April 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
In the early months of 1917, war fever against Germany was rising all over the country. The United States entered the world war on April 6, 1917, the same week as the word “jazz” first appeared in print in Austin, in a Columbia Records ad in the Austin American announcing “Hong Kong,” a new “Jazz One-step” recorded by Prince’s Band.
November 23, 2016 § Leave a comment
An excerpt from Austin in the Jazz Age:
The jazz life liberated women more than men.
When the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, feminism was on a roll. Many young women felt they had the right to do pretty much anything men did, including wearing what men wore. They also had the world war to thank for that. America needed all the cloth it could get for the war effort, so it was goodbye underskirts and hello higher hemlines.
As women went to work in war production, they demanded suitable, comfortable clothing; that meant men’s-style apparel. Besides looking pretty comfortable and uninhibiting, wearing men’s clothing was heretofore forbidden territory. Their mothers would have been thrown in jail for cross dressing—and their fathers, too, for that matter.
The days of the uncomfortable, corseted, hourglass figure were over. The lack of a corset and a low, loose waistline gave girls that boyish, straight-waist look. Large breasts were looked down upon as a sign of unsophistication, and amply endowed jazz babies pulled theirs in as best they could. Flappers not blessed with small busts wore uncomfortable bras that pulled in their backs to flatten their chests for that boyish look.
Whether boys actually liked that androgynous flapper look is beside the point; then, as now, they cared only about what was inside the box.
Bobbed, boy-length hair also defined the flapper look. A Victorian woman’s crowning glory was her hair—the longer the better. But with the world war, women working in factories had little time to spend caring for long hair. They cut their hair short for safety reasons. It also helped that their favorite Hollywood stars had done the bob. 015
The Daily Texan and Austin American did investigative reports on why co-eds were bobbing their hair. One girl said that she liked shocking her family. Another said she liked the adventure of going into a men’s barbershop to get a cut. A couple of practical girls noted that it was absurd to trouble oneself with long hair when bobbed hair could be tended to in a matter of a few minutes and that such practicality allowed a girl to sleep until almost the beginning of her nine o’clock class. A certain athletic and strong-minded young co-ed declared, “This is one step toward masculine freedom that I intend to take.”
Men’s pajamas were soon considered to be ideal boudoir wear.
The co-ed fad of wearing men’s knickers became so widespread that Austin stores were sold out by March 1, 1922.
The Austin Statesman took a random campus census regarding the number of co-ed smokers in February 1922. “I believe there are at least 500 girls at the University who smoke,” one UT woman declared.
“They may not all make a constant practice of it,” she conceded, “but they smoke every now and then.”
“Any woman has a perfect right to smoke if she so desires” was the concurrent expression among both male and female students on campus. Opinion differed, however, on the question of whether a girl who smoked was worthy of equal respect as that due to one who did not.
Just a few days earlier, the Texan’s “Ripples on the River Styx” gossip column had included a little ditty called “Curses”:
Between her teeth a cigarette.
Between her arms me.
Between us both that damn cigarette.
October 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
For most of us, speakeasies were a hallmark of the Jazz Age, which flowered with the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, and died with the 21st Amendment in 1933.
In the process of researching Austin in the Jazz Age, I was impressed by the amount of booze University of Texas eds and coeds guzzled, but disappointed in the paucity of information on speakeasies. With the new searchable Austin American-Statesman historical database, I’ve been able to ferret out what little I hadn’t previously found.
Austin had its share of speakeasies, but they were a far cry from the luxurious, decadent clubs in Chicago, New York City, and Hollywood movies: The “21” Club, and El Fey, where Waco’s “Texas” Guinan greeted customers with “Hey Suckers.” Her two biggest competitors were Helen Morgan and Belle Livingston.
But speakeasies were nothing new. Jazz Age speakeasies operated without a license because what they sold was illegal.
