Aleck and Frank at Taliesin

From the late I.M. Pei to Frank Gehry, America has its share of “starchitects,” but only one architect in the history of the profession could claim to be a true household name: Frank Lloyd Wright. 

July 19, 1930 cover by Peter Arno.

In a profile titled “The Prodigal Father,” Alexander Woollcott wrote about Wright’s “return” to American acceptance after nearly two decades of scandal and tragedy. Woollcott took great pains to defend Wright’s reputation, marred by his extramarital affair with Mamah Cheney, her murder in 1914 along with six others (including her children) at Wright’s Wisconsin home, Taliesin, and his subsequent remarriage, divorce, and remarriage that followed.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN…Clockwise, from top left, Reginald Marsh illustration for the profile; Frank Lloyd Wright, circa 1930; Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, completed in 1923. Designed in the Maya Revival Style Wright favored throughout the 1920s, it was damaged by the 1923 Great Tokyo Earthquake just months after opening. It was demolished in 1967, however the iconic central lobby wing and the reflecting pool were disassembled and rebuilt near Nagoya. (Library of Congress/dezeen.com)

Woollcott also wrote of his visit to Taliesin (the third version of the house, after the first two were destroyed by fires). It’s a shame these two headstrong fellows never met — it would have been a lively conversation, no doubt. One thing that does stand out about this profile is that it is a rare hagiography from a man renowned for his savage wit.

AN ADMIRER…Alexander Woollcott praised the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright in his profile. He doesn’t mention actually meeting Wright. It would have been fascinating to see these headstrong individuals match wits.
MAYA OH MAYA…Clockwise, from top left, Frank Lloyd Wright favored the Maya Revival Style in the 1920s, which is evident in the Alice Millard House in Pasadena (1923) and the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles (1919-21). At bottom, the third version of Taliesin (built in 1925) that Woollcott would have visited. (Wikipedia/Taliesin Preservation)

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No Surprise Endings, Please

Although sometimes confused with Alexander Woollcott because of his first name, the timid, taciturn Wolcott Gibbs was a force at the New Yorker in his own right, perhaps even more so as he served the magazine from 1927 to 1958 as a jack-of-all-trades: copy editor, feature writer, theater critic, and overall wordsmith. So when the editors of The Writer’s Digest posed a question regarding the New Yorker’s policy for submissions, it was Gibbs who was tapped to compose a response, which was a particular challenge given the magazine didn’t have a clear set of editorial requirements. So Gibbs conjured up an “Answers-To-Hard-Questions Department,” and signed it “Mr. Winterbottom.” Some excerpts:

IN HIS ELEMENT…Wolcott Gibbs, left, relaxes at the Algonquin Hotel in 1937. At right is his New Yorker colleague Dorothy Parker. (Time)

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Munitions of Bremen

The German Ocean liner SS Bremen was one of the most technologically advanced ocean liners of its day, known for its speed and luxury. Author Eric Hodgins climbed aboard to file a report for the New Yorker, and in the excerpt below marveled at the “mechanical perfection” of the ship’s engine room:

PLOUGHSHARES INTO SWORDS…More than the length of three football fields, the streamlined SS Bremen, launched in 1928, was designed to have a cruising speed of  27.5 knots (50.9 km/h). After a 1941 fire, the ship was largely dismantled, its steel used to manufacture war munitions. (Wikipedia/greatoceanliners.com)

You can get some idea of the ship in this clip from the 1936 German comedy Spiel an Bord (Game on Board). Location shooting took place in Bremerhaven, New York, and on the Atlantic crossing of the SS Bremen (at about :53 there is an image of a Nazi flag salute that I don’t believe was in the original film, but that flag undoubtedly flew on this ship in 1936)…

In 1941, while docked in Bremerhaven, a disgruntled crew member set fire to the ship, completely gutting its luxurious interior. During the war the ship was stripped of its steel for use in munitions, and in 1946 what remained was destroyed by explosives.

