Part 2 – An Interview With Avery Corman “My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir”

Avery Corman, Talks About, Dating Restaurants, High School in The Bronx, The Advertising World, Getting Published and Having His Books Adapted To Film

We continue our interview with Avery Corman, author of the new book My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir (Barricade Books) 2014, and his story of growing up in the Bronx during the 1940’s and 50’s.

Divided into 5 parts the first two parts of the interview can be seen here.

In part 3 Avery Corman discusses dating, blind dates, sex, going to the movies, the differences between eating out and restaurants, dessert havens like Krum’s, Addie Vallins and Jahn’s and the coming of television.

Part 4 Avery Corman recalls his high school years at DeWitt Clinton High School, his decision to go to New York University. Upon graduating from NYU and trying to enter advertising, he encounters the old boys network that dominated the field and the path he took to get a footing on the periphery of the “Mad Men” world.

In the final part of our interview Avery Corman talks about his influences, his writing, and how he became a full-time author. He discusses two of his best known novels Oh God! and Kramer Vs. Kramer and how times have changed when it comes to bringing a book to the big screen.

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Old New York in Postcards #11 – Unbuilt New York

Some Interesting Things Around New York that Were Never Built

West Jersey BridgeNew York City: plans are made, plans are scrapped. We’ve dug up postcards of unbuilt projects, variations of existing structures or other anomalies such as a lawn in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library.

The postcard seen here is the West Jersey Bridge which predates the George Washington Bridge by a few years. In the 1880’s Gustav Lindenthal came up with a design for a large train bridge for the Pennsylvania Railroad that would have connected Manhattan at 23rd Street with New Jersey. The railroad opted for tunnels instead of a bridge. Lindenthal had a long career in bridge engineering supervising the building of the Queensboro and Hell Gate Bridges.

Lindenthal’s plans for the West Jersey Bridge were drawn up in 1920. The West Jersey Bridge would have had 20 lanes of traffic on its upper deck and a dozen on the lower level.  Pedestrian walkways were to be part of the gargantuan bridge which would have stretched from Weehawken, NJ to 57th Street in Manhattan. The master plan included cutting a highway across Manhattan to the Queensboro Bridge. The West Jersey Bridge was never built. Instead, Lindenthal’s protege Othmar Ammann designed the George Washington Bridge which was constructed further north at 177th Street.

Hudson River BridgeWhich brings us to something we covered previously: that the George Washington Bridge was originally supposed to have its towers sheathed in stone. Architect Cass Gilbert’s stone arches were depicted in various early drawings and plans for the Hudson River Bridge before it was given the name that it is known by today: the George Washington Bridge.

Williamsburg BridgeWith this illustration of the Williamsburg Bridge completed in 1903, the artist took some liberties in showing the completed towers.  On the top of each of the towers we see what appear to be windowed rooms, possibly for observation or just decoration. They were never built.

Manhattan Bridge Approach

The Manhattan Bridge completed in 1909 is accurately shown in this postcard, but the entrance certainly is not something that came to fruition. The Manhattan Bridge approach as seen here is a veritable garden in a park-like atmosphere with neatly pruned trees, shaped into squares  surrounding the entrance way.

Hudson Fulton Bridge 1Hendrick Hudson River Bridge 2

1955 photograph of current Henry Hudson Bridge

1955 photograph of current Henry Hudson Bridge

For the Hudson-Fulton celebration of 1909 there were various proposals to build a bridge connecting upper Manhattan with the Bronx. Known as The Hendrick Hudson Memorial Bridge or Hudson-Fulton Memorial Bridge, both designs featured elegant approaches for an arch bridge over Spuyten Duyvil. Continue reading

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An Interview With Avery Corman “My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir”

Avery Corman, Author of Kramer vs. Kramer, Talks About His Latest Book: My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir

My Old Neighborhood RememberedThe neighborhood is the Bronx. The time is World War II and the post war years. And the writer is Avery Corman. His newest book My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir (2014) Barricade Books, is his first non-fiction book and is filled with wonderful recollections of growing up.

After graduating college Corman was working on the fringes of advertising and with the encouragement of a friend, Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns; I’m Not Rappaport; etc), he took a stab at writing a book. That effort was published as Oh God! A Novel (1971). After that hurdle Corman never looked back and he became a full-time novelist. Oh God! was eventually made into a very popular movie in 1977 starring George Burns and John Denver.

