Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Notes from the podcast: (#141) New York Beer History

Year-Round Brews: This calendar from 1895 celebrates the Harlem breweries of James Everard. An older Everard brewery building on W. 28th Street was converted into a Turkish bathhouse in 1888. It became the location of a variety of notorious activities during the 20th century. Everard's breweries became the plaintiff in a Prohibition-era Supreme Court case regarding the use of alcoholic beverages for medicinal purposes. (Pic courtesy the Library of Congress)

Piels:  We completely skipped one major New York brewer, one that still maintains a presence in New York, if in name only. Three German brothers opened the Piels Brewery in East New York, on the same day as the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge-- May 24, 1883. They too had their own beer garden to enjoy the brews manufactured inside. Called the Summer Garden, this festive place adorned with electric lights and a shaded seating area was known for its determined wait staff.

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: "The waiters in the summer garden competed to see who could carry the most seidels of Piels Beer from the bar to their customers tables. In 1904 one waiter carried 16 seidels (eight in each hand)." [source]

Piels is still manufactured in Milwaukee by the Pabst Brewing Company.

Five-Borough Beer: In its heyday, you could find breweries in all five boroughs. Brewers were particularly attracted to Staten Island thanks to its spring water. In Stapleton, near the ferry piers, sat two of the largest -- George Bechtel's brewery (which opened in 1853) and Rubsam & Hormann's Atlantic Brewing Co.

And then, of course, there's a place we all want to stay -- Monroe Echstein's Brewery Hotel and adjoining brewery on Manor Road in Castleton Corners. (Pics courtesy NYPL)

College Point in Queens County attracted a large German population, thanks in part to rubber industrialist Conrad Poppenhausen, who set up his factories here in the 1850s. His workers and daytrippers to the region enjoyed a line of small breweries and beer gardens here. A couple decades later, Henry Steinway would set up his own factory town to the west and with it an assortment of beer gardens and even an outdoor amusement park called North Beach.

Today's Bohemian Hall in Astoria is not far from Steinway's factory. Read about the history of one of Queens' oldest drinking establishments here.

For More Information: The New-York Historical Society exhibit 'Beer Here: Brewing New York's History' is on display until September 2, 2012. I was particularly interested in the Society's collection of ice carving equipment used by early brewers and the very cheeky collection of mid-20th century advertising and media.

For a general history on American beer, I recommend Maureen Ogle's 'Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer' and also Gregg Smith's 'Beer In America: The Early Years'. And there is no shortage of History-Channel style documentaries on the subject. Also, for some general information on Bushwick, I highly recommend exploring the Bushwiki, with lots of history about the neighborhood.

There's now a New York Beer and Brewery Tour with stops at brewers in three different boroughs. And it takes you down 'Brewer's Row' after having a couple rounds of beer elsewhere. You can catch a tour of the Brooklyn Brewery of course; visit their website for more information.

Thanks again to Scott Nyerges for helping me out with this one! Please visit his website for more information on his upcoming gallery show in Bushwick. And also my thanks to the Bodega Bar in Bushwick where I was going to pull together the Bowery Boys' very first real 'on location' recording at a bar. Unfortunately I was not able to work that out, but I thank them for opening their door to the show anyway.

Friday, July 27, 2012

On The House: A history of New York City beer brewing

Behold the lager: A German variety of beer revolutionized American drinking, inspiring a new kind of drinking establishment (Courtesy the New-York Historical Society

Inspired by 'Beer Here: Brewing New York's History', the terrific summer show at the New-York Historical Society, the latest Bowery Boys podcast explores the story of one of America's greatest, most treasured products-- beer.

PODCAST New York City's thriving craft brewing industry today hearkens to a time over a century ago when the city was one of America's great beer-making capitals, the home to a robust industry of breweries and beer halls. In the 19th century, German immigrants introduced the lager to thirsty crowds, manufacturing thousands of barrels per year from breweries in Manhattan and Brooklyn's 'Eastern District' (primarily Bushwick and Williamsburg). 

