This week’s Snapshot in Prose visits a pair of classic composers who need no introduction, Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, when they were at their most successful.
The author of the story speaks to both men, and we learn that they were of very different temperaments, outlooks, and lifestyles. Apparently musical theatre, like politics, makes for strange bedfellows.
|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.
“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.”
“Oh, look, I am in your book—thanks for letting me.”
“To Renee, who expects something clever from me but won’t get it.”
“To Renee, from her worst customer.”
“To a real and sweet girl, with loads of knockouts.
Lightweight Champion of the World.”
“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.”
Duchess of Sardi,
Baron George Jessel,
Colonel of the Bronx Grenadiers
And Vis-count of Brownsville.”
“You’ll always be Miss Shapiro to me—one of my best yarns. Sidney Skolsky
P.S. She sleeps in the raw!”
“My hat’s off to you. (Get it?) Je parle français aussi. (I hope that’s right).”
“My autograph I here inscribe,
A member of the organ tribe
Poet (?) of the Organ.”
“Keep your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”
“A mon amie Renee en souvenir des Ziegfeld Follies 1931.”
“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.”
“To Renee. In memory of my first daughter of four kilos.”
“Because I like red-heads.”
Here’s Chapter 8 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll, in which she shares tales of by the many celebrities she encountered while working at Sardi’s, among them George Burns and Gracie Allen, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Norma Talmadge, George Raft, Wallace Reid, Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks, and many more.
A STOOGE, in Broadway parlance, is the assist in the act. If you do an accordion routine and a heckler is paid by you to annoy your act from the box, then you’re probably Phil Baker and your stooge eventually becomes as famous as you are. Witness Sid Silvers of Take a Chance fame.
Broadway is full of stooges, both in real life and on the stage. It may sound strange to you but the jester in the king’s court from the time of The Erl King (I don’t know why they insist on spelling Oil as Erl) has been brought down the years until now he is labeled “stooge.” His job is to take he hard knocks, furnish the opportunity for the gag to be sprung, and appear the perfect fool.
When Phil Baker, who pumps a mean accordion, opened in a show in New York and had a stooge in the box doing the regular routine, Al Boasberg, the gagman who writes funny lines for a dozen or more comedians, wired Baker:
| LIKED YOUR ACT STOP THE OLD
GENT WITH THE ACCORDION WAS
Gracie Allen, of the famous team of Burns and Allen, is the stooge of the act, even though it is she who pulls all the funny lines. Recently she gave George Burns cause to laugh when she came to him with an idea.
“Georgie, dear,” Gracie said. “I have an idea.”
“Well, let’s forget it,” George answered characteristically, knowing it would bring on the usual headache.
“I’ve thought of a line for our act,” she continued.
“All right,” gave in George. “What is it?”
“I can’t tell you until I’ve gotten a prop.”
“What sort of a prop?”
“What’s a muff?” George wanted to know.
“It’s one of those things women used to carry around so that they could hold hands with themselves.”
“All right, Gracie, get yourself a muff and let’s have the gag.”
She went to the best furrier on the Avenue and ordered a muff made. It has to be matched sables, four skins, exquisitely sewn. The muff cost $250 and she charged it to Geroge Burns, her husband. She brought it to him one day.
“Here’s the muff, George.”
He examined it carefully. He approved.
“I got it at a bargain, George.”
George immediately became suspicious.
“How much, Gracie? How much?” he pleaded.
“Well—er—two hundred and—er—fifty dollars.”
George felt around for support.
“Two hundred and fifty smackers for that thing? Gracie, you’ll ruin me!”
“But it’s a bargain, George, and the furrier let me have it at that price because there are two holes in it!”
And she held up the muff to show him the holes in which one is supposed to insert one’s hands. Burns was nonplused.
“But what about the gag?” he wanted to know. “Is the gag worth $250?”
“Why, George,” giggled the she-stooge, “I just did it. You see, I come on with this muff and you ask me how much I paid for it and I say: ‘I got it at a bargain because it had two holes in it.”
With which Mr. Burns fainted dead away. And that’s how jokes are born in case you’re interested.
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Here’s Chapter 6 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll, in which she reflects on her salad days and shares a true-life gangster chronicle, a tale in which she finds herself playing an unexpectedly key role.
WHEN people write of themselves as having been born on the lower East Side of New York, they hope you’ll overlook the fact and think of the place and the occasion as something to forget. But I first saw light on the lowest East Side with a couple of big Jewish mammas doing things to a couple of herrings in the kitchen and a bearded gentleman or two sucking tea through lumps of sugar they held between their teeth. Taking advantage of my birth by sponging on the family for a meal!
