In Chapter 9 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars Renee Carroll, she offers recollections of more celebrities than we could possibly list here. Many of the names are still familiar; others all but forgotten. A few we couldn’t even track down via the internet, and heaven knows we tried.
EVEN Fred Keating, the magician, once forgot where he put his hat check!
But hat check girls, even red-haired ones, have memories, so sometimes when business at my window is slack, I sit and think of the million and one things that have happened between the celebrity-laden walls of Sardi’s. Incidents, names, personalities galore, and sometimes just a casual word will start my train of thought along almost forgotten tracks. Would you like to lift the lid of the Carroll cranium and see what’s going on inside?
Here comes George Jean Nathan, world’s best critic by his own admission. I’ll never forget the day I bawled him out because he insisted on having his hat set apart from the others—and how embarrassed he was. I never suspected anyone could embarrass him . . . telling Warner Baxter that he was my favorite movie star, only to be overheard by Richard Dix to whom I had dished out the same line only two days before . . . the day Helen Menken, reddest of the red-heads, gave us a big surprise by changing to the color gentlemen are supposed to prefer . . . Incidentally, she never takes her gloves off when she eats!
And here is Robert Garland, who pilots (or piles-it) the dramatic column in the World-Telly, and is a regular customer as a certain blind spot in the roaring Fifties (they’re roaring further uptown now). He’d been a regular patient at the drink infirmary for more than a year when one night he showed at the barred door and knocked the magic knock. A weary, unshaved faced appeared in the aperture.
“Hello, Tony, I wanna come in.”
“Who are you?” the face inquired.
Infuriated because he had spent his good shekels for so many nights and still remained a dim bulb in the big sign, he shouted back the first thing that came to his mind—a catchline from a New Yorker cartoon.
“You must remember me,” yelled Garland, “I’m the guy who punched my wife in the nose here last night.”
And he was ushered in with any more undue ceremony!
I remember my astonishment upon learning the very studious-looking gentleman at the corner table was Dennis King, most romantic figure on the stage . . . Will Mahoney‘s grand entrance entirely surrounded by Earl Carroll‘s most luscious vampires, nine of ’em. Hold Mahoney’s Hand was their favorite song.
Sam Shipman of the positively guaranteed non-combable hair lunching daily with a perennial script under his arm . . . Basil Sidney and Mary Ellis, co-stars, announcing that they had decided to make it permanent, and their elopement that very night . . . Kenyon Nicholson opining that he expected his play Torch Song to be fair, but that his second production of the season, Stepdaughters of War, would be a hit, and the vice versa results . . . my surprise on hearing manly Jack Dempsey‘s piping soprano voice . . . receiving a huge box of candy from Miriam Hopkins which weighed nearly as much as its charming donor . . . Georgie Jessel carrying a different cane every time he sauntered in for lunch, so ‘elp me . . . failing to recognize Jed Harris. Cause: one mysterious shave . . . refusing a tip from Tammany Young to enable to maintain his non-paying reputation . . . racking my brain to find out why Ring Lardner was walking around and around the restaurant for hours until late at night, and learning that he was just in one of his frequent dazes . . . sending Gard to City Hall to caricature Jimmy Walker who had refused to sit for the drawing in our restaurant. Ah, our shy ex-mayor . . . Johnnie Galladet and Helen Menken holding hands between courses at lunch . . . Herb Rawlinson sketching pictures on the tablecloth, and my advice to him to concentrate on acting . . . Primo Carnera and Maurice Chevalier tossing a coin to see which one would pay for the luncheon. Maurice’s smile of jubilation when Primo lost . . . and Jack Pearl, just another good stage comedian until he clicked on the air. Now he’s set for Hollywood and he’ll be worth a million by next year. Vas you ever in heaven, Sharlie?
Selling a book to Pat O’Brien, who has made good in the movies, and then loaning him taxi fare for his trip home . . . Marcel Achard, ze French author, and his so expensive chapeaux, each costing not less than fifty real dollars . . . Ruth Roland‘s and Ben Bard‘s genuine devotion to each other . . . Jeanne Green’s fascinating chic . . . Mary Nolan‘s startling blonde beauty and her boyish ex-husband, who actually carried around innumerable photos of her . . . Texas Guinan (you remember her) ordering roast beef for her dog Feet, and a cup of coffee for herself . . . the farewell party given to the Graphic managing editor, and everyone showing up but Ed Sullivan, who had the most cause to be grateful. Bad manner even out of print . . . and the same editor saying he was giving up newspaper work to turn farmer, and the deafening (it’s always deafening, isn’t it?) applause he got.
