Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

It Happened in Manhattan: An Oral History of Life in the City During the Mid-Twentieth Century

(Berkley Publishing Group, 2001 Hardcover;  ISBN: 0425181693)

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What they have said about the book:



Manhattan is a narrow island, only 22 square miles, but its history is much bigger. It Happened in Manhattan is an album of vintage photos and first-person reminiscences that form mid-century Manhattan. Ranging from the early post-World War II years to the mid-1970s, the book is an oral history constructed from dozens of interviews with New York luminaries such as Jimmy Breslin, Elaine Kaufman, Alan Greenberg, and Pauline Trigère, as well as everyday people like Rabbi Dan Alder, teacher Linda Kleinschmidt, and drugstore owner Joel Eichel. With chapters like "If I Can Make It Here..." about emerging celebrities, "Sanctuaries in the City" concerning religious communities, and "Politics As Usual," It Happened in Manhattan evokes an era when Checker cabs still passed down a two-way Fifth Avenue, when 11 daily newspapers covered the city beat, and when young women attended their Katharine Gibbs continuing education classes in hats and white gloves. Their reminiscences and perceptions are woven into a narrative that describes how New York became an international center in the wake of victory in the Second World War, and how the city was affected by new immigrants from Europe fleeing fascism and immigrants from the Latin America seeking opportunity. This was an era when soaring real-estate values led to the tearing down of whole neighborhoods, and when community activists rallied to save many architectural treasures. It Happened in Manhattan illustrates with personal details and anecdotes the passing of the Manhattan of the Industrial Age, how the city government almost went bankrupt, and how New York City survived and continues as a financial, political and cultural center of the nation. Father Peter Colapietro, pastor of Holy Cross Church on 42nd Street, offers his recollections:

As a kid, I always saw Sixth Avenue as the dividing line between the East and West Side. The East Side was Rock Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral; the West Side was the stuff on 42nd Street. It was like you needed a passport to go from one to another... Even though Manhattan was only a fifteen-cent ride away from where I lived in the Bronx, it was a whole new world. I felt I had to dress up to go down there. I couldn't wear jeans and a polo shirt. I was an eleven- or twelve-year-old, I knew what Playboy magazine was, but when I went into some of these stores on 42nd Street - wow! Ten or twelve of us used to come down to Herman's Flea Circus. It had an arcade with pinball machines, magic shows, and a famous Flea Circus. We would go to Rockefeller Center and see as many television shows as we could get into, getting there early to be first on line for shows like The Price Is Right, The Match Game, and Truth or Consequence. A warm-up person like Johnny Olson would ask the audience, "Anybody out there celebrating a birthday? anniversary? parole? We got to know the routine. Once my kid brother and I got a pair of handcuffs. When Johnny Olson got to "Anybody celebrating parole?" we raised our hands handcuffed to each other.

- Asa Tapley '02


VALLEY NEWS, March 16,2002

It Happened in Manhattan probably is the anti-book for unreformed New York haters. It revels in the story of Manhattan, a 22-square-mile borough in the city during the mid-20th century.

Interviews with more than 60 current and former residents of Manhattan tell a rich story of city life in the post-war era. The prologue, a monologue by Sid Bernstein, the music promoter who arranged the first Beatles’s appearance in America, is wonderful.

"I’m still a tourist in the city I was born and raised in," says Bernstein. "I’m a walker of the city streets." Bernstein wanders and explores by his own north star: his sense of smell. "If I walk by a place and an aroma greets me, I go there."

There are plenty of food stories in It Happened in Manhattan. There is a lot more, of course. Sections deal with memories of growing up in Manhattan, of starting careers in finance and fashion, of finding sanctuaries in churches or museums. There are memories of restaurants, nightclubs, department stores, eateries, celebrities. People remember when they cleaned out a section of a restaurant for Frank Sinatra’s posse, the early days of Bette Middler, described as colorful as a "Jewish parrot."

Tin Pan Alley, the Guggenheim Museum, Yiddish Theater, Walter Winchell, Harlem, Greenwich Village, escapees from the Hollywood blacklist ?they’re all in here, not in formal history, but in the memories of people who knew them.

Perhaps Manhattan expatriates will enjoy It Happened in Manhattan most, as there really is a lot of nostalgia in a book like this, but others can find many pleasures.

After all, even if we never go to New York, part of it come to us. It’s that big a town.



