. Photos courtesy of amny.com and Jefferson Market Garden.

 *  *  *

How Dry I Ain’t

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a canny politician, seemingly able at times to please both sides of a divisive issue. This was the case in 1932, when teetotaling New Yorkers touted FDR’s long record of supporting such causes as the Anti-Saloon League, while city dwellers such as E.B. White knew better…

LIBERAL LIBATION…Franklin D. Roosevelt was an enthusiastic drinker, especially of his famed martinis. (thrillist.com)

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

In the days before air conditioning, most folks had to rely upon whatever cooling breezes they could channel into their homes, and apparently in Tudor City they could find some relief from the East River, at least when the wind was blowing from that direction…

…if the wind wasn’t in your favor, you could switch on an electric fan, an appliance that didn’t come into common use until the 1920s…this ad also demonstrated the power of the dictum “sex sells,” even if applied subtly…

…it would be awhile before air-conditioning became common, but in 1932 you could at least keep your goodies cool with a GE refrigerator, its radiating coils offering a novel way to disperse this smoker’s emissions…

…we jump to our cartoons, with Kemp Starrett in some mixed company…

Garrett Price illustrated the peril one faced when driving through Chelsea, where one could encounter freight trains at street level…

…for almost one hundred years this street-level freight line on 11th Avenue — known as “Death Avenue” — claimed the lives and limbs of hundreds of (mostly poor) New Yorkers…

HEADS UP!…the Hudson River Railroad at 11th Avenue and West 41st Street. (forgotten-ny.com)

…happily, we move on to June 25, 1932…

June 25, 1932 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

…which featured a profile of Samuel Klein (1886-1942), founder of Union Square’s discount department store S. Klein, famous for its “bargain bins.” The profile included this column-busting caricature of Klein as rendered by Abe Birnbaum

YOU COULDN’T MISS IT…The S. Klein Department Store was a Union Square fixture from 1910 to its closing in 1975. At right, undated photo of founder Samuel Klein. The building is long gone, the Zeckendorf Towers now occupying the site. (theclio.com/bklyn.newspapers.com)

…and we roll right into our advertisements, and this spot from the makers of B.V.D.s, who found a new market for men’s shorts and continued the 1920s trend toward a more casual, androgynous look among “modern debs”…

…you likely wouldn’t catch Helena Rubinstein wearing B.V.D.s., busy here shaming women into using her line of beauty products…

…on to our cartoons, we have this spot illustration by James Thurber

…and another travelogue image from Rea Irvin

Douglas Ryan gave us an unlikely Shakespeare lover (unless the boxer was Gene Tunney)…

…and we end with a bit of Prohibition humor from Gardner Rea

Next Time: Help Wanted

Dirge for a Dirigible

There was a time when dirigibles were considered the future of transatlantic transportation. In the 1930s they could carry more passengers than any other type of aircraft while offering amenities usually associated with ocean liners such as private cabins, dining rooms and large observation decks. They were also faster than those water-borne vessels.

March 26, 1932 cover by Bela Dankovsky.

Dirigibles, however, were challenging to operate — with crew members outnumbering passengers — and sometimes they fell from the sky. Such was the fate of the USS Shenandoah during a 1925 publicity flight over Ohio. On board was the Navy’s Lt. Cmdr. Charles Emery Rosendahl (1892 – 1977), who had to act quickly when the airship encountered a severe thunderstorm. Hitting a violent updraft that carried it beyond the pressure limits of its gas bags, the airship was torn apart. For the March 26 “Profile,” writer Henry Pringle recounted Rosendahl’s experience:

HE LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT…Clockwise, from top left, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Rosendahl, USN, circa 1930; the USS Shenandoah in pieces near Caldwell, Ohio; the airship in better days; close-up view of the wreckage. (Wikipedia/airships.net)
IT WAS A GAS…Like other other early dirigibles, the USS Shenandoah was designed for war (fleet reconnaissance) rather than passenger service. It was the first rigid airship to use a safer gas, helium, rather than hydrogen to gain lift. However, helium was scarce at the time, and the Shenandoah used almost all of the world’s reserves to fill its gas cells, which held 2,100,000 cubic feet. (fly.historicwings.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON THE CATWALK…Lt. Cmdr. Charles Rosendahl hurried through this area while the USS Shenandoah was being torn apart in mid-air. Rosendahl was ordered out of the control car by the airship’s pilot, Cmdr. Zachery Landsdowne, to check on the Shenandoah’s oil and gas tanks. It was an order that ultimately saved Rosendahl’s life: Eight crew members in the control car, including Landsdowne, perished. In all, 14 crew members lost their lives. (airships.net)

