Why We Wonder at Woyty-Wimmer’s Work

Wunder Bar (Come rosa sboccia amore)’, an operetta by Robert Katscher, Karl Farkas and Géza Herczeg. Sheet music published by Edizioni Suvini Zerboni (EVZ) in Milano, 1930. Cover illustration by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

The cover of a cocktail-sipping flapper for the song Wunder Bar is signed HWW. We already had stumbled upon permutations of the letters W, T and/or H, forming a variety of remarkable monograms. But we couldn’t make heads nor tails of these signatures. What a hard life we have!

Variations of the W H W monogram, signature of Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

About a hundred clicks later we came across an obituary telling us more about our illustrator. The information came from the world of stamp collectors. The signatures proved to be those of Hubert Woyty-Wimmer. He was the son of a rittmeister (cavalry officer) and born in Romania (1901), in the Bukovina region which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the empire fell apart at the end of WWI, Woyty-Wimmer moved to Vienna, where he studied graphic design, and became an illustrator and excellent engraver. In 1925 he started his own studio and worked for book publishers and publicity agencies. You can still find his work for sale on eBay, especially post cards and bookplates (ex-libris). Here are a few to illustrate his craftsmanship.

A postcard (1938) and an Ex Libris for A. Kaufmann, designed by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.
Ex Libris for Dr. Richard Donin, designed by H. Woyty-Wimmer.
Ex libris for Franz Slatner, designed by H. Woyty-Wimmer (1936).

From the Woyty-Wimmer sheet music covers in our collection, we know that his professional path in Vienna during the Thirties must have crossed the grim story of the Jewish publisher Franz Sobotka and his nemesis, the Wiener Lied composer and publisher Heinrich Strecker (read our post ‘Heinrich Strecker vs Franz Sobotka’). Woyty-Wimmer worked for both of them. His designs decorate the sheet music for the publishers Wiener Excelsior Verlag, Edition Bristol and later Strecker’s rather infamous Musikverlag am Schubertring.

‘Ich bin ein kleiner, armer Strassensänger’ by Bruno Uher, Paul Reif & Beda. Published by Bristol (Vienna, 1933) and illustrated by Woyty-Wimmer.

There must also have been a link during that period with the Milanese publisher Suvini-Zerboni (EVZ), but we haven’t found out which. The illustrations are rather sweet though.

Anuscka tu m’hai rubato il cuore…‘ by Jerzy Petersburski and P. M. Arese (published by Edizioni Suvini-Zerboni, Milano, s.d.).
Rosen blühen wieder‘ by Emil Berté and Alfred Steinberg-Frank. Tango published by Edition Scala (Wien, 1930).

In contrast to the Jewish authors of the Wunder Bar operette (Katscher, Farkas and Herczeg) who all three had to flee Austria after the Anschluss, Hubert Woyty-Wimmer continued to work in Vienna. In 1941 Woyty-Wimmer even became member of the Wiener Künstlerhaus. The Künstlerhaus was one of the two Austrian artists’ associations approved by the National Socialists. A year later Woyty-Wimmer compiled an exhibition for it.

In 1950 Woyty-Wimmer found employment in London as an engraver for a famous security paper manufacturer, working on banknotes and stamps.

Postage Stamps engraved by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer. Thanks to Jon Eboy (source: www.stampboards.com)
King George II and Constantine I of Greece, postage stamps engraved by Woyty-Wimmer, 1956. (source: Michael Chambers on the Stamp Magazine Forum)

The decorative value of postages stamps was very well known by sheet music designers, especially to put some spirit into a Polka, Walz or Galop.

Postage Polka‘ by Brainard (published by Comptoir de Musique Moderne, Bruxelles, s.d.)
Postage-Valse‘ by Brainard (published by Comptoir de Musique Moderne, Bruxelles, s.d.)
The Stamp Galop‘ by Arthur O’Leary. Published by Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston, 1864. (Courtesy of the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, The Johns Hopkins University)

Hubert Woyty-Wimmer returned to Vienna around 1965. His bad health together with harsh family disputes troubled the end of his life. He died in 1972 and was buried in Graz.

Back in 1930, Woyty-Wimmer made another clever Wunder Bar cover, this one for the Viennese publisher Doblinger.

