Archive for the ‘Looking Back’ Category
Our town was one of the best ideas of mankind. A sensibly sized city favored by God and nature, spiced by the Italians, Asians, Germans, Greeks and Irish, once run by the Lebanese. Its cultural life was enriched with Enrico Caruso singing at the old Coliseum, Leonard Bernstein conducting at the Kiel, the Barrymores and Sarah Bernhadt emoting at the old American Theater. There were T.S. Eliot and Tennessee Williams writing masterpieces, physicist and Nobel laureate Arthur Holly Compton, whose investigations ultimately led to the development of the atomic bomb and visionaries who financed the historic flight of Charles Lindbergh. The table on which those visionaries planned their Spirit of St. Louis investments still remains intact at the Racquet Club-east. Corporate giants such as Monsanto, Mallinckrodt, Tums, Ralston-Purina, Emerson, Anheuser-Busch, Brown Shoe and Ravarino-Freshi were birthed here. R-F turned out pasta products that fed the world. Segue: Pasta was uppermost in the mind of KMOX radio’s John Carney, when he hosted the “Carney Kids Charities” gambol at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Clayton, that drew more than 450 donors for the Halloween themed event. During the auction, Carney turned to auctioneer and Pasta House bossman Kim Tucci and joked, “To think, I went to Tuscany to learn to make ravioli so I could come back here where you charge $9 a serving.” The organization is rare since it has no one on its payroll and divvies monies raised for six charitable agencies (see carneyskids.org. ) With Carney was his wife, Suzanne and sons, John James and Liam. KTRS radio’s McGraw Millhaven was also on hand of whom Carney quipped, “He’d have to stay late to have the comedy explained to him.” John Daus of Johnny’s in Soulard provided the sparkle for the event. He brought in about eight glammies to dress up the evening. Caneyskids was founded by the broadcaster and Joanie Protzel, who serves as its exec director. For the walloping evening, Joanie got major assists from her children, Erica and Max, and her husband, Alan.
Having reached the age of the Sad Plateau, the columnist is now permitted to pontificate, ruminate and reminisce. A glorious morning and into the shower, while I listened to the original Broadway cast recording of “Oklahoma!” singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” That brought back memories of Charles Cella‘s preview dinner at his and daughter Harriet’s Truffles Restaurant. Cella broke into song from the legendary musical that night. It seems his dad, the late John Cella, was approached in the late 1930s by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, II, to invest in their fledgling musical. John acquiesced and his son continues to reap royalties from the show.
I had just returned from a long weekend in Florida. Fort Lauderdale seemed deserted. Real estate properties are begging for buyers. The media seemed desperate for advertisers as evidenced by a billboard on a highway that begged, “Advertise here for only $100 a day.” However, there were signs of life at some places such as: the Dry Cleaning Spot; Heart Rock Sushi and Word-of-Mouth Restaurant. Creative? Speaking of creativity, it will be interesting to be a fly on the wall Wednesday at
the Gaming Commish’s meeting in Jeff City, where four competing casino developers will present their final plans. Here’s hoping the hometown Komen presentation becomes a winner. (The columnist’s opinion is just another sign of encroaching years.)
Meanwhile, on the flight back to Lambert National Airport (as opposed to Peoria International Airport), two flight attendants on the Southwest Air’s plane kept the columnist in guffaws. Kim McFalls recalled being assisted by passengers to squeeze a big-big woman out of the bathroom, which took a half-hour. Dione Tony spoke of the time a couple took off for the bathroom to copulate. To discourage them, Tony said she told them, “The bathroom is too dirty for that.” And on Friday night, our town’s premiere hero Albert Pujols was in his glory at his Pujols Family Foundation Autumn Prom at the Kemp Museum. Pujols and his wife Diedra hosted the event for teens and young adults with Down Syndrome. But, the kicker was that a crew with CBS’ “60 Minutes” was on hand to lens a segment.
Memories of Tony Curtis linger since his death. Over dinner on the Las Vegas strip, he told the columnist that he had just fielded a phone call from his daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, who was making a dent in the world of art by painting. Curtis laughed and told her, “Well, come over to my new house and you can paint the family room.” Asked about the illness from which his best friend, Jack Lemmon, was suffering, he broke into tears and tore out of the room and into the casino. I followed him. He cried uncontrollably, explaining that Lemmon was dying of cancer. The next time we met was during his visit here with Vegas pal and neighbor, Sam Cavato. Over lunch at Crown Candy Kitchen, he confided that off the set, during the filming of “Some Like It Hot,” sex with Marilyn Monroe “was a bummer.”
Aren’t we fortunate to have the exquisite taste to be St. Louisans? We are among the favored few in a world going mad We allow the country to intrude on our paradise. The columnist has heard compliments about our town from among the 5,500 secondary and post-secondary college admission counseling professionals, who are currently filling 10 downtown hotels. More than a few Norman Rockwell families are being introduced to our world-renowned St. Louis Symphony Orch of which Adam Crane hailed as having racked up revenue of $8.1 million for the fiscal year – more than $1 million over the previous year. The educators are probably aware that: the first kindergarten was established here; St. Louis University is the oldest college/university west of the Mississippi River. If they knock off a pork steak, gooey butter cake, Dr. Pepper or – heaven forbid – a martini, they should know they were all St. Louis firsts. It was an exorcism here that led to a best-selling book and hit movie. Entrepreneurs? From Build-A-Bear Workshops to wheel-out cameras, with generators, that work for 30 days documenting car break-ins on construction and shopping center sites and transmit the crimes to the security office. Such is the case with Mike Hackett’s “HackettWatch.” The former restaurateur is filling orders by day and night under the eagle-eyes of his dad, retired St. Louis chief of detectives James J. Hackett. Jim, by the way, was feted on his 79th natal day at MAC-west by his entourage of long-time pals: Tony Karakas; Stan Musial; Ed Thornton; Tom and Bill Suntrup; Cindy Crider; Dave Dolan and barrister Jim Holloran, who gifted Hackett with a police special and a pair of handcuffs, that drew guffaws. Holloran quipped, “They won’t give me the bullets.” The handcuffs might’ve reminded Hackett of his days on the beat. It seems the cops were on the prowl for a felon, whose two fingers were missing. One day, Hackett popped into Gus Torregrossa‘s barber shop. He noticed upon entering, that Gus quickly shielded a guy in the chair with a barber’s gown. The customer’s hand was visible – sans two fingers. Both the barber and the client were hauled into jail. If they watch enough television in their hotel rooms, the conventioneers will see faces of candidates almost every hour on the hour – deft performers they’re not. But, there’s always high-end shopping in the chic stores at Plaza Frontenac, with the type of apparel described by the late style icon Sir Cecil Beaton: “Never in the history of fashion has too little material been raised so high to reveal so much that needs to be covered.” So here’s a toast to Kitty Ratcliffe of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commish and a wish for many more tourists upon rest our hopes and half-aspirations to discover that it’s better to be poor in St. Louis than rich in New York.
The autumnal chill began Saturday night and clanking thoughts occurred to me as I drove aimfully, trying to zero in on the city I once thought I knew so well. It wasn’t easy. I attempted to commandeer my car around the construction along I-64/40 , through more road work on detours and heavy pedestrian and traffic blockades around the Dome where the Gateway Classic was to begin. A gorgeous mess in Action City? Then, finally I arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel, where cold shoulders of valets greeted me and the swells, who began opening their car windows and unlocking the doors from fear of driving through poor neighborhoods. The hotel has a certain dignified facade – a cock-eyed extravagance that once was the warm face of the city – a city now powered by members of Civic Progress, who know more about nuclear energy than the wards in the city.
I felt like a character in an Antonioni film walking through endless lobbies and passageways, rising in a sterilized elevator to a ballroom, where the Miriam Foundation Celestial Centennial Gala was in full swing. The organization provides material support and mental and social stimulation of its members, focusing on children with developmental disabilities through its school. Judy and Dr. Ira Gall supported the party with $100,000 as sponsors. Dr. Gall, a co-founder of Medicine Shoppes, said he pocketed $350 million on the sale of the company to Cardinal Health. Gotrocks Bettie Gershman (Gershman Mortgage) could only afford $1,000, although she paid four times as much for her “Just Because” luncheon at Westwood C.C. for 140 nearest-and-dearest. Eighty year-old Joan Quicksilver had enough energy to muscle in between Peggy and Jerry Ritter at their dinner table.
“This year, we presented $600,000 in scholarships,” raved the party’s chairwoman Judi Scissors, who was escorted by her husband, Phil. Here ‘n there were: Anita and Howard Tishler; Kim and Steve Goldenberg; Leslie and Ron Becker; Merle and Greg Fox, prez of Harbour Group; Maury and Shirley Zimring; Phil and Judy Kaplan and the endearing and enduring Lucy Lopata. Some women were dressed to the teeth, albeit, capped teeth.