 *  *  *

Untouchable Unmentionables

In his “Notes and Comment,” E.B. White mused about one Boston store’s promotion of a line of women’s underwear as “Gandhi panties,” apparently inspired by the loincloth worn by Indian liberator Mahatma Gandhi:

THE SIMPLE LIFE…Mahatma Gandhi held numerous hunger strikes during his years of protest against India’s caste system and British Imperial rule. He is pictured here in jail in September 1932 during the second of his fasts, protesting the British government’s decision to separate India’s electoral system by caste. (history.com)

 *  *  *

Hearst Wurst

Film critic John Mosher was not happy with the happy ending (or much else) in the William Randolph Hearst-backed Polly of the Circus, which starred Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies, along with emerging star Clark Gable, who portrayed a small-town minister who risked his career for love with a trapeze artist.

JUST READ THE NAUGHTY BITS…Top image: With the backing of William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies was able to bill her latest MGM film as a “Marion Davies Production.” Davies had star billing over Clark Gable in Polly of the Circus, but as his star rose in the 1930s, Davies saw her fortunes (and Hearst’s) drain away during the Depression years. Bottom image: the Reverend John Hartley (Gable) and trapeze artist Polly Fisher (Davies) “look for something hot” in the Book of Ruth. (IMDB)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Electric refrigerators for home use had been around for less than decade in 1932, but as more companies got into the business, the drive to distinguish one’s product from the competitor’s became keen…the distinctive “Monitor Top” GE refrigerators were touted by Rex Cole in both their ads and in the design of their showrooms…

…Allen-Ingraham, on the other hand, demonstrated how their “dual-automatic” Westinghouse could bring harmony to a party of bootleg-swilling old gents…

…the makers of Electrolux invoked the inevitable march of time and progress in promoting their “automatic” refrigerator…

…on to sundry things, the upscale British department store Fortnum & Mason employed this simple ad to demonstrate the superiority of old money over the preening lower orders…

…and in the back pages we find these cheap ads for corsets, a prep school and a shorthand lessons…

…the makers of Listerine reminded readers of the connection between their old line of antiseptic products and their new line of cigarettes…

…the Santa Fe Railroad invited travelers to the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles…

…while the Missouri Pacific line promoted the wonders of Kansas City, the “Heart of America”…

…makers of the autogiro — part airplane, part helicopter — continued to promote the advantages of this supposedly easy to fly contraption…in the 1930s the autogiro was seen as the future of personal air travel, some predicting that the craft would join the automobile in many a garage…

…on to our cartoons, Alice Harvey found one man who was ready for the autogiro lifestyle…

…and Peter Arno gave us an old walrus ready to take advantage of an unsuspecting host…

……and Helen Hokinson’s “girls” also found themselves involved in a scandalous situation…

…on to the April 2, 1932 issue…

April 2, 1932 cover by Julian de Miskey.

…where this time critic John Mosher took a look at a new film (and a new film genre) — Tarzan, the Ape Man, starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan.

Weissmuller (1904-1984) was well known in the 1920s as a five-time Olympic Gold Champion swimmer, so the 28-year-old was a familiar face when he stepped into the title role. The Irish-born O’Sullivan (1911-1998) had appeared in seven films in 1930-31 before she was cast as Jane Parker in Tarzan, the Ape Man. Mosher found the film silly, but entertaining nonetheless.

THAT PRE-CODE LOOK…Before decency codes were strictly enforced in Hollywood, many early 1930s films featured scenes that were pretty racy for those times. Both Maureen O’Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller were scantily clad for their roles in 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man. (IMDB/fanpop.com/manapop.com/YouTube)

 *  *  *

Cancel Me, Kate

“That’s Why Darkies Were Born” was a popular song in those days of casual racism, written by Ray Henderson and Lew Brown for George White’s Scandals of 1931. It was recorded by a number artists including Paul Robeson (see below) and Kate Smith — it was one of Smith’s biggest records and also the reason she was recently “cancelled” in some sports venues.

In 2019 the New York Yankees announced that Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” would no longer be played at Yankee Stadium, citing not only Smith’s version of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” but also her past performances of the song “Pickaninny Heaven.” The Philadelphia Flyers followed the Yankees example, covering up and later removing a statue of Smith outside the Wells Fargo Center.

