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 our 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 we were 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, we 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 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?

Times Square Tintypes: Joe Cook

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles popular vaudevillian Joe Cook.
 

THE FOUR HAWAIIANS

ONCE upon a time there were four Hawaiians. And this guy got famous because he wouldn’t imitate them. JOE COOK.
Caricature of Joe CookHis real name was Joseph Lopez. Was orphaned at the age of four. Then adopted by a family named Cook in Evansville, Ind. He spent his teens in a cold water flat on Amsterdam Avenue near 135th Street.
He is extremely superstitious. He knocks wood. Will not walk under a ladder for all the money in the world.
Talks exactly the same offstage as he does on. With a slow drawl.
When a youngster in Evansville he organized a kid show. The theater was the family barn. He charged five cents for admission and actually made money. At fifteen he was playing on the Keith circuit with his brother Leo.
He always wears a cap. Wears a hat on the street very seldom. On each occasion he felt as conspicuous as a kid in his first long pants. He wears suspenders, unshined shoes and $200 suits.
Can often be found in a shooting gallery pecking away at the clay pipes.
Dave Chasen can’t do the funny hand business used in Rain or Shine without him.
He lives at Lake Hopatcong. Drives home every night after his performance if he’s playing in town.
Made his début in show business as grip carrier for the Great Doctor Dunham. Before the doctor give his spiel on the magic medicine which cured corns, colds and ingrown nails, he did a juggling act. He finished the season stranded in a tank town. He was paid off in medicine bottles.
He has worn out forty-one pairs of roller skates. Seventeen bicycles. Two motor-cycles. Eight automobiles and four motor boats.
His first vaudeville salary was $50 a week. His latest was $2,750.
They’re still looking for four Hawaiians who can imitate him.
He is one of the most versatile performers in America. Here are merely a few of his feats: Plain and fancy hand juggling. Japanese foot juggling. Sharpshooting from a slack wire. Trapeze balancing. Propels a huge ball up a fifteen foot incline with his feet. Plays various musical instruments. Exhibits skills as a clog dancer. Ditto as an acrobatic dancer. Furnishes motive power for a foot propelled merry-go-round. Does various feats of magic. Catches (or misses) lighted matches with his mouth. Extracts music from an insane Ferris wheel contraption. Casually tosses a bouquet to himself with one foot.
His understudy is the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
His parents were in the show business. His father retired from the stage to become a successful portrait painter.
Has a passion for a good cook stove. Loves to cook spaghetti, chili-con-carne and mulligan stew. Has cooked for as many as three hundred people at one sitting.
He is very modest and blushes very easily.
Has a piano on which he makes every guest burn his signature. The piano has 948 names on it. Including such as Ring Lardner, Gilbert Seldes, Robert Benchley, Babe Ruth, Charles MacArthur and Hudson Maxim.
He has many week-end parties at his home. Generally has from five to a dozen males but never a woman.
Dave Chasen, one of the funny fellows in his act, is his right-hand man. Dave even carries his money for him.
His major delight is discovering an odd restaurant. Is seldom seen at any prominent eating place. Will walk miles to find a hole-in-the-wall beanery where a newfangled dish is offered.
One thing he can’t stand is the sissy type of man. Especially the fellow who says “Tummy” for stomach. “Hanky” for handkerchief. He thinks there should be a law.
His dressing room is plastered with signs saying: “No Smoking.” “Positively No Smoking.” “Absolutely No Smoking.” There is one large sign which has “No Smoking” written out in twenty-six languages, including the Scandinavian. He doesn’t mind if you smoke.
He is quite an artist at short-changing.
He never saw a real Hawaiian. Once saw a Hawaiian act in vaudeville. The Hula dancer was a dazzling blonde who wore a wig. One of the Hawaiians was http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_De_Sylva, the song writer.
His favorite drink is a glass of real beer. After the third stein he sings the original version of “Frankie and Johnny.”
Has only one servant at his country home. This servant is the butler, the cook, the chauffeur, etc. The servant has a different name and uniform for each job.
He was the second white man to play the ukulele.

Times Square Tintypes: John Golden

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles theatrical producer John Golden.
 