While Tom Carnahan is poised to collect millions of dollars from Washington windbags for wind, Linda Doss, 72, mordantly described our country as “Gone downhill.” Doss, who commutes between her apartments in Maplewood and in Puerto Vallarta, boasted that in Mexico her electric bill every two months is about $12, cable is $19 and telephone service is $18. “I spend about eight months there,” she told her friend Sandy Shoults.
Whenever I feel I’m getting out of touch with a city – a fear that haunts all news people, I take a long walk along Manchester in Maplewood. which rocks with the blaring out of a little video shop and chop shops, the smell of Tex-Mex food of tiny dineries, the Ho-Made food served up at the Tiffany diner, a Childhood Center, where Linda Henke teaches the kids how to grow food and to make their own breakfasts, Maplewood-Richmond Heights High where the cagers enjoyed two successive state championship seasons, Kalb Electric and Scheidt Hardware remain there since right after the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Saratoga Lanes has been around more years than anyone remembers, an 1840 clapboard house on Woodside is crying out for a rehabber who’ll plunk down $125,000, the sweet fragrances of spices waft from Penzey’s, a spinoff of a German company, Maplewood residents still mourn the loss of Golde’s Department Store and now have to trudge to Maplewood Commons’ Walmart and Sam’s. There is a no-nonsense chief of police, Steve Kruse, who is still infatuated with his yesteryear Chevy Lumina. Nowadays, Monarch Restaurant and Jive ‘n Wail are credited as the two anchors that have attracted 50 new businesses to the strip, between the 7200 and 7900 blocks. It was at Jive ‘n Wail where a conversation between husband and wife was overheard. “Honey, tomorrow I’m going downtown to my broker.” She darted back, “Stock or pawn?” When I walked along Manchester – the original U.S. 66 for 10 years until 1936 – I became just another face in the crowd – a crowd that takes me at face value. It might not be the real St. Louis, but brothers and sisters, it’s real. My walk was interrupted by a flash over my iphone from Contemporary Productions’ Angela Gregory, who wrote that her boss, Steve Schankman, will present “Finale’s Encore” at the JCA to memorialize his shuttered Finale Jazz Club in Clayton. It stars on various nights – Neal E. Boyd of “America’s Got Talent”, Steve Davis and his “Memories of Elvis”, Charles Glenn, Kim Massie and the Fabuious Motown Revue. For tix, call (314) 721-9090 or email@example.com.
Nostalgia remains our house disease. It was during the Great Depression that an unemployed jazz singer, Al Jolson, implored his friend Marcus Loew to book the warbler on a road tour of Loew’s Theaters, including our town’s Loew’s State. While Jolson climbed upon his knees singing “Mammy”, Archie Leach performed on the Muny stage and later became known as Cary Grant. The aged receptionist at the Gatesworth Hotel recalled to the columnist, that she found Grant, seated on a Union Boulevard curb and wondering where his next job would take him. Richard “Red” Skelton had a minor role at the outdoor theater in “Gentleman Unafraid” and a youthful George Gershwin played “Chopsticks” on a piano in his Coronado Hotel suite before impresario William Zalken, preceding Gershwin’s performance in a “Save Our Symphony” concert at the Odeon on North Grand Avenue. (Zalken was later to engage the yet-unknown Leonard Bernstein and Andre Previn for future engagements.) The haute bourgeoisie, cheeks flushed with conspicuous consumption, chatted like dress extras as the Veiled Prophet made his entrance at the Odeon, where there never was a single picket. A youngster by the name of Mary Martin was sent packing to her parents’ house in Weatherford, Texas, after she was rejected at Muny chorus auditions. Aaron Hotchner, Tennessee Williams, David Merrick and Fannie Hurst were attending Soldan High School. Williams had yet to write “A Streetcar Named Desire,” in which his brother, Dakin, an Alton lawyer, was to perform in drag as Blanche with a 1980’s New Orleans production. A.E. Hotchner, a classmate of the late Post-Dispatch editor, Selwyn Pepper, name-changed to A.E. Hotchner, when he became a pal and biographer of Ernest Hemingway. Hemmingway courted St. Louisan Martha Gelhorn, who became Mrs. Hemmingway. Hotchner once told the columnist, that while working in the office of a New York literary agent, he was approached by a reporter with the Milwaukee Journal. She met with him, while clutching a shopping bag that contained a manuscript she had written. Her name? Edna Ferber and the book was titled, “Show Boat.” David Margulies, who was to become a successful press agent and then prolific producer, known as David Merrick, was thesping on the stage at the old YMHA on Union Boulevard. Novelist, dramatist and screenwriter Fannie Hurst was writing “Immitation of Life” and “Back Street”, both of which became successful movies. (Hurst has been six-feet under at New Mt. Sinai Cemetery since 1968.)
