Saturday, March 03, 2012

1937 Part 1

Sixty-one years ago (that's right) I met a wonderful girl named Elaine.  Immediately smitten by her good looks and intelligence, I asked her to be my girlfriend, and 6 years later we were married.  We had a wonderful 43 years of marriage, and produced three marvelous children, who are carrying on our "line" with families of their own.  Early in this century, Elaine died unexpectedly during a heart bypass operation in Washington, D.C.  After a  year of grief, I was lucky to meet another Elaine, who has been my partner now for over ten years.  This blog entry is related to my first Elaine. 

As a 50th birthday gift for my "first Elaine," I ordered a copy of a newspaper that was published on the day she was born in 1937.  The ad had said that it would be an original "pristine" copy of a newspaper from the city where she was born.   When I opened the package, I found an old, yellowed cut-up copy of a New York Times newspaper.. definitely not The New Bedford Standard Times.  It apparently was obtained from some "throw-away" file of some library.. it even had holes on the side, where it had been held in those wooden frames that libraries probably still use today to keep each day's newspapers in an easily readable manner.

Elaine pretended to like the gift.  The paper was glanced at and then placed in an obscure corner of the "Vaughan Archives," where it lingered for another 25 years.. until I discovered it again last month.

Now, the pages are even more yellowed and crumbly, but before placing them in the recycling bag, I thought that it might be interesting (at least to me) to learn what the big news was 75 years ago,  according to that wonderful institution, The New York Times newspaper, and to make comments, that I am allowed to do now, as the certified "Blogger" that I have become in my old age.

Please remember that I am not as smart or well-read as Dahl Drenning on Pre-World War II conditions, but I'll give it a shot.  Also, I'm sure that all of  the Times newspapers are online now and can be reviewed by obtaining a digital subscription.. and I, or course, recommend that you do so.

I will divide my 1937 comments into three parts:

1: Life in the United States

2. Life around the World

3. World War II

Life in the United States in 1937

The "Supremes"

No, not the singing group.. but instead, the nine "old timers" serving as Justices on the Supreme Court of the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was frustrated by these old folks and tried to "pack" the court so that he would not get his economic "measures" knocked down by that body.  His plan was to get Congressional approval to allow him to add a new Justice for every present member past the age of 70, who refused to retire.

Congressmen said that they were "snowed under" by mail against President Roosevelt's plan, and even  Herbert Hoover warned: "Hands off the Supreme Court!"  The President did not get his own way on this plan.

The Dust Bowl

Because of a number of factors, including greedy landowners, irrigation problems, droughts, and lack of crop rotation, vast parts of the United States were becoming deserts.  The best depiction of the situation was outlined later in Steinbeck's novel: The Grapes of Wrath, and then in the famous movie of the same name.

During 1937, dust-laden snow fell on the corn belt.. snow storms met dust storms.. and  crops were destroyed.


Even though Americans were still suffering from the Great Depression, they still continued their love of automobiles.  The NY Times had lots of ads for new and used cars. And the prices looked pretty good.  For instance: a used 1935 Chevrolet like I had, was offered for an average of $485.  (I bought mine in 1952 for $35.. and other than a few problems, like a noisy muffler and damaged wheel bearings.. ran great on 18 cents a gallon gas.)

There was a victory for the working man in 1937.. at least in Michigan.. General Motors (you remember them.. they went bankrupt recently, helped me lose a bunch of money on their stock, and were revitalized to earn their highest profits in 2011...)..well GM recognized the United Automobile Workers of America.

Help Wanted

The NY Times shows lots of Help Wanted ads.. looks like the country is recovering.  I liked the following ads, that give some interesting clues about U.S. life in 1937:

"Accountant, assistant, for public accounting firm; considerable prospects, experienced, under 30, good appearance, applications, in own handwriting, must give age, religion, experience in detail and salary required."

"Butler, experience, elderly, white; light, part-time work in exchange room, meals; $5. weekly."

"Puzzle creator, to create cartoon puzzles similar to those now appearing in newspapers; artistic ability not necessary; ...only high type person qualified to earn good salary need apply..."

Speaking of puzzles.. I was pleased to read that the National Puzzlers League held it's 1937 annual convention at the Hotel New Yorker. (I have been a member of the NPL for 38 years.. you can find me there under my "nom"  AHAB.)

