Happy 107th Birthday to the World’s Oldest Barber, Anthony Mancinelli

It’s been said that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

If that’s so, Anthony Mancinelli, recognized as the world’s oldest barber by the Guinness Book of World Records, has been not-working for the past 95 years.

That’s right, Mancinelli, who turned 107 on March 2, 2018, has been barbering since 1923, when he was just 12 years old. Calvin Coolidge was president, and barbers still offered such services as bloodletting (with leeches), wart removal and cupping. There’s no longer a demand for those services, but Mancinelli still has the tools he used back in the day and he is happy to show them to the curious.

“I used to have a bottle of leeches on my counter, and I would put them on people’s skin to drain blood,” Mancinelli told The New York Times in 2010. “In those days, while giving a haircut, I would put a leech over a black eye to bring down the swelling, or on the arm of someone who had high blood pressure because the thinking was their pressure might drop.”

Mancinelli was born in 1911 near Naples, Italy, and eight years later sailed to the United States with his family, arriving in New York on September 11, 1919. Because an aunt lived there, the Mancinellis settled in Newburgh, New York, just eight miles from New Windsor, where Anthony currently resides.

“This country gave me an opportunity to do everything in life,” said Mancinelli. “It’s up to the [individual] to take up something, to do something to make things better for themselves as well as the country. This country gave me all the opportunities in the world to do it.”
So how did he get into barbering at such a young age?

With his father, a felt worker, supporting a wife, seven sons and a daughter on just $25 a week, young Mancinelli announced that he was going to go out and get a job.

“My father said, ‘What kind of a job are you going to get?’,” said Mancinelli. “‘Well, I’m going to deliver morning papers, then I’ll deliver afternoon papers, then after that, I’ll see if I can get a job to learn the barber business.’

“I went to the one of the barbershops here, and I asked ‘[the owner] if he would teach me the barber business. He said yes, so I stood with him and I learned the barber business… His name was Joseph Turi.

“I don’t know why I chose the barber business, but I thought it was a good profession, so I said, ‘I’ll try it out and see how I like it.'”

In those days, Mancinelli arose at 4 a.m. to deliver the morning paper and then came home for breakfast before heading off to school. After school, he delivered the afternoon paper, after which he would spend a few hours at the barber shop. Finally, at 8 p.m., he would head home, where his mother had an evening meal waiting for him, after which, he said, “I would go right to bed!”

That’s a pretty grueling schedule for anyone, but considering Mancinelli was 12 years old at the time, it’s especially impressive.
Having served an apprenticeship and learned his trade, Mancinelli opened his own shop in 1930; he was just 19 years old.
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Echoes of the Automat

There’s an oft-quoted passage from a Joan Didion essay entitled Goodbye To All That that reads, “I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.”

Ms. Didion may have stopped feeling that way about New York somewhere along the way, but we haven’t. In fact, the enduring sense that something extraordinary (and/or strange, serendipitous, surprising, wonderful) could happen at any time is one of things that hooked us but good on this city more than 35 years ago and keeps us engaged with New York even today.

One can live here for 34 years (as we have) and still step out your front door and encounter something you’ve never seen before.

Our day’s tasks on a recent Saturday found us at the corner of 38th street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, less than a mile north of Cladrite HQ, when we spotted, to our surprised delight, a painted ad on the side of a brick office building just east of the avenue.

These hand-painted signs are sometimes called “ghost signs,” in part because they are virtually all painted many decades ago, they often advertise products and establishments that no longer exist and they are frequently only discovered—uncovered, really—when another building, built more recently, is razed, revealing the long-forgotten advert. The newer, now-demolished building had hidden (and thereby preserved) the ghost sign all those years.

That wasn’t the case with the sign we spotted on Saturday. It peeks over the roof of a four-story commercial parking garage, so while it might once have been concealed by another building, it has been, for at least as long as the parking garage has been there, hiding in plain sight.

A hand-painted Automat advertisement    A hand-painted Automat advertisement

That the sign was for an Automat once in operation on the building’s ground floor made all the difference. We love all these old signs and always get a kick out of spotting examples we’ve never noticed before, but an advertisement for an Automat? For our money, it gets no better than that.

