What originally began as a post about an interesting photo from the 1920s quickly twisted and turned into something else. The woman in this photograph is called Harriet (or Harriette) Gimbel, who at the time was one of the players in the 1920 musical The Greenwich Village Follies. Thomas Hischak, author of Off-Broadway Musicals Since 1919, writes:
“The first Off-Brodaway musical to gain wide recognition in New York was The Greenwich Village Follies, a revue that grew out of a cabaret-restaurant entertainment and later blossomed into a series of shows that were presented on Broadway.”
What got my attention of course was the pencil she was using—not only its unusual size but that it also had “Mongol” printed on it. And as it turns out this unusual prop has a story behind it, one that was mentioned in no less than three contemporary stationery trade magazines. Owing to the similarity of the texts, each magazine may have been working from the same source—perhaps a press release by the musical’s producers or even by the Eberhard Faber Company. Walden’s Stationer and Printer wrote in October, 1920:
Of interest is how the writer referred to the Mongol as “gigantic” and as a “giant”, and in the closing line referred to the actress as “sweet, little Harriet Gimbel” (I’m uncertain as of yet if she mightn’t be related to the Gimbels of department-store fame).
Not to be outdone, The American Stationer and Office Outfitter first called the Mongol “big” then “huge.” Repeated is the opening line “When clever little Harriet[e] Gimbel…”:
But it was the notice in Geyer’s Stationer that brought out the big guns for Harriet Gimbel’s Mongol:
Reading this makes me wonder when “the largest pencil ever made…” became something worthy of notice.
That Harriet Gimbel was able to arrange for such a novel item from a company as large as Eberhard Faber suggests that she was likely well-known (at least at the time), though that doesn’t seem to be the case. The musical itself was certainly popular (and of course the free advertising would appeal to Eberhard Faber) but this unique prop was made for her, not just for the person playing this particular character. A quick search of the New York Public Library database shows that some artifacts remain from several productions of The Greenwich Village Follies, but there is no mention of Harriet’s Mongol: Where did it end up, and whatever happened to Harriet Gimbel?
Some general searching only turned up one other photograph of Harriet so far, and with her Mongol to boot:
And apart from the 1920 and 1922 productions of The Greenwich Village Follies, I could find only one other production she was involved with: Artists and Models, which ran for 312 performances on Broadway before closing in 1924. After that, nothing. Perhaps she just stopped performing, or maybe the Internet just hasn’t caught up with her yet.
Until then, here’s to sweet little Harriet Gimbel: