Saying farewell to the hot and stifling nights and sizzling days carried no regrets. It had been a day in and day out drudgery of bad news and no news. The news of that Tennessee boy going on trial for teaching that while God made the earth in seven days, our ancestors were a bunch of monkeys took up space between the most important news of the day. The Yankees line up for the season looked great, I liked the name the Yankees better than the Highlanders. Manhattan is the highlands of sorts, but the Yankees fit the New Yorker’s image. All was well until the Babe had to have some stomach surgery and no sooner got back was suspended for insubordination.
As the season went on the entire team went on a slide, not even the hitting of Lou Gehrig could pull the Yankees up from number seven. Finally at the point of no return the Yankees decided to have a talk with Leo Durocher. The season was lost and the buzz on the street was lost this summer. The front page had black line after black line of print about monkeys and traitors. It doesn’t take much to get your name in print for offending somebody. No good news about the Yankees or about much of anything it seemed to me in the summer of 1925.
My shop on Eighth Avenue was doing business, but not the kind of business that allows for 90/180 day accounts. Everybody wants, but nobody has the up-front cash to literally bring up the lights on Broadway. My little light shop aptly named Broadway Lights sold, leased, rented all the fixtures a production needed or someone told them they needed. I think they called themselves lighting directors. In fact they were more engineer than director.
I carried the 1000 watt lamp for a while, but the Bel Geddes Arc Lamp with the 1000 watt lamp was what everyone wanted these days. I still carried the Kliegel 60s for the baby ray of light and just about every contraption to filter, shadow, dim, brighten or illuminate the stage. Lights are my business. In my shed in the back we can weld anything from five feet to thirty and create light coming from top to bottom and all place in between. On stage my light can make you look a part where words are superfluous. I am the master of illusion.
With all the hubbub of good times being on the roll, the theater was like our Yankees sorely in need of some hits. The Theater Guild always needed a favor. The Guild had hired a couple young musical masters Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers to create a dazzler called the Garrick Gaieties. The problem as usual was a production that like its patrons had champagne taste, but nary a nickle for beer. The roaring era has slid right over a large number of the rest of us. Loeb said he wanted the stage to light the imagination of every ticket holder. The Theater Guild needed subscriptions and this two day production was the means. The show opened on June 8. A surprise, but not mine the show was still running. It was a hit. I can’t take the entire credit, but I played my part. So, all was not lost in the Summer of 1925.
The first act had all the frivolity and glitz you could ask for in lampooning the lampooners. Phil Loeb and Edith Meissner did a hilarious job playing Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. The scene at heavens gate was a riot. Even the jazz twist thrown in at the department store in the Joy Spreader brought the house down. Light coming up from the orchestra pit gave it the effect and the Bel Geddes Arcs right and left. Carolyn Hancock’s artistic hand made the scenery and costumes and I gave it life.
Act Two opened with a hot and colorful dance number Rancho Mexicana. The scene that went to and fro was Manhattan. After arguments erupted all that could be agreed to was nothing. Meaning no set, a performance in one in front of the curtains. Sterling Holliday and June Cochran as two young lovers with a little change in their pockets, but high hopes for their futures in Manhattan. The Arc and the Kliegels pushed the song and the show over the mark. Manhattan was sung and hummed all over town.
And to other places
Aggravate all our cares.
We’ll save our fares.
I’ve a cozy little flat
In what is known as old Manhattan.
We’ll settle down
Right here in town.
We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
It’s lovely going through
It’s very fancy
On old Delancey
Street, you know.
The subway charms us so
When balmy breezes blow
To and fro.
And tell me what street
Compares with Mott Street
Sweet pushcarts gently gliding by.
The great big city’s a wondrous toy
Just made for a girl and boy.
We’ll turn Manhattan
Into an isle of joy.
(Rodgers&Hart original lyrics)
“Your grandchildren are here to see you.” My beautiful train of thought is interrupted. Let me ease out of this old easy chair and look out the window. Yep, Central Park is still there. That’s good. Even from 17 floors up it is reassuring. “They’ve been waiting, it’s your birthday.” In the background the radio. A voice as clear as the day is singing in a slow and melodic voice “I’ll take Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island too. It is so lovely going through the zoo…” Who is this singer?
The song has life. It has blue notes. It doesn’t need a filter over the harsh light, tones of amber and brown. The colors of Fall, not the bright light of Summers sizzling sun and certainly not the song of youthful hearts strolling around New York. No, this was someone who had a found her place and her heart and Manhattan was the setting. What a song and with just the right light, perfection.
“That’s Norah Jones and for the last time your grandchildren are here with birthday presents.”
Turn up the radio and tell’em all I want for my birthday is Norah Jones and the Yankees to win the World Series. If they are here to pick up my bones, tell them it isn’t Monday. I”ll only go dark on Monday.