Meeting Mae Slattery, the regular “stand-in” for Nancy Carroll, and my feeling of sadness upon thinking that Mae, who in my opinion is so much sweeter than Nancy, can never get ahead because she looks so much like the twice-married red-head . . . getting a call from the Paramount casting offices to appear the next day for a “bit” and not going because I thought it was a joke. My embarrassment a few days later when Dudley Murphy, the director, reproved me for not coming to the studio when I was called . . . Hugh O’Connell‘s heart of gold which he tries to hide under a blasé exterior . . . Hugh loves to do thing for others but hates to get credit. There aren’t many like him on Broadway . . . writing a silly little poem and getting a big thrill when Bide Dudley actually ran it in his World column . . . Chester Morris still so much in love with his wife, Sue, after five years of marriage that he calls her up every hour to reiterate he that he loves her . . . Monta Bell, the flicker megaphoner, who always wears a béret and red sweater . . . making my radio début over Station WMCA and being surprised at myself when I forgot to get the traditional “mike” fright . . deciding to let my hair grow after seeing how gorgeous Joan Crawford‘s long bob appeared . . . Peter Arno‘s pornographic sketch in my autograph book (description on request) and the attention it attracted . . . discussing art with Harrison Fisher and my brazen suggestion for a drawing, and the thrill I got later when it actually appeared on a magazine cover . . . the Ripley farewell party before he left for Africa. Dancing with the guest of honor, Robert Ripley himself. Believe it or not . . . Sir Hubert and his beautiful wife, Lady Wilkins. I wonder she really thinks about his dangerous expeditions . . . Major Kennelley’s smile—he was still a bachelor then . . . Phil Klein‘s glorious voice, used only to entertain friends. It’s a shame; he’s better than most professionals . . . being snubbed by a chorine who formerly danced at ten-cents-a-turn Roseland with me. I guess she was afraid I’d spill the beans.
Phrasing a simile the day I met Frank Wilstach, Mr. Winchell’s muchly-publicized simileman. It was “as personal as a hat check girl’s smile” . . . pointing out the celebrities to the ever-curious, who get such a big kick out of it . . . I still enjoy meeting the very great myself, so I know how it is . . . my precious collection of autograph books, almost a hundred of them . . . visiting Joe Cook‘s ablest aide, Dave Chasen, in his dressing room to get a story and finding a crowd of down-and-outers. Dave can never say “no” to a touch . . . watching dozens of actors and actresses discussing contracts over the dinner table . . . Lew Brice and his many changes of headgear . . . Dr. Giannini’s charm. This big, important man is never too busy to exchange a few words of greeting. His associates, Messrs. Walker, Thompson and Normalie are just as nice. Thank God for such people to make a hat check girl’s day a happy one . . . being driven back from Rian (ex-Brooklyn Eagle) James‘ party by Guy Lombardo, who is as swell as his music . . . and the thrill I got when I voted for McKee for mayor—and my disappointment when he lost to that paragon of statesmanship, John P. O’Brien.
Sidney Fox‘s crying spell just before she left for Hollywood. She asked me to write to her so she wouldn’t feel lonely. I did, but I’ve never received an answer. Humph! . . . being chauffeured home in Glenn Hunter‘s car after staying overtime to check out his hat . . . spending a weekend at Beechhurst with some friends as a guest of Harry Richman. He has the most beautiful home I have ever been in, and his hospitality is perfect. The final touch came when I was driven home in his big blue Isotta. Oh, boy! . . . Madge Kennedy‘s sweetness . . . Robert Garland’s ready wit . . . unobtrusive little Larry Reid impersonating Queen Victoria and other celebrities . . . reading Herb Cruikshank’s unforgettable obituary of Jeanne Eagels, and the tears that it drew . . . our spaghetti-eating contest (for accuracy—not speed) and the winnah, Paul Porcasi, then appearing in Broadway . . . having my Hoffman-drawn caricature appear in a layout of real celebrities, because Hoffman (N. Y. American) told Meyer Solmson, the theatrical reporter, that I was a motion picture star . . . and John Chapman, the only New York columnist who has the nerve to refuse gags credited by press agents to comedians who aren’t smart enough to think of them!