Some of Corman’s other acclaimed novels include The Bust-Out King (1977), The Old Neighborhood (1980); 50 (1987); Prized Possessions (1991); The Boyfriend from Hell (2006) and his most famous work, Kramer vs. Kramer (1977) which was adapted into a movie in 1979 and was the winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Avery Corman’s success must partially stem from his middle-class upbringing in the Fordham section of the Bronx during the 1940’s and 50’s, where he admits he was not the best student when it came to math and science, but did well in the humanities and was surrounded by a loving, extended family.

My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir is more a series of vignettes rather than a straight autobiography and that style comes off well. Corman shares his memories of childhood during World War II up until he becomes a successful author in the late 1960’s. He paints beautiful word pictures, sometimes tinged with sadness, of growing up in a wondrous place that no longer exists. Most of the stories offer short bursts of family life, games, food, education, sports and all the things that contributed to making the Bronx a special place to grow up in.

Corman’s stories resonate with a tender glow of friendships, family and the feeling that neighborhoods were once really neighborhoods, where the familiarity of rituals, people and places were ingrained in the surroundings.

Here are parts one and two of an exclusive interview with Avery Corman.

Part I, Avery Corman talks about what made the Bronx a special place during the war. His unique living situation and school life.

In part II Corman describes baseball in the Bronx, playing the game and seeing it on TV or in person – when New York had three teams to root for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and New York Giants. Corman also tells how received a special gift from a special person .

The rest of Avery Corman’s interview can be seen here.

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The Woman Who Almost Killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Story Of Izola Ware Curry and The Stabbing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Arrest Ms Curry stabbed Martin Luther King 1958

Dr. Martin Luther King’s attacker being booked

As we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day we’ll recount a story many people are not familiar with.

It’s a forgotten story in which the Civil Rights movement narrowly escaped a crippling blow in 1958.  It’s also the story of the woman who tried to be an assassin and failed and is now very old, free, and living a mostly anonymous life here in New York City.

Ten years before being cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came within a fraction of an inch of losing his life in an assassination attempt in New York City.

At 3:30 pm on September 20, 1958 Dr. King was in Harlem on the ground floor of  Blumstein’s Department store at 230 West 125th Street signing copies of his new book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. With about 20 people on line, a 42 year-old woman, Izola Ware Curry burst through the line, asking Dr. King if he was in fact Martin Luther King. When King affirmed he was, Curry said either “Why do you annoy me” or “I’ve been after you for six years,” and opened her purse, took out a letter opener, closed her eyes and suddenly plunged the steel blade into his left chest.

The stunned Dr. King remained seated in his chair with the blade buried deep into his chest. Curry tried to leave the store but was seized quickly by those standing near Dr. King and held for the police. It was later discovered Curry also had an automatic handgun hidden in her bra.

At the book signing there was no police protection for Dr. King and the first police officers who responded to the scene, Al Howard and Phil Romano, were nearby in their police car when they received a report of a disturbance at Blumstein’s. They arrived to see King sitting in a chair with the steel letter opener protruding from his chest. Officer Howard told King, “Don’t sneeze, don’t even speak.”

Officer’s Howard and Romano escorted Dr. King, still in the chair, down to an ambulance and rushed him to Harlem Hospital. After waiting for the proper surgical team to arrive to perform the delicate operation, the Chief of Surgery Aubre Maynard attempted to pull out the letter opener, but cut his glove on the blade. At 6:30 pm Dr. King underwent a two and a quarter hour operation. A surgical clamp was finally used to pull out the blade.

After the surgery Dr. King was listed in critical condition. He contracted pneumonia while convalescing, but recovered completely and was released from the hospital two weeks after the attack.

In his posthumously published autobiography King wrote, “Days later,when I was well enough to talk with Dr. Aubre Maynard, the chief of the surgeons who performed the delicate, dangerous operation, I learned the reason for the long delay that preceded surgery. He told me that the razor tip of the instrument had been touching my aorta and that my whole chest had to be opened to extract it. ‘If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting,’ Dr. Maynard said, ‘your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood.'” Continue reading

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Classic Hollywood #38

The Making of the Monster

Boris Karloff makeup session Son of FrankensteinBoris Karloff gets his make-up applied by Universal’s chief make-up artist Jack Pierce and his assistant Bill Ely (left) for 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. It took four hours per day to apply Karloff’s make-up.

Karloff had been making movies since 1919 when he made his breakthrough star appearance as the Monster in the 1931 film Frankenstein. After Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Karloff returned for one final turn at playing the role of the Monster in Son of Frankenstein.

