Monthly Archives: January 2012

French Casino

In December 1934, the refurbished Earl Carroll Theatre on 7th Avenue and 50th Street opened as the French Casino. It was an art deco showpiece, with walls draped in black velvet. The first show at the French Casino was Revue Folies Bergères, about which the New York Times noted: “The production of it definitely sets a high-water mark in elaborate, expensive and spectacularly varied cabaret entertainment in New York since the repeal of Prohibition.” Indeed, for nearly three years the French Casino dominated New York City’s nightclub business.

Ultimately,  economic forces of the Great Depression would shutter the doors of the French Casino. The club closed abruptly in November 1937, leaving around 350 people out of work.

Below are some recently digitized images of shows at the French Casino, part of the archives of the Lucas-Pritchard and Lucas-Monroe Studios. Additional exciting, rarely seen images from the museum’s theater collection will be making an appearance on this blog soon!

Lucas-Pritchard. Theater still of a musical variety show performed in the French Casino Theatre. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.846

Lucas-Pritchard. Theater still of a musical variety show performed in the French Casino Theatre. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.24

Lucas-Pritchard. Theater still of a musical variety show performed in the French Casino Theatre. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.35

Lucas-Pritchard. Theater still of a musical variety show performed in the French Casino Theatre. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.840

Lucas-Pritchard. Theater still of a musical variety show performed in the French Casino Theatre. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.34

Metamorphoses: A mysterious poem

The images below come from one of two hand drawn flip-books I came across in the “Verses” collection.  After each verse, you flip back one of the leaves to reveal the next part of the poem, as well as the next incarnation of the creature on the page.

Aside from the title on the folder, “Metamorphoses,” a date of ca. 1830, and the fact it was a gift of Henry G. Friedman in 1955, I have been unable to learn much more about the object.  No author or illustrator is credited for the work, and there is no indication as to why the date is assumed to be ca. 1830.

Concurrent narratives are illustrated on the left and right hand sides of the flip book, though little relationship between the two is discernible.  The left tells the story of Adam and Eve while the right hand side depicts a darker, zoologically illustrated tale.

I’ll let the object speak for itself…

The image below is of the left-hand side of the flip book when the reader first opens the poem:

First Adam upon the stage doth appear

Author unknown. Metamorphosis, in the Manuscripts Collection, ca. 1830. Museum of the City of New York, 55.198.2.

The reader next flips back the top half of the page, and Adam turns into Eve, and reveals the following text:

Next Eve upon the stage did come

Author unknown. Metamorphosis, in the Manuscripts Collection, ca. 1830. Museum of the City of New York, 55.198.2.

Upon turning down the bottom leaf of the page, it has revealed that the lower portion of Eve’s body has turned into that of a fish.

Author unknown. Metamorphosis, in the Manuscripts Collection, ca. 1830. Museum of the City of New York, 55.198.2.

The reader then embarks into a lengthier, and somewhat frightening poem on the left hand side of the book:

Here a lion you may behold
Just raging from his den

With looks enough to brighten the bold
Turn up the this leaf and see what then

Author unknown. Metamorphosis, in the Manuscripts Collection, ca. 1830. Museum of the City of New York, 55.198.2.

As the reader flips back the top of the page, the lion morphs into a griffin.

A Griffin here you may behold
Half Beast half Bird to be
Do but this leaf once more unfold
And a frightful sight you’ll see

Author unknown. Metamorphosis, in the Manuscripts Collection, ca. 1830. Museum of the City of New York, 55.198.2.

Once the lower leaf of the page has been flipped back, the griffin fully transforms into an eagle with an infant in its claws.

Within the Eagles an infant doth lie
Which he has taken for a prey

Author unknown. Metamorphosis, in the Manuscripts Collection, ca. 1830. Museum of the City of New York, 55.198.2.

And there it ends, leaving the reader wondering what has happened to the baby in the eagle’s grip.

The second flip-book picks up where the first left off and the reader learns that that while the infant may have “escaped the Eagles claws,” his heart was soon “oppressed with care.”  Our protagonist is swiftly relieved from his cares by a purse of gold and silver, but is then stricken by illness, for which he laments “Help, Gold and Silver ere I die.”  The poem concludes with the realization that gold and silver can do nothing in the face of death, and “Thy time is come thy life is spent / What worldly cares can death prevent [?]“

Opening Night! Top Banana

Lucas-Monroe. Margery Abbott. Museum of the City of New York. 88.104.1.2708.

