Times Square Tintypes: Patrick Cain

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles Patrick “Patsy” Cain, a man who made a living storing the scenery from closed Broadway shows.

NOT A SHOW IN A CARLOAD

An author spends months writing a play. A producer stakes everything on it. Days and nights of weary rehearsals with stars sweating. The play opens. Evening dress and silk hats. Speculators selling tickets on the sidewalk. Everybody is so happy. A few months later a truck backs up at the stage door. The path of glory leads but to Cain’s.
Caricature of Patrick CainPATRICK CAIN is the owner of that theatrical storehouse. Everybody calls him Patsy.
He attended P. S. 32. Bows his head shamefully when admitting that he didn’t have the honor of receiving a diploma.
His father, John J. Cain, a former policeman, started the trucking business forty-two years ago. He used to help his father just for the ride.
Seldom goes to an opening night. Producers, considering him a jinx, shoo him away. He has attended more closing nights than any other man in the world.
Has a broken nose. This he received in his youth during a block fight.
His warehouse is located at 530 West Forty-first Street. Directly opposite is an old brewery with a statue of a fallen man holding a schooner of beer. He seems to be saying to those show entering their final resting place: “Here’s to Better Days.”
Is happily married and the proud possessor of four children. Has his own home in Flushing. It was built especially for him by a stage carpenter.
He doesn’t drink, smoke or use profane language.
Rarely eat in restaurants. Has breakfast and dinner at home. Has lunch at his sister’s, who lives two blocks from his place of business.
The storehouse consists of five stories and a basement.
The fifth floor is for the shows of Aarons and Freedley, Schwab and Mandel, Gene Buck and the personal belongings of W. C. Fields and Laurette Taylor. The fourth floor holds the last remains of Florenz Ziegfeld‘s Follies and George White‘s Scandals. Their mighty efforts for supremacy rest in peace. The third floor is for Sam H. Harris, Douglas Fairbanks, A. L. Erlanger and the Paramount Theatre. The second floor is occupied by Richard Herndon and others. The basement is for the canvas “drops.” They are rolled neatly and lie row on row. Their tombstone is an identification tag on which is scrawled in pencil: “Garden Drop—Follies—1917.”
He drinks two chocolate ice cream sodas every day. On Sunday evenings he takes the entire family to the neighborhood drug store and treats them to sodas.
Employs only four men—a night watchman, a day watchman, a bookkeeper and a superintendent. He hasn’t a secretary. But the superintendent, attired in greasy overalls, takes great pride in referring to himself as “Patsy’s typewriter.”
He hires his help by the day. Employs exactly the number he needs for that day’s work. While on a job if the men eat before three o’clock they must pay for the meal. If they eat after three he must. Every day he phones his men at exactly one o’clock and says: “Boys, I think you ought to knock off now and get yourselves a bite to eat.”
He has eight gold teeth in his mouth. They make him look dignified.
Reads only two things. They are the dramatic reviews and the cartoons in the New Yorker.
Has the same amount of strength in his right hand as in his left. He can write just as unintelligibly with both.

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Times Square Tintypes: Helen Morgan

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles actress and songbird Helen Morgan.
 

