Formerly Famous: Julius Keller

Julius Keller’s primary claim to fame was his role as the man behind Maxim’s, a popular New York eatery that shamelessly borrowed its name from the venerable Parisian nightspot. Though he would be responsible for a number of restaurant and nightclub firsts, in his early years, one would have been hard-pressed to predict such success for Keller.

One of seven siblings, the diminutive Keller—he stated in his engaging 1939 memoir, Inns and Outs, that he stood just 5’ 3”—was born in Basle, Switzerland. Unbeknownst to his family, he emigrated to the United States at 16, arriving in NYC with fifty cents in his pocket.

It wasn’t long before Keller found himself scrambling for food and shelter, occasionally having to settle for a berth on a park bench. Finally, he secured a job at a bakery, earning $16 a month plus room and board. After subsequently working as a short-order cook and an oyster shucker, Keller took a job as a waiter at the Tenderloin’s Paisley House. From there he moved to the tony Gilsey House, though he was let go after spilling Lobster Newberg in the lap of Ada Rehan, a prominent actress of the day.

In the 1890s, Keller was a server at the city’s most acclaimed restaurant, Delmonico’s, furthering his education in the ways and whims of the rich and famous.

Keller was later hired at Louis Sherry‘s Casino at New Hampshire’s Narragansett Pier. It was there that he made his first lasting mark in the restaurant world. When the wife of hotelier Paran Stevens requested soft clams be served with her luncheon but offered no specifics as to how they were to be prepared, Keller presented her with a dish of his invention: Large clam bellies were baked on the half shell with butter, paprika, shallots, and a strip of bacon.

Mrs. Stevens loved the dish, and when she asked Keller what he called it, he quickly coined the name “Clams Casino,” in honor of his place of employ. Keller went on feature the dish at every restaurant he owned or operated thereafter.

Keller later owned a series of eateries of varying stature and quality. During those years, he augmented his income by running a bookmaking operation. For a while, he even served as proprietor of the Old Heidelberg, a bar that doubled as a house of questionable (if not downright ill) repute.

Keller also dabbled in politics during those years, tying in with Tammany Hall boss Charles F. Murphy. Keller was the driving force behind the Tammany-backed Gastronomic Political Club, which boasted 20,000 members—most of whom were restaurant workers. Keller even ran for the State Assembly, losing by just 250 votes.

Keller got back on a more reputable track when he and two partners took over the lease of a restaurant on 38th Street in a location that had proven over time to be cursed. A burst of inspiration for Keller is what turned the tide.

The Merry Widow was all the theatrical rage at the time, and because Maxim’s of Paris was featured in that comic operetta, Keller adopted the name for his new restaurant. Keller even dressed his staff in faux Old World attire, as did the Paris Maxim’s.
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Formerly Famous: Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs

Many a 1930s screwball comedy mined the eccentricities of the well-to-do, but it’s hard to imagine even the most imaginative screenwriter coming up with a character as eccentric as Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs.

Carstairs, a ballyhooed champion speedboat racer in the speed-crazed 1920’s, wasn’t memorable merely for being the fastest woman on water. Her visible tattoos, penchant for cigars, and preference for men’s clothing ensured she stood out in a crowd.

Born in London in 1900, Carstairs inherited her wealth from her maternal grandfather, Jabez Abel Bostwick, a founder of the Standard Oil Company. Given her family’s financial standing—not to mention the influence and power that accompanied it—it’s perhaps not surprising that Carstairs’ approach to life was adventurous, her personality brash and self-assured.

Living in Paris in her teens, Carstairs had her first lesbian experience, about which she later remarked, “My God, what a marvelous thing. I found it a great pity I’d waited so long.” Soon thereafter, she took part in an affair with Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s niece.

Carstairs served as an ambulance driver in France during World War I before traveling to Dublin to join the Women’s Legion Mechanical Transport Section. She returned to France following the signing of the Armistice to help to rebury the war dead as a member of the Royal Army Service Corps.

Carstairs returned to London to launch an all-female chauffeur service called the X-Garage in 1920 before selling that concern and turning her focus to speedboat racing.

Carstairs won a handful of championships in the 1920s, including the prestigious Duke of York’s Trophy, the Royal Motor Yacht Club international race, and the Lucina Cup. “I liked the boats,” Carstairs said. “I liked the way they behaved. I understood them.”

