During the fall election campaign that year, Vanity Fair, a magazine of the arts and culture based in New York, put a caricature of Roosevelt on its September 1932 cover, shown at right.
The illustration — by Mexican-American artist Miguel Covarrubias — featured a dapper, blue-eyed and smiling FDR against a background of an American flag’s red and white stripes. This would be the first of about a dozen Vanity Fair covers that would either feature FDR, his programs, or the situation in Washington and nation during the early- and mid-1930s.
Vanity Fair, although primarily a magazine of arts and culture, would use its magazine covers, its artists, and its inside pages to draw attention to Roosevelt’s programs and his time in office through late 1935, as the magazine ceased publishing shortly thereafter. A review of some of that coverage — focused primarily on the cover art — follows below, along with a few sketches of the artists involved, cover subject, and the politics of the day.Also portrayed on the September 1932 cover above, in the lower right-hand corner, is an “everyman” mug of beer, symbolizing Roosevelt’s pledge to end Prohibition. The national ban on alcohol had been in effect since January 1920, and calling for Prohibition’s end would be popular with many voters. “Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stand on prohibition in the present campaign,” wrote one New York Times reporter, “is wetter than Alfred E. Smith’s was four years ago…” [when Smith, former Democratic Governor of New York, ran for President]. In fact, the shift in the Democrats’ position on Prohibition between 1928 and 1932, observed the reporter, was like going from the Gobi Desert to the Mediterranean Sea.
Roosevelt, of course, had more on his mind than Prohibition. He was keenly focused on the nation’s dire economic straits. During his campaigning from July through October of 1932, he promised a program of social reconstruction and federal support of the economy — programs aimed at the “forgotten man.” He stressed the need for an economy that would foster a more balanced distribution of wealth with the least possible federal interference. One of the contributing causes of the Depression, according to some economists at the time, was the concentration of wealth in the stock market and other capital accumulation that was being held back and not being spent or circulated in the wider economy.
FDR’s opponent, the incumbent president, Republican Herbert Hoover — who presided over the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Depression — called for private enterprise solutions, charging that Roosevelt’s program was socialistic. Yet on Hoover’s watch, the Depression had some of its worst years. GNP in 1932 had fallen a record 13.4 percent; unemployment rose to 23.6 percent. Industrial stocks had lost 80 percent of their value since 1930. Some 10,000 banks had failed since 1929, and GNP had fallen a total 31 percent. Over 13 million Americans had lost their jobs since 1929 and international trade was off by two-thirds. Congress had passed the Federal Home Loan Bank Act and the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, and the nation’s top tax rate had been increased. But public opinion considered Hoover’s measures too little too late. More on the Depression and FDR’s election in a moment. But first some background on Vanity Fair.
Vanity Fair, 1930s
By the mid-1920s Vanity Fair was one of America’s leading culture chroniclers. It contained writing by top writers of the day, including Thomas Wolfe, T. S. Eliot and P. G. Wodehouse, theater criticisms by Dorothy Parker, and photographs by Edward Steichen; Claire Booth Luce was one of its editors for a time. From the fall of 1931, the magazine’s covers ran, in varying order, the words “Art,” People” “Politics” “Satire,” “Sports,” “Humor,” “Books,” “Stage” along one or two of its outer borders (see issues above and below for examples). Politics seemed to gain somewhat more visibility on VF’s covers at about that time, as well. In fact, no political figure had appeared on the cover prior to October 1931, as the magazine’s covers had focused primarily on subjects related to the arts. Herbert Hoover was the first political figure to be caricatured on a Vanity Fair cover — appearing on the October 1931 issue shown above. He was followed by others, including various world leaders: India’s Mahatma Ghandi in November 1931, Britain’s prime minister Ramsay MacDonald in January 1932, and New York Mayor Jimmy Walker in April 1932 (shown above). U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon was featured on the May 1932 cover, following his departure from office (see below). Germany’s elderly chancellor Paul von Hindenburg appeared on the cover June 1932; Hindenburg had then narrowly defeated Hitler in a runoff election that April. The magazine also put caricatures of dictators Benito Mussolini of Italy and Adolf Hitler, respectively, on its October and November 1932 covers (shown later below).FDR first appeared on a Vanity Fair cover with the September 1932 cover shown at the top of this article. Throughout the next three years, caricatures and drawings of FDR, New Deal programs, Uncle Sam, and the state of the nation’s economy would be depicted by various artists on Vanity Fair covers. Inside the magazine as well, articles on FDR’s programs and administration, and sometimes photographs of its officials and/or critical opponents, would also appear during this period.
