In Your Hat, pt. 2

Here’s Chapter 2 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll:

     I DON’T claim that Ziegfeld missed a bet when I decided to become a hat check girl, but I fill a spoke in the wheel, and most of the boys want to go around with me.
     Honestly, though, I can’t say I hate it when for no good reason at all Buddy Rogers kisses my hand as publicly as if we had been on the Roxy stage. Two girls who were squashing their noses against Sardi’s window well-nigh swooned when that happened, and I’d be fibbing if I said I was far from pulling a faint myself. Only a few weeks before I had been standing at the stage door of the Paramount Theater waiting to catch a glimpse of America’s Boy Friend, reveling in the usual girl’s thoughts about swinging in a hammock with Buddy Rogers at my side, or is it paddlin’ a canoe or listenin’ to the moon? I’d heard lots of people call the tall dark boy Bloody Rogers in jest, but it isn’t fair.
     Well, anyway, he came into Sardi’s, handed me his hat, and then, inquiring after my health in a most solicitous manner, touched his lips to my hand. Maybe it’s true that a couple of the Broadway wise boys who were sitting in the restaurant did make noises that sounded suspiciously like Bronx nose blowing, but it was a dream of a moment. For a second I forgot that I was supposed to be sophisticated.
     And Bob Montgomery, before he became what he is, and you know what that is, was just another of the nice Broadway gang. He was one of my “promissory nuts”, as I called the boys of that class, who were always promising things for the dim future.
     In Bobby’s case, it was always the generous tip he was forecasting because he didn’t have even a dime in his jeans to leave for checking. Not that I minded at all, but business must be on the level. And whenever he’d pick up his hat, after unsuccessful attempts to land some work by being seen at Sardi’s during lunch, he’d say: “Put it on the cuff, Renee.” Unfortunately, I wear no cuffs except mental ones, and I keep remembering little things like that.
     Especially I’ll never forget the little fellow who was so near-sighted that he once tipped me a penny, certain that it was a dime. And ever afterward, recalling his mistake, he would come into Sardi’s every day and say: “You remember me, don’t you, young lady? I’m the man who gave you a cent by mistake!” As if I’d ever forget a penny tip!
     Tipping is a great art if you know how, and getting the tip—particularly from a celebrity—is even a greater one. Getting a man to tip without his being conscious of the amount is the most delicate and subtle operation in the world. Some day I’m going to write a book on “The Technique of Tipping.”
     I’ve been talking a lot on this subject to professional waiters. I don’t mean the boys who are helping Mother along by taking up the table as a sideline, but those whose front handles are usually Oscar or Fritz, and in whose families waiting has been a profession for centuries. One of our waiters was so proud of his serving lineage he claimed that one of his ancestors served spaghetti on the Santa Maria!
     People naturally hate to tip, especially when they have a Gallic strain in them. Generosity is not usually governed by economic conditions. Even when a man who tips a good amount ordinarily is almost broke, he will not let this be a factor in keeping him from tipping his usual amount. It’s the habitual tightwad who’ll skimp on service and then go out and let his girl friend rook him for some matched sables.
     One day Walter Donaldson, the songwriter, drove up to the restaurant with Maurice Chevalier. It was summer, and as Chevalier came out of the auto, he took off his hat and threw it on the back seat. Donaldson kept his on.
     I believe in the equal distribution of wealth, and when the two approached my booth, I stopped the inimitable Maurice.
     “Mr. Chevalier,” I began. “I paid a dollar to see your newest picture last night.”
     “Oh yes? And how did you like it?”
     “I thought it was fine,” I told him.
     “Thank you very much.”
     “But, Mr. Chevalier, after I paid a dollar to see your picture, do you think it’s fair for you to leave your hat in the car to save a dime?”
     I knew it wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but it worked like a charm. The Frenchman ran out into the street, retrieved his hat and deposited it with me.
     “It will never happen again!” he assured me as his famous underslung lip curled forward in its traditional smile
     “Merci, mille fois.” I told him in my best French. He tweaked my cheek and marched on. Walter Donaldson thought it was a riot and didn’t stop laughing for two days.

