Not Worth a Dime

First performed in Berlin in 1928, The Threepenny Opera was Bertolt Brecht’s socialist critique of capitalist society and was a favorite (somewhat ironically) of that city’s bourgeois “smart set.” However when it landed on the Broadway stage in 1933, it famously flopped, and closed after just twelve performances.

April 22, 1933 cover by Helen Hokinson.

The first American production, adapted by Jerrold Krimsky and Gifford Cochran, opened April 13, 1933, at the Empire Theatre, featuring Robert Chisholm as Macheath (“Mack the Knife”) and Steffi Duna as his lover, Polly. Critic Robert Benchley found value in the play’s “modernistic” music, but seemed puzzled by its enigmatic production, an opinion shared by other contemporary critics.

HANGING IN THERE…Scenes from the 1928 Berlin premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s musical, The Threepenny Opera. At left, Macheath (tenor/baritone Harald Paulsen) is spared the noose during the closing act, much to the relief of his lover, Polly (soprano Roma Bahn); at right, in a deus ex machina moment, a messenger arrives at the hanging and announces that Macheath has been pardoned by the queen. (British Library)

Some critics today defend the 1933 American production, noting that the Krimsky–Cochran adaptation was quite faithful to the Brecht original. Perhaps something was lost in translation, or maybe the world in which the play was conceived no longer held much relevance to Depression-era Americans.

THE FINAL CURTAIN fell after just twelve performances of the first American production of The Threepenny Opera at Broadway’s Empire Theatre. The production featured Robert Chisholm as Macheath and Steffi Duna as Polly. (discogs.com/bizzarela.com)

Benchley half-heartedly concluded that the play was probably worth seeing, for no other reason than to experience something different for a change.

By 1933 the world that had conceived The Threepenny Opera was long gone—Brecht fled Nazi Germany two months before his play opened in New York, fearing persecution for his socialist leanings. Things were quickly going “from bad to worse” under Adolf Hitler’s new regime, as Howard Brubaker observed in his “Of All Things” column:

 * * *

Look Ma, No Net!

Karl Wallenda (referred to as “Carl” here) was born to an old circus family in Germany in 1905, and by 1922 he would put together a family-style high-wire act (with brother Herman) that would come to be known as “The Flying Wallendas.” They debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1928, notably without their safety net, which had been lost in transit. So they performed without it, much to the acclaim of the adoring crowd. They soon became known for their daring high-wire acts, often performed without safety nets. E.B. White filed this (excerpted) report for “The Talk of the Town.”

In the years that followed Karl developed some of troops’ most startling acts, including the famed seven-person chair pyramid. They performed this incredibly dangerous stunt until their appearance at the Detroit Shrine Circus in January 1962; the wire’s front man, Dieter Schepp, faltered, causing the pyramid to collapse. Schepp, who was Karl’s nephew, was killed, as was Richard Faughnan, Karl’s son-in-law. Karl injured his pelvis, and his adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down.

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME…The Wallenda family practices the seven-person pyramid just prior to the Shrine Circus in Detroit, where the group fell, killing Dieter Schepp (far right, bottom row) and Dick Faughnan (second from left, on bottom). (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

Karl’s own luck finally ran out on March 22, 1978, on a tightrope between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. High winds, and an improperly secured wire, caused the 73-year-old Wallenda to wobble, and then fall, one hundred feet to the ground. He was dead on arrival at a local hospital.

THE SHOW ENDED for Karl Wallenda on March 22, 1978, on a tightrope between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The 73-year-old high-wire legend fell one hundred feet to his death. (esquire.com)

 * * *

Safer Entertainments

Lois Long continued to file nightlife reports in her “Tables for Two” column, reveling in the sights and sounds (and rhythms) of the Cotton Club’s orchestra, led by Duke Ellington…but the real attraction was Ellington’s unnamed drummer, whom I assume was the great Sonny Greer

JAZZ GREAT Sonny Greer wowed Lois Long and the rest of the crowd at Harlem’s Cotton Club in April 1933. (jazz.fm)

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From Our Advertisers

Given the news Howard Brubaker shared earlier in this post, I wouldn’t use the word Gemütlichkeit (basically, warmth and friendliness) to describe the state of things in Nazi Germany…

…a better option would be a trip to the British Isles or France on the White Star lines, nicht wahr?…

…RCA’s mascot, Nipper, appeared to contemplating fatherhood in this two-page ad for the company’s new “baby sets”…

…Camel took a break from its magician-themed “It’s Fun to be Fooled” ads to run another elegant Ray Prohaska-illustrated spot…

…on to our cartoons, Carl Rose demonstrated the economic benefits of legal beer…

E. Simms Campbell showed us a woman seeking a bit of motherly wisdom…

Whitney Darrow Jr (1909–1999), who began his 50-year career at The New Yorker on March 18, 1933, offered this look at childhood’s hard knocks…

James Thurber drew up an odd encounter at a cocktail party…

Peter Arno served up a proud patriarch…

…and William Steig explored the perils of somnambulism…

…on to our April 29, 1933 issue with a cover by Garrett Price…although we’ve already seen many cartoons by Price, we haven’t seen many covers (he did two covers in the magazine’s first year, 1925). Price would ultimately produce 100 covers for The New Yorker, in addition to his hundreds of cartoons…

April 29, 1933 cover by Garrett Price. Note the little train illustration along the spine.

…for the record, here is Price’s first New Yorker cover from Aug. 1, 1925…

…there was more troubling news from Nazi Germany, this time from Paris correspondent Janet Flanner in her “Letter from Paris” column…Flanner would later gain wider fame as a war correspondent…

THUGS…SA members stick a poster to the window of a Jewish store in Berlin on April 1, 1933. The poster is inscribed, “Germans, Defend yourselves, Do not buy from Jews”. (Bundesarchiv, Berlin)

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Camel followed up its elegant ad from the previous issue with another “Fun to be Fooled” spot, this time presented as a multi-panel comic strip…

…Powers Reproduction was a frequent advertiser in the early New Yorker, touting the “realism” of their color photography, but in this case the model looked more like a department store mannequin…

Otto Soglow continued to ply a lucrative sideline illustrating ads for Sanka decaf…

…as we segue to our cartoonists, the opening section featuring work by both James Thurber and George Price

Gardner Rea’s snake charmer expressed her belief that all men are created equal…

…here is a cartoon by a new artist, Howard Baer, who contributed to The New Yorker between 1933 and 1937…

…and another by newcomers Whitney Darrow Jr.

…and E. Simms Campbell

Barbara Shermund continued to rollick with her modern women…

…and we end with the ever-reliable Peter Arno

Before we close I want to remember Roger Angell, who died last week at age 101. A literary legend and a great baseball writer to be sure, but also one of the last living links to the first days of The New Yorker. Rest in Peace.

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe, for The New Yorker.

Next Time: Thin Lizzie…

 

 

Beer Thirty

There’s a good reason why Americans celebrate National Beer Day on April 7.

April 15, 1933 cover by William Steig.

It was on that day in 1933 that the Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect; after nearly 13 years of Prohibition, folks were allowed to buy and drink low-alcohol content beer. The act not only promised to wet their whistles on the hot summer days ahead, but it also signaled the eventual doom of 18th Amendment. E.B. White opened his column with musings on the Easter holiday, but soon turned his attention to the big news of the day.

THINK THIS WILL BE ENOUGH?…Workers at a New York brewery unload thousands of crates of beer, getting ready for the return of legal beer in April 1933. (allthatsinteresting.com)
FRONT PAGE NEWS…The New York Times proclaimed the return of legal beer in this April 7, 1933 edition.
BLONDE’S BOMBSHELL…While on the other side of the Lower 48, actress Jean Harlow christened the first legal bottle of beer at midnight in Los Angeles, April 6, 1933. (Los Angeles Public Library)

In his “A Reporter at Large column,” Morris Markey looked in on a former speakeasy owner who was more than happy to go legit, and who also predicted the demise of his fellows who still lingered in the underground liquor trade. An excerpt from “Now That There’s Beer”…

CHEERS!…The first truckload of beer to leave New York exits the Jacob Ruppert Brewery in New York in 1933. (allthatsinteresting.com)

The subject of Markey’s column explained why speakeasies would soon be a thing of the past. Markey also observed that theatre owners would soon feel the pinch as folks would forgo movies for summer evenings at a beer garden.

