The Anthromorphic ’Thirties
Published on: 18th November 2019
Anthromorphism (the attribution of human characteristic to animals or objects) has been around forever, yet it was in the 1930s—with its Great Depression need for whimsy – that this bizarre predilection peaked. As Dean Street Press publishes so many titles that date from The Thirties, it’s no surprise that anthromorphism is one of our (many) guilty pleasures. No moral incertitude seemed to have existed when putting a hopeful face on a potato alongside a recipe for french fries, and there was certainly no shortage of cannibalistic pigs brandishing plates of bacon with a “come and get it!” glee. This was the era of talking mice and obstreperous ducks, and to paraphrase one of the decade’s most famous songs, when it came to anthromorphatic crap, “anything went”.
It seems impossible to have existed in the ’30s without being in possession of salt and pepper shakers in the form of lettuces in love, ad men jumping on this craze for ‘stuff that isn’t human acting human’, with a whole host of not-very-exciting brand mascots, most of which didn’t make it past Pearl Harbor (it was probably best that our Victory Gardens didn’t have beguiling smiles and cheerful personalities; it isn’t patriotic to eat one’s friends) appearing in The Great Depression.
Planter’s ‘Mr. Peanut’ had been around since 1916, yet really came into his own in the glamour-hungry 1930s. Heinz seized this topper-wearing “Puttin’ On The Ritz” chic beloved of the decade, but its ‘Mr. Tomato’ lacked the Fred Astaire finesse of the Planter’s mascot. Sure, he had the top hat, starched collar, and monocle, yet his facial expression gave him the appearance of one of those self-made captains of industry who’d show up in RKO pictures of the era and usually end up paying off a showgirl. ‘Mr. Tomato’ looked louche and self-serving, his chickens soon coming home to roost in the form of a lawyer masquerading as a bell hop serving him divorce papers. (No wonder he’s blushing).
In saying that, he probably fared better than the bizarre ‘Sir Apple’; certainly, he was as dapper as the other monocled mutineers of a decade obsessed with how the other half lived. He even came with a title. Unfortunately, he didn’t come with two eyes, and one can only guess as to why the commercial artist charged with creating ‘Sir Apple’ gave him a jaunty monocle positioned over…no eye. One suspects that if anyone at Sir Apple HQ noticed this anatomical anomaly, it must have seemed understandably trivial against a backdrop of Bread Lines, Dust Bowls, and European fascism. “Nobody’s gonna notice”. Eighty years later, we’re still noticing.
Of course, anthromorphism was a gift to the lazy copywriter tasked with cutesy greeting card sentiments. In a decade that gave us the glittering word play of Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night, it is oddly dichotomous that the ’30s also adored the cringy, uninspired, and utterly unfunny pun. I am sure that it started with the artwork, and one can only imagine the apathetic and eye-rolling approach taken by a writer when a pair of smitten carrots looking longingly at each other was placed upon his desk. “Could you CARROT all about me, Valentine?” can’t have been copy of which anyone was proud, but it kept the writer out of Hooverville, and paid for that next Sears Roebuck catalogue installment.
Returning to Heinz (determined to make anthromorphistic advertising work for them), the brand scored a spectacular double coup with musical notes that are also tomatoes that are also singing faces! But why did they stop there? Why not go for reverse anthromorphism and fashion the staves to look like veins pulled from a human leg?
Grotesque? Oh, you ain’t seen nothin’ until you view the ‘you-can-never-unsee-it’ French ad’ for sausages depicting a pig, gripped with deranged laughter, as he slices meat from his own torso (didn’t a man in Germany recently advertise on the internet for somebody to do this to him?) It is a particularly gruesome image, and had it ever been turned into an animated feature, there is no doubt in my mind that Peter Lorre would have voiced it.
Clearly, the phenomenal success of Walt Disney had much to do with the anthromorphic ’30s; Mickey Mouse debuted in 1928, just in time for him and his farmyard friends to capture Depression Era hearts. What one forgets today is just how popular Mickey and Co. were with adults of the ’30s; they were fun, optimistic, whimsical, and cute – a genuine diversion from the real life anxieties of such difficult times.
Anthromorphism is still with us (the Geico Gecko probably the most famous in terms of advertising, and Mr. Whippy, that 1950s’ mascot with his lovely, Rococo-style ice-cream wig, is still around), but unless one is a collector of such junk (and there are many collectors of such junk; I myself resist the urge on an almost daily basis), most adults no longer want teapots that smile at them, or toilet-roll holders that look like potatoes that also have faces with mustaches. And perhaps this speaks to the fact that – although we tend to think we’re living through ‘the worst of times’ – compared to the 1930s, we just might be living through the best of ’em.
