Title-page photograph: Samuel H. Gottscho’s From River House, Cloud Study, Noon, 1931,

                           courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

An historical novel about

The Baker Street Irregulars

in the 1930s and ’40s

Depression, Crisis, and War,

to the birth of the Cold War . . .

a Mycroft & Moran book from

Arkham House Publishers, 2010 . . .

a tale of Long Ago and Far Away . . . .

“At first blush, this is a gripping portrait of New York between the wars, and the early years of the Baker Street Irregulars. Lellenberg is their historian, and its founders and early lights – Christopher Morley, Elmer Davis, Edgar Smith, Rex Stout and others – come to life as never before. As the tale progresses, however, Lellenberg’s agenda emerges as far more ambitious and decidedly more sinister. He sits like a spider at the center of its web, testing each quiver and radiation of a plot that will leave readers thoroughly inconvenienced, incommoded, and hampered in their carefree ideas about the Baker Street Irregulars. He is not to be trusted.  Reader beware.”

   Daniel Stashower, author of  The Beautiful Cigar Girl:

     Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder

Part One: Depression

Ch. 1: Mr. Bird and Mr. Madden

Chapter 1 takes place between February and September 1933, and introduces young Woody Hazelbaker as a junior member of a Wall Street law firm in trouble thanks to the Depression. He gets a chance (and despite trepidations, takes it) to hang on by undertaking work for a clandestine client, the kind his firm would never accept in good times: bootlegger Owney Madden, and his No. 2, “Frenchy” DeMange. For the green and rather innocent Woody, Madden, DeMange, and the work prove quite an education.

If a book had a soundtrack,this chapter’s track would be

Helen Kane’s 1929 song Button Up Your Overcoat

What was New York City like then?

When Woody Hazelbaker got there at the end of the 1920s, he thought it grand, even after the breadlines that followed the Stock Market Crash in October ‘29: New York was America’s greatest and most bustling city, its port the gateway to the world. And whenever he wanted, Woody could shut the Depression out for a few hours at the movies. New York was his oyster.

Until Woody suddenly had to take on gangsters

for clients, that is . . . if he wanted to keep his job:

In 1933 the streets of New York were full of gangsters, the papers said. What I knew about them came from Walter Winchell in the Mirror and movies like Little Caesar.

He was about to learn a good deal more.

Owney Madden was no scientific genius like Professor Moriarty, but he handled things the same way. “He has a brain of the first order,” Holmes told Watson: “He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized.” Same with Madden, and I discovered a separate and different world beneath the surface.

Meet Woody’s New Clients:

Madden, Owen Vincent, aka Owney the Killer, b. Leeds, England, 1891. Came here in 1902, joined Hell’s Kitchen Gophers gang, its leader by 1912. Convicted of complicity in murder 1914, sentenced to 20 years in Sing Sing, paroled 1923. Formed alliance with Tammany Hall chieftain Jimmy Hines, went into bootlegging including many speakeasies and night clubs. Also involved with boxing, Broadway, Hollywood.

DeMange, George Jean, “Big Frenchy,” alias George Fox, b. New York City 1884. Member of Hudson Dusters gang, convicted twice of safecracking with 13 arrests total, including one for murder. Formed the partnership with Owney Madden in 1923, and became his right hand. Kidnapped and held for ransom by “Mad Dog” Coll in 1931 (an unwise career move on the latter’s part).

Uncomfortable customers for a bright and rising young lawyer to have as clients. Owney Madden was in the bootlegging business and everything else that went with it, including his chief aide and enforcer Big Frenchy DeMange. Prohibition was no laughing matter. It could drive you to drink. It could be the death of you. Owney Madden grew up in the part of New York called Hell’s Kitchen, and had been in the rackets since he was a kid, starting with one of its Irish gangs, The Gophers.

Owney Madden’s Gophers

(Owney in the back row, center)

(See the pigeons? Lay off them in front of Owney!)

Ch. 2: “Artists and Writers”

In Chapter 2, during the autumn of 1933, Woody’s deepening involvement with Owney Madden jars his cultural preconceptions loose when he visits the flagship of Madden’s nightclubs, the Cotton Club in Harlem. Later Woody encounters a new and only slightly more respectable social circle, at a watering-hole for Herald Tribune editors and writers like city editor Stanley Walker and café society columnist Lucius Beebe. And as winter approaches Woody makes a third discovery that will change his life for good, this time at the Harvard Club library: Vincent Starrett’s brand-new and magically evocative book, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

The Cotton Club

Club DeLuxe opened in 1920 at 142nd and Lenox Avenue, but Owney Madden bought it three years later and turned it into the Cotton Club, offering not only booze but the best jazz to be had, launching meteoric careers for Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and others. Black entertainers performing for strictly white audiences reflects the era’s racial segregation, but the Club’s showcasing of brilliant talent helps make jazz a national treasure. Ellington’s “Cotton Club Stomp” captured the beat and drive as well as the venue and era. Then decades later, in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 movie The Cotton Club, its life and times were recreated superbly, with Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne playing Owney Madden and Frenchy DeMange.

    It knocked the socks off me. I’d never heard anything like it before. The band music I was used to was milquetoast fox-trot stuff compared to it. A chorus line of nearly naked colored girls ran out onto the stage and went into a routine never seen south of Central Park. After the number — without pause the band swung into “Ring Dem Bells” — I turned to Owney and blurted: “No wonder this place packs them in!”

    “It’s all right I guess,” said Owney disparagingly, but with a wink at me.

    “Mr. Ellington’s a genius!” an indignant Frenchy protested. “A goddam genius! Nobody makes music like him!”

Bleeck’s “Artists and Writers” saloon

on West 40th was a different story, though:

Bleeck’s had opened as a speakeasy in the mid ’20s, and though  ruled with an iron hand by its irascible owner Jack Bleeck, it was instantly and permanently adopted by the newspaper’s editors and reporters.

Bleeck’s saloon was a few paces from the Herald Tribune’s back door, a stone’s throw from Seventh Avenue. Beside the entrance was a tarnished brass plaque saying “Artists and Writers” — the admission policy? Or maybe left over from an earlier establishment on the premises. Its big room, mahogany, brass and mirrors with a forty-foot bar, served as clubhouse for Trib reporters and editors. It was nearly empty at eleven in the morning, but even busy I couldn’t have missed Walker halfway down the bar, next to an arresting sight: another man dressed, at that hour of the day, in white tie and tails. He held a drink in one hand, a cigar in the other, and on the surface of the bar rested a silk top hat.

