In Your Hat, pt. 12

In Chapter 12 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars Renee Carroll, she reveals what various celebrities wrote in her collection of autograph books, and she follows that with tales of what the stars of the day liked to eat when they patronized Sardi’s.

If you took a rabbit out of those suckers’ hats
They would squawk just the same:
They all have two strikes on them
When they are born.

TEXAS GUINAN

THAT’S an autograph left in my book by Tex. I’m not quite clear as to its meaning, and I don’t think she is either. But vaguely, it’s Broadway’s philosophy. If somebody pats you on the back, he’s only locating a spot for the knife thrust. If you give a sucker a break, he’s liable to shove his hand in and rip it apart.
Of course, all this is only sentimental hooey, and the boys and girls on Broadway are just as maudlin about one another as boys in an English boarding school. They all want to appear like awful, terrible “bad mans” with no hearts at all. The visage is stern, but the head and heart are made of mush, and it oozes through your fingers when you squeeze it.
I’ve got three books full of autographs. Perhaps a glance at some of them might throw an interesting light on the writers. I particularly like that of Frances Williams, whose cheeriness and glibness is not limited to her appeareances on the stage.

“May every hat check bring you a fat check—and may no meanie neglect my Renee—who never wrecks hats each time she checks hats—Frances Williams.”

Most of the celebrities pore over the book, seeking inspiration in the lines already written. Very few show any originality at all. Al Jolson, in one of his brighter moments, scribbled:

“Oh, look, I am in your book—thanks for letting me.”

And Louis Sobol, the Journal‘s columnist, wrote:

“To Renee, who expects something clever from me but won’t get it.”

Russell Patterson, the artist, who very rarely wears a hat, said as much, regretfully, with:

“To Renee, from her worst customer.”

Tony Canzoneri, the prize fighter, dragged his trade in by the teeth when he inscribed:

“To a real and sweet girl, with loads of knockouts.
                                           Tony Canzoneri,
                   Lightweight Champion of the World.”

The professional gate crasher, Tammany Young, waxed philosophical and wrote:

“To Renee—
   “Who takes what you give graciously. All life is a game of give and take. For what she takes she gives in a return a smile, a cheerful greeting and your belongings. May you go a long ways and prosper. Keep smiling Renee, it’s what we all go for.”

I think George Jessel‘s autograph amusing:

“To Renee—
            Duchess of Sardi,
               from
               Baron George Jessel,
               Colonel of the Bronx Grenadiers
               And Vis-count of Brownsville.”

Sidney Skolsky, the paragrapher, gave me away with:

“You’ll always be Miss Shapiro to me—one of my best yarns. Sidney Skolsky
               P.S. She sleeps in the raw!”

If you can remember Herbert Rawlinson, you’ll remember his signature, too:

“My hat’s off to you. (Get it?) Je parle français aussi. (I hope that’s right).”

And Jesse Crawford noted:

“My autograph I here inscribe,
A member of the organ tribe
               Jesse Crawford,
               Poet (?) of the Organ.”

The little movie star, Marian Marsh, gave me a a straight tip with:

“Keep your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”

And Reri who starred in F.W. Murnau‘s Tabu and was brought to American by Ziegfeld, wrote in the only language she knew:

“A mon amie Renee en souvenir des Ziegfeld Follies 1931.”

I offer the inscription of Sam Shipman, the playwright, because it is more or less typical of Broadway sentiment and ways of thinking:

“A hat girl who has more in her head than all the brains those hats cover. A little princess on a door mat—An oriental pearl in a suffocating shell—a ruby in a musty purse, but watch her.”

And Everett Marshall, the lusty-voiced baritone, dropped this:

“To Renee. In memory of my first daughter of four kilos.”

While Faith Baldwin, the author of Self Made Woman, wrote simply:

“Because I like red-heads.”

I’ve got lots of drawings, too, by famous artists, all of them too risqué for reproduction, and in some cases too combustible for safekeeping. Some of our best known illustrators have garnished the pages of my little books with drawings that would make those paintings on the bathroom walls of old Pompeii quiver with shame.
But not all the good things happen in autograph books or at penthouse parties. I have a lot of laughs right in the restaurant.