Die Wunder Bar, ein Spiel im Nachtleben‘ by Robert Katscher, Karl Farkas and Géza Herczeg. Sheet music published by Ludwig Doblinger (Wien, 1930). Cover illustration by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

We apologize for the slight chance to have bored you with our philatelic digression. To make good, we offer you a peek at the 1934 Wonder Bar film, based on the operetta, featuring Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Dick Powell, Dolores del Rio and 250 of the world’s most beautiful girls.

Interestingly, Wonder Bar was one of the last pre-Code movies. And so, although the Code office asked Warners to get rid of the gay sequence, they refused and this wunderbarliche scene survived: “Boys will be boys! Woo!”


Edgar Lewy’s 1972 Woyty-Wimmer obituary (source: stamp magazine).

Doing the Raccoon: the collegiate style

‘Doing the Raccoon’ by Raymond Klages & J.Fred Coots, published by Francis-Day (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Würth.

We see three couples dancing a foxtrot. From the academic gown and black cap we can assume that they are students. Possibly the building in the back is their Alma Mater. But the French illustrator Würth failed to draw the essence of the American song. Fortunately the original cover reveals what ‘Doin’ the Raccoon‘ is about, namely dancing gaily in a thick raccoon coat.

‘Doing the Raccoon’ by Raymond Klages & J.Fred Coots, published by Remick Music Corp (New York 1928)

The flashy full-length fur coat was the trend in the 1920s and 30s. Especially American college boys —and even some young women— adopted this fashion in the Roaring Twenties.

College men, knowledge men,
Do a dance called raccoon;
It’s the craze, nowadays,
And it will get you soon.
Buy a coat and try it,
I’ll bet you’ll be a riot,
It’s a wow, learn to do it right now!

The raccoon fur coat craze became identified with affluent students at the Ivy League colleges and universities:

Oh, they wear ’em down at Princeton,
And they share ’em up at Yale,
They eat in them at Harvard,
But they sleep in them in jail!


The coats were particularly popular among the playful students on campus: fun seekers or male jazz enthusiasts who got nicknamed collegiates or Joe College. These cheery types would drive dilapidated old cars, wear a straw hat or fedora and carry a hip flask of illicit booze. They made it very clear that you didn’t need to go to class to become collegiate:  slip into your huge fur coat and dance the raccoon!

The raccoon coat became a fashion symbol of the Jazz Age. It was popularised by celebrities: football players, actors, singers, 

‘I love no one but you’ by Phil Spitalny, published by Phil Spitalny (Cleveland, 1927) and illustrated by Geo Orpin.

 … and even by avant-garde artists like Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel Duchamp wearing a raccoon coat (1927)

While the raccoon coat originally appealed to a white clientele, the modern and rich black American man and woman followed suit. James VanDerZee, recording Harlem’s growing middle class, took this beautiful photo of a couple dressed in similar raccoon coats in their luxurious sleek Cadillac. They embody sophistication and wealth during the Harlem Renaissance.

Couple in Raccoon Coats, Harlem by James Van Der Zee (1932).

I had never heard of raccoon coats before. I only remember Walt Disney’s romanticised version of Davy Crockett wearing a coonskin cap in the series from the 1950’s.

Portrait of Fess Parker, best known for his Davy Crockett role in the Walt Disney’s TV series.

But well, that wasn’t the real Davy Crockett. Neither was this stereotype of Davy Crockett on the cover of a 19th-century sheet music. In fact it is the actor Frank Mayo with moustaches and a dead animal sitting on his head. From 1872 until his death in 1896, he frequently played the role of Davy Crockett, the 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman and politician.

Davy Crockett March’ by George Loesch published by White Smith & C° (Boston, 1874).

Bumper Cars: You’re Driving Me Crazy!

You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)‘ by Walter Donaldson, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1930) and illustrated by Florent Margaritis.

The cover for the Parisian Francis-Day sheet music doesn’t sparkle with happiness and joy. It rather illustrates the miserable yearning in the song’s lyrics.

You left me sad and lonely
Why did you leave me lonely?
For here’s a heart that’s only
For nobody but you!

Walter Donaldson probably didn’t have exquisite poetry in mind when he wrote these verses. But happily he transformed the persistent melody in his brain into the song You’re Driving Me Crazy that became an instant hit in 1930. Later, any jazz singer or crooner —from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra— had to have that song in their repertoire.

