Notes of a Footnote – 8 – The Nights (& Days) on Broadway
South…& other stops
As previously related my earliest conscious memories of Midtown Manhattan mainly concern the movies. Apart from that connection I recall visits made as a child to the Newsweek offices on West Forty-second Street where my mother worked until the magazine moved to its later location on Madison Avenue. Establishments connected in my mind with those visits included the Davega sporting goods store a few doors away from the Newsweek building where I got my first real Rawlings baseball glove and a restaurant on West Forty-fourth Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues called The Hellas but always referred to as The Greeks by the Newsweek staffers with whom it was popular.
Although it is now more or less an annex of Disneyland, the block of Forty-second Street between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenues – as noted – then featured ten third-run movie houses, most of which had been legitimate theatres until the onset of the Depression. One, on the north side of the block, was called The Pix and in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s it showed almost exclusively ‘B’ westerns featuring the likes of Rocky Lane, Wild Bill Elliot, Lash Larue, Hopalong Cassidy and such like riders of the purple sage. As an eight- and nine-year-old I was occasionally taken there after school by my artist/babysitter, Madeleine Harrison. And, as also mentioned earlier, from the age of ten I was allowed by my mother to go by myself on Saturday mornings to the old Laff Movie on the south side of the street about a third of a block east of Eighth Avenue. The films I saw there were typified by Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and Ritz Brothers vehicles, although the programmes would also include cartoons, Pete Smith Specialties along with other shorts featuring The Three Stooges and acts like Clark & McCullough and, more memorably, Robert Benchley. At my mother’s urging I did once suggest to the Matron that they might think about getting some slightly classier features such as the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road…” movies. The Matron said that she would mention it to the manager but, as I remember, her manner indicated that recommendations from a ten year-old Manny Farber/Parker Tyler/Pauline Kael (even one who was a regular client) were not likely to materially affect the house’s scheduling policy.
During these forays I would sometimes visit Hubert’s, a dime museum a few doors east of the Laff Movie and across Forty-second Street from the old Dixie Hotel. I would wander around the various glass-cased exhibits on the ground floor but I never ventured down to the basement where the real life, in-the-flesh, circus sideshow performers were to be found. That was what cost you your dime. It wasn’t until many years later when I read Joseph Mitchell’s profile of Lady Olga, America’s foremost bearded lady, that I realized the actual nature of the museum. Upstairs I could only gawp at the sepia photographs of men and women entirely covered with tattoos; giants; dwarfs; sword-swallowers; fire-eaters; men who wrestled with themselves; flea circus operators and the rest of what circus sideshows had traditionally called freaks but were later featured in the attraction Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus called The Congress of Strange People.
I normally took the No. 10 bus up Eighth Avenue from Abingdon Square to Forty-second Street, getting off at the stop outside the Benjamin Franklin Savings Bank on the southeast corner of Forty-second and Eighth. Sometimes I would take the subway and I spent many hours exploring the Forty-second Street IND station. It intrigued me that one could walk from the Fortieth Street entrance under the then-new Port Authority Bus Terminal north to the exit at Forty-fourth Street and east to the IRT station at Forty-second and Seventh Avenue/Broadway, remaining underground throughout. This subterranean world was filled with shops and newsstands and shoeshine booths and all manner of odd enterprises. It was in the window of a magazine and novelty shop just at the bottom of the subway entrance at the northeast corner of Forty-second and Eighth that I first beheld the famous Marilyn Monroe nude calendar. At age ten it seemed to me to be pretty gross and may, along with my Lesley James frustrations, have contributed to an adolescent prejudice against blondes.
Considering the film-centred nature of my early Midtown experiences – including the period just after I made my escape from the High School of Commerce and spent many hookey-playing days in the Forty-second Street grind houses – it was perhaps appropriate that my first proper job in the area was with a film company.
In late-1960, I was made redundant by J.B.Rundle & Co., following the firm’s merger with another industrial advertising agency. As also recounted earlier, through the good offices of Dee Lambert’s mother, Horty Geist, I secured a position with the film production company of Wonsdell, Carlisle & Dunphy and my working life moved from 401 Broadway a few miles uptown to 1600 Broadway. The company’s main business was the production of television commercials and I was assigned to what was rather grandly called The Expediting Department. Duties consisted of messenger and mail room work, along with the added task of print breaking. One of my routine jobs was delivering cans of exposed stock to various film laboratories for processing. These labs were mainly located further west in the Forties and Fifties over on Ninth and Tenth Avenues. Reels of 16mm prints were then brought back to the Expediting Department where they were broken down into individual prints of fifteen-, 30-, or 60-seconds length. Leader and trailer film was spliced on to each, producing 3-inch reels that were then boxed and sent off to individual television stations across the country. The other main messenger work consisted of taking film and other material to a number of advertising agencies located further east. One of my regular stops was to the offices of a large agency located in the Time-Life Building on Sixth Avenue. This enabled me to not only hand my parcels to the one-time child film star Freddie Bartholomew, who was then an account executive at the agency (and a very pleasant gentleman in my experience) but also to look in on my father in the offices of Sports Illustrated in the same building. The messenger work was hardly demanding although I would point out that much of it took place – on foot – during one historically cold winter when between December and March something like 55 inches of snow fell on metropolitan New York.
