10 Things You Should Know About Will Rogers

Here are 10 things you should know about Will Rogers, born 129 years ago today. He was a hugely influential figure in American culture: stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, social commentator. Few have ever matched what he accomplished in such a relatively short time. We could use wry sanity and common sense today, that’s for sure.

Times Square Tintypes: Eugene O’Neill

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles playwright Eugene O’Neill.
 

THE GREAT GOD O’NEILL

EUGENE O’NEILL. He is the only Broadway playwright who was born in Times Square. He was born in the Barrett House, now the Hotel Cadillac, at Forty-third Street and Broadway. The date: October 16, 1888.
Caricature of Eugene O'NeillHe always wears dark clothes.
When writing he uses either pen and ink or a typewriter. It merely depends on which is handy. Revising a play annoys him.
His father was James O’Neill—an actor famous for his portrayal of the Count of Monte Cristo. His mother, a fine pianist, attended a convent with the mother of George Jean Nathan.
He’s a great swimmer and doesn’t mind cold water.
Night life doesn’t appeal to him. He made one tour of the night clubs. It was his last.
Never attends the openings of his plays. In fact he seldom goes to a theater. He’s rather read a play than see it performed.
While at Provincetown, a feeble-minded lad of six took a great liking to him. One day while sitting on the beach the boy asked: “What is beyond the Point? What is beyond the sea? What is beyond Europe?” O’Neill answered, “The horizon.” “But,” persisted the boy, “what is beyond the horizon?”
Could grow a beard in ten days if he didn’t shave.
His father, who said he never would be a great playwright, lived to see his son’s first success, Beyond the Horizon.
He hasn’t touched a drop of liquor in the last three years.
In his youth Jack London, Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling were his favorite authors. Today Nietzsche is his literary idol.
He can’t walk a mile without meeting an old friend who asks for money. He gives.
After the opening of Strange Interlude he chance to meet an old seafaring friend. O’Neill asked what he was doing, and the friend replied, “Oh, I’ve married and settled down. Got a nice little business and doing pretty good. And you, Gene, are you still working the boats?”
Reads all the reviews of his plays. He claims he knows the good critics from the bad ones.
He seldom talks unless he has something to say.
While writing he hates to be disturbed. When working at Provincetown he tacked this sign outside his door: “Go to hell.”
Is crazy about prize fights and the six-day bicycle races. When in town he will go to anything at Madison Square Garden. The only person he expressed a desire to meet was Tex Rickard.
His full name is Eugene Gladstone O’Neill. Lately he discarded the middle name entirely.
Once, when a mere infant, he was very ill in Chicago. George Tyler, then his father’s manager, ran about the streets of that city at three in the morning for a doctor.
Is always making notes for future plays. He wrote the notes for his first plays in the memorandum section of that grand publication, The Bartender’s Guide.
He likes to be alone.
He had three favorite haunts. One was Jimmy the Priest’s saloon, a waterfront dive. He later made use of this locale in Anna Christie. Another was “Hell’s Hole,” a Greenwich Village restaurant. The third was the Old Garden Hotel, which was situated on the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and Twenty-seventh Street. Here he met many people of the sporting world. A former bicycle rider (now a megaphone shouter on a sightseeing bus) he met there is still a pal of his.
It took him three years to write Strange Interlude. He had only six of the nine acts completed when he sold the play to the Theatre Guild.
He is especially fond of fine linen.
When in New York he lives in a secondary hotel. A place no one would ever think of looking for him.
He has huge hands.
For every play he draws sketches suggesting designs for the sets.
Of his own work he prefers, The Hairy Ape, The Straw (this he considers the best of his naturalistic plays), Marco Millions, Strange Interlude and Lazarus Laughed. The last is to be produced next year by the Moscow Art Theatre.
He takes great delight in recounting droll stories. Tells them with feeling and skill.
While attending Professor Baker’s class at Harvard he almost ruined the college careers of John Colton and Johnny Weaver by filling them full of beer.
Is now living in France. He does not intend to return to America for some years.
His first book, Thirst and Other One-Act Plays, was published at his expense.
All of his original manuscripts are in his possession despite offers in five figures for them.
He writes important messages which are not to be breathed to a soul, on the back of a postal card.
In Shanghai, on his recent trip around the world, he was a called a faker posing as Eugene O’Neill.

Times Square Tintypes: Times Square

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles not a person, but the Crossroads of the World, the area that gave Skolsky’s book its name—Times Square.

