Category Archives: lesbian

Brunch in New York in 1943

The Fifth Avenue Hotel, 24 Fifth Avenue 9th Street Antique Postcard

The Fifth Avenue Hotel at 9th Street, Sidewalk Cafe, 1935


Last night I was with my writing group, The Oracles, some of the most amazingly talented writers I have ever known.  I am so thrilled to be included in their number.  I’m always grateful for the helpful feedback they give me. They’re all playwrights. I am too, only now I’m finishing up a novel. The novel has so much dialogue in it that they graciously let me cast it with fabulous actors so that it can be read at the group for feedback. Last night we finished reading one of my chapters from JULIANA and someone in the group asked if they had “brunch” in New York City in 1943. An excellent question and one I had not considered. (They often send me back to the drawing board to check my facts.) This set me on a course of late night researching until I came up with the answer to that question.

Here is the answer:

There actually was a guy who started the whole thing.  In England in 1895, Guy Beringer thought there should be an alternative to the “postchurch ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies” (Grimes, 1998).  He thought there should be a meal served at noon that consisted of tea or coffee, and marmalade.  He considered this later, lighter meal would make it easier for the Saturday late night “carousers.”  Well, the idea took off.

Brunch didn’t come to the U.S. until after World War I,  but they definitely had it in 1943.  In the forties, the Fifth Avenue Hotel and Ninth Street had what they called the “Sunday Strollers’ Brunch.”  They served sauerkraut juice, clam cocktails, chicken liver omelets in Madeira and calf’s liver with hash browns (Grimes, 1998).

Finding out about the Fifth Avenue Hotel brunch caused me to change the location of my characters’ brunch from the general “nice little cafe around the corner” to the more specific Fifth Avenue Hotel.  This change had significance for me since I lived with two roommates in a one bedroom apartment in the Fifth Avenue Hotel when I first came to the city.

Thank you, Oracles!

References: Grimes, W. (July, 08, 1998). At brunch, the more bizarre the better. New York Times.

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Filed under 1940's history, brunch, gay, Juliana the Novel, lesbian, World War II

Do You Know Who Patsy Kelly Was?

Patsy Kelly Ruth Gordon Rosemary Baby

Patsy Kelly and Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby

For a long time most Hollywood actors (and people for that matter) were not out.  To openly proclaim oneself to be a gay man or a Lesbian was to commit professional suicide and it could also put your life in jeopardy.  However, there was one…

During the thirties and forties Patsy Kelly was a successful comedienne in Hollywood movies; she played goofy maids and salty side kicks.   She also was one of the very rare almost out Lesbians of her time.

Doing the research for my novel required a lot of reading about “gay” Hollywood.  That’s how I stumbled upon Patsy Kelly.  In the thirties and forties she didn’t actually announce that she was a Lesbian, but she didn’t hide it, either.  She went from being the critics darling between 1933 and 1943 to pretty much forgotten from 1943 to 1960 when she made no movies. Syndicated columnist, Lee Graham summed it up by saying that she went out with “mannish women, wore slacks in public, cursed and swore and told off-color jokes at lesbic bars (I love this word ‘lesbic’) and clubs.”  She was considered a scandal waiting to happen so the jobs pretty much dried up. (McClennan, 2000).

Tallulah Bankhead came to her rescue in the fifties by hiring her for small parts in  plays she was doing.  Later Patsy became “Tallu’s”  paid personal companion, which sometimes required  her to “provide services” for her generous employer and friend.  After 1960 Patsy started to get hired for secondary roles.  The most famous of her later films was Rosemary’s Baby in which she played a witch and friend to the weird neighbor across the hall played by Ruth Gordon.  (Ruth Gordon is loved for her role as Maude in Harold and Maude and she is  one of my absolute favorites. I actually met her backstage on the day they were closing her Broadway show, Dreyfus.  A memorable moment for a wide-eyed kid who’d just arrived in the City)

Patsy was the only actress out of ten who admitted to Boze Hadleigh in 1979, without angst, that she was a “dyke.” (Hadleigh, 1994)

References: Hadleigh, B., (1994).  Hollywood Lesbians. New York: Barricade Books, Inc.

McClennan, D. (2000). The Girls. New York:  St. Martin’s Press.

From the 1938 movie “There Goes My Heart”: Patsy Kelly sings the praises of a device called “Vibrato”–“for that morning-after feeling.” Was it intended innocently, or were the filmmakers trying to slip something past the censors? You be the judge…

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