It had to be the worst time to launch a new publication.
Daily Variety put out its first issue on Sept. 6, 1933. The economically challenged year had already weathered Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration, the launch of the New Deal, a bank holiday and, in Hollywood, an industrywide pay cut of 25% to 50% for all movie-studio employees.
Immediately following the ’29 stock market crash, the novelty of the talkies spared Hollywood the catastrophic downturn that quickly decimated Broadway and many other businesses across the country. But in 1933, the Great Depression finally worked its lethal charm on Hollywood, too, and all the studios felt the need to cut, cut, cut in a way that had nothing to do with judicious film editing. Only MGM felt no pain. But thanks to Louis B. Mayer’s sense of patriotic empathy, he called upon his staffers to join the sacrifice of across-the-board pay cuts in a way that effectively increased his company’s bottom line.
Paramount Pictures, on the other hand, faced bankruptcy and would have closed its doors if not for sexpot Mae West, who came to the rescue with her twin laffers, “She Done Him Wrong” and “I’m No Angel,” the top-grossing film of the year. Early in its game, Daily Variety picked up on the naughty B.O. trend with its “Mae West Ditto Sought in Vain,” an article that revealed:
“Success of Mae West has many Hollywood agents on the hunt for girls of the same type. Search is not only in the usual spots, but in burlesk and carney shows. So far there have been few gals of the West type uncovered, chief trouble being that those who have acquired the West hey hey are too decrepit for the camera.”
Before Daily Variety was born to make such piquant observations, publisher Sime Silverman put out a vaudeville-focused weekly newspaper, known simply as Variety, beginning in 1905. Nearly 30 years later, he gambled on a daily newspaper that would pay more attention to Hollywood and the movie biz. No sooner did he bring his lucky 13th copy of the new Daily Variety to the newsstands than he died of a heart attack, at age 61, on Sept. 22.
Indeed, 1933 was quite a year.
Since Daily Variety didn’t launch until after Labor Day that year, it missed covering the production and release of “King Kong,” “Dinner at Eight” and “42nd Street,” but the paper took full opportunity to weigh in on “Duck Soup” (“Harpo does not play the harp and Chico stays away from the piano”), “Little Women” (“vigorous cutting here seems essential”) and “Queen Christina” (“picture should do excellent business in all spots”).
Seventy-five years ago, the hard news also ran the gamut.
In its first issue, the readers of Daily Variety learned that MGM’s Irving Thalberg was contacting various onscreen and offscreen talent “with a view of placing them under personal contract.”
Also, “the Hitler government,” as Daily Variety put it, demanded that all “German actors, writers and directors of non-Jewish faith return to the homeland as a patriotic duty.”
But the big headline of the day was “Aimee and Hutton Plot.” That twosome was Bible thumper Aimee Semple McPherson and her second husband, Dave Hutton, who, despite being on the verge of divorce, were “working out a get-together buildup” in a biblical operetta, “Crimson Road,” which Hutton would direct.
Silverman never lived to see that show, but no matter. Aimee and Hutton never got around to staging their religious extravaganza. In the end, it isn’t the show but rather the news that must go on.