Carstairs earned the respect of her male counterparts in the world of speed-racing, and she proved to be a supportive and generous friend to many. Sir Malcolm Campbell, who held the world speed record on land and on water at various times in the 1920s and ‘30s, is said to have described Carstairs as “the greatest sportsman I know.”

Though she lived openly as a lesbian, Carstairs married her old friend Count Jacques de Pret in 1918 in order to gain access to her trust fund and appease her drug-addicted, adulterous mother, Frances Evelyn Bostwick, who disapproved of her daughter’s sexual proclivities. Upon Evelyn’s death, though, the marriage was annulled on grounds of non-consummation.

Carstairs bedded dozens of women in her life—among them, reportedly, actresses Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich—but avoided long-term romantic attachments. It was said she kept a photographic file of 120 of the women she’d slept with, but her life’s companion was Lord Tod Wadley, a stuffed leather doll 12 inches in height that was a gift from a girlfriend in 1925.

What fostered Carstairs’ attachment to Lord Wadley is unclear, but she was rarely without him and even had tailored clothing made for him on Saville Row.

In 1934, Carstairs purchased Whale Cay (pronounced “key”)—a small island 30 miles northwest of Nassau and 90 miles east of Miami—for the sum of $40,000. She moved there and set up what might be described as a relatively benign fiefdom.

Quickly making the island her own, Carstairs hired locals from her own and neighboring islands to clear away vegetation and build an extravagant plantation that boasted a huge house for herself and her guests as well as small cabins for her workers, a dock, a school, a church, a fish cannery, and a general store.

Carstairs also undertook a reworking of the island’s social structure. New laws were created according to her whims (adultery and alcohol were outlawed), she took for herself the right and privilege to name all the island’s newborns, and she formed a private militia—complete with uniforms and machetes—to enforce these laws.

Shortly after arriving on Whale Cay, Carstairs had impressed the locals, many of whom were adherents of a form of voodoo known as obeah, by throwing a knife so skillfully she cut off the head of a snake several yards away. Many of the island’s residents also attributed special powers to Lord Wadley, so it’s not difficult to understand how Carstairs came so quickly to assume an almost royal role on the island.

Carstairs, who played host at Whale Key to many famous friends over the years (among them the Duke and Duchess of Windsor), was often seen by the island’s longtime residents riding about on her motorcycle, with the ever-present Lord Wadley strapped in behind her.

In 1975, long since out of the public eye and afflicted with failing health, Carstairs sold Whale Key, thereafter dividing her time between Miami and Long Island. When she died in 1993, her beloved Lord Wadley was cremated and buried along with her.

This story originally appeared in the Spring/Fall 2012 issue of Zelda, the Magazine of the Vintage Nouveau.

Z is for Zelda

We don’t kid ourselves that our listeners and readers can subsist on Cladrite Radio alone.

Heck, no—after all, each of us occasionally finds ourselves without internet access, and what to do then, when you’ve got a yen to do a little reading about life as it was once lived?

Well, we know what we do—we reach for a copy of Zelda magazine, and our vintage itch is immediately scratched.

As is explained on the publication’s web site, Zelda is “inspired by days gone by and our goal is to share glorious tidbits of yesteryear while bringing you features on the best of what’s happening in the vintage-style culture today.”

We’ve read Zelda (heck, we’ve contributed to it), and the above sentiments aptly sum up what this winning biannual is all about. Take it from us, from interviews with the likes of Golden Era actress Marsha Hunt, former Zeigfeld girl Doris Eaton Travis, and Turner Classic Movies on-air host Robert Osborne to recipes (culinary and cocktail), fashion history and advice, music reviews, and so much more, Zelda’s got vintage culture covered from stem to stern.

And just to show we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is, we’re going to offer the first giveaway we’ve ever undertaken at Cladrite Radio. The first six people to email us at will receive a copy of the current edition of Zelda (it’s issue #3, fyi), which boasts such fascinating features as a previously unpublished interview with the man once known as “America’s boyfriend,” actor, bandleader (and second husband to Mary Pickford) Charles “Buddy” Rogers; a profile of the once-best-selling (and not a little scandalous) but now largely forgotten author Ursula Parrott; an intoxicating drink recipe that updates the classic Manhattan cocktail while remaining true to the “spirit” of the original; a guide to the proper wearing of neckties; the sage advice of “Ask Mr. Burton”; and so much more (honestly, we’re just scratching the surface here).

So drop us a line, being sure to include your name and mailing address, and if yours is one of the first six entries we receive, we’ll get a copy of Zelda right off to you.

Such a deal!