My immediate boss at WCD was a young man named Gene Sultan who had ambitions to make a career in films. I believe he did later move to Los Angeles as I recall seeing his name in the credits of several films and television shows although I can’t remember which ones or in what capacity. The character of the place was definitely Rudy Williams. Rudy was the studio manager and hailed originally from Nassau in the Bahamas where he had been a bandleader. He was dapper, wise, funny and had everything and everybody in the building pretty well taped. He introduced me to the Eighth Avenue made-to-measure clothier to whom I gave some custom and once invited me to a West Indian dance in Harlem, which was definitely a new experience for me. Also on that excursion was a lad named Jerry Higgins who was a driver for WCD. He came from Perry Street in my old neighbourhood and I’d known him since stoopball days. Rudy worked – or, at least, booked – between 30 and 40 hours overtime a week. Much of this was involved with the after-hours “hoopy-scoopy” sessions in one of which I made my modelling debut.
I did not leave WCD in a blaze of glory. It was, in fact, the only job I’ve ever been fired from as a result of excess jollification. I had been told to be on hand for another “hoopy-scoopy” session, this one scheduled for a Saturday morning. Having been carousing the previous night in various Midtown saloons well into the small hours, I overslept and didn’t put in an appearance until nearly 10:00am. I passed one of the bosses who was supervising the shoot in the corridor. He ignored me completely but as he walked on I heard him tell his assistant, “Tell the kid he’s fired.”
In the event I didn’t stay out of work – or even out of the film business – for long. Within a week or two I had a job at the Movielab Film Laboratory on West Fifty-fourth Street near Eleventh Avenue. There I was a print-breaker and nothing but a print-breaker. This routine job, as at WCD, entailed cutting individual prints from 16-inch reels containing between 20 and 30 16mm prints, splicing leader and trailer film onto each one and packaging them for delivery to wherever. Once one got the hang of it – and I’d had that for sometime – the work is pretty dull in its repetitiveness. The job was then regarded, and had been represented to me, as a preliminary step to becoming a trainee film editor. But, as I’ve already pointed out, while I have huge admiration for film editors I did not at nineteen see myself spending a working lifetime staring into a Movieola. I quit Movielab after six weeks, thus leaving myself unemployed a month before Christmas.
I had by this time left Bethune Street and moved into my West Fifty-first Street accommodation: an example of what in New York is called a studio apartment and in Britain a bed-sitter but what is essentially a furnished room. Sleeping apart, I did not spend much time in it. Throughout my Midtown period I tended to work long hours, usually not less than ten hours a day and in my later time an average of twelve, usually six days a week. When I wasn’t working or sleeping I hung out around the Broadway area joints. Being at that time no cook, and with few facilities for cooking even if I had been, I ate out almost every night. Several Eighth Avenue lunch-counter places got my trade, along with a few Chinese restaurants and, quite often, the Tad’s $1.19 steakhouses that dotted Midtown in those days. I also ate a lot of Nedick’s hotdogs.
During my Broadway days I patronized a number of the saloons situated on Eighth Avenue and on the Forties and Fifties side streets in the blocks between roughly Eighth and Sixth Avenues. There were two, however, where I spent most of my leisure time. One was the Markwell Bar on Forty-ninth Street just west of Broadway, and the other was Al Lang’s New Follies in the same block of West Forty-eighth Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue.
The Markwell was located in a tenebrous basement beneath the Markwell Hotel and had, in common with most such premises, been a speakeasy during Prohibition. It was run by two Jewish brothers whose names I cannot remember. I do remember that they were both kind and solicitous to me, recognizing, I’m sure, that despite my idea of myself as a hip Greenwich Village street boy, I was pretty green in the louche milieu of the Great White Way. I recall an early WCD payday when one of the brothers cautioned me not to flash my roll around the place and not to put more money on the bar than I was going to spend or could afford to lose.
The Markwell was located immediately across Forty-ninth Street from the south elevation of 1619 Broadway, the famous Brill Building with its notable art deco frontage and foyer used for the entrance of the building where the venomous Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker – purportedly based by screenwriter Clifford Odets on Walter Winchell – had his penthouse in the film Sweet Smell of Success. It was also a prime example of the type of Broadway “Jollity Building” described by A.J. Leibling in his tales of The Telephone Booth Indians. A portion of the ground floor, Forty-ninth and Broadway, corner of the Brill Building was taken up in those days by one of the Brass Rail chain of restaurant/coffee shop/counter joints, this one much frequented by the assembly line songwriters who worked, or aspired to work, in the rabbit-hutch offices provided by the numerous music publishing firms that rented space in the building. One songwriter with whom I became very fleetingly acquainted during a couple of early visits to the Markwell was Harry Woods who would not have found in the Brass Rail an atmosphere conducive to feeding his prodigious appetite for alcohol. Of an earlier generation than Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Ellie Greenwich and others of the ‘50s-‘60s Alan Freed era, the writer of such standards as Try A Little Tenderness, Side By Side and the imperishable When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin’ Along was then in his early 60s and usually resident in Glendale, Arizona but his visits to New York, I was told by one of the Jewish owners, often found him in the Markwell Bar liquidating some of his royalties.
