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Monday, 14 June 2010

O'Hara Takes Manhattan

By Richard Carreno
Junto Senior Staff Writer Bio
New York
After lunch at Connolley's Pub on 47th, off Fifth, about a dozen members soldiered on, well-fed and watered and in good spirits, spending the balmy afternoon Saturday (12 June) hitting several of the notable sites in Mid-town associated with the Master.

Two of them, 21 and the Algonquin, are well-known John O'Hara watering holes, and the later being, as well, sort of a club-room for many former New Yorker staff writers.

From Connolley's, our next stop, a few blocks uptown, was the Italianate palazzo on Madison Avenue that now houses the Palace Hotel.(Remember Lenora Hemsley, 'The Queen of Mean'? She owned the p(a)lace).

Back in the day, though, the building's north wing housed Bennett Cerf's 'serfdom,' Random House. We re-enacted the iconic tableau, of the 1960's, when O'Hara steam-rolled his Silver Cloud Roller into the palazzo's courtyard. There, to be greeted by the fawning Cerf, who, in recognition of another O'Hara publishing event, presented JOH with another engraved, silver cigarette case.

Pal Carol Gramer tried to get us a tour of what might be left of the publisher's HQ, now an urban research centre. She knocked on the door.'The place is closed,' she said.

Onward to 21,just a short hop across Fifth. Drinks? Nibbles? Also closed. No lunch on Saturdays. Still, Carol marched in and inquired of a busy receptionist if we --members of the intrepid John O'Hara Society -- could visit the basement quarters, the site of 21's original speakeasy. The receptionist was duely impressed. 'No,' she said.

Step forward, to the rescue, a tall, well-spoken gentleman who identified himself as 'Rev.' Turns out 'Rev' is a Baptist minister. Also the chief men's room toilet attendant.'The job has been in my family since 1949,' he said. At first, we thought he owned the joint.

We didn't tour the speakeasy, but thanks to Rev we did get a tour of the men's toilet, boasting risque murals over its urinals. Female pals were impressed with thse self-flushing urinals. Apparently, they haven't ever seen such modern contraptions, circa 1965. (Male pals wondered what technological advancements might be found in the ladies loo. We checked. At least, no off-colour murals. What is the meaning of this?).

Rev also gave us a walkabout of the restaurant proper, during which time Pal Steve Goldleaf was videoing the proceedings. (Watch it on YouTube, when we get it posted later this week. If we can figure it out).

Shortly thereafter, We gathered in front the restaurant for a few minutes, getting our bearings before trotting off to the Yale Club. (Vanderbilt Avenue, across from Grand Central Station). But at that point, we noticed that he had 'lost' Steve. After about five minutes later or so, he sheepishly emerged from 21. 'Sorry, I was chatting to Rev.' (Had a Baptist conversion occurred. Steve wasn't talking).

Once we saw the wedding crowd, spilling into Vanderbilt Avenue, in front of the Yale Club, we realised that a visit was near impossible. This, despite Carol Gramer's powers of persuasion.

Plan B. The old HQ of the The New Yorker, off Fifth on 43rd Street. A plaque recognised the building as a 'literary site,' and listed many of the literary luminaries who had set foot through the building's portal. Everyone, that is, except John O'Hara, of course. 'What else is new,' said Pal Robert Saliba.

Actually, nothing. Another plaque screwed into the front of the Algonquin Hotel also had no mention of The New Yorker's most prolific short story writer -- and the one indididual who, by the bye, defined the template of the magazine's short fiction. (Never mind, we're used to that).

What we were also getting used to by this time was getting rebuffed. He had hoped to scamp through 25 West 43rd Street via its arcade to get to 44th Street and the Algonquin. No soap! says the guard. 'But we're, we're members of the John...' says
Carol. Oh, never mind.

We looped around Sixth Avenue instead, nestling ourselves comfortably in the hotel's lounge. A load off our feet. And load from our wallets. Mixed drinks at $18 a shot. Beer at $7 per bottle.

Of course, the Society's storming of Manhattan wasn't all fun and games.

Earlier, thanks to ring-master Pal Richard Carreno, we actually conducted a bit of house-keeping.

Most important, Robert Saliba and Robert Knott were awarded Pal Joey Awards for their work in promoting the cause. Robert S. for his brilliant annotation of Appointment in Samarra. (See separate page at this website, always being updated). Robert K. for tireless efforts in arranging this Field Trip event, as well as being PR agent for our most recent Princeton AGM. (He gets a Pal Joey with a cluster).

Robert K. was also appointed Society Librarian, assigned to maintaining our archive. Robert has also volunteered to to re-record portions of the WVIA-FM tape, as well as some O'Hara-related videos he has in his possession. Robert will also be contacting WVIA-FM officers about archive materials that might want to share with us.

Steve Goldleaf has agreed to contact Wylie O'Hara, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to see if she would kindly join one of our group meetings. Be it in NYC, Cambridge, or Princeton.

Steve is also sending us the aforementioned video for posting at YouTube, and his pix file of O'Hara sites in Los Angeles. We're also hoping to post here a chapter of Steve's murder mystery re the death of F.Scott Fitzgerald. Who was the villan. Sheila Graham? Coca Cola? (Fitz drank 16 bottles of the leaded stuff a day). Or, John O'Hara? Yes, Steve relegates the Master as a Person of Interest.

Thanks to Robert Saliba, our next Field Trip will soon be arranged. Sometime this fall, we're hoping to visit the O'Hara study, transplanted from Princeton to State College, Pennsylvania, at the State University of Pennsylvania. Transportation issues should be addressed to Pal Richard.

Pal Pamela MacArthur has also agreed to arrange that copies of her scholarly work The Genteel John O'Hara be sold through this website. Details to follow. (Editor's note: The Society has abandoned its paid membership category. Wherein once paid-up members received O'Hara materials (ie books, etc.) for free, all items will now be available at cost, excluding postage, from membership HQ (JohnOHaraSoc@yahoo.com).

A new review of The Genteel John O'Hara will soon be appearing here.

Also attending were Joan T. Kane, Jenny Saliba, Heidi Schubert, Nancy Karvellas, and Helene Ashner.        

(Richard Carreno is a member of the John O'Hara Society, via JohnOHaraSoc@yahoo.com).