The top Manhattan brewers were Hell Gate Brewery and the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company, situated right next to each other in the old German neighborhood of Yorkville. Both Ruppert and Hell Gate's founder George Ehret rode the beer craze to become two of New York's wealthiest businessmen. Meanwhile, out in Brooklyn, a phalanx of brewers clustered along Bushwick Avenue in fine red-brick factories.

Following World War I and Prohibition, New York lost its hold over beer manufacturing to more savvy Midwestern beer makers. But a few local brands weathered the century with unusual marketing ploys -- from sports sponsorships to the Miss Rheingold beauty pageant.

By the late 1970s, significant brewing had vanished from New York entirely. But somewhere in SoHo in the 1980s, a renaissance was about to begin.....

For a little extra ambiance, the show is recorded on location, live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, within a couple blocks of the original Brewers Row.

To get this week's episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: New York Beer History


NOTE: It wouldn't be a show without my vocal slipup o' the month. Perhaps  I watched too much Buffy The Vampire Slayer when I was younger. I keep referring to Hell Gate as Hell's Gate. Scott says it correctly. Both the turbulent confluence of waters and the brewery are called Hell Gate.  

Next Week: Some books, additional resources, a few more pictures and some more stories left out of this week's podcast.

Perhaps the most notorious example of an early New York brewery was the Coulthard's Brewery situated on the banks of Collect Pond. It survived the draining of that polluted body of water, only to survive as the center of the most disreputable elements of the Five Points neighborhood.  It was eventually demolished in 1853, replaced with a mission house.

George Ehret was New York's most successful brewer of the late 19th century. His assertion that 'no other brewery east of the Mississippi River has as large a storage capacity as Ehret's Hell Gate Brewery' was certainly accurate.  This ad from 1909 presents a company still at the top of its game. However Ehret would encounter serious opposition in the coming years, with both World War I and Prohibition cutting short the brewery's meteoric success.

Ehret was stuck in Germany during World War I due to illness, not a great place to be during a war. His entire estate was seized by the government while he was away. When he finally returned, he threw his weight behind pro-American causes to banish any suspicions. This U.S bonds ad from 1918, the year Ehret returned to New York was one of many placed by the brewery.

The brewery of Jacob Ruppert wasn't just situated next to Ehret's in this 1894 New York World newspaper; the buildings themselves were near one another, in the burgeoning neighborhood of Yorkville on the Upper East Side.  (Newspaper clippings courtesy the Library of Congress.)

A sample page from a 1909 New York Sun newspaper illustrating some of the many breweries in the region.   Included here are the Liebmanns (who produced Rheingold Beer), the Otto Huber Brewery, William Ulmer, Trommer's and the Excelsior Brewing Company -- Brooklyn most prominent lager brewers.

Temperance causes were greatly beginning to clamp down on the brewing industry, so beer makers attempted to market their product as true American beverages -- with links to the Founding Fathers -- or as products important to a person's health. This Knickerbocker Beer ad from 1914 gamely attempts both.

New York's 'boy mayor' John Purroy Mitchell sits with Jacob Ruppert at the Polo Grounds in anticipation of a game by the team owned by the brew man, the New York Yankees. The Yankees would play at the Polo Grounds until 1923, when they moved to the newly built Yankee Stadium.

Rheingold Beer was one of the few remaining locally-based brewers to survive by the mid 20th Century, partially thanks to their annual Miss Rheingold beauty competition. [source]

This jingle, with true New York flavor, was featured in our podcast, but it really works better as a vintage television commercial!

And this Schaefer's advertisement visualizes a world where robots are all-in-one bartenders. _____________________________________________________________________

I want to especially thank my guest host this week, Scott Nyerges, photographer, filmmaker and my old college friend! 

Please visit Scott's website (nyerges.com) to check out some of his recent work. And he'll be having a gallery show in Bushwick coming up in August! The show is at Sweet and Shiny, located at 214 Knickerbocker Ave. (at Troutman),. You can get there on the  L train to Jefferson Street. 

The show opens Saturday, August 4, 7 p.m. and runs through Sept. 7.