Apart from the music business people who tended to use the bar during the day and in the early evening – there was a large Sam Goody’s record store a little further west on the north side of Forty-ninth Street – a significant portion of the Markwell’s custom consisted of sailors from the Brooklyn Naval Yards. Why so many sailors gravitated to this particular watering hole was never entirely clear to me but no Friday or Saturday night saw fewer than a dozen or more Gobs lined along the bar or filling the booths in the backroom. The sailors, of course, wore ‘blues’ in winter and ‘whites’ in summer. They also, like most U.S. Navy enlisted personnel, completely disregarded uniform regulations when ashore. As soon as they were out of sight of the Navy Yard gates hats would be pushed back from the regulation two-finger widths above the eyebrow to the back of the head, and neckerchief knots would be lowered from collarbone to sternum level. A good proportion of the sailors were southerners and – again in disobedience to regulations – some had Confederate Stars & Bars embroidered on the inside of their blouse cuffs. These, naturally, were turned back for show, unless there was a danger of the Shore Patrol appearing, which they sometimes did.
The presence of the sailors, unsurprisingly, meant that there was no shortage of young (and not so young) women who frequented the place. A few were straightforward “professional” ladies but most were just out to have a good time, if possible, on the matelots’ money. One night I was rather taken aback to encounter a girl I had known several years earlier from Bass Lake Farm, the other upstate New York summer camp I had attended until 1957. Her name was Jeannie and during our brief amour (which is stretching it) she lived in Queens. In later years I never, while riding out to Shea Stadium on the No. 7 subway train, passed the 52nd & Lincoln Avenue elevated stop without remembering my visits to her house. On the few occasions when we met in the Markwell there was little trace of Auld Lang Syne and she indicated, more by manner than words, that I kinda cramped her style.
Another southerner with whom I became quite friendly was a chap named Joe. I don’t remember his other name, if I ever knew it. I call him a chap rather than a guy as one of his party pieces was to imitate what he imagined to be an English accent. He would do this between clenched teeth, always finishing with the phrase, “If I were any more British I couldn’t talk at all!” Joe was loose-limbed, rangy and sufficiently pugnacious to get or be got into fairly regular barroom fights. When he was involved these tended to be short as he was a hard, fast hitter. I got mixed up in one of these fracases when I jumped in with Joe and another regular against a few sailors. I came out of it without either suffering or inflicting any serious damage.
Fighting, like school, was something I disliked and wasn’t very good at but it would have been impossible to grow up where I did when I did without experiencing a modicum of fist- and other fighting. Indeed, some of my neighbourhood acquaintances, especially among the West Side Irish, built their social lives around scrapping, but I never got much enjoyment or satisfaction out of such doings. While I have over the years been known to display vaguely masochistic tendencies these have been more psychological than physical: I never liked being hit but I never got any joy out of hitting other people. This was especially so after the one occasion when I hurt someone more seriously than I’ve ever been hurt in a fight. It was on the corner of West Fourth and West Tenth Streets when three of us got into an argument with two of the more obviously non-neighbourhood Villagey types who, to be fair to us, were being pretty snotty and out of order. When one made a threatening move at one of my friends – a kid named Timmy Mulligan – I cold-cocked him and, like Gazzute at the hands of King Brown, the whole side of his face opened. As a very indifferent and reluctant street-and bar-brawler I was never much of a hitter but I did have very bony knuckles. On the very few occasions when I connected with a punch there was usually blood. In the aftermath of this incident the other guys were full of approbation: “’Ey, Paddy, you showed that cocksucker to keep his mouth shut.” But when the adrenalin wore off I was more ashamed of myself than anything else.
Another of Joe’s friends I remember spending time with in the Markwell was a popular Canadian Country & Western singer named Jack Scott who had a number of hit records during that period.
Toward the end of my time at the WCD film company I found I was spending less of my leisure time in the Markwell and more around the block in Al Lang’s New Follies. The establishment was a three-steps-down from pavement-level premises that, like the Markwell, had in its time been a speakeasy. This was not inappropriate, as the owner had had experience in related enterprises. Circa 1960 Al Lang was a few years younger than the century and had been born Abraham Langholtz in the Delancy Street neighbourhood of the Lower East Side. As young man he had driven beer trucks for various bootleggers and similar Dutch Schultz-style Prohibition-era entrepreneurs. When I knew him he was a tall, balding, slightly horse-faced man who wore expensive clothes of the modified Al Kaplan-Phil Kronfeld variety. As well as the New Follies he had an interest in several other kindred enterprises, most notably a fairly high-end restaurant/bar called The Roundtable located on Thirty-ninth Street just east of Park Avenue. I have learned only recently – March 2017 – that another owner of The Roundtable was music business operator named Morris Levy who founded Roulette Records. In that role he ruthlessly ripped off all his artists including Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers and Tommy James of the Shondels, among whose hits were the dance number ‘Mony Mony’. Levy was aided his dealings by close connections with the Genovese Mafia family featuring notables mentioned earlier like Vincent ‘Chin’ Gigante and Tommy Ryan . Al’s Forty-eighth Street place – sited immediately across the street from the large popular Italian eatery, Mama Leone’s – was no dive. It was well appointed, with a short, solid, comfortable bar, the usual subdued lighting, nicely padded booths and barstools and carpet not only on the floor but also on the ceiling. It also maintained an excellent jukebox. Al had firm views on the proper etiquette and deportment suitable to saloons in general and his own in particular. Al, unmarried at the time I hung out in his place, insisted that women, even those he considered no better than they should be, were to be always treated with respect, at least in public. He was always pleasant to me, sometimes allowed me credit and even the loan of small sums of money occasionally. Without being in any way frightening he was someone I was always very punctilious about paying back promptly. He was a generous man, although in business he played the usual tight angles. While customers were never hustled (he didn’t employ or allow bar girls), half-empty beer glasses were always topped up from the bottle – the bar didn’t keep draught beer – and his shot-glasses were of the 5/8ths of an ounce minimum measure allowed by New York State Liquor Authority regulations. One purchase of Al’s that caused him endless heartburn was the Cadillac El Dorado that he bought brand-new in 1961. It was a silver grey monster from the period when Cadillacs were Cadillacs and it was a ripe and juicy lemon. It broke down regularly and even when running probably got about a hundred yards to the gallon. Ownership of it did nothing to arrest Al’s continuing hair loss.
