book is a pastiche, an impressionistic account of life in Manhattan
over three fateful decades, as remembered an evoked by a select
group of people. Some, like the doyenne of haute couture Pauline
Trigère or the voice of New York Jimmy Breslin, we went
after. Some came to us by accident," wrote Myrna Katz Frommer
and Harvey Frommer in their acknowledgements to this delightful
book, the latest in their series of oral histories that has also
included tomes on Broadway (see The City Review article on "It Happened
and Brookyn and the Catskills.
to Trigère and Breslin, the interviewees include restauranteurs
Elaine Kaufman, Sirio Maccioni, André Jammet, Michael Tong
and Ken Aretsky, food mavens, Andy and Nina Balducci, Saul Zabar
and Mark Federman, Father Peter Colapietro, pastor of the Holy
Cross Roman Catholic Church at 329 West 42nd Street, press agents
and publicists Eleanor Lambert, Helen O'Hagan, Merle Dubuskey,
Mickey Alpert, music promoters and producers Sid Bernstein and
Joel Dorn, advertising mogul Jerry Della Femina, Joel Eichel,
an owner of Bigelow's in Greenwich Vilalge, preservationists Margot
Gayle and Jane Jacobs, architectural historians John Tauranac,
Carole Rifkind and Michael George, baseball star Monte Irvin of
the New York Giants, lawyers Thedore Kheel, journalists Howard
Kissel, Hilton Kramer, Leonard Koppett, Dorothy Wheelock and Jack
Lang, architect Theodore Liebman, opera singer Robert Merrill,
Bear Stearns & Co., Inc.'s chairman Alan Greenberg.
of interviewees is eclectic but impressive and the charming anecdotes
they relate well capture much of the spirit and energy of Manhattan
after World War II, and the hard work and ambitions of its citizens.
the art critic of The New York Observer and formerly of
The New York Times, recalls attending Columbia University
in 1950, "the time of the GI Bill of Rights": "My
whole undergraduate and graduate experience was very much shaped
by that because there was a level of commitment on the part of
these ex-GIs that raised the level of seriousness in the classroom.
At Columbia, I studied with Lionel Trilling, Mark Van Doren, Eric
Bentley, Gilbert Highet, Ernest Nagel - it was a tremendous faculty
in those days.Gilbert Highet especially stays with me. He was
a Scotsman with this marvelous accent who had been an undergraduate
at Oxford, like all the aesthetes of his generation. You know
how academics generally dress, but Gilbert was a fashion plate.
His course was on the influence of Greek and Latin classics and
later English and European literature. He was particularly funny
about Joyce's Ulysses, which he loathed, although his edition
of Ulysses was bound in black velvet. He generally loathed
all of modern literature; compared to the Greek and Latin classics,
he felt it was decadent."
recalls showing up in Manhattan in 1949 and going "down to
Wall Street looking for a job": "At that time, all the
firms in the investment banking industry were located there. It
was a very impressive group of old-line firms, most of which have
since gone out of business. One reason all the action was down
there is that securities were moved back and forth physically.
There were all these little guys with big briefcases running around,
carrying securities from one firm to another. All the book-keeping
was done by hand. But the whole street was dead. Everybody was
starving. The volume of the New York Stock Exchange was one million
shares a day. I went to maybe six firms, they all said no. It
was a Wasp-oriented business. But Bear Stearns was a partnership,
and probably seventy-five percent were Jewish. There were about
125 people in the whole firm them. They hired me as a clerk in
the oil department for $32.50 a week."
Femina grew up in the Sea Beach section of Brooklyn and his father
sold newspapers in the morning, worked as a press operator for
The New York Times during the day and a soda jerk in a
candy store at night and on weekends in the summer operated rides
in Coney Island. He recalls working for the Mercury Messenger
Service in Manhattan after going to Lafayette High School in Brooklyn
during the day: "I delivered messages until eight o'clock
at night, wandering the streets because I was able to save a dime
if I walked instead of taking the subway or bus. Walking from
place to place, I got to know the streets and neighborhoods. I
got a feeling for the city that you just can't get otherwise.