     Still, tips aren’t as easy to get as all that. Adolph Zukor, head of Paramount, used to come in for lunch every day. Now Mr. Zukor is famous for his unassuming manner. He rides in his own elevators and says nothing when office boys shove him back into a corner. Stenographers push him around and he doesn’t let out a peep. Tallulah Bankhead, one of his many stars,—who has since flickered off the screen—once ordered “that little man” off her set when she was making her first talking picture in America. He left quietly without a word and later didn’t let out a peep when the electricians stepped on his feet and shoved him back of the camera line because he happened to step too close to the lens range.
     Well, Mr. Zukor stood in line with the rest of the boys at my booth, waiting for his hat. He never was the pell-mell executive, never demanded extra service. Every day he’d accept his hat with a quiet “thank you”, deposit a dime in the slot and march out. Never another word.
     But once I had a cold and contracted grippe. I stayed in bed for a week and then returned to work. Toward the end of the lunch hour, as the crowd began to dwindle, I noticed Mr. Zukor at the end of the line as usual, waiting for his hat.
     When his turn came he stopped for a moment. As I gave him his hat he looked up and smiled wistfully.
     “We missed you,” he said simply, with an expression of whimsy on his kind face. And instead of the customary dime, he dropped a quarter in the slot! And from that day on, his tip has been a quarter. But never another word besides the “thank you”.
     There’s a story told about Mr. Zukor that I don’t particularly believe, but it’s good enough to pass on here. It concerns the time of the introduction of Vita Glass, the glass that’s said to permit the vital actinic (a good word that) ray of sunshine to pass through it.
     Mr. Zukor was visiting someone in a palatial office suite when he noticed the glass set in the frames. He asked about it and was told of its health-giving qualities. He deemed it an excellent idea, and when he returned to his own beautiful office, he called in the building engineer and gave an order.
     “I want Vita Glass put in all around.”
     “Yes, sir, Mr. Zukor.”
     And Mr. Zukor pondered on the beneficial qualities of this new invention. The next day when he came to his office in the morning he looked for his Vita Glass improvements and was dismayed to find that not only had Vita Glass been installed, but the other windows had been left intact. The Vita Glass was on the outside and the regular
panes on the inside, giving enough improvement to permit the sun to penetrate the new glass and sunbake the regular windows, but no further!
     His ex-partner Jesse Lasky always ate at Sardi’s too. One day Mr. Lasky was in quite a hurry as he was leaving the restaurant, and instead of waiting for me to give him his hat, he reached for what he believed to be his own, and ran off. A moment later I discovered he had taken another man’s top piece. Grabbing the Lasky lid, I rushed after him into the street.
     “Oh, Mr. Lasky!” I shouted, but he was half way down the block and failed to hear me. I followed hurriedly. When I finally neared him and called out his name again, he halted and turned around.
     I’ve seen funny sights on the screen, but this real-life one came closest to winning a ribbon. Mr. Lasky had taken a hat at least three times too small for him and shoved it down on top of his head. There he stood, looking for all the world like an imitation of El Brendel, the funny little hat perched high on his head, a quizzical expression on his face. I was laughing so much that I could only wave his hat at him.
     He sensed the situation and laughed along with me.
     “And I forgot to tip you, I was in such a hurry,” he admitted shamefacedly.
     “I’ll tell you what, Mr. Lasky,” I offered. “Let’s flip the coin and make it double tip or nothing.”
     We flipped. Of course little mercenary Renee won!
     Being a student of human nature, more than one whose main objective in life is to get as much out of a customer as the traffic will bear, I don’t get much time to practice what I’ve learned. But the waiters are at it all the time. I mean all waiters. This is a general indictment.
     Maybe you’ve never noticed, but you’re being taken care of by a smart waiter, he’s going to get you to tip him what he wants, just as sure as a magician can pull an unsuspected rabbit out of your ear. Waiters have a variety of ways of doing this.
A waiter, when he brings you your change, will take cash that makes the breaks all in his favor, whether it be nickel, dime or quarter ones. If the percentage on the dinner figures up with a nickel on the end the waiter brings the change in dime units so that you over-tip rather than under-tip. It works the same way with quarters and half-dollars. I ask you—how many people stop to ask a waiter for a quarter’s worth of change?
