Happy Birthday, Claudette Colbert!

We’ve had the good fortune to meet a few stars from the Cladrite Era—Esther Williams, Gloria Stuart, Margaret Whiting, Cab Calloway, Kitty Carlisle—and we’ve enjoyed relatively close encounters (but not personal meetings) with others, among them Benny Goodman, Richard Widmark, Fay Wray, Dickie Moore, Jane Powell, Farley Granger and Francis Dee.

Our greatest regret in this area involves Claudette Colbert, who was born 112 years ago today. In 1985, we got see Ms. Colbert, costarring with Rex Harrison, in a Broadway revival of Frederick Lonsdale‘s 1923 drawing-room comedy Aren’t We All? It was an enjoyable production, and Ms. Colbert, whom we greatly admire, was delightful. So what was the issue?

For some reason, we didn’t wait by the stage door following the show to meet Ms. Colbert. As we said, we’re big fans, and we honestly don’t know what we were thinking in passing up that opportunity, but we’ve regretted it ever since, and ever more so as we became more and more immersed in the cinema of the 1930s and ’40s, when Ms. Colbert was in her glorious prime.

Perhaps in the next life, Ms. Williams or Ms. Carlisle will help us to rectify this misstep and introduce us to Ms. Colbert. But in the meantime, we’re thinking of Claudette Colbert on her birthday. Here’s hoping it’s a happy one, wherever she may be.

Claudette Colbert quote

Lauren Bacall: Goodbye to a Glorious Gal

The world lost a wonderful woman with the passing of the great Lauren Bacall.

We’ve told the story before, but what the heck: We’ve always felt a certain connection to Ms. Bacall because we were neighbors for a few months when we first moved to New York City straight out of college.

We initially got settled here after the move from Oklahoma City by subletting an apartment from a pal for the summer; it was a small office, really, that wasn’t intended (or zoned) to be a residence. One room, plus an entryway, a closet and a good-sized bathroom, but no kitchen (we ate a lot of peanut butter that summer).

But we didn’t care because it was located on 72nd Street, just east of Columbus Avenue, which anyone familiar with Manhattan knows is just down the street from the Dakota, storied digs of the rich and famous and home to Bogie‘s best gal.

We never spotted her on the street (don’t think we weren’t keeping a constant eye out), but we mailed her a picture postcard of one of her classic Hollywood headshots and she sent it back to us, autographed (see above).

That was a grand day.

We also stood in line at the TKTS booth to get cheap tickets to her triumphant run in Woman of the Year on Broadway. We waited after the show for her to emerge, and when she did, she passed no more than a two or three feet from us. We didn’t get to speak to her, alas, but it was a kick just to be that close. We were brand new to NYC, after all, and as devoted movie buffs, she was like royalty to us.

She was quite a dame and we’re sorry to see her go, but we’re grateful that she had such a good, long run.

Rest in peace, Ms. Bacall, and thanks.

Times Square Tintypes: Broadway

In this, the final chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky offers not one of the show-biz profiles that were his bread and butter, but instead details a day in the life of the Great White Way.

BROADWAY CHRONOMETER

9 A. M. illustration of a Broadway streetsweeperPeople who don’t belong walking over a sleeping body. The lights are out and the sun is shining. Stores are opening for business and porters are cleaning out the theaters. Programs are swept aside. Last night’s opening is now an old story. Working people are hurrying to their tasks. They’re going to make money to spend when the light flicker. Nobody along the Street thinking of amusement. They’ll sell you insurance, a suit of clothes, a cup of coffee, but never a laugh. If Broadway were awake it wouldn’t let these people on it. But the Street is only human. It must get some rest. There they go, not a real double-crosser, not a gangster, not an actor, not a guy hopped up with fake dreams. Merely real people. Walking up Broadway when it is asleep.

*      *      *

10:30 A. M. Broadway yawns. Actors in their sleep wake to rehearsals. Some poor nut has a song hit that no one will take off his hands. Ham and eggs at Childs’. Countless actors who believe that today their break may come. Press agents are going to what they call work. Broadway yawns again. Part of it goes back to sleep. The other part marches. They don’t make a dent. The Street still belongs to the foreign invasion. School kids and people out of work standing in line to get into the Paramount at the cheap morning prices. The afternoon papers begin to appear on the newsstands. Sounds of a jazz band practicing. It annoys the realtor two blocks away. In a couple of weeks he’ll pay to hear the same band and call it amusement. Dreary-eyed coryphées leaving side street hotels to hurry to rehearsals. The rouge and lipstick are the only thing genuine about them. They could put that on in their sleep. Don’t you worry, they’ll be repaid. Have their name in lights, get a husband, or else. Yawn, Broadway, but put your hand over your mouth.

