This is the sixth entry in my “Throwback Thursday” series, which is a you-are-there account of what it’s like to spend a weekend night on the town in New York City in various eras of its history. So far in this series we’ve been to the depressing 30s (1938), the groovy 70s (1977), the very bizarre 20s (1922), the dull 50s (1951) and the big-hair, Spandex, greedy 80s (1985). Tonight we take a very interesting trip to a strange and scary era: right smack in the middle of World War II. All prices, addresses, menus, show times and such in this article are accurate to the exact day.
It is Friday, April 16, 1943. The United States has been involved in the world war for 16 months, since the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Life is not quite the same as it was before the war, and not just because so many young men are off fighting and there are so many military uniforms to be seen on the streets of Manhattan. The newspapers have grim long lists of casualties, men reported as killed or captured, every day. News of fighting on distant battlefronts is everywhere. Right now, today, British and American forces are fighting Germans in Tunisia and there have been several major battles. Last night Danzig and Königsberg were bombed by the Soviet Air Force. There were more Allied ships sunk in the Atlantic and Pacific. Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, just promised Douglas MacArthur a huge new batch of supplies to his forces in Australia. And the truly awful battles haven’t even begun yet. Eventually we will invade Europe across the English Channel, and the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific will get closer to the Japanese homeland. These are going to be very, very bloody affairs.
Having fun on a weekend night is a little harder during the war. For one thing, everything is rationed. There’s a meat shortage in New York City and potatoes are also in short supply. Everything from sugar to tires requires ration books, coupons and points in order to buy. For example, the Armour company has been running a series of recipes in the paper for “Armour’s Meat Ration Meals.” A 4 1/2 pound beef chuck pot roast, called for by one recipe, costs 27 ration points. One-pound pork loin chops cost 7 points. You can get half a pound of bacon for 4 points. Of course, you could go to the black market, but we’re patriotic Americans so if we want to stick it to Hitler I guess we’ve got to live with the shortages.
In 1943 this site, at Fifth Avenue and East 48th Street, was the location of a restaurant called the Café Loyale.
Assuming we can find a restaurant with a full menu, where shall we go? There’s a place called the Café Loyale, on Fifth Avenue at East 48th Street, which sounds like a good place to go. With that name I wonder if it’s French. Dinner starts at $1.35, which really isn’t bad. Or there’s a place called the Campus Restaurant–not sure what campus they mean–whose specialty is boneless shad. Dinner is also $1.35. They’re also offering a Friday night special, a broiled lobster dinner for $1.75 and up. Drinks start at 30 cents. I’m surprised to find an Indian restaurant prominently advertised in the paper. At Rajah’s, 235 West 48th Street, they offer “princely dishes of India served with traditional charm and hospitality of Hindustan.” Dinners there start at $1.05. Or we could go to Gluckstern’s, 157 West 49th Street. Passover doesn’t begin until Tuesday, but they will be serving Passover meals and liquors supervised by Rabbi Karff. Maybe this is the wrong time to mention I’m Jewish?
It’s wartime, but there’s still plenty of entertainment to be had in Manhattan. It’s definitely more kiddie-oriented, but Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, the self-proclaimed “Greatest Show on Earth,” is in town and playing tonight at Madison Square Garden. Doors open at 7 for an 8:30 show. Tickets are between $1.10 and $4.40. Let’s not do that, though–I have a strange premonition that something terrible is going to happen at the circus someday. We could see In The Pink, a revue, which has shows at 8:30, midnight and 2AM. There’s dinner and drinks included. This is at the Cocoanut Grove–no, not that Cocoanut Grove, that was in Boston–which is atop Hotel Park Central, Seventh Avenue and 56th Street. They have a “Serviceman Special,” only $1.00 for a 7-course meal for soldiers in uniform. Or we could see Ethel Merman in another revue, Something for the Boys, at the Alvin Theater, 52nd Street just west of Broadway. The show features Cole Porter songs and gets underway at 8:35 PM.
Shadow of a Doubt, the new Hitchcock thriller, is playing tonight at the Normandie Theater.
The biggest new show on Broadway is Oklahoma! by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It’s playing at the St. James Theater, 44th and Broadway, at 8:30. Tickets run from $1.10 to $2.75. There are also some very good non-musical plays on Broadway. Tomorrow the World is a drama that got very good notices, starring an actor named Ralph Bellamy opposite Shirley Booth. It’s at the Barrymore, 47th Street and Broadway, at 8:40. For three years now an uproarious comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace, has been charming audiences. It plays at the Fulton, West 46th Street, also at 8:40. Or if you just insist on music, and also want dinner and drinks, John Sebastian, the “Virtuoso of the Harmonica,” will appear with Stanley Melba and Orchestra at the Cotillion Room of the Hotel Pierce, Fifth Avenue and 61st Street. The cover charge is $1.50 tonight.
As for movies, good luck getting away from the war in a movie theater. Hollywood has definitely done its part to support the war effort. The most popular film of the year is Casablanca, which has been held over at the Plaza Theater, 58th Street and Madison Avenue. Or, a newer picture, They Got Me Covered, starring Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour–it’s one of those “road pictures”–is playing at the RKO Theater. Charles Boyer, a French actor, has a new film, Heart of a Nation, which is at the Abbey Theater, Broadway between 51st and 52nd Avenue. Then there’s a great director, Alfred Hitchcock, whose new film Shadow of a Doubt is playing at the Normandie Theater, 58th Street and Madison Avenue.
This is a scene from the 1943 Bob Hope film They Got Me Covered, a musical performance featuring Marion Martin. The essence of WWII escapist entertainment.
Of course we could always stay home, drink and listen to the radio. There is still booze to be had in New York even though most of the country’s major distilleries have been put to work producing pure alcohol for the war effort (it’s used in fuels and coolant for aircraft engines). But many distilleries have warehouses where pre-war stock is still available. I don’t know how much it is, but we could get Calvert Reserve whiskey, and also Park & Tilford Reserve. Some shops still have liquor and wine available. On the radio dial there’s a lot of war news, but some scatterings of music and drama. Kate Smith presents a variety show on WABC from 8:00 to 8:30 tonight. On the same station is a radio play, The Shop Around the Corner, staring Paul Lukas, that’s at 9. Duke Ellington and his Orchestra will be on WOR at 10PM. And there’s a show called the Treasury Star Parade, on several times during the evening, featuring various musical acts. One of them is a singer called Frank Sinatra.
Well, I hope you enjoyed your night out in 1943. Let’s hope the war is over soon and our boys (and girls) come back home where they belong.