Specifically it was a Friday, the day on which all my troubles subsequently descended, and the street was Madison, in honor of a president. The bawling infact raised a yell in the improvised crib and my father, than as now, an orthodox rabbi, descendant of a line of rabbis, muttered a prayer that his daughter would be a healthy and obedient child who would honor her parents and bring only happiness to Madison Street. Or maybe I’m wrong. I suppose a more sensible translation would be: “So if it can’t be a boy, it can’t be. And she should marry wealthy because where would a rabbi get anything resembling a dowry for his daughter?”
From early girlhood I learned that life was a serious bowl of cherries. It’s all right for Eddie Cantor to reflect on his East Side upbringing with a great deal of sentimentality. Eddie has lost two million dollars since then—I haven’t saved two hundred. I’m the unique case of a lower New York birth with nothing to show for it but an aversion for dialect stories and a strawberry mark on my hip.
I attended classes in Public School 62 and soon after I left they tore it down for a new subway. I didn’t exactly hate school, but when I heard that they were ready to tear down the building, I could honestly say that I threw the first stone—right smack through the window of the room where arithmetic gave me nightmares.
Later when Jews found it fashionable to migrate to outlying districts such as Brownsville, Flatbush and the Bronx, my family found itself doing likewise because trade follows the flag, and the trustees of my father’s synagogue decided that it would be advisable to move to 115th Street.
Once uptown the flyaway bug began to tell me stories and it occurred to me that there was nothing except the tradition of the home and keeping the family intact and all that sort of clannish business, to keep me from striking out on my own.
My family wanted me to go to college and become a lawyer, but I figured that Portia had had a tough enough time and that men won’t listen to a women except when her legs are crossed, so I thumbs-downed that idea. Business college had a momentary appeal and I attended a business school and learned how to type. With this equipment I decided to flee the camp.
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In this series, we’ll explore some career snapshots of familiar Cladrite-era performers, profiles and interviews written long ago that capture the individual at a particular time in his or her career.
The initial entry in the series dates from 1935 and puts the spotlight on the lovely and talented Alice Faye. She’d made only a handful of pictures at this point in time, and was still rumored to be “that way,” as Walter Winchell used to say, about Rudy Vallée. She had yet to wed (or perhaps even meet) Tony Martin, to whom she was married from 1937-1940, or Phil Harris, with whom she would build a long and happy life. They were happily married from 1941 until his death in 1995, and they raised two children together.
But at this point in time, in a profile first published in the June 1935 issue of Popular Songs magazine, Faye’s just hit the big time, with a great career still mostly in front of her.
hat put the song in Alice Faye‘s heart? What made her change the personality that was hers as a dancer in a night club? Was it her meeting with Rudy Vallee?
I saw Alice Faye recently when she came back from Hollywood on a visit. She had come to the NBC studios to see Rudy and the Connecticut Yankees.
Imagine the delicious curves of her figure emphasized by a chic and tight gown, a little black hat perched over one eye, lithe legs encased in silver silk—and her hair—dozens of little corncolored ringlets curving around those come-hither eyes and pointing to that seductive mouth.
The boys were frankly crazy about her for they crowded about, asking her questions and telling her how glad they were to have her back with them again.
This was Alice Faye of 1935.
Now let us take you back to the Alice of but three years ago.
Do you remember the song?
That, my lads and lassies, is an excellent description of the Alice-that-was just a few years ago, an Alice that was coy and sweet, who had medium brown hair that coiled up the back of her neck, who never rouged unless unless she had to and who was afraid of her own shadow.
What transformed the demure little lass with the cast-down eyes into the “hot” blondlined torch singer of the arched eyebrows and the come-hither gaze in her orbs?
It was while the Scandals of 1932 were playing in New York city that Alice Faye met Rudy Vallee. Not really “met” him, mind you, but came face to face with him. For Rudy in 1932 was already sitting on his throne and Alice was just another chorus girl who had yearnings to be something better someday.
Here is Rudy Vallee, a top-notcher on the stage, whispering musical nothings into the shell like ear of Ethel Merman, his co-star. Watching them, her eyes glued on the pair, is a little obscure dancer named Alice Faye whose soul burns and seethes with ambition to rise to stellar heights.
And Rudy probably never knows of her existence, never knows that soon she will be the leading singer in his band, and some say of his heart as well.
It is a long cry now from Alice the chorus girl. Her childhood days spent somewhere in New York city, where she was born, foresaw nothing of the girl who would some day become a dancer in a night club or a red-hot singer of the blues.
Alice worked hard at the Chester Hale Ballet School which she entered right after her graduation from high school. She was the most conscientious pupil they had. She came for her lessons and left when they were over.
From Chester Hale’s, she graduated into a job at the Palais Royal. Theer again it was all work, no play with her. Other girls may have hung around after closing hours, may have flirted and dated with some of the customers, but not Alice Faye. Her thoughts were on a dancing career.
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