When I was seventeen, I got a job delivering advertising for the
New York Times. Sometimes I made pickups at advertising
agencies. One day I came into an agency, it was four, five o'clock,
and I saw a guy with his feet upon the desk. Being a curious kid,
I asked, 'What does that guy do?' 'He's an advertising copywriter.'
'Wow! A job where you put your feet on the desk and they pay you?
How much does he make?' 'Thirty thousand dollars a year.' From
that day on, I wanted to be in advertising. It took me seven years."
provides the following account of the origin's of Zabar's, an
institution second in importance on the Upper West Side only to
the Lincoln Center for The Performing Arts:
Morgan was a humorist who lived on the Upper West Side and had
a radio program. 'Meet you in front of the cigar store,' he'd
always say. There used to be a cigar store on the corner of Broadway
and 80th Street. Everybody passed by it. If you stood outside
that cigar store long enough, you'd meet everybody you ever want
to meet. Today, if you stand outside Zabar's, you'll probably
meet everybody you'd ever want to meet."
would become a panelist on the very popular television program
of the 1950s, "What 's My Line." He was very droll and
something of a cross between Jack Paar, Fred Allen, and Oscar
Levant and in his own way was a precursor of such great radio
raconteurs as Jean Shepard and Garison Keilor. Shepard's all night
program on WOR radio was a wild trip that was a 50s version of
Robin Williams and non-visually was almost on a par with Ernie
Kovacks. This book is immensely enjoyable and very nostalgic for
older New Yorkers, and one of the book's omissions is a lack of
Shepard and Kovacks, although it should be noted that it pays
good homage to the city's role as communications center with good
reminiscences about the Beatles, Ed Sullivan, and Red Buttons.
recounts how his father, Louis Zabar, came to America from Ostropolia,
a shtetl in the Ukraine, in 1923: "there were public markets
in Brooklyn where stalls could be rented. Almost immediately my
father got a stall and went into the produce business. In 1934,
when I was six and my brother Stanley was two, he heard about
an appetizing counter that was available on the Upper West Side.
It was in a Daitch Dairy, a fairly large store noted for its cheese.
He rented the counter, and we moved to an apartment on Amsterdam
Avenue and 81st Street. After a few years. The owner of Daitch
decided to sell. My father bought the store, probably on notes
because he didn't have the kind of money. East of Broadway to
Columbus was Irish, but along Central Park West and from Riverside
Drive to Broadway, from 72nd Street to abut 86th Street, was an
affluent Jewish area. The store developed a big charge account
trade from the well-to-do people in the neighborhood, a lot of
telephone orders and deliveries. George Gershwin, Fannie Brice,
Babe Ruth were among the customers. Then came the war period,
and everything boomed. In 1941, my father moved his store down
the block to the present Zabar's location at 2245 Broadway and
80th Street. They had the Blue Laws then, which didn't allow retail
establishments to be open for the full day on Sundays. We could
only be open from nine to eleven in in the morning and from four
to seven in the afternoon. It was hard to get personnel to work
those hours so Stanley and I had to come in. I worked in the cheese
died in 1950 and Saul soon runs the store. "Then one day
Murray Klein appears on the scene. He was a survivor who managed
to escape from the Germans and the Russians. After the war he
would up in a DP camp in Italy where he learned Italian and ran
a business in the camp. He came to work for me as a stock man.
He was so talented and capable that he soon became manager. After
a while, he got married and went into business for himself. 'Come
on,' I said, 'join us.' At first he said he didn't want to, but
then he agreed. Murray was really the founder of Zabar's as it
exists today. Then my brother Stanley came back into the operation.