A typical Vanity Fair issue in the 1930s had four main sections — “Articles,” included short pieces written on the issues of the day, covering film, books, theater, politics and other subjects; “Short Stories” ran pieces of fiction and nonfiction; “Photographs,” usually a dozen or so large-to-medium sized, featured stage and screen stars and other notables, some of portraiture quality; and finally “Art and Caricature,” featuring paintings by new artists, satirical and comic drawings, and caricatures of celebrities and other notables. Advertising pages were positioned in the front and back of the magazine, running ten to twelve pages in each section, with the magazine’s core content in the middle.
By the 1930s, Vanity Fair was at its peak, with a circulation at just under 90,000 — certainly no threat to the larger circulating Saturday Evening Post, then in the millions-per-week. Vanity Fair’s circulation by 1935 was 88,000, compared to 553,577 at Time, 127,959 at the New Yorker, and 155,476 at Vogue, a sister magazine also owned by Conde’ Nast. Vanity Fair, however, wasn’t after the mass audience; it catered to a more sophisticated readership; one that followed art, film, literature, and to a lesser extent, politics, too — what might today be called the “influentials” or “opinion-makers” market. However, by the mid-1930s, the magazine had fallen out of sync with the times, and would become a casualty of the Great Depression. With the poor economy and the rise of Fascism at the forefront of readers’ minds, subscribers moved to more no-nonsense news coverage. Declining advertising revenues were also a factor, although Conde’ Nast was happy to subsidize this magazine with other revenue. Still, in 1936 Vanity Fair was folded into Conde’ Nast’s Vogue magazine. It would make a comeback in the 1980s. But prior to its first ending — during that early- and mid-1930s time of economic difficulty and political change — Vanity Fair did its share to cover and spotlight politics, with FDR and his programs getting a fair amount of play and artist attention. A further sampling of some of that coverage continues below.
Roosevelt won the 1932 election in a landslide with a popular vote of 22.8 million to Hoover’s 15.7 million. He also swamped Hoover in the electoral vote, 472 to 59. But the new president would not be sworn in until March 1933, as was then the custom. Vanity Fair, meanwhile, offered a Valentine caricature on its February 1933 cover depicting the new president-elect and his former foe, Vice President-elect John Nance Garner, a U.S. Congressman from Texas and then Speaker of the House.
Garner had initially ran against Roosevelt for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1932, becoming one of Roosevelt’s most serious opponents. When it became evident that Roosevelt would win the nomination, Garner cut a deal with the front-runner, becoming Roosevelt’s Vice Presidential candidate. This cover was another from artist Miguel Covarrubias who by this date had already done a number of caricatures for VF covers, as well as inside pieces (see artist profile below). FDR, meanwhile, had begun his fireside chats on radio as a way to directly communicate with the American people.
In the May 1933 edition of Vanity Fair, a cover scene depicting “fickle” Washington, D.C. was offered by artist Vladimir Bobritsky. The cover showed half the scene full of sunshine, blue skies, and flag-flying patriotism, with the other half terrorized by storm clouds and lightening, suggesting the city’s unpredictable and whimsical political nature — patriotic and optimistic one minute, foreboding and disastrous the next. FDR and his Administration at this time were in the middle of their first “100 days” in office, cranking out all manner of new laws in the March-through-June 1933 period to help right the nation’s economic course — from providing relief payments to states, to raising farm prices. Inside this issue of Vanity Fair, meanwhile, there was also an article by writer Jay Franklin, entitled “Not a Cabinet But a Coalition,” describing Roosevelt’s selection of cabinet members.
Among Roosevelt’s main problems when he first took office was the banking crisis. Runs on banks had forced bank failures and official “bank holidays.” Emergency banking powers were among the first laws enacted, giving the government the power to reopen banks once declared secure. Related to the banking and financial issues was gold and gold trading.
“Wailing Wall”In the 1920s, European governments and the U.S. had tied their currencies to gold. But a rise in demand for gold through 1928 had a depressionary effect on the price of goods. Abandonment of gold standard, it was thought, would allow more money to be put into circulation, though creating mild inflation. Soon, governments began abandoning the gold standard; the U.K did so in September 1931, with Sweden shortly thereafter and other European nations somewhat later. At his inauguration, and as one of his emergency actions in March 1933, Roosevelt had put an embargo on the withdrawal of gold for export or domestic use. And by mid-April 1933, FDR took the U.S. off the gold standard for its currency. This caused the dollar to decline in foreign exchanges, but commodities and stocks rose in the American market. The net effect was to make money more available to Americans and thereby, stimulate the economy. However, during 1933, there was still much debate on the matter of gold in international circles, especially by France, which sought a return to the gold standard, and at one point had alluded to an allied force of western nations acting in unison as a “wall of gold” also called a “gold bloc.” This debate on gold appears to have caught the attention of Vanity Fair in its June 1933 issue, with artist Miguel Covarrubias depicting the various national symbols in caricature — Uncle Sam, John Bull, etc. — commiserating at “The Wailing Wall of Gold.” In mid-June 1933, at the London Economic Conference, there would be more debate about gold. In the U.S., meanwhile, the dollar was allowed to float freely on foreign exchange markets with no guaranteed price in gold. Markets responded well to the suspension, although initially it was assumed to be temporary. There would be continued debate for a time on the pros and cons of the gold standard, but the U.S. and other nations did not return to it.
