Category Archives: 1930s

It was nice to see you Marlene

On the late morning of Tuesday 27th February 2018 (yesterday) I was scanning through my weekend magazine to see what was on.  On page 55 I found that, at 12.35pm in their Film 4 program on Freeview 15; Freesat 300; Sky 315 & Virgin 428 (HD429) was a 1939 film – ‘Destry Rides Again’.  The star, playing the sheriff, was James Stewart that ‘makes an enemy, later a friend, in the shape of a sultry saloon singer’.  No mention was made of the real name of that woman but I knew who she was – I had written about her in my posting earlier this month.  It was Marlene Dietrich!

I wonder if I could make this a valid excuse to sit at home and watch more films!


Marlene Dietrich – a Dance Hall Queen

In the mid 1930’s things had begun to unravel for Marlene.  In her films she had become typecast as a woman of low morals.  Then, her chance of change came in 1939 when she was cast as “Frenchy” – a Western saloon hostess in ‘Destry Rides Again’.

1939 marked an incredible year in Hollywood cinema – one that saw probably the greatest variety of landmark films in its history: Stagecoach, Gone With the Wind, Ninotchka, The Wizard of Oz, Gunga Din, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering Heights, are just a few. It was also a year where Westerns like John Ford’s ‘Stagecoach’ were reaching new artistic heights. Another to rise above the past was ‘Destry Rides Again’ a new kind of film which was a complex synthesis of several genres – comedy, romance, musical and Western revenge fantasy. Director George Marshall twisted these together in a unique and entertaining blend that helped redefine the genre’s sense of irony and purpose.

In the story Kent – the saloon owner and unscrupulous boss of the town of Bottleneck – has the town’s sheriff, killed when he asked one too many questions about a rigged poker game. Kent and “Frenchy”, his girlfriend and the dance hall queen, now have a stranglehold over the local cattle ranchers. The crooked town’s mayor, Hiram J. Slade, is also in collusion with Kent and appoints the town drunk, Washington Dimsdale, as the new sheriff, assuming that he will be easy to control and manipulate. But – what mayor Slade does not know is that Dimsdale was a deputy under the famous lawman Tom Destry, and is able to call upon the latter’s equally formidable son, Tom Destry, Jr. – played by James Stewart – to help him make Bottleneck a lawful, respectable town.  Destry confounds the townsfolk by refusing to strap on a gun in spite of demonstrating that he is an expert marksman. He still carries out the “letter of the law”, as deputy sheriff, and earns their respect.

A final confrontation between Destry and Kent’s gang is inevitable.  However, “Frenchy” is won over by Destry, changes sides and, when a final gunfight ensues, “Frenchy” is killed in the crossfire, and the rule of law wins the day.

This film began a new direction for Marlene because it released her from the typecasting of old.  In 1996, Destry Rides Again was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”.


Marlene decides it’s her life – and she’ll live it her way.

On the strength of the international success of The Blue Angel’s that we saw last week, Marlene was given a chance for a crack in Hollywood. Her first film there was Morocco, a 1930’s romantic drama that she shared with Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou – an individual who had served as a captain in the US Army ambulance service during the war.  Morocco was nominated for four Academy Awards and won the National Board of Review ‘Top Ten Films’ award while Marlene was nominated but did not win the Best Actress award. In 1992, Morocco was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

With Paramount’s Josef von Sternberg at the helm Marlene starred in six more films between 1930 and 1935.  Their last two films – ‘The Scarlet Empress’ in 1934 and ‘The Devil is a Woman’ in 1935 – were the most stylized of their works together but also the lowest grossing films.  Later in her life Marlene was to remark that she had been her most beautiful in ‘The Devil is a Woman’.

Sternberg had welcomed her with many gifts – including a green Rolls-Royce Phantom II that appeared in ‘Morocco’ as well as acting as her own transport!  Behind all of this Marlene was also living a life of her own – and was also beginning to select her own lovers – with von Sternberg probably being the first!

It is said that Marlene juggled her lovers with the skill of a practical joker. At dawn her ‘visitor’ would sneak out of whatever rented Hollywood mansion she was living in at the time and then go back and ring the front doorbell as a polite visitor and sit down with Marlene to a breakfast of Scrambled Eggs!