 * * *

No Laughing Matter

Writers and editors at The New Yorker did their best to keep things as light and witty as possible, but sometimes the headlines could not be ignored, and tragedy was acknowledged, albeit briefly. “The Talk of the Town” had this to say about history’s deadliest airship disaster:

NATURE’S FURY…The U.S. Navy’s 785-foot dirigible, the USS Akron, plunged into the Atlantic Ocean during a violent storm shortly after midnight on April 4, 1933, claiming the lives of 73 crewmen. Clockwise, from top left, the Akron on a routine flight; men in a rear control car; servicemen in the dirigible’s engine room; April 23, 1933 photo of wreckage recovered off the coast of New Jersey. Because the ship had no life vests and one rubber raft, only three crew members survived the disaster, which heralded the end the Navy’s dirigible fleet. (howstuffworks.com/AP/Daily Mail)

In his “Of All Things” column, Howard Brubaker had this to add:

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Alex at the Movies

It wasn’t every day you got to read a movie review by Alexander Woollcott, but he did just that in the opening lines of his “Shouts and Murmurs” column, calling Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross an “unpleasing mess drooled on to the brobdingnagian bib” of the director.

Woollcott, who doubtless related to Nero’s bacchanalian ways, singled out Charles Laughton’s campy performance as the Roman emperor.

ANIMAL HOUSE…Charles Laughton camped it up as the Emperor Nero in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross. (IMD

Besides Laughton’s performance, the pre-Code film is perhaps best known for Claudette Colbert’s revealing milk bath scene, which took several days to shoot—the powdered cow’s milk eventually turned sour, making it a very unpleasant experience for all involved.

IT STINKS…that was Alexander Woollcott’s assessment of The Sign of the Cross. Clockwise, from top left, studio poster for the film; Claudette Colbert’s famous bath scene; an actress portraying a Christian being thrown to the lions (as well as crocodiles and gorillas) was the famed burlesque dancer Sally Rand, who left little to the imagination in her uncredited appearance; an orgy scene. Although Paramount marketed the film to churches, it was attacked by the Catholic Legion of Decency: a re-release of the film was censored after the Hays Code went into effect in 1934—a “lesbian dance,” violent gladiator scenes and sequences with naked women being attacked by crocodiles were cut and wouldn’t be restored until a 1993 video release. (Wikipedia/IMDB)

As for film critic John Mosher, the remaining Hollywood fare was even worse—like The Sign of the Cross, these pictures used faith-based themes, a seemingly new trend in Hollywood scenarios, to poor effect.

Gabriel Over the White House starred Walter Huston as a politically corrupt president who, after a near-fatal car accident, comes under the divine power of the Archangel Gabriel and the spirit of Abraham Lincoln…

I SEE DEAD PEOPLE…Walter Huston and Karen Morley in Gabriel Over the White House. (TCM)

…the pre-Code drama Destination Unknown also summoned supernatural forces to tell the tale of a stranded ship saved by a stowaway who turns wine into water and heals a crippled man.

NEEDING A MIRACLE…Pat O’Brien and Betty Compson in Destination Unknown. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Considering that Adolf Hitler gave Nazi paramilitary units control of German streets in January 1933, the words “Appeasing refuge” don’t readily come to mind…

…if you liked all things German but wanted to avoid getting a jackboot to the groin, you could remain stateside, drink some 3.2 beer, and chew on some Liederkranz…

…actually this looks more preferable, especially as rendered by fashion illustrator Leslie Saalburg

…before Zillow or Craigslist you could look for some digs in the New York American, which merged with the New York Journal in 1937…

…the makers of leaded gasoline urged on a stereotypical country doctor, even though the stork seemed to have things under control…

…on to our cartoonists, Garrett Price illustrated the limits of legal beer…

…while Chon Day explored the same problem at this tea room…

…here’s a trio of The New Yorker’s early women cartoonists…Barbara Shermund

Mary Petty

…and Alice Harvey

…and we close with Al Frueh, and some brave firefighters…

Next Time: Not Worth a Dime…

Stormy Bellwether

While legal beer dominated the headlines in the spring of 1933—a little something to cheer about in those depressed times—few seemed to notice the troubles brewing on the other side of the pond.

April 1, 1933 cover by Julian de Miskey.

Artist George Grosz (1893–1959) was not among them. A recent self-exile from his native Germany, Grosz had savagely caricatured the perversity of the bourgeois in 1920s Weimar Berlin; through his art he tried to warn fellow Germans of the horrors to come. Critic Lewis Mumford stopped in at the Raymond & Raymond galleries to check out the latest efforts of this Manhattan newcomer:

EARLY WARNING SIGNS… George Grosz’s The Pillars of Society (1926) satirized the bourgeois supporters of Fascism in post-war Germany; Grosz with friend, circa 1933. (history net.com)

Although Grosz intended to make a clean break with his past after emigrating to New York in January 1933, his work still reflected his distaste for bourgeois sensibilities…

GROSS GROSZ…In a Restaurant (circa 1933) was admired by Mumford for the tenderness of the watercolor wash that contrasted with the “grossness” of its subjects. (artnet.com)
ON THE SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK…Grosz wanted to make a clean break with his past after emigrating to New York in January 1933, but he still couldn’t help but see the hypocrisy in the faces of bourgeois Manhattanites. At left, Black & White (1933) and at right, Street Scene, Downtown Manhattan (1933). (mutual art.com/artsy.net)

…and when war raged in his homeland, Grosz returned to chronicling the perversity of the Nazi regime…

HORRORS REALIZED…Grosz’s God of War (at left, from 1940) and his 1944 oil on canvas, Cain or Hitler in Hell. (David Nolan New York)

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Bluenose Blues

Sadly, we are moving toward the end of the pre-Code era, and as E.B. White explained in “Notes and Comment,” the talkies were about to get a bit less talkative:

AW HECK…Dorothy Mackaill portrayed a secretary-turned-prostitute in the 1931 pre-Code Hollywood film Safe in Hell. The days were numbered for the brief period in Hollywood (roughly 1929–34) when films featured “adult” themes including sexual innuendo, mild profanity, and depictions of drug use, promiscuity and prostitution. (IMDB)

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We begin with the back pages, and the latest in entertainment on Broadway…

…the makers of Cadillacs continued to promote the snob appeal of their 12- and 16-cylinder automobiles…it appears these folks are leaving an Easter service (note the doves), but whatever went on in there, they don’t seem very moved by the spirit…

…and here’s a close-up of the ad’s opening lines that suggested Cadillacs are an ideal complement to the apparel of those strutting their stuff on the Easter Parade…

…and here’s a jolly rendering for Lucky Strike by advertising illustrator John LaGatta (1894–1977)…his work was seen in many ads and in magazines during the first half of the 20th century, including twenty-two Saturday Evening Post covers…LaGatta’s style was known for its cool elegance, but I have to say this image is a bit disturbing, given that the banjo player’s fag is just inches from the woman’s eyeball…

…on to our cartoonists, we have a rare appearance by Clara Skinner (1902–1976), showing us here in the “Goings On About Town” section that John Held Jr wasn’t the only one making woodcuts…

William Steig was lost at sea…

Perry Barlow gave us this split scene (across two pages) of the challenges of mixing domestic and non-domestic life…

Otto Soglow continued to chronicle the adventures of his popular Little King…

…we haven’t seen Mary Petty in awhile, so here’s a bit of gossip…

James Thurber used a rare two-page spread of Alexander Woollcott’s “Shouts and Murmurs,” to lay out this unusual illustration…

…and Thurber again, in a more familiar vein…

…we move on April 8, 1933…

April 8, 1933 cover by Adolph K. Kronengold.

