If I were a better detective (and if I had actual time on my hands), I could probably figure out the date of this photograph from the issue of Life magazine that Harry is selling. By clicking on the photo, you can make out the “I Am” hed on the magazine cover, but “I am” what? “a zombie”? “a Communist for the FBI”? “Spartacus”? I suppose thumbing through the Life covers on Google might turn up the correct answer.
This is probably the grainiest photo of the bunch but it’s clear enough to pick up what must have been the sharpest pair of trousers ever seen on a street corner vendor. Those are what people used to call “slacks,” and I’m sure they were a dead giveaway. How come people don’t call them “slacks” anymore? Probably for the same reason why people no longer buy newspapers. Things change.
I guess the only real question is whether the actual lifeguard let Harry wear his bathing suit. Either way, you can see all too well why lifeguards were popular with beachgoers. As always, click on the picture to supersize it, and click on the tag to the right for information about his great series, which is approaching its end.
If you lived in Manhattan in the ’70s and ’80s, or if you commuted to the area around 57th Street and Broadway, you’re apt to remember the guy who used to station himself by Lee’s arts supply store, and, canteen in one hand, a cup in the other, would belt out ‘O Sole Mio and other operatic classics in a voice so strained and off-key that it would peel the remaining paint off the sides of the nearby buildings. Really, he’d be screeching out those songs, and my vocal chords would hurt. Nonetheless, he would be out there day after day for years before he disappeared. Then, at some point in the mid-90s, I was walking down the block, and there he was singing again, and suddenly it was like old times: The Upper West Side was no longer gentrified (My favorite line about that neighborhood, “I remember Columbus Avenue when it was on the West Side”), Tom Seaver was on the mound for the Mets and Richard Nixon was still thought of as a national disgrace. Alas, the poor fellow’s voice was even worse than it was before. Barely, a whisper, he could hardly even screech. Even the pigeons took pity on him and refrained from shitting on his head. Homeless people dropped quarters into his cap.
Anyway, he’s no longer there, and neither am I. Manhattan is now a playground for tourists and the wealthy, and there are actually two or three hundred people who think that Richard Nixon was a great guy.
All this bloviation is an introduction to the photo below of Harry doing another great acting job, singing his own version of ‘O Sole Mio (I’m sure much better than the poor guy on 57th Street) in a borrowed green sport jacket and pants that are either his rolled-up or the other fellow’s that are too short. I think I recognize his loafers though. The only thing missing is the monkey. Harry told me he was very proud of this shoot, because several people did put coins in his cap. They probably felt sorry for him, he admitted. Click on the photo to supersize it. For those new to this series of photos of New York in the 1940s and 1950s, click on the tag at the right to read all about it and follow it from the beginning.
More anti-Semitic highlights from J. Edgar Hoover’s bedside reading list. There’s even a subscription form on page 4. Two dollars for 26 issues, a bargain!
If you click on the pdf to download it, you can enlarge it to read some of the articles, but because it’s a lousy copy, the headlines will have to suffice for most of the articles. I do think though that the headline “Secret Jew Government” offers a pretty good hint as to the the nature of the story.
My response again is “if only.” I’d make myself Secretary of State. Wait, a minute, why aim so low? That’s Premier Kisseloff to you in the SJGA (Secret Jew Government of America). Nominations are now open for cabinet posts.
Unless they were employing some kind of winch back then that isn’t currently in use, it would be hard to distinguish Harry, the 1940s-1950s firefighter in this picture, from a current member of Engine 13, a downtown New York house when this was shot. I do think though this is one of Harry’s greatest acting jobs, or maybe his red face is just the result ofÂ exertion. But clearly he’s watching the flames, waving gawkers out of harm’s way, and, most importantly, not wearing his fancy brown loafers.
As always, click on the photo to supersize it and on the Harry Dubin tag at the right for background on this great series.