If you know Ring Lardner‘s play about Tin Pan Alley, June Moon, then you’ll also recognize Harry Rosenthal, once a band leader and then a pianist who ran away with the show.
Well, it seems that Harry was cu-razy about a certain blonde who was some McCoy in her own right, but who objected, for some reason, to going to lunch with Harry. He asked her more than once, and she refused as steadfastly. Finally, because she thought she could put him off all the way, she said that she would have lunch with him if he would bring a piano to the restaurant some day and play Rhapsody in Blue for her. And she said to herself: “Well, that’s that!”
Well, sir, we didn’t laugh when Harry sat down to the piano to play in his best French, because he came to the restaurant the next day followed by two strong-armed boys who carried one of those apartment upright miniatures between them. He had them set the instrument down in the middle of the floor next to the blonde’s table, proceeded to play the Gershwin tune, and then swung into a group of popular love ditties, all of which were applauded roundly. The blonde approved of Harry and everybody breathed easier.
The next thing we knew we had George Metaxa on our hands. He starred in The Cat and the Fiddle and was a sensation on the London stage in Bittersweet until Paramount brought him across to play opposite Claudette Colbert in a picture.
His press agents tried hard to build him up on his resemblance to Valentino, but it was no go. So they hit on a scheme to make him the best-dressed man in the world. As far as that goes, he probably is, because he came off the boat with eleven trunks and a valet named Quince or something. All the trunks were filled with clothes, and Quince with a nostalgia for England where men talk about horses and dogs and act chivalrous.
Metaxa’s a Roumanian of Greek descent and was in the diplomatic service in Bucharest when a producer heard him sing at a party and asked him to come to England for a part in a show. He didn’t know any English, and when he arrived in London, he got off the train repeating the only words a friend had taught him: “Good-by, everybody.” He thought he was saying “hello”.
And somehow that reminds me of the wonderful story about George Kaufman and Jed Harris which concerns Harris’ idea of keeping cool in the summer.
It seems he keeps the heat from his door by sitting in the office stark naked. People may swelter around him but not Harris. One day George Kaufman came up, and to his surprise discovered Harris at his desk without a stitch of clothes on. Kaufman didn’t show any curiosity. Instead he sat talking for an hour or more with remarking one way or another on the other’s lack of apparel. At the conclusion of his visit he rose to his feet, shook hands with the other, then sauntered to the door, where he halted and turned around.
“By the way, Jed,” he said in a most casual manner, “your shirt is unbuttoned.” Then he turned and walked out.

