|(r to l) Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf
(Sorry, we couldn’t find Kilgallen’s address or phone number)
There are three types of vintage publications we can’t resist giving at least a quick browse: retail catalogues, school yearbooks, and telephone directories.
So we were delighted to learn that the good folks at the New York Public Library, bless their hearts, recently posted the 1940 phone books for each of the five boroughs of New York.
If you grew up in NYC or your parents or grandparents did, you’ll have fun tracking them down, but even if, like us, you have no connection to NYC that dates back seventy-plus years or, heck, no family connection whatsoever to the Big Apple, this is still a resource you can enjoy, if only for the joy of perusing the telephone exchanges.
We’ll compose a post one day about our affection for these magical words, but today suffice it to say that telephone numbers that begin not with mere digits but with melodic vocables such as Trafalgar, Whitehall, Butterfield, and Bogardus evoke bygone eras like few other verbal artifacts can.
Then there are the advertisements. We don’t know whether there were yellow pages-style business directories for New York City in those days, but these white pages include plenty of ads: Tyson Sullivan theatrical ticket service, Underwood Typewriters, American Pencil Company, Elfinbein’s Baking Corporation: Bakers of Cakes, Pastries and Pies Since 1918.
Then there’s the celebrity spotting. You might have known that artist Edward Hopper lived and worked at 3 Washington Square—that info’s relatively common knowledge—but did you know his phone number was SPring 7-0949?
We’re tempted to punch in those seven digits; we’re willing to bet the current holder has no idea that America’s greatest painter (in our humble opinion) once took calls at that number.
Then there’s What’s My Line doyenne Arlene Francis. In 1940, she was a working actress, having appeared in eight Broadway shows and a movie or two. She was married to one Neil Agnew, who worked in the sales department of Paramount Pictures, and they lived at 320 Park Avenue. Their phone number was WIckersham 2-9486. They had separate listings in the phone book, which was probably a good thing, as they were to be divorced just five years later.
Arlene lived just a short stroll away from Bennett Cerf, who would be her fellow What’s My Line panelist and in 1940 was already the publisher behind Random House. Cerf’s phone number was PLaza 3-0230, and he lived at 20 East 57th Street, just six blocks away from Francis. One wonders if they were yet acquainted in 1940.
In search of a forgotten diner
It’s a pleasure — and even something of a relief — when one discovers that another individual shares one’s interests, even one’s obsessions.
As big Edward Hopper fans, we’ve long wondered where stood the diner that inspired what is perhaps Hopper’s best-known work, Nighthawks.
Finally, we gleaned from one source or another that the setting was supposed be somewhere along Greenwich Avenue.
We often pondered, as we wandered that stretch of street in the Village, which corner it might be, and we had sort of decided it was the building at 118 Greenwich, at the corner of Greenwich and 13th Street, just east of Eighth Avenue.
We didn’t really have any solid evidence to support our hypotheis; it was a more of a hunch.
Our brother in Hopper obsession, Jeremiah of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, wasn’t content, as were we, to idly wonder as he wandered the streets of the Village. He set out to pinpoint, once and for all, exactly which corner it was that housed the diner that inspired Hopper.
Did he solve the mystery? You’ll have to read his account to learn the truth.
Wonderful wintertime dreams, will they come true?
Let’s hope they do, here where the firelight gleams.
Wonderful wintertime dreams.
Lyrics by Al Bryan; music by Felix Bernard, 1936