Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mae West: Lou's Big Night

MAE WEST and George Raft knew the address well — — well before Louis Bromfield was drinking there one afternoon with his newsman buddy Lucius Beebe, a Herald-Times columnist. Club Napoleon, a speakeasy on the grand scale, was located at 33 West 56th Street, then a fancy block of Beaux Arts mansions. Years before it became an illegal ginmill, 33 West 56th had been the childhood home of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. The gracious townhouse next door had been designed by Bruce Price for a prominent physician.
• • Both Mae West and her character Maudie Triplett were used to standing in the shouting place and breathing in a strong dose of masculinity — — booze, beer, cigars, sweat, and spit — — as evening comes down in the shape of a boxing arena or a speakeasy, a zone a man wants to own. A mob-controlled place only the tough girls are seen in.
• • Though he made his name writing about rural life, Louis Bromfield was intrigued by the downward mobility of West 56th Street, once the preserve of bluebloods but now in the hands of gangsters who ran the speakeasy Mona Lisa [36 West 56th] or Larry Fay, who opened his parlor floors to drinkers.
• • December 27th — — a good beginning at the end of the year
• • Born Lewis Brumfield in Ohio in the month of December — — on 27 December 1896 — — the 6' 2" inch journalist won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Early Autumn [1926], and then turned to writing fulltime. His short story "Single Night" became the backbone of the Paramount film "Night After Night" [released on 30 October 1932]. Two months after the film was distributed to moviehouses across the country, bootlegger Larry Fay met a spectacularly crimson-soaked death inside 33 West 56th Street on 1 January 1933.
• • Author and farmer Louis Bromfield had a more serene death, at age 60, on 18 March 1956.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1932 • •
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Mae West.

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