Meet Woody’s new, “respectable” acquaintances: the Herald Tribune’s worldly-wise city editor and his purple-prosed café society columnist:

Walker, Stanley, newspaperman; b. Lampasas, Tex., Oct. 21, 1898. ed. U of Texas, 1915-18; m. Mary Louise Sandefer, Jan. 2, 1923. Reporter, Austin (Tex.) American, later Dallas Morning News, 1918-19; reporter and rewrite man, N.Y. Herald (now Herald Tribune) 1920-26, night city editor 1926-28, city editor since 1928. Contbr. to mags. Author: The Night Club Era, 1933; City Editor, 1934. Address: Herald Tribune, 230 W. 41st St., New York, N.Y.


Beebe, Lucius Morris, journalist; b. Wakefield, Mass., Dec. 9, 1902. A.B. 1927, M.A. 1928, Harvard. Unmarried. Staff New York Herald Tribune since 1929; writer, syndicated column “This New York” since 1933. Member Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, Wine & Food Society of America, Republican. Clubs: Players, Coffee House. Author: Edwin Arlington Robinson and The Arthurian Legend, 1927; People on Parade (with Jerome Zerbe), 1934; Boston and the Boston Legend, 1935. Contbr., articles in reviews and periodicals. Address: Madison Hotel, 15 E. 58th St., New York, N.Y.

As Woody recalled the occasion:

    “What do you drink in the morning?” Walker greeted me. “Meet Lucius Beebe, the Trib’s apostle of café society.” Beebe was a few years older than me, tall and powerfully built in exquisitely tailored clothes, like an Abercrombie & Fitch ad. I knew the name. He had an about-town column in the Herald Tribune called “This New York.” It wasn’t Woody Hazelbaker’s New York. It was the New York of El Morocco by night, people with plenty of money despite the Depression, Broadway openings instead of bank closings, charity scavenger hunts instead of breadlines, uninterrupted self-indulgence instead of the dole. Standing there like that as high noon approached, he seemed a creature of legend. He sensed it from my expression, smiling with languid condescension and drawling: “And how do you make your way through the world, Hazelbaker?”

    “I’m a lawyer.”

    “Good God. This early in the day? Stanley, are your ex-wives after you again?”

Nevertheless Walker and Beebe become important resources about New York social life for Woody, their perspectives stretching from the 1920s into the ’40s. Walker’s books The Night Club Era (1933), City Editor (1934), and Mrs. Astor’s Horse (1935) are available today; The Night Club Era especially evokes the New York popular culture in which the BSI gestated and was being born in the early ’Thirties. Beebe’s 1943 Snoot If You Must is out of print, but obtainable from services like abebooks.com, and so is an entertaining posthumous collection of his shorter pieces, The Lucius Beebe Reader (1967).

(Accompany Life Magazine to Bleeck’s)

And even if prosperity wasn’t just

around the corner, Repeal is!

Prohibition ends December 5th, 1933, just about when Harvard Club librarian Earle Walbridge — later “The Sussex Vampire,” BSI, and at his death in 1962 the only man who’d attended every BSI dinner back to its “first formal meeting” in June ’34 — takes Woody to Christ Cella’s speakeasy on East 45th Street, where he meets Christopher Morley and some of his friends just as the nascent Baker Street Irregulars are about to burst out into the open.

“The time was ripe for sodality,” observed Morley later: “Even whiskey and sodality.”

Ch. 3: Christ Cella’s Speakeasy

In Chapter 3, over the winter, Woody is incurably bitten by the Sherlock Holmes bug, but his work for Owney Madden is not done. It finally comes to an end a year after it started, with Madden retiring from the rackets in New York and departing for a new life elsewhere. Woody has weathered the Depression’s worst year and learned a lot — but the ending of his clandestine association with Owney and Frenchy DeMange leaves him feeling blue.

At least he knew where to get a drink now.

New York Police Commissioner Grover Whalen estimated in 1929 that there were 32,000 illegal speakeasies in the city. The best, connoisseurs felt, lay between 40th and 60th Streets in midtown. One was opened in a brownstone at 144 East 45th Street in 1926 by an Italian immigrant named Christopher Cella, whose boyhood friend Mike Fischetti was on the NYPD’s “Italian Squad,” one of the toughest cops in town.

    Cella served good food as well as booze and homemade wine, and after Repeal his place would become the restaurant described below in Here Is New York, a 1939 guide for people coming to the New York World’s Fair, by World-Telegram writer Helen Worden:



It will take all of $5.00 to pay for a dinner for two at Christ Cella’s little hideaway restaurant in the basement of a brownstone front at 144 East Forty-fifth Street, just a block from Grand Central Palace. It is worth it, if you like good food and leisurely dining.

    Cella, sleek, brown-eyed and chunky, is a born innkeeper, though he gives mural painting as his profession. Bowing, shaking hands and swapping jokes with customers, he goes from table to table. Those who know him well call Cella by his first name. The effect is startling.

    Cella’s has retained its speakeasy atmosphere. When you open the basement door a buzzer sounds in the kitchen. The walls are bare and the chairs of the old-fashioned restaurant type. Tables are covered with clean white cotton cloths and the waiters wear long white linen aprons that flap about their ankles. The food is cooked to order.

    Newspapermen of the neighborhood sit at a large round table set in the kitchen. Their private napkin rings and special pill-boxes are lined up on a little shelf. A huge cookstove and a big bar contribute to the cheerful scene.


(Its later East 46th location was recognized as one of New York’s best steakhouses, first under Christ Cella himself and then his son Richard).

But in the early 1930s it was a speakeasy, where around a table in the kitchen Chris Morley and his Three-Hour Lunch Club friends met to drink, laugh and talk, gestating The Baker Street Irregulars. A magical place, and not for them alone. One of them, Malcolm Johnson, head of Doubleday, Doran’s Crime Club Books, took British writer Leslie Charteris there, and he in turn sent Simon Templar there in his 1935 thriller The Saint in New York:

there was one place, one institution that the Saint could have found in spite of far more sweeping changes in the geography of the city. Lexington Avenue could still be followed south to 45th Street; and on 45th Street Chris Cellini should still be entertaining his friends unless a tidal wave had removed him catastrophically from the trade he loved . . . . it would have taken more than the combined dudgeon of a dozen underworlds and police forces to keep him away. He had to eat; and in all the world there are no steaks like the steaks Chris Cellini broils over an open fire with his own hands. . . .

