times square 1972 by olivier nade

This is the second-to-last article in this series, which runs on Thursday nights to celebrate the upcoming weekend–and maybe teach a little history–by taking you on a virtual night-on-the-town in New York City at various times in its past. I’ve learned a lot and so have you, I hope, but there aren’t many more spots on the map to visit. So far we’ve been out in November 1938, March 1977, August 1922, October 1951, September 1985, April 1943, May 1967, December 1916, June 1997, July 1905, February 1930, and January 1959. I’m looking forward to tonight’s trip, as it falls in a curious transitional period in the history of America, and New York: the early 1970s. Time to get that houndstooth polyester jacket and the wide mustard-colored tie with the brown stripes out of your closet, as its time has come again.

As with all the articles in this series, all details, such as street addresses, show times, prices, business names, etc., are accurate down to the exact day.

That day is Friday, October 20, 1972. The weather today has been sunny, clear and cool, high of 46 degrees, with a low of 33 forecast overnight. In the news, the Vietnam War continues to drag on, though thankfully not at its peak intensity. Henry Kissinger is meeting with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu in Saigon hoping for a political solution on the eve of peace talks in Paris involving the North Vietnamese. It’s also Presidential campaign season. In fact the Democratic candidate, George McGovern, was at the Waldorf-Astoria last night for the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner. Richard Nixon, who’s up for re-election, didn’t show, but Vice-President Spiro Agnew did. McGovern is way behind in the polls. Most people are just eager for the campaign to be over.

The early 1970s were the nadir of New York City’s police and public infrastructure investment. As a result, subways at the time routinely looked like this.

If you’d like to dine in high style tonight, we can definitely do that! At the Four Seasons Hotel, 99 East 52nd Street, the restaurant is offering a “Pre-Theatre Dinner” for $10.50 per person. For that you get a full meal with appetizers, entreé and dessert, and the entreés sound amazing: Salmon Paupiette with a mousse of trout and sorrel sauce, or farmhouse duckling, or perhaps stuffed baby pheasant. At The Jamaican, 432 Avenue of the Americas–which is inexplicably what they try to call Sixth Avenue now–they serve great Caribbean food, including fish and steaks cooked with local Jamaican recipes. There’s music there too: Mighty Rex and his Steel Pan Calypso Rhythm. Or we could go to the Cedars of Lebanon, 39 East 30th Street. Newly-remodeled, this restaurant has Middle Eastern cuisine, dinners starting at $3.75 and cocktails. If you want French food (and if Salmon Paupiette at the Four Seasons doesn’t do it for you) there’s La Toque Blanche, 359 East 50th Street, a very fine French kitchen. Dinner ranges from $8.50 to $12.00. I bet we can get some good wine there.

There are shows galore in Manhattan tonight! We just happened to land on the date of the second-to-last Broadway performance of the musical Man of La Mancha. It stars Richard Kiley and Joan Diener, and it’s at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center at 8PM. I’m not that partial to musicals, but that one is good. Or there’s Jesus Christ Superstar playing at the Mark Helliger Theater, 51st Street west of Broadway. Orchestra and mezzanine seats are $15, which isn’t bad. Also tonight only is a special preview of a show called The Lincoln Mask, staring Fred Gwynne (“Herman Munster”) and Eva Marie Saint. The show actually opens October 30, but tonight’s special preview at the Plymouth Theater on 45th Street is a one-shot deal. Sleuth, a mystery play starring Patrick MacNee (from the British TV show The Avengers) and Brian Murray, is at the Music Box Theater, 243 West 45th Street. Orchestra seats are $8.50. Another comedy-mystery play, The Real Inspector Hound, plays off-Broadway. It’s at Theater Four, 424 West 55th Street, at 7:30.

Two big musical events–the opera Carmen at the Met, and Neil Diamond at the Winter Garden–are sold out. We’re a decade too early to hear Neil Diamond sing “Turn On Your Heart Light,” so this is obviously no big loss.

1972 was the era of the “Blacksploitation” film, of which Super Fly was one of the exemplars.

We could always go to a movie. The big movie right now is Lady Sings The Blues, the biopic of Billie Holliday starring Diana Ross, which has gotten excellent notices. It’s at Loew’s Slate 1, Broadway & 45th Street. Right next door, at Loew’s 2, is the “Blacksploitation” film Super Fly, which has been very popular. This is definitely the era of African-American cinema. Shows are at 8:30, 10:15 and midnight. This is also the era of “porno chic,” so sex and sex-related films are popular too. Heat, produced by Andy Warhol and starring perennial chiseled naked man Joe D’Allessandro and Sylvia Miles, plays at the Festival Theater, 57th Street at Fifth Avenue. It’s rated X, as is Oh! Calcutta! whose movie ad features phrases from the film like, “That’s funny, it worked on the frog!” I don’t want to know what that means. Slightly more mainstream is Woody Allen’s comedy Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask. That’s at the Little Carnegie, 57th Street, with shows at 7, 8:45 and 10:30.

For more serious films, The Assassination of Trotsky, starring Richard Burton as the Russian revolutionary, is at the Coronet Theater, 59th Street and Third Avenue, 8:00 and 10PM. Movies have very long runs in this period, so believe it or not The Godfather, which came out in March, is still playing. It’s at the Paramount, 61st and Broadway.

There were a lot of movies about sex playing in October 1972. Here’s Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted To Know… which was one of his early breakthrough films.

Last resort: stay home and watch TV. Game 5 of the World Series was on Channel 4 just this afternoon at 4PM–Oakland A’s vs. Cincinnati Reds. But I’m not a fan of baseball. (Cincinnati won, 5-4). At 7:30 PM on Channel 7 is a paid political show, “Democrats for Nixon.” Thank you, no, I really don’t need to hear that. At 8PM there’s a TV movie, The Lion at World’s End, which has something to do with the people who made Born Free back in the ’60s. Or an old classic, the 1939 Wuthering Heights starring Laurence Olivier is on Channel 11. Both of those are up against the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, 8PM Channel 2, featuring Robert Goulet as the guest. If we watch late we can see The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson’s guests are Joey Bishop and Pat Boone. Honestly I’d rather find out what worked on the frog.

Well, that’s it for our ’70s “date night.” We have one last entry in this series, and then I’m afraid we’re going to have to see other people. But this has been a lot of fun!

The header photo of Times Square in 1972 is by Flickr user Olivier Nade and is used under Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution) license. The other photo is public domain.
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