At Vanity Fair, Covarrubias also became noted for the magazine’s “Impossible Interviews” series of caricatures that featured unlikely pairings of public figures from opposing sides of the political and/or social spectrums. Each sketch was accompanied by a short and witty caption or contrived dialogue. The sketches were usually of two famous people unlikely to even be in the same room with one another — i.e., mob boss Al Capone and Chief Justice Charles Hughes; conservative and moralist, U.S. Senator Smith W. Brookhart (R-IA) and movie star Marlene Dietrich; writer Gertrude Stein and comedienne Gracie Allen; movie star Clark Gable and the Prince of Wales; J. D. Rockefeller and Josef Stalin; dancer/stripper Sally Rand with modern dance pioneer Martha Graham; and others.
Through his exposure at Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and other outlets, a great demand for Covarrubias’ art developed. Throughout the 1930s he continued designing covers for Vanity Fair and Vogue. Among others he sketched or caricatured were D.H. Lawrence, Joe Louis, Walt Disney, Benny Goodman, and scenes from the 1943 Broadway musical, Carmen Jones. Covarrubias would later leave Manhattan and return to Mexico, undertaking a study of the anthropology and ethnology of ancient American cultures, while also writing and teaching. He had wide-ranging interests, from archeology and folk art to theater and dance. choreography. He counted among his friends and associates both the Whitney and Rockefeller families, as well as leftist causes and known communists such as Diego Rivera. In 1950, as the U.S. descended into its McCarthyism hysteria, Covarrubias, under scrutiny from the FBI 1943, was labeled a threat to national security. Without visas for U.S. travel, his career took a turn for the worse. He died in 1957 due to complications from ulcers. His art survives today, and is periodically shown in American, Mexican, and other museums.
The July 1933 issue of Vanity Fair featured artist Paolo Garretto’s rendition of Uncle Sam in the shape of an Independence Day numeral “4.” Garretto portrays a despondent Sam, head in hands, seated in the western hemisphere, with storm clouds above. Although a number of FDR’s New Deal programs had been launched, domestically there was little to cheer about, as the economy was dismal.
Overseas, the picture was also dire, with the U.S. set apart from its European allies over international monetary policy. Roosevelt’s rejection of an agreement reached in mid-June at the London Economic Conference resulted in an overwhelmingly negative response from the British and French, as well as inter- nationalists at home. Also in Europe, the Nazis in Germany by this time had already staged massive public book burnings, and had forbidden all non-Nazi political parties.
“The Sporting Life”Taking a break from the otherwise dismal news of that time, the August 1933 cover of Vanity Fair, featured various star athletes of that era as caricatured by Constantin Aladjálov (see background on him below at 1935 Ringmaster cover). Among those included in this cover offering were New York Yankee baseball slugger Babe Ruth and tennis champions Helen Wills and Ellsworth Vines.
Also shown was polo player Tommy Hitchcock, Jr., as polo in the early 1930s was having one of its greatest eras, not only surviving during the Depression, but expanding with a rising number of clubs and recognized national players. Hithcock was one of the latter, known as “a ten-goaler” who for 20 years was an American favorite.
Other notables on this Vanity Fair cover are several boxing athletes, among them, Germany’s Max Schmeling, who was heavyweight champion between 1930 and 1932, shown wearing a swastika. He is flanked by two other smaller boxers, one a Jewish boxer adorned with the Star of David, possibly Barney Ross, a lightweight and welterweight fighter at that time, and on the other side of Schmeling, possibly Jimmy McLarnin, a popular Irish boxer and welterweight champion, shown wearing a shamrock on his sweater. Golf champion Gene Sarazen is also shown.
And finally, though not an athlete, FDR is shown at the bottom of the magazine in a caricature by artist Constantin Alajalov, as a high society yachtsman.