Earlier speakeasies were simply unlicensed saloons and were “so called because of the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police or neighbors” says the Online Etymology Dictionary. Saloon owner Kate Hester, who ran an unlicensed bar in the 1880s in a Pittsburgh area town, is credited for the term.
The word, “speak-easy,” first showed up in print a September 1895 Statesman article about bribery, corruption and blackmail in Pittsburg, Pa. Madames of the night paid protection money to police inspectors, who in turn, allowed the houses to run. The inspectors also hit on “speak-easy” proprietors for protection; they evidently sold a great deal of liquor.
For owners who didn’t pay their vigorish, the results could be fatal In May 1904, Statesman readers read an article about a raid on an Allegheny Wharf “speak-easy,” again in Pittsburg, Young Leroy Carver died from a police gunshot wound while trying to escape.
Prohibition had existed locally in Texas long before imposition of the Volstead Act. But most all of the supposedly dry towns had surreptitious “wet” venues often called “Blind Pigs” and “Blind Tigers,” indistinguishable from the speakeasies to come. Many of them were arranged in such a way that a man had to pass through three doors before he was inside the main entrance. He also had to pass two men, who determined whether or not he was a good one. Once inside, you could get practically anything you wanted. A fellow would walk in and asked for an “I Know.” And of course, the bartender would know.
In Georgetown it was sold by the bale at a certain unnamed business house. A farmers would drive up and ask for a bale of hay. What size bale do you want?” the proprietor asked, “A quart or a gallon.” “A gallon” was the reply, and the farmer left with his hay, no doubt the most expensive bale on the market.
Austin, especially the University of Texas, had been awash in illegal liquor, mostly bad, since prohibition came to town in January 1918. Cedar choppers operated dozens of stills in the impenetrable hills west of town. The better stuff came from New Braunfels. UT frat and club dances were legendary sinkholes.
The term speakeasy, in reference to Austin goings-on, did not appear in the Statesman until the late 1920s.
And most of the establishments reported on were house-based, walk-up or drive-by operations, and they dealt in beer. If any of them had a name, it was never mentioned.
The September 12, 1932 edition of the Statesman carried news of a successful raid on a “Curb Service Speakeasy.”
CURB SERVICE at an alleged speakeasy in the 900·block of West Milton street, paved the way Sunday night for what sheriff’s officers claimed was the largest beer seizure ever made here and resulted in the arrest of a 50-year-old man.
Sixteen hundred and eight pints of beer were confiscated in the Sunday night raid which was a short distance from a house where sheriff’s officers seized a few days ago 1356 bottles of beer, Deputy Sheriff Paul Blair said.
Blair said he and Sheriff Coley White and Deputy Sheriff Jack Newman drove up near the purported beer bungalow Sunday night and waited in the darkness.
”Soon a car came up, the horn honked and a man came out of the house,” Blair related. “We could hear the man in the car talking to the other man. Finally, when the car occupants had identified themselves, they were served in the car.
”We then drove on up and went in the house.” Blair said the place was equipped to brew 110 gallons of beer at a time. The officers, besides the 1356 bottles, found two 55-gallon barrels, which they claim were used for brewing the beer.
The man arrested at the house was placed in the Travis County jail.
But some of the houses were sit-down affairs.
Texas Ranger Capt. Frank Hamer (who later gained fame for hunting down Bonnie and Clyde) and other state rangers raided a residence selling alleged beer within the shadow of the state capitol on the evening of August 28, 1928.
While the raid was in progress the telephone rang. Hamer answered it. A man wanted to come over and bring a lady friend. Hamer told him to come on. After the couple was seated at the table, the rangers came in to “take the order.” The situation was reported to be extremely embarrassing to the escort. The rangers had their laugh and let the couple go.
But the rangers said that charges would be filed in federal court (now O. Henry Hall on West 6th Street) against the house’s residents.
Rangers said the place had been very well patronized, being only a few steps through the summer afternoon heat from the capitol.