The digital team has begun digitizing  thousands of images from the rarely-seen archives of the Lucas-Pritchard / Lucas-Monroe Studios, preeminent Broadway production photographers in New York City from about 1936 to 1950. Plays, musicals, variety shows – if it played in New York during that time period, they likely photographed it. The archive includes thousands of theater stills, images of opening night parties and premieres, backstage scenes, and portraits of Broadway actors and actresses.

Top Banana souvenir book, 1951. Museum of the City of New York.

One production in particular caught my attention, partly because of the sheer number of wacky slapstick images of performers on the stage, but mostly because a virtual who’s who of mid-century A-list celebrities made appearances at the premier.  Top Banana was a 1951 musical comedy review at the Winter Garden Theatre and starred Phil Silvers, whose later credits include It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), and television appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies, The Love Boat, and Happy Days.  The lead character, an egotistical television variety star named Jerry Biffle, was based Silvers’s friend, Milton Berle.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Phil Silvers and Ted (Sport) Morgan singing "A Dog is a Man's Best Friend), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2413.

The show featured acts like a duet in which Silvers and an Airedale terrier improbably named Ted (Sport) Morgan performed the showstopper, “A Dog is a Man’s Best Friend.” According to a review in Life Magazine, Sport even owned a share of the production.

Ted (Sport) Morgan is seen below basking in the glory on opening night.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Phil Silvers and Ted (Sport) Morgan), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2444.

Ted Morgan wasn’t the only celebrity that turned up on opening night.  I came across images of  Judy Garland, Liz Taylor, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Durante, and General MacArthur. And here they are, for your viewing pleasure.

Judy Garland was in town doing a four month run at the Palace Theatre. Here she is palling around with Jimmy Durante at the bar.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Judy Garland and Jimmy Durante), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2446.

Marlene Dietrich walked the red carpet decked out in fur and fancy necklaces.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Marlene Dietrich), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2414

Liz Taylor, of course, did the same.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Elizabeth Taylor), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2433.

Farley Granger, fresh from his success in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, stopped by and hung out backstage with the cast and  Shelley Winters.

Lucas-Monroe. Shelley Winters and Farley Granger visiting performers backstage at "Top Banana"., 1951. 80.104.1.2473.

Backstage, a winning combination of Hollywood and military star power: Ginger Rogers and General Douglas MacArthur.

And that’s just the beginning of our Lucas-Pritchard and Lucas-Monroe archive. Images of Veronica Lake as Peter Pan and Eartha Kitt as a “new face” of 1952 are just some of the good things yet to come.  Stay tuned for updates!

100 Years Ago – The Equitable Building Fire

January 9th, 1912, just after 5 A.M. The wind is howling at nearly 40 miles per hour–with gusts of up to 68 miles per hour–making the already below freezing temperatures even colder. Philip O’Brien, the timekeeper of the swanky Cafe Savarin on the first floor of the Equitable Life Assurance Building, starts his day by lighting the gas in his small office and distractedly throws the  still-lit match into the garbage. By 5:18  A.M. the office is engulfed in flames. The flames spread to the elevators and dumbwaiter systems and within minutes the entire  Equitable Building is on fire.

The Equitable Building opened in 1870  at 120 Broadway and was considered the first skyscraper at an impressive seven stories and with the  first public elevators in the city. It was the home of  some of the most well established banking and law offices of the Gilded Age, along with the Cafe Savarin and the exclusive Lawyer’s Club.  The basement housed safes and vaults filled with several billions (yes, billions in 1870) of securities, stocks, and bonds. In short, this was the epicenter of most of the wealth of the Financial District.

At 5:34 A.M the first fire alarm was rung at the corner of Pine and Nassau Streets and within minutes the first firefighters arrived. Within half an hour the majority of Manhattan’s firefighters were at the scene, containing the fires within the building and spraying the exterior from neighboring buildings.  And yet the fire burned on.  For the first time in the history of the fire department, Brooklyn fire companies were called in to help with a Manhattan fire. The Brooklyn Bridge was even closed to traffic to allow the fire engines to get to the Equitable Building as quickly as possible.

Aftermath of the Equitable Building Fire. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.9172.

The first casualties of the fire occurred at 6 A.M.,  just as reinforcements were arriving.  Three employees of Cafe Savarin were trapped on the roof. Fire fighters tried to rescue them, but the ladders were three stories too short and by the time the fire fighters went up to a neighboring building, the roof had begun to collapse.  In desperation, the trapped men jumped to their deaths onto Cedar Street.

