Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Did we ever tell you about our family’s minor but memorable role in the legend of the Mother Road, Route 66? No?

Some years ago, our father told us that, in 1933 or so, his parents operated a combination gas station, cafe and motor court right on Route 66 in the western section of Oklahoma City (our hometown, don’t you know). Our recollection is that he said it was west of Portland, not far from where the 66 Bowl bowling alley was for so long (the preceding details are included for those who are familiar with OKC).

Route 66 holds a place of honor in the states through which it passes; it certainly does in Oklahoma. And we count ourselves as Mother Road aficionados; we even drove the entire length of Route 66 in the summer of ’92. So we were very excited to learn that our family had played even a small role in the history of that fabled highway.

And we were even more delighted when Dad filled in some details. His father (our grandfather) was always looking for a leg up, a new scheme to make it big, and that’s why, when he moved his family moved from a farm outside Wayne, Oklahoma, to OKC, they ended up owning (or renting, we’re not sure which) the motor court.

But the story got juicier: Dad told me that not only did the cafe serve beer (we’re pretty sure this all took place during Prohibition, but Oklahoma was a dry state even after repeal), but the rooms were available for shorter stays of, say, an hour or two in length. And yes, that means just what you think it means.

We could not imagine our devout, church-going, teetotaling Grandmother putting up with such nonsense (you can see Grandmother in the photos accompanying these posts—does she look as though she’d be comfortable operating such an establishment?). Dad acknowledged that his mom was none too happy about the family’s new enterprise, but Grandpa was not a man easily denied. It is interesting to note, however, that our grandparents only operated that gas station/cafe/motor court for a year or so, so while Grandpa may have won the battle, it seems that it was Grandmother who won the war.

Spring forward 77 years: Our mom was a go-getter. She got stuff done. But one task she never accomplished was sorting through what she insisted were boxes and boxes of family photographs. When she passed 2010, we finally gained access to those boxes (we never even knew where they were) and we spent hours going through them. While our siblings were more interested in the photos from our own lives, the color shots from the 1960s and ’70s, we were fascinated, it will not surprise long-time readers of this site to learn, by those taken during the first half of the 20th century. We always want to know what we missed! So we were tossing aside all the color shots and going right for the black-and-whites (we’ve shared any number of those with you right here on this website over the years).

And were we thrilled when we came across these photos of Dad’s family posing for snapshots outside that roadside establishment on Route 66! We do wish someone had stepped across the road and taken a shot of the entire layout, but beggars can’t be choosers. We’re very happy to have this photographic evidence of our family’s contribution to Mother Road lore and legend.

Hollywood Shorts: Adieu Hollywood

Charles Ray was a popular juvenile star in the 1910s and ’20s, but by the ’30s, his career was on the rocks, and he turned to writing. Here’s another in a series of offerings from his book, Hollywood Shorts, a collection of short stories set in Tinseltown.
*    *    *
I have taken poison, he wrote courageously.
This is repeal night in Hollywood. Liquor is back, or will be, as soon as the zero hour arrives. It is announced in broad headlines across the newspaper I stole in order to read the Help Wanted ads; and from my hotel window, I can see gay throngs of people moving about in the streets. Huge trucks are unloading the night supply at various cafes; jolly revelers are eagerly waiting for the legal alcoholic moment.
People will soon enter those restaurants, where the law demands that a sandwich be served with every order of wine or bear. Most of the sandwiches will be ignored, served, and re-served as dummies. Yet I sit here starving—but not for long.
The reason for this, my last note, is to attempt to leave evidence which will prove my sanity. So I will write my thoughts rapidly until I fall from my position at the desk, and if—
Shouting caused me to look into the street again. Groups are forming in front of the already crowded cafes. Police are forcing people into long lines down the sidewalks.
I feel a strange sensation now in the nerve centers of my body. The poison has begun its sinuous effect.
Have just heard the opening blare of band trumpets. It is a salute from a band down Hollywood Boulevard. Quite a number of musicians are seated on a large truck which is decorated with colored bunting. Boys and girls are holding long streamers attached to the truck, as to a Maypole. It seems to represent some sort of float. Yes, a parade is forming.
My respiration is a little faster now, and there is numbness in my toes.
The truck has moved out in front of the paraders, and I recognize the music. Everyone is shouting the lyrics to that old song: “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.”
I cannot see as clearly now. A fine mist has covered my eyes.
The band has stopped playing. No, they have merely changed tunes—to a dirge. Men are walking slowly behind the truck, carrying their hats across the left breast. Torches are being ignited all along the line of march.
My feet feel as if they have gone to sleep. The numbness is creeping slowly up my legs. The sensation is not painful, just a sleepy feeling.
The parade is much closer now. I see four men carrying an effigy on long poles, like an old-fashioned sedan. Torches have been applied to the dummy. Its feet are circled in a blaze. The crowd in the street immediately below my window are watching the approach. Laughter and jeering echo against the building, but it is all goodnatured fun.
There is a jumping sensation in the calves of my legs and about my knees. I feel somewhat nauseated.
There is a long banner being unfolded before the effigy, stretching across the width of the street. I will try to make out the lettering on it. It reads: “Burn the Blue-nose.” More than a hundred gay people have joined hands, dancing madly about the blazing dummy.
My stomach is burning very intensely now. My eyes are more misty. My nerves are giving little jumps with each heart beat.
The flames from the effigy are shooting into the air, touching the trolley wire. Confetti is flying everywhere. Office and hotel windows have been raised. Newspapers have been torn to bits and tossed down on the paraders. It looks like a snowstorm. The gayety is exceptional.