Our Evening with Kitty Carlisle

Did we ever tell you about the time we met Kitty Carlisle? No? Well, let’s rectify that right now.

In 2005, we attended a screening of June Moon at NYC’s Film Forum. It’s a 1931 adaptation of a play written by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner that hadn’t been screened since its initial run more than seventy years prior.

To mark the occasion, Anne Kaufman Schneider, Kaufman’s daughter, and James Lardner, Lardner’s grandson, were on hand.

And so was Kaufman-Schneider’s pal Kitty Carlisle-Hart, who was then just two months away from turning 95. She was, of course, the widow of former Kaufman collaborator Moss Hart.

We thought the world of Hart (still do)—Kitty was one of our favorite New Yorkers, and, since she was seated directly behind us, we decided to turn around and tell her as much.

“Thank you, dear,” she said when we told her it was an honor to be sitting in front of her. “I do hope you’ll try to scrunch down in your seat so I can see the movie.”

We promised to do our best.

A few minutes passed, and we felt a finger tapping on our shoulder. We turned around.

“May I have some of your popcorn,” Ms. Carlisle-Hart asked, pointing at the nearly full bag of popcorn on the floor next to my seat (we were both seated on the aisle).

“By all means—have just as much as you like.”

And she did just that, reaching over and grabbing a handful of corn several times through the course of the picture.

We were thrilled. Someone who once starred opposite the Marx Brothers was sharing our popcorn! And impressed, too—we hope, when we’re 95, we’re still up to bending over and snagging some popcorn from a bag on the ground.

We spent most of the movie contorted every which in order to keep our fat head from blocking Ms. Hart’s view of the screen, and after the final credits, we turned around and asked her if our efforts had been successful.

“I didn’t miss a thing,” she said effusively. “Thank you so much!”

We chatted briefly for a moment or two more, and we screwed up enough courage to ask her if she would consent to our conducting an interview with her one day soon, if we could find a publication interested in running it, and she readily agreed, telling us how we could contact her if and when the time came.

Later, I spoke to Ms. Kaufman-Schneider, thanking her for the Q&A she had participated in after the movie. She was great—whip-smart, opinionated (she hated the movie, and wasn’t afraid to say so), frank, and witty.

She asked me if we weren’t the young fellow whose popcorn Kitty had been filching; we admitted that we were.

“I don’t know what to do with her,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “She said to me, ‘I’m hungry, and this nice young man has some popcorn,’ and I couldn’t talk her out of it.”

We assured her that we had been pleased to share our snack and thanked her again.

We never managed to conduct that interview with our Kitty; she passed away just short of two years later and we somehow didn’t manage to get our ducks in a row in time. But we’ll always treasure the memory of our encounter with her.

And we figure that, if there’s an afterlife (and we’re inclined to think there is), we’ll have someone to show us around a bit. Surely she won’t mind introducing us to the Marx Brothers, for starters, and to our favorite What’s My Line panelist, Arlene Francis. Kitty, of course, was a regular panelist on To Tell the Truth, but she was a guest panelist on What’s My Line more than once, and we’d bet our bottom dollar that she and Arlene got along like two peas in a pod.

We figure it’s the least she can do. After all, we shared our popcorn with her, right?

Shopping for Sandy Relief!

Here’s your chance to snag some great holiday gifts while contributing to the ongoing Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

Over at our sister site, Cladrite Designs, all proceeds from sales of “New York the Wonder City” shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs and other products—as well 25% of proceeds from sales of every other Cladrite product—will go to relief efforts.

(By the way, the 25% donation applies to all purchases of Cladrite Radio gear.)

Many people in the tri-state area are still suffering, and the struggle to return to normal will be a painful and prolonged one for so many. So while you may not be hearing as much about the aftermath of Sandy in the media today, rest assured there’s a great deal of work still to be done. And what could be better than helping those in need while also checking a few names off your holiday gift list—it’s a win-win!

So head over to Cladrite and start shopping!