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From Our Advertisers

In my readings of recent issues I’ve noted numerous references to hot weather, and for good reason. The summer of 1930 would see record high temperatures and diminished rainfall that would usher in the “Dust Bowl” era of the 1930s. The Wallach Brothers adjusted by offering this “Dixie Weave Suit”…

…the hot weather also called for a tall glass of sparkling soda (mixed with your favorite bootleg beverage, of course)…

…smokers could keep cool by puffing on a Spud, the first menthol cigarette…

…or you could stick with your Luckies, endorsed by none other than this generic, genial doctor and some bogus survey…

…on to our cartoons…I. Klein showed us a downside of Edison’s invention…

…and Leonard Dove gave us two gentlemen on the skids, a frequent sight in Depression-era New York…

…after a long absence, we see suddenly see a flurry of activity from the pen of Ralph Barton, including this rare sequential cartoon…

…and with the hot summer New Yorkers took to the waters, at Coney Island with Denys Wortman

…and Southampton, with Helen Hokinson

Next Time: For the Byrds…

 

Prophecies of 1929

E.B. White gazed 50 years into the future in the Sept. 21, 1929 issue, predicting that New York City would be much the same if not a little worse by the time the calendar turned to 1979.

Sept. 21, 1929 cover by Theodore G. Haupt.

White dismissed the popular notion that the future would be one of push-button happiness and gleaming white cities. And as it turned out, he was mostly right on the mark with his predictions:

LOVE IS IN THE AIR…Autogyros (as illustrated on a 1930 cover of Modern Mechanics) were often seen as the future of transportation in the 1920s and 30s; Maureen O’Sullivan (as “LN-18”) and John Garrick (“J-21”) glide above 1980 Manhattan in 1930’s  Just Imagine. (modernmechanix.com/pre-code.com)

Instead of the antiseptic fantasy world predicted in such movies as 1930’s Just Imagine (a futuristic musical set in 1980), White correctly foresaw a city that, despite technological advances, would still be a gritty rat race. And if you lived in New York City in 1979 (I was but a visitor then, as now), you would have found a city that indeed was quite dirty and crime-ridden (check out the 1979 movie The Warriors to get a sense of how Hollywood perceived the city at that time). As White observed, “Prophets always leave out the eternal mud”…

JUST A LOT OF HOT AIR…In addition to autogyros, futurists in the 1920s and 30s also saw dirigibles as integral to future transportation. At top left is an illustration of a solar-powered aerial landing field atop a dirigible on the cover of Modern Mechanix magazine, October, 1934; top right, Manhattan in 1980 as depicted in the the 1930 film Just Imagine; bottom right, workers dismantling the Third Avenue Elevated line in 1955; bottom left, Times Square in 1979. (airships.net/IMDB/gothamist.com/viewoftheblue.com)

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Cradle of Civilization

Dorothy Parker took aim at ugly Americans abroad in a casual titled “The Cradle of Civilization.” In these excerpts, Parker commented on the pretensions of young New Yorkers in France, including their ridiculous costumes…

…their bad French, and their even worse manners…

WELL, THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT…Actors Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman don the look of French fishermen during the filming of Intermezzo: A Love Story, in 1938. Howard and Bergman were supposed to look like a couple visiting the French Riviera, but in reality it was all filmed near Hollywood. The film was Bergman’s Hollywood debut. (Pinterest)

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A Penny Saved

Back stateside, Wolcott Gibbs looked in on the dying art of the penny-arcade peepshow, and expressed his disappointment with the quality of that product in general…

DON’T JUDGE A PEEP BY ITS COVER…A patron checks out “Hot Tango” at a penny peepshow parlor of the 1920s. (Pinterest)

Gibbs seemed particularly miffed by a film with the misleading title “For Men Only”…

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Uncle Jed

Jed Harris (1900-1979) was a wunderkind of Broadway, producing and directing 31 shows between 1925 and 1956. Before he turned 28 he produced a record four consecutive Broadway hits over the course of 18 months (including the 1928 smash hit The Front Page), and so it was time for some rest. “The Talk of the Town” reported…

Although it was rumored Harris would retire at age 30, he would instead return in the spring of 1930 with a production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and continue producing on Broadway through the 1950s.