…and go straight to advertisers who were responding to the March 22 signing of the Beer and Wine Revenue Act by Franklin D. Roosevelt…the Congressional action made it permissible to sell beer as long as it was less than 3.2% alcohol…

…the makers of Rheingold beer came out of the gates with this ad showing that even elegant women could enjoy this taste of freedom…

…not completely sure, but I believe this was the first ad for Coca-Cola to appear in The New Yorker

…in those tough times the steamship lines were beginning to realize they needed to appeal to the thrifty as well as the posh…

…the style and signature of this illustration look familiar, but I can’t ID the cartoonist…nevertheless, it’s a great gag…

…on to our cartoons, we begin with this Peter Arno spoof of a series of R.J. Reynold’s Camel ads that referenced various magic tricks…

…in the same issue, just 20 pages later (p. 48) appeared one of the actual Camel ads…proof that Harold Ross would never kowtow to the advertising department—with the exception of those yeast ads for his friend and benefactor Raoul Fleischmann, who kept the magazine afloat in the early, lean years…

…we have more James Thurber, who kicked off the April 8 issue…

…and offered more hijinks inside…

William Steig gave us this strip captioned “The Spicy Story” which ran across the bottom of pages 26-27…

Gluyas Williams continued to hang out with his fellow citizens, this time in the skies above Manhattan…

Daniel ‘Alain’ Brustlein showed us one cabbie’s reaction to the cheap ways of the posh crowd…

…and we end by saying grace, with Peter Arno

Next Time: Beer Thirty…

Not Even Funny

There were a number of people Dorothy Parker couldn’t abide. That included gifted writers who not only eschewed serious literature, but who instead chose to crank out a lot of mass-market trash.

March 18, 1933 cover by William Steig.

Parker was well acquainted with Tiffany Ellsworth Thayer (1902–1959), and for a time she even associated with the Fortean Society, which Thayer founded in 1931. Inspired by writer Charles Fort, the Forteans promoted the use of scientific methods to evaluate unexplained phenomena such as UFOs, spontaneous human combustion, and other oddities. Parker and fellow New Yorker writers Ben Hecht and Alexander Woollcott were among founding members, doubtless drawn to Fort’s reputation as a skeptic; however one famous skeptic, journalist H.L. Mencken, called Fort’s ideas “Bohemian mush.” It’s hard to say how long Parker stayed connected to the Society, but by 1933 she was fed up with Thayer’s novels, including his latest, An American Girl, which she found to be “the gaudiest flower of pretentiousness.” Here is an excerpt from Parker’s sometime column, “Reading and Writing,” subtitled Not Even Funny…

TIFF WITH TIFFANY…At left, Tiffany Thayer aboard a cruise ship with an unidentified woman, most likely his first wife, a dancer named Tanagra, early 1930s; at right, Dorothy Parker and a first edition of the offending volume. In her review, Parker observed that Taylor “is beyond question a writer of power; and his power lies in his ability to make sex so thoroughly, graphically, and aggressively unattractive that one is fairly shaken to ponder how little one has been missing.” (IMDB/Worthpoint)

Although Thayer founded a society based on scientific reason, his pulp novels were filled with fantasy and prurient imagery. F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that “curious children nosed at the slime of Mr. Tiffany Thayer in the drug-store libraries.”

BELIED LETTRES…Clockwise from top left, Thayer’s 1931 novel Call Her Savage was made into a 1932 film starring Clara Bow, here featured on the book’s dustcover; the same novel repackaged in 1952 for the pulp trade; a 1943 edition of Thayer’s One-Man Show, and a 1951 Avon reprint that toned down the nudity but upped the creep factor. (facebook.com/biblio.com)

…and speaking of creep factor, check out Avon’s 1950 re-issue of Thayer’s 1937 novel The Old Goat, illustration attributed to Edgar Lyle Justis

(biblio.com)

Artists like Justis must have had a ball doing these illustrations, creating images to lure the unsuspecting into purchasing these old titles. Note how the coked-up old man sports not-so-subtle devil horns.

*  *  *

They Called It a Holiday

E.B. White, James Thurber (see below) and others in the March 18 issue commented on the national banking “holiday” declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an effort to stabilize America’s banking system and rebuild public confidence. This led to the Glass-Steagall Act, signed three months later by FDR. Some observations in “Notes and Comment” by E.B. White, with the usual great spot illustrations by Otto Soglow

SAY CHEESE!…President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Glass-Steagall Act on June 16, 1933, effectively separating commercial banking from investment banking and creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), among other things. (AP)

…meanwhile, Germany’s new chancellor, Adolf Hitler, was busy abolishing civil liberties while pretending to be distressed by the behavior of his brownshirt thugs…an excerpt from Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things”…

*  *  *

A Familiar Ring

For the second week in a row Ring Lardner lent his wit to The New Yorker’s “Over the Waves,” column, which typically reviewed the latest news and entertainment beamed from the radio tower atop the Empire State Building. Lardner, however, was in California, lamenting the challenges of the time lag. An excerpt:

AND NO WI-FI, EITHER…Ring Lardner (center) detailed the frustrations of listening to New York-based radio entertainers like Eddie Cantor (left) and Rudy Vallée during his stay in California. (Pinterest/The Classic Archives/New York Times)

 *  *  *

Dance Away Those Blues

The pre-Code musical 42nd Street received a brief, albeit mostly positive review from critic John Mosher, who along with the producers of the film knew Depression-weary Americans needed such distractions. Nearly 90 years later (April 10, 2020), another New Yorker film critic, Richard Brody, suggested 42nd Street as one of the best films to stream during the Covid-19 pandemic: “Modern musicals start here, and Busby Berkeley’s genius bursts into full flower,” he wrote.

DANCE ‘TIL YOU DROP…Under pressure to produce a hit after losing his lead dancer (Bebe Daniels) to a broken ankle, Broadway musical director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter, center) mercilessly rehearses her replacement, Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler, in her film debut) before the premiere, vowing “I’ll either have a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl.” Looking on (to the right of Baxter) is Ginger Rogers, who portrayed “Anytime Annie.” (tcm.com)
A LEG UP ON HIS CAREER…42nd Street was a breakthrough film for choreographer Busby Berkeley, who would direct and choreograph a long string of musicals until the 1960s. The film is now considered a classic, preserved in the United States National Film Registry. (IMDB)

…and for trivia buffs, during an opening scene Bebe Daniels is shown reading the February 20, 1932 (anniversary) issue of The New Yorker…

*  *  *

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A convertible LaSalle (a downscale Cadillac brand) looks like a great way to enjoy a drive along the beach…let’s hope it has enough acceleration to outrun the tsunami apparently heading its way…

Walter Chrysler continued to dig into his deep pockets for two-page color spreads, including this one that placed his humble DeSoto in St. Moritz, of all places…

…not to be outdone, the folks at Nash found another exotic locale for their budget-priced sedan…Chicago, that is, at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition…and for an extra touch of class, we have what appears to be a chauffeur attending to this modest motorcar…

…America’s top luxury car maker, Pierce Arrow — a regular advertiser in The New Yorker — decided a quarter-page ad was sufficient to keep their name before the eyes of the well-heeled…at right, an ad from another back page featured cartoonist Don Herold shilling for the makers of imitation liquor flavors…according to the ad, one bottle, obtainable from your druggist, “flavors a gallon” of whatever forsaken hootch you are consuming…

…the folks at Log Cabin relied on the talents of another New Yorker cartoonist, John Held Jr., to make both their product and a signature cocktail a more palatable experience…

…I have to hand it to the folks at Heinz for signing off on an advertisement only a vampire would find appealing…

…the purveyors of Marie Earle beauty products rolled out this modern ad to promote their “Essential Cream”…

…while staid Brooks Brothers remained true to form — no flashy colors or advertising jargon — just straight talk about price increases….