*      *      *

2 P. M. Broadway is waking up. The light, the air, the sunshine is foreign. Matinée crowds now fill the streets. Actors are going to work. Why do they have matinées? You ought to see the same show some night that you saw in the afternoon. Where do people get the time to go to theaters in the afternoon? Why don’t they sleep? Actors are going to matinées. To see how they would have played the part or to applaud a fellow performer. A night club has a rehearsal in the cellar. Work all night and work all day. It’s a racket. Some people find heaven in a dive. Producers having their breakfasts. Big business deals written out on tableclothes. Do you know who’s in town? Four guys are spilling the same exclusive inside story. Gray’s is filled and Cain’s is making room for another show. Broadway is waking up. Theatrical folks are hurrying to their doctors. To their dentists. To take a sun-ray bath. Must keep in good condition. What’s the daytime for? The curtain’s going up. More jazz bands are rehearsing. Someone just signed a big contract and is going to get his name in lights. What the hell good is daytime? You can’t see your name in lights. Come on, Broadway, wake up. Get hot. Get dark.

*      *      *

7:30 P. M. It’s getting dark on old Broadway. Its getting hot on old Broadway. Actors answering the 7:30 call of the theater. Grease paint. Bring in that latest shipment through the back door, will you? She’s meeting him in front of the Rialto. It’s an opening night down the street. Maybe they’ll holler, “Author, author.” He’s invested everything in this one. Gee, I hope he clicks. He’s a nice guy. The critics. I’d like to see one of them write a play. Bernard Shaw? I mean a New York critic. Someone just cracked a gag. Lights are flickering. Someone else just cracked the same gag. Horns are tooting. Someone just had a reputation shattered. A new one tomorrow. The sky is beautiful. In some part of the world people are looking at the moon. It’s getting dark on old Broadway. It’s getting hot on old Broadway. No one can see above the electric light. Loan it to me and I’ll pay you back tomorrow. I haven’t got it myself. They’re all friends. All buddies. Just trying to do each other a good turn if it will benefit themselves. She’s with another guy tonight. Don’t know how she can keep up the pace. There goes the curtain. First nights. Glory seekers. Critics. Folks in search of amusement. Panhandlers. Bums. Noise. Lights. Greed. Backslapping. Tomorrow’s papers. What you’re doing now doesn’t count. The present is of the past. Pretty important, aren’t you all? Ever walk through a graveyard? All tombstones read alike. Broadway is getting hot.

*      *      *

AFTER
MIDNIGHT
Broadway is Broadway. Broadway is making whoopee. Prohibition is only for the non-drinkers. Nobody knows what day it is. Hey, waiter, this table! Policemen standing in hallways. Long lines of cabs. We won’t get home ’til morning. Don’t talk like that to him. Want to get bumped off? Clubs banging on tables. That’s applause. Applause that’s life to an artist. I’m telling you it’s a sure in the third race at Havana tomorrow. Mr. Whoosis, I want you to meet Miss Whatsis. Now I’ve got a scheme. Some guys get all the luck. Broadway is making whoopee. Evening dress and gorgeous gowns. She was beautiful two hours ago. Legs. Arms. Eyes. Desire. Fill it up again, I want to forget. Tell me things, will you? I want to listen. Bad music. Bad gin. Whirling bodies. Isn’t this fun? We’re having a great time. I feel dizzy. It’s getting stuffy. You’re not used to it. People who are only eating sandwiches and drinking coffee in plain restaurants. Talking dreams. Giving the ego an outlet. A good listener is a good friend. Stray lights in an office building. Strays walking up and down as if they were going places. Couples window-shopping in dark windows. A practically empty street car darting through the night. Folks quarreling. Breaking their hearts. Giving it to Broadway so it can be paved. The street is practically deserted. But this is what the hick in the stick believes is the real Broadway. This is Broadway making whoopee.

Times Square Tintypes: Gertrude Lawrence

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles actress Gertrude Lawrence.

