Aside from World War II and the War of the Worlds broadcast, there were other haps in the 1930s and 1940s that informed my Dad’s interests and personality. For example, as he told me numerous times, his favorite comic strip of the era was Flash Gordon. Flash was big at the time. Dad loved Flash so much, it was even his college nickname!
As I reviewed the original comic strip in preparation for this post, I was struck by how much it resembles Star Wars of my generation. The action takes place on the planet Mongo, locale of kingdoms like Arboria (forests) and Frigia (ice). Kings and Queens galore! And the villain? A bad guy with interesting headwear!
Meet Ming the Merciless!
When looking at the above image of Ming, I am not sure if Darth Vader was ever so similar a lady killer. Well, the young Jedi Anakin certainly was, in the prequels. Unfortunately, he lost his man parts — GOP Presidential candidates please take note — on the lava planet (or moon, whichever) after losing the sword fight to Obi Wan.
On the other hand, what Flash didn’t have was the tiresome drama of Luke and Leia playing “who’s your daddy?” Who needs parents anyway? That’s right, you heard it asked here on the Bernard Olcott Story blog!
The Bernard Olcott Story starts off 2016 with a rewrite of my post “THE LOST WEEKEND” (the original of which I have just removed from this site). When I wrote “THE LOST WEEKEND” last June, I reminisced about a picture of my Dad hamming it up with several friends in a photo booth heavy laden with cultural significance – see above picture. All of which was lost to me since I did not grow up in the 1940s. I shrugged off that photo booth picture, effectively asking if anyone recognized anything about it. Nobody did.
That photo, it turns out, is a window into the New York City of yesteryear. This essay, and the next three will use the above image as a departure point into a black and white world. I’ll take you back to New York City of the 1940s, my Father’s formative years as a newly minted Cooper Union graduate, and you’ll:
- Read about the biggest movie of 1945,
- Ride the El,
- Hear old style New Yorkers interact,
- Learn a valuable lesson at Cooper Union (a venerable institution dating back to the Lincoln Administration),
- Review a mysterious death in 1943 with what little facts are available, and
- Come back to a colorfilled present with a shared activity across time.
Why should you care? Well, somehow you found this blog. Perhaps in riding the El with my Dad, you may see some of yours in him. Maybe you like nostalgic stories about Gotham City which was, in some ways, a completely different city from today’s Big Apple.
It could be that you are intrigued with the backstory of the founding of a business or how the tremendous loss of a parent could leave so little trace behind. I still haven’t been able to figure out what happened to my paternal Grandmother, who passed away during this era.
Storm clouds gather over Yorkshire Towers
Graciela Levi Castillo was Dad’s wife no. 3 – and my first stepmother. Their marriage was very short, from January 1963 until January 1965. Only a few memories of her remain intact from the summer of 1964. You see, in 1963, my folks had just split up and had not yet worked out all the details. Dad even came down with Graciela to see me in Orlando once or twice. My Mom tells me she was very gracious with Graciela during those visits; still, it had to have been somewhat awkward with both parents parading their new spouses in front of the other.
What I remember most about Graciela was that she was as kind to me as she was garrulous. Meaning, she was very, very kind!
In order to start his life anew with Graciela, Dad quit his apartment at 1050 Fifth Avenue (that he had shared with my Mom) and they moved into Yorkshire Towers, 305 East 86th Street, an immense white brick postwar building on the northeast corner of Second Avenue (see above picture). As a newly completed building in 1964, deals were always available to new tenants willing to move in during construction. Dad found such kind of bargains to be irresistible. The new apartment had much of the same furniture as previously with my Mom, so it had an air of familiarity about it.