Fat Cat & Hobo
The October 1933 issue of Vanity Fair, while not on FDR or the New Deal per see, focused on the contrasting economics of boom and bust in the years 1929 and 1933. Two silhouette characters are featured, shown as cut-outs from newspaper stock market numbers — one shown as a stout, wealthy aristocrat with cigar for the year 1929, pre-crash, and the other, as a down-and-out hobo for the much-deflated realities and hard times of 1933. The two characters portrayed the vast difference between America’s financial attitudes in 1929 and 1933 and the still dire straits that then existed. Roosevelt’s New Deal, meanwhile, unveiled the Civil Works Administration in early November 1933, a government program designed to create jobs through new federal, state, and local projects. Eventually, about $1 billion would be spent on nearly 400,000 projects. Rural America, at that time, was also being ravaged by fierce dust storms. A particularly strong storm on November 11th, 1933 stripped farmland badly in South Dakota — one in a series of disastrous storms that year. Rural America was being hit doubly hard — by natural events bordering on catastrophe plus the Depression. By the end of the year, some 2,000 rural schools would not open for the fall semester and 2.3 million eligible children were not in school. In addition, throughout the nation, a number of colleges and universities were forced to close and some 200,000 teachers were out of work.
FDR to The Rescue?In the early days of Roosevelt’s administration in 1933-34, cartoonists and caricaturists tended to show him as a confident, strong, and energetic leader whose intentions for the nation were good and hopeful. These cartoons and renderings suggested an American faith in their president and that he could lead the nation out of hard times. The cover of the February 1934 issue of Vanity Fair at left, with caricature of FDR by artist Leon Carlin, shows a smiling President Roosevelt riding a bucking horse in the shape of the United States, suggesting he’s on a rough ride but in control and seemingly optimistic with the outcome.
In January 1934, in his message to Congress, FDR had requested $10.5 billion to advance his recovery programs over the next 18 months. In January, Congress also passed the Gold Reserve Act which empowered the president to fix the value of the dollar in terms of its relation to gold, all aimed at giving the Federal government control over fluctuations in the value of the dollar. By late February, Congress would pass the Crop Loan Act to continue programs by the Farm Credit Administration through 1934 to insure that farmers were given loans for crop production and harvesting. More farm programs would follow that spring.
FDR & Politics
In mounting his economic recovery programs, FDR was doing battle on a variety of fronts and dealing with an array of special interests. To give an idea of his political engagement and influence at the end of his first year in office, Vanity Fair’s March 1934 issue offered cover art with a line drawing of the president’s face superimposed over a field of other political and business figures of that time — more tableau than political statement, although FDR friends and foes were both depicted. A number of the caricatured faces came from earlier works by various VF artists, including those of Miguel Covar- rubias, Will Cotton, and others. The green line drawing of FDR’s face, though not attributed, could be the work of another artist, possibly Jean Carlu, who had also done cover art for Vanity Fair in the early 1930s.
The New Deal by then was encountering opposition from both ends of the political spectrum. Unions had sparked job actions in various places across the country. A prominent left-wing threat to Roosevelt came from U.S. Senator, Huey P. Long, Democrat of Louisiana, who railed at the New Deal for not doing enough. Long is shown in a smaller Miguel Covarrubias caricature near the top of this cover beneath the “N” in “Vanity Fair.” To the immediate left of Long, in a larger facial caricature, is Al Smith, former New York Governor and 1928 Democratic Presidential candidate. Smith founded the American Liberty League in 1934 to attack New Deal programs as fostering unnecessary “class conflict.” Eleanor Roosevelt — FDR’s wife and sphere of New Deal influence in her own right — is shown on the cover at bottom-center, beneath FDR’s chin, in a drawing by artist Will Cotton.Another of Will Cotton’s faces on this cover is that of Senator William Edgar Borah, Republican of Idaho. By the time of Roosevelt’s election in 1932, Borah was an established Republican and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 1932, unhappy with the conservative policies of President Herbert Hoover in light of the Great Depression, Borah refused to publicly endorse Hoover’s reelection campaign. As Dean of the Senate, Borah supported certain components of the New Deal, such as old-age pensions and the confiscation of U.S. citizens’ gold by executive order, but opposed others, including the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. He fought the National Recovery Adminstation (NRA) because he believed it would promote monopoly and would work against the small, independent businessmen that he believed were the bedrock of American economic democracy. Borah made defending the interests of small business the focus of an unsuccessful bid for the 1936 Republican presidential nomination. Also on this cover, in the upper right hand corner beneath the title line, is a Miguel Covarrubias caricature of Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes was appointed by Herbert Hoover