George Orwell writes from Marrakesh about chickens and hens

Wednesday 12th October 1938: George Orwell writes to Jack Common who was looking after his cottage:

‘I hope the hens have begun laying. Some of them have by this time, I expect, at any rate they ought to.

We’ve bought the hens for our house, which we’re moving into on Saturday. The hens in this country are miserable little things like the Indian ones, about the size of bantams, and what is regarded as a good laying hen, i.e. it lays once a fortnight, costs less than a shilling. They ought to cost about 6 pence, but at this time of year the price goes up because after Yom Kippur every Jew, of whom there are 13,000 in this town, eats the whole fowl to recompense him for the strain of fasting 12 hours.’ 

I think I would be very happy to be offered a British chicken!

In writing this I have discovered something new (to me) about George Orwell – he was actually named Eric Arthur Blair!

Arresting the first drunk driver and the result

It was on Friday 10th September 1897 that a London cabdriver named George Smith drove his taxi into a building and became the first person in Britain to be arrested for drunk driving. He pleaded guilty and was fined 25 shillings. The checking police officers said they ‘knew that Smith was drunk because he acted drunk’ – he had driven that cab into a wall, after all and ‘because he said he was!’

What they lacked, though, was a scientific way to prove someone was too intoxicated to drive, even if he or she wouldn’t admit it.  It wasn’t long before blood tests were introduced – but those were messy and needed to be performed by a doctor.  Then there were urine tests – but those were even messier, not to mention unreliable and expensive.

It was in 1931 that Rolla Neil Harger, a toxicologist at Indiana University in the USA, came up with a solution – a breathalyzer device he called the ‘Drunkometer’. It was simple – all the suspected drinker had to do was blow into a balloon!  The tester would then attached the balloon to a tube filled with a purple fluid – a mix of Potassium Permanganate and Sulphuric Acid – and release the air into the tube.  Any alcohol on a person’s breath would change the colour of the fluid from purple to yellow – and the quicker the change, the drunker the person!

In 1938 Rolla Harger was one of the five people chosen to be on the subcommittee of the National Safety Council that drafted the model legislation that set the blood alcohol content for driving under the influence.  He was awarded the patent in 1936.

What’s the point of this new stuff?

How many times have we asked this question of ourselves? 

It may well have been said many times in a mining venture that began life in 1902 as a mining company.  The five founders had a very simple plan – they wanted to harvest a mineral known as corundum from a mine called Crystal Bay.   Their company was named ‘The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.’  They became successful and moved on to other projects and products – and their name became easier to recall  – it was 3M and it was on this day – Monday 8th September 1930 – that they launched a new product to the world.  It was a transparent tape that was sticky on one side and smooth on the other.  They called the product Scotch Tape and its job was to seal Cellophane.

In 1937 UK manufacturers started to make a similar product and they called it Sellotape.  Just how did we cope without it?

New books at sensible prices

It was on Tuesday 30th July 1935 that book publishers Bodley Head published their first ten paperback books.  They called the publication Penguin and each book cost six pence (6d) – hardcover books were priced at seven (7/-) or eight (8/-) shillings each,

These 10 books revolutionized publishing – and the buying of books. Within a year, Penguin had sold 3 million paperbacks and the sceptics – and there were many – had been proved wrong.  The success was not totally based on price but also design. Edward Young was responsible for the first 10 covers and those thick bands of colour, and the use of the Gill Sans-Serif Bold font have become part of design history. The 10 books included several writers who are still well known today and others like of Beverley Nichols, Mary Webb, E H Young and Susan Ertz receive little attention today.

In 1985, Penguin reprinted its 10 original trendsetting books as a set to mark their 50th anniversary – these were/are:

William by E H Young   /   Ariel by Andre Maurois   /   Poet’s Pub by Eric Linklater

Gone to Earth by Mary Webb   /   Madame Claire by Susan Ertz

Carnival by Compton Mackenzie   /   Twenty-Five by Beverley Nichols

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L Sayers

The ‘Speaking Clock’ speaks!

It was on this day – Friday 24th July 1936 – that a speaking clock service was first introduced in Britain.  The voice was that of London telephonist Ethel Jane Cain, who had won a prize of 10 guineas in a competition to find the right voice. Her voice was recorded optically onto  glass disks in a similar way to a film soundtrack. You made use of the service by dialing the letters TIM (846) on a dial telephone.

As a result the service was often colloquially – and continuously referred to as “Tim”.