     That’s not all. When he carries you the change on his tray, he arranges the money on the platter in such a skillful manner that you pick up your money in units, leaving his proposed tip intact.
     His psychological tricks are numerous. At the end of a meal the waiter is almost always fussing around the table, pouring additional water, scraping up the crumbs, meddling with the salt cellar—anything to keep his formidable self nearby when you’re deciding on the tip. In such a situation you always thrown down the larger coin. Just watch yourself.
     The smallest tip I ever received was a penny from the near-sighted gentleman. The largest was a hundred dollar bill which I later had to return.
     Three men came into the restaurant one evening. One of them was a noted real estate promoter, and other two evidently a couple of prospects. All three were slightly alcoholized. When they had finished dinner they staggered to the booth for their hats. The promoter was taking the conversational lead.
     “Cute, isn’t she?” he demanded of the others as he chucked me under the chin. The others and I agreed. His breath was driving me crazy.
     “And just for being cute,” he continued, “I’m gonna give you a real present.”
     With which he took out a one hundred dollar bill, and making sure it was open so that the others could see its denomination, he handed it to me.
     “Oh, thank you, kind sir!” I fluttered in my best milkmaid tone, knowing full well that the tip was being given only to impress the other two men. I put the bill nearby where it would be handy later.
     Sure enough the “big shot” returned an hour later. The effects of the liquor had partially worn off, and he seemed a bit worried.
     “Are you the lady who checked out my hat before?” he asked me.
     “If you can’t remember that far back I won’t tell you.”
     “I think I made a mistake in my tip,” he stammered. “I believe I gave you a bill for a tip, didn’t I?”
     “Yes.”
     “Well, I thought it was a dollar bill and now I find it must have been a hundred dollar bill. Surely you don’t think I—”
     I gave back the bill. I’d suspected from the start that it was too good to be true.
     “Next time my service charge will be twenty-five per cent,” I told him.
     “Yes, of course,” he answered and hurried out. Well, if that’s what promotes big deals, I hope he got the contract.
     Tips come in the form of presents, too. Once Ben Hecht, the bad boy of literature, who was once such a white hope that the glare blinded him, came strolling into Sardi’s swinging a beautiful snakewood walking stick. I admired it audibly, and the next thing I knew Ben had offered it to me as a gift. I still have it. I’m going to lend it to the next man who wants to get me into the movies if I’ll come to his studio at eight o’clock. He’ll need it!
     Buck Jones, the handsome cowboy star who used to ride over the hills in films to save the gal in gingham, once ambled his handsome presence across our threshold. He was wearing a “six gallon” top-piece common to cowboys and western senators who use it only for shade.
     “Whoa, Mistah Jones, suh,” I said, strutting my white trash of a body across the horizon, “that hat’s gonna consume a mighty pow’ful amount of space in these heah regions. Ah reckons it’s mighty nigh consuming two hooks.”
     Mistah Jones saw the light.
     “Pow’ful big nuisance these heah lids,” he said. “I’d be mighty pleased, partner, if you’n would accept that there hat as a present from me.”
     And the hat was mine for keeps. It hangs over my bed with a kewpie in it that I won at Coney Island. Oh, it’s beautiful. The kewpie I mean!
     Once Robert L. Ripley, the gentleman who made “Believe It or Not” into something more than a phrase—and a lot of ready cash, came back from one of his many jaunts around the world and brought back a perfume cocktail set for me. It was one of those trick gadgets composed of several bottles of perfume which you mixed to satisfy your own taste. He said he bought it in the Congo. And all along I thought the African women’s scent was strictly their own. Well, that’s Africa.
     As for tickets to Broadway shows, it might interest someone to know that I’ve seen every motion picture and legitimate show on Broadway for the past five years without having laid out a cent for tickets. it’s a cinch when the press agents eat at your elbow and tip with free ducats to Broadway’s best. Oh yes, I did pay for tickets twice. I couldn’t wait for the passes to arrive so that I might see Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier in their newest pictures.