    [Cellini] led the Saint down the passage towards the kitchen, with a brawny arm around his shoulders. The kitchen was the supplement to the one small dining room that the place boasted—it was the sanctum sanctorum, a rendezvous that was more like a club than anything else, where those who were privileged to enter found a boisterous hospitality undreamed of in the starched expensive restaurants, where the diners are merely so many intruders, to be fed at a price and bowed stiffly out again. Although there were no familiar faces seated round the big communal table, the Saint felt the reawakening of an old happiness as he stepped into the brightly lighted room, with the smell of tobacco and wine and steaming vegetables and the clatter of plates and pans. It took him back at one leap to the ambrosial nights of drinking and endless argument, when all philosophies had been probed and all the world’s problems settled, that he had known in that homely place. . . .

    He sat back and sipped the drink that Chris brought him, watching the room through half-closed eyes. The flash of jest and repartee, the crescendo of discussion and the ring of laughter, came to his ears like the echo of an unforgettable song. It was the same as it had always been—the same humorous camaraderie presided over and kept vigorously alive by Chris’s own unchanging geniality. Why were there not more places like that in the world, he began to wonder—places where a host was more than a shop-keeper, and men threw off their cares and talked and laughed openly together, without fear or suspicion, expanding cleanly and fruitfully in the glow of wine and fellowship?

Off to the side at an oval table sat several men beneath a cloud of tobacco smoke. On the far side, back to the wall, was a burly man with a broad hearty face, thick brown hair, and lively eyes full of mischief. He looked up as we entered, and waved us into empty seats.

    “This is K.W. Hazelbaker Esq. from the Harvard Club,” Walbridge said grandly: “Woody, meet Christopher Morley, pater familias of the Three Hours for Lunch Club.”

    “Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Morley— Hey, wait: three hours?”

    “At the very least,” said Morley in a clear musical treble.

The crew Woody met that day were about to bring the BSI out into the open, once Repeal took effect. Let’s look them up in Who’s Who — we’re going to see a good deal of them in the chapters to come:

Greig, Peter, spirits and wines importer, b. Kent, England, 1890. A.B., Cambridge, 1912. m. British Embassy, Washington D.C., 1914-19. Admin. asst. to Joseph Pulitzer Jr., St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1920-24; Haines Spencer & Chancellor, N.Y. (publ. rltns) 1924-33; principal, Greig Lawrence & Hoyt, N.Y., 1933-present. Ed., Wine and Food Society newsletter, contrbr. to newspapers and mags. Member Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, Wine and Food Society, Pilgrims. Founder-chairman, Oxford-Cambridge boat race night dinner. Address: Alden, Port Chester, N.Y.

Hall, William Stanley, art critic and publisher, b. New York N.Y., 1890. m. V.p., Studio Publications 1933-present; formerly mng. ed. William Edwin Rudge Press. Contrbr., Sat Review Lit., other mags. Clubs: Players. Address: 500 Fifth Av., N.Y.

Leavitt, Robert Keith, advertising copywriter, b. Aug. 20, 1895, Cambridge, Mass. A.B., Harvard, 1917. Capt., 302nd Inf., France, 1917-18. m. Advert. mngr., Onyx Hosiery, 1920-24, secy.-treasurer, Association of National Advertisers, 1925-present. Contrbr. to many newspapers and mags. Address: 31 Walbrook Rd., Scarsdale, N.Y.

Davis, Elmer Holmes, journalist and writer, b. Jan. 13, 1890, Aurora, Ind. A.B., Franklin Coll., 1910, Rhodes Scholar, Queen’s Coll., Oxford, 1910-12. m. Reporter and editorial writer, New York Times, 1914-24, freelance writer since 1924. Author: History of the New York Times, 1921, Times Have Changed, 1923, I’ll Show You the Town, 1924, Friends of Mr. Sweeney, 1925, Show Window, 1927, Morals for Moderns, 1930, other books; contrbr. to mags. Clubs: Century. Address: 90 Morningside Dr., N.Y.C.

And of course:

Morley, Christopher Darlington, author, b. May 5, 1890, Haverford, Pa. A.B., Haverford Coll. (Phi Beta Kappa), 1910; Rhodes Scholar, New Coll., Oxford, 1910-13. m. Editorial staff, Doubleday Page & Co., 1913-17, Ladies’ Home Journal, 1917-18, Phila. Public Ledger, 1918-20, N.Y. Evening Post, 1920-24, Saturday Review of Lit., 1924-present. Author: Parnassus on Wheels, 1918, Shandygaff, 1918, The Haunted Bookshop, 1919, In the Sweet Dry and Dry, 1919, Travels in Philadelphia, 1920, Pipefuls, 1920, Tales From a Rolltop Desk, 1921, Where the Blue Begins, 1922, Pandora Lifts the Lid (with Don Marquis), 1924, Thunder on the Left, 1925, I Know a Secret, 1927, Seacoast of Bohemia, 1929, John Mistletoe, 1931, Swiss Family Manhattan, 1932, Human Being, 1932, Internal Revenue, 1933, other books; contrbr. to mags and newspapers. Founded, with Cleon Throckmorton, Hoboken Theatrical Co., 1928, producing revivals of “After Dark,” “The Black Crook,” etc. Clubs: Coffee House, Three Hours for Lunch. Address: Roslyn Heights, L.I.

“Have a martini,” said Walbridge. “Best drink in the house.”

The author’s martini recipe:

(Use only chilled vermouth and olives, and gin stored in your freezer.)

            5 to 1 Bombay gin to Noilly Prat dry vermouth.

            2 dashes orange bitters.

            Stir; garnish with 2 anchovy-stuffed olives.

            Serve in glasses kept in the freezer.

Warning: Don’t drink as many as Woody did that day!

And don’t try “Minnie the Moocher” yourself in public.

You’re not as good as Cab Calloway was.

Nobody is, including me and Woody.

(Larry Marshall was pretty damn good

in the movie “Cotton Club,” though)

But all good things must come to an end,

including Woody’s work for Owney Madden.

“One last thing,” he said as I got to my feet and he did too. “I want to shake hands. We never have, you realize that? First time you came here, I didn’t offer, because I didn’t know if you’d want to. I hope you do now. I do.”

And Owney takes the Broadway Limited

to new horizons in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

(They still remember Owney there.)