THAT’S WHY YOU WERE CANCELLED…One of Kate Smith’s biggest early hits was her performance of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” In 2019 the Philadelphia Flyers organization covered and later removed a statue of Smith outside the Wells Fargo Center. (mprnew.org)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We have more inducements to travel, this time abroad and in style aboard the French Line…

…or if you were looking for something a bit more exotic, Intourist could book you passage to the Soviet Union…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with this great spot illustration by Victor De Pauw, who contributed to the New Yorker from 1928 to 1948…

William Crawford Galbraith offered some insight into the cultural tastes of the upper orders…

…while Alan Dunn illustrated the Depression’s domestic woes…

…and we have what I believe is the first appearance of William Steig’s “Small Fry” children identified as such…many more would follow, later to be collected into a popular book by the same name…

…and another by Steig of a person contemplating his life’s desire…

…and we end with James Thurber, with all of his familiar themes tied up in one drawing…

Next Time: A Return to the Nightlife…

 

Back in the USSR

The year 1932 was a tough one for many Americans, barely scraping by in the deepening Depression. But to the suffering millions in the Soviet Union, America’s economic woes looked like a walk in the park.

Jan. 30, 1932 cover by Rose Silver.

The year marked the beginning of a catastrophic famine that swept across the Soviet countryside, thanks to the government’s bone-headed and heartless forced collectivization that caused more than five million people to perish from hunger. Those events, however, were still on the horizon when Robin Kinkead, a New York Times Moscow correspondent, ventured out into Moscow’s frigid streets in search of a lightbulb. Here is his story:

WE HAVE PLENTY OF NOTHING FOR EVERYONE…In 1930s Moscow, and in the decades beyond, much of life consisted of standing in line for everything from bread to light bulbs.
MAGIC LANTERN…Russian peasants experience electricity for the first time in their village. (flashback.com)
STALIN CAST A LARGE SHADOW over his subjects, even when they sought a bit of light in the darkness. Stalin and Lenin profiles served as glowers in this Soviet lightbulb, circa 1935. The first series of these bulbs were presented to the delegates of Soviet parliament of 1935, just in case they forgot who was in charge — or who might liquidate them at any moment, for any reason, or for no reason. (englishrussia.com)

*  *  *

One of Theirs

Miguel Covarrubias was one of the first artists to contribute to the fledgling New Yorker, and his linear style was well known to readers when he opened his latest show at New York’s Valentine Gallery. It featured works he had created during a 1931 sojourn in the East Indies. Critic Murdock Pemberton found the palette reminiscent of Covarrubias’ earlier work during the Harlem Renaissance:

GLOBETROTTER…A frequent contributor to the early New Yorker, Miguel Covarrubias traveled the world in search of inspiration. His 1932 exhibition at New York’s Valentine Gallery featured his latest work, a series of “Balinese paintings” including In Preparation of a Balinese Ceremony, at right. (sothebys.com)
MAN OF MANY TALENTS…An early Covarrubias contribution to the New Yorker in the March 7, 1925 issue.
 *  *  *
From Our Advertisers
Listerine had been around since the late 1860s, but it wasn’t marketed as a mouthwash until 1914. The brand really took off in the 1920s when it was heavily advertised as a solution for “chronic halitosis” (bad breath), so in 1930 its makers went one step further by adding a few drops of their product to one of the chief causes of bad breath. The folks at Listerine were also keen to the growing market of women smokers — note the fifth paragraph: “They seem to appeal especially to women”…

…when you run out of ideas to amuse your grandchild, drop your top hat and walking stick and let him take you for a swing on a GE fridge door…wow, admire its “all-steel sturdiness” as it slowly tips toward the unsuspecting lad…

…on to our cartoons, Rea Irvin showed readers what he thought of the latest “rosy” economic predictions…

…but with the economy still deep in the dumps, building continued to boom, per Robert Day

Perry Barlow gave us a fellow needing a break from the daily gloom…

Richard Decker unveiled this crime-fighting duo…

Alan Dunn tempered the flames of passion…

…and we close this issue with one of James Thurber’s most famous cartoons…

…on to Feb. 6, 1932…

Feb. 6, 1932 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

…and we head straight to our advertisers……and yet with another sad Prohibition-era ad, this from the makers of Red & Gold Vintages, who promised to dress up your bootleg rotgut with many fine flavorings…

New Yorker founding editor Harold Ross couldn’t care less about the advertising department as long as it paid the bills and kept its nose out of editorial, but I wonder if a cig dropped from his puritanical (if profane) lips when he glanced at this ad…

…as noted in the Listerine ad above, tobacco companies were eager to tap the growing market of women smokers…actress Sue Carol egged on the sisterhood in this ad…Carol would have a brief acting career (including 1929’s Girls Gone Wild — not quite as racy as the 1990s DVD series) before becoming a successful talent agent…

…as noted in my previous “Dream Cars” post, women were also a fast growing market for automobiles, and manufacturers — desperate for Depression-era sales — scrambled to show women all of the swell gadgets that would make driving a snap (as if men didn’t need these gadgets too)…

…and here we have an ad from Kodak that demonstrated the ease of its home movie camera, which could go anywhere, say, like the horse races in Havana…