     And speaking of Marlene, when she had just landed in America several years ago and was comparatively unknown, she came into Sardi’s for lunch. She had a little German plumpness then, and it was prior to the time that Paramount made the startling discovery that Marlene had legs.
     She was lovely the early Spring day she came in. One or two people looked up at her as she entered; then looked away. She was one of the flood of foreign importations. But her ability to make Garbo look like a Swedish clothespin wasn’t even suspected.
     I think I was the only one who talked to her that day. She seemed so solemn and alone—but not lonely.
     “A lot of people have remarked,” I said, “that you were a cross between the late Jeanne Eagels and Garbo.”
     Dietrich flared up.
     “I don’t care what they think I look like. My name is Marlene Dietrich. I am alone.”
     I left her that way. More than a year later Marlene returned to the restaurant. The crowds that followed her to the door almost broke down the glass in an effort to see her. The number of autograph books stretched forward for her to sign impeded her progress. A woman fainted on the sidewalk and two waiters had to revive her with a pitcher of ice water.
     Dietrich had brought her little, flaxen-haired daughter with her for lunch. She believes in none of that Hollywood hooey about sparing the public the details of your intimate life and the ridiculous idea that if you reveal to your dear public that you have a child, your fan mail drops immediately. Every mother in the country loved Marlene for being so frank about her daughter, and since almost every girl is a prospective mother, the Dietrich had and still has the entire female population of the States on her side.
     Marlene took off the child’s coat, hat and leggings and proceeded to order both meals. What a difference from her first appearance at Sardi’s. Now every head was turned and every conversation in the place was loaded with implications concerning not only the two ladies present, but Marlene’s husband. And all sorts of allusions arose and discussion of her private love life and how everybody swam nude in her Hollywood swimming pool and the family differences and buzz-buzz-buzz whether she was just shrewd and playing a certain director for her coffee and cake or whether she loved him and would eventually divorce her German spouse.
     Through it all Marlene paid attention only to her daughter. Every once in a while she would stop feeding the little girl spinach or consommé to ask her if she still loved her “mamma” and when the affirmative was the reply, she would bestow a huge German kiss on the infant’s brow.
     At the conclusion of lunch she came to my booth.
     “Well,” began Marlene without any sort of warning, “was I right in what I told you two years ago?”
     That’s the kind of woman who could put her shoes under my husband’s bed any day—if I had a husband.
     Contrast Marlene’s treatment of her child with the way, for example, Nancy Carroll brings up her Patsy, and you’ll begin to understand things.
     Nancy very rarely appeared in public with her Patricia and positively would never permit photographs to be taken of her baby. As a result, all sorts of stories began to appear about the child until gossipers doubted the child’s existence. On rare occasions Patsy would be permitted to enter the doors of the Astoria studio to watch her cupid-faced mamma act, but the child only went about the studio picking up nails, chewing the studio props, and engaging in conversation with Terry Carroll, Nancy’s sister who frequently serves as a stand-in for Nancy.
     A stand-in at the studio is one who approximates the height and coloring of the star and who stands in front of the camera while the lights are being adjusted and the lens focused in order to save the star time and discomfort.
     Terry didn’t exactly look like Nancy, although she did a lot to try to make herself more beautiful by having her nose cut down, but then the Carrolls have their troubles generally.
     Most movie stars have some sort of technical difficulties. Clive Brook‘s hair is growing, as a matter of fact has been growing too thin for comfort for years. Strong lights will penetrate to the baldness and show up thin hair. As a result, you’ll be sorry to learn that Mr. Brook and Mr. Paul Lukas, suavest of suave and handsome screen heroes, have hair-nets into which single hairs have been glued, pasted all over their phrenological bumps.
     And some of the stars who are not so very sixteen any more have to “shot” carefully so the wrinkles won’t show. Tallulah Bankhead, Ina Claire, Pauline Frederick and lots of others get diffused focus closeups with net screens in front of the lens to take out wrinkles and sags. Even Ronald Colman has a little gray in his hair, and blackens up that dapper mustache when he’s appearing before the camera. And Lowell Sherman wears turtleneck sweaters to hide that third chin. Willie Collier Jr., who is more or less the perennial juvenile, pastes black hair on his temples to make him look younger. Ho hum.