I shook hands with Owney Madden and Frenchy DeMange. Downstairs Owney’s bulletproof Duesenberg was waiting. In front was a case of Scotch and six boxes of Havanas made up especially for Owney. It drove me across town to East 39th, the wet streets dark and nearly deserted at that hour. I carried the briefcases when we got there, and Owney’s driver lugged the rest up to my apartment. I hung up my hat and coat, opened the briefcase Owney had given me and gazed at the money again, then stashed it in the back of my closet. I loosened my tie, poured myself a stiff drink, and sat down beside a window — sat there a long time, the untasted drink in my hand, listening to it rain. I had just turned thirty, and suddenly felt alone like never before.

Ch. 4: Café Society

In Chapter 4, stretching from spring to autumn, 1934, a chance meeting with Lucius Beebe at Bleeck’s propels Woody into a more cosmopolitan circle at the Plaza Hotel’s Men’s Bar. They have mixed feelings about the café society Beebe represents — unembarrassed privilege shutting the Depression out of their glamorous venues — but also strong political views that expose Woody to  what’s happening elsewhere in the world, particularly Hitler
coming to power in Germany. Woody takes a tentative step into café society himself one night, at El Morocco, and steps on the toes of a beautiful girl who (unlike him) is quite at home there.

The Men’s Bar, Plaza Hotel

It still exists — known now as the Oak Room: “by far the hotel’s most significantly historic space, virtually unchanged since the day the Plaza opened for business, Oct. 1, 1907,” wrote the Times five years ago (“What Would Eloise Say?” by Curtis Gathje, Jan. 16, 2005):

It was then known as the Men’s Bar, an all-male enclave said to be the favorite room of the hotel’s architect, Henry J. Hardenbergh. Its German Renaissance design features walls of sable-dyed English oak, frescoes of Bavarian castles, faux wine casks carved into the woodwork and a grape-laden chandelier topped by a barmaid hoisting a stein. Twenty-foot-high ceilings provide the wow factor.

The only significant alteration to the space came with the onset of Prohibition in 1920, when the bar proper was removed and the room shuttered. It was used for storage until 1934, when it was reborn . . . . 

    “Well, good fortune attend you. What do you do for lunch Sundays?”


    “Some friends and I have lunch at the Plaza most Sundays, though for me it’s breakfast. Uncle Stanley will be there, and two or three others to amuse you. You might amuse them, with that disarming look and serpent’s tongue of yours. And I shouldn’t wonder if one or two of them don’t need a lawyer. Rally round at the Men’s Bar at 12:01 sharp Sunday, if you care to.”

    “I thought you said we traveled in different circles.”

    “Well, suit yourself, dear boy.”

For the next 70 years, it was patronized by some of the most celebrated folk of the 20th century. Among them was George M. Cohan, the Broadway hyphenate, a composer-playwright-actor-producer-theater owner, and the only person ever awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for a song, the rousing World War I anthem, “Over There.” Cohan made the Oak Room his pre-theater headquarters, his preferred table being a booth in its northwest corner. Offering a fine view of all comings and goings, it became known as the Cohan Corner, where the great man was courted by theatrical types looking for work. After his death in 1942, a bronze plaque was installed to commemorate his tenure; it still hangs there today.

Woody did show up, meeting an expanded circle besides Beebe and Walker:

“Are you the New Yorker artist?” I asked Arno, a big athletic good-looking man unlike any artist I’d ever imagined. “How do you know Lucius?”

    “We were classmates at Yale, until they kicked him out.”

    “Really?” I glanced at Beebe. “What was he like in college?”

    “Well, when he left for Harvard, three New Haven bootleggers went out of business.”

Arno, Peter, cartoonist, author, b. New York, N.Y., Jan. 8, 1904. Hotchkiss Sch., 1918-22, Yale, 1922-24. m. Cartoonist on staff The New Yorker since 1925; writer, producer of musical revues; writer and designer for Paramount Pictures, designer of automobiles, pianist, photographer, painter. Numerous exhibitions in America, London, Paris. Member, Soc. of Illus. Author: The Whoops Sisters, 1927; Peter Arno’s Parade, 1929; Peter Arno’s Hullabaloo, 1930; Peter Arno’s Circus, 1931; Peter Arno’s Favorites, 1932; For Members Only, 1935. Contbr. to mags. and newspapers. Clubs: Yale. Address: 417 Park Av., New York, N.Y.

“Who is he, exactly? He looks like an anxious undergraduate.”

    “Jerome’s the photographer at El Morocco, as you’d know if you read my columns. His family in Cleveland sent him to Yale, and now he’s here making humanity appear more beautiful than it really is, so his presence is solicited at all the best tables. He really knows everybody, and has pictures to prove it.”

Zerbe, Jerome B., Jr., photographer, b. Euclid, Ohio, Jul. 24, 1904. A.B., Yale, 1928. Worked in Hollywood as painter, then photographer, 1928-31. Art director, Parade mag., Cleveland, 1931-33. Official photographer El Morocco, New York, since 1933, also Rainbow Room. Contbr. to Town & Country, other mags. Author: People on Parade (with Lucius Beebe), 1934. Address: 154 E. 54th St., New York, N.Y.

Alsop was younger than me, short and pudgy with a pale face and dark-rimmed glasses beneath thin brown hair. Dapper, though, in a gray suit with a bow tie and a yellow carnation in his lapel. There was an air of privilege about him even in the way he held his drink and his cigarette. Prissy almost. But not the way he talked.

Alsop, Joseph Wright V, newspaperman, author, b. Avon, Conn., Oct. 11, 1910. Groton Sch., 1928; A.B., Harvard, 1932. Staff New York Herald Tribune since 1932. Address: N.Y. Herald Tribune, 230 W. 41st St., New York, N.Y.

One thing’s changed at the Oak Room since Woody’s time, though:

When the National Organization for Women decided to challenge the men-only policies at restaurants and clubs, it chose the Oak Room, which refused to serve women at lunch on weekdays, as a test case, knowing the kind of upscale publicity it would lend to the cause. One day in February 1969, Betty Friedan and several other women swept past the Oak Room’s maître d’ and sat down at a table. The waiters’ response was to remove the table, leaving the women sitting awkwardly in a circle. A man at a nearby booth offered breadsticks, which were declined, and the group decamped to form a picket line in front of the hotel.

(This reminds me of something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.)

