Monday, March 25, 2013

Positively Naked City

One of the strangest and best episodes of Naked City I’ve seen: “Hold for Gloria Christmas” (first aired September 19, 1962), an unusually respectful look at Beat culture, as found in New York’s Greenwich Village. The episode tells the story of Duncan Kleist (Burgess Meredith), an alcoholic poet determined to recover the manuscripts he’s traded to bar owner Stanley Dorkner (Herschel Bernardi). Kleist (who shares a last name with a German poet) seems a cross between Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas — disheveled, sweaty, tossing off what seem to be spontaneous bits of eloquence. Dorkner kills Kleist in the opening minutes of the episode; as the detectives investigate, flashbacks give us the events that precede the opening scene.

The opening gives us a quick tour of West Fourth Street locations. Click on any image for a larger view.

[Duncan Kleist, running with an envelope full of manuscripts.]

The Music Inn still stands at 169 West Fourth. It’s now an instrument store. Here’s a short video about the store’s history.

Bill Tendler? A jeweler (1906–1973). Here are some samples of his work. The Village Voice ad to the left appeared on December 7, 1955. I don’t who occupied no. 169 when.

[Kleist stops to talk to a blind newsvendor.]

At 171 West Fourth, Allan Block Sandals. Here is a brief chronology of Block’s life. As the musicologist Elijah Wald has noted, Block’s shop was “the unofficial headquarters of the old-time string band revival.” Block’s daughter, the musician Rory Block, has written about her family’s life on Fourth Street. And Allan, who left New York for New Hampshire, may be found fiddling on YouTube.

[From David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Fariña (2001).]

Bianchi & Margherita, at 186 West Fourth, was an Italian restaurant with music. From a 1959 description:

Along with your Italian pasta you get operatic selections hurled at you from every direction in an almost continuous performance. Everybody sings — waiter, bartender, hatcheck girl, even the chef, who winds up the show by leading the singing ensemble in a rousing performance of the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore.
Can you imagine?

And last, the Koltnow Gallery at 192 West Fourth. Like everything here but the Music Inn, it’s gone. Even the corner mailbox is gone. But if you’re curious enough to go to Google Maps, you can still see those pie-wedge slabs of sidewalk, same as they ever were.

[Street corner with dead poet.]

[From John Minahan, The Music of Time: An Autobiography (2001).]

[Village Voice, May 14, 1958.]

But wait: there’s more. Alan Alda is in this episode, making his third appearance on television. No name: he is Young Poet in the Cafe Espresso.

The closing credits note that the “Cafe Espresso” scenes were filmed in Cafe Manzani. It was in fact Cafe Manzini, on Bleecker Street. From the St. Petersburg (Florida) Evening Independent (January 18, 1962): “If you like plays of the avant garde variety, you will like the Manzini’s offerings. If not, well . . . .” Kleist and Young Poet engage in poetic battle, and Young Poet wins when he begins to recite alongside Kleist, whose seemingly improvised offering turns out to be a 1936 Kenneth Fearing poem.

[Dig the musicians digging the poets.]

And one more surprise:

I would recognize her anywhere. It’s Candace Hilligoss as Mrs. Harris, making her first screen appearance. She would appear as Mary Henry in Carnival of Souls (dir. Herk Harvey), which came out seven days after this episode aired.


Mailing early in the day, in the zone-world or the ZIP-world, is the better way. But you’ll have to watch the episode to understand the full significance of this final image.

Orange Crate Art is a Naked City-friendly zone.

Other Naked City posts
GRamercy 7–9166 : GRamercy again : MUrray Hill 7-3933 : Naked Bronx : Nearly plotzing : “Old Rabbit Ears” : Poetry and Naked City : TW8-4044 : “WE DELIVER”

[For Duncan Kleist and Jack Kerouac, consider, for example, these two photographs, by Fred McDarrah and Allen Ginsberg. And if the post’s title baffles: read and listen.]

comments: 11

Adair said...

I haven't seen this episode but I am going to asap. Especially because of Candace Hilligoss! At first, I thought you had slipped in a still from Carnival of Souls---that same hypnotic expression on her face as when, in the movie, she wanders through the department store unseen and unheard by the shoppers and employees around her. I thought that Carnival of Souls had been her only appearance.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, it’s that same expression. She’s on screen for just seconds but still makes a powerfully strange impression.

Anonymous said...

and only the dead are properly arranged

Michael Leddy said...

That is true. Do you know about the new DVDs?

Rusty Wilson said...

I do remember but not in a lot of detail this episode. "The Naked City" was among my favorite TV shows. I also used to wear Alan Block sandals and they repaired them, more than once, for free. I also used to hang out there just to listen to the live music.

Also on the southeast corner of West 4th & Grove was a furniture store in front of which there was always a well fed and cleanly dressed person with Down Syndrome who would spend the day spinning a big cork disk, with his right hand, on a cord he held up with his left hand. I was amazed at how he neither tired nor had to stop because his arm got sore. The world's spin keeps getting worse since he and the store have been gone for decades, replaced by a succession of bars.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for bringing some of that world into the present.

My wife and I took a walk down W. 4th this summer, visited the Music Inn, and had coffee where Bianchi & Margherita stood. I wrote about it in this post. Libby Kingston’s apartment building is right off 4th, 3 Sheridan Square.

Jeff said...

I love this episode! SO much to like about it (and I've done a fair amount of drinking on this street, myself, and a couple of poets there, too). But a quick add regarding Bianchi & Margarita. It was one of a class of joints known as Opera Bars. They were The Kareoke Bars of their day. EVERYONE sang opera in these places, the waiters, the cooks the bartenders, and the patrons were encouraged to do the same. I never went into B & M, but my family did go to ASTI's (on 12th st.) a few times for celebrations. The waiters worked an entire floor show into the evening, including an hilarious operatic pizza-making routine with dough flying everywhere. Later on, a patron at the bar (a busboy said he was a pilot with Alitalia) Belted out a couple of arias. I don't think there's anything left like these places today.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the memories, Jeff. I have a 1964 NYC guidebook that has an entry for Asti’s. I’ll scan and post it soon. Stay tuned.

Jerry Breen said...

I just saw this episode last night. Funny you should mention Jack Kerouac in connection with Duncan Kleist. In the scene filmed in the Cafe Manzini, there's an extra who appears to actually BE Jack Kerouac. In fact, he can be glimpsed (face partially hidden) in the photo from that scene, right in between Burgess Meredith and Alan Alda. Is it possible that Kerouac appeared as an extra in that scene? - Jerry Breen

Michael Leddy said...

I just watched the scene, and there is indeed a resemblance. I’d like for it to be Kerouac, but I don’t think the eyes and eyebrows are right.

Michael Leddy said...

Here’s a post about Asti’s.