Just one example of his work:

Oh, and do you need another reason to have a beer today? Well, it's the birthday of Joseph Mitchell, born in 1908, the author of a great many profiles for The New Yorker. One of his best known collections is 'McSorley's Wonderful Saloon' from 1943, featuring a classic New York profile of the old ale house on East 7th Street.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How New York City celebrated the FIRST London Olympics

Crowds gather around the steps of New York City Hall to welcome the procession of American Olympic athletes returning from the 1908 games in London. Pictures courtesy Library of Congress.

OLYMPICS ROUNDUP London has hosted the Olympics four times, New York City zero.  The city tried for the current games in an ultimately unsuccessful bid back in 2005. A great many New Yorkers are quite happy to be without an international sporting event in the city. Personally, I would have loved to have seen New York become even more international for a few weeks, although I'm relieved that plans for that monstrous Olympic Village in Queens were never realized.

Outside of that, the closest the city has ever gotten to the Olympics is a little under 300 miles -- the distance from New York to Lake Placid, which hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics. Those games featured the now-storied 'Miracle on Ice' match between the USA and the USSR. But did you know that the Russian team completely iced the US team just a few days earlier in an exhibition game played at Madison Square Garden? You can read more about that in my article 'No Miracle on Ice' from February 2010.

Although we've never hosted the Games, when it comes to events before and after the Olympics, New York City's all over them. Randall's Island has hosted several Olympic trials, including one of the most famous at all, the track and field events from 1936 which produced sports legend Jesse Owens. You can hear all about it in my 2008 podcast on the history of Randall's Island and the 1936 Olympic Trials. [Here's the blog post or you can download it directly from here.]

Around the same time, Robert Moses commissioned Astoria Pool with the explicit purpose of hosting Olympic swimming trials. That 1936 event, featuring its dramatic diving platform, produced several American gold medalists. You can read more about Astoria Pool in an article from just a few months ago -- Nostalgia for Astoria Pool

Of course, a great many New Yorkers were entirely unhappy with any participation in the 1936 Olympic Games, given that they were being held that year in Berlin, in the heart of Nazi Germany. A concerted effort by politicians (including Fiorello LaGuardia), religious leaders and athletes to boycott the games was met with defeat, but in the summer of 1936, a group of Jewish athletes competed in a 'counter-Olympics'. For more information, check out the blog post Boycott the Olympic Games!

And finally, here are some pictures of the 1908 Olympic athletes reception ceremonies, held in New York on the team's return in August from London's very first Olympic Games..

And finally, here's a swell photograph -- no other adjective to describe it -- of the U.S. Olympic team from 1908, posing with President Theodore Roosevelt a week after the New York festivities. Is it just me or does it look like half the team is comprised of middle-aged bankers?

The most successful American at the 1908 games was New Jersey track-and-field dynamo Mel Sheppard, pictured below as he crossed the finish line for a gold medal in the 1500-meter. Take note of the man in the top hat on the side of the track.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

'Staten Island Has Many Charms Worthy Of Consideration': Ten ways to sell a borough (and a proposed subway) in 1912

The sky's the limit: Staten Island from the vantage of a hot air balloon, August 1906. (Courtesy LOC)

"God might have made a more beautiful place than Staten Island, but He never did." -- George William Curtis

If you've ever been slightly bemused by the newspaper profiles of trendy neighborhoods, presented as though the reporters were urban archaeologists 'discovering' heretofore hidden pockets of the city, then you'll find amusement in this New York Tribune article from July 1912.

Hopefully to snag the attentions of Manhattan businessmen, the Tribune staff devoted an entire section in their Sunday section to extolling the many virtues of one of its more foreign corners -- Staten Island.

The other island borough may have indeed been a mystery to many Tribune readers; the city had taken over ferry service just a few years previous, and there were no bridges yet linking Staten Island to Brooklyn. Many Manhattanites in 1912 harbored the impression that Staten Island, once known as a rural recreational getaway,  was now a dull and uncivilized farmland with a few scattered industries.

But this Tribune article was inspired by a promise that would finally draw Staten Island into the fold -- the subway.