The Men’s Bar Oak Room is sadly the only venue this chapter that still exists (with a close escape a few years ago when the Plaza’s barbarian redeveloper intended to gut it). The Biltmore Hotel is gone, turned into office space despite protected-landmark status at the time. And the Capitol Theater was torn down to make way for another office building. But the movie Woody saw there that night has lasted: The Thin Man, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Also gone: El Morocco on East 54th Street,

greatest of Manhattan nightclubs in the 1930s and ’40s.

Through a Moorish archway was a long low room in cobalt blue and white, with palm trees here and

there on the walls in silver and gold leaf. Tiny lights twinkled in a deep azure ceiling. Banquettes along the walls, and backs and seats of chairs, were in the blue zebra print identifying El Morocco in newspaper pictures. Beside a dance floor two-thirds of the way back, a band competed with scores of voices. As the evening wore on and more and more people arrived, additional tables and chairs were brought out and placed on the dance floor until it almost disappeared.

    If I’d seen the place empty I might have wondered what the fuss was about, but it was busy when we arrived. The staff looked smart, the male clientele looked smart, and the women looked beautiful. At a podium outside the arch, the maître d’ greeted us and led us inside, where Beebe was perched on a stool watching a bartender perform with a cocktail shaker.

    “This is something of Mary Astor’s I have to try,” he said, as the mixture was poured into a glass. “She’ll be here tonight. She calls it the Astor Painless Anesthetic. . . . And Woody, our Sherlock Holmes devotee, I’ve consulted experts to find the appropriate cocktail for you. It’s called a London Fog.”

    “Oh yeah? What’s in it?”

The Astor Painless Anesthetic:

        3 oz. gin              

        1 oz. French vermouth

        1 oz. Italian vermouth

        1 oz. cognac

Shake well with ice cubes and dash of orange bitters, twist of lemon peel and just a touch of sugar.


The London Fog:

        1½ oz. gin

        ¼ oz. Pernod’s absinthe

Frappe briskly with shaved ice and serve while still foaming.

From Lucius Beebe’s Stork Club Bar Book, 1946.

Beebe describes the London Fog as a morning drink —

a hangover cure for things like the Astor Painless Anesthetic.

(“among the more heroic remedies, of course”)

Owner John Perona and maître d’ Frank Carino made El Morocco, once a speakeasy, the place to go and be seen for all manner of celebrities, including Broadway and Hollywood stars.

People kept stopping by to speak to Beebe, hoping to find themselves in his column the next day. Between interruptions, Beebe explained café society to us. “Thank this speakeasy,” he said: “El Morocco had a clientele whose snob appeal was an inestimable asset when Repeal came, and all it had to do was get a license and throw away the bolt on the front door. Its great accomplishment was dispensing with the singers and dancers other nightclubs offer, because the most exciting floor show in town is provided by El Morocco’s patrons themselves.”

(“Not only were they fascinated with looking at each others, libeling each other conversationally and bowing to themselves in the mirrors, they would pay fabulous sums to do it,” wrote Beebe in 1937 in the introduction to Jerome Zerbe’s El Morocco’s Family Album: “And the fame of their personal appearances, the feuds, occasional loyalties, witticisms and general after dark conduct of the celebrities who flocked to Morocco became symbols of urban magnificence.”)

I must have snickered, because he went on reprovingly: “Believe it or not, fortunes and careers are made by sitting at the right table. Carino, the maître d’ you met, is the most adroit diplomat since Talleyrand. On his favor and discretion hang feuds, romances, careers, ambitions, the very foundations of the most bitterly jealous and competitive social hierarchy of our generation. It’s comical that the Nobel Committee gives its Peace Prize to do-gooders like Jane Addams. He deserves one far more.”

But there are unsuspected dangers at El Morocco:

“I take it all back,” I said. “About you being a lily of the field. You are the Sherlock Holmes of café society. You not only see, but observe. The merest detail, the slightest clue, speaks volumes to you, and I feel like Dr. Watson, humbled and worshipful after Holmes has explained his deductions to him.”

    Beebe basked, and started to reply, when suddenly behind me a silvery voice spoke out of the blue. “Lucius! Where were you last Saturday? I was devastated when you didn’t come to my party!”

    I pushed back my chair to rise, bumped into something, and heard a cry of pain. I froze, then scuttled out sideways like a crab, and turned to face the most stunning girl I’d ever seen. She looked at me with indignation, rubbing the top of one gold-sandaled foot against the back of her other ankle.

Ch. 5: Converse Cloth

In Chapter 5, December 1934 through the next several months, Woody attends the first Baker Street Irregulars dinner at Christ Cella’s and solidifies his position in Chris Morley’s BSI. At December’s BSI dinner, he observes a World’s Champ and a Fabulous Monster, both of whom he will meet again, but more importantly he makes a new friend for life in Basil Davenport. His acquaintance with Elmer Davis moves beyond the BSI into other realms, and Woody comes to understand what Morley had told him: they do all have Sherlock Holmes in common, but the BSI is primarily about friendship.

“Look at the others in the BSI,” Morley said: “Everyone discovered Sherlock Holmes in boyhood, striking a chord vibrating to this day. Nothing in our lives since — careers, experience of war, occasionally crushing family responsibilities — effaces the memory of boyhood wonder and delight. Nor the adult conviction that if Holmes and Watson and 221B Baker Street weren’t real, they ought to have been.”

    “That’s the way I felt as a boy,” I said. “And when I started reading the stories again, it all came back in a rush.”

    “Then you’re welcome in the Irregulars, Woody,” he replied. “As I said, it’s not the stories’ details. Some of us know them less well than you. It’s something more. When the Sherlock Holmes stories seize someone this way, it’s because they speak to his fundamental values and ideal of friendship. That’s what the stories are really about, friendship. And in hard times like these, that’s very important to hold onto.”

World’s Champ and Fabulous Monster

     “How do you know him?” Lucius Beebe asked.

        “He’s one of Morley’s friends. One of the Baker Street Irregulars.”

        “Really! I know he spouts Shakespeare, he often does here, but this is an unsuspected dimension, if possibly, just possibly, a lesser one. Amazing how circles overlap. Of course the number of people in town who matter is fairly small.”

Tunney, James Joseph Eugene, athlete, b. May 25, 1897, New York, N.Y. m. With Ocean Steamship Co., New York, 1912-17. Amateur boxer beginning age 16; U.S. Marine Corps, 1917-18, won A.E.F. lt heavyweight championship, Apr. 1919; professional boxer, 1919-1928, World Heavyweight Champ, 1926-28, “Fighter of the Year,” 1928, retired undefeated that year. Motion picture, The Fighting Marine, 1926. Author, A Man Must Fight, 1932. Clubs: Coffee House, Burning Tree, Army-Navy. Address: Stamford, Conn.

