O.O. McIntyre: 25 Selected Stories

s-l225Oscar Odd McIntyre is forgotten, a New York City columnist in the days before the Jazz Age, he was sarcastic and dry-humored, writing weeklies about the small town man’s view of the city. Like Bat Masterson before him, this columnist was an outsider, though he wasn’t a gunfighter like Masterson. He came from Ohio and began his career in Cincinnati papers, eventually having his column syndicated. He describes the fresh New Yorker as “a country boy who sees the high-hatted city man, with his urban airs and extra cash, and gets charmed by his ways.” The rube then heads for the city, sees what it’s really like, and the fantasy dies. As McIntyre puts it, “bang, into the grave of youth goes another illusion!”

Back in the 1910’s, rich men enjoyed rough pastimes. Vincent Astor liked the cheap restaurants around Grand Central Station, and Vanderbilt had his own cobbling studio in his 5th avenue basement. McIntyre wrote a story called The Simple Rich, about wealthy men who raise their own chickens. Perhaps they like it because it’s not all they have? Like Americans today, they enjoyed these things, as hobbies, but wouldn’t like doing them for a living.

As for the silk-hatted city man, he says “don’t be fooled.” The man who you think is rich and refined probably came from Kentucky and came into money later on. Like most New Yorkers, he wasn’t likely to have been born there. Unfortunately, McIntyre only writes about the wealthier classes, so you won’t read much about the police, teachers, chefs, or average people. Then again, only the rich and affluent would’ve bought the newspapers that published his column. It would be another few decades before Gale Sheehy would write stories about prostitutes and sleaze and be credited for promoting feminism. Perhaps there will always be a readership divide?

These 25 stories were written for Cosmopolitan, one of the many publications that ran his work. My research tells me that he started his New York career in PR, handling publicity for Broadway stars. He turned down a chance to do radio because he didn’t want to lower the quality of his work. However, I think he just didn’t want his readers to know how he really sounded!


The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing Never-to-be-Forgotten 1963-1964 Season

great-paradeI wonder if Broadway goes through “seasons” every decade. In the last ten years we’ve had every Disney movie turned into a musical, and back in the 1960’s, it was all about pushing the envelope. You had Barefoot In The Park, Hell Dolly, Funny Girl, and lots of edgy dramas and musicals. Peter Filichia, a New York theater critic, has written this book as a homage to an era when the plays reflected the great changes in American life. Those same changes would also be the nail in the coffin for a lot of the plays.

The author gives an example of how West Side Story, once considered controversial, now had to have its language toned down. What the audiences loved in 1964 was Blues For Mister Charley, courtesy of (edgy) James Baldwin, with lots of profanity and heresy; a young man questions the “white” church, and professes a desire to hang the white god. Lee Strasberg insisted on staging it with all the rudeness, racism, and vulgarities included. What the audiences didn’t go for, however, was Sponono, a South African collaboration between Allen Patton and Krishna Shah. American audiences didn’t understand the language or dynamic, and besides, they already had their own racial troubles. There were others that failed too, like Rainy Day in Newark, Foxy, and the famously long titled Oh Dad Poor Dad. The same thing happened with the revival of West Side Story, as some considered it dates, while others suspected that the movie version killed off any need to see it on stage.

There’s a funny story of Barefoot in the Park, which was perfect for New Yorkers, who could relate to the theme of getting their first apartment. Like most Neil Simon plays, it had a simple set and was cheap to produce, so success was guaranteed in its four year run. But the 2006 revival failed, which Filichia attributes to bad casting and changes in norms and mores. The days of “no going to bed till wed” are over, there’s no more Sears stuff, and no $125 apartments, so today’s audiences can’t relate to it. The Paris production had to write the apartment as being on the 9th floor, because in Paris, most buildings were pre-elevator, and a 9th floor walkup wasn’t that big a deal.

The last pages give a list of the shows and the number of performances. Some, like What Makes Sammy Run, did well both critically and financially, but the public lost interest after 400 performances. The Deputy did well at the box office and with the critics, but the public soon lost interest. It was a long play, hard to stage, and more for intellectuals than the kind of people who wanted to see Barefoot in the Park. Though controversial, it is mostly forgotten today, as is What Makes Sammy Run. If you look at today’s long running musicals, they’d be Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. In the UK, shows like Me and My Girl and Cats have been running for decades. Perhaps it’s because they’re period pieces that can’t get old? Then again, Sweeny Todd was also a period musical, and it doesn’t get staged much.

Changing times will always be factor. I hope Filichia will write another book about 1980’s Broadway. By that time we had Chorus Line, which lasted 15 years.

Street Fight: Handbook of an Urban Revolution

street-fight-jpgThis book brings to mind an earlier tome called The Pedestrian Revolution, where the argument for car-free zones is shown to be feasible and profitable. However, The Pedestrian Revolution was written 40 years ago, a time when living in the city wasn’t the vogue. Much of Janette Sadik-Khan’s Street Fight has to do with modern issues of overcrowding and high fuel costs. Not all of her examples are from NYC; she includes Medellin, Colombia, as an example of non-automobile services. That unfortunate city, better known for cocaine, now has cable cars and escalators to get people up the hills. Instead of a two hour bus trip down the winding mountain roads, it’s a ten minute walk to the cable station, twenty minutes down to the city, and a ten minute bus ride to work. Medellin sits at the bottom of a valley, so more cars would equal more smog (like LA, Santiago De Chile, Beirut, Mexico City, etc) and even if the cars go electric, who can afford one anyway? The cable cars and escalators are an alternative to moving everyone to “affordable housing” in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

street-changeSadik-Khan explores the no-car solutions worldwide, and outlines the benefits; you get less smog, shorter commutes, lower fuel costs, decreased traffic, and if you increase the landmarks, navigation becomes easier. She also discusses the many sacrifices to me made, such as when 1st Avenue in Manhattan got a bike lane. The Avenue, once a five-lane road, is reduced to only three car lanes; one for bikes, one for buses, and three for cars. While cars end up with fewer lanes and parking, she’s not terribly sympathetic; most of the cars on 1st Avenue are commercial, and few New Yorkers can afford a car anyway.

times-squareThe author devotes a chapter to the anti-bike lane people, such a Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford (given his girth, he could use a bike) and doesn’t turn them into villains. Not everybody wants to ride, like the grocery magnate John Castimatides, who has the money to get driven to work daily, and like Rob Ford, would benefit from a few rides. Sadik-Khan does, however, criticize the anti-bike people with regard to their attitude to casualties. When a cyclist gets run over, they’re likely to say “he deserved it,” but when a cyclist hits a pedestrian, they’re up in arms.

The earlier book by Jane Jacobs is mentioned in Street Fight, along with the changes that did not happen as a result. Robert Moses becomes the villain in this book, because it was Moses that pushed for car accommodations and not pedestrians. Maybe this book is really about the change from the city-to-suburb-to-city change in today’s world? Perhaps the number of young people putting off marriage influences the desire to live in cities? This book is one of several pro-urban arguments that have hot the bookshelves in recent years, the most recent one of which was Never Built Los Angeles. It turns out that LA had many planned neighborhoods proposed in the 1950’s, all of which had a rail link, and none of which were taken seriously. But given 30 years of “the freeway is a parking lot,” maybe it’s time?