He provided the more sophisticated aspects, like importing the
cheeses from France, the olive oils. And we began servicing a
new breed of customer who wanted the kinds of foods that were
not generally available. Now we're into the 1960s. The food revolution
is taking place. We've becoming aware of European tradition, the
cheeses, the breads. This is the time of the so-called caviar
wars with the big department stores like Macy's and Bloomingdale's,
who had very good food departments. They undercut us. We undercut
them. There was a lot of publicity. This was also the time of
David's Cookies. Everybody was baking cookies."
is the owner of Russ & Daughters, the fish store on Houston
Street and provided the following commentary about the famous
Lower East Side establishment:
Russ had no sons, but he did have three pretty daughters - Hattie,
Ida, and Anne - and because of them the store prospered. As soon
as they were in high school, they began helping out. You had these
three good-looking teenage girls picking herrings out of barrels
and slicing lox. Who was going to argue with them? Customers would
fall in love with every piece of fish they laid on the counter....The
daughters met their husbands through the store. All three sons-in-law
came to work in the business, and all the families lived together
under the control of my grandfather....On Saturdays, Russ and
Daughters would get very easy in the evening after the Yiddish
Theater on Second Avenue let out....We had to stay open way past
midnight....On Sundays, the scene was extraordinary. It was mobbed,
and no one had come up with the idea of taking numbers yet.....Overall
the Lower East Side was dead on Saturdays because the Jewish-owned
businesses closed for the Sabbath. On Sundays, however, the area
was teeming....Because of its Jewish nature, the Lower East Side
was exempted form the Blue Laws that kept businesses closed on
Sundays. And that was what enabled the neighborhood to thrive
economically. It was when the Blue Laws were abolished and the
suburban malls stayed open on Sundays that the Lower East Side
started to decline."
was always asked why I didn't move Russ and Daughters uptown to
where my customers were. Sooner or later uptown will move downtown,
I said. It's happening. The Lower East Side is becoming romantic,"
Mr. Federman mused.
be the staff of life, but music feeds the soul.
recalls attending lectures by Max Lerner, The New York Post
columnist at the New School for Social Research and being advised
to read periodicals from England:
read the Manchester Guardian. Naturally I was attracted
to the news about the musical scene in england, and that's how
I learned about this group of four young musicians from Liverpool.
Every week the font of the stories about them got bigger and bigger.
I had not heard their music; all I knew was what I read. But it
was like I got a whiff of this new act, and I felt I had to bring
it to America. In Feburary 1963, I contacted their manager, Brian
Epstein, and I told him I wanted to arrange for the Beatles to
come to New York in May or June. But he wanted to wait until they
had a hit record so there would be no chance of their playing
to an empty house. I booked the concert for Feburary 12, 1964....I
don't think I had ever been to a classical concert, but I knew
all the great symphony orchestras and all the great basso profundos
and sopranos performed at Carnegie Hall. So I figured that would
be a good place, something different. At that time it cost three
thousand dollars to rent Carnegie Hall. I took a gamble and put
down a five-hundred-dollar deposit. The lady who arranged the
Canregie Hall bookings asked me, 'Who are these four young men
whom you're so excited about" I said, 'Mrs. Satescu, they're
an incredible group.' When she head 'group,' she thought a chamber
group, a string quartet. After the show, she told me, 'Never come
back again.' Some time later, Ed Sullivan was changing planes
at Heathrow Airport, where he saw a crowd of kids waiting for
a plane. They were shouting, 'Long live the Beatles!' 'We Love
The Beatles.' He understood this was a phenomenon and booked them.
Then, he found out an American promoter already had a date on
them....My tickets were sitting there gathering dust until October
1963, when the Beatles' records hit. By February, they had the
first five of the top one hundred hits. Carnegie Hall had sold
out, and I was a celebrity....The Beatles playing at Carnegie
Hall was a breathrough event for rock 'n' roll. It took it out
of the local clubs to a bigger arena. It was a breakthrough event
for Carnegie Hall as well; they had never done music like that
before. After Carnegie Hall, I took the Beatles to Shea Stadium,
and that changed the face of the rock 'n' roll concert. I had
acted on intuiton. Sometimes I have hunches that I take long-shot
chances on. I do have one regret though, and that is never having
told Max Lerner that he was the spur that brought the Beatles
A good part
of the book focuses on the city's eateries. Howard Kissel, the
senior theater critic for The Daily News, recounts that
when he worked for Woman's Wear Daily "a big part
of our coverage was chronicling who lunched where." "Orsini's
was one of the key places. The two Orsini brothers had started
in a little take-out place that served northern Italian food,"
he continued, "but by this time they had a beautiful restaurant
on 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth. It was on the second floor
with windows up near the ceiling, so when the sun streamed in
it was like natural lighting to show you off. The thing about
Orsini's is everyone knew the food was mezzo mezzo, but
it was the place to be seen. One day a friend of mine who was
very proud of her breasts (once she told me they weighed thirty
pounds) was seated at a table at Orisini's that she regarded as
much better than Mrs. Onassis's table. She remarked this to Mr.