…and then there’s the upmarket Fortnum & Mason, appealing to America’s Anglophiles with one of their famed wicker hampers filled with various goodies selected for “charming and greedy people”…

….for several years R.J. Reynolds employed the services of Carl “Eric” Erickson (1891–1958) to illustrate a series of ads featuring classy, disinterested, continental types smoking their Camel brand cigarettes…despite their less-than-exotic name, the makers of Spud menthol cigarettes hired Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom (1905–1986) to create their own smart set of smokers…

…ads that bore a striking resemblance to Erickson’s Camel work (this example from 1931)…

…and for your consideration, works from 1933 by Carl Erickson and Ruth Sigrid Grafstrom…both were noted fashion illustrators…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with Charles Addams, who’d just published his first New Yorker cartoon the previous month, in the Feb. 4, 1933 issue

…that first cartoon was simply signed “Addams”…here he used the familiar “Chas Addams”…a close-up of the signature…

…we continue with a great caricature by Al Frueh to accompany a profile of Rudolf Kommer (as told by Alexander Woollcott)…

…a delightful full page of bank holiday-themed cartoons by James Thurber

Richard Decker offered up a tall tale…

…and we close with Peter Arno, who served up one of his clueless cuckolds…

Next Time: Diary of a Lady…

 

Role Reversal

James Cagney began his entertainment career singing and dancing in various vaudeville and Broadway acts, but when he was cast in his first film as a tough guy, the die was cast…at least for one New Yorker critic.

Feb. 11, 1933 cover by Constantin Alajalov.

Cagney’s first film role came after he starred along with Joan Blondell in Broadway’s Penny Arcade. However when the play was made into the 1930 movie Sinners’ Holiday, execs at Warner Brothers opted to put Grant Withers and Evalyn Knapp into the lead roles, believing they were destined for stardom; Cagney and Blondell were relegated to supporting parts. As fate often has it, Withers and Knapp ended up in B-movie obscurity, while Cagney and Blondell went on to become two of the biggest stars of the 1930s. The pair would appear in six more films together, including the gangster film The Public Enemy (1931) and the musical Footlight Parade (1933).

TWO-FACED…James Cagney would be paired with Joan Blondell in seven films during the 1930s including the gangster film The Public Enemy (1931, left) and the musical Footlight Parade (1933, also with Ruby Keeler). (IMDB)
THE ONE I USED TO KNOW…Top, Cagney mashes a grapefruit half into Mae Clarke’s face in a famous scene from Cagney’s breakthrough film, 1931’s The Public Enemy; below, Cagney gets acquainted with a bartender (Lee Phelps) in The Public Enemy. (IMDB)

New Yorker film critic John Mosher preferred the tough guy Cagney to the toe-tapping version, and was anticipating Cagney’s return to pictures after a contact dispute with Warner in which he threatened to quit the business and follow his brothers into the medical profession…

When Cagney finally announced his return in Hard to Handle, Mosher found he had taken on the guise of actor Lee Tracy, who was best known for his comic portrayals of wisecracking salesmen and reporters…

MY SOFTER SIDE…James Cagney and Mae Clark (top) in 1933’s pre-Code comedy Hard to Handle — Cagney played a clowning con artist who organizes a dance marathon. Below, critic John Mosher thought Cagney was channelling the comic actor Lee Tracy, seen here with Jean Harlow in 1933’s Blonde Bombshell. (IMDB)

 *   *   *

Slippery Slope

Located on Lexington between 102nd and 103rd streets, Duffy’s Hill was once famous for being the steepest hill in Manhattan and the scourge of street cars that had to quickly accelerate and decelerate at that point, leading to numerous accidents. An excerpt from “The Talk of the Town”…

LOOK OUT BELOW…Duffy’s hill played merry hell with New York’s streetcars more than a century ago. (New York Social Diary via Facebook)

 *   *   *

Getting High

George Spitz Jr was an AAU high jump champion when he participated in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1933 he made a personal best leap of  6 feet, 8¼ inches using scissors-style leap with elements of the Western roll. “The Talk of the Town” marveled at Spitz’s feat, giving him an extra quarter inch for his record leap:

MILLION-DOLLAR LEGS…In 1933 George Spitz Jr made his personal best leap of 6 feet, 8¼ inches using a scissors-style jump with elements of the Western roll. With the introduction of the Fosbury Flop in 1968, today’s men’s record stands at 8 feet, ¼ inches. The current women’s record is 6 feet, 10¼ inches. (Olympedia)

 *   *   *

Ugh, This Guy Again

As we move into the 1930s we will be seeing more references to Adolf Hitler, who seized power in Germany on January 30, 1933. At this point “The Talk of the Town” wasn’t taking him seriously…

…and neither was Howard Brubaker in his regular column of short quips…

 *   *   *

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Hitler aside, the German-owned Hamburg-American Line was still serving peaceful purposes when it advertised the comfort of its “stabilized ships” on transatlantic voyages…these sisters ships of the Hamburg-American Line were all destroyed during World War II…the SS New York and the SS Deutschland were both sunk by the British RAF in 1945…The SS Albert Ballin and the SS Hamburg sank after hitting Allied mines…

THE BIG BANG…the RAF sent the S.S. Deutschland to the bottom of the Bay of Lübeck  on May 3, 1945. (Wikipedia)

…if travel wasn’t your thing, when you escape the winter blahs in the comfort of your home thanks to the GE Mazda Sunlight Lamp…

…and Dad, when you were her age you called these things “horseless carriages”…

…the folks at luxury carmaker Packard answered the splashy color ad from Cadillac in the Jan. 7 issue…

…with a colorful show-stopper of their own…

…if the Packard was too pricy, you could have checked out this lower-priced Cadillac, marketed as the LaSalle…

…no, New York did not say “Rockne, you’re the car!”, even if it was juxtaposed with a giant, attractive woman…the car was named for famed football coach Knute Rockne, and the Depression was not a good time to promote a new car line…it was produced from 1932 to 1933, when Studebaker pulled the plug and sold the remaining inventory (about 90 cars, packaged in kits) to a Norwegian railroad car manufacturer…

…a couple of posts ago (“Life With Father”) we were accosted by a 3-page Camel ad featuring a Q&A stating the facts about its product…here they are back with two more pages of irrefutable evidence…

…what I read in their eyes is that none of them, including the woman, gives a damn about the others…if anything, the fellow at left is checking out the other guy…

…this ad from Sonotone Corporation promoted a new hearing aid developed by Hugo Lieber…this revolutionary bone conduction receiver enabled the deaf to hear through bones in their head…

…a 1939 Sonotone catalog demonstrated how the hearing aid could be worn inconspicuously…

(abebooks.com)

…on to our cartoonists, Al Frueh illustrated the drama on board Broadway’s Twentieth Century Limited…note vaudevillian William Frawley’s caricature in the bottom right hand corner…although he appeared in more than 100 films, Frawley is best known today for his role as Fred Mertz on TV’s I Love Lucy

…here’s a great caricature by Rea Irvin of New York’s new mayor John P. O’Brien, using his new broom to sweep away the corruption of the deposed Jimmy Walker and his Tammany Hall cronies…

…here’s another early work by George Price, who would be a cartoonist at The New Yorker for nearly six decades…

…and here we have the other Price…Garrett Price gave us a fellow who made some changes in his life à la Paul Gauguin

…I like this Perry Barlow cartoon because it reminds me of the patient-in-traction trope commonly seen in comedy of the 1960s and 70s…

…such as this Paul Coker Jr. illustration from the June 1970 issue of MAD magazine…

…and Terry-Thomas and Spencer Tracy in 1963’s It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

William Steig assured readers there was nothing sweet about his “Small Fry”…

…once again Helen Hokinson offered her impressions of the annual Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden…

Peter Arno’s Lake Placid would never be the same for his mustachioed millionaire “walruses” after the previous year’s Winter Olympic Games…

Next Time: One Perfect Night…

 

Belle Geste

“Nobody said not to go” was a phrase often used by Emily “Mickey” Hahn when returning from one of her far-flung and often wild adventures.

Feb. 4, 1933 cover by Rea Irvin.

And nobody ever told Hahn (1905–1997) what she could write about, and so she wrote, with brio and authority, on a variety of subjects ranging from feminism, diamond mining, and animal behavior to Chinese history and cooking. The author of 54 books, Hahn also penned a number of biographies including those of Leonardo da Vinci, Chiang Kai-shek, and D. H. Lawrence among others. In the Feb. 4 issue Hahn wrote about spending the night at a New York flophouse, not out of necessity but rather to write about the experience. Excerpts:

NO RITZ, THIS…Entrance to a flophouse in the Bowery, photo by Walker Evans, 1934.

