Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mae West & the Jazz Age in The Big Apple

On August 15, 1921, Mae West opened in New York at the New Century Roof, as a solo star act. On the opening night, Jack Dempsey, then World Heavyweight Champion, and his manager, Jack Kearns, attended the performance and visited Mae backstage afterwards.
Mae West did a screen test with Dempsey that week with Pathe Studios on 168th Street; it was called "Daredevil Jack." It never made it as a picture.
If you'd like to learn more about The Big Apple during the 1920s-1930s, pick up this book:
Gangsters and Gold Diggers: Old New York, the Jazz Age, and the Birth of Broadway by Jerome Charyn [Publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows]
From Publishers Weekly
Charyn's paean to Jazz Age New York stars the multifarious characters who graced the stages, speakeasies, and diners around Broadway in the 1920s and '30s. Never, he says, was New York "New Yorkier" than in this "lawless, unbridled mecca where everybody could meet - hoodlums, heiresses, jazz singers, funny girls, dentists from Des Moines (so long as they had a little money) ...." Around Broadway, Al Jolson rubbed shoulders with Ellin Mackay, "the richest girl in America," and George Gershwin would run into Mae West.
In the words of nightclub owner Texas Guinan, "Better a square foot of New York than all the rest of the world in a lump."
The author, who has written more than 30 books of fiction, memoir and cultural studies, presents a huge array of characters . . . . ., Those who already know the major and minor stars of this era will glean some colorful anecdotes, taken from disparate sources. Al Capone, for example, "liked to drink whisky out of a teacup" and Zelda Fitzgerald, before her breakdowns, was prone to dive into the fountain at Union Square. The force of the running prose, reminiscent of the high-kicking Follies girls, might carry interested readers through the disorganized narrative. . . .
One reader gave this off-the-cuff opinion: Author Jerome Charyn provides the reader with a cast of colorful characters such as Arnold Rothstein who used to enjoy wasting his time in Lindy's Restaurant, Al Jolson who was very difficult to live with and a self promoter, Legs Diamond [detective Johnny Broderick once stuffed this gangster into a garbage can], Flo Ziegfeld, who glamorized the American girl, former singing waiter Irving Berlin who sang at Nigger Mike's and then went on to become the writer of over one thousand songs. Author Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald and wife Zelda, gangster Owney Madden, Fannie Brice and her husband Billy Rose who was 5' 3 1/2" in his elevator shoes "who walked with the bounce of an over-wound toy." Bert Gordon, W.C. Fields, Ruby Keeler, boxers Jack Dempsey and Johnson, and, of course, The Bambino himself, George Herman Ruth.
The book is filled with anecdotes of these and other famous and infamous characters who made The Great White Way the historic place it is today. If you like social history you will enjoy this book. . . .

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