Below: A real estate map of Staten Island from the 1912 article. The dotted lines at the bottom denote where the proposed subway line would have been. 

Manhattan's Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) were nearing an agreement with the city to expand the present subway system and create new lines throughout the city. This plan, called the Dual Contracts, helped lay out most of the current New York subway routes today. However there were many potential lines that were never built (despite the efforts of a few future mayors). Among the most ambitious was a subway link to Staten Island.

It was with the anticipation of this underwater track (linking Stapleton to Bensonhurst, see map abovve) that the Tribune hoped to regale readers with the unspoiled wonders of New York City's least populated borough.

Forget the fact that Staten Island already had an intimate, but thriving old-money scene, the vestiges of a genteel society formed among the mansions of tycoons along the north shore. Fast-paced urbanites would have considered them stubbornly charming but boorish. Society and recreation were not the appeal.

Below: New Brighton, at Central Avenue and Fort Hill, 1905 (LOC)

The Tribune focuses on Staten Island's destiny as 'one of the greatest shipping and manufacturing centres of the world' and wonders deliriously at the delights of that great, underused waterfront. Some highlights from the article (which you may read in full here):

1) Staten Island's terrific gas supply, the borough's oldest public service supply, lives up to its motto to 'Make Gas Service Good Service And Then Some'. Its most recent successes include a yard dyeing manufacturer, the gas engines of the Swift Beef Company, and soldiering furnaces for the U.S. Department of Lighthouses. And the price of gas is going down!, claim management.

2) The Varnish Capital: One of Staten Island's great success stories is its varnish industries, most notably Standard Varnish Works, which has miles of underground pipes that filter oil and turpentine from the docks to large storage tanks in the neighborhood of Elm Park. Sold around the globe, "the sun never sets on products manufactured by the Standard Varnish Works."

3) 'Country Life', not 'Lonely Life': In New Dorp,  homes upon a 'noble ranges of hills' have access to a fine beach, according to the article. "The loneliness that so many people fear as the bane of country life has had in no chance to make itself felt in New Dorp." A resident describes it as 'earthly paradise'.

4) Building Innovation: One of Staten Island's most successful builders is W. H. C. Russell, 'the pioneer ... of the famous asbestos 'Century' shingles', used in the construction of public schools and government buildings.'

Below: The glory of varnish, Standard Varnish Works in Elm Park, that is. (NYPL)

5) Hot Development Opportunities (But Not Too Hot): A St. George realtor admits, "Do not think for a moment that I have been tearing up the earth or anything of that sort, but ... I have been doing very satisfactory business."

6) Great Subway Expectations: The report speculates that the new subway link will get commuters from Stapleton to lower Manhattan in about thirty minutes, bringing the borough's 'most entrancing' residential areas into the subway's five-cent-fare zone.

7) Don't Let The Factories Bother You! 'The man who prefers to live in a place with superb country features, where are green fields, towering shade trees, winding roadways inviting to autoists and owners of harness horses ... should not turn his step away from Staten Island because bigger factory zones are going to be built there soon.'

8) There's Always South Beach: Staten Island's southern amusement area, rivaling Coney Island, remained a vital recreation center for the city in the 1910s, thanks to Staten Island's present train services. "Rapid transit has converted an unknown and unused beach into a gay and popular resort, and today South Beach rightly claims to be Coney Island's only rival."

9) 'The Garden Spot of Greater City Of New York': 'Verily, extremes meet here. Already quaint and prosperous little villages have begun to take on new life and expand ....... [E]very day adds to the list of those who through out-of-door life and sunshine are 'finding themselves' and adding measurably to the pleasures as well as to the number of their days.'

10) 'Spotless Town': But if you need to be around wealth, the old Vanderbilt estate is being chopped up into 'high class lots', near the Fox Hills Golf Course, 'the finest course in America'!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Which year was this photo was taken? (Hint: Not yesterday.)

I'm becoming slowly obsessed with the Life Magazine work of photographer Leonard McCombe, whose colorful images of midtown Manhattan render the busy streets with a warm, vibrant palette. Last week I posted another Mccombe picture of this particular street corner that perfectly captured the era. But this image manages to seem incredibly modern.

