STORK CLUB by Ralph Blumenthal


America's Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of CafÇ Society
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A comprehensive, anecdote-laden history of the rise and fall of a man and his gin-mill-cum-glamour-machine.

The youngest son of an Oklahoma pioneer, Sherman Billingsley grew up on the frontier of American civilization at the turn

of the 20th century. Introduced to the bootlegging trade during his adolescence by a renegade older brother, Billingsley made

several attempts at assorted legitimate and illegitimate businesses in cities around the country before coming to New York in 1920.

Struggling to stay one step ahead of the municipal and federal authorities, the unions, and even Dutch Schultz and his henchmen,

Billingsley started the Stork Club as a Manhattan speakeasy a few years later; it gradually became his life. With Prohibition’s repeal at the end of 1933, Billingsley moved his business into its most famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view)

address—3 East 53rd Street, where it flourished during the years of wartime and television’s infancy. Utilizing every possible

source from the archival to the apocryphal, veteran New York Times reporter Blumenthal (Once Through the Heart, 1992)

chronicles the complicated and interwoven stories of a place, its patrons, its night-to-night operation, and its difficult, omnipotent

owner. Microphones installed in the flower arrangements on the tables for eavesdropping, Sortilege perfume and orchids showered

on the celebrated, gold chains and doormen holding back the banished—Billingsley ran the Stork with a monomaniac’s combined

sense and senselessness. The accounts of the celebrated—Winchell, Runyon, Grable, Sinatra, Merman, Kennedy, and many, many

major and minor others—have a bubbly, gossipy frenzied quality, but the nature of the material eventually overwhelms

Blumenthal’s grasp on the narrative and—more important—on the character of Billingsley himself.

The Stork Club thrived based on the rule of more rather than less, yet the secret of Billingsley’s success eludes Blumenthal

in the end. (75 b&w photos) (TV/radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: May 5th, 2000
ISBN: 0-316-10531-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2000


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