20 Feb 65 : off-Broadway oddity, awful chat shows, luxury hotels and liners : New York, USA

This continues the letter dated 17th February 1965, which began…

Dear Family,

Saturday 20th February

Well, today we had a surprise. We are spending the weekend in New York again and we came in last night and had a great deal of trouble finding somewhere to stay.

We went to our usual place (where we are now well known) and they could only put us up for one night as they are fully booked for Saturday and Sunday. This is because Monday is a national holiday – because it’s Washington’s Birthday, and a lot of people are in Manhattan for a long weekend.

Anyway, we phoned several other places and they were full too, so we stayed one night only (last night) and this morning the manager (who knows us well now) gave us a letter, and told us to go to the Americana Hotel, which is one of the top hotels in New York. We hadn’t even thought of this because we imagined it would be well out of our price range.

However this letter instructed the manager to give us a room at the same rate as our usual place – plus free parking. So we are now staying at the fabulous Americana Hotel, where Ella Fitzgerald is singing this week – so we are really living in grand style now.

Americana Hotel 1

Designed by architect Morris Lapidus in 1962, the 53 storey Loews Americana boasted spectacular views. As Midtown Manhattan’s first grand-scale modern hotel, it had 2,000 rooms, five restaurants, 10 ballrooms and a parking garage for 350 cars. The hotel’s restaurant and jazz club The Royal Box hosted legendary performers such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee.


Americana Hotel 2

It’s a terrific hotel, new and very modern, and in the heart of the nightlife of New York. The greatest touch of luxury I have yet experienced is a telephone at the side of the toilet – a white one, of course. Can you imagine that – answering the telephone whilst in the bath, or even on the toilet!!! That’s really living.

This afternoon we went ice skating in Central Park. It was terrific too. The temperature was very cold, well below freezing, but the sun was out and a clear blue sky, and if you kept skating you didn’t notice the cold. It’s a terrific setting – open-air ice skating surrounded by towering skyscrapers.

Last night, on our drive into Manhattan, we were driving up the West Side Elevated Highway, which runs pass the docks, and we were lucky enough to see three of the greatest liners in the world, all in dock. We saw the French liner ‘France’, the ‘United States’ and the Dutch ‘New Amsterdam’. It’s not very often you will see these all at the same time.


Launched in 1962, the French Line SS France was the longest passenger ship ever built.
SS United States

The SS United States broke all transatlantic speed records.
SS Nieuw Amsterdam

The SS Nieuw Amsterdam was astonishingly luxurious, in an Art Deco style.

Last night I got some free tickets to see an ‘off Broadway’ show called the ‘Hairy Falsetto.’ So naturally we went, and it turned out to be the strangest play – and the worst acted play – I have ever seen.

I couldn’t understand anything about the set-up, so at the end we hung about and chatted to some of the actors, and eventually met the author and producer and owner of the theatre. The publicity said that this play is to be put on in London soon, which to us seemed incredible as it’s so awful.

It turns out that the author is a multi-millionaire and a complete crank, who is always writing plays, and putting them on ‘off Broadway’ in the hope that someone will buy it (nobody ever does), so he then goes to London to try to sell it. He told us he is going to London the week after next to arrange to have it put on in London. He must be mad, as I can’t imagine anyone buying it, or even considering putting it on.


The published play

I hear from Mrs H that Bristol has had two murders recently, so it doesn’t sound too different from New York!! Was Dad concerned with the Redland one?

(Mrs H was Colin’s mum. Tony’s dad was a Bristol Police Inspector.)

Mrs H gives Colin lots of news about Bristol and the country in general. I wish you would add some general information (big hint) – Mrs L’s mother dying seems to have dominated the scene for the last few weeks, aided and abetted by the Skirt Shop, and the bathroom wall heater!!

A very strange thing happened on TV the other night. I think I have told you about a very good show on TV called the Les Crane Show. It’s very informal and he chats to all sorts of people. Well, the other night his guest was Victor Borge, and naturally everyone expected a great laugh.

(NOTE: Borge was an extremely popular Danish-American pianist and comedian.)

However, it turned out to be the most agonising experience for everyone concerned (and especially Les Crane). It was embarrassing to watch. Victor Borge was un-interviewable.

He said ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and occasionally very abrupt sentences, which could have been either funny or cutting, nobody knew which – so nobody laughed. There were frequent long silences, and everyone was most relieved when it was all over.

Les Crane’s next guests said how terrible it had been (for him), and the following night Les Crane thanked the people who had written in to sympathise with him. So I can’t imagine it could have done much for Victor Borge’s reputation.

Well that’s all for now I think, so I will say goodbye. Look after yourselves.

All my love

Tone xxxx

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NOTE: Researching the play The Hairy Falsetto, I discovered an incredible story….
Tony met the author/director backstage and dismissed him as a crank.  He was in fact J.I. Rodale, who made history in two startling ways.

First, he was the founder of publishing empire Rodale, Inc, and the man who brought the terms ‘organic farming’ and ‘organic foods’ to the world.
A passionate believer in healthy living, he launched Organic Farming and Gardening magazine in 1942 after creating his own organic ‘experimental farm,’ then wrote multiple titles on healthy living, and popularised organic methods.

He also made history as the first man to die on network television in America, while appearing on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971 in front of a live studio audience.

Rodale, 72, was first to be interviewed, stating that he was in ‘such good health,’ that ‘I’ve decided to live to be a hundred,’ and ‘I never felt better in my life!’

Remaining on the sofa as Cavett interviewed columnist Pete Hamill, Rodale rested his head back and let out a snore. According to some witnesses, Cavett joked: ‘Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?’ But Cavett later denied this, saying he’d realised instantly that Rodale was dead.

The audience watched in disbelieving shock as medics attempted, but failed, to revive him.

As the show was due to be broadcast almost immediately, it was replaced with a repeat. The footage has never been broadcast. Cavett later wrote a sobering and fascinating article about that day, which you can read HERE.

And finally… We now have a Facebook page! Please come and join us 🙂 http://www.facebook.com/Tones1960stravels/

J.I. Rodale Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31312448

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