"Contrary to the popular notion, nostalgia is pretty much what it's always been, judging by the latest offering from the Frommers (It Happened on Broadway, 1998, etc.). The professors Frommer (Liberal Arts/Dartmouth) have gathered interviews with iconoclastic New Yorkers Jerry Della Femina, Robert Merrill, Jimmy Breslin, Monte Irvin, Elaine Kaufman, Saul Zabar, and 57 others. They recall life in Manhattan (generally called "New York" back then by citizens of the outlying boroughs) from the end of WWII to the mid-'70s. In the new century, it was already a time and place starting to fade from memory. The New York of wonder is evoked once more with, as in Proust, the reference to indigenous food (e.g., entrees at Le Pavillon or classic egg creams). And from Harlem to Wall Street, Washington Heights to Greenwich Village, there are old churches and delis gone by, the surviving Guggenheim and the lost Automats, Lincoln Center newly built and Lewisohn Stadium since gone. There are shopkeepers with pencil stubs behind their ears and practitioners of the rag trades, artists, sportswriters, and gossip columnists. The memoirists speak with the distinct flavor of Yiddish, or of Italian. And there's a Hispanic rhythm and that of Lenox Avenue, too. Study the ladies in gloves, the gents in fedoras, the haberdashers' billboards, the movie marquees, the trolley cars, the street furniture. Self-congratulatory oral history, garrulous nostalgia, and great fun for those who recall the days of Tin Pan Alley and three baseball teams in one small, favored place."



First-person tales from the likes of Herman Badillo and Jimmy Breslin recall life here a half-century ago.



Myrna Katz and Harvey Frommer's It Happened in Manhattan ... is an encyclopedic oral and visual memoir of life in New York from the end of World War II to the fiscal-stricken era of the mid-1970s. The Third Avenue El, Ebbets Field, the Automats, the Chelsea Hotel, the Fillmore East, and the pre-AIDS clubs of the swinging gay '70s can all be found here, along with accounts of the rise of abstract expressionist and pop art and Norman Mailer's mayoral race. This book captures a New York in transition, accelerating through the cultural changes of the 1950s and '60s from the world of Joseph Mitchell to the world of Tom Wolfe.



This delightful little book was written by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer, New Yorkers to the core. The 302-pager contains interviews of genuine New Yorkers such as Mickey Alpert, Herman Badillo, Jimmy Breslin, Jerry Della Femina, Monte Irvin, Jack Lang, Leonard Koppett, Pauline Trigere, Margaret Whiting, Howard Kissel, Elaine Kaufman, Bill Gallo (that's me) and many more. Since the interviews took place some time ago, I leafed through its pages to see what I had to say.

On page 214, I answered the question, "How did New Yorkers respond to so many newspapers years ago?" Being a cartoonist, I put it this way: "They loved it because each newspaper had its own character. I envisioned The Times as an aristocrat smoking a cigarette with a cigarette holder. The Trib was a professor, not too concerned with money although well dressed, and not pompous like The Times. But it was the lack of money that did him in. The Mirror was a kid on the block running after unreachable things, while The Post was a hard driving, intellectual guy who took pride in being very liberal.

The World Telegram was a respectable sort of guy, steady and always wanting to improve. I saw the Journal-American as the only one who didn't know who he was - gossipy one day and trying to start a war the next. But the Daily News was the champ, the epitome of a real New Yorker with a great sense of humor, who rode the subways to study his readers, spoke straight and always was very sure of himself."


REFLECTOR, Greenville, NC, November 26, 2001

Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer look back to an earlier period of New York's history in 'It Happened in Manhattan.' Subtitled 'an oral history of life in the city during the mid-twentieth century,' the book covers a period from the end of World War II to the mid-1970s. Ordinary people and New York celebrities reminisce about the architectural and culinary glories of Manhattan and about the personalities and institutions that dominated business and the arts in those decades. Exclusively black-and-white photographs illustrate this backward glance at New York in the innocent '50s and the adventurous '60s and '70s.




Words can conjure up places and times as vividly as pictures do, especially when people are speaking from the heart, fueled by intimate experiences and affectionate memories of a place.

It Happened In Manhattan stitches together anecdotes and recollections told by a disparate group of Manhattanites ?from writers and architects to rabbis and restaurateurs ?all steeped in the spirit of the city where they live and work.

Stretching from the close of World War II through the psychedelic 60s and beyond, the subjects of the recollections are equally diverse. Many of the chapter headings come from songs ?"East Side/West Side," "Puttin?on the Ritz" ?reflecting the writers? wish to celebrate their city as enjoyably as generations of entertainers have. They also note its dark and somber sides.

Imaginatively chosen photos round out the portrait capturing nostalgic moments or illustrating stories told on adjoining pages. Flipping through the book is like riding a time machine to one of New York’s energetic eras.


Good photos and fascinating interviews enliven It Happened in Manhattan, by Myrna Katz Frommer & Harvey Frommer. Already by page xiii of the acknowledgments, there is a photo of silvery TARS 555 on the B line, destination 129th & Amsterdam. No, this is not a railfan book, but rather a nostalgic narrative of the years 1940-1980 or so. There are plenty of evocative undated street scenes, with enough street cars, buses, els, or autos in sight to challenge the transit fan to figure out the date.

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