In the following two excerpts, Hahn described her sleepless night, and her exit from the flophouse the following morning…

More on Emily Hahn, who defied convention from the very start of her adult life: before graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1926 (the first woman to earn a degree in mining engineering there), she drove across the U.S. in a Model T, dressed a man. She wrote about her experiences in letters to her brother-in-law who, unbeknownst to Hahn, shared them with New Yorker editors. This would lead to a longtime relationship with the magazine, to which she would contribute nearly 200 articles (and one poem) between 1929 and 1996. She would also serve as China correspondent from 1935 to 1943.

In 1930 she traveled to the Belgian Congo, where she lived for two years with a pygmy tribe while working for the Red Cross; she later crossed Central Africa alone on foot. In his 2006 memoir, Let Me FinishRoger Angell described Hahn as the magazine’s “Belle Geste,” a woman “deeply, almost domestically, at home in the world. Driven by curiosity and energy, she went there and did that, and then wrote about it without fuss.”

AT HOME IN THE WORLD…Clockwise, from top left, Emily “Mickey” Hahn poses with her pet gibbon, Mr. Mills, in Shanghai, circa 1935; undated photo with more of her furry friends; Hahn as a teenager, circa 1920; cover photo from her 1944 book, China to Me; Hahn in 1944 with her daughter Carola, following their return from occupied China. (Wikipedia/Lilly Library, Indiana U)

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Chief Stooge

Theatrical promoter Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal (1885–1957) was well-known to New Yorkers in the 1920s and 30s as a speakeasy owner, buddy to Mayor Jimmy Walker and husband to actress Peggy Fears. Although “Blumey” is largely forgotten today, in 1933 he merited a two-part profile by Alva Johnston. Here are excerpts from the opening lines:

ONLY THE SHADOW KNOWS…A.C. “Blumey” Blumenthal (at left in the light suit) was often seen shadowing Mayor Jimmy Walker in his role as chief counselor and chief stooge. Here the mayor is escorted by Blumey and New York’s finest during corruption hearings in 1931. At right, Blumey’s wife Peggy Fears (1903–1994) in her most notable film role, 1935’s The Lottery Lover. Their tempestuous marriage lasted from 1927 to 1950.  (avenuemagazine.com)

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Coward’s Ménage

Playwright Noel Coward existed in the orbit of the Algonquin Round Table crowd, so it was doubtless challenging for Robert Benchley to critically review his friend’s work. Fortunately, Benchley found Design For Living mostly to his liking. Note how Benchley subtly refers to the play’s gay subtext, and to the fact that it mirrored the real-life relationships of the play’s trio.

THREE’S COMPANY…A studio in Paris. A penthouse in New York. A flat in London. These were the settings for Noël Coward’s play Design for Living at the Ethel Barrymore Theatrewhich starred the wife-husband team Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt and their close friend Coward in a Broadway run of 135 performances from January to May 1933. (Vandamm theatrical photos via wisc.edu)

Benchley did have a few quibbles, but reasoned there was no need to be overly critical when there was such a dearth of quality stage entertainment. Note the great caricatures by Al Frueh (below) that accompanied the review.

Benchley had a different sort of dilemma criticizing Elmer Rice’s earnestly patriotic We, the People, a play about the misfortunes of a working class family in Depression America.

Rice, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1929, was an occasional contributor to The New Yorker from 1929 to 1931, including his sci-fi satire on the film industry, Voyage to Purila, which was serialized in 11 installments (with illustrations by Peter Arno) in The New Yorker from Oct. 12 to Dec. 21, 1929.

LET’S MAKE A MOVIE…Elmer Rice (standing) joins theatre producer Joseph P. Bickerton, Jr. (left), and Universal’s Carl Laemmle Jr. to sign a contract for the film version of Rice’s 1931 Broadway play Counsellor at Law. The film proved to a critical success. (Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, film critic John Mosher was trying his best to enjoy the latest Hollywood fare, another Broadway play adapted to the silver screen. Whistling in the Dark…

MURDER MOST AMUSING…The 1933 American pre-Code comedy-mystery film Whistling in the Dark starred Ernest Truex and Una Merkel. (IMDB)

However, Mosher was surprisingly enthused by the rustic charms of Iowa country folk in State Fair…

THE TRIUMPH OF PRIZE PICKLES and other delights awaited viewers of 1933’s State Fair, which gave star billing to Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor. At right, Lew Ayres sweet-talks Gaynor at the fairgrounds. (IMDB)

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Form Follows Function

E.B. White paid close attention to all of the little details of daily life, including the advertisements that appeared in The New Yorker. In “The Talk of the Town” he wrote about a Camel ad that inspired a sudden fashion trend:

…here is the Dec. 24, 1932 New Yorker ad to which White referred:

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From Our Advertisers

We keep our cigs lit for our first ad, from Lucky Strike, keeping it simple with their familiar slogan…

…this ad from Powers Reproduction shows us the beach caps that were all the rage in the early ’30s…

…this may look like an old car to modern eyes, but in 1933 these sweeping curves were la dernière mode in the auto world…

…and then there was Hupmobile, trying its best to stay relevant in the Depression…

…the company folded in 1939, but a few reminders live on…

HUP HUP HOORAY…The 1917 Hupmobile dealership at 25th and Farnam in Omaha, NE, was located along the old Lincoln Highway and is the last preserved Hupmobile dealership in the United States. On the National Register since 2014, it now houses apartments. (Flickr)

…Valentine’s Day was just around the corner, so time to buy your sweetheart something special, like this scarf that was all the rage among the Miami snowbirds…

…Greenwich Village restaurateur and personality Don Dickerman took out this two-page ad to trumpet his partnership with puppeteer and illustrator Tony Sarg at the Bohemia restaurant on Broadway…

…the German-American Sarg is also known as the creator, in 1927, of the first giant balloons for Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade…

THE OLD GASBAG…Tony Sarg (upper right hand corner) and assistants painting one of his Macy’s parade balloons. (Fotograms News Photo Service via Pinterest)

…on to our cartoons, and what a big day for The New Yorker…the Feb. 4, 1933 issue featured the first captioned cartoon by Charles Addams

…for the record, Addams’s very first contribution to the magazine was this spot illustration (below) featured on page 65 of the Feb. 6, 1932 issue…

…one of the original contributing artists to The New Yorker, Gardner Rea, continued his skewering of America’s plutocrats…

William Steig took us before the bench to make an honest plea…

James Thurber gave us another skirmish between the sexes…

…and recalling my Jan. 12 post (about the Jan. 7, 1933 issue), in which the puritans got their knickers in a bunch over Robert Laurent’s Goose Girl sculpture in the Radio City Music Hall lobby…

…we end with Helen Hokinson, inspired by Laurent’s work…

Next Time: Role Reversal…

Cheers For Beers

Good cheer was in short supply during the worst year of the Depression, but as 1933 approached many New Yorkers could at least look forward to legal beer in the New Year.

Dec. 3, 1932 cover by Helen Hokinson.

