DAY 9 and 10
My final weekend in New York is spent trying to get stories out of some of the old carnival fiends down at Coney Island. I find them terribly reticent to talk about the glorious past. They seem totally paranoid about making conversation with someone who isn’t marked by a tattoo or piercing. Perhaps their goodwill has been taken advantage of in the past. I sort of give them the benefit of the doubt but my old client Jim Rose always warned me about semi pro freaks. “One day a freak will be hammering a nail up his nose, the next they are a computer science resource advisor!”
Unfortunately my precious time has been wasted spending two valuable days chasing leads that have come to nothing.
My penultimate day is spent working through library records and I turn up another two turn of the century masters. One of the great stunts at the Manhattan Theatre in 1908 was cooked up by the publicity master, Morris Gest for William Gane. The history books chronicle that he was the man that introduced the first (and last) All-Automatic Minstrels. But it was Gest that came up with the idea to devise an automated publicity generator to spawn interest in the Minstrel Show. Described in the papers as a “live interlocutor”, all the minstrels were dummies with gramophones concealed inside them, telling jokes and singing songs upon cue. Real minstrel shows of those days were still going strong – Frank Dumont’s Minstrels in Philadelphia were in their 54th consecutive season.
Another inspired idea two years prior to Gest’s invention, occurred to George Huber when he transformed East New York’s Zip’s Casino to the Music Hall. He installed a beer room for men, and a nursery with cots where mothers could leave children while they enjoyed the show in rare peace. It was the prototype of a 1950 publicity scam of soundproof baby “cry rooms” in the deluxe movie palaces.