Sheriff’s officers arrested two black men in a raid on an establishment in a downtown office building on the evening of Saturday, January 10, 1929. After arresting the pair, one of the officers said he waited in the place and took several telephone orders for liquor from offices in the building.
Two speakeasies, one in Austin and another in Giddings, were padlocked in August 1932. The Austin house was on South First Street. Restraining orders were issued to Jasper and Melissa Billings, and Ed and Bessie Plumley: no manufacturing, selling, bartering, keeping, or storing intoxicating liquor for one year.
That same day, liquor complaints were filed against Raymond McCutcheon, Mrs. Viola Pool, and Maria Garza, alias Maria Perez.
McCutcheon was charged with possession of 26 pints of beer at 1007 Holly Street, Mrs. Pool for possessing 14 pints of beer and selling two pints of beer at 2101 Washington Avenue.
Garza/Perez was charged with possession at 2007 East 14th Street.
The “Lit Liza Jane” chapter in Austin in the Jazz Age deals with the often filthy nature of the bad liquor distilling process and the mortal dangers of drinking bootleg.
One of many drives against the East Austin bootleg industry was started In earnest on the morning of January 8, 1930, by Constable Arthur Woody after Judge Frank Tannehill rendered a verdict that Manual Reyana, about 50, died of “denatured alcohol or other poisoned liquors.”
While Woody said that looking for the bootlegger that sold the victim the poisoned rum as like looking for a needle in a haystack, he would nevertheless conduct several raids in the territory near where the man died.
An establishment suspected of being a Mexican speakeasy was raided but Woody said that all the liquor had been removed. He did predict that the sudden death of the man together with Judge Tannehill’s verdict would place a crimp on bootleg trade for several weeks.
The constable’s department raided places, but never found their needle in the haystack.
Austin had its share of “Walking Saloons.”
Liquor traffic was a ”straight from the-hip” process with Austin’s black bootleggers in the spring of 1929. And the quickest on the draw got his sale first.
Recent arrests of a number of “Walking Saloons” by police and Constable Arthur Woody and his deputies got them wondering just how extensively the hip pocket racket had become in Austin’s “darktown.”
The black “leggers” didn’t ply their trade in speakeasies, but filled their pockets with half pint bottles of corn whiskey of doubtful quality and “nigger gin,” and then went out for a stroll. They worked East Sixth street, Rosewood avenue, Chicon, Red River and Comal, then the thoroughfares of downtown life to Austin’s black community.
Police thought competition may have forced the ‘leggers out into the open. Some of them actively solicited business and they sold it to other blacks “whether they belong to the same lodge or not,” the Statesman joked.
The week before, police caught one with a half-pint of whiskey in each of six pockets of his coat, vests and pants and he had room for more. The officers had caught several “Walking Saloons” with more than a dozen bottles on their persons.
“So if the hip pocket ‘legger has enough pockets he can go out with a sufficient stock to do a good day’s business and carry on his social life at the same time,” the Statesman remarked.
Only one classic speakeasy raid is chronicled in the Statesman annals, which went down on the evening of March 4, 1929, and it too appeared to involve beer instead of the harder stuff.
Physical clashes between city officers and attendants in a downtown speakeasy and the speakeasy dog furnished “color” when the place was “shaken down” Monday night.
When the noise of the raid had died down, a man and two women were in the jail, a half pint of whiskey had been saved out of the struggle. Officers Klaus and Jack Newman had been dog-bitten, and the speakeasy locked up.
Described by police as a ‘fort’, the place had been watched for weeks by officers, but their frequent raids were futile because of the proprietor’s system. He always managed to pour the whisky out while they were getting through the two doors, and presenting the search warrant.
But his best laid plans went “agley” on this occasion and as a result he was hauled in on charges of violating the Dean law.
Klaus acted as the process server and let the smaller officers sneak under his arm. By that system they were able to enter quickly.