But as with all things political, new rules and regulations would need to be hashed out before the taps could flow, and both brewers and beer drinkers would have to recalibrate a relationship that had been suspended for nearly 13 years. Alva Johnston gave this (excerpted) report in “A Reporter at Large”…

WHILE YOU WERE AWAY…Vaudeville star Rae Samuels holds what was purportedly the last bottle of beer (a Schlitz) distilled before Prohibition went into effect in Chicago on Dec. 29, 1930. The bottle was insured for $25,000. After Prohibition ended in late 1933, Schlitz reappeared with gusto and quickly became the world’s top-selling brewery. (vintag.es)

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National Treasure

Chester Dale (1883–1962) began his career in finance at age 15, working as a runner for the New York Stock Exchange. Just 12 years later he would marry painter and art critic Maud Murray Dale, and together they would amass an art collection that would include significant works by Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Amedeo Modigliani, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. In 1932 the Dales were well on their way to building a collection that would eventually end up in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. “The Talk of the Town” featured the Dales in this except:

WAYS OF SEEING…Maud Dale was a staunch supporter of artist Amedeo Modigliani, whose 1919 painting Gypsy Woman with Baby (top left) was among 21 of his works collected by the Dales. Maud also commissioned a number of her own portraits, including (clockwise, from top center) ones rendered by George Bellows in 1919, by Jean-Gabriel Domergue in 1923, and by Fernand Léger in 1935. At bottom left is a 1945 portrait of Chester Dale by Diego Rivera. (National Gallery of Art)
SAINTED PATRONS…Clockwise, from top left, a 1943 photo of Chester Dale in the West Garden Court of the National Gallery of Art, which today holds the Chester Dale Collection of 240 paintings among other items; Maud Dale, c. 1926; Madame Picasso (1923) by Pablo Picasso on view in the Dale residence, c. 1935; a 1926 caricature of Chester by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, a close friend of the Dales and early New Yorker contributor. (National Gallery of Art)

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Smoke Screen

E.B. White noted the historic meeting of outgoing U.S. President Herbert Hoover and his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt. White speculated on at least one topic of discussion:

DO YOU INHALE?…Outgoing President Herbert Hoover (left) and President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt on their way to the inauguration ceremonies, 1933. (National Archives)

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No Longer “It”

Here is how IMDB describes the 1932 pre-Code drama Call Her Savage: “Sexy Texas gal storms her way through life, brawling and boozing until her luck runs out, forcing her to learn the errors of her ways.” The actress who portrayed that “Texas Gal,” Clara Bow, was getting sick of Hollywood and would make just one more film before retiring at age 28. Although in some circles the silent era’s “It Girl” sex symbol was finally beginning to earn some credit as an “artiste,” critic John Mosher was reserving judgment:

WHIP IT GOOD…Clara Bow brawls her way through life in her second-to-last film role, Call Her Savage. (IMDB)

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From Our Advertisers

Is this really how the smart set lived in 1932 Manhattan? Here we have an old toff dressed like Santa (in a top hat) sneaking presents onto the Christmas tree…and caught in the act by, I presume, his wife and a chambermaid?…

…in sharp contrast, here is an ad from the Golden Rule Foundation, which annually designated the second week in December as “Golden Rule Week”…the foundation raised funds to help needy children throughout the world…

…and here’s a bright, back cover ad from Caron Paris…apparently the face powder industry had been good to them in 1932…

…on to our cartoons, we start with a smoking tutorial from William Steig

…some sunny optimism from one of Helen Hokinson’s “girls”…

…in this two-pager by Garrett Price, an artist asks his patron: All right then, what was your conception of the Awakening of Intelligence through Literature and Music?…

Izzy Klein dedicated this cartoon to the much-anticipated launch of a new literary magazine, The American Spectator (not to be confused with today’s conservative political publication by the same name) and its illustrious line-up of joint editors…

Crawford Young’s caption recalled the precocious child in Carl Rose’s 1928 cartoon caption, a collaboration with E.B. White — “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it”…

…and speaking of Carl Rose, this next cartoon by James Thurber has an interesting history…New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin explains in this Carl Rose Inkspill bio: In 1932, Rose submitted a drawing captioned, “Touche!” of two fencers, one of whom has just cut off the head of the other. Harold Ross (according to Thurber in The Years With Ross) thinking the Rose version “too bloody” suggested Thurber do the drawing because “Thurber’s people have no blood. You can put their heads back on and they’re as good as new”…

…as we close out December 2021 (which I am dutifully trying to do the same in 1932), we move on to the Dec. 10 issue…

Dec. 10, 1932 cover by William Steig.

…and Samuel N. Behrman’s profile (titled “Chutspo”) of comedian Eddie Cantor, who made his way from vaudeville and the Ziegfeld Follies to fame on the radio, in film and on early television. Theater great Katherine Cornell certainly appreciated Cantor’s gift for making his routine look easy: Here’s an excerpt:

AH, IT WAS NOTHIN’…Comedian Eddie Cantor was adored by millions of radio listeners as the “Apostle of Pep.” At right, caricature for the profile by Al Frueh. (bizarrela.com)

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Christmess

Lois Long’s “On and Off the Avenue” column was thus titled to reflect the annual challenge of buying that special something for that special someone. Here is the opening paragraph:

One of the items suggested in Long’s column was a game named for our friend Eddie Cantor called “Tell it to the Judge”…

…or you could select one of these gifts from A.G. Spaulding…my grandfather had one of those perpetual desk calendars…I would stave off boredom by endlessly flipping those numbers while the adults conversed in German…

…on to our cartoonists, James Thurber provided this nice bit of art for a two-page spread…

Kemp Starrett gave us some biscuit (cookie) execs contemplating a new, streamlined design for their product…

Norman Bel Geddes is perhaps best known for designing the “Futurama” display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair…here is Bel Geddes’ “Cobra Lamp”…

George Price gave us a fellow peddling more than a simple top…

…and with Peter Arno, the party never ends…

…on to Dec. 17, 1932…

Dec. 17, 1932 cover by Harry Brown.

…and Arno’s ex Lois Long was back with another “Tables for Two,” still feigning the old spinster (see “shawl and slippers” reference in first graf) when in fact she was an attractive, 31-year-old divorcee who apparently still had plenty of fire for late night revelry…

According to the Jeremiah Moss blog Vanishing New York, Long was likely describing 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues that “began as a row of speakeasies, which turned into jazz clubs that then evolved into burlesque houses.” The speakeasies got their start when the city lifted residential restrictions on the brownstones and businesses moved in, including Tony’s, the Trocadero and later Place Pigalle…

(vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com via NYPL)

…it was at the new Place Pigalle that Long enjoyed the “knockout” after-midnight show featuring ballroom dancers Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza and the diminutive singer Reva Reyes

AFTER HOURS entertainment at the Place Pigalle included Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza (left, in a 1930 portrait by Edward Steichen) and Mexican singer Reva Reyes. (Vanity Fair/El Paso Museum of History)

…and there was more entertainment to be had in Midtown with the upcoming opening (Dec. 27, 1932) of Radio City Music Hall, a dream project of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel. Hugh Blake had the scoop for the New Yorker in the “A Reporter at Large” column…an excerpt:

AIN’T IT GRAND?..of Radio City Music Hall would open its doors on Dec. 27, 1932, fulfilling a dream of theater owner Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel. (nypap.org/Wikipedia/dobywood.com)

…Radio City Music Hall was built to host stage shows only, but within a year of its opening it was converted into a movie venue…and speaking of movies, we have film critic John Mosher finally finding a movie to his liking, and a novel-to-film adaptation to boot…

FAREWELL TO ALL OF THOSE ARMS…Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes and Adolphe Menjou in Paramount’s A Farewell to Arms, directed by Frank Borzage. The film received Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound. (buffalo.edu)

…and back to the stage, Al Frueh lent his artistry to the play Dinner At Eight, which opened October 22, 1932, at the Music Box Theatre, and would close May 6, 1933, after 232 performances. The popular play had revivals in 1933, 1966 and 2002 as well as a George Cukor film adaptation in 1933 with an all-star cast.

 *  *  *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with this helpful advice from the folks at the Lombardy…

…while we have a much less stuffy invitation from the French Line…

…the usually staid Brooks Brothers sprung for an all-color Christmas ad, featuring items that would suit any aspiring Bertie Wooster…

…and what would be the holidays without canned meat, eh?…

…and we end with James Thurber, who gets us into the proper mood for the New Year…

Next Time: Comrade Alex…

 

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…

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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)

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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)…

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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)

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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…

An Instant Star

George Cukor’s 1932 pre-Code film A Bill of Divorcement would make Katharine Hepburn an instant star in her screen debut…

Oct. 8, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

… but New Yorker critic John Mosher seems to have missed the boat in spotting this new talent, who would go on to be — at least according to the American Film Institute, “the greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema.” In A Bill of Divorcement, Hepburn portrays a young woman who fears she has inherited the same psychiatric problems that plague her father (John Barrymore). Mosher wrote:

A LOT ON HIS MIND…In A Bill of Divorcement, John Barrymore portrays a man who escapes from a mental hospital after 15 years of confinement, seeking to return to wife and family; his daughter, Sydney (Katharine Hepburn), fears she has inherited his psychiatric problems, while Sydney’s mother, Meg (Billie Burke) wants to start a new life with another man. (IMDB)

Although Mosher offered a rather tepid response to Hepburn’s debut role, critic Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called the film “intelligent, restrained and often stirring.” Of Hepburn he wrote: “Miss Hepburn’s characterization is one of the finest seen on the screen and the producers have been wise in not minimizing the importance of her part because Mr. Barrymore is the star of the film.”