I’m burning like a flame, dear
Oh, I’ll never be the same, dear
I’ll always place the blame, dear
On nobody but you.

Not familiar with the tune? As a reminder, here is the delicious, sexy version by Betty Boop in the cartoon Silly Scandals:

Another copy of the sheet music in our collection, is most likely the original American one. Frederick Manning designed a large passionate hart, blazing in a fire of love. Somewhat pompous in my opinion.

‘You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)’ by Walter Donaldson, published by Walter Donaldson (New York, 1930) and illustrated by Frederick Manning.

Yes, you,
You’re driving me crazy!
What did I do? What did I do?
My tears for you
Make everything hazy,
Clouding the skies of blue.

For the Francis-Day cover at the top, illustrator Florent Margaritis chose another approach. He took the title and lyrics quite literally and drew a couple: she regretful but displaying resolve, he apparently thinking What did I do?  They share their romantic agony on a cloudy bumper ride in a weird electric car of the type that I’ve never seen before. My perfect excuse to start digging into the history of the bumper cars or dodgems.

The New Yorker, James Adair, was the first to receive a patent for an electrically propelled vehicle in 1890. His patent drawing shows a tricycle connected to the ceiling by a trolley pole. This idea, which was never built, became the basic concept to build the first bumper cars thirty years later: a conductive (metal) floor and ceiling, each with a separate power polarity. Contacts under the vehicle touch the floor while a pole-mounted contact touches the ceiling, forming a complete circuit. I remember my childhood fairs, looking fascinated and thrilled at the sparks produced by the car’s poles grating the ceiling’s wire mesh. Electricity was literally in the air.

Drawing for the patent filed by James Adair for an electrically propelled vehicle, 1890.

The first patent for an electrically powered bumper car was issued in 1921 to father and son Stoehrer from Massachusetts. They had invented a novel amusement car that “in the hands of an unskilled operator will follow a promiscuous, irregular path to not only produce various sensations but to collide with other cars as well as with portions of the platform provided for that purpose. It requires the utmost skill of the driver to cause the car or vehicle to dodge other vehicles.” Hence the name of the company that the brothers created: Dodgem. Dodgem is also the generic name for what they call in the US a bumper car, in France auto-tamponneuse and in Belgium auto-scooter.

Similar to the bumper car illustrated by Margaritis on our cover, the first Dodgem cars were round and seated two people. Between and in front of them a horizontal steering wheel was mounted on a vertical post.

Dodgem cars, source: Lusse Auto Scooters website.

These cars equipped with large bumpers indeed drove crazy because they were rear-steered. According to a test in 1921 by Scientific American these first bumper cars were highly unmanageable and only allowed erratic steering.

Bumper cars in the Bumper Car Pavilion – Glen Echo Park, Maryland – 1924

Lusse Brothers from Philadelphia spent nine years solving the unsteady steering problems that plagued Dodgem cars. By the 1930s, new front-wheel drive bumper cars were introduced: the Lusse Auto Skooter. They could easily reverse backward and the drivers could now target who they wanted to collide with.

The Skooter Bumper Car Pavilion in Glen Echo Park, Maryland

In France electrically powered bumper cars were not produced before the 1930s. But I found two pictures from primitive precursors. Both show auto-tamponeuses that look like a wicked or wooden seat attached to a thick board on wheels. In front there is a crude steering wheel. I imagine that the fair attraction’s track was slanted so that the cars glided or rolled down from their own. The first photograph was taken around 1900 at the Neuilly Fair near Paris. The second one shows us Battling Siki, a French-Senegalese boxer sitting in a bumper car at a Parisian Lunapark in 1922.

La Fete a Neuilly, ca. 1900.
Training of boxer Battling Siki, sitting (left) in a bumper car at the luna park, Avenue de la Grande Armée 1922 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Gallica

Another forerunner of the bumper cars was one of the most popular attractions at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition in London. I confess that I haven’t the faintest idea how this entertainment device works…

Dodge’em cars at the British Empire Exhibition – 1924

What a coincidence. The fun fair is in town. Really, they are. I went to the autoscooter stand, to check some of the above facts. And guess what, they are still playing our tune ❤️

Yes, you!
You’re driving me crazy!
What did I do to you?