One of the women grabbed Klaus around the neck and gave the alarm. Four pitchers of amber fluid were quickly poured in the sink but the raiders salvaged some evidence.
During the preliminary skirmish a big white bulldog, which apparently was part of the proprietor’s fortification system, tried to take a sizeable mouthful of Newman’s leg.
After Newman had managed to shake him off he attacked Klaus and left the print of his teeth in his leg, Klaus finally shook off the woman and kicked the dog in the
Snout until he howled with pain.
Outside one of the women reared and pitched considerably and two officers were required to put her in the squad car and take her to jail. Rather reprehensive terms were used during the process, officers said.
Austin finally, almost got its first “Speakeasy” in 1947 when a building permit was taken out in August for construction of a building in Bradford’s Alley, between Congress Avenue and Colorado Street from Seventh to Eighth Street, behind the Motor Round Bowling Alley. This “Speakeasy” was going to be a charcoil broiled hamburger joint serving nothing but food, brainchild of E. M. Hudson, young refrigeration engineer who planned to have the cafe open by September 15.
He chose the name “Speakeasy” because of its exotic back alley location.
He got the idea for charcoal-broiled hamburgers while he was in York, Pa., at refrigeration school where he saw the ground beef broiled over charcoal tor the first time.
Returning to Austin, he decided to put the plan to work for downtown working people. He chose the Bradford’s Alley building site because of its central location.
But the place opened on November 10, at 714 Bradford’s Alley (behind the Capital National Bank building) as Harvey’s, managed by Elsie C. Milroy, former assistant manager at the University of Texas Cafeteria.
“Broilburgers” headed the menu, followed by home baked ham, “really Italian” spaghetti, and ham and eggs served in the skillet.
Well, that’s it for this installment from The Blunderbuss. For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of Austin in the Jazz Age.
Coda: I work to write clever headlines, but sometimes I fear that I am too clever by half. This tale’s title is a defliction of the west African proverb popularized by Teddy Roosevelt, “Talk Softly, and Carry a Big Stick.” But if you have never heard that proverb, you’d probably think I was being crazy, not witty. So how about, “Speak easy, but with some big schtick”? Any better?
September 14, 2016 § Leave a comment
It began sometime after the Civil War, when Austin had grown enough to have muddy streets. Young men and a great host of other characters stood all day in the rain on prominent corners like the corner of Pecan and the Avenue, to watch dainty feet of pretty girls make the crossing, under threat of arrest for vagrancy. Boys made jokes when the doctor held mama’s bare arm too long.
Ladies who did not wish to drag their skirts in the mud – and none of them did –complained of being the objects of this peep show. Many ladies preferred to say home on rainy days. The toxic soup of urine, animal feces and discarded garbage thrown into the open gutter, thickened with the omnipresent limestone dust, ruined shoe leather, hose, and dress fabric.
Improved sanitation practices, paved streets, and the gradual disappearance of horses and cattle from the streets eliminated this problem, but by 1910 it didn’t matter. Hemlines on street dress were well above the ankle, and low-cut pumps showed off the pretty pink ankle that momma’s boots only hinted at.
First-wave feminism was in full flower. Washington State granted women to right to vote that year.
But young women were interested in more than the vote. They liked boys and the idea of what they could do together. When the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed all American women the right to vote in 1920 – when the Jazz Age was coming into full flower — many young women felt they had the right to do pretty much anything men did, including wearing what men wore. They also had the world war to thank for that. America needed all the cloth it could get for the war effort, so it was goodbye underskirts and hello higher hemlines. As women went to work in war production, they demanded suitable, comfortable clothing; that meant men’s-style apparel. Besides looking pretty comfortable and uninhibiting, wearing men’s clothing was heretofore forbidden territory.
The days of the uncomfortable, corseted, hourglass figure were over. The lack of a corset and a low, loose waistline gave girls that boyish Flapper look.