Jordan “Pops” was beginning to book his Delmar Boulevard nightclub, the Riviera, which eventually featured rising stars Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. The Grand Opera House on Market Street, later to become the Grand Burlesque House, starred strip-tease artist Gypsy Rose Lee; Tom Packs was promoting boxing matches at the Coliseum on Jefferson Avenue at Market Street; the Rockettes were doing eye-high kicks on the Ambassador and Missouri Theaters’ stages, before being exported to the Roxy and Radio City Musical Hall in NYC and Nugent’s was the department store of choice. Mizzou grad Sam Walton had just taken over his first variety store, that he propelled into Walmart; Clark Clifford, who was to become Secretary of Defense and advisor to presidents, had just graduated from WashU; George Herbert Walker, another WashU grad, who became a dry goods tycoon, was to become great grand-daddy of President George W. Bush. Young August “Gussie” Busch was filling up his gun room at Grant’s Farm near the dining room, where family members tossed food at each other during stately dinner parties. Paul C. Reinert earned his first sheepskin from St. Louis University and decades later, became its beloved president. Later, as chancellor emeritus, the Rev. Reinert was evicted from his campus office by his successor, the Rev. Larry Biondi, and relegated to a room in the medical school. Father Biondi quietly expressed his anger over Father Reinert’s history of SLU in which Biondi’s name was blanked. It was also at SLU where the first radio station west of the Mississipi – WEW – became licensed. Nostalgia is taken with commendable seriousness by the columnist. It fills a space.
It was sort of a kitschy-koo Labor Day weekend, which marked the first anniversary of this online column, with toasts offered at Annie Gunn’s. where a sign near the bar reads, “Beware of pickpockets and loose women.” Thom Sehnert‘s tavern seemed a million miles away from the Convention & Visitors Bureau, which hardly ever grasps Chesterfield in its promotional blurbs. There was reliable mixologist Eve Perlmutter mixing drinks and gossip with the regulars. Then, I wondered if she and other bartenders in our town could mix buttered martinis, Americanos or Zombies, which were popular in the days of barflies, lounge lizards and loose women. Back home, to surf the channels only to see some old movies – one of which had Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown”, seated in a barber’s chair and saying to a banker, “But, I don’t kick people out of their homes like you do!” Then to “The American President” in which Annette Bening asks Michael Douglas (in the title role), “How do you have patience for Americans who love America less?” “The nation’s gonna keep flyin'” says Douglas. Then, a flip to Alfred Hitchcock‘s masterpiece, “Rear Window,” in which James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Raymond Burr give bravura performances. Finally, “E.T.” in which youngsters display extraordinary virtuosity in Spielberg’s classic.
What was the quality of our town, that had transformed fur merchants’ dreams into a nationally–renowned city? What outlandish dreams and ambitions enabled those early St. Louisans to build so grandly and so well? Even the old-timers who knew the magic, were no longer sure what it was. Rubbing their chins and watery eyes, they’d say, it was smaller and friendlier. Lots of wonderful saloons, cheap food, cheap wine and it was like a party going on all the time. St. Louis was the City That Was. Reruns of MGM’s “Meet Me In St. Louis” remind us of the gaiety surrounding the 1904 World’s Fair, celebrating the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. There remains unquenchable enthusiasm for structures that remain intact such as the elegant houses in Lafayette Square, the Eugene Field House, Bevo Mill and the Bissell House Mansion. There was a youngster from Ohio, who grew to become a physicist and Nobel laureate – Arthur Holly Compton – who helped take over a program to develop the atomic bomb. He was also chancellor of WashU, when it became the last university in the nation to desegregate students. Who would’ve thought of same-sex marriage in those days? That brings us to opinion researcher and career strategist Anna Navarro and marketing exec Harriet Blickenstaff, who legally tied the knot last month in Iowa. Who could guess then of a dermatologist, let alone one who would focus on itch? That’s right. Leading skin specialist Dr. Lynn Cornelius is hoping to establish an itch center within her practice at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where she serves as WashU prof and chief of the division of dermatology. (Itches are normally caused by infections, kidney and liver diseases,) A female lawyer in the early 20th century? Now we have women on the Supreme Court and some of the best lawyers in America are women, including our town’s esteemed barrister Jessica Liss of Rabbitt Pitzer & Snodgrass, who is slated to become prez of the Women’s Lawyers Association.