Orsini who, by the way, was a very handsome man. 'In my restaurant,'
he said, 'women are seated by cup size.'"
the owner of Le Cirque 2000, one of the city's fabled restaurants,
recounts working at The Colony, a restaurant that catered to New
York's "society": "When I first began, I would
go around and ask, 'Is everything all right?' The owner took me
aside. 'At the Colony, everything is always all right.'"
One of the
great glories of the city in the years after the war was the series
of summer evening concerts at Lewisohn Stadium, shown at the top
of this article, which was built as the athletic field for City
College, which was also one of the city's glories and produced
many of its brightest minds including such journalism stars as
Abe Rosenthal and Arthur Gelb of The New York Times. Some
nights Earl Wild would perform Gershwin and other nights José
Greco would lead his troop of Flamenco dancers, and most nights
were devoted to classical music. Fifth Avenue buses dropped off
people from lower Manhattan a few blocks away and most nights
the stadium was filled to capacity and those inside could see
people in the windows and on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings
listening raptly and occasionally looking upward in anger at passing
there was a Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center, that was the
end of the Lewisohn Stadium summer concerts," reminisced
Stanley Drucker, the first clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic.
"An air-conditioned venue was preferable to an outdoor theater,
and City College did other things with the site. But what a marvelous
thing it used to be to play out in the open air on the summer
night. You couldn't beat it. Under the name of Stadium Symphony,
the New York Philharmonic Orchestra would play a six or eight-week
season at Lewisohn Stadium, the athletic field of City College.
It was a Greek-style colonnaded arena of concrete benches with
some tables and chairs down below that held twenty-five thousand
or more. Tickets cost from twenty-five cents to $1.20. We played
six nights a week, had only one rehearsal per concert, and performed
a different program every night."
an editor and writer, also had fond memories of Lewisohn Stadium,
which was eventually demolished to be replaced with a Z-shaped
megastructure: "Minnie Guggenheimer's mother was friendly
with Adolph Lewisohn, which is how Minnie got the job of organizing
the concerts and introducing the performers. She always made intermission
speeches, prefacing her remarks with 'Hello, everybody,' and the
audience would answer back, 'Hello, Minnie.' Once a member of
the royal family in England was in attendance and he got lost
somehow. Minnie grabbed the microphone and called out, 'Here,
Prince. Here, Prince.'"
nicely covers a lot of ground including the turf of politics.
In the mid-1970s,
the city endured a terrible fiscal crisis. "I was a Congressman
at the time," recalled Herman Badillo, "and I remember
the struggle to get President Ford and Congress to support us.
My colleagues in Washington didn't like New York. To them, it
was a city of minorities: Irish, Italian, Jewish, black or Puerto
Rican, not really part of America. Fortunately Governor Hugh Carey
came up with the idea of the Financial Control Board to guarantee
that the state would oversee the operations of the city and make
sure that it would have a truly balanced budget... The city was
saved but it had to pay a heavy price. We had to fire tens of
thousands of city employees and increase the subway fare. City
services declined greatly. But the most tragic result of the crisis
was the end of free tuition at the City University. Members of
Congress hated the idea that the City University was the only
free university in the nation. So they insisted that one of the
requirements for providing federal aid would be that we impose
tuition. It was a blow directed against the poor. Five generations
of New Yorkers had moved from poverty into the middle class through
the City University. People like me and Abe Beame would not have
been able to make it if not for the fact that we could go to a
college that was free."
concern about City University did not start with the fiscal crisis:
"Mayor Lindsay was so terrified of riots that he allowed
the City University to be destroyed in 1969 after a group of black
and Latino students at City College demanded the admissions standards
be changed so that there would be the same percentage of black
and Latino students at CNY as there were in the high schools.