The place? Fifth Avenue, near Rockefeller Center.

The year? 1960.

By the way, perhaps McCombe's most famous photograph, taken in 1949, was of Texas cowboy Clarence Hailey Long, the inspiration for the Marlboro Man.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Water features: New York's first fountains, now with music

The very first decorative fountain in New York City was the City Hall fountain, unveiled on October 14, 1842 during the ceremony for the opening of the Croton Acqueduct, the sophisticated series of pipes and reservoirs that provided New Yorkers with their drinking water. The fountain, which propelled water 50 feet in the air, was not only an embodiment of the Croton's abundant supply,  it was a celebration of the city's growing wealth.

As the first burst of water sailed into the air, the New York Sacred Music Society sang an ode specially written by George Pope Morris*, a publisher and poet best known perhaps for first publishing Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Raven'. The song was called 'The Croton Ode' and featured the zesty lyric:

Water leaps as if delighted, 
While her conquered foes retire! 
Pale Contagion flies affrighted 
With the baffled demon, Fire!

The font runneth over. Soon New Yorkers were so accustomed to the abundance of water that George Templeton Strong remarked, "Taking a shower bath upside down is the last novelty."

 Alfred Emanuel Smith said in 1910 that "the spurting of the (then) new fountain, finished for the occasion, was the official proclamation to all New York that the Croton water was 'turned on'."

But wait! Didn't Union Square also have a fountain?, you might ask.

The uptown park, from a design by Samuel Ruggles, opened in 1839 -- before the City Hall fountain debuted -- and was indeed planned to have a central fountain.

Mostly likely it was built around the same time -- I believe it was even 'turned on' at the same time -- and, of course, it also pulled its water from the Croton source. We can call it a draw, but given the pomp and circumstance, it seems New Yorkers of the day considered the City Hall water feature to be paramount over its uptown companion.

*Mr. Morris' most popular song, written in 1837, was called 'Woodman, Spare That Tree!' You can read the entire 'Croton Ode'  here.

Illustration courtesy NYPL

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Good clean fun? Brooklyn men sprayed off with a hose

The plaza in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall in 1911, a far more pleasant and manicured scene than the one described below.

They had a rather odd scene of frivolity back in the day. I found this Brooklyn anecdote from the July 14, 1912, issue of the New York Tribune rather enlightening. It's certainly meant to be amusing -- a slice of life! -- but underlying it is the fact that the square in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall had a rather serious homeless problem. Imagine the outcry if this became the daily solution to the city's homeless crisis! Italicized emphasis mine:

"The city employees at the Borough Hall have become volunteer members of the public bathing squad. Every morning, soon after daybreak, the free baths are administered to the one hundred or so unemployed men who have passed the night on the steps of the hall or about the square.

The hose is brought out, ostensibly, for the purpose of watering the flowerbeds. The taxicab men and other night workers of the neighborhood take this as the signal for the fun to begin and gather around just out of range of the lines. The gardener walks into the middle of the square with the end of hole pipe in hand and gives the signal for the water to be turned on.

At first the stream falls on the walks and the grass. Then the nozzle rises a little and the water takes a wider sweep, and the spray falls over one or two of the sleeping beauties about.   Usually the sleepers start up with the looks of surprise and reproach then hop to their feet and 'beat it'. The water then advances up the steps and startles a few more sleepers and so on, until all have been sprayed. 

After the baths are over the taxicab men take a hand with the sleepers who have not been disturbed and arouse them with their horns."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Blackout '77! Still frightening, thirty-five years later

Here's a few images -- many of them quite well-known -- of the New York City blackout, which occurred 35 years ago. By 9:36 pm on July 13, 1977, the entire Con Edison power system for the city shut down, the devastating endpoint of a chain reaction which began with a lightening strike at an electrical substation 40 minutes before.

A blackout in the middle of summer -- in the 1970s, in the midst of a bankrupt, blighted city -- is a recipe for chaos. Unlike the relatively peaceful blackouts of 1965 and 2003, this disturbance caused widespread looting, arson and rioting. The city's power was fully restored by very late the following day.

