Memoranda Of A Decade


Next largest are the crowds which come to see the sensational society films. The kind of vicarious living brought to Middletown by these films may be inferred from such titles as: “ Alimony —brilliant men, beautiful jazz babies, champagne baths, midnight revels, petting parties in the purple dawn, all ending in one terrific smashing climax that makes you gasp”; “ Married Flirts—Husbands : Do you flirt? Does your wife always know where you are? Are you faithful to your vows? Wives : What’s your hubby doing? Do you know? Do you worry? Watch out for Married Flirts .” So fast do these flow across the silver screen that, e.g., at one time The Daring Years, Sinners in Silk, Women Who Give , and The Price She Paid were all running synchronously, and at another “ Name The Man —a. story of betrayed womanhood,” Rouged Lips , and The Queen of Sin . While Western “action” films and a million-dollar spectacle like The Covered Wagon or The Hunchback of Notre Dame draw heavy houses, and while managers lament that there are too few of the popular comedy films, it is the film with burning “heart interest,” that packs Middletown’s motion picture houses week after week.…

And there was, of course, Prohibition: Prohibition is an awful flop. We like it. It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop. We like it. It’s left a trail of graft and slime, It’s filled our land with vice and crime, It don’t prohibit worth a dime, Nevertheless we’re for it.

Prohibition’s profiteers—the gangsters— publicly expressed injured innocence: All I’ve ever done is to supply a public demand—You can’t cure a thirst by a law … It’s bootleg when it’s on the trucks, but when your host hands it to you on a silver tray, it’s hospitality … They say I violate Prohibition. Who doesn’t?

—Al Capone to newspapermen

Capone was right about one thing: It required more than a law to do the prohibiting. The federal government hired some 1,500 agents to do the job.

They couldn’t, but two of them, Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith—two ingenious fat men—made a sensational try: Izzy and Moe disguised themselves as automobile cleaners, raided a garage on West Broadway, and seized nine barrels of beer and 244 cases of whisky. They disguised themselves as milk drivers, carrying customers’ account books, visited nine saloons on the East Side of New York, seized a quantity of liquor, and made seventeen arrests. They disguised themselves as grave diggers, raided a speakeasy across from Woodlawn Cemetery, and confiscated fifty barrels of alcohol.

For purposes of other raids, and in each case with comparable success, they took to the streets disguised as vegetable venders, as fishermen, as horse dealers, as street-car conductors, as churchgoers in the Palm Sunday Parade along Fifth Avenue, and as salesmen of a wholesale grocery concern, offering turkeys to the Thanksgiving trade. … Izzy appeared in the r’f4le of a thirsty motorman, a football player in Van Cortlandt Park, a patron of a suspicious pawnshop, an iceman catering to saloons in Brooklyn, a trombone player offering to treat new friends at the Yorkville Casino and an actor who joined the Fern Club under the pseudonym of Ethelbert Santerre. …

Damon and Pythias in the armor of enforcement, through four years of raids and round-ups the enterprising figures of Izzy and Moe appeared in silhouette against the cynicism of the city as symbols of the law.


There was jazz music, and a legendary cornet player: It is almost ten years since Bix Beiderbecke died, shortly after his twentyeighth birthday; it is at least twelve years since he played the bulk of his music. But he is as new and wonderful now as he was in those fast days on the big time, the highest expression of jazz when jazz was still young, the golden boy with the cornet he would sometimes carry around under his arm in a paper bag. …