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Second Avenue Elevated, 100 Years Ago

A View Of The Second Avenue El From 14th Street

Second Avenue El from First Ave 14th Street Station Jan 13 1915The Second Avenue Elevated (El for short) was one of four elevated train lines that ran in Manhattan. This photo was taken 100 years ago today on Wednesday, January 13, 1915, and shows the view looking north from the 14th street station and First Avenue. That is correct, the Second Avenue El ran on First Avenue up until it turned west on 23rd Street to continue north on Second Avenue.

Enlarging the photo, at track level we can see the next station at 19th Street. At street level there is little activity, with a few people going about their errands. We see on the left side of the street a wall advertisement for Mecca Cigarettes and on the right side of the street on the second floor, a pawn shop window advertisement saying they’ve been “here since 1880″ and a warning to any criminals that they have Holmes Electrical Protection (inventors of the modern burglar alarm).

The Els in Manhattan were discontinued over a 17 year period. The first to shut down was the Sixth Avenue El in 1938, followed by the Ninth Avenue El in 1940 and the Second Avenue El in 1942. The Third Avenue El ceased service in 1955 (the Bronx part of the Third Avenue line continued running until 1973), bringing a close to the era of Manhattan elevated trains.

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Old New York In Postcards #10

A Look At Churchill’s and Four Other Restaurants From Old New York

Exterior Churchills Restaurant Broadway 49th St c 1915Churchill’s Restaurant southwest corner 49th Street and Broadway, circa 1915.

Police Sergeant Jim Churchill did not have the background of a typical restauranteur. He put in 20 years on the job policing the streets of New York and was named acting Captain of a precinct in the Bowery for a few months starting in November of 1901. He wound up being dismissed from the force in 1902 for neglect of duty.

It seems that Churchill was not aggressive enough in closing saloons operating illegally on Sunday and shutting down houses of ill-repute under his jurisdiction. From reading the newspaper accounts of his trial, Churchill may have been set up by others in the police department who wanted his ouster.

Churchill, with the help of friends and backers went into business for himself. In May 1903 Churchill ironically opened a saloon at 1420 Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets. The small bar and restaurant prospered and in 1906 he moved north to new digs on Broadway at 46th street to a space which could accommodate up to 350 patrons.

But even that was not enough room for the captain’s friends and clientele. In 1909 Churchill built for himself a spacious, luxurious entertainment and feasting palace at 49th Street that could seat 1,400 diners. Designed by architect Harold M. Baer, the three story terra cotta brick building with stucco ornamentation attracted huge crowds. Even with so much more space, guests frequently would have to wait in line for a table as capacity crowds filled the restaurant.

Employing over 300 people and with an annual advertising budget of $50,000 for a $250,000 business, Churchill’s became world famous and remained a favorite restaurant and cabaret spot for the Broadway crowd throughout the teens.

Churchill’s stayed in business until prohibition cut into profits and forced Jim Churchill to close his doors and lease the space to a Chinese restaurant. The building was demolished in 1937 and the location eventually housed heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Bar and Grill from 1938 until its closing in 1974.

Churchill went abroad for a number of years after closing his restaurant and upon returning to the states, he commented about the changes that many New York City restaurants had undergone during the 1920’s. To the New York Times he remarked, “Hostesses? There were no such things in my days. No one ever thought of such a thing. It was not permitted that any woman come into a restaurant-cabaret unaccompanied. Instead of hostesses I employed 30 boys, one of them the late Rudolph Valentino, to dance with women who came unescorted for luncheon.”

When Churchill died in 1930 at the age of 67, he left most of his sizable estate, a half million dollars, to his wife.

Exterior Cafe Boulevard Restarant 156 2nd ave at 10th st 1911The Cafe Boulevard 156 Second Ave southeast corner of 10th Street, circa 1909. Continue reading

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The Transforming New York City Skyline 1880-2009

Lower Manhattan’s Skyline Evolution

On March 21, 1909 The New York Sun newspaper published an illustration (reproduced below) that showed the rapid growth of the New York City skyline as seen from New Jersey in four line drawings from 1880 -1909.

Click to greatly enlarge this illustration.

We have added a photograph from approximately 100 years later showing the same view.

Transforming New York City skyline 1880-1909 The Sun March 21 1909new york skyline 2009  photo HiltonThe two constants are Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel which can no longer be seen in the latest photograph but are still there. Changes in lower New York’s skyline will continue. I’m sure 100 years from now that this view will once again be significantly altered.

