Happy 109th Birthday, Fay Wray!

Fay Wray was born Vina Fay Wray 109 years today in Cardston, Alberta. We have a special fondness for Ms. Wray, given that, some years ago, we enjoyed a brief but memorable encounter with her. Here are 10 FW Did-You-Knows:

  • Though born in Canada, Wray grew up in Utah and Southern California and began working as an extra in pictures as a teen. Her first credited roles were in westerns made at Universal.
  • In 1926, The Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers chose her as one of thirteen young actresses most likely to be stars in Hollywood (Janet Gaynor and Mary Astor were among the other twelve chosen that year).
  • After early success in westerns, Wray became known as a scream queen, due to a run of horror pictures she made in the early 1930s, among them King Kong, Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat and The Most Dangerous Game.
  • Wray was paid $10,000 for her work in King Kong, a picture that was so successful it is said to have saved RKO Pictures from bankruptcy.
  • Wray valued her writing abilities over her acting career. She published an autobiography—On the Other Hand: A Life Story—and saw one of her plays, The Meadowlark, produced. (She collaborated with Sinclair Lewis on another play, Angela Is Twenty-Two.)
  • She was offered the role of Rose in Titanic (1997), but turned it down, leaving the role open for Gloria Stuart.
  • Though she lived there only a few years, there is a fountain in Cardston that is named after Wray.
  • In the 1950s, Wray worked frequently on television, appearing twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and in three episodes of Perry Mason, among many others.
  • Peter Jackson had hoped to have Wray speak the final line in his 2005 remake of King Kong, but she passed away, aged 96, before the picture finished filming.
  • Two days later, the lights on the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes as a tribute to her.

Happy birthday, Fay Wray, wherever you may be!

Fay Wray

King Kong Returns!

Filmmaker Travis Threlkel and photographer Louie Psihoyos tonight teamed to project digital light images of endangered species on the Empire State Building in what the New York Times called “an art event meant to draw attention to the creatures’ plight and possibly provide footage for a coming documentary.”

For their part, Threlkel and Psihoyos termed the event a “weapon of mass instruction.”

We were there to experience the show with a couple of pals, and as soon we arrived at the corner of 30th and Fifth, we turned to them and remarked, “What we’d like to see is a giant ape climbing that building.”

Not five seconds after that crack, the show began again (it was running on a loop every few minutes), and our wish was granted.

The Fight to Save New York City

Three years ago, we told you about Louis Shoe Repair (see that post below), which has been open in the same spot since 1921. We fell in love with the place, and stopped by regularly to have our shoes shined when our workplace was nearby (sadly, our offices moved way downtown over a year ago).

That shop, now in operation for 94 years, will close later this month, and not because it’s not still a viable operation—they’re doing just fine. No, they’re closing because the corporation that owns the Empire State Building (that’s where LSR is located) is raising their rent to—wait for it—$25,000 a month. For a shoe-repair shop.

This is going on all over NYC. Thriving businesses of long standing are being forced to close by rent hikes at levels that no small business could handle. This unrelenting greed is changing the very nature of the city we—and perhaps you, too—love so dearly.

There is a group that is working to get some form of protection in place for small businesses; you’ll find them on Facebook here. (You’ll also find a SaveNYC ad in the lefthand column of this site; click that to visit the group’s website.)

Do what you can. Pitch in. Write to the mayor’s office. Write to your city councilman. Tweet when the SaveNYC folks ask you to. If you love NYC, even if you don’t live here, this is your fight, too.

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This post originally appeared on May 18, 2012…

Long-time habitues of this space know that there’s no simple pleasure of which we’re more fond than the shoeshine. Few services yield as much satisfaction per dollar spent.

There are a handful of shoeshine parlors near our place of employ, but all but one, Louis Shoe Rebuilders, are dead to us now. This delightful shop, situated on the ground floor of the Empire State Building on the 33rd Street side (honestly, couldn’t we just stop right there? What more could anyone ask of a shine emporium than that it be located in the Empire State Building? But there’s much more to recommend LSR), has been in business since a decade before that storied favorite skyscraper was erected.