Razzing Lew Gensler, the revusical man, into getting a new coat, and his wife’s thanks . . . selling Rudy (heigh-ho) Vallée a copy of Sidney Skolsky‘s Tintypes and getting Alex Gard, its illustrator, to autograph it as follows: “To Rudy Vallée—ho hum!—Alex Gard.” Presenting it to Rudy, and running like the devil from the crooner . . . Clifton (graceful) Webb‘s little ditty in my autograph book: “To Renee—save your pennies!” Now I ask you! . . . remembering when Jane Cowl and Jeanne Eagels admitted that they detested caricatures and refused to sit for Gard . . . Larry Hart (the lyrical lyricist) who taps you on the ankle to say “hello” and who kisses me each time he sees me . . . George Ross, who angers play producers because young George insists on being honest and rapping bad plays in his World-Telegram reviews.
The one woman I’d always wanted to meet sauntered into Sardi’s one day—yes, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, the lady of the orchids (and oh, what I wouldn’t do for one orchid!) Peggy had just taken her first talking screen test for pictures. “Everything turned out fine,” said the beautiful Miss (which she still calls herself—imagine!) Joyce, “but my voice sounded too English; but I suppose they could fix that, couldn’t they?”
I reassured her that the studios would deport the English right out of her voice, all right. Peggy is getting out a new book—same publisher, as mine, which shows he’s broadminded. A girl who checks hats and a gal who check and rechecks husbands on the same publisher’s list! Oh, well. They gave Peggy a literary tea when her first book came out. All the literary celebrities showed up like stage Johnnies. You’d have imagined Peggy had got the Nobel prize. The literary ladies and gents gave Peggy such a big hand I guess she thought she ought to give them an encore—the big-hearted girl. So she wrote another book.
Charming Arthur Schwartz, one of the best composers of the day, never fails to give me copies of all his songs. A funny thing about Arthur, he hates to eat but does it only because he realizes that he must . . . my forgetting to wear an under-slip one hot summer’s day and wondering why everyone at the front tables lingered so long over their coffee. I found out later from a kind woman patron . . . watching a gorgeous Isotta-Fraschini drive up and deposit pulchritudinous (whew!) blonde Dorothy Hall. Wondering why some girls have all the luck . . . Nick Kenny, the hard-boiled, squeaky-voiced ex-gob radio columnist who gets tender and soft only when talking of his child . . . getting a five-franc note form Paris in a letter written by Ward Morehouse, who had forgotten to tip me when he rushed away to catch his boat . . . suddenly recognizing Robert Armstrong, one of my screen favorites, and dropping everything to take his hat and coat. Blushing furiously when I also dropped his brand new hat . . . meeting Tony Canzoneri, the boxer, and not being able to check hats for many minutes after because my fingers were still numb from his handshake . . . Meeting Dick Rowland, the movie exec, at a party and discussing various phases of the movie business with him. His distinct surprise later, when he discovered that I was a hat check girl who had first met him when he came in for lunch with Adolph Zukor . . . Billy Rose (Mr. Fanny Brice) sipping coffee and writing lyrics for a new song to be added to his show . . . watching Carnera sit down on a chair and holding my breath for fear that it would break under his weight . . . Fannie Brice (Mrs. Billy Rose) rushing out of her limousine with an armful of bundles which kept dropping with every step she took . . . and my longing for a sight of George M. Cohan, who let Hollywood get on his nerves. Did it occur to anyone that his picture turned out to be one of the best of the year?
Seeing Walter Donaldson and not being able to believe he wrote all those beautifully sentimental songs . . . Janet Reade‘s beauty . . . Irvin Cobb‘s hearty laugh . . . Donald Henderson Clarke and his $50 hats . . . funny, he made his money with The Chastity of Gloria Boyd and Impatient Maiden and the writers of “good” books wear $3.45 lids . . . Mitzi Green‘s imitation of Bing Crosby, even better than Bing’s private imitation of himself, which is a panic . . . Leo Carrillo‘s impulsive kiss one day when I complimented him on his acting—and can that man kiss! . . . and my favorite book—clippings the papers carried about this book before it was published—and particularly the crack about A. C. Blumenthal in Louis Sobol’s column. And the cavalcade of laughter which shook Sardi’s when Gard displayed the Blumenthal caricature which graces this book!