Contrary to the popular notion, nostalgia is pretty much what it’s always been, judging by the latest offering from the Frommers (It Happened on Broadway, 1998, etc.).
The professors Frommer (Liberal Arts/Dartmouth) have gathered interviews with iconoclastic New Yorkers Jerry Della Femina, Robert Merrill, Jimmy Breslin, Monte Irvin, Elaine Kaufman, Saul Zabar, and 57 others. They recall life in Manhattan (generally called “New York” back then by citizens of the outlying boroughs) from the end of WWII to the mid-’70s. In the new century, it was already a time and place starting to fade from memory. The New York of wonder is evoked once more with, as in Proust, the reference to indigenous food (e.g., entrées at Le Pavillon or classic egg creams). And from Harlem to Wall Street, Washington Heights to Greenwich Village, there are old churches and delis gone by, the surviving Guggenheim and the lost Automats, Lincoln Center newly built and Lewisohn Stadium since gone. There are shopkeepers with pencil stubs behind their ears and practitioners of the rag trades, artists, sportswriters, and gossip columnists. The memoirists speak with the distinct flavor of Yiddish, or of Italian. And there’s a Hispanic rhythm and that of Lenox Avenue, too. Don’t look for neat organization or accurate picture captions or even a hint of scholarly intrusion from the editors. It’s all just an entertainment for the metropolitan Modern Maturity set. There’s the merest likeness to Joe Fanklin–esque kitsch, and if the reminiscences get too prolix (like those of geezers proud of achievements half a century old), just skip to the family album of photos. Study the ladies in gloves, the gents in fedoras, the haberdashers’ billboards, the movie marquees, the trolley cars, the street furniture.
Self-congratulatory oral history, garrulous nostalgia, and great fun for those who recall the days of Tin Pan Alley and three baseball teams in one small, favored place.