FANNY ON THE PIANO

Some people achieve fame by playing the piano. But this little lady got that way by sitting on one. HELEN MORGAN.
Caricature of Helen MorganShe never uses perfume.
Her favorite colors are black and flame red.
She was born in Danville, Ill. Uncle Joe Cannon‘s home town. When a baby he used to tickle her under the chin.
Her first job was as a cash girl in Marshall Field’s. Later was a telephone operator and a model. She attended twenty-six schools and finally managed to graduate from public school.
Can cook and sew but can’t knit. Used to cook when her mother took in boarders while they lived in Chicago. Her mother was a Sunday school teacher.
The only flower she will wear is the camellia. her life ambition is to play Camille.
Once won a beauty contest as “Miss Montreal.” Much to the embarrassment of the judges who later discovered that she had been living only three weeks in Montreal. In New York she was received by the Mayor and crowned the “Miss 1925.”
Buys at least four dresses a week. Often purchases a hundred pairs of stockings at one time. Always takes a man with her when she goes shopping.
Was discovered by Amy Leslie, critic of the Chicago Daily News. Miss Leslie brought her to Florenz Ziegfeld who gave her an audition. He placed her in the chorus of Sally, then on the road.
Her next dealing with Ziegfeld was some years later when, without having seen her work, he signed her to play in Show Boat. She was in Europe at the time.
She is crazy about mice. Has two live white mice for pets. Her stationary is monogrammed with a mouse. Her nickname is “Mousey.”
She rouges her lips between kisses.
First sat on a piano when working in The Backstage Club. The reason she took to sitting on a piano was because the night club was so crowded that it was the only place she could sit.
Once she adopted a baby. Only to have the mother, a chorus girl, kidnap it from her two months later.
Her favorite dish is potato soup as made by herself. It is made of potatoes with lots of cream and onions.
Likes to dress in men’s clothing. Often works about the house in overalls. She sleeps in fancy colored men’s pajamas. Sleeps with her head resting on so many pillows that she looks as if she were sitting up in bed.
Some years ago she appeared in a dramatic sketch with the Grand Guignol Players under the name Neleh Nagrom. Which is her name spelled backwards.
When she sings, “Why Was I Born,” she actually cries. Because she says she feels sorry for herself.
Reads all current novels. Her favorite author is Ernest Hemingway. She owns a copy of James Joyce‘s Ulysses, which was punctuated especially for her.
Is shy about exposing her body. Wouldn’t let her mother see her in Americana because she had to wear short panties in a dance number.
Necklaces and bracelets annoy her. Earrings give her a headache. The only jewelry she wears is a love altar. This was given to her by a titled Englishman who wanted to marry her.
She dislikes hearing her own phonograph records. At parties, whenever anyone plays them, she gets up and breaks them.
Always has her hair cut by the same barber. The coiffure is now known as the “Helen Morgan Haircut.” She combs her hair carefully. So as to make it look as if it hadn’t been combed.
Her most valued possession is a pitcher than an Atlantic and Pacific grocery store gave her in return for coupons when she was a kid.
The minute she enters a house she loosens her garters and walks about with her stockings hanging over the top of her shoes.
Is popular and very much sought after. But generally not by the man she likes. When singing “Someday He’ll Come Along, The Man I Love,” she means it.
She is fond of pets. Has two love birds, a dog named Mose, and one goldfish—the other died. She had two baby alligators. She kept them in the bathtub. Had to give them away because they snapped at her toes when she took shower baths.
Often wears a kimono, with a fur coat over it, when driving to the theater in her roadster.
She corresponds with William S. Hart regularly. This started after Bill Hart heard her sing, “My Bill.” He took it rather personally.
She has a possum claw birthmark on her right ankle.
If she were a man she’d be a sailor.

Times Square Tintypes: George White

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles George White, a theatrical producer who is perhaps not as well remembered today as the man who served as his primary competition in the 1920s and ’30s, Florenz Ziegfeld.
 

SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL

 
A HOODLUM was picked up on the streets of Toronto for raiding fruit stands. A stern judge saw that the law took care of him and said: “You’re a bad egg. No good will come rom you.” The bad egg was GEORGE WHITE.
He has 140 neckties. They are all black.
Weighs 140 pounds. Has never been known to eat fast or walk slowly.
His father was a Jewish garment manufacturer on Delancey Street. There were ten other children in the family. He stole fruit, blacked boots, danced, sold flowers and papers. As a kid he had no great ambition.
Delights in playing practical jokes on his stars. Almost to the point of ruining their performance in his own show.
He has a patent-leather hair comb. Pays great attention to his hair. Always carries a bottle of petroleum oil which he alternates between rubbing on his hair and drinking.
His début as a dancer was made in “Piggy” Donovan’s saloon on the Bowery. He was then “Swifty,” the messenger boy. Was delivering telegrams when he asked the piano player to let him hoof. He collected 12.30 which was tossed at him. He threw away the remainder of the telegrams. Two were marked: “DEATH—RUSH.”
Is thirty-eight years old. The first thing he notices about a woman is her legs. Then her form. After that her face. Is on the credit side of the matrimonial ledger and never expects to get married.
He has a Jap butler, Shei, who gets tight on his best Scotch. He won’t fire him. He likes his cooking.
Once was kicked out of a saloon by a singing waiter named Irving Berlin.
Was a stable boy and a jockey. He followed the horses around the country. Later, his love for the races cost him $850,000 in eighteen months. Once dropped $100,000 on one race. Then he swore off. Hasn’t been at a race track for the past five years.
He was the vaudeville performer to do a dance on skis.
Generally gets to bed at about four in the morning and is up at twelve. Spends a part of each day playing with the mechanical toys he brings back from his yearly trips to Paris.
His hobby is selling tickets in the box office. Some day he hopes to be able to tell Ziegfeld there is “Standing Room Only.”
Does things on the spur of the moment. Five minutes before he sailed for Paris a year ago he purchased a Park Avenue apartment house. Merely because he liked one apartment in the building. He lives in an apartment on Seventh Avenue because he doesn’t want to pay the Park Avenue rent he charges.
His middle name is Alviel which he uses only on checks.
Among his major hates are first nights, paper napkins, barbers with a selling complex and crowds—except at his own shows.
He owns a Rolls-Royce which can be seen standing outside of his own theater. He generally walks home between the car tracks in Times Square. He won the auto on a bet. On first hearing “The Birth of the Blues,” he bet a music publisher a Rolls-Royce it would be a song hit. It was.
Produced and operated six annual editions of his Scandals, each doing an approximate gross business of $1,250,000 without an office. In those days his office was in his pocket.
In selecting chorus girls he generally allows Lew Brown to help him do the picking.
He hasn’t read a book for as long as he can remember. He never attends a performance of a dramatic play. He sees all the musicals.
Cried only once in his life. That was when he read Burns Mantle’s criticism of his first show which said: “The Scandals of 1919 prove that a hoofer should stick to his dancing.”
His sole exercise is a walk around the Reservoir in Central Park. On these occasions he takes along a male companion or a thin walking stick.
Always wears blue serge suits, black shoes, white silk shirts and black ties. One day he wore a gray suit and the stage doorman, failing to recognize him, wouldn’t let him in.
His favorite meal is one consisting of caviar and champagne. He can eat a pound of caviar at a sitting. Is a very slow eater. It takes him an hour to consume a sandwich.
Not so long ago a women, Rose Janousek, sent him a package containing a revolver and a few rounds of ammunition merely because she admired him.
On Sunday nights he generally takes his best girl to the Roxy. While looking at the picture they hold hands.
When his ego rises, he modestly enough calls Broadway—The Great White Way—believing it was named after him.

Snapshot in Prose: Ruth Etting

This prose snapshot of songbird Ruth Etting might fairly be said to be a doctored “photo”—or at the very least retouched. For this profile, from the April 1935 issue of Popular Songs, makes no mention of Martin “Moe the Gimp” Snyder, a gangster to whom young Ruth was wed in 1922 and who had a major impact on her career.

After achieving huge success in radio, Broadway, recordings, and movies, Etting divorced Snyder in 1937, having fallen in love with her pianist, Myrl Alderman, who was nearly ten years her junior.

That old saying “Heaven has no fury like a mobster scorned” applies here, as Snyder soon plugged Alderman with a bullet, spending a year in jail before being released on appeal.

The surrounding scandal seems to have pulled the plug on Etting’s career, alas, though she would go on to marry Alderman and, one hopes, live happily ever after.

