In my recent research on Leon & Eddie's of lost 52nd Street, I came upon the incredible Gottlieb Collection of jazz photos on flickr.
William Gottlieb, says the Library of Congress' note, "was both a notable jazz journalist and a self-taught photographer who captured the personalities of jazz musicians and told their stories with his camera and typewriter." Many of the photos here come from 52nd Street, back when it was known as "Swing Street."
William Gottlieb: Toots Thielemans, 1948
In the collection you'll find many shots of the greats, including Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, but it's the faces of the forgotten and lesser known that I find most exciting.
Like Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, the man who claimed to have originally coined the term "hipster" between 1939 and 1945. It was his stage name when 52nd was his musical home. Notes Wikipedia, "His career went into a tailspin in 1947, when his song 'Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine' put him on the music industry blacklist." Too bad, it's a great title.
William Gottlieb: Gilbert Pinkus, 1946
In black-and-white, there's a fellow named Gilbert Pinkus. Down Beat recalled him: "Pinkus, Gilbert G. Pinkus, that is, is the Mayor of 52nd street. Pinkus has been a doorman on The Street for 16 years and his honorary title is a tribute to his fortitude. The Big Cigar with the Little Man has outlasted all other of the denizens of Characters' Alley..."
He died in 1980 after being hit by a truck.
William Gottlieb: Tony Soma of Tony's, 1948
Through Gottlieb's photos, we get a rare glimpse inside the nightclubs that made 52nd Street so famous and beloved.
There's Tony Soma doing a headstand at Tony's--probably singing a Verdi or Puccini aria, as he liked to do upside-down. Dorothy Parker used to frequent his place when it was a speakeasy. In the 1920s, when a bartender at Tony's asked Parker, "What are you having?" she reportedly replied, "Not much fun."
William Gottlieb: Lois De Fee at Club Nocturne, 1948
And there is the lovely Lois De Fee, "Queen of the Amazons." At six-foot-four, she was hailed by Walter Winchell as the "Eiffel Eyeful." She married actor Billy Curtis, one-time Munchkin, for the publicity. TIME announced: "Midget Billy Curtis, 29, 3 ft. 6 in., 79 lb., last January married onetime Manhattan nightclub Bouncer Lois De Fee, 19, 6 ft. 4 in., 190 lb. Last week little Billy Curtis, suing his big bride for divorce, complained: 'She treated me like a doll.'"
There was a popular joke that went along with the wedding:
Q: How did the midget make love to Lois De Fee?
A: Someone put him up to it.
On that subject, Lois said, "We didn't--I mean, we were married at three o'clock in the afternoon in Miami, and the half pint took a plane for New York at seven o'clock that evening, and we didn't--that is--oh hell! We didn't. I applied for an annulment the next day."
William Gottlieb: 52nd St., 1948
Not everyone is named in the photo collection. Here, an anonymous chanteuse sings amid red draperies while nightclubbers smoke and drink at white-clothed tables. The colors are stunning.
And there's more. So many more--over 1,300 photos in the collection. Some notable shots include: A look into a secret booze vault (21's?), an eerie home tour with Mr. Edwin Finckel, the pipe-cluttered desk of one Brick Fleagle, colorful scenes onstage at Leon & Eddie's, the studio of a bohemian painter at work, bassist Vivien Garry of the amazing hairdo, a shot of the Apollo in 1946, three guys named Pee Wee, Muggsy, and Miff (plus one Joe), Louis Armstrong in his dressing room, Billie Holiday with her dog Mister (and a pineapple), Cab Calloway combing his hair, etc., etc., etc.
Enjoy the browsing.
More 52nd Street to come...