Times Square Tintypes: Arthur Hopkins

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles theatrical producer Arthur Hopkins.


ARTHUR HOPKINS. The sphinx of the show business.
Caricature of Arthur HopkinsHe scares people by saying nothing.
Was born October 4, 1878. His father was a doctor. He has seven brothers. All, with the exception of one, are professional men. The one, William Rowland Hopkins, is at present City Manager of Cleveland. This corresponds to the title of Mayor here.
Is a conservative dresser. Generally wears a derby or gray felt hat. He always wear a bow tie.
He was the first director in America to permit an actor to talk with his back to the audience.
Was once a reporter. Is noted for invading the Polish district of Cleveland and capturing the only photograph of Czolgosz, the assassinator of President McKinley. Every newspaper used this photograph, giving due credit.
He is the author of the book, How’s Your Second Act?
Loves to play golf. Two of his best friends are Sam H. Harris and Arthur Hammerstein. They are known as “the Three Golfing H’s.”
His office is a cubicle room in the Plymouth Theatre. He sits in his chair there, saddle fashion. His desk is piled high with manuscripts. Occasionally he gets reading jags and does nothing for days but read plays.
He is stubborn.
When he first started producing his efforts were rapped by the critics. He said: “I will be producing plays when all those boys are gone and forgotten.” The critics of that day were DeFoe, Reamer, Dale, Davies and Wolf. They are all gone. Years later the same Mr. Hopkins wrote: “I want no praise for bad work. If they find me careless or gross, cheap or vulgar, my head is on the block for them.”
His middle name is Melancthon.
Whenever he discovers what he thinks is an “author” he goes nuts.
Lives in Great Neck. Among his prize possessions there are a baby grand piano, a victrola, his wife—Eva McDonald—and a handsome mahogany poker outfit.
He bought On Trial by giving Elmer Rice a $50 advance. Then produced the play under the Cohan and Harris banner by giving them a fifty percent interest in the play. During one of the rehearsals he thought of the revolving stage. This made it possible to do the now famous flashback in twenty-six seconds.
Gets a big kick out of doing things people don’t expect him to do.
Is more agreeable when he has a flop than when he has a hit.
He never wears jewelry.
When rehearsing a play the stage curtain is always down. He sits in a chair or stands in the wings, smoking. Sometimes it is days before he says a word. For at least seven days the cast merely sit and read their parts. When he thinks that they understand the play thoroughly, he allows them to act. He never tells an actor what to do, but what not to do.
He tells the truth or nothing at all.
Has a terrific admiration for Robert Edmond Jones, Isadora Duncan and Raquel Meller.
Is the only producer who quotes himself in advertisements.
When he produced What Price Glory he thought real soldiers could play soldiers better than actors. Every soldier in that play, with the exception of the principals, had done service abroad.
His great passion is discovering new talent.
Has the ability actually to forget things he doesn’t wish to remember.
He writes most of the statements that are issued by the Producing Managers Association.
On the opening night of a play he does one of two things. He either sits in the light gallery, which hangs over the first balcony, and watches the play and the audience or sits backstage, near the stage door, with his back to the players, listening to the lines and the applause.
His favorite haunt is the Lotus Club.
Once one of his brothers visited him at the office. It is said that both sat there for half an hour before either greeted the other.
He keeps a cow on his estate at Great Neck because he insists on fresh milk every morning.
He knows more than he will talk about. Therefore, is given credit for knowing much more than he says.
The rest is silence.

Times Square Tintypes: Florenz Ziegfeld

Sidney Skolsky was a former Broadway press agent turned columnist who made his living writing profiles he called “tintypes” of Broadway figures like Flo Ziegfeld (see below), Eddie Cantor, and Irving Berlin. In 1932, he moved west to Hollywood, where he continued as a columnist and became a movie producer as well (some claim it was Skolsky who first nicknamed the Academy Award “Oscar”).
But his book Times Square Tintypes, which was published in 1932, collected his Broadway columns, and like In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Sardi’s Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll, it’s a great time-capsule look at an exciting era in New York City cultural history.
The introduction that precedes the book’s first chapter below was written by Gilbert Wolf Gabriel, who worked with Skolsky at the Evening Sun. Gabriel went on to write for Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and many other publications. He eventually became a drama critic of some note.