as Chief Justice in 1930. His appointment was opposed by progressive elements in both parties who felt that he was too friendly to big business. Hughes, however, often aligned with Justices Louis Brandeis, Harlan Fiske Stone, and Benjamin Cardozo in finding FDR’s New Deal measures to be Constitutional, although he would write the opinion invalidating the National Recovery Administration in1935 and also led the fight against FDR’s attempt to pack the U.S. Supreme Court. Also on this Vanity Fair cover, directly below Hughes, is Oliver Wendell Holmes, caricatured with the long white mustache by artist Will Cotton. Holmes was also a famous Supreme Court judge, who served for over 30 years. Holmes had just retired from the court in 1932. Arthur Brisbane is shown near the top of the March 1934 Vanity Fair cover, beneath the title line, in a Miguel Covarrubias caricature. Brisbane was one of the most widely read newspaper columnists in America at the time. His “Today” column — published in 1,000 daily and weekly newspapers for two decades — was then read by 20 million people. He had worked for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in the 1890s. But in 1897, William Randolph Hearst made him managing editor of his New York Evening Journal, where Brisbane became a practitioner of sensational-style “yellow journalism.” He also became a close friend to Hearst and a well-paid editor. Brisbane interviewed or conversed with nearly all the U. S. presidents during his career, and had visited FDR at Hyde Park during his first presidential run in 1932. Brisbane’s columns often ran on the front page of Hearst newspapers. As long as Hearst and FDR were getting along, Brisbane’s columns, typically conservative, were restrained with regard to the New Deal. But after 1934, they turned more critical, accusing the New Deal of taking the country down the road toward communism. Hearst had helped Roosevelt get the Democratic nomination and become president in 1933. But Roosevelt had alienated Hearst with New Deal regulations, taxes, and spending programs. Hearst was once in labor’s corner too, but came to see unions as a threat to his newspaper empire. Brisbane had made a similar turn. In the 1961 biography, Citizen Hearst, by W.A. Swanberg, Brisbane is described as “a one-time socialist who had drifted pleasantly into the profit system… in some respects a vest-pocket Hearst — … a liberal who had grown conservative, an investor.” Brisbane’s columns continued until his death in 1936. Another journalist, Walter Lippmann (b.1889- d. 1974) — shown inside FDR’s “chin” on the March 1934 cover in a Miguel Covarrubias caricature — had been an editor at the New Republic in 1914-17. Lippmann became Assistant Secretary of War during WWI and worked at the New York World newspaper in the 1920s. In 1931 he began writing for the New York Herald Tribune and soon had a highly influential syndicated column. His early books, such as Public Opinion (1922), and A Preface to Morals (1929) championed liberalism, and he was an early supporter of FDR the New Deal, but he later became disillusioned and an FDR and New Deal critic. In 1936, he would support Republican Alf Landon for president, leading some to conclude he had become a reactionary, though he was a defender of liberal principles, as found in a later book, The Good Society. Lippmann would win a special Pulitzer Prize citation in 1958 praising his powers of news analysis.
All of the other faces on the March 1934 cover of Vanity Fair are also those of various political and business figures of that day.
June & Sept 1934
FDR’s “Brain Trusts”Throughout his New Deal tenure, Franklin Roosevelt had a group of key advisors — university educated, wise men and women who helped him launch, revise, and relaunch various New Deal programs during 1933-1936. This “team-of-experts” approach seems to have originated with speechwriter and legal counsel Samuel Rosenman who suggested in March 1932 that FDR have an academic team to advise him. It wasn’t wholly unprecedented, however, as Presi- dent Woodrow Wilson had a group of academic advisors in 1917 to help him prepare for peace negotiations following World War I. But in 1932, New York Times writer, James Kieran, first used the term “Brains Trust” when referring to a close group of experts that surrounded then-candidate Roosevelt. Others say that close FDR advisor, Louis Howe, actually used the term first, though derisively, in conversation with Roosevelt. FDR had two brain trusts — one early in the first New Deal, primarily during 1933, and another in the second phase of the New Deal in 1935-36. Among those in the first group were Columbia law professors — Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and Adolph Berle — and also James Warburg from the Bank of Manhattan, who became a financial adviser to FDR. Although these experts never met as a group, each of the original Brain Trusters had Roosevelt’s ear on certain matters, and they played key roles in shaping and/or advancing the original New Deal. Newspapers of the day, however, often ridiculed them as idealists. The second FDR brain trust, helping craft the programs of 1935-1936, were men associated with the Harvard law school — Benjamin Cohen, Thomas Corcoran, and Felix Frankfurter. Vanity Fair, using the talents of Italian caricaturist and artist Paolo Garretto, made the Brain Trust their cover subject for both the June and the September 1934 issues. In June, the Capitol building was shown wearing a pair of scholarly glasses and a mortarboard to symbolize the influence of FDR’s first Brain Trust bringing, presumably, good and enlightened policy.
