Huntington Hartford and Andy Warhol. Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair.
A couple of weeks ago, one Sunday evening, I was driving back to my home in New York City from Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. Most of my drive home was spent on the New York State Thruway, the major vehicular artery connecting the city to the state capital, Albany, and then on to Montréal via a continuation called the Northway.
As I approached the New Jersey border (please see my post WHAT’S IN A BORDER) driving southbound, I passed by Schunemunk Mountain on my right and then a succession of some small hills and valleys. I also drove under a pedestrian overpass where I used to play a silly game with my children; the object of the game was to cross directly over the path of an oncoming car and get ‘run over’ (except, of course, you are on the overpass above). Small children love this game – the direct opposite of “don’t play in traffic” – as well as parents with the mind of a small child.
Before crossing the border, I passed through a small dreary rural town called Hillburn. After crossing, the sprawl of suburbanization was immediately palpable.
The last 20 miles took me through the northwest corner of New Jersey. One of my favorite stops is a well-stocked A&P Supermarket in Allendale. Not only does it feature a great selection of grocery items at low prices, but also has an unexpectedly good selection of wines. Like 10 year old Pauillacs, perfect for drinking, which cannot be found in Manhattan (at least not 10 year old ones – damn wine bitches teefed all the good stuff).
To my surprise, I pulled up to see that the familiar A&P moniker that used to grace the façade above the front doors had been replaced by the new name ACME. A&P, a retail business since 1859, alas, was now defunct.
It reminded me of a strange business investment solicitation my Dad received in the early 1980s. In this case, I was not the wingman, but the paddleman. Let me explain.
The scenes featuring Gloria in “The Lost Weekend” are said to be shot in PJ Clarke’s bar, still at the corner of Third and 55th, but no longer under the shadow of the El.
It was not “New York’s New Yorkiest” joint, however, as declared by Walter Winchell, the leading radio personality of the 1940s and 1950s. That honor fell squarely on The Stork Club.
Unlike PJ Clarke’s unfortunately, nothing is left today of The Stork. Owner Sherman Billingsley was arguably one of New York’s greatest celebrities from the 1940s and 1950s. Where he once fought union pickets and sabotage, while throwing customers out (who dared to patronize the rival Harwyn club), a peaceful pocket park marks the former location of the famous glitzy eatery and bar.
There aren’t that many relics of old New York left. Probably one of the best “New Yorkiest” venues still in existence is the storied Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. It’s a puzzling institution in that many New Yorkers don’t seem to know about it. When I asked my Dad where he went to college, he told me proudly “Cooper Union” and when he noticed my quizzical look, proceeded to tell me about it.
“The Lost Weekend,” as previously noted in my post of the same name, was the Academy Award best picture of 1945. It not only reveals Gotham of yesterday by way of moving images, like the main actor stumbling haggardly under the Third Avenue El in search of a drink, but also by way of the language and the accents of the era. Unlike the 1960 classic “Butterfield 8,” the personalities in “The Lost Weekend” engage with each other directly, with a minimum of game playing or social charades. It was the 1940s way.
Significantly, as it relates to The Bernard Olcott Story, it’s about a writer! There’s even a reference to my distant cousin James Thurber (on my mother’s side) in the first few minutes.
What can you say about the film noir world of the 1940s, the formative decade for my Dad? Well, for one thing, there were a HELL of a lot of barber shops. Everywhere!
However, the first thing I noticed were the strong New York accents, most notably as spoken by the bartender Nat. He routinely addresses the main character, Don Birnham, as “Mr. Boy-nam.” This brings me back to working at Olcott International in Weehawken in the late 1970s and afterwards, please see my post “GOODBYE 212, HELLO 201?”
Back in 1961 and 1962, I would often be plopped down in front of the black and white television. In between ‘Heckle and Jeckle’ and ‘Mighty Mouse‘ cartoons, there were commercials, many in great sing-along formats — sometimes both cartoons and commercials featured bouncing balls.
But there was one that always remained far and away my favorite. Mr. Clean:
There’s nothing you can’t do, Mr. Clean!
Oh gosh, do I remember clapping along to this jingle! I would get my Mom and Pia, my stocky middle-aged and eastern-European (Hungarian?) nanny, to join me in song and dance. I was a very infectious musical conductor.
My Mom loved Mr. Clean because it made the floors so antiseptic you could eat off them (wait for it to dry first, please). My Dad loved Mr. Clean, well, because my Mom loved Mr. Clean. And me? I was ecstatic to be the third wheel spinning in the love-a-thon.