There were three barmaids who worked regularly in the New Follies during my time there. Two were sisters, both artificial blondes. The older sister had, I always thought, and putting it tactfully, been around. The younger one tended to drink up her tips fairly quickly. The third was a tall, dark haired young woman who wore glasses and had been (or may still have been going) to college and was not by any means a typical Broadway bim. The conversation in Al Lang’s sometimes became quite esoteric, there being a clutch of drinkers who were by way of being students of literature and existentialist philosophy, but Pamela – while somewhat in thrall to the surface glamour of the Broadway saloon/cabaret/nightclub life – didn’t blink when her customers’ talk turned to W.B. Yeats, Albert Camus and Martin Heidegger.
The day-to-day manager of the New Follies was Gene De Masi. He was a natty, 30ish Bronx Italian welterweight, the very type of Broadway hippie for whom Frank Sinatra was the ultimate role model. From the age of twelve Gene had been a member of Johnny Puleo’s Harmonica Gang (or Rascals). This troupe consisted of its eponymous leader – a very short, puckish character dressed in what looked like a child’s cowboy outfit – and half a dozen or so musicians who played harmonicas of varying sizes. The Rascals (or Gang) were a fairly popular novelty musical variety act, playing in nightclubs, theatre shows and appearing regularly on radio and television. A few years before I knew him Gene had retired from the Gang in Las Vegas at the age of 23 and stayed on in Sin City where he trained as a bar manager before returning to New York. Gene was married to a nightclub singer whose professional name was Dianne Payne. She was also – or so I understood at the time – a Bronx Italian. Her rung on the show business ladder was what she herself termed a “Name”: the hierarchy running Super Star, Star, Semi-Star, Name, Semi-Name. Typically she would perform as second-on-the-bill in places like the Fontainebleau in Miami, the Intercontinental in New York and various other hotels, clubs and lounges around the country. She – as Dianne Payne & Her Men of Note – had been one of the acts at both the 1955 opening of the Desert Inn and 1958 opening of the Stardust in Las Vegas. She stood 5’2” under a fine example of the beehive bouffant coiffeurs of the period and boasted a 44-DD bosom. I vividly recall one morning on the pavement outside the Brasserie restaurant on East 54th Street when, by the dawn’s early light, I watched Dianne, in a low-cut cocktail dress worn over some cast-iron, push’em-up lingerie, suffer two friends of hers – a sub-Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis-style comedy duo called Forbes & Villa – to place two full champagne glasses on either side of her cleavage. The glasses rested there for several minutes by the clock without spilling a drop. On another occasion these two comics dragged a municipal garbage bin from the street onto the entrance landing of the Brasserie and, using rubbish from the hallway that separated the Brasserie from the Four Seasons restaurant, of which it was an annex, they mimicked a civic anti-litter television ad of the period by dropping refuse in the bin intoning: “Mayor Wagner does it… Sam Lemonson [Levinson] does it.” One of the duo also put the final kibosh on a game we used to play in Al Lang’s. We called it the ‘initial game’ and it was a kind of 20 questions wherein one player gave the others a set of two initials and the others had to guess what they stood for. The answer was usually a person, often connected with show business. One night Joey Villa, visiting the bar to see Dianne, gave the company H.T. The answer turned out to be Holland Tunnel. The spirit of the game was never the same.
It was one morning in the Brasserie that I was introduced, by Dianne’s husband, to Liberace. He was dressed in a well-cut pink jacket and grey trousers, an outfit that for him was almost subfusc. In the brief time I was in his company I found him to be a charming, unassuming gentleman, completely devoid of any show business airs or affectations. A couple of other entertainment business notables to whom I was introduced by Gene were Count Basie and Brian Hyland. Basie came into Al Lang’s one evening wearing an topcoat over a double-breasted blazer and sporting the then-familiar yachting cap. He drank sherry flips while he and Gene reminisced over various Las Vegas characters they had known. Hyland visited the bar one night a year or so after his triumphs as the singer of Itsy-bitsy, Teeny-weeny, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and other gem-like examples of the Great America Popular Song. I listened as he recounted to Gene the trials and tribulations of a couple of friends of theirs who had gotten themselves into trouble with the aforementioned Pittsburgh crime boss, Russ Buffalino.
