an awfully seeley dinner

We’ve been talking about classic old restaurants quite a lot lately at the Gimcrack. Here’s yet another New York institution from a bygone era.

In 1903, Cornelius Billing celebrated the completion of his $200,000 stable by holding a horseback dinner at Sherry’s. Thirty livery stable nags were coaxed one by one into the freight elevator and taken up to the grand ballroom on the fourth floor, where the host and his guests mounted them and dined off tables fastened to the animals’ withers. They drank champagne through rubber tubes connected to saddle bags hanging on the horses’ flanks.

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Earlier, Sherry’s had been the scene of “The Awful Seeley Dinner” which scandalised New York and for a time tarnished the restaurant’s reputation. According to one source, hootchy-kootchy dancer, Little Egypt, was served naked in a pie. Rachel Shteir maintains she wore at least a semblance of clothing but it was something gauzy and diaphanous.

This raucous bachelor party for P T Barnum’s nephew, Herbert Seeley, was broken up in the wee hours of the morning by crusading policeman, Captain Chapman. The Seeleys brought him to trial before a police board for “conduct unbecoming to an officer of the law”. The trial of course was a media circus full of descriptions of what Little Egypt, whose real name was Annabel Whitford,  did or did not wear.

Annabelle Whitford 1894-1895

You can read more about her at this interesting site relating the history of sex in cinema. Did you know the first silent stag film was made in 1915? A Free Ride depicted a wealthy man having sex with two female hitchhikers by the side of the road.

And then there was Annette Kellerman…..

Australian-born swimming and diving champ Annette Kellermann (billed as “the Diving Venus”) had already gained attention for advocating the scandalous-at-the-time one-piece bathing suit. She caused a further stir when she was seen naked with her flowing hair under a waterfall – she was the first major female star to appear nude on screen.

Annette Kellerman being arrested for indecent exposure

At least she didn’t pop out of a pie…..

Published in: on August 3, 2010 at 7:58 am  Comments (33)  
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daughter of a card playing jam maker

Regine Choukroun’s mother left her 5 year old daughter and younger brother in the care of their father Joseph and never returned. Joseph was a card playing jam maker whose fortunes came and went like the fox cape and jewels he gave and took back from his many wives and girlfriends.

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That little five year old girl grew up to be the entrepreneurial owner of 25 nightclubs in more than a dozen cities.

In the early eighties, you could party at one of her clubs on three continents for 17 hours out of every 24. That is, if you could get in. Regine has always cultivated her life story carefully. Spend an hour with her and she will regale you with tales of the twelve-foot pet boa constrictor given to her by Federico Fellini, the weeklong fasts she undertakes before opening a club, her abilities as a judo master and turbojet pilot.

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“Once, I flew with her to Paris on the Concorde, and she was the only person I ever saw who didn’t have to show her passport at Customs,” says Diane Von Furstenberg. “It was just, Bonjour, Madame Regine.”

Her first club, Chez Regine, which opened in Paris in 1958, was certainly an original: it was the spot where customers like Brigitte Bardot and Rudolf Nureyev first danced to recorded music instead of live bands; where they first bought bottles of liquor instead of cocktails; where they first did the twist to imported Chubby Checker records. “One night, I got a call at home from the Duke of Windsor,” she recalls. “He wanted me to come to his house, to teach him the twist. I told him, ‘No. You come to my club — I teach you there.’ “

Nureyev by Avedon

Regine specialized in “happenings,” like the Jean Harlow night where the women wore white satin dresses and painted their Rollses white for the night, stepping out of them onto a white carpet that covered the sidewalk — Dalí turned heads by arriving on the arm of his lover, Amanda Lear, rumored to have once been named Alan.

Keith Moon and Amanda Lear by Richard Young

In 1975 Regine decided to move to Manhattan. She packed 200 pounds of Vuitton luggage and 800 pairs of shoes into a steamboat and moved into the eleventh floor of the Delmonico Hotel, which she decorated just like her clubs, all Art Deco mirrors, brocade couches and snake-wrapped lamps.

The club was so exclusive and exclusionary that the State Liquor Authority considered suing her for social discrimination. Expelled by Regine for knocking over a table of wineglasses with her hoop skirt, Dewi Sukarno, the wife of the former Indonesian president, filed a $4 million lawsuit against the nightclub. She ended up winning one franc.

Dewi

But by the end of the decade, the party began to wind down. “You didn’t feel like you could start doing cocaine on the tables at Regine’s, although it did happen once,” says society chronicler Bob Colacello, who accompanied Warhol on a tour of her clubs around the world. “She wasn’t giving out quaaludes to movie stars, she didn’t have bartenders with their shirts off. She didn’t have what people wanted when the times changed.”