I was the only public official to come out against open admissions
because I knew the value of the City University would be destroyed
if the colleges no longer had standards....The change to open
admissions came about during the time I was running for mayor.
I was borough president of the Bronx then and had gotten a lot
of good press....I got the Reform endorsement, and six weeks later
Wagner announced his candidacy. That was the first disaster. The
second was Norman Mailer. He had become close to Jose Torres,
the light heavyweight champion of the world, who was a good friend
of mine. Jose arranged a fund-raiser for me at Norman's Brooklyn
Heights home. All of the intellectuals, Jack Neufield, Jimmy Breslin,
and other such people who were writing for the New York press
were there....A week later Norman asked me to meet him for lunch
at the Alqonquin. 'You know, you were vcry good,' he said, 'but
I'm thinking I want to run for mayor myself. I talked to Jimmy
Breslin and he agreed to run with me for city council president'....Mailer
and Breslin went around drunk though the whole campaign talking
about the fifty-first state....I only lost by about thirty-nine
thousand votes. But Mailer carried the Village and the West Side,
getting around forty-three thousand votes that would otherwise
have come to me...Mailer and Jimmy just wanted to have a good
time. Mailer admitted it was a question of whether to run for
mayor or write a book about the astronauts. It was all a joke.
But it was a really serious thing, and I've never forgiven Mailer
New Yorkers, of course, thought that Mailer's and Breslin's notion
of the city becoming a separate state was such a bad idea.
Yorkers were inventive in their madness. Joe Darion, the lyricist
and librettist and playwright, tells the story of of an irascible
music publisher, Goldy Goldmark: "He was about six feet two
and when he got excited, he'd get on top of his desk and jump
up and down while he talked to you. I remember the time when one
of our songs was being recorded and one of the musicians was tapping
time with his foot. For some reason, Goldy Goldmark could not
stand it when anybody did that. When they took a break, the musician
took off his shoes. Somehow or other Goldy found a nail and hammer,
and he nailed that man's shoe to the floor."
is full of delightful stories about a wide range from celebrities
ranging from Rocky Graziano to Joe Dimaggio to Diane Vreeland
to Sophie Gimbel to Jackie Gleason to Walter Winchell to Toots
ago," Elaine Kaufman, the legendary owner of Elaine's, recalled,
"I was at P. J. Clarke's late one night. Some people told
me Toots Shor was there and that he wanted to meet me. I said,
'Okay, fine. I'll go over to him.' He was an older man by that
time. They said, 'No, no, he'll come over to you.' They broght
him over and he said, 'I just want to see the broad that's going
to take my place.'"
well documents the glory days of the Fillmore East, the heyday
of the great department stores, the Harlem hangouts, the hotel
nightclubs, the clatter of the great Horn & Hardart automats,
the hurly-burly of the Garment Center.
the early 1960s," Margot Gayle, the preservationist recalled,
"the Jefferson Market Courthouse on Sixth Avenue and 10th
Street, which was about half a block from where I lived, was put
up for auction. They said they couldn't locate any agency that
find any use for that odd building. But I knew that with really
strong community demands, things that were not considered worthy
at that time could be saved....And so we founded this organization
called the Village Neighborhood Committee for the Clock on the
Jefferson Market Courthouse. At that time, everything old was
being torn down. People didn't think about conserving old buildings.
Our committee, which included Lewis Mumford, Maurice Evans, and
e. e. cummings, was in the forefront of something new. We met
in my apartment. We had no money. But we did have an artist with
us who designed Christmas cards of the Jefferson market, and we
sat on the steps of the Jefferson Market and sold these Christmas
cards. We got petitions signed. It was a heck of a fight that
went on for about a year, but we succeeded. Philip Wittenberg,
a well-known lawyer, felt very strongly that the Village needed
a new library. There was only a small library on Sheridan Square,
and the Village was a highly literate part of town. He brought
pressure that the Jefferson Market become a big central library.
But here's a funny thing. When the mayor said he would restore
it for the New York Public Library, the library said, 'That's
really nice. But we'd like to tear down the building and build
a nice modern libary.' 'No way,' said Mayor Wagner. He was a friend."