…Havana then was a playground for wealthier Americans, and many resided at a grand hotel operated by another rich American…

…but if you remained in town, you should at least know how to get tickets to the latest show (this drawing is signed “Russell”…could it be the noted illustrator Russell Patterson?)…

…on to our cartoons, Rea Irvin again commented on the latest predictions for economic recovery…

…but Alan Dunn found one woman who wanted an adventure, not a job…

…perhaps she should hang out with one of Barbara Shermund’s “New Women,” who had a flair for the dramatic…

…as for those seeking a new life, Mary Petty considered the costs…

Richard Decker took us to the high seas, where a thirsty yachtsman hailed a passing smuggler…

Otto Soglow probed the sorrows of youth…

…and William Crawford Galbraith, the joys…

…and James Thurber introduced his classic dog in a big way on this two-page spread…

…and on to one more issue, Feb. 13, 1932…

Feb. 13, 1932 cover by S. Liam Dunne.

…we begin with a nerd alert — the Feb. 13 cover represented one of the magazine’s biggest departures from the original Rea Irvin nameplate, here heavily embellished within S. Liam Dunne’s design. Departures in previous issues were more subtle, Irvin himself experimented with an elongated version in the third issue (below, left). For the April 17, 1926 issue, Katharine and Clayton Knight’s* stylish illustration (center) was the first to overlap part of the nameplate, and Sue Williams’ Nov. 17, 1928 cover (right) was the first to embellish the Irvin font.

*A note on Katharine Sturges Knight and Clayton Knight. The April 17, 1926 cover (center) was the only design by the Knights published by the New Yorker. The original picture was drawn on wood by Katharine and then cut by Clayton. Their son, Hilary Knight, is also an artist, best known as the illustrator of Kay Thompson’s Eloise book series.

…on to the advertisements, kicking off with this subtle appeal from the makers of the unfortunately named “Spud” menthol cigarettes…here a young woman experiences Spud’s “mouth-happiness” while attending the annual Beaux Arts Ball at the new Waldorf-Astoria…

…if you’re wondering why the Spud ad featured a guy in a powdered wig puffing on a cigarette, well the theme of the 1932 ball was “A Pageant of Old New York.” Every year had a different costume theme, and the ladies and gentlemen of the ruling classes delighted in dressing up for the occasion…

PLAYING DRESS-UP…Program for the 1932 Beaux Arts Ball, and two of the attendees, Frank Sanders and Frances Royce. (Pinterest)

…if stuffy events weren’t your thing, you could chuck the fancy duds and head to the sunny beaches of Bermuda…

…I include this Coty advertisement for its modern look — it easily could have appeared in a magazine from the 50s or even 60s…the artwork is by American fashion illustrator Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…

…the auto show has left town, but for some reason the makers of 12-cylinder models continued to shill their products in the New Yorker…Auburn (the middle ad) built beautiful, upscale vehicles, but the Depression would drop it to its knees by 1937…Pierce Arrow would succumb the following year…Lincoln, the highest-priced of these three, would hang on thanks to the largess of parent Ford…

New Yorker cartoonist John Held Jr. picked up some extra bucks by designing this ad for Chase and Sanborn’s…

…and on to our other cartoonists/illustrators, Reginald Marsh wrapped this busy dance hall scene around a section of “The Talk of the Town”…

Otto Soglow was back with his Little King, and the challenges of fatherhood…

Leonard Dove gave us a knight lost on his crusade…

Richard Decker explored the softer side of gangster life…

…and we sign off with Peter Arno, and a little misunderstanding…

Next Time: Winter Games…

Dream Cars

Whether or not you could afford a new car in Depression-era New York, you could afford to take your mind off the hard times for a few hours and visit the annual National Automobile Show at Grand Central Palace.

Jan. 16, 1932 cover by S. Liam Dunne.

The 1932 exhibition featured many familiar brands, and others that would not survive the decade. Bolstered in part by the largess of General Motors and its downscale LaSalles, Cadillac could offer a pricey edition of the Fleetwood (at $5,542, roughly equivalent to $100K today), but most car makers featured models with reduced prices and/or smaller engines, as well as new technologies and design features they hoped would attract buyers of modest means. Excerpts from the New Yorker’s “Motors” column:

