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.


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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Time Square Tintypes: Sam H. Harris

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles Broadway producer and theater owner Sam H. Harris.


IN a business where an ironclad contract often becomes a mere scrap of paper, there is a man whose word is his bond. He often closes an important deal by merely a handshake. The man is SAM H. HARRIS.
Caricature of Sam H. HarrisThe “H” is for Henry, although he likes to believe it stands for “Hits.”
His first theatrical job was at Miner’s Theater. Was employed to trail John W. Kelly, the Rolling Mill man, a star of the times. When Kelly went out for a drink he played no favorites. He gave every saloon along the Bowery a break. Harris’s task was to tag after him and bring him back to the theater in time to go on.
When a young girl comes to him, anxious to get into show business, he advises her to go home and get married.
At twenty-two he owned six horses. Entered four of them in a seven-horse race. They finished fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. He immediately traded his stable of horses for a bulldog.
His favorite expression: “You can play only one way—straight.”
Was once part of one of the most successful partnerships in the theatrical business: Cohan and Harris. That firm dissolved, friendly, during the actors’ strike. Cohan picked up a blotter, which had his picture in one corner and Harris’s in another. Tearing the blotter, he tossed the half with Harris’s picture to him and said: “Sam, we’re through.” That’s all there was to it.
His trousers can stay up without support of either a belt or suspenders.
Always sits in the last row of the balcony at the opening of his plays.
Is the only theatrical producer to have the honor of having a book dedicated to him by Alexander Woollcott.
He hasn’t a gray hair in his head. Bets have actually been made that he never will have a gray hair.
His idea of a swell meal is a good bowl of vegetable soup.
Any play he produces must have these two requisites: In his own words, “It must add up at the finish.” Secondly, it must contain at least one character for whom the audience will root.
He never harbors a grudge.
Was once in the prize-fighting racket. Trained his protégé faithfully. Only to see him knocked out in the first five minutes of action. While this man was being counted out, he was in the other corner, signing up the winner. You’ve probably heard of the guy—Terry McGovern.
He eats chop suey only on rainy days.
In his opinion there is no man in the world who knows the theater as well as George M. Cohan.
Every time he is about to close a show, his comment is: “I can’t go along with it.”
Is now the owner of a fine stable of horses. He names his horses after fond memories. One is called Terry McGovern. Another is known as Sadie Thompson.
As a kid he greatly admired John Drew. Although just getting out of short pants he grew a heavy mustache in order to look like his idol.
His favorite author is George S. Kaufman. And, as far as music is concerned, he taste begins and ends with Irving Berlin.
He once worked in a hat store on Grand Street. Every week he had to make a delivery away uptown, at Seventy-second Street. For this he was given a quarter for carfare. He walked, thus giving a dollar a month extra to his mother. Every month his mother had to buy him a pair of shoes costing a dollar and a quarter. A little figuring and shortly he was told to spend the quarter for carfare. His economy was costing the family money.
He will play cards with anybody in the world but Harpo Marx.
His office is a studio room in the Music Box Theatre. A wall door leads to an especially constructed dungeon. Inside there is a fully equipped bar. The entrance is guarded by a cuckoo clock. While leaning against the bar the pressing of a button will produce a beautiful scenic effect. The ceiling becomes “Blue Heaven” and the stars twinkle.
When an actress’s performance pleases him he expresses his delight by saying: “She gives me a lump.”

Times Square Tintypes: Arthur Hopkins

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


ARTHUR HOPKINS. The sphinx of the show business.
Caricature of Arthur HopkinsHe scares people by saying nothing.
Was born October 4, 1878. His father was a doctor. He has seven brothers. All, with the exception of one, are professional men. The one, William Rowland Hopkins, is at present City Manager of Cleveland. This corresponds to the title of Mayor here.
Is a conservative dresser. Generally wears a derby or gray felt hat. He always wear a bow tie.
He was the first director in America to permit an actor to talk with his back to the audience.
Was once a reporter. Is noted for invading the Polish district of Cleveland and capturing the only photograph of Czolgosz, the assassinator of President McKinley. Every newspaper used this photograph, giving due credit.
He is the author of the book, How’s Your Second Act?
Loves to play golf. Two of his best friends are Sam H. Harris and Arthur Hammerstein. They are known as “the Three Golfing H’s.”
His office is a cubicle room in the Plymouth Theatre. He sits in his chair there, saddle fashion. His desk is piled high with manuscripts. Occasionally he gets reading jags and does nothing for days but read plays.
He is stubborn.
When he first started producing his efforts were rapped by the critics. He said: “I will be producing plays when all those boys are gone and forgotten.” The critics of that day were DeFoe, Reamer, Dale, Davies and Wolf. They are all gone. Years later the same Mr. Hopkins wrote: “I want no praise for bad work. If they find me careless or gross, cheap or vulgar, my head is on the block for them.”
His middle name is Melancthon.
Whenever he discovers what he thinks is an “author” he goes nuts.
Lives in Great Neck. Among his prize possessions there are a baby grand piano, a victrola, his wife—Eva McDonald—and a handsome mahogany poker outfit.
He bought On Trial by giving Elmer Rice a $50 advance. Then produced the play under the Cohan and Harris banner by giving them a fifty percent interest in the play. During one of the rehearsals he thought of the revolving stage. This made it possible to do the now famous flashback in twenty-six seconds.
Gets a big kick out of doing things people don’t expect him to do.
Is more agreeable when he has a flop than when he has a hit.
He never wears jewelry.
When rehearsing a play the stage curtain is always down. He sits in a chair or stands in the wings, smoking. Sometimes it is days before he says a word. For at least seven days the cast merely sit and read their parts. When he thinks that they understand the play thoroughly, he allows them to act. He never tells an actor what to do, but what not to do.
He tells the truth or nothing at all.
Has a terrific admiration for Robert Edmond Jones, Isadora Duncan and Raquel Meller.
Is the only producer who quotes himself in advertisements.
When he produced What Price Glory he thought real soldiers could play soldiers better than actors. Every soldier in that play, with the exception of the principals, had done service abroad.
His great passion is discovering new talent.
Has the ability actually to forget things he doesn’t wish to remember.
He writes most of the statements that are issued by the Producing Managers Association.
On the opening night of a play he does one of two things. He either sits in the light gallery, which hangs over the first balcony, and watches the play and the audience or sits backstage, near the stage door, with his back to the players, listening to the lines and the applause.
His favorite haunt is the Lotus Club.
Once one of his brothers visited him at the office. It is said that both sat there for half an hour before either greeted the other.
He keeps a cow on his estate at Great Neck because he insists on fresh milk every morning.
He knows more than he will talk about. Therefore, is given credit for knowing much more than he says.
The rest is silence.