MEET MISS LAWRENCE

The Woman Of It. GERTRUDE LAWRENCE.
Caricature of Gertrude LawrenceShe is always recognizing people she has never seen before.
Although fond of flowers and has plenty about the house she will never wear any.
Her father was a singer with a company of touring English minstrels. Her mother acted with the troupe. As a baby she was left in a clothes basket in the dressing room while they were onstage. At the age of four she sold programs in the theaters. Made her stage début when she was six, playing kid parts in England, Scotland and Ireland. Had cards printed reading: “Miss Gertie Lawrence, Child Actress and Toe-Dancer.”
Has a small beauty mark, difficult to see, on the right side of her chin.
Is a good tennis player and an excellent swimmer. In the summer she goes to the beach, in a very business-like way, to acquire a heavy coat of tan.
She avoids wearing a hat whenever possible. Loathes clothes except when she has to dress up. At home she walks about attired in pajamas. When retiring for the evening she dons a nightgown.
Her most expensive habit is buying automobiles. She owns three.
Has a mania for clocks. Has twelve in her apartment. No two of them ever register the same time.
She first set foot in this country on Christmas eve, 1923, when the company of the first Charlot Revue arrived here. No one was present to greet her. She and Beatrice Lillie sat on their trunks on that lonely dock for an hour. They cried and sang Christmas carols.
When talking to a person who uses an accent, she can’t help mimicking that person in conversation.
Her choice selections in foods are beef stew, kidney pudding, fruits out of season, greasy potato chips and ripe olives soaked in garlic. Buys things from pushcarts, like roasted chestnuts, and eats them while walking along the street.
Wears horn-rimmed glasses when she reads or wants to look dignified.
In Candle Light she played her first straight rôle in this country. In London she played the lead in Icebound. Over there she is also noted for her male impersonations.
She goes to fortune tellers and reads dream books, believing in them implicitly.
Her nicknames are “Squirrel,” “Peaches” (this one annoys her), “G” and “Dormouse.”
Lindbergh is her hero. In her press book, which contains every story and picture of her that ever appeared, she also has pasted the newspaper accounts of Lindbergh’s flight, reception and marriage.
Her two favorite games are poker and backgammon. She attends every prize fight, bicycle race and ice hockey game that she can.
Likes to talk in a husky voice and welcomes a slight cold because it enables her to do this.
She can fix a fuse, if one blows out, or repair mechanical troubles. For years she had a tiny French telephone, the type banned by the telephone company. Wherever she traveled, London, Paris, New York, she took it with her and installed it herself.
Prefers definite shades of color in her clothes. She looks best in either black or white.
She is most comfortable when sitting on the floor—and generally does.
Of all her songs, her favorite is “Watch Over Me,” from Oh, Kay. She takes a singing lesson every day and is now learning to sing in Italian.
Her secret ambition is to write a play. Every week she decides to become something else. Now she wants to be a sculptress. She bought some modeling clay, a smock, a book on how to make models life size in twelve easy lessons, and is now trying to do things.

Times Square Tintypes: J. P. McEvoy

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles author and playwright J. P. McEvoy.

“JUST GREETINGS”

Caricature of J. P. McEvoyJ. P. McEVOY. Two days after he was born this greeting card arrived:.

(To Mrs. McEvoy On The Occasion of Her Son’s Birth.)

I hear that Dame Fortune has been kindly
And blessed you with a boy so fine
And given you something to be proud of
In future years when you sit by a lonesome pine.

May he grow up to be healthy and sturdy
And good to his mother and true,
And be loved by countless millions
As he is loved by YOU.

His first piece of writing appeared in the South Bend News. He inserted a job-wanted advertisement.
For some unknown reason he is afraid to enter a laundry.
Lives at Woodstock, N. Y. Is the proud possessor of two blessed events and a St. Bernard dog. The two children are now attending school in California. The dog, dying of loneliness, is to be shipped there next week.
The only jewelry he wears is a black opal ring. Wears this because everyone says it is unlucky.
Is very fond of people who resemble him.
He saves unused return postal cards.
Never actually writes a play or story. He dictates everything. Always has two secretaries working. Never revises any of his manuscripts. Show Girl has fourteen chapters. It was dictated at fourteen settings.
He is unable to part his hair.
Believes there should be a law against bed makers who never tuck in the sheets at the foot of the bed.
As far as comedians go he starts laughing if he’s in the same city as Jimmy Durante.
Always buys two copies of a book. One to read and one to lend.
His full name is Joseph Patrick McEvoy. His mother name him Joseph. His father named him Patrick. Not caring for either, he became J. P. McEvoy.
He has a picture of his wife in every room.
Still receives royalties on some of the greeting cards he wrote. His favorite is the following:

Eve had no Xmas
Neither did Adam.
Never had socks,
Nobody had ’em.
Never got cards,
Nobody did.
Take this and have it
On Adam, old kid.

He was once an amateur wrestler. Gave it up because he didn’t like being on the floor.
He hates to see people in wet bathing suits.
His first book to be published was a volume of poetry titled Slams of Life. He has the names of those who bought it. Two more sales and he could have formed a club.
Smokes a cigar from the moment he turns off the shower in the morning until he puts on his pajamas at night.
His pet aversions are women’s elbows, chocolate candy all melted together, fishing stories, fishermen, fish, Laugh, Clown, Laugh; radio talks on how to make hens lay, buying new shoes, mixed quartets, Laugh, Clown, Laugh; runs in silk stockings, three-piece orchestras, waiters who breathe down his neck and Laugh, Clown, Laugh.
When in New York he puts up at the Algonquin. If working on a story or play he and his wife occupy separate rooms.

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