CAN’T TOUCH THIS…The Cadillac V16 Fleetwood sat atop the American car world in 1932. (classicdriver.com)
LOOK, BUT DON’T BUY…The New Yorker noted the crowds gathered around the Studebaker –produced “Rockne” at the National Automobile Show. Named for the famed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne (who died in a 1931 plane crash), this 1932 model attracted plenty of gawkers at the show but few buyers. It was soon discontinued, and leftover Rocknes were disassembled and sent to Norway, where they were reassembled and sold to Scandinavian buyers. (conceptcarz.com)
DOUBLE VISION…The 1932 Oakland Roadster (left) marked the end of the Oakland Motorcar Company, which had been previously acquired by General Motors. That same year Oakland was reborn as the Pontiac division, and the Oakland Roadster was reimagined as the 1932 Pontiac Model 302 (right). (Hemmings/justamericanautomobiles.com)
PALACE OF DREAMS…Grand Central Palace (top right) sat at Lexington Ave. between 46th and 47th Streets. A favorite locale for manufacturers to display their latest wares, it was demolished in 1963; at left, images from the 1935 National Automobile Show; bottom right, 1932 copy of The Wheel, produced by Studebaker for distribution at auto shows. (freelibrary.org/chicagology.com)

Whether folks were able to shell out more than $5,000 for a Caddy or a mere $700 for Plymouth, many left the show with nothing more than dreams for better days. Howard Brubaker summed it up thusly in his “Of All Things” column:

  *  *  *

Darling Lily

Coloratura soprano Lily Pons (1898 – 1976) was not well-known in her native France when she took the Metropolitan Opera stage by storm in 1931 — she would become the Met’s principal soprano and, in 1940, an American citizen. The singer was profiled by Janet Flanner in the Jan. 16 issue (caricature by Miguel Covarrubias). Excerpts:

FRENCH TOAST OF THE TOWN…Coloratura soprano Lily Pons was particularly associated with the title roles of Lakmé (pictured above, mid-1930s), and Lucia di Lammermoor. Pons was a principal soprano at New York’s Metropolitan Opera for 30 years, appearing 300 times from 1931 until 1960. (Pinterest/YouTube)

If you have a few minutes, check out Lily Pon’s 1935 performance of “The Bell Song” from the film I Dream Too Much, which co-starred Henry Fonda. Although the sound quality is not the greatest, you can still get a pretty good idea why Met audiences adored her.

 *  *  *

Fantasy Bridge

Satirist Ring Lardner found something rotten in the behavior of robber barons and politicians in the midst of the Depression, so he imagined a bridge game that brought together banker J.P. Morgan (Jr), John D. Rockefeller (then the richest person in America and perhaps the world), Sen. Reed Smoot of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (a catalyst for the Depression), and social worker Jane Addams. Excerpts:

DEAL ME OUT…Ring Lardner addressed the wages of greed through a fantasy bridge game. (Dallas Morning News)

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

If you were one of J.P. Morgan’s bankers, you might have considered hopping on a United flight instead of taking the train — within 20 years, airlines would make a serious dent into railroad’s corporate travel business…

…and if you were a successful banker, your daughter or granddaughter might have been an aspiring deb with some very specific needs…

…the Little King also had some specific fashion needs, as Otto Soglow brings us to the cartoon section…

…with the Auto Show in town, Helen Hokinson got her girls into the conversation…

…the “wizard control” they refer to was Buick’s gimmick to attract more women drivers to their product…here’s an ad from the Feb. 6 issue of the New Yorker:

…back to our cartoons with James Thurber, and the “war” that continued to brew between men and women (note artwork on the wall)…

Al Freuh offered his perspective on meagre predictions for prosperity…

…as did one of William Steig’s precocious children…

…and Helen again with another privileged view of the downtrodden…

Barbara Shermund showed us one woman’s interpretation of “belonging”…

…and Denys Wortman gave us one salesman who probably dreamed of some solitary drinking…

…on to our Jan. 23, 1932 issue…

Jan. 23, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

…and this item in “The Talk of the Town,” which noted the challenges of publishing a book about Adolf Hitler

…and a few pages later, we are treated to an E.B. White “song” written for delegates to the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments which was being convened in Geneva, Switzerland…

Delegates from sixty countries attended the Geneva conference. They were there to consider the German demand that other nations disarm to the same levels that had been imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles. The conference deadlocked by the summer, and when it was reconvened in February 1933 Hitler had just assumed power in Germany. By fall 1933 Germany withdrew from both the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations, and the stage was set for another world war.

Here is a 1933 photo of the delegates to the Disarmament Conference before things went south:

(wdl.org)

A detail of the photo (below) reveals the identity of the tiny man seated at center: the representative from Germany — Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Just twelve years hence Goebbels would find himself trapped with Hitler and Eva Braun in a Berlin bunker as Soviet troops demolished the city above them. Goebbels and his wife, Magda, would poison their six children, and then themselves as the Third Reich crumbled to ashes.