One raging fire destroyed several blocks in Bushwick, Brooklyn, including this block on Greene Avenue. 

A screen capture from the film Koyaanisqatsi. Director Godfrey Reggio was in the city at the time and included some of his images in the atmospheric Philip Glass film.

Le Burger Bistro on Madison Avenue follows the inspiration of many by turning the blackout into a business opportunity. It also helped get rid of refrigerated beers.

The New York Mets were in the middle of a game at Shea Stadium against the Chicago Cubs. With emergency lights, they finished the game. The Cubs won.

A sense of free-for-all reigned in many areas of the city, inspiring looting sprees in areas where law enforcement was stretched thin and electrical security systems failed.

Mayor Abraham D Beame at a press conference. Not exactly popular to begin with, Beame was swept out of office in the next election, with the events of this day weighing heavily on voters' minds.

Fighting fires through the darkness, haze and heat.

The International Herald-Tribune shares details of the blackout with its international audience two days later.

And finally, a couple pieces of video footage from the blackout, the first some raw video (with intermittent sound) with the fire department battling blazes, the second a newscast from WABC

You can find more pictures on the blackout in our 2007 post, recognizing the 30th anniversary.

For more information on the 1977 blackout, you can listen to one of our very first podcast --- believe it or no, Episode 5! -- on the history of this event. Of course, we were very green then, and it's quite short. But I think it still gives you a good overview of the catastrophe. You can download it here or find it on iTunes on our Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed.

By the way, July 13th is not a very good day in New York City history. One hundred and forty-nine years ago today, the Civil War Draft Riots began, an even greater city-wide trauma that lasted almost a full week. For more information on that, you can listen to our show about this event, Episode 127, on our regular iTunes feed or download that from here. Recorded just last year at this time, I think we did a pretty great job on it if I do say so myself!

Image sources
1) Sorora Mystica
2) Subchat
3) Spirit of Baraka
4) Bowie Songs
5) NY Minute
6) Loge 13
7) New York Times
8) Magnum Photos/Alex Webb

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Windswept melodrama and vicious New York critics: The strange story of the Ziegfeld Theatre's longest-running film

The Ziegfeld Theater, one of Manhattan's last single-screen movie theaters, is reported to be running into some financial difficulties with rumors of possible closure. (The owner of the theater, Cablevision, denies this.) I think the real story here is how -- in a landscape of multiplexes and state-of-the-art home theaters -- this respected dinosaur, sitting amidst the most valuable real estate in the world, has managed to stay open as long as it has, playing a single film at a time.

To lose the Ziegfeld would be to lose a valuable link to one of New York's greatest theatrical icons, Florenz Ziegfeld. The original Ziegfeld Theater (at right), built especially for the showman by William Randolph Hearst, sat on Sixth Avenue close by the present movie theater. It was demolished in 1966, and a new Ziegfeld -- devoted solely to film -- was built nearby by Emory Roth & Sons. It opened in December 1969.

At 1,131 seats, the Ziegfeld movie house is hardly the biggest theater in New York. And it doesn't even have the biggest movie screen (that title belongs to the IMAX at Lincoln Center). But the grandiosity of design, the traditional show-palace style, and the dramatic trappings of its lobby make for a movie experience of special import. Even its bathrooms are extraordinary.

The Ziegfeld is a throwback to New York's early single-screen theaters of yore like the Roxy, the Rivoli and the Capitol. It's also much smaller than all of those. (The Capitol, for instance, sat 4,000 people!) The Ziegfeld caters to films of a remarkable scope, and it has built its reputation upon 'serious' films of pedigree. Some of the most successful films to ever play the Ziegfeld include Gandhi (1982, playing 31 weeks), Cabaret (1972, 26 weeks), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, 23 weeks, plus an additional month in its 1980 reissue).

But screen longevity doesn't necessary auger quality. For instance, Raiders Of The Lost Ark played here for three weeks. Grease 2 played for five.