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Lois DeFee Bouncer At The Dizzy Club, New York City 1936

Don’t Mess With The Lady

woman bouncer Lois DeFee 1936 photo AcmeLois DeFee started her working life at the age of 18 in an unusual occupation – as a bouncer. A couple of years later she would achieve fame of another sort.

“Little Miss Bouncer”

Gentlemen guests at the Dizzy Club, New York night spot; are polite, especially to Miss Lois DeFee, (shown above), with a waiter of average size. Miss DeFee who stands six feet two inches, without high heels, is the official bouncer at the night club, and has acted in that capacity for seven weeks to the satisfaction of the management. Women drunks give her the most trouble, says Miss DeFee. She has been married twice; one of her husbands was a jockey who was only five feet tall. Yes– she enjoys her work, and Broadway night life in general. Credit Line: (ACME 5/15/36)

Lois DeFee was soon hired away from The Dizzy Club on 52nd street to go work across the street at the more famous Leon & Eddie’s performing the same duties at their nightclub.

Lois was later discovered by Harold Minsky of Minsky’s burlesque and she became a top burlesque star for many years, billed as a “glamazon.” Because of her great height, columnist Walter Winchell billed her as”The Eiffel Eyeful.” Lois died in Florida in 2012 at the age of 93.

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New Year’s Eve Celebrations Of The Past, New York City 1906

Festivities In New York City On New Year’s Eve 1906

A couple of years ago we featured photos of Times Square and New Year’s celebrations from the 1950’s – 1960’s. This time we went back in time a bit further to New Year’s Eve 1906.

Probably something you never thought about: where else did New Yorkers celebrate New Year’s besides Times Square, which started drawing crowds in 1904 with the completion of the New York Times Tower Building?

The answer is all over the city at various churches, hotels, restaurants and clubs, with Trinity Church being a focal point for large crowds.

Seen below is the crowd outside of Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Street on New Year’s Eve 1906 awaiting the arrival of 1907.

New Year's Eve 1907 outside Trinity Church

It proves again that celebrating the New Year has not changed that much over the years. People have always liked to congregate on New Year’s Eve in New York City even in freezing weather. It’s just that back then the majority of celebrants were New Yorkers, unlike today where many revelers are visiting from all over the globe.

Here is how the New York Tribune described the festivities that would occur throughout the city.

TO GREET 1907 NOISILY

Indications Point to Greater Crowds and More Din than Ever.


Immense crowds will gather to-night In Broadway, both at Trinity Church and at Times Square, to watch the old year out and welcome the new year in with the din of tooting horns. Custom has made these annual gatherings a regular feature of city life, and the size of the crowds has increased year by year with the growth of the city. No matter what the weather may be, each New Year’s Eve sees large throngs in the streets.

To-night there will be added to the usual noise the ear-splitting screechings of some newly invented instrument which have been sold freely by street venders in the last week. It is expected, too, that the crowds will continue the hilarious swishing of feather dusters and the liberal throwing of confetti which became a craze at the last Coney Island festivals.

In anticipation of trouble in getting meals at the restaurants near Times Square late to-night, when the crowd is thickest, many persons have engaged seats at tables in advance, paying anywhere from $2 to $5 for a seat. All the restaurants in the neighborhood have made extra provision for a crush.

Over three thousand persons will have meals at the Hotel Astor to-night, many rooms having been set apart for the use of private dinner parties. In addition, the grand ballroom, the small ballroom, the college hall, the yacht rooms, the nimrod rooms and the art nouveau rooms, all on one floor, will be turned into a large Japanese garden for dining purposes. At midnight, by means of an electric light effect, 1906 will disappear in total darkness and the next moment 1907 will appear in the form of a maiden showering favors on the crowd from a cornucopia.

On the tower of the Times Building 1907 will blaze out in large electric lights at the stroke of midnight.  At the same time a searchlight of 500,000 candlepower will be turned on the crowds.

The chimes of old Trinity will ring before midnight, although the din will probably drown the sound of the bells. St. Andrew’s chimes, at Fifth avenue and 127th street will be rung from 11:45 p.m. until midnight. At the Church of St. John the Martyr, in East 72nd street, the chimes will be rung for half an hour before midnight.

The Authors’ Club will have a Watch Night meeting, beginning at 9:30 p.m., at which three veterans will give advice to young writers. There also will be songs and stories until midnight.

At Mott Memorial Hall, No. 64 Madison Avenue, the Blind Men’s Club will have a Watch Night meeting. The members will “see” the old year out playing chess and checkers and hearing a concert.

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