I am not here to introduce Mr. Skolsky, the author of these subsequent sketches. Like all true biographers, Mr. Skolsky has a passion for self-effacement. He will hiss me for disclosing him in even the most general terms.
It is my theory that all good Broadway columnists—a race apart—are small of frame, soft of voice, racy with all the sophistication of the naïve-at-heart, with eyes that are incurably big with the wonder and glee of what they see in that fabulous district, the vicinity of Times Square. Mr. Skolsky is a favorite Broadway columnist, and he looks his likable part.
On The Sun, we used to leave Mr. Skolsky to his own sly devices. It would be better fun to wait and see what new personality he’d choose to lightning-sketch and pin up on the New York sky line each succeeding week. He was—still is, in his new-found quarters on The News—inexhaustible about that business. His world brims with possibilities for his peculiar sort of portraiture. His asylum of the great and the near-great will never run empty. He will always, I”m sure, greet every up-and-coming understudy with her literary tintype before she is six paces on her way to stardom.
The charcoal with which Mr. Skolsky draws is a native product. It can be made out of nothing else than Broadway’s compressed soot. And he wields it with a hand grown exceedingly quick and sure in the nervous racket of Broadway crowds. His wit has the telegraphic tempo which insures clean and telling strokes, and I have yet to see a single smudge of dirtiness in any of his shadows. More astounding still, he does without malice . . . in a territory where malice is both the coin and the curse of the realm.
I cannot remember that any of the ladies, proverbially famous for vanity, took exception to their Skolsky portraits. One, perhaps two, inordinately modest gentlemen did. Why, I can’t guess. He did them most merciful justice, and for his kindness was once imprisoned in a slowly descending elevator with a subject so indignant that Mr. Skolsky was momentarily expecting a shove to the bottom of the shaft. Broadway has its battlefields and its war crosses. Columnists must sign their ease and prepare to be first casualties.
But the larger, more constant embarrassment of this gallery of well-knowns must have been, not indignation, but, on the contrary, supplication. No sooner was Mr. Skolsky’s series a pronounced success—and it was such a success much sooner than it was a series—than the coy requests began to pour in. He was invited, advised, urged, begged to grow staccato concerning the semi-private lives of almost every semi-private person in New York.
He had me always wondering how he escaped wasting time and space on opaque and uninteresting third-raters. Until I saw that the fun lay all in Skolsky himself, and that he has his own happy way of turning kithen-maids into Columbines and dullest dogs into blue-ribbon wonders of the Broadway age.

*   *   *   *   *


Florenz Ziegfeld. That’s his real name. His father was Dr. Florenz Ziegfeld, founder of the Chicago Musical College. His mother, Rosalie de Hez, a French girl. He was born in Chicago, March 21, 1869.
His telephone bill is $10 a day.
Likes to munch sweets. Generally carries a small box of candy in his pocket.
Can’t sleep after six in the morning. Starts his day’s work in bed. With a masseur working on him, he dictates telegrams. Only one-third of the telegrams he writes are actually sent.
Talks with a nasal tone. Which is mimicked by some of his stars behind his back.
Whenever he goes on a long trip he takes along his own chef and his own food in a special car.
His theatrical fame and fortune really started on July 8, 1907. It was then he produced his first Follies. It was presented in the theatre now known as Loew’s New York Roof.
Knows more ways of escaping process servers than any other man in the world.
He can’t keep a secret.
Wears lavender-colored shirts, pointed perforated shoes, usually brown, and a hat that costs $40. In the winter he always wears a heavy beaver coat. He hates evening clothes and seldom wears them.

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