When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1920s

Engine Coolant

1928: A motor track was constructed from the Persian Gulf through the foothills of the Zagros to Gach Sārān, where, in that same year, oil was discovered in large quantities.

The rugged road and sizzling temperatures were too much for most vehicles. Engines overheated and took hours to cool. Only one lorry could overcome the terrain and the heat; while the others panted and wheezed, this particular vehicle barely raised a sweat as it climbed the steep slopes.

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Fertile Imagination

1927: What’s on a man’s mind? In the case of Leoš Janáček, quite clearly, his lover’s breasts. They were a motif in the Moravian composer’s letters to Kamila Stösslová at the end of 1927. He imagined them rippling like little waves on the River Otava or swelling like the open sea, and fantasized once about covering them with sheets of music.

Source: Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, Intimate Letters: Leoš Janáček to Kamila Stösslová , ed. John Tyrrell (2005), pp. 140–1, 150, 156, 161–2

“In My Day . . .”

1926: John Daniell captained Somerset cricket team for the last time, and soon after, played his last first-class match for the county.

Some years later, Daniell was watching a match at Taunton, when the bowler bowled a delivery that struck Frank Lee, the batsman, in the box.

“The box, you say. What namby-pamby nonsense is that?” Daniell spluttered.

A few minutes later, the same thing happened again. “What does he need a so-called box for?” Daniell thundered. “In my day, we hit fours with our private parts.”

Source: The Guardian, 12 January 2007

Icing On The Cake

1925: Marian Arnold’s husband worked for the China Navigation Company and the Insurance Department of Butterfield & Swire. Years later, she reminisced about their time in China.

She remembered in particular a lunch party at a friend’s house. The friend’s Chinese cook was a talented cake maker. The lunch guests were so impressed by his beautifully decorated gâteau that he was summoned from the kitchen and warmly praised. The cook was very flattered. The hostess was very pleased. She asked whether he had iced the cake with the fancy icing set she had bought at a Shanghai department store.

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Realpolitik

1924: Norway’s decision to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union was impelled, in part, by the need to find markets for the Norwegian herring catch. Twelve years later, herrings again played an unexpected role in bilateral relations. The Norwegian government, fearful that the Soviets would halt purchases of the fish, gagged the political exile Leon Trotsky, and then put him on board a ship to Mexico.

Source: Donald Rayfield, Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him (2004), pp. 259–60, 261, 271

Career Advice

Hollywood “It Girl” Clara Bow, photographed by Nicholas Murray

1923: Clara Bow, the “It Girl” of Hollywood silent movies, made her first screen appearance in Down to the Sea in Ships. Her mentally ill mother, who regarded heavily made-up actresses as no better than prostitutes, had threatened to kill her to keep her out of films. “You ain’t goin’ inta pictures,” she had ranted. “You ain’t gonna be no hoor.”

Source: David Stenn, Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild (1989), pp. 13, 22–3

Clinging To Life

1921: Famine killed an estimated 5 million people in the Volga region of Soviet Russia. Among the starving refugees at Samara, the British journalist Arthur Ransome came upon “a silently weeping little girl” with a “wizened dead face, pale green”, and on the east bank of the Volga, “an old woman cooking horsedung in a broken saucepan”.

Source: www.theguardian.com/century/
1920-1929/Story/0,,126591,00.html

Beauty Regime

1920: “Like every morning I have had my enema, in order to preserve a clear skin and sweet breath,” wrote Princess Ghika in her notebook on 11 January. “It is a family habit, approved of by Dr Pinard,” explained the princess, the former demi-mondaine Liane de Pougy. “One of Maman’s old great-aunts, the beautiful Madame Rhomès, died at the age of ninety and a half with a complexion of lilies and roses, skin like a child’s. She took her little enema, it seems, at five o’clock every evening, so that she would sleep very well. She did it cheerfully in public. She would simply stand in front of the fireplace; her servant would come in discreetly, armed with the loaded syringe; Madame Rhomès would lean forward gracefully so that her full skirts lifted, one two three, and it was done! Conversation was not interrupted. After a minute or two my beautiful ancestress would disappear briefly, soon to return with the satisfaction of a duty performed.”

Source: Liane de Pougy, My Blue Notebooks (1979), p. 83

Right On Cue

1929: “Black Tuesday”, 29 October, when the New York Stock Exchange lost an eighth of its value, was also the day the Casa Loma Orchestra recorded “Happy Days Are Here Again”.

Source: Richard M. Sudhalter, Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915–1945 (1999), p. 342

Safe From Bullets

1928: The War of the Hoe Handle took its name – Kongo Wara in the Gbaya language of central Africa – from the hoe handles, or kongo, that the messianic leader Karnu distributed to his adherents to protect them against European bullets.

Karnu attracted followers in western Ubangi-Shari by claiming to have the power to get rid of the detested French colonisers and, for good measure, the ability to turn them into gorillas.

Source: Canadian Journal of African Studies, 1984

Bound For Glory

Isadora Duncan, photographed in 1911 by Otto Wegener

1927:Adieu, mes amis, je vais à la gloire!” the dancer Isadora Duncan shouted from the passenger seat of her car – “Farewell, my friends. I go to glory!”

The car was an Amilcar Grand Sport – low and fast. The driver was a young garage owner from Nice named Bénoit Falchetto.