A final note: The delegates weren’t alone in Geneva, as a number of peace organizations sent observers and demonstrators to the conference, many of them women:

APPEALS TO DEAF EARS…Women’s disarmament campaigner in Geneva, c.1932; right, a poster created by Dutch artist Giele Roelofs for the Northern Friends Peace Board and others. (London School of Economics/armingallsides.org.uk)

We’ll give the last word to Howard Brubaker in Jan. 30 “Of All Things” column:

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

With the National Automobile Show wrapping up, the Grand Central Palace prepared to welcome exhibitors for the annual Motor Boat Show…

…the woman in this next ad might have been better off in a boat than on the beach…I’m wondering if the artist had any idea that his or her illustration would be used to promote coffee…it’s hard to tell what is going on here…apparently a young woman has almost drowned and is receiving oxygen, or maybe she doesn’t really need it, and the perverted lifeguard and cop just want to ogle the poor beachgoer, who seems bored by the whole predicament…

…there is also something vaguely sexual going on in this ad for Vicks (what is he looking out for in panel four?)…the artist (the cartoon is signed “Len”) seems to be channeling one of Rea Irvin’s series cartoons…

…in the early 20th century it was fashionable to smoke imported luxury Egyptian cigarettes, or counterfeits like Ramses II, produced in the U.S. by the Stephano Brothers…

…the makers of Camel were among the most successful counterfeiters of Egyptian  cigarettes — the camel, pyramids and palm tree motifs were no mistake, but by 1932 this established brand (launched in 1913) went less for snob appeal and more for the active, fresh-faced youths whose pink lungs were highly coveted by R.J. Reynolds…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with James Thurber and some more sexual tension…

Garrett Price found a young hostess eager to to please…

Perry Barlow introduced us to a young man who (almost) never forgets a face…

William Crawford Galbraith dined with the uppers, not necessarily known for their literary sophistication…

Barbara Shermund gave us a proud collector who managed to evade the Puritans in U.S. Customs…

William Steig showed us pride of a different sort…

…and another by Steig displayed the antics of one of his “Small Fry”…

…and we end with Helen Hokinson, who found a local women’s club joining the debate raging far away at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva…

Next Time: Back in the USSR…

Thurber’s Dogs

James Thurber became acquainted with all sorts of dogs throughout his life, and in each he found something to admire. Unlike the men and women who were bound up by silly customs or norms, the dog stood steadfast as a “sound creature in a crazy world.”

Jan. 2, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

In the Jan. 2, 1932 issue, Thurber began what would become a decades-long paean to the noble canine — an embodiment of the freedoms conventional man would never attain. An excerpt from “A Preface to Dogs”…

“So why dogs?” Adam Gopnik asked the question under the title, “A Note on Thurber’s Dogs,” in Nov. 1, 2012 issue of the New Yorker. Gopnik explains that for Thurber, the dog represented “the American man in his natural state—a state that, as Thurber saw it, was largely scared out of him by the American woman. When Thurber was writing about dogs, he was writing about men. The virtues that seemed inherent in dogs — peacefulness, courage, and stoical indifference to circumstance — were ones that he felt had been lost by their owners.”

STOICAL INDIFFERENCE…Clockwise, from top left, James Thurber’s illustration of a childhood pet, a terrier named “Muggs” from the story “The Dog That Bit People” (1933); photograph of the real Muggs; dogs appear in many of Thurber’s cartoons as a stoic presence among maladjusted humans; Thurber at work on one of his dogs in an undated photo. (ohiomemory.org/jamesthurber.org)

Here’s one more excerpt that gives us glimpse into a dog’s day, as related by Thurber…

We’ve seen Thurber writing about dogs before, most notably in his spoof on newspaper pet columns titled “Our Pet Department.” Here is an excerpt from his first installment in the series, which appeared in fifth anniversary issue of the New Yorker, Feb. 22, 1930:

A final note: For more on Thurber, check out New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin’s Thurber Thursday entries at his terrific Ink Spill website.

 *  *  *

Choo Choo

While Thurber’s mind was on dogs, his buddy E.B. White was musing about the joys of train travel, and the hope that awaited journey’s end. Excerpts:

THIS DOESN’T SUCK AT ALL…Riding on the Great Northern Railroad in 1926. (Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Party Poopers

Journalist Chester T. Crowell contributed the Jan. 2 “A Reporter at Large” column by looking through the thin facade of Prohibition enforcement in New York. He tells of Prohibition agents who visit a roadside tavern for several weeks (and enjoy the beer) before finally raiding the place. Beer kegs are broken up and the door to the bar is padlocked. But all was not lost for the proprietor, who got some business advice from the raiding agents…

KEG PARTY…The New York Daily News featured this photo on June 18, 1931 with this caption: “Tears mingled with strong beer in Newark, N.J. as prohibition agents destroyed the unlawful liquor, some of which was seized in Hoboken raid.” (NY Daily News/Mashable)