Dianne’s years of cabaret experience had honed what was already a fairly sharp tongue. Once, sitting at the bar in Al’s she turned to a woman she didn’t much care for and said with sweet acidity, “Great hair-do, darling! When are you going back for the comb-out?” Not long after having a miscarriage she half-seriously observed to me, “It’s not like I didn’t want a baby, but I’d always meant to take up the trampoline.”
One story she told me connected my Greenwich Village and Broadway periods. On Sunday afternoons when the folk singers would gather around the fountain in Washington Square one regular non-singing figure in the crowd was a little man who wore cowboy boots and a ten-gallon hat and did fancy tricks with a lariat. Dianne was managed by the agency MCA (where my old friend Jeff Albert worked for a time) and one afternoon she was sitting in reception waiting to see her agent when this self-same homunculus, complete with boots, Stetson and lasso in hand, walked in, approached the languid Powers Model-type receptionist and, in an accent redolent of the Borscht Belt said: “Howdy, stranger! I’m Texas Weinstein and I wanna get booked!” Diane jumped up and ran down the corridor, hand over mouth to stifle her hysterics.
On a couple of occasions I visited with Gene and Dianne out in the Bronx. During one of these gatherings I was introduced for the first time to marijuana. Gene, noting my obvious unfamiliarity with the attendant rituals, exclaimed: “We took your cherry, didn’t we?” Also present was a prominent record company A&R man who was admired for the authenticity of his hair piece, which was the only rug the party had seen that, cunningly, showed the wearer to be developing a bald spot. On another occasion I had a long conversation with Dianne’s father who then operated a car dealership. I learned later that a silent partner in this enterprise was Frank Costello.
I began hanging out regularly in Al Lang’s in the autumn of 1961 at around the time of my removal from WCD, the short stint at Movielab and, when finances allowed after I quit that job, in the period leading up to the Christmas holidays. The week after my memorable gustatory Yuletide in the Bagarozzi house I was spending New Years Eve in Al Lang’s, the memory of the previous year’s Milady’s embarrassment long erased, and I passed much of the evening in company with a man named Charlie Mantovi with whom I had previously been on nodding terms. He was about ten years my senior, drank Haig Pinch and always had a book with him. The bar had an extension for New Years Eve and didn’t close until nearly 5:00am at which point Charlie invited a few of the survivors, including the younger blonde barmaid, over to his place on East Fifty-first Street. Two hours later everyone had passed out but Charlie and I. As we chatted he told me he worked for a photographic laboratory called Authenticolor. When he asked me what I was doing I said that I had been working in a film lab but that I was presently out of work. He immediately said, “Why don’t you come and work in the lab?” On the following Monday I began what would be a two and half year career as a Dye Transfer photographic printer.
The Authenticolor lab was in a building on Lexington Avenue between Forty-eighth and Forty-ninth Streets. Charlie, it transpired, was the supervisor of the Dye Transfer department. Dye Transfer was a colour reproduction printing process based on the same principle as Technicolor motion picture film. Dye transfer no longer exists as the Eastman Kodak Company that manufactured the materials for the process ceased making them in 1993. It was a three-step process that usually began with a 35mm transparency from which, in a dry darkroom process, a set of negatives was struck. From these, in a wet darkroom process, three matrices were produced. The matrices when developed were each immersed in separate trays of magenta, cyan and yellow dye set on a gently rocking shelf. The matrices were then individually rinsed in a mild acid solution and rolled out consecutively on a sheet of photographic printing paper that had been soaked in an alkaline bath. Each matrix had a set of perforations that corresponded with a row of metal register pins set into the near edge of the thick glass rolling plate. When the dye from the three matrices was fully transferred the print was dried in a roller drum. Adjustments could be made at every step of the process. Highlight and shadow masks were produced for the negatives; chemicals could be added in the developing of the matrices and the balance and intensity of the colours could be heightened or lessened by the addition of either acid or ammonia to the dyes. All in all it was a highly sophisticated process requiring a good deal of skill in each step. It was also very expensive. In my time in the labs one custom Dye Transfer print cost $150. The finished product was primarily used to strike printers’ plates for high-prestige glossy magazine advertisements. Cheaper prints were sometimes produced for display purposes but even these cost $75. For years Kodak tried to replace the Dye Transfer with a cheaper, less complicated process. The nearest they got was what was called a C-print. These were quite acceptable for some purposes but their colours, particularly the reds, never matched the vibrancy of Dye Transfer. I quite took to the work, which, while somewhat repetitious, was sufficiently varied and demanding to stave off boredom. Although, ironically, I eventually earned a reputation for undertaking multi-print orders with considerable speed and consistency. It was a talent that would eventually lead to my leaving Authenticolor.
I had been at the lab for about a year when Charlie Mantovi left to go into partnership in setting up another lab. By that time I had become an accomplished printer. I sometimes developed matrices but printing was my forte. I was also (in the context of American capitalism) a fairly valued employee being, on the whole, able, conscientious and trustworthy. My basic starting wage had been $75-a-week but I seldom worked less than fifteen to 20 hours overtime and usually took home at least $100.