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from harry rickards to the end of the pier

Harry Rickards ran away from home when he was 16, and started a career as a comic singer in music halls. In 1878 he divorced his first wife who was English and married Australian acrobat and trapeze artist Katie Angel.

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At the turn of the century, Rickards had a virtual monopoly on variety theatre in Australia. He had driven out his smaller rivals and had a chain of theatres around the country. They included the Tivoli Theatres in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide Tivoli and the Palace Gardens in Perth.

He brought the cream of variety artists to Australia: acrobats, ventriloquists, instrumentalists, impersonators, singers and animal acts, including the legendary Marie Lloyd, Little Tich, Houdini, the quasi-Chinese conjuror Chung Ling Soo and Paul Cinquevalli, the unrivalled juggler.

Tivoli performer

He had a keen sense of humour, which must have helped him in both his career as an artist and as a manager. A story was told of how Harry and a friend got into a ‘rough up’ with two cabbies who took them to court over the incident.

Were you the worse for liquor?” asked the magistrate “Your worship ” answered Harry Rickards “throughout a long, and if I may say it, successful career, I have never let drink interfere with business. We had a drink after we had finished with these men.”

The Tivoli Theatres were still going strong in the 1950s.

The main attractions were an amazing array of old comics, jugglers and fire-eaters, plus the Tivoli Lovelies. The shows would open with a rather raucous overture from the orchestra. The curtain would go up and there would be the dancing girls, the Tivoli Lovelies, in a fantastic line-up.

Beryl, one of the Tivoli dancers

GEORGIA NELLIN: I joined the Tivoli Ballet in 1944 and ended up leaving in 1947 to get married.

WOMAN 1: I started in pantomime and then I went into the Ballet in 1948.

WOMAN 2: I started about ’44 and I left in ’47 to get married.

WOMAN 3: I joined the Tivoli in 1949 in the show, ‘Starry Nights’.

WOMAN 4: I stayed there until 1947 and, much to my sorrow, got married twice and had a dozen children.

One of the Tivoli dancers was Judith Lingard who married into the Kerby family, owners of the famous St Kilda Pier kiosk.

The scientist and the Tivoli dancer

Colin Kerby was a strong swimmer in his day, a lucky thing for the more than 200 people he plucked from the waters surrounding St Kilda Pier over 53 years. As Kerby would dive into the sea to retrieve its almost-victims, his wife Judy would dash into the kiosk for a bottle of Pine-o-cleen; a quick gargle was Colin’s preferred method of disinfecting his mouth after performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Colin’s father Noble Kerby had acquired the lease for the kiosk from the Victorian government in 1939.

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“There was a tough local cop called Geiger who came out onto the pier and had an issue to take up with Noble about some yachts that were tied up at an area of the pier, which Noble felt was his territory.

“Colin was listening to them this day and heard a voice shouting, ‘You’re under arrest!’ Only it was his father speaking to the cop. Noble continued with, ‘And I hope to Christ you resist arrest so I can take you to the police station and give you a hiding on the way!’

As his son recalled it, Noble then led the police officer down the pier to the officer’s own paddy wagon, and drove him to the police station. There, he marched the officer to the front desk and announced that he was charging him with disrupting the peace and resisting arrest.

Two weeks later a formidable looking policeman came marching up the pier and apologised to Noble saying, ‘As you can imagine, it’s not very good for our image if a citizen arrests a policeman. We’re going to have him disciplined’. The officer was duly sent to the bush, never to return to St Kilda police station.

During World War II an outdoor dance floor on the northern side of the pavilion became a drawcard for American GIs staying in the area, as well as many locals. Dances were held on Sunday nights with a live band performing.

The ladies would sew button eyes on their panties so that when they spun around their frocks would come up and they’d have these eyes returning the gaze of the GIs,” Colin recalled. “They would dance the jitterbug until all hours.”

He caused a scandal in 1951 when he sold homemade beer containing more than the regulation 2 per cent alcohol – 7.4 per cent to be exact. “It was in the headlines for a week,” Mr Kerby said. “There were drunks on the pier on a Sunday and the Salvation Army was upset.”

Sadly, the 99 year old kiosk burned down in 2003. A faithful reproduction has since been built upon the site, but no beer is served on the premises.