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On Shaky Ground

E.B. White noted the sad state of the Pulitzer Fountain, which had stood at the Plaza since 1916. Although Joseph Pulitzer’s sons had put up funds to restore the landmark, the city had yet to act on a plan.

Fortunately the fountain still stands, thanks to restorations in 1933-35, 1971 and 1985-90. As to White’s concerns, the city finally accepted the Pulitzers’ offer, and after delays due to labor disputes it was completed in June 1935. The original limestone basin was rebuilt in Italian marble, and a limestone balustrade and columns that surrounded the fountain were demolished.

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG…The Pulitzer Fountain after it was completed in 1916. (New York Public Library)

White also mused about the nature of Long Island, soon to be transformed under Robert Moses’ system of parkways that would stretch across the island’s vast expanses.

EAT ME…Hundreds of truck farms dotted Long Island in the early 20th century, especially known for their potatoes. (Newsday)

…and we have more from White, also serving as the magazine’s theater critic and taking in the latest installment of Earl Carroll’s Vanities…I include this mainly to note the young vaudevillian Milton Berle’s first appearance on a big stage…

BEFORE UNCLE MILTIE…Milton Berle (1908–2002) made his first appearance on a big stage with Earl Carroll’s 1932 Vanities. It is also noteworthy that in that same year Chicago native Vincente Minnelli (see program cover) was getting his first breaks on Broadway as a stage and costume designer. (tralfaz.blogspot.com/Playbill)

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Delirious Nights

Although Lois Long was primarily focused on her fashion column, she continued to file an occasional “Tables for Two” that gave readers a glimpse into New York nightlife, including the star-studded (Walter Chrysler, Howard Hughes, among others) opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room…

DANCING WITH THE STARS…Lois Long reported on the star-studded opening of the Pierrette Club in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Sert Room, which featured a series of Saturday night supper dances; images of the Sert Room left and right; at center, the New York Times’ account of the club’s opening, Oct. 2, 1932. (geographicguide.com/NYT/jstor.org)

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From Our Advertisers

Simon & Schuster promoted George Gershwin’s Song Book, illustrated by New Yorker regular Constantin Alajalov

…signed first editions go for up to $8000 these days…

(raptisrarebooks.com)

…meanwhile, Farrar & Rinehart trumpeted the release of Evelyn Waugh’s latest novel (his third)…Black Mischief satirized the ways Europeans attempted to impose their customs and beliefs on other cultures…

…Squibb helped the New Yorker’s bottom line with three separate ads scattered throughout the magazine…back in the day the Squibb brand was associated with everything from toothpaste…

…to aspirin and shaving cream…founded in 1858, it merged with Bristol Meyers in 1989 to form one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Bristol Myers Squibb, which today is mostly known for manufacturing dozens of prescription pharmaceuticals and biologics…

…Squibb & Sons were the primary tenant (the top 12 floors) of New York’s landmark Squibb Building when it opened its doors in 1930…

(Museum of the City of New York)

…moving on, here are a couple of ads that show us one thing that has definitely changed in the past 89 years…when was the last time you wore a fur coat to a football game?…

…cigarette manufacturers had plenty of money to advertise during the depths of the Depression, but apparently so did the folks at Wamsutta Mills…Wamsutta sheets are no longer made in New Bedford — part of the circa 1847 mill complex is now loft-style housing…however, the Wamsutta brand still exists in the U.S. through Bed, Bath & Beyond and internationally as part of a Brazilian textile conglomerate…

…Micarta was a substance developed by Westinghouse in the early 20th century for use with electrical equipment…produced from a combination of linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass and other materials processed under heat and pressure, Westinghouse found a new use for this laminate — serving trays designed by George Switzer…you can read more about Micarta trays at Driving for Deco…reader Chris notes that Micarta is “still available in a wide range of grades and designer colors and is popular with hobbyists and craftsmen the world over”…

…in the Oct. 29 issue, E.B. White made this observation about Micarta trays…

…on to our cartoons, William Steig’s “Small Fry” learned about the birds and the bees…

Gardner Rea visited some tobacco researchers challenged to keep pace with advertising claims…

Barbara Shermund looked into the love lives of the modern woman…

…and Peter Arno got playful at the pipe organ…

…on to our Oct. 15, 1932 issue…

Oct. 15, 1932 cover by William Steig.

…where we check in on John O’Hara (1905–1970), who defined the short story at the New Yorker (and contributed more shorts to the magazine than any other writer). For the Oct. 15 issue O’Hara submitted a profile titled “Of Thee I Sing, Baby.” The profile is unusual because it is told as a story rather than as a biography, and the subject, a chorus girl, is not identified by her real name. A brief excerpt:

WRITING MACHINE…John O’Hara (pictured here in 1945) contributed more short stories to the New Yorker than any other writer. (Library of Congress)

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William Steig (1907–2003) was both a writer and illustrator, and every bit as prolific as O’Hara, publishing more than 50 books during his long life and career, including his very first, which received this mention at the end of the Oct. 15 book review section:

…on to our Oct. 15 advertisers, we have the makers of Chesterfields pairing their product with the sophistication of Paris fashions…

Carl “Eric” Erickson illustrated a number of ads for R.J. Reynolds’ Camel cigarettes in the late 1920s and early 1930s…here he employed his signature sophisticated style for the French Line…

…RCA promoted the next great advance in radio technology — “bi-acoustic” sound that added “two more octaves” to radio broadcasts…it would take thirty more years to roll out something we take for granted today — stereo…

…on to our cartoons, Robert Day joined a misdirected fox hunt…

Richard Decker gave us one man’s simple solution to a perilous situation…

…and we close with a classic from James Thurber

Next Time: City On a Hill…

A Picture’s Worth

James Thurber made a rare appearance in the “Reporter at Large” column — usually the purview of the departing Morris Markey — to offer a glimpse into the life of Albert Davis and his extensive collection of theatrical and sports photographs.

Sept. 24, 1932 cover by Rea Irvin.

A publicist by trade, Davis (1865-1942) collected thousands of photographs, clippings, programs, scripts and playbills from hundreds of productions mainly from the 1890s to the 1920s. In this excerpt, Thurber took a look into Davis’s rarefied world:

PLAYING MAKE-BELIEVE…Among the photographers collected by Davis was Joseph Byron, who captured this scene from the 1912 play The High Road by American playwright Edward Sheldon. Pictured are actors Frederick Perry and Minnie Maddern Fiske. (monovisions.com)
OSCAR THE FIRST…Theatre impresario Oscar Hammerstein (left) at Manhattan Opera House, which opened December 3, 1906. Hammerstein was the first person with whom Davis traded photographs. He was also the father of famed lyricist and musical comedy author Oscar Hammerstein II. (monovisions.com)
WHEN ALL PERFORMANCES WERE LIVE…Images of performers from the Davis collection included actor Bert Williams (ca. 1895); sharpshooter Annie Oakley (ca.1886); and actor Theodore Drury as Escamillo in Carmen (ca. 1905). (Harry Ransom Center)

Thurber pointed out that the collection was quite valuable, and its sale could reap a considerable sum for Davis. It seems Davis intended to present the collection to his university’s library, a wish more or less fulfilled.

Davis’s collection also contained hundreds of sports figures, mostly from the world of boxing.