Less than a year after the theater's opening, on November 9, 1970, came the film that currently holds the record for the longest-running film in Ziegfeld's history -- Ryan's Daughter. Perhaps not the traditional classic you might expect to hold such a record.

This blown-out, histrionic World War I drama by legendary filmmaker David Lean, loosely based on the book Madame Bovary, recounts an illicit love affair set along the Irish seashore, with crashing waves serenading the passionate kisses between a married pub owner's daughter (played by Sarah Miles) and a maimed war veteran (Christopher Jones) who is intermittently tormented by battle flashbacks. Star wattage was provided by Robert Mitchum as the jilted husband.

Lean's previous film was Doctor Zhivago, a box office triumph that set international records and proved movie audiences would gratefully sit through lengthy costume dramas if they were any good. Ryan's Daughter, sadly, was no Doctor Zhivago.


New York Times critic Vincent Canby completely dismisses it -- a film full of 'soapy gestures' -- but adds a telling postscript to his review: "I first saw 'Ryan's Daughter' at a press preview at the Ziegfeld Theater, where the audience reaction tended toward rudeness. Five days later, I returned to see it with a paying audience that stood patiently in line around the block before getting into the theater. The members of that audience loved the movie even before they entered the lobby, and, from the reverence with which they greeted the movie itself, they also loved it while seeing it."

The New Yorker's Pauline Kael pulled no punches, calling it a "gush made respectable by millions of dollars 'tastefully' wasted". Afterwards, a brave Lean showed up for a function by the National Society of Film Critics held at the Algonquin Hotel, where he was mercilessly lambasted by the New York critics.

Lean recalls, "One of the most leading questions was, 'Can you please explain how the man who directed Brief Encounter can have directed this load of shit you call Ryan’s Daughter?' It really cut me to the heart, and that was Richard Schickel.”  The experience was so scarring that Lean later claimed it caused him to withdraw from film making for over a decade

Yet still, New Yorkers flocked to Ryan's Daughter, from its premiere that November and for thirty-three weeks afterwards. The film, initially presented in the old 'roadshow' format including its overture and intermission, lasted three and a half hours, so the Ziegfeld could only schedule two or three shows a day.

Ryan's Daughter -- all of Lean's pictures, actually -- seemed ready-made for the Ziegfeld.  By 1970, many of New York's grandest movie screens were already torn down. Those that remained were in Times Square, and it's doubtful that the Upper East Side crowd -- older, wealthier New Yorkers -- felt comfortable settling down in those theaters by this time. The Ziegfeld, right off Sixth Avenue, was also nearby midtown's swankiest restaurants (as Mad Men, which once mentioned the old Ziegfeld Theater, regularly demonstrates.)

The film was also presented in Super Panavision 70, a film process using 'spherical optic' lenses that had only been used by a few films. (2001: A Space Odyssey, another Ziegfeld success, used the same process.) Such visual scope blasted out from the Ziegfeld's immense screen, beguiling and even numbing audiences as the IMAX of its day.

Ryan's Daughter has a reputation for being a box office failure when, in fact, it made a modest profit, becoming the eighth-highest grossing film of 1970. It also picked up two Academy Awards for two elements that had been less excoriated by critics -- the cinematography by Freddie Young and a supporting actor performance by John Mills

David Lean would always find a welcome audience at the Ziegfeld. His return to filmmaking, A Passage To India, would play for over three months in 1984. And a reissue of his greatest masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia, played to sold-out crowds here in 1989.

Personally, if I could go back in time, I'd probably want to attend the Ziegfeld premieres of The Last Temptation of Christ (met with offended protesters) or perhaps Apocalypse Now, which made its debut here in 1979 and played for 12 weeks. (Image from the New Yorker, August 13, 1979)

Data courtesy the amazing Cinema Treasures / Michael Coate, with verification using old New York magazines.

Top ad and Ryan's Daughter ad courtesy Cinema Treasures. Old Ziegfeld pic courtesy NYPL.

**Schinkel was with Film Critic magazine at this time. In 1972 he became Time Magazine's head film critic.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Midtown in Pastel: A scene from 1960

Click into the picture to enjoy the details. Especially that lady's hot eyewear!