Flappers’ ever-shorter skirts and flimsier blouses prompted campus jokes like “Zekiel remarks that the girl who sits in front of him in his English 1 class wears a shirt waist that reminds him of Pa’s barb wire fence. It protects the property but don’t shut off the view.”
And advertising was a science now, and a course that many co-eds took with gusto, as the above-page from the 1920-21 Cactus illustrates. The eds thoroughly approved of the campaign.
The knee-length, loose-fitting skirts of 1922 (see below) were creating some “excitable boys” on campus. Their collective libido came to a head on the windy morning of February 6, 1922, on the steps of the library as they gathered to hoot their approval when the girls’ skirts took thigh-ward flight in the brisk breezes. The flock of campus buzzards was such that an assistant dean was posted to advise the girls to take the inside stairway.
Shortly thereafter, curves threw women’s fashion another curve ball, and there were new mountains to climb for the hardiest of young men.
September 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
Austin in the Jazz Age, as originally written, was 322 pages long. In order to meet the Isabelle Caro-thin manuscript requirements imposed by the History Press, more than two-thirds of the original work was left on the “cutting room floor,” so to speak, including many of the era’s other colorful characters. No one was more colorful than Red Stanley.
C.R. “Red” Stanley (born 1900 in Denton) was one of that first wave of jazzers who came out of the post-war Longhorn Band, which included Jimmy Maloney, Steve Gardner, Burnett “Blondie” Pharr, Red Bourn, and J.D. Howell.
Stanley, the greatest slip horn artist on campus, was best known for his “Shimmie” trombone performances at Clark Field football games with the Longhorn Band.
The fiery-thatched Longhorn Band trombonist left in 1921 for the bright lights of New York with his trombone under his arm, a grin on his face, and hands in his pockets. He joined Irving Aaronson’s orchestra, the Crusaders. The Crusaders made their first recordings in 1925 for an underground company. Victor signed the group to record in 1926 and the group changed its name to the Commanders. The Crusaders made their first recordings in 1925 for an underground company. Victor signed the group to record in 1926 and the group changed its name to the Commanders. During their time with the Victor label (1926 to 1929), the band enjoyed success with Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave” in 1927, and they appeared in the Broadway show, Paris, in 1928, which featured six Cole Porter songs and made Stanley a star. Red choreographed Paris. According to his wife, Anita Garvin (the dark-haired beauty best known for her work with Laurel and Hardy) Stanley was a marvelous dancer, to the point that his music was nothing compared to his dancing. His talent for comedy and comic voices is evident in several of the Commanders’ recordings, such as “Hi Ho the Merrio” and “He Ain’t Done Right by Nell” in 1926. In 1929, the Commanders’ cover of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love,” was one of the year’s top hits.
Red Stanley made his movie debut as a dancer in The Painted Angel, aka The Broadway Hostess, a 68-minute musical drama that opened on December 1, 1929. The movie’s tag line was “Do you want to know the Truth about NIGHT CLUB HOSTESSES?” It starred Billie Dove, a beautiful ex-Ziegfeld Follies girl, as Mamie Hudler, a New Orleans salon singer who escapes a checkered past by moving to New York City to become Rodeo West, the “queen of the night clubs.” In the process, she finds herself torn between two men. The trouble is, she only desires one of them. It featured five Herman Ruby-M.K. Jerome songs and plenty of dance numbers. Several near-undressing scenes were jammed in, obviously for the sexy, The Film Daily noted at the time.
In 1934, Stanley played in three different 20-minute musical shorts, two of which starred the young Betty Grable. In Love Detectives, two young men competed for the affections of a beautiful blonde, played by Grable. Stanley played one of them, a character named Wells.
In Susie’s Affairs, he plays a character called Putty Face. Young Susie Lee (Betty Grable) and her friends pretend that they’re rich society kids. Susie Lee concocts a scheme in which she takes over a socialite’s apartment in order to fool her boyfriend, played by singer/band leader Art Jarrett into believing that she comes from a wealthy family. What she doesn’t realize is that it is Jarrett’s apartment, and Grable and her singing and dancing friends, including Stanley, entertain him.