Nebraska to New York

HEN Ruth left her happy home on a Nebraska farm to go down to Chicago to study art, she hadn’t a thought in the world about cabaret entertaining, torch songs, crooners, radio broadcasting, Broadway song and dance shows, Florence Ziegfeld or Hollywood—yet all of these have played important parts in her eventual life.
She was only 17 years old, a sweet young fraulein with flaxen hair, big blue eyes and a yen to become a commercial illustrator. There was a war going on at the time and things were pretty dull in the little German settlement up in David City, in the heart of the Nebraska wheat fields. Ruth had grown up there, in a hamlet populated almost entirely by the Etting cousins and uncles and aunts.
She wasn’t particularly concerned with the thought of being alone in a big strange city. Even if she had been, she would have gone anyway, for she had plenty of determination.
Not so very long after her arrival in Chicago she landed a job designing costumes for a girl show in a cabaret. Her costume designing was all that could be desired and everyone was enthusiastic over her work, but the manager and, what is more remarkable, the manager’s wife noticed that Ruth was the type he liked for his showgirls.
She was a blonde and much thinner than most of the chorines who seemed to get so much fun out of life and the glamour of the spotlight. When the manager offered her a job in “the line,” she accepted it.
The following weeks were hard on Ruth and harder on the manager. She had never danced before and all she knew about the stage was what she had picked up in the course of delivering costume designs and sketching the girls.
Determined not to disappoint her friend and his wife, she worked long and hard to master the intricate steps of the chorus routines. Again her persistence came to her rescue and in a little while she was dancing like the co-ordinated unit that good chorus girls become.
The singing part was a cinch. All of the Ettings sang, although none of them were professional singers. They sang with the naturalness of all outdoors, aided by their correct postures and the lack of nervousness which comes from a life of carefree comradeship in a small village.
Back in David City, Ruth had had the additional advantage of a few lessons from the local voice teacher, but her aunt stopped them when she found that Ruth’s voice was so low that she couldn’t hit high-C. That didn’t bother Ruth at all, at the time because her she wasn’t particularly interested in becoming a singer for she had her heart set on being an artist.
Now those few early lessons were a big help. The cabaret in which Ruth danced also had a vocal chorus and she was one of the singers. It was a big chorus, with an orchestra and a baritone whom they paid $125 a week to sing solos. After Ruth was added to the singing ensemble the manager of the place noticed that the chorus, and one voice in the chorus in particular, kept drowning out the baritone soloist.
Yes, Ruth was the guilty one, so the shrewd manager fired the baritone and advanced Miss Etting to the soloist’s job. However, she was not a real baritone, so her salary was only $50 a week, but it was a lot of money in those days to the little girl from Nebraska.
Ruth become one of the singers who went to the restaurant early in the evening and sang solo, duet, trio and quartet until the last cash customer went home and the box on the piano was “broken” to divide the tips of the evening. Singing quietly, with her voice pitched low, she had excellent opportunities to become proficient as a crooner.
One evening Thomas G. Rockwell, then recording manager for the Columbia Phonograph Company, heard her sing, “What Can I Say, Dear, After I Say I’m Sorry?” at the College Inn, Chicago. He thought she was swell and signed her to a long term contract. Soon the Ruth Etting records were among the biggest sellers in the country. The same Tom Rockwell is still her manager today.
Irving Berlin and Florenz Ziegfeld listened to her recording of “Blue Skies” one night and the next day Zeigfeld’s general manager was on his way to Chicago to sign her up for the “Ziegfeld Follies” of 1927. She came to New York and stayed for the “Follies” of 1928, “Whoopee”, “Simple Simon” and the “Follies” of 1930 and 1931.
Often, since then, Ruth Etting has been chosen in national radio polls as the best singer of popular songs on the air and has starred in a number of moving pictures and on several commercial radio programs. Currently she is featured on a National Broadcasting Company coast-to-coast hook-up each Thursday evening.

In Your Hat, pt. 12

In Chapter 12 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars Renee Carroll, she reveals what various celebrities wrote in her collection of autograph books, and she follows that with tales of what the stars of the day liked to eat when they patronized Sardi’s.