Hollywood’s Deceased, Resting in Peace
Published on: 8th November 2019
The Dean Street Press ‘Hollywood Collection’ (biographies and autobiographies of Golden Age Hollywood stars) certainly came to mind during this week’s trip to Los Angeles and a visit to the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary. Nestled peacefully in the Westwood region of the city, the cemetary (that has undergone several name changes over the decades) has been active since the 1880s, and is still used to inter the bodies of the famous – and not so famous – of Hollywood’s elite. Notably, it is the site chosen by Joe DiMaggio to lay his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, to rest, her crypt only feet away from the grave of her Some Like It Hot director, Billy Wilder (whose gravestone humorously reads; ‘I’m a writer, but then, nobody’s perfect’).
Unlike Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (a tourist destination that offers maps to famous graves, queues to take a look at them, and Millennials with ‘selfie sticks’ pouting in front of Jim Morrisson’s) the Pierce Brothers Memorial Park is a peaceful and respectul place. Green, leafy, cool, and calm, few people visit, and those who do are either related to those who are interred, or genuine film buffs who have come to quiety pay their respects to those who made Hollywood history. Keeping Monroe company in this peaceful oasis flanked by freeways and highrise buildings are Jack Lemmon, Fanny Bryce, Dean Martin, Josef von Sternberg, Cornel Wilde, Walter Matthau, Burt Lancaster, Louis Jordan,Truman Capote,and many others. Perhaps most interesting to Dean Street Press were the graves of sisters Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor, as we publish both the autobiography and novels of George Sanders (All About Eve actor known for his caustic wit) who was married to both Zsa Zsa and, later, to her other sister, Magda (buried elsewhere).
Dionne Warwick famously sang that ‘L.A. is a great big freeway’, and those of you who know the city can certainly attest to that. A sprawling, exciting, and frenetic hub, L.A. does host some pockets of peace, and the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary is one of them. Free of gift shops and gawkers, if you’re visiting The City of Angels and want to take a breather, a trip to the Pierce Brothers is not only a fascinating glimpse into Hollywood history, but a little reminder that those we admire on the Silver Screen were real people who, to quote Morrissey, were ‘born, and then they lived, and then they died’, and they were loved not only by fans, but by the friends and relatives who chose such a beautiful site to inter them.
Netflix Trailers New Season of ‘The Crown’
Published on: 28th October 2019
It seems as if we have all been lords and ladies in waiting over the past two years, with Netflix always teasing, yet never committing, to a release date for the third season of its much acclaimed and soapy saga of Elizabeth Windsor’s life on the throne. Happily, the streaming platform has just announced the season premiere date (November 17th, 2019), along with a tantalizing trailer that finds this year’s Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia Colman all pursed lips, pearls, and pooches as The Queen. Her beautiful and troubled sister, Margaret, is played by Helena Bonham Carter in a role she was surely born to play. The sets seems as scrumptious as seasons one and two, the costumes are authentic to both the era (the 1970s) and the royals who wore them, and with a sterling cast that includes Tobias Mendes (Prince Philip) and Charles Dance (Lord Montbatten), this is truly ‘appointment viewing’ in its truest sense, and we're already planning our premiere party, complete with Dubonnet and gin, both The Queen’s and her mother’s favorite tipple.
‘IN LIKE FLYNN!’ In Celebration of Our Newest Author
Published on: 7th October 2019
This month, we admit to feeling a little bit chuffed here at Dean Street Press. Fans of detective fiction know only too well the frustration that comes with discovering a Golden Age Mystery author, and then the seeming impossibility of finding his or her books, the quest made all the more baffling if the writer was as prolific as Brian Flynn. The author of fifty-seven mystery novels, copies of Mr. Flynn’s books have been oddly difficult to come by, bloggers putting out virtual A.P.B.s for battered (and often very expensive) copies of The Triple Bite or The Five Red Fingers. I’d hardly say we are superheroes here at Dean Street Press, but it’s always nice to come to the rescue, and we’re delighted this month to release ten of Brian Flynn’s Golden Age Mysteries (with hopefully more to follow). A civil servant, teacher, and amateur actor, Mr. Flynn began writing in the late 1920s, an era when it seemed that anyone who owned a typewriter believed they could write a whodunnit. Considering most of the novels available ‘mediocre in the extreme’, Mr. Flynn threw his hat into the ring and introduced the world to Anthony Bathurst, a private detective as clever as Poirot and as suave as The Saint. Fifty-six novels would follow, each as intriguing as the next, Mr. Flynn’s plotting and denouements frequently compared to Dame Agatha’s. These are satisfying mysteries: once you pick them up, it’s hard to put them down, yet the biggest mystery is why Mr. Flynn has remained un-republished for so many years.