“PURE AS THE DRIVEN SNOW”

JOHN GOLDEN. He’s the only man who produces clean sex plays. Yet he always manages to give the public what it wants. A shrewd showman, he realizes the value of publicity. Started the “clean” gag because of its healthy box office appeal. It has “it.”
Caricature of John GoldenWas once a bricklayer and the vice president of a chemical company. From the experience gained at the latter he is proficient in making gin.
He wrote the song “Poor Butterfly,” with Raymond Hubbell and Charles B. Dillingham. In fact, his managerial career started on a song. His royalty check for “Goodbye, Girls, I’m Through,” was $40,000. Gave it to Mrs. Golden for a present. She loaned it back to him to produce Turn to the Right.
His favorite actor is Muni Weisenfrend. He never says this without adding: “And Otto Kahn agrees with me.”
Is very much interested in what makes an audience go to a play. Once distributed a circular during the run of Pigs inquiring, “What made you attend this show?” Seventy per cent of the answers were variations of “Because a friend told me about it.”
As a bricklayer he helped build the Garrick Theatre.
For the last thirty years the annual Lambs’ Washing has been held on his estate at Bayside.
He was a partner of Cohan and Harris in the production of Hawthorne of the U. S. A. His task was to pal about with Douglas Fairbanks, seeing that the young acrobat didn’t hurdle over taxicabs and climb up buildings.
He is superstitious. Likes to have a numeral in the title of his plays. Remember: The 1st Year, 2 Girls Wanted, 3 Wise Fools, 4 Walls and 7th Heaven. Considers 27 his lucky number. In roulette and other numerical games of chance he will bet huge amount on it.
He organized the Producing Managers Association. This led to the famous actors’ strike.
The man he quotes most is Ring Lardner.
Is not fussy about clothing. Never goes to a store to purchase wearing apparel. If he needs another tie, shirt or suit, he merely telephones for it.
Thinks Atlantic City and Miami are the only vacation spots worth knowing.
He is one of the few producers who treat the theater as if it were a business. Is in his office by nine every morning and leaves at five. Is in bed every night at ten. He never attends the theater in the evenings. Goes only to matinées. Misses every opening night. Even his own.
Owns the original Old Kentucky Home, having bought the Stephen Foster homestead in Federal Hill to save it from being torn down.
He realizes the value of flattery. Gets the most out of people he is associated with by using it.
His favorite tryout town is Elmira, N. Y. Believes it to be lucky and opens all his shows there.
Was the first to cover the front of a theatre with an electric sign. Did it with 3 Wise Fools at the Criterion. Then the movies took up the idea . . . And how!
He hates the word “clean.” Refrains from using it in his conversations. When it slips out accidentally, he looks embarrassed.
He has collaborated on songs with Irving Berlin, Douglas Fairbanks, Oscar Hammerstein, Victor Herbert and Woodrow Wilson.
Always puts on his glasses when he talks on the telephone.
His hobby is collecting “the key to the city.” He has framed in his office keys to twenty-seven of the most important cities in the United States.
He hates dogs and cringes when he sees one.
Has a barber shop in his office, fully equipped. Every day at twelve a barber appears and shaves him. Every other week he takes a haircut.
His home in Bayside has eight bedrooms. He sleeps in a different room each night, according to his mood.

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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In Your Hat, pt. 9

In Chapter 9 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars Renee Carroll, she offers recollections of more celebrities than we could possibly list here. Many of the names are still familiar; others all but forgotten. A few we couldn’t even track down via the internet, and heaven knows we tried.

     EVEN Fred Keating, the magician, once forgot where he put his hat check!
     But hat check girls, even red-haired ones, have memories, so sometimes when business at my window is slack, I sit and think of the million and one things that have happened between the celebrity-laden walls of Sardi’s. Incidents, names, personalities galore, and sometimes just a casual word will start my train of thought along almost forgotten tracks. Would you like to lift the lid of the Carroll cranium and see what’s going on inside?
     Here comes George Jean Nathan, world’s best critic by his own admission. I’ll never forget the day I bawled him out because he insisted on having his hat set apart from the others—and how embarrassed he was. I never suspected anyone could embarrass him . . . telling Warner Baxter that he was my favorite movie star, only to be overheard by Richard Dix to whom I had dished out the same line only two days before . . . the day Helen Menken, reddest of the red-heads, gave us a big surprise by changing to the color gentlemen are supposed to prefer . . . Incidentally, she never takes her gloves off when she eats!
     And here is Robert Garland, who pilots (or piles-it) the dramatic column in the World-Telly, and is a regular customer as a certain blind spot in the roaring Fifties (they’re roaring further uptown now). He’d been a regular patient at the drink infirmary for more than a year when one night he showed at the barred door and knocked the magic knock. A weary, unshaved faced appeared in the aperture.
     “Pliss?”
     “Hello, Tony, I wanna come in.”
     “Who are you?” the face inquired.
     Infuriated because he had spent his good shekels for so many nights and still remained a dim bulb in the big sign, he shouted back the first thing that came to his mind—a catchline from a New Yorker cartoon.
     “You must remember me,” yelled Garland, “I’m the guy who punched my wife in the nose here last night.”
     And he was ushered in with any more undue ceremony!
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