*  *  *

No Laughing Matter

As we move through the 1930s we’ll see more signs of the world (war) to come. Reed Johnston had some fun with the messy politics of Weimar Germany, making a parenthetical reference to the “Nazis” of the National Socialist party who would soon take control of the country…

 *  *  *

Upstaged

A box office and critical success, Hell Divers is considered Clark Gable’s breakout role, but the real stars were the Curtiss F8C-4 “Helldivers” that were used in filming aerial battle scenes. Critic John Mosher takes it from there…

ART IMITATES LIFE…Wallace Beery and Clark Gable played rivals onscreen and offscreen in Hell Divers. The upstart Gable disliked the veteran actor Beery, a well-known misanthrope whom many actors found difficult to work with. (IMDB)

 *  *  *

Yet More Diego

Art critic Murdock Pemberton had more to say about Diego Rivera’s appearance at the Museum of Modern Art, noting that Rivera “has been fortunate to be living in a liberal country (Mexico), where his propaganda could be spread upon the walls of public buildings.” Pemberton correctly surmised that Rivera would “starve” if he tried to paint similar themes in the U.S. (Indeed, in 1933 Rivera would refuse to remove an image of Lenin from a Rockefeller Center mural, and would be asked to leave the country).

I SHALL RETURN…Diego Rivera returned to New York in 1933 on a commission to paint a mural for the new Rockefeller Center. The inclusion of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin (inset) in the work was not well-received in the Capital of Capitalism. (npr.org/Wikipedia)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

It’s snowing in Manhattan, and you’re tired of slogging though the snow and slush — well, if you didn’t lose your shirt in the stock market, and if you didn’t need to work a steady job, then you could get away from it all and head to the “sunlit paradise” of the West Indies…

…or grab some sun time in Nassau…

…but before you go, you might want to pick up some warm-weather duds at Lord & Taylor…

…or at L.P. Hollander on East 57th…

…to ring in the New Year (yes, I’m running a little late) we kick off the cartoons with William Crawford Galbraith

Gardner Rea showed us how old money and no money don’t mix…

Helen Hokinson gave us a double entendre to go along with car trouble at a service station…

…communication also seemed to be a challenge for this chap in a William Steig cartoon…

…and we end where we began, with the great James Thurber and the looming battle between the sexes…

Next Time: Babylon Berlin…

The Mouse That Roared

In the spring of 1928, Walt Disney collaborated with cartoonist Ub Iwerks in creating a new cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, and later that year Mickey would be featured in the first-ever post-produced sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie. The film was an immediate hit, bringing almost instant fame to Disney.

Dec. 19, 1931…A classic cover by Peter Arno.

Just three years after the birth of Mickey, Disney had already carved a place for himself in American culture, drawing the attention of millions of Mickey fans —  and one critic for the New Yorker — Gilbert Seldes, who penned a “Profile” of the “Mickey-Mouse Maker” (illustration by Hugo Gellert). Note in the second of these two excerpts how Disney was already connecting his product to patriotism and clean living through his Mickey Mouse Clubs:

CASH COW…ER…MOUSE…Left, Walt Disney poses with his famous creation in 1935; top right, the Disney family in 1915: Parents Elias and Flora Disney in back row, right; Walt is seated with sister Ruth in front; photo of Disney proves the merchandising value of his little mouse from the very start.
A THING OF NIGHTMARES…Before the television show there was a theater-based Mickey Mouse Club. Pictured above is an early meeting of the Club at a theater in Ocean Park, California. Although the Club had 1 million members in the U.S. by 1932, Disney pulled the plug on the clubs in 1935. They were revived through several television series in 1955-59, 1977-79, and 1989-1994 (that last class featured a number of future stars including Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake. (www.vintag.es)

In his conclusion, Seldes marveled at Disney’s productivity — a new picture made every two weeks — and his seemingly endless creativity. Little could Seldes imagine that one day the man and his mouse would become a multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate.

I’M YOUR VEHICLE, BABY…Mickey gives Minnie a ride in his cab in 1931’s Traffic Troubles.