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Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 8:04 am  Comments (35)  
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maternal memories

Regular readers may recall that nursemyra was adopted as a baby and therefore has had two mothers. My now deceased New Zealand mother was raised on a farm and left her one roomed schoolhouse at the age of 14. Before she met and married my Irish father she worked as a seamstress making uniforms for soldiers fighting in WW2. She and the other girls used to write notes for the boys who would wear them, fold them over with a big red lipsticked kiss and tuck them into the breast pocket

I always liked it when she told me that story, it seemed a romantic gesture for a decidedly pragmatic woman. Tonight when I was looking for something to write about I found this site about US Army uniforms that made me think of her…

“The Army wanted the coat of its service uniform to fit easily over the chest and shoulders, and to conform to the figure at the waist. However, as swing dancing swept the Nation, the wear and tear on snug uniforms became apparent. The soldiers ripped their uniform jackets so often in jitterbugging that it became a major repair expense. Many claimed that the US Army developed an entire new uniform style in the late 1930s to accommodate swing dancing.

The new service uniform coat was approved on November 26, 1939. The back of the coat was redesigned to include 2 side pleats that extended from the shoulder seam to the waist. These pleat openings (also known as side-shoulder vents) gave the extra roominess needed to swing.

The image above is of American actor Dane Clarke and socialite Mrs. Ellis Cox. Dane was wealthy enough that his uniform was purchased privately,  including his mohair necktie. He graduated from Cornell as a lawyer, then earned a living as a boxer, construction worker and model before turning to acting.

My father was also a construction worker and amateur boxer in Ireland before emigrating to New Zealand and joining the Air Force. He kept his uniform after the war ended, it used to hang at the back of the closet. His medals lay in an old cigar box and his kit bag found a home in the same cupboard that housed the meat grinder and a disused pair of bellows.

One day when I was about 12, I borrowed my mother’s lipstick and drew a red mouth over my own, kissed and folded a piece of paper, then tucked it into the pocket of that uniform. Until tonight I hadn’t thought about that day in years. My father developed Alzheimer’s and passed away a long time ago. My mother packed up the house and moved into a nursing home where she never bothered with lipstick again.

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 8:33 am  Comments (48)  
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perversion finishing school

Back in 1964 Candace Mossler was getting tired of her husband Jacques. An ex toothpaste model who once ran her own Finishing School for Southern Belles, she’d married the much older financier when she was 22.

restless virgin

Sometime in the intervening years she invited her sister’s son, Melvin to move in with them and their children. Melvin quickly replaced Jacques in Candace’s affections and before too long Jacques found himself living alone with his dog on Key Biscayne. In June he was found bludgeoned to death and with thirty nine stab wounds to his body. Foul play by Candace and Melvin was quickly suspected…..

Legendary Texas attorney Percy Foreman was imported to head the powerful defense team. He maintained that Jacques Mossier’s sexual appetites—”transvestitism, homosexuality, voyeurism and every conceivable type of perversion, masochism, sadism,”—had caused his own death; he was murdered, said Foreman, by a slighted homosexual lover.

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In the end, it may have been Candy’s charm that carried the day more than Foreman’s defense. She made herself endlessly available to the press, always wearing a glamorous smile, and public opinion turned in her favor. She and Melvin Powers were both found not guilty of murder charges. No killer was ever found, nor even sought, because the police knew they had their perps and didn’t bother looking elsewhere, acquittal notwithstanding.

Five years after the trial, she married Barnett Garrison, a Houston electrician. He was 33 and she 52. They lived together briefly in the old Mossler mansion in Houston.

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Thirteen months after the marriage, Garrison was crippled in a fall from the room of the house. The couple had been fighting that night and Garrison went out drinking alone. He returned late without keys and apparently tried to climb up to Candy’s third-floor bedroom. Candy divorced him.

Barnett Garrison was severely brain damaged and, after the death of his devoted protector and mother, he looked set to end his days in Sugar Land Oaks Guest Home, a facility not unlike the Gimcrack. And then he met care worker, 73 year old Niecee Wolcik.

all night nurse

They began to have conversations at her desk. Nearly everyone had learned of Barnett’s crush, if only from the way he ogled Niecee. Her feelings for him, however, were not widely known until the dance on Valentine’s Day, when Niecee slowly waltzed with Barnett to “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” the staff watching in awe.

physical culture in the violent ward

Every Saturday, Niecee began meeting Barnett at Viking Archery but they didn’t spend much time at the range. Niecee would help him into her car, and then they would go parking at Richmond State Park.

Being a sensible 73-year-old woman, Niecee never let things get too out of hand. Before long, Niecee was telling Barnett that she was not a plaything and was not here to play games. It was either marriage or nothing.

Niecee quit her job at the rest home. She returned a few days later and signed the register “Niecee Garrison,” and took her man home.

Barnett’s family were shocked by this development and took steps to annul the marriage.