Back in theÂ 1970s when I was working for Alger Hiss, helping him read through someÂ 40,000 pages of FBI files to put together a new legal appeal of his 1950 perjury conviction that sent him to jail for 44 months , I was constantly amazed at the frightening garbage that J. Edgar Hoover subscribed to. I’m not talking about the Police Gazette or Photoplay, but rather extreme right-wing, anti-Semitic propaganda that we regularly found among the documents. It was clear he wasn’t gathering evidence against the purveyors of this material. Rather, he seemed to enjoy their publications as evidenced by the occasional positive reviews he’d append to the cover or back page. All the while, (and we saw this in the documents), he had his agents compile lists of left-wingers to be picked up and placed in detention camps in the event of a national emergency. If he compiled lists of right-wingers it was only for dinner invitations.
While going through the documents, I pulled a few of the most ridiculous and made copies of them. Two or three of them still survive. To fully appreciate this material though, it’s important to understand the kind of virulent attacks against Roosevelt that occurred on a nearly daily basis. Apologies for the following history lecture (excerpted from a book I’m writing), but some of this is actually pretty interesting
To Rooseveltâ€™s opponents, extremism in defense of capitalism was no vice. Rumors were spread that polio had rendered the him insane, or worse, that he was secretly Jewish. His Brain Trust, according to one Senator was under the influence of â€œHitler, Mussolini, and Lenin.â€Â Chicago newspaper publisher Frank Knox said the New Deal legislation was in effect a â€œrape of democracy.â€ The President of the National Association of Manufacturers declared â€œindustry is now in politics or â€œbe destroyedâ€¦by economic crack-pots, social reformers, labor demagogues and political racketeers.â€
Instead of just complaining, Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors, Edward Hutton or General Foods and other leading industrialists opened their wallets to anyone opposed to FDR. They bankrolled the Liberty League with unlimited funds to destroy the New Deal via a propaganda campaign that, according to George Wolfskill and John A. Hudson â€œpictured the United States on the brink of chaos, threatened by bankruptcy, socialism, dictatorship and tyranny.â€ If that didnâ€™t go far enough, a cabal of businessmen plotted a coup against Roosevelt.
Ironically, the New Deal didnâ€™t do nearly as much for Americaâ€™s poor as it did for big business. Negro tenant farmers, for example, continued to suffer terribly despite the New Dealâ€™s Agricultural Adjustment Act. As Harry L. Mitchell wrote in The Nation in June 1935, a year after the billâ€™s passage, â€œThe human consequences of an economy of scarcity have become more clear. The complete failure of the â€œNew Dealâ€ to benefit the men and women who do the work in the fields has been disclosed.â€
While sharecroppers continued to live in substandard conditions, Sloanâ€™s General Motors rebounded strongly in 1934 with sales showing an increase of nearly 50 percent over 1933. Despite the complaints of the Chamber of Commerce, retail sales rose 13 percent and while the National Association of Manufacturers was lambasting FDRâ€™s policies as communistic, industrial profits surged some 70 percent in 1934. The number of bank failures in 1934, dropped precipitously to 56, while deposits were on the rise.
The President â€œreally had saved capitalism,â€ said Harold Ickes.
As I said, a lot of the propaganda was anti-Semitic. The extremists liked to refer to the administration as “The Jew Deal,” because of a number of FDR’s closest advisers were Jewish. The sad part is though, was FDR’s basically gutless response to the name-calling. I’ve read several learned histories which talk about the president’s timid response to the Holocaust was partly as a result of not wanting to appear to be too sympathetic to the Jews, lest it hurt him politically. This, of course, had enormously tragic results. When Hitler basically offered his Jewish population to the West, the US and Europe closed its doors to them (see Arthur Morse’s “While Six Million Died.”). When in the last days of the war, Eichmann sped up the trains carrying thousands and thousands of Hungarian Jews to their deaths, FDR easily could have ordered the bombing of the train tracks but didn’t. By the way, Hiss was in the State Department then. One of his buddies was a fellow southerner named Breckenridge Long, who single-handedly bottled up the passports of thousands of German Jews trying to flee German in the late 1930s. If you don’t believe me, pick up Long’s diary of the period, in which he essentially brags about keeping the Jews out of the US. This was also during the period when Whittaker Chambers was accusing Alger of having Communist sympathies. If only.