You can watch 1931’s Traffic Troubles here:

 *  *  *

Big Man on Canvas

It seems the earth almost shook when Mexican artist Diego Rivera arrived in New York for only the second one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art. His work habits, his comings and goings, and his enormous size (modest by today’s standards) were reported in the New Yorker, including this entry in “The Talk of the Town”…

COME TO MOMA…Cover of the Museum of Modern Art’s catalog for the Diego Rivera exhibition.
MAN AT WORK…Left, Diego Rivera at work on The Uprising, at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1931. Rivera painted five frescoes on portable supports of steel-braced cement in conjunction with his MoMA exhibition. Among the works featured was The Rivals (right), which sold for $9.76 million in 2018, overtaking an auction record for Latin American art previously set by his wife, Frida Kahlo. Her Two Nudes in the Forest sold for $8 million in 2016. (MoMA/Pinterest)

 *  *  *

Winds of War

It’s the end of 1931, but one can already detect the rumblings of the future to come, namely world war. The former Allied and Axis powers of the First World War were all busy developing new weapons, particularly of the airborne variety that all believed would provide a decisive edge if (or rather when) the next war commenced. Japan was already making moves on China, and in just four years the Germans would reoccupy the Saarland and Italy would invade Ethiopia. E.B. White, in his “Notes and Comment,” found the current state of affairs more than a bit troubling…

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE…Wars and rumors of wars drove rapid advances in aviation in the 28 years following the Wright Brothers’ first flight. The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company developed the A-8 (above) in 1930-31 to serve as a ground-attack aircraft. (ww2aircraft.net)

…and hints of the world to come could also be found in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column, where he made this observation:

Brubaker was likely referring to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cautious approach to announcing his candidacy for president. The outcome, of course, proved quite different for the German people.

*  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Preparations for war drove the development of the aircraft industry, which quickly adapted its designs during peacetime for civilian purposes. This ad from United Airlines touted the advantages of plane over train travel for corporate executives. Within 30 years the airlines would indeed supplant railroads as the preferred means for business travel…

…Prohibition would remain in force until the end of 1933, so brewers like Anheuser-Busch continued finding ways to link their non-alcoholic products to the ghosts of drinking past…

…on to our cartoons, James Thurber rendered this apt portrait of our civilization…

Barbara Shermund gave us an actress with a reputation to protect…

…and Garrett Price presented an unlikely harmonica player…

…on to our next issue, where we find more Diego Rivera

Dec. 26, 1931 cover by Madeline S. Pereny. Artist’s note: Pereny (1893–1970) was born in Kecskemet, Hungary. A baroness, she studied at Vienna Art Academy before emigrating to the U.S. in the early 1930’s. In addition to creating cover art and illustrations for The New Yorker, she was also a cartoonist for the Disney Studios.

…and we begin with this entry from “The Talk of the Town,” attributed to James Thurber

WHERE’S DIEGO?…in December 1931 he could be found working on his frescoes on the sixth floor of the Heckscher Building — the Museum of Modern Art’s first home. In the foreground is the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion, demolished in 1926. (Library of Congress)
GET THE POINT?…Thurber referred to Diego Rivera’s Indian Warrior, one of five frescoes Rivera created during his Museum of Modern Art exhibition.

Thurber refers to “a lady” who accompanied Rivera, most likely Frida Kahlo, who was emerging as an artist in her own right around this time.

PORTRAIT OF A LADY…Wedding photograph of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1929. (Throckmorton Fine Art)

More on Diego could be found in the art review section, where critic Murdock Pemberton offered a cautionary message to the rabble who might not abide some of the artist’s controversial themes:

 *  *  *

Head Cracker

In the 1920s and 30s Johnny Broderick was known as New York’s toughest cop, known for personally assaulting gangsters (and suspects) and for once facing down armed gunmen during a prison break at the Tombs. His valor won him many fans (and some detractors), making him a local celebrity and a subject of gossip columns. Reporter Joel Sayre offered his assessment of Broderick in a “Profile” for the Dec. 26 issue (illustration by Abe Birnbaum). Excerpts:

WISE GUY, EH?…Johnny Broderick (see arrow) escorts an unfortunate perp in 1927. (Public Domain)

 *  *  *

Something to Cheer About

On the lighter side, Hollywood took a shot at Noel Coward’s 1930 comedy of manners, Private Lives. The original play featured Gertrude Lawrence and Laurence Olivier, while the Hollywood version Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery.  For once, critic John Mosher actually liked this screen adaptation:

GIVE ME THAT LOVIN’ FEELING…Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery in the film adaptation of Noel Coward’s Private Lives. (TCM)

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

Just one ad from the Dec. 26 issue to close out the year, and what better way to say “Merry Christmas” than with a fresh cigarette…

…on to our cartoonists, William Crawford Galbraith offered a look backstage in this two-page illustration across the bottom of “The Talk of the Town”…

Richard Decker showed us the importance of making oneself clear, especially when aloft in a dirigible…

Robert Day found humor in a barren landscape…

Garrett Price offered us a cheesy predicament…

Helen Hokinson found a man about to make an important point…

…and we end 1931 with this classic from James Thurber

Next Time: Thurber’s Dogs…