By the fall of 1934, a number of government programs that FDR and his administration had created were becoming fair game for journalists and artists. For the September 1934 issues, Paolo Garretto once again caricatured the Brain Trust in a cover scene showing the New Deal era symbol, the NRA eagle, cast in academic black with mortarboard, carrying in its talons, a somewhat watchful Uncle Sam, holding onto his hat. Presumably, this enlightened American thunderbird is taking Sam to a better place, but perhaps not.
In fact, in due time, some of FDR’s Brain Trusters would part ways with him and his policies. Raymond Moley of the first Brain Trust broke with Roosevelt and became a sharp critic of the New Deal from the right. James Warburg also left FDR’s government in 1934, having come to oppose certain policies of the New Deal.
“Tattooed Sam”Artist Paolo Garretto also did the cover art for the October 1934 issue of Vanity Fair, titled, “The Tattooed Man,” capturing the begining of FDR’s “alphabet soup” of agencies and programs that would proliferate in the New Deal. In this case, Garretto shows Uncle Sam with all manner of tattoos on his body, each an acronym for one of the New Deal’s laws or programs — each also signifying an attached special interest. The sign on the curtain over Sam’s left shoulder and above the tattoo artist at work, reads: “Dr. Braintrust, Tatoo Artist; $1.00 Per Letter; Eagles, $3.00 Each.”
Among the programs or agencies tattooed on Sam in this illustration are: AAA, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, created in 1933 to pay farmers to reduce crop area with the intention of reducing crop surpluses to help raise crop values to restore farm stability; CCC, for the Civilian Conservation Corps of 1933-1942, which employed young men to perform unskilled work, often installing natural resource-conserving improvements in rural areas; NRA (with Eagle on Sam’s chest) was the National Recovery Administration created by the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 to promote economic recovery by ending wage and price deflation and restoring competition; and the FERA, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which during the first hundred days of the Roosevelt Administration distributed federal monies to the states to be used to provide work relief or direct relief to households. The FHOLC, or Federal Home Owners Loan Corporation, was created in 1933 to assist in the refinancing of homes. Between 1933 and 1935 one million people received long term loans through this agency that helped save their homes from foreclosure. The Public Works Administration (PWA) was another emergency agency established in 1933, while the Public Buildings Administration (PBA) and the Public Roads Administration (PRA) were prior federal agencies that were rearranged to offer grants to states and cities to build roads and federal buildings outside Washington, D.C. These grants were also used largely to employ workers but also for building public infrastructure and buildings — dams, roads, and schools.
The CSB, or Central Statistical Board, was created in 1933 to coordinate federal and other statistical services. Its duties were later absorbed by the Budget Bureau in 1939. The SAB, also known as The National Research Council’s Science Advisory Board, was created by an executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1933 to help address scientific problems of the various government departments, initially to undertake a survey of the overall relationship between science and the government. The FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, was created in 1934 to regulate interstate and foreign communication by telegraph, telephone, cable, and radio. The SEC, or Securities and Exchange Commission, was created in 1934 to protect public and private investors from stock market fraud, deception and insider manipulation on Wall Street.
FDR’s “Blue Eagle”Through 1934, FDR continued doing battle with one political faction or another not happy with his initiatives. Conservatives argued that Roosevelt had done too much. Some of them organized the American Liberty League in August 1934 to galvanize the right. However, in the mid-term elections November 1934, the Democrats gained enough seats in both houses of Congress to enjoy veto-proof majorities. Vanity Fair that month offered a Miguel Covarrubias cover illustration depicting FDR as a master chef who is shown serving up a dish of American fare featuring the NRA blue eagle on a platter. Some viewed this as perhaps a counterpoint to former president Herbert Hoover’s promise of a “chicken in every pot.” However, Roosevelt’s Blue Eagle NRA took a fair amount of lampooning and criticism during its tenure, which was somewhat shortened by its legal and constitutional difficulties.
The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of June 1933 was one of the famed “first 100 Days” laws enacted in FDR’s first term to deal with the Great Depression. It was enacted to promote economic recovery by ending wage and price deflation and restoring competition. Among other things, the act authorized the President to regulate industry and permit cartels and monopolies in an attempt to stimulate economic recovery. The Act was implemented by the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA), and it authorized the creation and use of industrial codes of fair competition, guaranteed trade union rights, permitted the regulation of working standards, regulated the price of certain refined petroleum products, and authorized public works projects.Under the program, a blue eagle — a blue-colored American “thunderbird” with outspread wings — became a prominent symbol used in display by U.S. companies to show compliance with the NIRA. The Blue Eagle became an official symbol of the industrial recovery in July 1933. All companies that accepted the Re-employment Agreement or a special Code of Fair Competition were permitted to display a Blue Eagle poster with the slogan, “NRA Member. We Do Our Part.” Consumers were encouraged to buy products and services only from companies displaying the Blue Eagle poster. However, under the NRA, regulations proliferated, which eventually led to a significant loss of political support for Roosevelt and the New Deal. Roosevelt had sought reauthorization for the NIRA in February 1935, but the backlash against the New Deal, coupled with congressional concern over the NIRA’s suspension of antitrust law, left FDR without the needed political support. NIRA was set to expire in June 1935, but in a major case, the Supreme Court held it unconstitutional in the case of Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States.