If you took a rabbit out of those suckers’ hats
They would squawk just the same:
They all have two strikes on them
When they are born.

TEXAS GUINAN

THAT’S an autograph left in my book by Tex. I’m not quite clear as to its meaning, and I don’t think she is either. But vaguely, it’s Broadway’s philosophy. If somebody pats you on the back, he’s only locating a spot for the knife thrust. If you give a sucker a break, he’s liable to shove his hand in and rip it apart.
Of course, all this is only sentimental hooey, and the boys and girls on Broadway are just as maudlin about one another as boys in an English boarding school. They all want to appear like awful, terrible “bad mans” with no hearts at all. The visage is stern, but the head and heart are made of mush, and it oozes through your fingers when you squeeze it.
I’ve got three books full of autographs. Perhaps a glance at some of them might throw an interesting light on the writers. I particularly like that of Frances Williams, whose cheeriness and glibness is not limited to her appeareances on the stage.

“May every hat check bring you a fat check—and may no meanie neglect my Renee—who never wrecks hats each time she checks hats—Frances Williams.”

Most of the celebrities pore over the book, seeking inspiration in the lines already written. Very few show any originality at all. Al Jolson, in one of his brighter moments, scribbled:

“Oh, look, I am in your book—thanks for letting me.”

And Louis Sobol, the Journal‘s columnist, wrote:

“To Renee, who expects something clever from me but won’t get it.”

Russell Patterson, the artist, who very rarely wears a hat, said as much, regretfully, with:

“To Renee, from her worst customer.”

Tony Canzoneri, the prize fighter, dragged his trade in by the teeth when he inscribed:

“To a real and sweet girl, with loads of knockouts.
                                           Tony Canzoneri,
                   Lightweight Champion of the World.”

The professional gate crasher, Tammany Young, waxed philosophical and wrote:

“To Renee—
   “Who takes what you give graciously. All life is a game of give and take. For what she takes she gives in a return a smile, a cheerful greeting and your belongings. May you go a long ways and prosper. Keep smiling Renee, it’s what we all go for.”

I think George Jessel‘s autograph amusing:

“To Renee—
            Duchess of Sardi,
               from
               Baron George Jessel,
               Colonel of the Bronx Grenadiers
               And Vis-count of Brownsville.”

Sidney Skolsky, the paragrapher, gave me away with:

“You’ll always be Miss Shapiro to me—one of my best yarns. Sidney Skolsky
               P.S. She sleeps in the raw!”

If you can remember Herbert Rawlinson, you’ll remember his signature, too:

“My hat’s off to you. (Get it?) Je parle français aussi. (I hope that’s right).”

And Jesse Crawford noted:

“My autograph I here inscribe,
A member of the organ tribe
               Jesse Crawford,
               Poet (?) of the Organ.”

The little movie star, Marian Marsh, gave me a a straight tip with:

“Keep your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”

And Reri who starred in F.W. Murnau‘s Tabu and was brought to American by Ziegfeld, wrote in the only language she knew:

“A mon amie Renee en souvenir des Ziegfeld Follies 1931.”

I offer the inscription of Sam Shipman, the playwright, because it is more or less typical of Broadway sentiment and ways of thinking:

“A hat girl who has more in her head than all the brains those hats cover. A little princess on a door mat—An oriental pearl in a suffocating shell—a ruby in a musty purse, but watch her.”

And Everett Marshall, the lusty-voiced baritone, dropped this:

“To Renee. In memory of my first daughter of four kilos.”

While Faith Baldwin, the author of Self Made Woman, wrote simply:

“Because I like red-heads.”

I’ve got lots of drawings, too, by famous artists, all of them too risqué for reproduction, and in some cases too combustible for safekeeping. Some of our best known illustrators have garnished the pages of my little books with drawings that would make those paintings on the bathroom walls of old Pompeii quiver with shame.
But not all the good things happen in autograph books or at penthouse parties. I have a lot of laughs right in the restaurant.

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