MY STREET

FORTY-SECOND Street and Seventh Avenue . . . Everybody calls it Broadway. The Rialto Theatre. A hanging says it is “The House of Hits”. . . . But the big line is at the Paramount . . . Sightseeing buses . . . Old women sitting in them . . . Making a living as decoys . . . See the Bowery . . . A lecture through Chinatown . . . Why, all the Chinks own restaurants on Broadway . . . There ain’t no Chinamen in Chinatown . . . The chap who is shouting that he is going to point out the historic places . . . Did you know he only arrived here from Portland last week? . . . See the old man selling The Birth Control Review . . . He’s doing it for the wife and kiddies. . . .

“A million horns from motor cars,
A million lights that dim the stars. . .”

The Astor Hotel . . . Must have been nice when it was a big farm . . . More people live outside than in . . . That drug store diagonally opposite . . . Gray’s . . . You know, that’s where you buy theatre tickets at half-price . . . Best seats for all the “hits” in town . . . Isn’t that a well-dressed man? . . . Tuxedo . . . High hat . . . He’s got class . . . Sure has poise . . . Must be some big society fellow . . . Wait a moment and his shirt will light up, advertising a brand of cigar . . .

“That’s Broadway, Broadway
Heart of the World . . .”

Loew’s New York Roof . . . It’s called the old men’s club . . . They go there to sleep . . . Did you know it once had an elegant French name and house the first Ziegfeld Follies? There’s a nut embarrassing couples by trying to make the girl take a rose and make the guy pay for it . . . Another Nedick thirst station . . . Hungry, have a hot dog, too . . . Just like Coney Island . . . A shabby, fate-beaten old man . . . Once was a great architect and built many theaters . . . He now haunts the lobbies of those theaters . . .

“A painted smile, a hard-luck tale,
A helping hand—they’re all for sale,
On Broadway, Broadway. . . .

A Lucky Strike display situation . . . Try to edge your way near the window . . . The blonde is worth seeing . . . Better than most chorus girls . . . Don’t have to pay $5.50 either . . . The fight at Madison Square Garden round for round in the doorway of a sheet music shop . . . And if you’re interested in art, you can look at the picture postal cards also . . . Childs . . . See them tossing buckwheat cakes . . . This is their Broadway place . . . Only the best performers work here . . . No newcomers . . . The crowd is too large and critical . . . Newcomers always get stage fright . . . Another United Cigar store . . . Say, if they prohibited smoking where would we find telephone booths? . . . The Palace across the street . . . It used to be the dream of all vaudevillians to play there . . . Now if the movie houses don’t get them, they’re there . . .

“And there’s a crowd there lauding you and applauding you
When you’re on top;
Same crowd hissing you and dismissing you
If you should flop . . .

The photomatic . . . You can take you picture . . . Eight for a quarter . . . They’re all ready to take home in five minutes . . . Say, isn’t this a wonderful age? . . . Let’s get tomorrow’s paper today and see what has happened tomorrow . . . This sure is great . . .

“But those who fail must learn to say
Tomorrow is another day . . .

Here we are at Fifty-second Street . . . Just ten blocks . . . It’s dull from here up . . . Broadway’s a small place, isn’t it? . . . Just ten blocks . . . Ten blocks for all the world to get famous in . . .

“That’s Broadway, Broadway,
The Heart of the World. . . .”

Wonder city of the world!

An acquaintance of ours once wrote of New York City and its denizens:

“Even New Yorkers who have lived here all their lives are happy to sit back and chat away about the place as if they’d just come across it. It’s a regular topic of conversation. And what’s nice is that it’s neither particularly narcissistic nor self-loathing, this chatter, but more curious and delighted.”

We think that as apt and accurate a description of New Yorkers’ attitude toward their town as we’ve ever heard.

We find that New Yorkers not only like to talk about their town, to commiserate over its delights and surprises (and, yes, miseries) with one another, but most every New Yorker we know also likes to see the city on the silver screen (or perhaps the small screen at home). Even though we’re surrounded at all times by the hustle and bustle, the noise and hordes of people and row after row of concrete towers, most of us still get a kick out of seeing them depicted cinematically.

And it’s an even rarer treat to see the streets of the city as they once were, in old movies and promotional films.

The film we’re sharing with you today, “Flight to New York,” is a promo film for Trans-World Airlines, but it touts the Big Apple just as much as that now-defunct air carrier. It was shot in 1950, and most of the attractions featured in it are still around today. But there’s something about seeing them as they once were, captured in glorious black-and-white.

Enjoy.