Duncan sat with a red shawl draped round her neck. The shawl was the size of a tablecloth; its fringe slipped over the side of the car and dangled dangerously close to the rear wheel. “Isadora, ta châle! Ramasse ta châle!” shouted a friend – “Isadora, your shawl! Pick up your shawl!”

Falchetto revved the engine and put it in gear. The car surged forward. The fringe caught in the spokes. The shawl wrapped round the wheel, yanked back Duncan’s head and snapped her neck.

Source: Peter Kurth, Isadora: The Sensational Life of Isadora Duncan (2002), pp. 553–6

Chicken Thief

1926: In West Dallas, 16-year-old Clyde Barrow had his first tangle with the law when he was picked up for chicken theft. The Texas neighbours doubtless shook their heads and predicted: “That boy will come to no good end.”

Source: Jeff Guinn, Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde (2009), p. 34

Mugshot of young Clyde Barrow

Wages Of Sin

1924: Christopher Hollis amused his friend Evelyn Waugh with a story he must have heard from someone in the legal world:
“Mr Justice Phillimore was trying a sodomy case and brooded greatly whether his judgement had been right. He went to consult [the former Lord Chancellor, Lord] Birkenhead. ‘Excuse me, my lord, but could you tell me – What do you think one ought to give a man who allows himself to be buggered?’ ‘Oh, 30s or £2 – anything you happen to have on you.’ ”

Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), p. 168

Dodgy Excuse

1923: On 11 January, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr region on the pretext that Germany had defaulted on the payment of reparations: specifically that it had failed to deliver a shipment of telegraph poles and cut timber on time.

Source: Conan Fischer, The Ruhr Crisis, 1923–1924 (2003), p. 28

Fatal Fracas

Alexander, the ill-fated king of the Hellenes, photographed by Charles Chusseau-Flaviens

1920: Bizarre royal death of the year: that of Alexander, king of the Hellenes. On 2 October, the king and his dog Fritz encountered two pet monkeys playing in a garden on the royal estate at Tatoi, near Athens. The monkeys scampered over, screaming, and one of them attacked Fritz. The king tried to separate the animals, whereupon the second monkey intervened, and in the ensuing scrimmage the king was severely bitten on the legs and belly. The wounds were not properly cleaned, infection set in, and on 25 October the king died of sepsis.

Source: John van der Kiste, Kings of the Hellenes: The Greek Kings 1863–1974 (1994), pp. 122–4

Hairy Lady

1929: A story from the diplomat Bruce Lockhart’s diary, recounted by the Countess of Rosslyn:
“Lady Theo Acheson had wonderful hair of which she was very proud. In her passport form under the sub-heading ‘any peculiarities’ she put in ‘hair below the knees’. In the passport this was abbreviated by the passport officer to ‘hairy legs’!”

Source: Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, I: 1915–1938, ed. Kenneth Young (1973), p. 91

Cat Burglar

1928: The writer Thomas Hardy died on 11 January. His heart was removed from his corpse, which was then cremated and the ashes interred at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The heart was buried in the grave of Hardy’s first wife, Emma, in the Dorset village of Stinsford.

Or was it? Rumour had it that the doctor’s cat made off with the heart while it was unattended, though this sounds suspiciously like a tale invented over a few pints of cider in a Dorset pub.

Source: Claire Tomalin, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man (2006), pp. 371–2

Innocents Abroad

1927: Brian Howard, a leading light among the Bright Young People, was appalled but fascinated to see a man snorting cocaine in a Berlin café. Howard had never seen a drug addict before, and thought at first that the man was performing “deep breathing exercises”.

Source: Brian Howard, Brian Howard: Portrait of a Failure, ed. Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster (1968), pp. 237–8

Minority Interest

1926: Berthold Laufer’s monographs appealed to a minority readership: Ostrich Egg-Shell Cups of Mesopotamia and the Ostrich in Ancient and Modern Times, published in 1926, was followed the next year by Insect-Musicians and Cricket Champions of China.

Source: www.nasonline.org/publications/
biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/
laufer-berthold.pdf

Saved By Jellyfish

1925: One night in July, feeling that he had reached “the end of the tether”, schoolteacher and struggling writer Evelyn Waugh made a half-hearted attempt to kill himself. He went to a deserted beach, undressed and swam slowly out to sea, but turned back when he was stung by jellyfish.

Source: Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning: The First Volume of an Autobiography (1964), pp. 229–30

Messy Tenants

1924: In July, Pablo Picasso and his family rented a villa at Juan-les-Pins, on the Riviera. Picasso turned the villa’s empty garage into a studio and decorated its bare walls with murals. The owner was not appreciative, and Picasso had to fork out 800 francs to restore the walls to their original state.

Source: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917–1932 (2007), p. 265

Bedside Comforts

1921: Staying at a hotel above the Swiss town of Montreux, Katherine Mansfield kept on her bed at night “a copy of Shakespeare, a copy of Chaucer, an automatic pistol & a black muslin fan”.

Source: Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, IV: 1920–1921, ed. Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott (1996), pp. 244–5

Cads In The Baths

1920: “Little doing,” 16-year-old Evelyn Waugh complained in his diary on 14 August. “In the afternoon I went to the baths but found the water dirty and full of the most dreadful greasy-haired cads.”

Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), p. 96