The Blue Eagle’s days as an official symbol of the NRA and the economic recovery ended by September 1935. However, a part of its legacy survives to this day in the name of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, as in 1933, Philadelphia native and college football coach Bert Bell, who had formed a new National Football League franchise to replace the defunct Philadelphia team named the Frankford Yellow Jackets, named his new team the Eagles in recognition of the NRA.
However, during its two years or so of operation, the NRA issued 557 basic and 189 supplemental industry codes. In addition, some 3,000 administrative orders were issued, running to over 10,000 pages of rules, with thousands of opinions and guidelines from national, regional, and local code boards. Debate over the NIRA’s creation and effectiveness continues to this day, but chief among its failings was its allowance of economically harmful monopolies and its lack of support from the business community, including powerful players such as Detroit automaker, Henry Ford. Franklin Roosevelt, meanwhile, had shifted his views on the best way to achieve economic recovery, and began a new legislative program that would become known as the “Second New Deal” in 1935.
The New Year
As the nation rang in its new year of 1935, Vanity Fair’s January issue offered a Miguel Covarrubias caricature of a seemingly robust and pleased Uncle Sam on its cover symbolizing the hoped-for better year ahead. Readers of this issue found instructions on an inside page, that after a series of folds of the cover art, which opened out in two halves, a sad and leaner version of Uncle Same appeared, representing the previous year, 1934, contrasting sharply with the stout and happy figure presented for 1935. By 1935, however, the country had only achieved a modest degree of recovery, with Roosevelt and his Administration under siege by a variety of critics. Still, on January 4, 1935, when FDR delivered his State of the Union message to Congress, he proposed legislation with long-term goals for “social security” — programs for the aged, the unemployed, and the ill. He also called for better housing, taxation reforms and more jobs for the unemployed, and Congress, with its increased Democratic margins, would respond with new programs and more money, helping FDR with what would become known as his “second New Deal.”
In the spring of 1935, responding to the setbacks in the courts and skepticism throughout the nation, FDR, his Administration, and allies in Congress embarked on their “second New Deal” with initiatives that in some ways were regarded as more radical, more pro-labor, and more anti-business than programs of the first New Deal of 1933-34. Among these was the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, for Senator Robert Wagner of New York. Following in the wake of earlier initiatives for worker rights and collective bargaining begun in 1933-34 under the NIRA, the Wagner Act would bring more specific law protecting labor organizing. Under the law — debated in Congress during early 1935 and signed by FDR in July that year — employers could not restrain, interfere, with or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights, could not create or support “company unions,” could not discriminate against an employee for union activities, and could not refuse to bargain with a duly designated majority union. Accordingly, Vanity Fair’s March 1935 issue used its cover to show Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a puppet master, playing the industrialist against the working man with artist Paolo Garretto’s illustration, also a commentary on FDR’s second New Deal as being more pro labor.
“Ringmaster”The cover of Vanity Fair’s April 1935 issue features an illustration by Russian illustrator Constantin Aladjálov who cast Franklin Roosevelt as a jolly ringmaster. FDR appears to have tamed all the unwieldy political beasts, while cajoling and aiding others to their best performance. The Republican elephant is shown, along with the Democrat’s donkey; Wall Street’s bull and bear are there too — the bull appearing on his last legs with tongue hanging out; the bear, wide-eyed and scratching his head, perhaps trying to figure out what FDR would throw at the economy next. The Tammany tiger is there too, looking tamed and obedient. Tammany Hall was the political machine that had dominated New York city politics, but Roosevelt stripped Tammany of its federal patronage. Caged above FDR is a diminished American eagle, while the New Deal’s NRA blue eagle is on the floor below, appearing to have a splint on its leg, as the NRA by then had received a fair amount of criticism and was headed for a fall in the Supreme Court. Still, the overriding theme on this April 1935 Vanity Fair cover is FDR in control, leading the way, and putting a smiling face on the still very bleak times.