Now you understand why we are chuffed; Brian Flynn’s work is just too good to be forgotten, and Dean Street Press is proud to welcome this wonderful writer to our ever-growing roster of Golden Age Crime Fiction authors.
In Praise of the Thirties’ Palette
Published on: 7th October 2019
With the launch of our new look website came a renewed interest in the history of colour. Of course, we wanted the look of the site to be 'web contemporary', but we also wanted to evoke the palette of the past and to speak to our book jackets. Designed in-house, one of the aspects of our cover art that I personally enjoy the most is the authentic palette. Whether a book was originally published in the the Twenties or the the Forties, the palette corresponds perfectly to each decade. Palette is of particular interest to me; as a professor of fashion and design history, colour theory is an enormous component of any course I teach, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve marked a student down for ‘getting colour wrong’ in an historically-inspired visual project.
One of the eras that seems to confound most of my students is the 1930s. As so much of what we see on film from ’30s is in black and white (with so many interiors still cemented in the bold, Art Deco style of the 1920s), it’s easy to understand why the palette of the ’30s is so often misread – and then misinterpreted – with even big budget movies set in the decade opting (erroneously) for the black, silver, red, indigo, and emerald favoured by The Jazz Age.
The palette of the ’30s was not within the strong, Deco ambit; it was soft and muted, with gentle hues of mauve, lavender, sage, blue-grey, teal, and cornflower. Although the graphics of WPA art, for example, were strident and bold, the Works Progress Administration artists adhered to the palette of their time, with renderings of even The Badlands and Yosemite worked in subtle seafoam, barely-there beige, and pretty periwinkle blue.
Commercial art of the era followed suit, this same, placid palette ubiquitous in advertising, with everything from cars to cosmetics, and from Hollywood movies to fruit juice, sold to a Depression Era public in these gentle, offbeat colours.
The flirty, feminine feel of 1930s’ fashion lent itself perfectly to this gentlest of palettes; certainly, designers such as Schiaparelli and Adrian played boldly with brights, yet the majority of womenswear – be it high fashion or high street – was worked in the hushed hues that I personally adore, and wish were remembered more widely.
The purple range was particularly popular in the 1930s; from amethyst to orchid, and from the lightest lilac to the deepest eggplant, I would argue (and once did!) that the popularity of purple in the ’30s was directly due to The Great Depression. Just a glance at a selection of movie titles of the era indicates the obsession with wealth that followed The Crash of ’29; Grand Hotel, Dinner at Eight, The Gay Divorcee, these movies centered on wealthy people living glamorous lives in luxurious settings, and as purple is traditionally the colour of royalty, it is not surprising to see it so favoured in a decade of want and dis-empowerment.
Another colour that dominated the ’30s was undoubtedly seafoam, and yet I am still trying figure out why those who struggled through The Great Depression favored a colour that (while beautiful) is hardly ‘upbeat’. Packaging in particular flew the seafoam flag, and while image-searching for this post, I found it difficult to find 1930s’ packaging that didn’t include at least an element of seafoam.
With such a predilection for both seafoam and purple tones, it’s no wonder we see this odd (yet strangely harmonious) marriage of the two in 1930s’ homes.
Yet the question remains as to why? Why was the palette of The Thirties so soft, so muted, so understated? As everything in culture is a response to whatever is happening on the greater socio-political landscape, I believe there is an argument that after the wild spending (and wild living) of the prosperous 1920s, there was a general sense of contriteness that marked The Thirties. Hemlines fell, church-going boomed, “Go big or go home” was notthe ethos of The Great Depression; it was more like; “go quietly, keep your nose clean, your head down, and maybe this hell will all go away”, and of course, this ‘hell’ included the rise of fascism in Europe, the Dustbowl of the American prairie states, and – by 1939 – the start of World War II. It is no wonder, then, that softness and sweetness were much in need, and the soothing Thirties’ palette married itself perfectly to that understated, somewhat apologetic psychology of the era.
To me, nothing is more evocative of past times than colour. Be it the patriotic reds, whites and blues of The Forties, the coral, mint, and turquoise of the Mid-Century, or even the clash of neon and pastels in the 1980s, every decade is recalled to me as soon as I see a particular hue. Yet my personal favorite palette has got to be that of the 1930s, which is why I was so enchanted by the wonderfully authentic palette of Dean Street Press book jackets; not only my favorite era in Crime Fiction and Literary Fiction, but my favourite colours, too.