So here’s a copy of one of the more popular anti-Roosevelt propaganda pieces. In a small sense this kind of shit is funny, but in a much larger sense it really pisses me off (Click on it to read it in all it’s glory. Extra credit to anyone who can identify all the names without resorting to Wikipedia):
After You Must Remember This, my oral history of Manhattan, was published, I came up with what I thought was a cool idea: a little guidebook to the city’s most notorious crime scenes, offbeat places or historically interesting grave sites that you could slip into a shirt pocket. Let’s say you happened to be walking along a certain street in Soho, you could pull out your little guide and say, “Oh, this is where Jill Clayburgh threw up in An Unmarried Woman.” Or if you happened to be in a certain midtown hotel, you could impressÂ your friends by pointing out the room where the gangster Arnold Rothstein played his last fatal card game. I even had what I thought was a pretty good title for it: Eve’s Apple. I went out and did a lot of firsthand research, took a bunch of pictures and wrote up what I thought was a pretty good proposal. Alas, the idea got nowhere, and I soon set it aside to pursue another idea.
I dug out those pictures after starting this blog, and I thought beginning tonight I’d periodically share a few of them.
I have a soft spot (soft in the brain, most likely) for the Jewish gangsters who were associated with Murder, Inc. in the 1920s and ’30s. This is ridiculous, I know, because they weren’t nice guys. One of the ways they made money was a protection racket that they set up to extort money from many legitimate businessmen on the Lower East Side. One of those businessmen was my grandfather. The way it worked was a guy with a broken nose visited you and offered you a service: if you paid him a certain sum every month, he would very kindly protect your storefront windows wouldn’t get broken. They even gave you a sticker to put on your window indicating that you had purchased their services. Of course, if you turned down their deal, the guy would make sure that the next night someone heaved a rock through your window. If that didn’t work, the following night, someone would heave a rock against your noggin. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, the next night you would find yourself laying quietly in a fresh-smelling new pine coffin. So my grandfather like most everyone else paid.
Occasionally, someone took the gangster on and survived to tell the tale. One of the people I interviewed for my book was a retired boxing promoter named Marty Cohen. His father delivered on a horse cart. There was a group of criminals active on the Lower East Side known as the Jewish Black Hands. If you drove a horse cart and didn’t pay the Black Hands every month, they poisoned your horse. Nice! This is what Marty told me:
“My father was a rough old guy. He had a horse poisoned. He knew who did it. The guy was on Ludlow Street. We went over there. He found the guy, and he said, ‘This horse cost me $17.50. If you don’t pay me the $17.50, I’ll kill you.’
“With that the guy took out a gun. My father said, ‘If you don’t put that gun away, I’ll stick that gun right up your ass.’
“The guy threatened him. The old man walked right up to him, took the gun away from him, and did exactly what he said. He stuck the gun up his ass and threw the guy down a flight of cellar stairs. They never bothered us again after that.”
So why do I admire these people. I don’t know, but I guess I like the notion of Jewish tough guys who in an age when anti-semitism ran rampant and members of my family were barred from professions, restaurants, schools, apartment buildings, clubs and more just because of their religion, I like the image of these people who didn’t take shit from anyone (which was obviously a mistake in the case of the guy who confronted Marty’s father).
Anyway, one of the toughest of the tough guys was a bootlegger, extortion artist and hired killer named Arthur Flegenheimer, aka Dutch Schultz. He was only thirty-three years old when Charlie “The BugÂ Workman and Mendy Weiss put some lead into him on October 23, 1935. He lingered almost a day before he died. Taken down by a court stenographer, his last words uttered in a haze of fever have since been studied by cultural historians as if they were the equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
This is obviously a reproduction, but I used to have this on my wall (click on it for the larger view):
Anyway, I found Dutch’s grave and went out there alone to pay my respects. Unfortunately, the grave facing the Dutchman’s was a little low to the ground, so I couldn’t get the camera angle right, but you do get a nice shot of my snazzy low red Converse sneakers. I thought it was very thoughtful of Schultz’s family to turn his headstone into a bench, thus allowing visitors to sit and contemplate the meaning of his short, ugly life, but it was really surprising to see the crosses on the grave. I did a little digging (so to speak) afterward and found out he converted to Roman Catholicism before he died and was actually administered the last rites. No wonder it took him twenty-two hours to kick, he had an awful lot of confessing to do.