Suddenly, with an explosive burst so nobody would miss his entrance, Alexander Woollcott arrived. Everybody knew his face from magazines and high piping voice from the radio — and some people hated both. “Who the hell invited him?” Bob Leavitt snapped.

    “Vincent Starrett, I imagine,” Elmer murmured patiently, “since that’s him behind Aleck.” Elmer winked at me. Woollcott and Morley might be rival bookmen, but Chris didn’t look half as annoyed as Bob.

Woollcott, Alexander Humphreys, critic, b. Jan. 19, 1887, Phalanx, N.J. A.B., Hamilton Coll., 1909, Phi Beta Kappa. Reporter and drama critic, N.Y. Times, 1909-17; Capt., U.S. Army, 1917-18, on staff Stars & Stripes, Paris; New Yorker columnist (“Shouts and Murmurs”) since 1929; member, Algonquin Round-Table. CBS radio,“Early Bookworm,” 1929-33, “Town Crier,” since 1933. Author: Mrs. Fiske, 1917; The Command is Forward, 1919; Shouts and Murmurs, 1922; Mr. Dickens Goes to the Play, 1922; Enchanted Aisles, 1924; Story of Irving Berlin, 1925; Going to Pieces, 1928; Two Gentlemen and a Lady, 1928; While Rome Burns, 1934. Clubs: Dutch Treat. Address: “Wit’s End,” E. 52nd St., New York, N.Y.

from the author’s book “Certain Rites, And Also Certain Duties” (2009):

Leavitt was not only a man of strong opinions, but of strong likes and dislikes. One of his dislikes was Alexander Woollcott, whose presence at the December 7, 1934, annual dinner Leavitt always insisted was uninvited, unwanted, and obnoxious. But a September 9, 1938, letter from Elmer Davis to Vincent Starrett gives a different impression: an older friend of Morley’s than Leavitt, Davis took up merrily with Woollcott that night. “Woollcott and I,” he said, “got to the point of plotting a joint book, I to edit it, he to finance it, on which we did a lot of work before we discovered it was just one of these ideas consequent on too many cocktails.” (“Too many cocktails” is an unfamiliar concept for Irregulars of that day; elsewhere, Starrett recorded that Davis greeted him at Christ Cella’s that night with a highball in each hand. That spirit, sustained by periodic refreshings, could have given us a book by Davis and Woollcott that would have been something for the ages — lost, because of the curse of sobriety.)

Woody’s new friend, journeyman book critic Basil Davenport—

what’s more, who’d actually passed the BSI’s entrance exam!

“I did the Crossword on a whim,” he said, “and got a note back saying I was a Baker Street Irregular. How about you?”

   “Earle Walbridge took me along to a lunch a year ago,” I told him, “and I ended up buying rounds of drinks for everyone. I’ve been trying to get level ever since. Are you a writer?”

   “Just barely,” he said cheerfully, saying that he wrote book reviews, blurbs and promotional copy for publishers, “scrapwork like that.”

Davenport, Basil, critic, b. Mar. 7, 1905, Louisville, Ky.A.B., Yale, 1926, M.A., Oxford Univ., 1928. Classics lecturer, Rutgers Univ., 1929-31. Staff, Book of the Month Club, since 1933. Contbr. of reviews, Sat. Review Lit., other mags. Clubs: Yale (N.Y.), Appalachian Mtn. Address: Yale Club, 50 Vanderbilt Av., New York, N.Y.

I watched him suck down the gin and tonic he’d brought to the table and go back to the bar for another, and sized him up as an amiable lush.

    My sense of superiority didn’t last long. Basil looked at Elmer and addressed him in Latin. Then they started talking across me about Horace, mostly in Latin. I’d struggled through it in high school; they talked about Horace as if he were a mutual friend. When I finally got a word in edgewise and asked what the hell, Basil shrugged off “two perfectly useless degrees” in classics from Yale and Oxford. Then as I started thinking of him as a pudgy intellectual, he said something to Gene Tunney across the table about their boxing a few rounds at the Yale Club before coming to Cella’s. Anyone who’d box Gene Tunney for fun— I gave up, and went and got another drink myself.

Elmer Davis becomes his political conscience. Woody can use one: his regained professional calm is jolted the self-possessed young heiress he met at El Morocco has daddy switch his legal work to Woody. Lucius Beebe is amused, but sends Woody out to see one of his new client’s mill towns.

“Well, bon chance, mon ami, it’s time for me to toddle off. Surely there’s a parting Sherlock Holmes quotation that’s appropriate?”

    “‘Women are never to be entirely trusted, not the best of them.’”

    “See how you can still rise to the occasion? You aren’t quite the toad beneath the harrow yet. But if you’re correct about this, she’s lying in wait for you out there somewhere. Say hello for me when she pounces.”

Trouble is, Woody’s becoming besotted with the spoiled princess.

Ch. 6: A Distant Goddess

Chapter 6 stretches from the spring of 1935 to New Year’s Eve in 1936, more than a year and a half of political turbulence in America, and in Woody’s life as well. The still young phenomenon of radio carries not only FDR’s reassuring Fireside Chats into American homes, but also the demagoguery of former Louisiana Governor, now Senator, Huey “Kingfish” Long, and the maverick priest Father Charles Coughlin. While Elmer Davis worries about a native despot poised for the ’36 elections, Woody’s worries are closer to home. Full of mixed feelings about his unpleasant new client’s daughter, he salves his conscience by teaching New Deal Law at the New School for Social Research, while Diana has him on a merry-go-round to nowhere: his theme song, he laments, has become Bunny Berigan’s “I Can’t Get Started.”

At least the BSI is still in business!

(sort of, for a little while)

Woody attends the ’36 annual dinner at Christ Cella’s — neither he nor anyone else there realizing that it will be the last for four years. But Woody’s Irregular circle continues to widen a bit:

a born-salesman type who ran Scribner’s rare-books shop on Fifth Avenue. He watched me pore over some of Elmer’s books, and smilingly sized me up as a mark.