Heck, Louis Shoe Rebuilders predates talking pictures by six years. It opened in 1921, relocated while the ESB was erected, and then returned to 33rd Street when the construction was complete.

And yet, as with most neighborhood shine parlors, the prices remain improbably—almost impossibly—low. Had my grandfather ever made his way from Okemah, Oklahoma, to the Murray Hill section of Manhattan back in the 1920s, he would have been charged a quarter for a shoeshine. Today, the tariff is $3, which, allowing for inflation, is virtually the same price.

Consider, by contrast, the cost of a haircut and a shave. In the old days, a tonsorial two-fer ran you the same quarter one paid for a shine (remember that old jingle, “Shave and a haircut—two bits”?). Today, at the barber shop we patronize every two weeks, a shave and a haircut costs $32, tip not included—and that’s a bargain price in our neighborhood. What was the 1921 equivalent of thirty-two smackeroos? Just under three dollars. So while the price of a shave and a haircut, even allowing for inflation, has increased tenfold, while price of a shine has remained, in relative terms, level.

It’s downright miraculous.

What’s more, we very rarely find a shoe shine man (or woman) who isn’t friendly and engaging (and our experience at Louis lived up to that trend), which only heightens the pleasure taken from the experience.

As does the chance to be a relative sport, when it comes to the gratuity. Who wouldn’t pay six dollars, and happily so, for a quality shoe shine at a venerable shop the likes of Louis Shoe Rebuilders? No one but a mean-spirited cheapskate, that’s who, and that six dollars covers the price of the shine, plus a 100% percent tip.

When was the last time you tipped a bartender or a waiter 100%? Perhaps you never have. Well, you can enjoy that rarefied experience at your friendly neighborhood shoeshine stand.

The shine service at Louis is handled these days by Maria and Bolivar Gomez, a married couple in their forties who emigrated to the United States from Ecuador.

When we immediately snapped a couple of photos upon entering the shop, Bolivar shot us a glance that we weren’t quite certain wasn’t askance, so we paused and asked permission, fearing we’d made a misstep. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Take a picture if you like,” but he seemed none too happy about it. And when we stepped up and took a seat at one of the shine stations, he asked, “How many pictures did you take?”

“Just two,” we said.

“Ten dollars, please,” he said, totally deadpan.

However, Maria’s giggle gave him away immediately, and he quickly apologized for the prank.

As the pictures in the above slidshow confirm, entering Louis Shoe Rebuilders isn’t like stepping into a time machine. The shop’s got a classic look to it, but not an especially vintage one—except for one feature: Along the wall on the left as you enter is a line of small booths that each looks something like a witness stand in a courtroom.

These booths serve the purpose of affording customers—especially female patrons—and their stocking feet some privacy as they await the return of their shoes after as-you-wait repairs are performed.

Needless to say, we immediately fell in love with that row of small booths, and with this shop. And so will you, if you’ll make it a point to stop by the next time you’re in New York.

A picture of Louis Shoe Rebuilding's shine stations

Cladrite Classics: A Thousand Million Billion Points of Light

The Empire State Building remains one of our favorite New York City icons. Even after 30 years living in Manhattan, there are still occasions, when we’re out for a stroll on a crisp autumn evening, that we look up at that grand old structure and think, “Wow—we live in New York City!”

We especially love the fact that when you look up, you can see flash bulbs going off from the observation deck on the 108th floor. It warms our heart to see these small bursts of illumination; we feel a kind of connection to those tourists from every corner of the globe, situated as they are high above the greatest city in the world, capturing memories that will last a lifetime.

How many flashes have gone off from that platform over the past eighty-some years? Millions? Billions?

Those little flashes also makes us chuckle, of course, since they accomplish precisely nothing. It would take a terribly powerful flash, indeed, to reach out from the top of the Empire State Building and illuminate the vast city below, or even a small patch of it.

You can see the flashes of light we’re referring to in the shakycam video below, if you watch carefully.