Harry (click on the picture to see the larger version) actually looks like he’s hailing a cab instead of driving one, or maybe he’s expressing his unhappiness with the driving of a fellow New York motorist. Do you think the person who runs the Sky View Cab Co. was colorblind? Aside from the prices though, my favorite thing in this picture is the crest, indicating that the family’s cab-driving history goes back to the middle ages. I actually found some proof of this in an old tapestry:
For those who are new to series, click the Harry Dubin tag on the right and scroll to the first post to read the story about these amazing photographs.
The picture below was cut from my book, The Box (actually all the pictures were omitted, but, hell, that’s great for this blog). I’m not quite sure I understand the perspective of the shot, but let me tell you the story of the man who gave it to me. Ted Smith (for more on him, click his tag at the right) and his friend, Loren Jones were two of RCA’s earliest employees and most brilliant engineers. In 1990, I had started working on my TV book and the interviews, frankly, weren’t going that well. Then one day, I drove down to Philadelphia to meet Ted and Loren. Both men were then in their late 80s, but they were still so full of merriment and their stories about their work so vivid and exciting that as I drove home, I knew for the first time that I was going to have a book and that it would be a good one.
One of the stories they told me was that when RCA put it up its first antenna atop the Empire State Building in the early 1930s, the engineers formed a club called the Top Notchers. To be a member, you had to crawl through the trap door under the antenna, stand out there and fly a paper airplane to either Brooklyn or New Jersey. The paper airplane was the easy part. Getting the courage to stand out there wasn’t so easy. This is how Ted described it, “It was quite a feeling to go through that trapdoor and find yourself on top of the world. You couldn’t see the rest of the building because the sides sloped down. You were suspended in space on a six-foot-diameter surface of slippery stainless steel metal with four rickety iron posts and a chain around the kept you from going down.
This drawing of the Top Notchers’s first president will give you an idea of what it looked like:
Ok, here’s a real shot of it from below:
“There was a metal circle about six feet in diameter on the top. Going through it was a rod about half an inch in diameter with a cross on top. The Top Notchers had to cimb that rod and touch the weather vane atop that cross, which was about twelve feet up. I didn’t have the nerve.
“Joe Chambers was the engineer at WNW in Cincinnati. He had done a number of rash things as a flier and he wanted to try it. When he got to the top, he made one dive for the thin metal pole in the center, grabbed it and was too scared to even look around. He said later, ” ‘If you ever get back there, you’ll find my fingerprints in the iron.’ ”
Take a look at this great picture (click on it for the larger version), looking down from the antenna, and you’ll know why:
Thanks to a couple of very kind individuals who mentioned this blog online, the Harry Dubin at Work series has suddenly become a hit on the Web, so instead of waiting a few days to space out the remaining photos, I figure I’d better post another tonight.
I’m not sure how to interpret the look on Harry’s face here. Perhaps he’s pretending that a German Shepherd with teeth-bared is gunning for him as he tries to make a delivery, or maybe there’s a real German Shepherd whose antenna has just detected some fresh mailcarrier meat. Either way, Harry’s expression is priceless. Note the poster on the side of the truck. Believe it or not, there wasn’t universal happiness when soldiers started returning from the war. Quite a few people who fretted over the loss of their high-paying jobs probably wished the war would have lasted a few more years. Hence, the kind suggestion from the postal service.
Clicking on the picture will give you a better look. And for those new to the series, click on the Harry Dubin tag to read the original stories about Harry and about these unique photos from the 1940s.