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Times Square Tintypes: Tex Guinan

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles Mary Louise Cecilia “Texas” Guinan, a woman who was one of the most legendary figures in Prohibition-era New York.
Known for her signature phrase “Hello, suckers!”, Guinan was a former showgirl, vaudeville performer and movie actress—she was the first female Western star in motion pictures—who went on to own a string of speakeasies. Perhaps no woman was better known on the Great White Way in the late 1920s and early ’30s than Guinan.


Give this little girl a big hand. TEXAS GUINAN.
Never eats meats, but must have at least a dozen oranges a day.
She was raised in a convent. Loretta Convent, Waco, Tex. Was the same old kid even in those days. She would climb to the top of the church steeple and take the dinger out of the bell. Her real name is Mary Louise Guinan.
Once was in motion pictures. Made Westerns and was konwn as the “Female William S. Hart.”
Her home is New York is on Eighth Street. Just on the northern edge of Greenwich Village. Claims she wouldn’t live anywhere in this town of ours.
She possesses the quickest feminine wit on Broadway.
Lives alone. Her mother lives several doors away. Spends most of her time at her daughter’s place.
Her house looks like an antique shop. Pictures. Bric-a-brac. Mirrors. Odd furniture. Cushions. Gilded draperies. They all clutter the place. Chinese incense burns continuously.
There are nineteen floor lamps in the living room.
Recently she abandoned the expression, “Hello, sucker!” Customers began to take it seriously.
When she finishes at the club she goes horseback riding in Central Park or visiting. It is nothing for her to drop in on friends at seven in the morning and sit on their beds talking until noon.
She likes noise, rhinestone heels, customers, plenty of attention and red velvet bathing suits.
The hardest thing in the world she finds is sleeping. Always takes an aspirin tablet to quiet her nerves before retiring.
When not certain of a man’s name she calls him Fred.
Has a parrot who can say only two things. One is “telephone.” The other is “go to hell.”
At home she never drinks coffee. At the club black coffee is her favorite drink.
She never touches liquor.
Is very proud of her press clippings and keeps a scrapbook. So religiously does she keep this book that reference to the “Texas Chain Gang,” an article by Ernest Booth which appeared in the American Mercury, is clipped as personal publicity.
She takes three puffs of a cigarette and it is gone.
She once lost thirty-five pounds in two weeks by taking pepper and mustard baths.
In an interview she once stated that she wants her funeral to be the speediest ever given. A cop on a motorcycle is to lead it.
Since, she has more plans. Jazz syncopators are to render torrid tunes. College songs are to be sung boisterously as the coffin is lowered into the grave. The wake is to be held at her night club.
In her bedroom there is only one window. It is covered by four curtains to keep the sunlight out.
She is very fond of jewelry. The bigger it is the better she likes it. She wears jewelry on her bosom, fingers, wrists, arms, ears and occasionally the heels of ehr slippers.
She frequently wears red stockings.
Was shot once. By herself. It was a stage accident while she was on the road in The Gay Musician. She was rushed to a hospital in a locomotive engine. Today all that remains of that incident is a slight blemish, the only mark on her body.
She is only comfortable when sitting on two chairs.
She has six uncles. They are all Catholic priests.
Recently it was state that she sleeps on her left side and likes carrots. To which Mme. Guinan retorted:
“I wonder how that guy knew I liked carrots.”
She sleeps on her right side in a long silk gay colored nightgown and like strawberries.
She makes funny noises with her teeth when she laughs.
Her luck charm is a padlock.

Meet me tonight in Atlantic City

We are avidly awaiting the new HBO series Boardwalk Empire, due this fall, and we don’t care who knows it.

Terence Winter, Emmy award-winning writer of The Sopranos and Martin Scorsese teamed to create the series, which is based on Nelson Johnson’s book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City and depicts the seamy underbelly (hey, we’ll use the phrase “seamy underbelly” every chance we get) of prohibition-era Atlantic City.

It’s a don’t-miss, as far as we’re concerned. See what you think of these two previews: