Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Noirsville BonusTimes Square Noir

Formerly known as Longacre Square.
7th Avenue at about 43rd Street on left crosses Broadway on right Times Square looking North 40s -50s

Times Square was renamed in 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters from 41 Park Row to the newly erected Times Building at Broadway and 42nd Street. Located where Seventh Avenue meets Broadway, the "square"  is actually in the shape of a bow tie stretching from 45th street to 42nd street. Below ground it is the intersection of two major subway lines and a shuttle line that runs to Grand Central Terminal.

East side of Times Square looking North up Broadway
Times Square grew dramatically after the First World War I. It became a cultural hub full of theatres, music halls, and upscale hotels. Advertising in the square also began to take off impressively and creatively in the Roaring Twenties. The Wrigley Spearmint Gum sign dubbed at the time, the "biggest electric sign in the world," cost $9,000 a month to rent. In 1941, Camel Cigarettes erected what was known in the advertising biz as a "spectacular," it was of a man blowing giant smoke rings every four seconds to give the illusion of smoking. Another "spectacular" just North of the Camel sign, was the Bond Clothing Store sign, this sign was 50 feet tall and 200 feet wide, stretched across a whole block on the East side of Times Square, between 44th and 45th Streets, it featured a clock and a 50,000 gallon waterfall.  On either side of the waterfall were two classical-style figures of a man and woman who were nude during the day, but clothed in neon togas and dresses at night. It cost $350,000.

This gif shows, behind the waving man, the Camel Sign in action the Bond store is to the left 
The Bond Store Sign waterfall is off
Director Fritz Lang, after seeing Times Square in 1923, supposedly used it as inspiration for his dark industrial film Metropolis (1927).

Giant boobs,  the female part of the Bond Sign when it was dismanteled

The Follies Burlesk above a Howard Johnson's

During the 20s and 30s the Times Square area also became a mecca for crime. The Great Depression caused many theaters to close and these were replaced by by bars, brothels, burlesque halls, penny arcades, vaudeville stages, movie theaters, night clubs, dime a dance ballrooms and Hubert’s Museum on 42nd Street that housed freak shows and a genuine flea circus.


Burlesque routine

To the freak show

Club stripper

Playland Arcade

Anti Aircraft Shooting Gae

Newspaper nest

The legitimate Broadway show houses, the off Broadway playhouses, and movie palaces were surrounded by a sea of continually "going out of business sale" joints, sleazy flop hotels, juice joints, street vendors, steak houses, Automats, international themed hash joints, and souvenir tourist traps. The Square and its surrounding satellite neighborhood got a reputation as an all night, anything goes, exciting, thrilling, dangerous and also as an increasingly seedy area through the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s. Legitimate theater goers would rub shoulders, with winos, stew bums, hookers, junkies, runaways, homos, and the usual spectrum of deviants.  From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the proliferation of grind house and porn theaters, adult bookstores, live nude girls and loop reel peep shows, topless go-go bars, live sex shows, burlesque/stripper costume stores, sex paraphernalia shops and dive bars accelerated its decline. Gambling, prostitution, confidence schemes, bookmakers, bunko rackets, pickpockets, professional beggars, and petty crime flourished.


Orange Julius Juice stand on corner


Skee Ball

Latin Quarter Night Club

There were the usual three card Monte dealers set up with a board on a crate, or the shell game swindles. But there was this one simple, unique "Balloon Clown" racket I vividly remember. It was set up near a building corner. It was a three man con. One guy had a small collapsible table set up and on it were these paper cutouts of figures, men and women about ten inches long,  a bag of balloons that had clown faces, and a roll of scotch tape.

The legs of the figures were creased up resembling accordions. The table was set up in front of a wall. The guy would go into his spiel, "Step right, step right up, a cheap toy for your kids, hours of entertainment, and it's only a dollar, only a dollar, step right up!" The guy would blow up a balloon, take one of the paper cut outs and bend the head over so it was in effect a paper hook. He'd, tape the balloon to the cutout hook. Now you had a little man or woman with a balloon clown head. This he would take and lay up against the wall the the building and it would come alive, start to bounce up and down on its own against the wall. He'd do it again and again, until five or six of these Balloon Clowns were dancing along the wall like a clown chorus line. A small crowd would gather. A shill, part of the con, would step up and plunk down two bucks and buy a couple of the balloon clowns. Soon others in the crowd would buy more of them.

The "third man" was off to the side at the corner of the building. He's nonchalantly sucking on a tar bar. He's got his hands behind his back just leaning up against the wall acting like he had nothing to do with anything. In reality, he's got a fine and practically invisible, if you are not looking for it, fishing line wrapped around his index finger. It goes from his finger along the wall in an long arc and is attached at the other end to a fire standpipe coming out of the building. So this guy is making the balloon clowns dance up and down by wiggling his finger. Ya just got to chuckle picturing when one of these rubes gets home and leans the balloon clown up against the wall at home. The whole set up, other than the table, had to cost maybe three bucks for paper, balloons and the fishing line. If the cops showed they all split in different directions.

I went to Rhodes School in Manhattan on 54th Street. It was located in a couple of brownstones that overlooked the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art. (This school BTW had an "up" and a "down" staircase, and an English Literature teacher for a few years named Bel Kaufman. She wrote a novel that was subsequently made into the film of the same title Up The Down Staircase (1967)).  It was an open campus type of school, so if you had say classes from 8 to 10 AM and then the next at 3 PM you didn't have to stay in school. You could hop a subway for a long lunch down in Chinatown or hang out in nearby Times Square.

The Metropole Cafe

It was only a few long blocks West and a handful South to the Northern end of actual Times Square, but it's sphere of influence encompassed a rectangle bounded on the North by 55th Street, the East by 6th Avenue, the South by 40th Street, and the West by 9th Avenue) and in the 1960's you could see just about everything you were curious about, and it was all there right right in front of you, live and in the flesh. They didn't call the peep shows Live Nude Girls for nothing, ;-). The  Metropole Cafe had blackened windows except for a circular peephole at approximately 5' high, if you were tall enough you got an eye full of the topless go-go dancers (the Metropole was featured in one of Jack Lemons films, The Odd Couple (1968), it's still operating now as a gentleman's club called Lace). Near it on a second floor was a restaurant called The Brass Rail that one of my classmates father managed.

Topless GoGo Dancer

Every block had adult bookstores, porno theaters and peepshows, tucked in between the legitimate movie palaces and Broadway Show theaters. There was still a coin Automat in operation on the West side of Times Square. In the peeps you either went into a booth and paid twenty-five cents to watch a film or a panel slid up and there on a revolving stage was a nude "model."

I remember being in one peep show film booth area looking at the various titles of what was offered inside. Stuff with salacious inscriptions the likes of "The Plumber", "Backdoor Man," "Praying To The Bone God", Momma Needs Attention", "Golden Shower",  Playing the Skin Flute", "Party Girl", etc., etc, and suddenly, the curtain slides to the side of this one booth a few spaces down an out pops this knock down dead gorgeous 20 something blond. Curiously, I happen to glance over to see what her kink was, WTF was she doing here, and what exactly had attracted her attention. The title was "Lucky Dog", and it wasn't just a figure of speech.... Who woulda thunk it?

There still were a few of more traditional type burlesque houses scattered about. However they were minuscule compared to what they had been. My local favorite was the "Follies Burlesk." It was North of 42nd Street and right above a Howard Johnson's restaurant. The "stage" was sunken maybe 10' x 10'  and made of wooden floorboards and surrounded on all sides by regular movie house seats. There were four aisles diagonally coming off the corners so the burlesque dancer just walked down the steps to the stage. The only difference between the 40s & 50s style was they didn't stop at a G-string and pasties anymore, they went all the way. Remember this was the late 60s, the "sexual revolution" was in full swing, and even on the streets there were a lot of women wearing micro minis and see through tops parading around like it was all natural. A wonderful time for a young man. Forgedaboudit!

Peep Show
"40 Duce" 42nd Street

Hookers on the prowl

Live Nude Girl


dirty book stores galore

view from the live peepshow booth

Hooker and John
Lounge Stripper

In the late 60s the cops had all the streetwalkers sort of corralled during the daylight hours onto East 47th street. Probably to keep up a veneer of respectability for the tourists from Kansas. There had to be two hundred plus or minus in that herd. If you happened to accidentally walk down the street you'd get a chorus of come-ons.

A handful of hookers on 47th Street

During my senior year I had this dancer for a girlfriend who worked for The American Ballet Theater. One day Deva, my best friend Walter, and I were walking arm in arm down 47th through the throng of hookers. Deva, being the smart ass she was, made a catty comment about how her legs were better than some ho's we were passing. We hadn't gone ten feet when suddenly ninety pound Deva gets knocked up into the air forward off her feet. Luckily, since we were holding on to her arms she didn't fall. What happened was, one of the whores had taken her long strapped handbag and basically wound it up full force and windmilled it right into Deva's ass.

The hand bag was full of bricks or something similarly heavy. The equivalent of say the difference between a regular punch and a fist wearing brass knuckles. They all had these bags as a sort of defensive weapon. Of course all hell broke loose, Deva screams and we start running with all these whores closing in. We started a literal pussy riot, and had to duck into this near by restaurant for shelter from the storm. All the prostitutes were crowded out side the door yelling and carrying on. The management had to call the cops to disperse the ladies, before we could get the hell out of there. Either one whores didn't like Deva's remark and took it as an insult or they all thought she was some kind of freelance hooker herself, blatantly moving into their territory.

Playland and right next door Majestic Dancing, a taxi dancing ballroom

Above is one of the many Playland Arcades that were scattered around Times Square, with the Majestic Ballroom a Taxi Dancing join located in what was the second floor of the old Latin Quarter building. The entrance to the Majestic had a steep stairway leading up to the ballroom on the second floor. This may be where Stanley Kubric shot his scenes for Killer's Kiss (1955)

There was even a genuine brothel (I'm sure it was not the only one in a city of 8 million) operating in one of the office buildings right on Time Square. It was advertised by these bums and other low life's  out on the street handing out handbills to men walking along Broadway. "Girls $10 and up."

That was cheap, how could you go wrong, this was way before AIDS. You went to the address, then took an elevator to whatever floor it said on the handbill and then you went to whatever office suite the hook shop was set up in. In the suite they had a bunch of chairs set lined up on one end of a room. It was like an assembly line operation. Ten or twelve hookers would file in and stand there posing with come and get it looks. They were all wearing  easy to strip out of "onesies." Guys would pair up with whoever caught their fancy. If you didn't like that first batch another would soon troop through the door. So you picked a gal and she took you out through another door that led into an adjoining office suite.

This one was set up into various cubicles separated just by curtains, it was like a frickin' hospital ward. Dr. Feelgood's. She took you into her cubicle, asked what you wanted, it was ten for straight sex, fifteen for half & half, half oral and half straight, and so on and so forth. The cubical had a bed on wheels with plastic sheets, a table with a wash basin and paper towels. She washed your business end off and you did your thang. It was fly by night. The whole operation was set up so that it could all be easily dismantled and moved to another empty office suite over night, whenever the heat got too hot. It's hard to imagine that the local precinct cops weren't on the take.

Time Square Noirsville



Forbidden fruits

Live sex show

all the way burlesk


live nude girl peep show

Rose Room Taxi Dancing
Peep Show Performer

selling her ass


I never got to see the end of old Times Square. In 1972, I moved out West to Montana, and didn't get back to Manhattan again til the late 90s. It was all gone, there is a vestige of sleaze on 8th Ave called The Playpen if you want a small taste of what it was like.

In the mid-1990s, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led an effort to clean up Times Square. Police presence was increased, pornographic theatres were outlawed and closed, and “undesirable” low-rent residents were forced to move out. The area had a stake put through it's heart and was disemboweled at the same time.

Chain tourist traps, Hard Rock Cafe, McDonald's, Burger King, Ruby Foo's, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Planet Hollywood and a new form of sleaze this go round its garish, cartoon-ish & Disney-fied, with appropriately costumed panhandlers and, now get this, legally topless women right out on the street to boot.

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