Which brings to mind the yarn about the members of the telegraph desk at the New York Times who were asked by one of the editors to get together some money so that he might present the departing head of the desk with a little gift. The desk man was being transferred abroad and had been very unpopular with the boys.
There was no response to the request because they weren’t interested. The editor came over and made a speech about being good fellows and all that, and deputized one of the men to take up a collection. That night the man came back with a nickel and eight pennies that he had collected from the gang. The editor was furious. He took five dollars from his own pocket and gave it to the collector and told him to use that as an example and try once again.
he went back to the desk and tried again. Later he returned to the editor’s desk.
“Well, and what you got, my good man?”
“My good man” didn’t say a word. He opened up his fist and deposited his total on the desk in front of the editor. Then he walked rapidly away. The executive fumed and fretted but said nothing. For the fellow had impudently deposited three dollars and ninety-eight cents on the desk. And while on the subject of the Times, there’s a little story that fits in here. It seems that the Times editorial offices on the third floor in West 43rd Street face the dressing rooms of the Apollo Theatre in which George White usually houses his Scandals.
On hot summer nights the girls of the ensemble have all they can do to breathe in those dressing rooms. To promote a breeze, they open their windows wide. Being almost nude on the stage, it’s next to nothing for them to remove what’s left in their dressing rooms in order to change costumes.
As a result, when the Scandals runs during the summer months, there’s little work done on the first four floors of the Times, for all the reporters and those whose offices face the street, are interested only in the four floors of blazing lights, in front of which at least fifty of America’s loveliest girls dress and undress all evening. At first the girls were a little bashful, but after a while they realized there was nothing to do about it. Even the editors of the conservative Times swerved in their swivels for an occasional glimpse of young America.
Then there’s Eddie Cantor, who comes swinging in and checks his hat with me. It prove to be a two dollar hat, and one of the highest priced stars on stage or screen wears a two dollar hat simply because he has endorsed it and insists on being honest.
And Gus Edwards, who discovers prodigies, takes a particular delight in running upstairs, where Sardi keeps a parrot, and imitating the bird. His best imitation is that of a famous crooner. Gus always carries a walking stick on which he has had his name engraved so that backstage visitors won’t steal it.
And Junior Laemmle, who was made production head of the Universal studio, and Lewis Milestone who was engaged by “Uncle” Carl Laemmle to direct All Quiet on the Western Front. As the story goes, Junior was a little young to be a big producer, but he was precocious enough to want to see things done his way.
Whenever Milestone wanted to do something different, the youngster interjected his own comment and ideas and insisted on their being carried out. Finally, it is now repeated in hushed tones, Miles thought up a swell scheme. He had a dummy script drawn up, and with this script in hand, he approached Junior for the daily conferences. Junior blue-penciled the scenes in the script and Milestone agreed very cordially. But after the director left the office, he ladi the script away in his desk, took out another working scenario and shot the picture on that basis.
One day Rudy Vallée came in with Fay Webb, who is now his wife. They took a corner table out of sight of others in the restaurant. After lunching for an hour or so, they arose and left the restaurant. The waiter who had attended them came toward me holding a soiled napkin. It was spotted with lipstick.
“Look,” he said, “they left this behind.”
“Well,” I commented, “since when is it a crime for a girl to wipe her lipstick off on a napkin?”
“It wasn’t the girl’s napkin,” he grinned.
What is Helen Morgan‘s penchant for mice, and Pepy De Albrew’s idea of carrying around a live white mouse on his lapel? And that reminds me the throaty Tallulah Bankhead, who with Marlene Dietrich is said to have awakened Jimmy Walker in the wee sma’ hours to get him out of bed for a party. And he stories that go the rounds about Tallulah and how she loves to tickle English butlers in certain places so that a tray of cocktails goes flying in the air. And Tallulah’s salary, while it runs into three figures, is not enough to keep her going most of the time. And her little white Pekingese, one of the few extant, which was sent to her by an English admirer in a basket of orchids. And why was she stopped at customs when she arrived in the country, and every inch of the lining of her baggage examined by inspectors for something they didn’t find? And what was that something?
Tallulah arrived in America on the same day that Maurice Chevalier came over. But they were on different ships. Chevalier had been doing a little bragging out loud abroad, so Paramount thought it would teach him a lesson by sending only a single, unimportant assistant to meet the star, while the photographers and reporters were sent to see Tallulah. And Chevalier’s crestfallen face when he appeared on deck and doffed his hat to a cheering multitude which, he subsequently discovered, was cheering the arrival of Primo Carnera, the man mountain. Now, as I mentioned before, Maurice and Primo are the best of friends.
You may or may not be interested in what celebrities eat. Maybe you’ve listened to Bing Crosby and wondered what sort of food prompts him to sing that way or what lifts Morton Downey‘s voice into an excruciating soprano.
Well, Katherine Cornell, Kit to you, who is the romantic lady of many a play, is as interested in garlic as in her profession. She insists that garlic be put in as much of he food as can be managed. She has a special salad named after her, and it contains anchovies, garlic, oil and vinegar. The taste is grand, but the B.O. is terrific!
Walter Winchell is a chocolate ice-cream soda bug. He’ll eat a huge meal of his favorite veal cutlets and top it off with two or three sodas. The sissy! And his bosom companion, Hellinger, who has a passion for imported caviar, has been known to eat a pound at one sitting.
Rudy Vallée’s wife, Fay Webb, has a penchant for gravy and won’t eat any meat, potatoes or green vegetables unless they are entirely submerged in gravy. William (Stage) Boyd loves snails and more snails, while Paul Whiteman breaks ground for another chin by making a Gargantuan meal of antipasto< and ravioli.
George Jessel tarries over an inevitable order of steak pissaiola, and Yvonne Vall´e, the little French ex-spouse of Maurice Chevalier, dutifully ate usually fish. Chevalier is a great fish eater. He licks chops when he’s contemplating cold salmon of filet of sole bonne femme. Many a girl might not like the idea of having Maurice lean over for a kiss smelling like Gloucester, Mass., on a Friday evening.
Ted Healy, the comedian, is very fond of antipasto with a chunk of Parmesan cheese, and Florence Reed loves spaghetti with garlic, says she eats garlic three times a day. Oh, blessed fruit! Lee Shubert always wants Long Island duckling with apple sauce, while John Henry Mears and his dog, who was his companion on the round-the-world flight, both eat very rare steak with chopped onions. Max Lief, who wrote most of his book Hangover at Sardi’s consumes mussels maranière.
The humorist Harry Hershfield dotes on plain boiled spaghetti with plain boiled string beans and equally plain boiled corn. Rian James, Winchell’s pet peeve, goes in for pork chops and apple sauce. Jolson cries “mammy” over a steaming dish of ravioli, while Morris Gest cries in his soup as he orders noisette of spring lamb sauté
“Believe-It-or-Not” Ripley takes chicken tamales and eats two or three portions, and Dr A. H. Giannini, head of the Bank of America, has Sardi himself mis his salad, consisting of greens and oils proportionately.
Most of the women stars are very careful about their weight, but not Kate Smith, the 212-pound radio warbler who pushes that th’ar moon over that th’ar mountain night after night. Whenever Kate comes in, she gorges herself on desserts,—the lucky girl!
Whenever one of the boys makes good on the main stem he has usually come up out of the ranks. Strangely enough, his appetite increases in proportion to his success until a certain point when his doctor warns him against stuffing himself. From then on it is a careful diet, and no excesses. It takes success to make one realize that the beverage of Broadway is bicarbonate of soda! That’s why most of the drug stores on Broadway give you bicarbonate of soda and vichy free of charge. They know that you need it more than they do!

< Read Chapter 11 | Read Chapter 13 >

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