For a very brief period of about two weeks I augmented this income with my first job in show business since my (unpaid) days as a child actor. This was the era of the Twist craze centred on The Peppermint Lounge on West Forty-sixth Street. The establishment was run by a Genovese family underboss, Matty “The Horse” Ianniello. I was once told that Ralph Sagesse, a one-time policeman and father of one of my South Village acquaintances, was somehow connected with the club but I have no later corroboration of this. The son, Bobby, survives in my memory as a very smart, very cool guy. He is said to have later joined the Peace Corps. Another place that featured the Twist was a bar/club around the block from Authenticolor called at that time The Camelot. I occasionally went there at lunchtimes or after work and became friendly with the manager. One evening I was twisting away like we would next summer – I had since puberty conquered my youthful lack of rhythm sufficiently to become a fairly good dancer – and the manager asked me if I would like to join a little team he was putting together in order to stage a simple floor show and to teach people wanting to learn this latest dance craze. There were six of us – three boys, three girls – and we worked out a simple Twist routine. The climax of this exhibition came when we all hopped up onto the low, narrow iron railing that surrounded the slightly raised dance floor and gyrated to the music while balancing on the railing. It was cute but the choreography was scarcely Busby Berkeley. On Sunday afternoons instruction sessions were held when such finer points as there were of the dance (not many) were shown to sundry post-Sunday brunch punters. As I remember, a preponderance of these tended to be middle-aged ladies with beehive hairdos, many of whom showed a good deal of bare midriff above peddle-pusher pants. The common instruction (used originally, I believe, by Chubby Checker himself) was to demonstrate the basic Twist movements by pantomiming the motions of drying one’s backside with a bath towel. At ten bucks a session and no free drinks it was not an easy dollar and two weeks of it was enough for me.
I continued to see Charlie Mantovi fairly regularly in Al Lang’s after he left Authenticolor but some months following his departure a situation arose that ended with me leaving as well. As I’ve said, I had become the favoured printer when there was a bulk order of the same print to be filled. The procedure here would be to make two sets of matrices and alternate the rinsing and rolling out so that while one set was absorbing dye the other would be rolled out and dried. This, depending on how deep the colours were, meant that one could produce up to four prints an hour. One of Authenticolor’s regular clients was an agency (most of the work came from advertising agencies) working for the Grumman Aircraft Company. I had done a good deal of work for this client sometimes turning out 50 16”x 20” prints a day to fill orders running into three figures. However, one day the guy who had taken over supervision of the Dye Transfer section told me that they had an order from Grumann for prints of a military aircraft that was still undergoing trials and was thus classified. I was told that anyone who worked on this job would be required to sign a loyalty oath. At that time the McCarthyite/HUAC witch-hunts and consequent blacklists were beginning to run out of steam but they were still around. I was by now fully aware of the suffering that many of my parents’ progressive liberal and left-wing friends had undergone for refusing to sign such oaths. Joseph Papp had lost his job as a floor manager at CBS television for such a refusal. My father’s play, The Barroom Monks, had been directed by Madeleine Lee, wife of the actor and comedian Jack Gilford who had been blacklisted from radio, television and films during the late ‘40s-early-‘50s witch-hunt period, as had his friend Zero Mostel. As the paranoia waned the two were cast in leading roles in the previously mentioned original production of the musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. During the pre-Broadway opening tryouts the show was thought to be in some trouble and it was suggested that the director/choreographer Jerome Robbins be brought in to doctor the production. The producers were aware that Robbins had named names when testifying to the HUAC inquisitors, and was not, therefore, viewed in a particularly favourable light by Zero and Jack. However, when the situation was put to them, Zero’s already considerable figure inflated with dignity as he told the producers: “We of the Left do not operate blacklists. Hire the cocksucker.” The Authenticolor management told me it was a case of sign the oath or go. I went.
I wasn’t out of work for long. Within weeks I had found a job with another photographic lab, the K&L Laboratories located on West Forty-sixth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. When one of the bosses asked me why I had left Authenticolor I told him the truth about refusing to sign a loyalty oath. He shook his head and said that was really a matter for management to decide but my reputation and references (mainly from Charlie Mantovi) were sufficient for K&L to overlook my having exercised the one inalienable right any worker has in a free market economy: the right to quit. The work at K&L was much the same as it had been at Authenticolor. The direct dealings I had with clients were also similar. These fell into two general categories. The ones that tended to be most irksome were with the advertising agency art directors. Typical of the breed were the ones that showed up at three in the afternoon subsequent to a six-martini lunch. They would study the original transparency and the three prints that had been strategically produced for their inspection and delectation: one identical with the transparency and two slight variations more or less following the original client’s instructions. The art director would crunch up his Ivy League driving cap (complete with belt at the back), scrutinize transparency and prints and opine that it need a little more… What it apparently needed a little more of was demonstrated by a rather spastically contorted writhing of the hands, fingers and forearms that, while abstractly expressive, lacked explanatory clarity. I would patiently explain that Kodak produced magenta, cyan and yellow dye. We could even make a black fourth mat but that the available materials were not capable of replicating whatever the writhing fingers were trying to convey. In contrast with these were the professional photographers. My favourite among them was Richard Avedon for whom I produced prints on several occasions. He would look at the transparency and a proof print and tell me: “Three drops of acid in the magenta and we’ll be just about there.” One project I particularly enjoyed working on was producing prints for an exhibition of non-commercial shots organized by a co-operative of professional photographers. The photographs were mainly semi-abstract studies and the group had made a cut-price deal with the lab whereby each photographer could come in and supervise the rolling out of three 8”x 10″ prints, specifying what variations he would like. I subsequently visited the exhibition in an Upper East Side gallery and found the whole experience quite gratifying.