Constantin Aladjálov — the artist who did this cover (b.1900- d.1987) — was a painter and illustrator who studied at the University Petrograd, Russia. His work appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair and other Conde’ Nast publications during the 1930s. Until he arrived in New York in 1924, Aladjálov dabbled in everything from sign painting, to portrait painting, to court painting. He designed covers for The New Yorker from 1926-1960 as well as The Saturday Evening Post. His work also appeared in George Gershwin’s Song Book (1932) and Alice Duer Miller’s Cinderella (1943). Over the years, there have been various national and solo shows of his work in Hollywood, New York, and Dallas. His art is found today in collections at the Brooklyn Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Modern Museum of Art, and the Dallas Museum of Art.
Back in the New Deal, FDR by 1935 had Democratic majorities in the Congress, and in the spring of that year his Administration charged ahead with more ambitious programs to help the economy. In April, Congress established the Soil Conservation Service in the Department of Agriculture to help stanch the dust storms plaguing the west, and it also authorized nearly $5 billion in relief spending used to set up various programs such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA), established in May 1935. The WPA would become one of the best known New Deal programs, putting millions of Americans to work on various public works projects.
In the 1920s, electric utility holding companies had consolidated in America to such an extent that by the end of the decade, less than a dozen utility systems controlled three-fourths of the nation’s electric power business. The booming utilities, seen as secure investments in the 1920s, lured in millions of investors, though their pyramidal structures and inflated values were revealed in the 1929 market crash. Attempts at weak regulation followed. FDR fought vehemently against the holding companies, calling them “evil” in his 1935 State-of-the-Union address.
After a hard-fought campaign in Congress, the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 was passed. Among other things, the new law required holding companies which owned 10 percent or more of a public utility to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and provide detailed accounts of their financial transactions and holdings. The legislation had a dramatic effect on the operations of holding companies and over the next two decades or so, their numbers would decline dramatically — from 216 to 18 between 1938 and 1958.
Vanity Fair’s May 1935 issue — in a cover take-off on the annual Easter Egg roll at the White House — featured a caricature by artist Paolo Garretto depicting a grinning Roosevelt pushing a giant Easter egg labeled “Utilities” over a top-hatted electric company executive who is holding a banner that reads “private ownership.”
FDR’s fight for public power became an integral part of his New Deal campaign. In addition to the utilities bill, Congress also passed the Federal Power Act of 1935, which gave the Federal Power Commission regulatory power over interstate transmission and wholesale transactions of electric power. The Federal Power Act also gave the FPC the legal power ensure that electricity rates were “reasonable, nondiscriminatory and just to the consumer.” And adding to this public power initiative, and that of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) already created in 1933, Roosevelt by executive order in May 1935 authorized the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to create and finance rural utility companies to serve farmers and rural Americans all across the country.
Demise of Vanity FairVanity Fair’s cover art shifted away from FDR and the New Deal after May 1935, focusing on Europe and the rise of the Nazi threat, with Paolo Garretto cover art on those topics in June and August 1935. Thereafter, the front covers were also somewhat lighter — a race horse was featured in September 1935, Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow in October 1935, a Hollywood scene for November, and Santa Claus in December. For the last two issues in 1936, a stylized skier was used on the January 1936 cover, and for the final February issue, a Miguel Covarrubias illustration appeared, shown at right, “Bali Beauty”.
Lack of advertising revenue, the continuing Depression, and the changing times helped to hasten the end of Vanity Fair, which was folded into Vogue, another Conde’ Nast publication. Vanity Fair had seen some of its best years in terms of sales in 1931 and 1935, and it continued to attract new readers in that period. Vanity Fair had become more political during the Depression than it ever had been before, bringing along some of it previously non-political sophisticates into an at least appreciative following of politics. Vanity Fair’s readership, according to some, even though it showed signs of growth, no longer had the market value it once did: its readers weren’t buying the products the magazine advertised. And it was also considered a bit too urbane for those times, despite its political satire. So it ceased publication. But it would rise again, in a new form, in the 1980s.
As for FDR and the New Deal, had Vanity Fair lasted through the later terms of his presidency, and the controversies that swirled around them, there is no telling what turns the cover art may have taken — but it is likely that good caricature and satire would have continued in fair display. Happily, in its modern rebirth since 1983, Vanity Fair has renewed and continued the creative blending of art, satire, and politics to good effect, though there still may be some pining for that old-form, art caricature that can grab readers’ attention in unique ways and leave lasting impressions.
Readers of this story may also find others on similar topics at the “Politics & Culture” category page and/or the “Print & Publishing” page. See also “Magazine History,” a topics page with links to 18 additional stories in that category. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Date Posted: 2 November 2009
Last Update: 18 November 2015
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Doyle, “FDR & Vanity Fair, 1930s,” PopHistoryDig.com,
November 2, 2009.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
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See Vanity Fair Store to purchase prints of vintage Vanity Fair magazine covers from the 1930s and other time periods.