WUNDERKIND…A 1928 portrait of Jed Harris that was featured on the Sept. 3, 1928 cover of Time magazine. (Wikipedia)

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Dueling Cassandras

About a month before the big stock market crash we find this curious little item in Howard Brubaker’s “Of All Things” column…

…Considered the first “celebrity economist,” Irving Fisher stated in September 1929 that the stock market had reached “a permanently high plateau,” while around the same time (Sept. 5, 1929) rival economist Roger Babson warned in a speech that “sooner or later a crash is coming, and it may be terrific.” Note: “Ben Bolts” refers to a character in a popular 1842 poem that became an oft-parodied popular song. Each stanza begins with a variation of “Oh don’t you remember…”

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Parental Advisory

Fifty-five years before Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center pushed the music industry to place warning labels on records containing explicit lyrics, there was much ado about “lascivious lyrics” uttered on “race records” — the term referred to 78-rpm records marketed to African Americans from the 1920s and 1940s. The Sept. 21 “Popular Records” column looked at the controversy surrounding Ethel Waters’ “Second Handed Man,” and didn’t find any…

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING…Ethel Waters (circa 1930) and her recording of “Second Handed Man.” (discogs.com/YouTube)

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New Kids on the Block

Architecture critic George S. Chappell (aka “T-Square”) concluded his Sept. 21 column with praise for the designs of the yet-to-be-built Daily News and Chrysler buildings, but expressed dismay at the recently completed Lincoln Building…

BAD COMPANY…New Yorker architecture critic George S. Chappell was excited about the designs for the Daily News Building (left) and Chrysler Building (center), but the Lincoln Building left him wanting. No doubt its gothic topper seemed dated in contrast to the sleek lines of the other buildings. (nyc-architecture.com)

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Movie critic John Mosher took in a couple of new films including Paramount’s  1929 pre-Code drama Jealousy…

FINAL CURTAIN…Jeanne Eagels and Fredric March in a publicity photo for Jealousy. Eagels died of a drug overdose on Oct. 3, 1929, just days after Mosher’s review appeared in the New Yorker. (IMDB)

…and Mosher also reviewed the musical drama The Great Gabbo, which was derived from a story by occasional New Yorker contributor Ben Hecht

WHO ARE YOU CALLING A DUMMY?…Erich von Stroheim has issues with his co-star in The Great Gabbo. (MoMA)

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From Our Advertisers

What appeared to be an unassuming ad from General Motors was actually a plan for world domination, at least in the area of ground transportation. GM gobbled up a number of car companies in the 1920s (see the ad’s fine print) as well as shares in power plants and home appliances. It would overtake Ford in sales in the late 1920s, and thanks to propaganda efforts including those illustrated in the ad below, it would lead a streetcar removal conspiracy that would destroy intercity train transport systems across the U.S. (and convert them to GM buses, naturally)…

Here we have yet another “distinguished handwriting contest” ad from the makers of Marlboro, this time exploiting the efforts of Corinne B. Riley of Sumter, S.C….

…Riley would win more than a handwriting contest, however. She would be elected as a Democrat to Congress in 1962 to fill a vacancy left by her husband, Congressman John Jacob Riley.

Corrine B. Riley in 1962. (Wikipedia)

On to our illustrators and comics, we begin with this two-page drawing by Reginald Marsh that appeared along the the bottom of “Talk of the Town” (click to enlarge)

Gardner Rea lent his spare style to this peek into Wall Street…

Peter Arno appeared to be experimenting with yet another style of drawing…

…that is in some ways looked similar to Alan Dunn’s

…the British cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather provided this sumptuous drawing of an exchange at a card shop…

…and I. Klein gave a vertiginous perspective to home buying…

Next Time: Frigidity in Men…