IN PURSUIT OF GOTHAM by William R. Taylor

IN PURSUIT OF GOTHAM

The Commerce and Culture of New York
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Ten sprightly yet scholarly essays on the interplay between N.Y.C. and such elements of ``commercial culture'' as vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, and the sports pages. Taylor (History/SUNY at Stony Brook) defines ``commercial culture'' as the stage in which ``producer and consumer collaborate in the shaping of a cultural form''--in other words, an intermediate stage (e.g., vaudeville) between ``street culture'' (e.g., a crowd watching an organ grinder) and ``mass culture'' (e.g., network TV entertainment). Its flowering occurred in N.Y.C. between 1880 and 1920, says Taylor, who illustrates his premise with a wealth of colorful and pertinent anecdotes involving such New Yorkers as socialist Emma Goldman, photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, architect Napoleon LeBrun, and gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Two of the longer essays are devoted to H.L. Mencken and Damon Runyon, the former ``an inveterate poseur,'' the latter ``reticent, even taciturn.'' Taylor also has interesting things to say about the pervasive misogyny of the New York journalists of the period, and he draws attention to the impact that the ``liberation'' of women had on commercial culture in the form of department stores, ``tea dances,'' and theater matinees. In an especially amusing vignette, the author points out that temperance advocates in the early 1900's favored the building of ``comfort stations'' throughout the city as a means of discouraging men from entering saloons to use the ``facilities'' and remaining to hoist a pint or two. Occasionally repetitious, but, overall, a freshly observed and stimulating look at an underappreciated facet of the Big Apple. (Forty-seven b&w illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: May 7th, 1992
ISBN: 0-19-503904-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1992