At the same time nearly thirty blocks uptown, William Giblin, the president of the Mercantile Deposit Company–whose offices were in the building–was informed of the fire.  He dashed down to the Financial District and, with a watchman, went to retrieve important documents from his company’s offices in the burning building. They were unaware the outer doors of the building locked behind them. While they were  searching for his papers in a massive vault, a heavy safe fell to the ground floor spreading the fire even more completely. Various rescue missions tried  fruitlessly to  save them, but instead resulted in the death of respected Fire Battalion Chief William Walsh. Nearly two hours later Giblin and the watchman were freed only after fire fighters used hacksaws to get through the bars of the basement windows.  The post card below shows the aftermath.

Rescue of Wm. Giblin, Pres. Mercantile Deposit Co., Equitable Life Building fire Jan. 9th, 1912. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.652.

As the morning wore on, the temperatures dropped even more and the wind speeds picked up causing the water to freeze where it was sprayed. Soon Broadway was coated with layers of ice, hoses were frozen solid, and  fire apparatuses were jammed – but the firemen had it the worst. According to the  New York Times, “At 9 o’clock Fire Chief Kenlon, who worked like a Trojan at this – his first great fire – was actually weighted down with icicles.  They had formed on his eyebrows and hung from his mustache like dumbbells.  From his shoulders and arms the men on the lines had to chop away the coat of ice.  He looked like a man from another world.  It was so with all the firemen whose work took them into the zone of the shifting spray, and it was soon found necessary to open relief stations in the entrances to the various office buildings which faced the building that was in flames.  Here police and men detailed from the Fire Department bent over the half frozen men, pressing their stiff gloves onto the radiators, cutting, scraping, and chopping the ice from their helmets and hair and shoulders.”

Equitable Building Fire. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.14289.

Firefighting equipment covered in ice at the Equitable Building fire. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.34.656.

The fire was contained at 9:30 A.M. and by that time the Equitable Building was in ruins. Six people had lost their lives, including the Battalion Fire Chief William Walsh and two night watchmen who had been trapped inside the building.

This disaster, along with the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, made it clear that new laws were needed to maintain safety in a rapidly changing cityscape.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.).1912. Aftermath of the Equitable Fire. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.9141.

Firemen at the Equitable Building fire. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.604.

Irving Underhill (d. 1960). Equitable Fire Ruins, B'way & Cedar. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.28.632.

Aftermath of the Equitable Fire. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.9507.

Aftermath of the Equitable Fire. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.9506.

For more information, the official report of the fire is digitized on Google Books.

New York Streetside

New York has seen its share of interesting, humorous, or just plain odd signs. In addition to being entertaining, the signs tell us a lot about how the city has changed over the years.

Around 1895, a dubious claim made by Painless Parker, a Brooklyn dentist:

Byron Company. Dentist: Painless Parker about 1895 124 Flatbush Ave. Brooklyn. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.18393

In 1910, a fireworks company within city limits:

Wurts Bros. Woolworth Building, lower section of 12 Park Place showing Pain's Fireworks. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.3705

Purchasing a gun was much easier in 1937 than it is today:

Berenice Abbott. Federal Art Project. Gunsmith (Variant). 6 Centre Market Place between Broome and Grand Streets. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.1.356

Berenice Abbott. Federal Art Project. Gunsmith and Police Department Headquarters. 6 Centre Market Place and 240 Centre Street. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.1.357

Around 1940, the James Slip Gospel Mission did not gloss over its message to the world:

Roy Perry. "Your Sin Will Find You Out," James Slip. Museum of the City of New York. 80.102.123

A 1954 Planters Peanuts advertisement in Long Island City, Queens:

Wurts Bros. 32nd Street and Hunters Point Avenue. Planters Peanut warehouse and garage, front elevation to garage on Hunters Point Avenue. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.9988

Taken in 1979, when tobacco advertisements were much less controversial:

Andreas Feininger. Winston Lights, 6th Ave. in the 30s. Museum of the City of New York. 90.40.53

This photograph of an advertisement for Budweiser was taken in 1981:

Andreas Feininger. Times Square. Museum of the City of New York. 90.40.13

A message from the Lyric Theatre in 1995:

Andrea Sperling. The Lyric Theatre - Marquee with Jenny Holzer Aphorism. Museum of the City of New York. 96.172.5

No need to wonder what lies behind these doors:

Edwin Martin. Butcher and Cow (10th Ave.), 1997, New York. Museum of the City of New York. 01.63.1