Randall, David Anton, rare books dealer, b. April 5, 1905, Nanticoke, Pa. A.B. Lehigh Univ., 1928. Brick Row Bookshop, New York, 1929-31; G. A. Baker & Co., New York, 1931-34; manager, rare books dept., Scribner’s Book Store, since Mar. 1935. Member, Bibliographical Soc. America. Contbr. to Publishers Weekly, Colophon, other jrnls. Clubs: Grolier. Address: Scriber’s Book Store, 597 Fifth Av., New York, N.Y.

and Woody brings Elmer Davis into his Men’s Bar group, thrashing out the political controversies at home and abroad that are more and more on people’s minds, making the times tense.

    “Behind the times as usual,” Stanley laughed: “The revolutionary rhetoric vanished months ago. Park Avenue’s joined the Popular Front against the Nazis.”

    “About time,” I said.

    “Alongside Russia? You think so, do you?” Lucius sneered.

   “Oh, many people do,” said Elmer. “Don’t you see the appeal?”

   “No,” he said firmly.

   “Well, you wouldn’t, you hopeless reactionary,” Elmer told him, “but look at it from a reasonable point of view. The New Deal hasn’t overcome the disaster here, while we hear glowing reports about Russia from Lincoln Steffens to George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells to—”

   “Walter Duranty in the Times,” I supplied.

   “Yes: my old paper. And take Spain. Hitler helps Franco while we ignore the civil war there. Paris and London actually prevent people from fighting for the Republic!”

   “Spain’s the thing,” nodded Stanley happily. “Best cause in years. Nothing like it since Sacco-Vanzetti. Oh, we know what you think about that, Lucius.”

The New School for social research

In the early 1930s the New School’s snazzy new Greenwich Village building, with an informal left-wing faculty and ties to outfits like the John Reed Clubs, was just the place for a Wall Street lawyer to validate his anti-Wall Street feelings, as long as he could duck. With the Depression still around, and Nazi Germany rearming (even if a lot of people thought Hitler a laughing matter) — the New School was a jumping joint:

sometimes Woody did find it a challege)

   “In my innocence I thought literary life glamorous. Now I know how dangerous it is.”

   Chris Morley looked down the table at me, elbows propped up on it and chin resting on tented hands. “I can envision you crushed beneath a Reichenbach Falls of law books, Woody, but I wouldn’t call even Blackstone literature.”

   “Nothing to do with the office. It was at the New School, and I had a riot on my hands. My class meets again tonight, and they’re probably already building barricades.”

   “You’re taking a literature course there?”

   “No, I teach a law course there.”

   “Well, then?”

   “All right, if you want the sordid story. It’s a New School course on New Deal law, and maybe you understand what that means. They’re a lot of them union organizers looking to learn how to put business on the spot, which suits me fine. This time, though— . . . .”

The Fair Sex was Watson’s department, not Woody’s.

Certainly not as much as Woody wishes, in a Manhattan full of glamorous women. Not only can’t he get started with Diana, he doesn’t even seem to have her attention when they’re together — and is silly enough to look for answers in the movies, as if life were one big screwball comedy.

It sounds silly, but the movies did help us through those times. For some it was Shirley Temple, for others Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, for more than you could count Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. For me, it was one romantic comedy of William Powell’s after another until my mind turned to mush. The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, another Thin Man imitation, had come out while Diana was in Europe, but when she got back I took her to My Man Godfrey at Radio City. It co-starred Powell’s ex-wife Carole Lombard,* both nuts not to stay married. Powell was a stockbroker down on his luck, plucked out of a hobo jungle to butler for the nuttiest family on Fifth Avenue. The Times called Lombard’s Irene “a one-track mind with grass growing over its rails,” but that was a damn sight better than her mean sister Cornelia. Diana arched an eyebrow at me afterwards and asked which one I thought she resembled.

* “Marvelous girl—crazy as a bedbug”  — director Howard Hawks

Maybe there was something to it, though

After taking Diana to see After the Thin Man on New Year’s Eve, he finds himself finally, truly, completely alone with Diana — and this time all escape cut off. By a few seconds into January 1st, 1937, they’re engaged. (Woody not entirely sure how it happened, but thinking pretty well of the idea. . . .)

Ch. 7: Orange Blossom Limited

Tall, thin and bony, Ambrose Converse reminded me of Moriarty in more ways than one.

With Woody married at the beginning of 1937, a year passes. Diana is beautiful and wealthy, but comes with a father-in-law whose politics Woody can barely abide. Yet Ambrose Converse is also his most important client now, as if Jimmy Stewart had gone to work for old buzzard Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. So Woody dwells uncomfortably in a higher social and economic stratum of an increasingly disturbing world, as he takes stock of it when they return from their honeymoon.

In Florida, we hadn’t looked at a newspaper once. Her maid had left us a stack, and I flipped through them during breakfast. The big stories were the Prince of Wales’ abdication, Italy invading Ethiopia, and FDR’s new term. Fierce debate had started over his court-packing scheme, to circumvent the Supreme Court’s “nine old men” striking down one New Deal program after another. Enlarging the Court had people’s backs up, while others felt the Court was so pre-Depression in make-up, it might as well be the Dark Ages.

    General Motors was shut down by strikes. In Spain, Franco was trying to encircle Madrid. Four columns were marching on the city with a “fifth column” inside it waiting to strike like a snake. Congress was taking steps to reinforce the Neutrality Act and—

    And Diana snatched the paper from me, dropped it on top of the others, and pushed the entire stack off onto the floor. “No disappearing behind newspapers at breakfast, boy. I didn’t marry you to get better acquainted with the Times.”

“There Shall Be No Annual Dinner”

The consolation of BSI seems to be denied: there is no Annual Dinner in 1937 (nor will be in 1938 either). But Woody and some others, instead of shrugging, organize occasional Irregular three-hour lunches of their own. To Basil Davenport, Peter Greig, Earle Walbridge, and Dave Randall are added two more, one a kinsprit already, the other someone who will become important to Woody as the world drifts closer to war.

[at the 1936 annual dinner] By the time I sat down between Basil and Ronald Mansbridge, the David Niven-like Cambridge University Press man in town, all three of us were half-stewed.

Mansbridge, Frederick Ronald, publisher, bibliophile, b. Nov. 11, 1905, Sanderstead, Surrey, England. A.B., Corpus Christi Coll., Cambridge, 1928. English faculty, Barnard Coll. (New York), 1928-30. Cambridge Univ. Press representative in U.S. since 1930. m. Member, Amer. Institute of Graphic Arts, Tyndale Society. Contbr. to Book Collector, Publishers Weekly, Sat. Review Lit., other mags. Clubs: Grolier, Century. Address: Macmillan Co., 60 Fifth Av., New York, N.Y.