At K&L I tended to work even longer hours that I had at Authenticolor and was consequently making even more money. Sometimes (rarely) more than I could comfortably spend. A typical working day – of which there would normally be six and sometimes seven a week – began at eight in the morning and usually finished between seven and eight in the evening. I would then eat somewhere around Midtown, go home to change my clothes and then, at about 11:00pm come out again to play. This would normally keep me in Al Lang’s or someplace similar until about 2:00 or 3:00am when I would go home again and to bed for a bit. It is an exaggeration but in retrospect it seems to me that between the ages of eighteen and 22 I got about six hours sleep altogether.
It was during this period that I also a developed my first serious uptown girl friend. Her name was Eileen. She was a willowy young Jewish woman from Trenton, New Jersey. She had a finely-boned face framed by (need I say?) auburn red hair and worked as a showroom model-cum-secretary for a rag trade firm in the Garment District. I met her in the Markwell but soon converted her to Al Lang’s. She lived in the YWCA on Eighth Avenue between Fiftieth and Fifty-first Streets. Contriving romantic nights was something of a problem. My West Fifty-first Street landlady was one of the old-school who ordained that if one had female visitors the hall door would have to stay open. On one occasion my ardour was such that I sneaked through the ground floor fire-stairs door of the YWCA and climbed ten flights to the object of desire. As in the later case of fainting on the way to Brooklyn after playing basketball in the heat, my amatory powers were not of the hoped-for standard: after catching my breath I found that the stairs were about all I was able to get up. Fairly soon after this I moved from Fifty-first Street to another, larger, studio apartment in the West Seventies, between Broadway and West End Avenue and things from the lovers’ tryst point of view became easier.
My romance with Eileen had a dying fall, petering out with the realization that, young lust apart, we didn’t really have all that much in common. She, for instance, was a great dog lover while I, like Jeeves in the Wodehouse stories, “viewed the animal kingdom with a kindly eye, was happy to pat it on the head and offer it a slice of whatever was going, but I did not permit it to lick my face.” On one occasion I rather cruelly interrupted one of Eileen’s dithyrambs on the subject of our canine friends to observe that I had never yet met a dog with whom I could discuss Kierkegaard. Some years later Eileen – who was by then an airline hostess – came to visit me in Dublin. On the whole she found Joyce’s native city more dirty than dear. Remembering my devotion to Ulysses, she told me that she had taken her mother to see the Joseph Strick film of the book. She said that sitting next to her mother during the film was one of the most embarrassing experiences of her life. The film had been shot during my early days in Dublin and its progress, featuring recurrent budgetary traumas, was the subject of much talk in Neary’s pub in Chatham Street, a regular haunt of the city’s theatrical types. As a whole the film wasn’t up to all that much (Joyce’s biographer, Richard Ellman, observed that the best that could be said of it was that it wasn’t entirely contemptible) but I assumed it was the Joycean subject matter rather than the cinematic treatment that scandalized Eileen’s mother. In retrospect I suspect that Eileen may have had an idea that the embers of romance were not entirely cold but we found that they pretty much were and she cut short her visit and escaped to London.
Among my co-workers at K&L was a black negative-maker, also named Charlie, who was a thoroughgoing Marxist. I wasn’t quite sure which particular sect he belonged to, although I suspect he was more of a Trotskyite Wrecker than a Stalinist Dupe. I recall discussing the movie Tom Jones with him and his saying that the only thing about the film that interested him was its commentary on the social conditions of 18th century England. Another pair of my fellow-workers – also print roll-out men – were both avid coin collectors. On one Friday payday a month one of them would go to one of the coin dealers in the nearby jewellery block and buy a bag of mint condition pennies. A bag held $50 worth of pennies and cost $51. He stored these with a view to cashing them in when his daughter reached college age and using the proceeds to fund her further education. Everything I know about numismatics I learned from listening to my two coin collecting colleagues. The proximity of the diamond-dealing district also saw me become a member of the jewellery workers union, which had organized other workers in the neighbourhood. My upbringing had instilled in me the conviction that in any workplace you join the union. And if there isn’t one, start one.
There are two occurrences that stick in my memories of my time at K&L. One Friday afternoon in November 1963 I returned from lunch to continue with one of the multi-print jobs for which I was usually the chosen roll-out man. As I was staring out the room-wide window beyond the dye-tray rocker, waiting while a matrix rinsed, the radio that provided us with background music interrupted its programme to announce that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Bulletins continued over the next hour until, at about 4:00 o’clock, it was confirmed that John F. Kennedy was dead. I remember very little about the rest of that Friday. I think I probably went to Al Lang’s and had a drink with Charlie Mantovi. Charlie had been a staunch Republican, voting for Nixon in 1960 and particularly despising J.F.K.’s father, Joe, as having made his money as a kind of glorified bootlegger in the early days of Prohibition. (During the Vietnam War period Charlie’s politics moved left.) What I do recall most vividly was the next day. I was scheduled to work as usual on the Saturday morning but when I arrived at the lab I was told that we would be shutting down for the weekend. I then walked down Fifth Avenue from Midtown to the Village. What struck me forcibly, along with the virtually deserted streets, was that, over night, almost every store and most of the various offices and eateries along the way had placed a picture of Kennedy in the window, many with crossed American flags above them.