Pedestrians waiting to cross 50th Street, in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Taken in 1960. Photo by Leonard Mccombe

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thank you, Tooth Brush Lady! Newsies get their teeth fixed

Above: Newsboys and bootblacks playing craps, photographed by Lewis Hines in 1912.  Some of these were most likely recipients of free dental care, provided at the Second Avenue newsie's lodging house in that year by the Society of Good Cheer.

Newsboys with poor teeth one hundred years ago -- I'm guessing this would be most of them -- had something to smile about in 1912 in the form of Miss Theora Carter and the Society of Good Cheer.

Miss Carter, a native of Seattle, was an inventive social activist and lecturer, focusing on generating an overall sense of good will among the poorest in New York, uplift and cleanliness as a way of promoting health.  An "advocate of good cheer" and a woman of "ample income", Carter moved to New York and formed the Society of Good Cheer as a method of spreading healthful calm and tranquility. Joining her at the Society's headquarters at 258 West 74th Street on the Upper West Side were two dozen like-minded young women, many of whom lived at that address. (Carter may also have lived here, although one news clipping claimed she lived in Park Slope.)

At right: A photo of Miss Carter from a Toledo newspaper [source]

The ladies of the Society of Good Cheer canvassed New York's many hospitals, "seek[ing] out those patients with few or no friends and cheer[ing] them up by reading or talking to them." During the holidays, the Society provided homes and hospital rooms in New York and Boston with Christmas trees; in many ways, Miss Carter's holiday work might have inspired another society lady, Emilie Herreshoff, when she provided Madison Square with the very first public Christmas tree in 1912

In 1911, Carter expanded their crusade to noise prevention. After all, the streets were now rapidly filling with automobiles, adding to the noise of streetcars and elevated trains. She focused her wrath at noisemakers outside of children's hospitals, handing out "cards of human appeal" to "truck drivers, the drivers of automobiles and other noise-making vehicles." [source]

The following year, inspired by her noise-squelching hospital visits, Miss Carter turned her attentions to the orthodontic needs of poor children, in particular, the many thousands of newsies. 'The upbuilding of character and the overcoming of physical imperfections through remedying irregularities of children's teeth' was Miss Carter's stated goal. Another article further described her intentions as "good teeth, clean teeth and straight teeth."

The Childrens Aid Society was already providing free dental inspections to hundreds of children by this time,  so Miss Carter decided to focus one some of the most neglected, most independently minded children, the inhabitants of the Newsboys Home at 170 Second Avenue (at 11th Street). A New York Times editorial from July10, 1912, proclaimed that 'the teeth, jaws and mouths of some 2,000 newsboys' would benefit from the new clinic.

Above: A headline from the New York Sun, September 28, 1912

Carter, now fully invested in children's dental practices, lectured to children on the Carnegie Playground at 91st Street and Fifth Avenue (near the palatial mansion of Andrew Carnegie), providing them with free toothbrushes while underscoring the social advantages of a healthy mouth. "[Y]ou see if you want to be good looking you must clean your teeth." [source]

Miss Carter, known as the Tooth Brush Lady or 'the Apostle of the Toothbrush', spent the next decade treating New York's youngest unfortunates to her trademark 'good cheer'. In 1916, the Society brought Christmas presents to the infirm young patients at the Hospital For Ruptured And Crippled Children -- yes, that was its actual name -- at 321 East 42nd Street (where the Ford Foundation stands today).

The New York Sun gives an interesting description of the ravishing Miss Carter: "She is slim and svelte, with dusky hair, big hazel eyes and a perfectly straight nose."

Apparently the Society was so successful that Miss Carter formed a junior off-shoot in Brooklyn called the Little Cheerfuls, which allowed young children from wealthier households to help in the spreading of 'good cheer' in local hospitals.

By the way, I have officially fallen in love with Miss Theora Carter.

Below: Children at the Carnegie Playground at 91st and Fifth Avenue. It's likely that these photographs were taken during Miss Carter's visit to the playground, as news reports all state that photographers were present during her visit.

Photos courtesy the Library of Congress