Pratt stood only 5'3", had thin receding red hair, and wore round-rimmed eyeglasses with tinted lenses. But he looked like a tough egg nonetheless. Wiry and muscular, with a neatly clipped mustache, he resembled a wary bird who’d bite off any finger poked in his direction.

Pratt, Murray Fletcher, writer and historian, b. Apr. 28, 1897, Buffalo N.Y. Attended Hobart Coll. 1915-16, Sorbonne, Paris, 1931-32. m., 1926. Staff, Buffalo Publ. Library, 1916-17, War Library Service, 1917-18. Reporter, Buffalo Courier-Express, 1919-20. Freelance writer contbr. to Sat. Review Lit., Amer. Mercury, U.S. Naval Inst. Proceedings, Inf., Field Arty. Jrnls (nonfiction), Amazing Stories, American Detective (fiction), and other mags. since 1920. Faculty, Bread Loaf (Vt.) Writers Conference. Author: The Heroic Years (1934), Ordeal by Fire (1935), Hail Caesar (1936). Clubs: New York Author’s (pres.), Lotos. Address: 327 W. 28th St., New York, N.Y.

In 1937 even Irregulars have foreign dangers on their minds, and not just those convening at the Men’s Bar Sundays for martinis and chicken soup. But into those sessions now is injected an isolationist note even Anglophiles like Elmer and Woody can’t ignore, from Chris Morley’s brother Felix, “the Second Garrideb,” editor of the Washington Post sharply critical of FDR and his policies.

Morley, Felix Muskett, journalist, b. Jan. 6, 1894, Haverford, Pa. A.B., Haverford Coll. (Phi Beta Kappa), 1915; Rhodes Scholar, New Coll., Oxford, 1919-21; Ph.D., Brookings Institute, 1933. m. Society of Friends Ambulance Unit with British Army, Flanders, 1915-16; U.S. Army, France, 1917-18. Reporter, Phila. Publ. Ledger, 1916-17; Phila. North American, 1919; reporter and editorial staff, Baltimore Sun, 1922-28 (Far Eastern corresp., 1925-26). Guggenheim Fellow, League of Nations, Geneva, 1928-29, dir., Geneva office, League of Nations Assoc. of U.S.A., 1929-31. Brookings Institute, Wash. D.C., 1931-33. Editor, Wash. Post, since 1933 (Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, 1936). Author: Our Far East Assignment (1926); The Society of Nations (1932). Club: National Press (Wash. D.C.). Address: Washington Post, 1339 E St. N.W., Washington D.C.

America is divided, the more so as Hitler’s designs upon Europe become clearer. Elmer Davis gives up fiction to write serious foreign policy articles for Harper’s Magazine, about the dangers in store for an indifferent and unprepared America.

An Elmer Davis Reader, 1937

England’s Weak Spot (March)

The British Empire may no longer be able to regard itself, as it reasonably could until 1914, as the leading power of the world; since we let opportunity slip through our fingers in the early twenties, it may be doubted if the world has had any leading power, which may be one of the things that is the matter with it. . . .

England Turns a Corner (April)

When the crisis that ended with the abdication of Edward VIII had been quickly and smoothly settled the English indulged in a good deal of excusable self-congratulation. Not only had they disposed of a troublesome situation with less fuss than almost any other nation would have made over it—the reaction abroad, they told one another, had demonstrated that all men of good will realized that the stability of England was vitally essential to the stability of a somewhat unsteady world. . . .

Belgium and Holland—Isolated? (May)

Americans are not particularly proud of their country’s isolation from world politics, but do not see what else can be done about it at the moment. You still meet Europeans who ask you why America does not come into the League and help to do something about world peace; but most of them, after recent collapses of the system of collective security, know why, and only wish that they could do as we do. I believe that every democratic nation in Europe today would get out of Europe and stay out if it could; out of the neighborhood of Germany . . .

Czechoslovakia: Bridge or Barricade? (June)

People who try to describe the Czechoslovak Republic in its nineteenth year seem driven to metaphor. President Benês, in his radio broadcast last Christmas Eve, said that “Czechoslovakia stands like a lighthouse high on a cliff with the waves crashing around it—a democracy that has the mission to keep the flag of peace, freedom, and toleration flying in Central Europe.” The propaganda German radio stations and newspapers have been pouring out for months sees the country as a “sally port of Bolshevism,” And K. H. Frank of the Czechoslovak parliament, a German belonging to the half-Hitlerized Sudetendeutsche Partei, has said that the state must be “either a bridge between Germany and the southeast or a barricade against Germany.” . . . .


Diana has her own response: use her family money to fund groups opposed to Nazi aggression. Woody is surprised, but pleased. But for them both, 1937 is their newlywed year — out on the town, taking in the movies, seeking out the coolest jive joints with the hottest jazz, and going dancing with the Age of Swing in full blast.

Everyone did after Benny Goodman took the Paramount Theater by storm, people clamoring for tickets nearly rioting in Sixth Avenue. Swing was music to dance to, but mainly for jitterbugs and bobby-soxers. One night I overheard a callow youth say something to his girl about “shaming the old folks off the floor,” and realized in dismay that he meant me. But when I walked into a jive joint with Diana, nobody took me for a rootietoot, let alone a lawyer.

    Bunny Berigan blew haunting versions of “Ebb Tide” and “Caravan” and a “Study in Brown” whose piano part was the hottest thing I could do. But Bunny performed drunk. He said he could play drunk because he practiced drunk, and he sure could play, but we were watching self-destruction right before our eyes. But a few bars into something, we forgot about it. Bunny’s Famous Door sessions were wonderful, and so was Benny Goodman’s quartet. He and drummer Gene Krupa were from his band, but the others were colored musicians, cool Teddy Wilson on piano and excited Lionel Hampton on vibes, the first mixed group we’d seen.

    The first time I heard them do “Moonglow” it was three in the morning, Diana and me listening to the sweet haunting music through a dreamlike haze of smoke and alcohol. I never heard “Moonglow” again without thinking of that first year of marriage. We went on that way into 1938, celebrating our first anniversary without even a BSI dinner to break the mood.




Go to Woody Hazelbaker’s World for more


Baker Street Irregular,

by Jon Lellenberg

Cover art by Laurie Fraser Manifold

Arkham House Publishers

Box 122, Sauk City, Wisconsin 53585

ISBN-13: 978-0-87054-186-5