The court was swayed by Dr. Steiner, who said Barnett could never have understood the marriage ceremony. Niecee even heard that Barnett didn’t know what he was doing when he consummated their union. But she had been there: she knew that if there was one thing Barnett understood, it was that.

tied up

So things did not end well for the two lovers. Barnett returned to life at Sugar Land Oaks and Niecee  got a new job at another facility. I hope it was one where the band played “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”…..

private lesson

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 6:09 am  Comments (26)  
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as classic as the curves of a broom handle

car dance

Oscar Hammerstein’s Olympic Theatre was on the verge of bankruptcy until he had the inspired idea of staging the worst act in vaudeville – The Cherry Sisters.***

The sisters were so awful that patrons conveyed their critical consensus by flinging cabbages and overripe tomatoes. At one performance, theater-goers threw eggs and chased the girls offstage. To protect her siblings, Addie at least once brandished a shotgun at an overly rambunctious crowd.

CharleneHoltguns

image of Charlene Holt found here

The sisters mistook the raucousness for approval, and considered themselves a huge success so were horrified by a nasty review in the Cedar Rapids Gazette and sued the city editor for slander. A theatrical trial was held the following day with the Cherrys mounting the stage for the benefit of the magistrate, offering their performance as testimony. The jury, confronted with the evidence of the plaintiffs’ far graver crime, nevertheless found the editor guilty and sentenced him to marry one of the sisters. (All parties declined to enforce the ruling.)

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From Davenport to Vinton, month after month, the onslaught of rotten eggs and pension-aged fruit continued. At one show, patrons of the arts pitched slabs of fresh liver at the hapless troupe; in Dubuque, they were greeted by “a volley of turnips.” Everywhere they went, it rained cabbages, potatoes, rutabagas; one spectator heaved an old tin wash boiler onstage.

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image of Cherry Darling (NOT one of the Cherry Sisters) found here

Then, things got ugly and the reviews got worse.

“Effie is spavined, Addie is knock-kneed and string-halt, and Jessie, the only one who showed her stockings, has legs without calves, as classic in their outlines as the curves of a broom handle.”

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Learn how to graft a cherry tree here

In “The Gipsy’s Warning,” Jessie portrayed a barefoot flower maiden falling prey to a swashbuckling Lothario, played by Addie. Later in the evening, a “living sculpture” tableau entitled “Clinging to the Cross” featured Jessie suspended from a giant crucifix.

Rettung-Posters

Hammerstein assured his headliners that the barrage was orchestrated by jealous rival stars. “Your talent is so great,” he explained, “that you can expect fruit and vegetables to be thrown at every performance.” The Cherrys played to packed houses for two months, earning upwards of a grand per week.

They amassed a fortune estimated around $200,000. The American Weekly noted that over seven years of touring, “They began as the four worst professional actresses in the world and ended without improving one iota.”

None ever married, in fact they boasted of never having been kissed. (“We are too devoted to each other to consider matrimony and we could never stand the shock of being dictated to by a man.”)

***You can read the article I have quoted in its entirety here

don cherry 1

image of Don Cherry found here

Published in: on October 29, 2009 at 6:26 am  Comments (35)  
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we have detectives in the classes

dancing school

In 1925 Ned Wayburn wrote The Art of Stage Dancing, a book about his dancing classes and what he expected of his pupils

It is a well established rule of the studio that pupils shall weigh themselves every Monday and keep a record of their weight from week to week. For this purpose use the scales in the main office of the studio, please. They are accurate. You are expected to come into my private office and talk with me once a week, and when you do so I shall ask you about your weight, and you must be prepared to tell me. I know just how much you ought to weigh, and am interested in hearing whether you are gaining or losing flesh in the proportion that you should. I am able to tell who is faithfully following my instructions as to diet and the other simple and necessary requirements of our courses. You cannot disguise the real facts from me. It is my business to manufacture symmetrical bodies.

ann constance before ann constance after

before and after photos from Ned’s book

Don’t bring or wear valuable jewelry to the studios. All of our employees are trustworthy, and we investigate the pupils who come into our studios. We know all about them. If the wrong kind of person does get in, he or she doesn’t stay more than an hour or two. We also have detectives in the classes.

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Now there is one little thing I am going to talk to you about that really is a bigger thing than it seems—and that is gum—chewing gum. If you had had stage experience you would know that gum is taboo in the theatre, and the reason for this is not only that to chew in sight of an audience would be an insult and result in immediate dismissal, but also for this very important reason, that a cud of gum if dropped on the stage would destroy that stage for dancing—your own dancing and everybody else’s. We have here the finest of clear-maple dancing floors in every one of our studios. Drop a piece of gum on this floor and then try your dance and see what would happen to you

ned wayburn

I do not charge anything for counselling, you may come to my office at any time. If I am busy with some important matter I may ask you to wait awhile, I’m a pretty busy man.

While waiting, weigh yourself and tell me about your weight.

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image by Helmut Newton

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 6:54 am  Comments (28)  
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