As I have indicated, I was making pretty good money during this period but over one weekend in February 1964 I earned more in three days than I usually made in a week. The Beatles (a popular music quartet of whom you may have heard) made their first visit to America during the second week of that month. On a Thursday there was a mass photo shoot of the group held in Central Park. The circumstance that made a long weekend for me was the fact that George Harrison, due to a sore throat, did not attend the shoot. On Friday afternoon a rush job came in. The commission was to produce a Dye Transfer of the Fab Four to be used in striking plates for the cover of the next issue of Newsweek magazine. Apart from the deadline we were given – the print had to be at the Newsweek printers in Cleveland by Tuesday morning at the latest – the technical problem that became immediately apparent to us was that of the transparencies that were to be our original artworks the ones of John, Paul and Ringo coming from the previous day’s shoot were quite warm in tone, while the one of George was an old one and its tone was markedly cooler. Negatives and matrices were made and at about 6:30 in the evening I rolled out the first proof print. In it John, Paul and Ringo looked as though they had just returned from a month in the Bahamas while George (perhaps fittingly for a putative invalid) had a greenish tinge that made him look like a refugee from The Addams Family or The Munsters. An entirely new set of negatives, masks and matrices were produced and, as 11:00pm approached, I rolled out another proof print. It was a bit of an improvement on the first one but the three Beatles who had been to the Park still looked disgustingly rosy and eupeptic while George – however interesting he might have looked – was definitely pale. At this point management decided that that was enough for today but that the team would have to resume the job next day. I went off to Al Lang’s to spend some of the six hours of time-and-a-half I had just earned, caught not much more than forty winks, and was back on the case at 8:00am Saturday morning. After an hour or so of fiddling about with the dyes the prints were still coming up with the same distressing contrast between George’s pallor and the other Beatles’ rubicundity. It was then decided to make a third set of negatives and matrices but when the first proof print from these came out of the drier we were still a long way away from colour-coordinated Mop-tops. The next step decided on was more radical. It was suggested and determined that separate sets of negatives and matrices would be made for each individual Beatle. This process began in the late afternoon and left me with no Beatles to roll out. To fill in the time I switched to producing prints for a bulk order not due till the middle of the following week. At around nine o’clock twelve matrices with a black matt were in dye. The proof print was promising but not quite up to scratch. I left the lab at 11:00pm as my colleagues prepared to make another full set of individual negatives and matrices, having toted up fifteen hours of double time.
When I arrived at the lab at 8:00am Sunday morning the latest twelve matrices were rocking away and I set to work. In so doing I came up against a technical problem of my own. All in all thirteen matrices had to be rinsed and rolled out consecutively; the time needed to transfer the dye from each matrix being between three (the yellow) and six (the magenta) minutes this meant it took about an hour to produce one print. My great difficulty in the circumstances – apart from getting twelve matrices in register – was to keep the 20”x 24” print paper sufficiently wet to absorb the dyes but not so wet as to allow the colours to bleed. The third print I produced was thought to be about right. This was just as well because the client (I can’t remember if he was the photographer or an agency bod) arrived around lunchtime and he was booked on an evening flight out of LaGuardia to Cleveland. Under the joint supervision of the client and my boss I produced three more prints and the client left to catch his plane with them in his portfolio. I wandered away toward Al Lang’s, having notched up seven hours of triple time for Sunday.
Later that year I saw the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night. My mother – a great fan of British films – had also gone to see it with a friend. She told me that they had enjoyed it, although they didn’t get the music. I agreed that it was a good flick. I said to Anne, “You know what I liked best about it?” “No,” she answered, “what?” “It was in black and white.”
Note: Both The Markwell Bar and Al Lang’s New Follies are long gone. When last I passed the former was an Asian restaurant. During my 2005 visit to New York I had occasion to walk from the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art down to the Village. I noted that Hurley’s, the saloon at the corner of Forty-ninth Street and Sixth Avenue around which – due to the owner’s refusal to sell the building on the ground floor of which the saloon was situated – they built Rockefeller Center had become a posh-looking restaurant with a French name. I later wandered my way along the block of Forty-eighth Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. When I saw that the building that had housed Al Lang’s was now taken up by the relocated Hurley’s I laughed all the way down to Forty-second Street.
Further Note: Recently there has in London and elsewhere been a resurgence of interest in the work of the photographer William Eggleston. An exhibition of his work is currently (July 2016) on show at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It has been noted that in the early 1970s Eggleston became acquainted with and – some say – obsessed by the Dye Transfer colour printing process. This would have been some years after my time as a Dye Transfer technician; that being so I had no personal experience of his interest, although notice of it did remind of the work I did for the co-operative of professional photographers mentioned above. I also find through internet research that there are still many devotees of the process despite Kodak in 1993 ceasing production of Dye Transfer’s requisite materials.