TOUGH GUYS…Omaha-born Max Baer (left) defeated German champion Max Schmeling at Yankee Stadium in 1933 and took the heavyweight title in 1934; Paul Berlenbach (right) was a light-heavyweight champ from 1923 to 1926. An interesting footnote: Baer acted in 20 films, and one of his three children, Max Baer Jr., portrayed Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies. (Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports)
PEDDLERS…Bicycle racers at the Hartford Wheel Club’s bicycle tournament pose for an 1889 photograph in Stamford, Connecticut. (Stark Center)

Endnote: Davis wanted his collection to go to a university library, and so it finally did: it resides at the University of Texas at Austin — the theatrical photos and memorabilia are at the Harry Ransom Center, and the sports-related items are housed at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports.

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Is It Beer-Thirty Yet?

Brewer, politician and owner of the New York Yankees baseball franchise  Jacob Ruppert Jr. (1867–1939) inherited the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company and the Yankees upon his father’s death in 1915. It was Ruppert who purchased the contract of Babe Ruth (from the Red Sox in 1919) and built famed Yankee Stadium (1923), moves that helped propel a middling franchise to the top of the major leagues. Alva Johnston profiled Ruppert in the Sept. 24 issue; here is the opening paragraph:

LOOK WHAT I JUST BOUGHT…Jacob Ruppert purchased the contract of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox in 1919; Ruppert also inherited the Knickerbocker brewery at 92nd Street and 3rd Avenue (demolished in 1969). (historywithkev.com/brookstonbeerbulletin.com)

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Pol Mole

With the 1932 presidential election just weeks away, E.B. White’s focus was on an apparently elusive mole that decorated the left side of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s face, or possibly the right, or perhaps not at all…

REPRESENTING THE LEFT AND THE RIGHT…E.B. White mused on FDR’s apparently shifting mole, which appeared on the right cheek on the cover of Vanity Fair, on the left on the cover of Life, and not at all on the campaign button. (picclick.com/Britannica/2Neat.com)

This wouldn’t be the last time someone discussed FDR’s dermatology. Health experts today still debate whether a pigmented lesion above FDR’s left eyebrow was a melanoma—some even speculate that it led to his death at age 63, although the official cause of FDR’s death on April 12, 1945 was cerebral hemorrhage associated with high blood pressure. Incidentally, most photographs show the cheek mole on the right side.

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Words Were Their Bond

What a treat it must have been for a New Yorker reader to turn to pages 15-16 and find Dorothy Parker’s “A Young Woman in Green Lace,” followed by Parker’s dear friend and confidant Robert Benchley’s “Filling That Hiatus” on pages 17-18.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley (far right) with their employers in 1919: Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield, Vogue editor Edna Chase, and publisher Condé Nast. (publicdomainreview.org)

Benchley and Parker’s friendship began when he was hired as Vanity Fair’s managing editor in the winter of 1919 (and would become Parker’s office mate the following May). That same year they were among the founders of the famed Algonquin Round Table.

“A Young Woman in Green Lace” reveals how Parker regarded some of the modern women of those times, this next-generation flapper, a bit childish and snobbish, wishing she were back in “Paree.” In the story a man presses his charms as the woman descends into drunkenness and drops her Continental facade:

Where disillusion creates a darkly comic mood in Parker’s piece, in Benchley’s world disillusion provided a nice opening for some silliness. In ”Filling That Hiatus” Benchley addressed a seldom-discussed dinner-party etiquette situation in which both your right- and left-hand partners become engaged in conversation with someone else. He concluded:

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His Country, Too

It is always with a tinge of sadness that I write about Morris Markey, who from the start wrote for virtually every department at the New Yorker and was best known for his “A Reporter at Large” feature. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Markey won his greatest recognition for the book This Country of Yours, published after he left the New Yorker. That magazine’s review was brief, and read thusly:

The book is mostly forgotten today, as is Markey, who was found shot to death on July 12, 1950 at his home in Halifax, Virginia. He was just 51 years old. There was insufficient evidence as to whether the wound behind his right ear was the result of accident, homicide, or suicide.

As a farewell, here is what the Times (Sept. 10, 1932) had to say about Markey’s book:

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From Our Advertisers

With cold weather arriving during the Depression’s worst year, fashions continued to borrow from the past for a more conservative look (these are two ads from Jay-Thorpe and B. Altman)…

…as for the gentleman, fashion continued to emphasize a genteel look (although there is a bit of the Little Tramp about this fellow)…

…then as now, folks turned toward the rustic to find a bit of comfort in uncertain times…

…and if they could afford it, the comforts of the stolid, solid Lincoln motorcar…

…the folks at Lucky Strike continued to ask this question…

…and with the help of Syd Hoff, the makers of Log Cabin syrup ran this parody ad (in the Oct. 1 issue) of the Lucky Strike campaign…Hoff was among the newest members of the New Yorker cartooning cast…

…as was William Steig, who featured one of his “Small Fry” to tout the benefits of decaf coffee…

…our cartoon from the Sept. 24 issue is by Richard Decker

…on to Oct. 1, 1932…

Oct. 1, 1932 cover by Peter Arno.

…where film critic John Mosher took in the latest from Marlene Dietrich and came away less than dazzled by Blonde Venus

Now something of a cult film, reviews were mixed when Blonde Venus was released in 1932. The New York Times’ critic Mordaunt Hall went even further than Mosher, calling the film a “muddled, unimaginative and generally hapless piece of work, relieved somewhat by the talent and charm of the German actress…”

WELL HELLO THERE…Cary Grant made his film debut in 1932 in This Is the Night—he went on to appear in eight films that year, including Blonde Venus with Marlene Dietrich. (MoMA)

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Unlucky in Luck

In its early years the New Yorker paid little attention to baseball, but “The Talk of the Town” did appreciate a human interest story from the field every now and then, and Yankee batboy Eddie Bennett filled that bill — this was the second time Bennett was featured in the column…

LUCKY EDDIE…Top, Eddie Bennett in 1921, the year he became the Yankees’ batboy; below, with slugger Babe Ruth in 1927; at right, newspaper profile the year after the 1927 World Series. As an infant Bennett twisted his spine in a carriage accident that stunted his growth and gave him a misshapen back.(Library of Congress/New York Times/Brooklyn Citizen)

Throughout the 1920s Bennett was a famed good luck charm for the Yankees, but when a taxicab struck him in 1932 his batboy career ended. According to the New York Times (April 2, 2021) “Three years later, Mr. Bennett was found dead in a furnished room on West 84th Street. Autographed photos from Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt, both pitchers for the Yankees, hung on the walls…Balls and bats signed by Ruth and Lou Gehrig decorated the room. An autopsy found that Mr. Bennett had died of alcoholism. He was 31.”

For 85 years, Bennett rested in an unmarked grave at St. John’s Cemetery in Queens, but last November he was remembered with a new marker and a simple ceremony. You can read more about it in this Times article.

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Original Verse

Ogden Nash was working as an editor at Doubleday when he submitted some rhymes to the New Yorker. Harold Ross (New Yorker founder/editor) saw the submissions and asked for more, apparently stating “they are about the most original stuff we have had lately.” Here is one of the later submissions:

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From Our Advertisers

If you were of the male persuasion and a member of the smart set you probably dressed down in something like this for a day with your dressage buddies…

…the modern woman of the 1930s could also be a successful business woman in this “successful” frock (how that translated into reality was another thing)…what is also interesting about this ad is how it features both an illustration and a photograph of the same outfit—it’s as though they’ve acknowledged that the attenuated figure in the illustration, although eye-catching, does not resemble an actual body type…

…here was see an early use of the word balloon in an advertisement featuring real people—I wonder if this was inspired by the comics, or by Bernarr Mcfadden’s “composographs” featured in his New York Evening Graphic?…

…on to our cartoonists, we begin with a strange bit of bedside manner courtesy Gardner Rea

Robert Day introduced us to a modest suspect…

Barbara Shermund continued to explore the travails of modern women…

…while this woman (via Perry Barlow) seems quite content with her lot…

…Mayor Jimmy Walker was out, but not down, like these fellows presented by Alan Dunn

…and we close with Peter Arno, announcing some upcoming nuptials…

Next Time: An Instant Star…