Real Estate

Lots of homes for sale or rent.. two of which looked like great bargains:

"Hudson River; private waterfront: 10-room house; 1 acre; beautiful flower gardens, fountains, private beach; estate sacrifice: $12,000."

"New Brunswick; 70-acre gentleman's estate; 150-year old Colonial house, charmingly  situated; old shade, large brook, rustic bridge skirting on front; outbuildings; large orchard; $12,000: only $3,500 cash."


Folks with money were still around in 1937.. and they and their children liked to keep their peers informed of their activity, such as these headlines that were meant to get attention:

"Nuptials are Held for Frances Story"

"Josephine A. Gibbs becomes afffianced"

"Miss Reade makes debut at a dance"

"Troth announced of Miss Anderson"

I also liked these two classic editorial observations:

"Mrs. Erastus Ketcham of Amityville, gave a large birthday party for herself. She was 96.  Mrs. Ketcham is as active as women half her age."

"Mrs. Thomas Sherlin will leave the Pierre today for Aikens, where she will join Mr. Sherlin at their cottage, Green Shingles, to pass the remainer of the Winter."


Radio was big in 1937.  Some of the big name comedy stars were: Jimmy Durante,  Bob Hope, and Bert Lahr.  In the late evening, listeners tuned in to the following stations which could be reached by New York City residents (some of these are still in existence): WABC, WEVD, WEAF, WMCA, WOR, and WJZ.  Late listeners would be treated to sleep-inducing music from the following orchestras:

Pryor Orchestra
Busse Orchestra
Lyman Orchestra
Lopez Orchestra
Barron Orchestra
Brandywine Orchestra
Fitzpatrick Orchestra
Jones Orchestra
Travers Orchestra

I wonder how many, if any, of these orchestras survived the thirties.

During 1937, a new lightweight microphone, called a "salt-shaker" was developed by the Bell Telephone Laboratories.  Unlike other "mikes", this one may be mounted on a desk or floor stand, or it may be suspended from the ceiling.  This was a big breakthrough for radio.

BTW: does anyone remember "Uncle Don?"


Yes, there was television in 1937.  There were a few thousand viewers in the NYC area.  It must have been nice to have no "sitcoms".


There was a big theater following in 1937, as there is now.. and some of the plays are still being produced, either as originally given or in updated versions.

The Yiddish Folks Theatre on 12th Street and 2nd Avenue was giving sell-out performances of a "real Yiddish Operetta" called: The Galician Rabbi.


I think that you can "google" 1937 movies and see the names of all of them, but the best one might be "It Happened One Night" with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.. it came out in 1934, but was still a "hit" in 1937.  Another great one was "Modern Times" with Charlie Chaplin, that came out in 1936.


Opera continued to be big, even in the Depression.  The "Met" was the place where all great or would-be great opera stars wanted to perform.  Evening prices ranged from 50 cents to $2!

It was interesting to me to read that Mussolini had arranged cheap Saturday matinees (Sabato Teatrale) so that "the little man" could afford theater and opera.  For 10 cents, that little guy could see the same show in the afternoon that costs $5 to see in the evening.

BTW: "The Metropolitan Opera House is probably the only theatre in the Broadwaysector with a bar, and it does a thriving business.  The most popular drink is Scotch and soda." 

As one might expect, beer and wine were not purchased anywhere near as much.

Other Items of Interest

You,too, can learn to dance like Fred and Ginger.

(Henny Youngman jokes: "I learned dancing from Arthur Murray.  Later, I found it was more fun with a girl.)

Do you play the piano?

Want to travel to Boston? You can't beat this price!

New Traffic Code

A new set of traffic rules went into effect in February 1937:

No turns, left or right are permitted on red lights..unless you have an arrow or a sign, or a policeman pointing in that direction.

No movement is permitted during the "dark" period when traffic lights are changing color.  (Did they have different lights in those days?)

No driving more than 15 mph over the speed limit (called "Dangerous Driving).

No weaving in and out of traffic (called "Dangerous Driving).

(Other rules from December 1936:)

General speed limit of 25 mph.

No more "car-watching" racket. (?)

No more taxicab jockey evil"... (?)

No more "highway sales to motorists by street hawkers"... (?)

(I know how bad it is to drive in New York City now.. it must have been "pure hell" in 1937.)


Please join me next time for Part 2: Life Around the World in 1937.