     But back to my job—and the tips that go with it. Strange things are pushed at me sometimes to remain in my custody for a temporary rest. I think I’ve checked everything from skillets to skulls, needles to pianos.
     A famous producer came rushing into the restaurant noe day with a brief-case under his arm. Handing it to me tenderly he said:
     “Protect that with your life, Renee, it’s a play I’m going to produce and it’s mighty valuable. A sure smash hit!”
     I gave it my usual attention and he tipped me for guarding it well. Two months later the same man came up to my booth with a woebegone expression on his face.
     “Remember that brief-case I checked with you a couple months ago?” he asked.
     “Sure, Mr. Blotz.”
     “Well, why couldn’t you have lost it then? I’d have saved exactly ten thousand dollars that I lost in producing it!”
     Say, we girls can’t know everything. It’s enough to be burdened with the facts of life.
     People come in with dogs to be checked. Once an actor brought in a brace of Russion wolfhounds to check—and me afraid of canaries!
     I’ve held on to golf clubs, books, manuscripts of flops and successes, pocketbooks, and the usual assortment of wearing apparel.
     My memory for personal belongings has developed to such an extent that once to test myself I deliberately didn’t issue any checks for the things I stored, and I had the clothing of two hundred and fifty people in my booth. At three o’clock in the afternoon I had an empty booth and hadn’t made a single mistake. “Sure, I remember you, you’re Addison Sims of Seattle” had nothing on me.
     Frequently when I accept a coat I look at the label immediately and read the man’s name that his tailor usually writes just inside the inner coat pocket. I call the gentleman by his name and remember it afterward, refusing to give a check for his coat and insisting on knowing faces and garments every time.
     This, of course, flatters the gentleman who, in turn, tips better. Ah, poor dumb me. Most men rise in their own estimation when recognized by head waiters and puff up like doves if this happens when they bring someone to lunch. Once a man gave me five dollars with the subtle suggestion that on the following day when he arrived with two friends, I was to call him by name. It was the only instance I can remember of having forgotten a man’s name.
     This recordings of cognomens on one’s mind isn’t always to one’s advantage. I used to call one of Broadway’s playboys by his first name until he decided to settle down. One day he brought in the girl he was engaged to marry, and innocently enough I greeted him in my usual cordial manner. I haven’t seen either the ex-playboy or the girl since.
     If I like a man I’ll take care of his things while they hang on my hooks. Frequently I sew on buttons and mend small tears. When the little hook on a man’s coat is ripped and remains so, it’s usually because he’s married and his wife doesn’t have time to do any such fixing. If it’s securely sewed on immediately after it’s been ripped, it’s a sure sign that some blonde girl friend on Central Park West is taking good care of her sugar daddy. You can’t get diamond service stripes on your arm if you don’t work for them.
     Gertrude Lawrence came in one day and noticed a ten-cent piece of jewelry I was wearing on my arm. It was only a little red thing, probably made of celluloid, and had attracted my eye as I passed a Woolworth five and tenner.
     “Miss Lawrence,” I begged the English musical star, “will you put your signature in my autograph book?”
     “I will,” she said. “If you’ll trade that bracelet you’ve got on your arm for my signature.”
     I know a bargain when I see one. We swapped.
     That very same day Ripley came in and left a straw hat with me. When he went out he wouldn’t take the hat.
     “Save it for next Summer, will you, Renee?”
     The straw is still on one of my shelves waiting for Ripley to return from one of his jaunts so that I can catch him at the right time. He’s always returned during the wrong season.
     All the same I’m a luxury, despite the fact that my tips are probably as good as those of any other hat check girl. When I go out I always fix it so that the girls in the night club get a big share of the money my boy friend is spending because I know what it means to live on tips.
     And economic conditions are at my fingertips, especially in the film business. I knew just when the Warner Brothers ordered a ten per cent slash in salaries—all the tips from that crowd were a nickel less the next day!

< Read Chapter 1 | Read Chapter 3 >

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