Red jumped from the Commanders to play with Rudy Vallee, in addition to his movie career.
In 1935, Stanley married the beautiful Anita Garvin, an Earl Carroll’s Vanities and Ziegfeld Follies alumnus who made her Hollywood debut in 1924, and soon landed a co-starring role opposite Stan Laurel in the comedy short, The Sleuth. The two became friends, which earned her a place at Hal Roach studios, where she often played the shrewish wife or “other woman” in 11 Laurel and Hardy comedies, including Why Girls Love Sailors, as the Captain’s Wife; With Love and Hisses, as one of the ladies admired by Sergeant Banner; Sailors Beware! as jewel thief, Madame Ritz; The Battle of the Century, as the girl who slips and sits into a pie; From Soup to Nuts, as hostess Mrs. Culpepper; Their Purple Moment, as one of the girls “the Boys” pick-up at the Pink Pup; Blotto, as Mrs. Laurel; Be Big, as Mrs. Laurel; Swiss Miss, as the first potential mousetrap customer; and A Chump at Oxford, as hostess Mrs. VanDerVeer. She quit the soundstage in 1940, after A Chump at Oxford, to raise a family.
Red and Anita went on to operate a restaurant in Los Angeles together.
In 1938’s feature-length musical, Cocoanut Grove, Stanley played Dixie, a bandleader. The legendary Cocoanut Grove nightclub was the setting for this all-star Paramount musical. Fred MacMurray headed the cast as Johnny Prentice, a small-time bandleader who comes to the Grove for an all-important audition. The skimpy plot serves as an excuse for an unending stream of specialty numbers featuring Royal Hawaiian orchestra leader Harry Owens, comedian Ben Blue, the zany Yacht Club Boys (a WASP version of the Ritz Brothers), funny-noise specialist Rufe Davis and bandmaster Red Stanley. Nine new original songs were performed, none of which graduated to hit-parade status.
In 1941, he played in Blondie Goes Latin as an uncredited orchestra musician in conga band aboard a South American cruise ship, in Sing for Your Supper as an uncredited musician, and in Melody Lane as “Slim.”
In Melody Lane, Stanley played Slim, a supporting character, along with Leon Errol as McKenzie, behind the stars, a quartet called the Merry Macs, composed of the three McMichael brothers (the Macs) and Mary Lou Cook (the Merry). The Merry Macs are cast as a foursome of entertaining farm boys from Iowa who head for New York but get involved in some trouble when a radio sponsor interferes with the show. They find themselves in trouble when the radio sponsor finds himself accused of kidnapping a girl. Songs include “Septimus Winner,” “Peaceful Ends the Day,” “Cherokee Charlie,” “Let’s Go to Calicabu,” “Swing-a-Bye My Baby,” “Changeable Heart,” “If It’s a Dream Don’t Wake Me,” “Since the Farmer in the Dell,” “Caliacau,” and “Listen to the Mockingbird.” The Merry Macs were popular during World War II and did backup work for Bing Crosby and Judy Garland, working on such tunes as “Mairzydoats.”
In 1944, he made a series of “soundies” with his all-girl swing band, the Ding Dong Dollies: “Big Fat Mama,” “Big Man from the South,” and “Girls from Amarillo.” Soundies were short films, usually lasting about three minutes. They were produced in the 1940s for visual jukeboxes where customers paid a fee to view and hear popular songs of the day.
Stanley played a swing band trombonist in Raoul Walsh’s The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), a fantasy comedy feature starring Jack Benny as the third trumpeter in a band who falls asleep and dreams he’s Athanael, an angel deputized to blow the Last Trumpet at exactly midnight on Earth.
In his twilight years, he enjoyed going with Anita to the many Laurel and Hardy fan club events she attended. He died on April 18, 1980, in Oxnard, CA