Grossinger’s, someone has said, is more than a resort hotel, it is a way of life. Be that as it may, it has by now undoubtedly established itself as an institution on the American scene, and as such is entitled to the respectful attention of the inquiring sociological practitioner. This article by Morris Freedman does not pretend to be a definitive work; it makes claim to do little more than open up the subject.
A guest at Grossinger’s recognized an Israeli statesman walking into the dining room. “I thought he was dead,” he said to a neighbor. “Nu, so how do you know he’s not?” was the retort. “Where else would he go?”
Roughly, Grossinger’s is to resort hotels as Bergdorf Goodman is to department stores, Cadillac to cars, mink to furs, and Tiffany to jewelers, but only roughly. It has been called “Waldorf in the Catskills.” Yet neither the old nor the new Waldorf ever had a strictly kosher cuisine, a full-time hostess to introduce unattached guests to one another, an Olympic swimming pool, an airport, a ski slope, or champion prize-fighters training on the premises—to mention a few of the more unusual attractions.
Perhaps it is not actually the complete earthly paradise. Paul Grossinger, heir apparent to the dynasty, conceded this when, under challenge, he modified the slogan “Grossinger’s Has Everything” to “Grossinger’s Has Everything for the Kind of Person Who Likes to Come to Grossinger’s.”
Grossinger’s current advertising concentrates on reaching that portion of our population whose notion of fulfillment would seem to be to rub elbows with the personages from the world of sports, popular entertainment, politics, and business whose doings dominate the Broadway and Hollywood gossip columns. A recent advertisement, cast in the form of one of these columns, reported the presence at Grossinger’s of a bearded veteran cowboy-actor, a clothing manufacturer, a New York State Assemblyman, and an assortment of entertainment and athletic celebrities. The two newspapers published at Grossinger’s itself, a tabloid weekly and a mimeographed daily, which are mailed to former guests, are made up largely of the same kind of information.
Emphasis in recent years seems to be on athletes, although Israeli and Zionist officials are also popular. The majority are invited to be guests of die house. Jackie Robinson, the baseball player, has been so honored a number of times, and his presence at Grossinger’s duly noted in advertising columns. So was the world’s champion weight-lifter, also a Negro. Grossinger’s “Hall of Fame,” as it is called—the walls and posts of die canteen that serves coffee and bagels between and after meals (“all orders served on bagels unless otherwise requested”)—bears pictures of such visitors as Jersey Joe Walcott, Nick Kenny, Red Buttons, Billy Rose, Nicky Blair, New York Supreme Court Justice Isadore Bookstein, Governor Ellis Arnall, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Irving Berlin, Pancho Gonzalez, “Hot Lips” Paige, Sophie Tucker, Chico Marx, Gertrude Berg, and many baseball and golf luminaries. One of another of the Grossingers may be seen in most of the photographs, arms linked with the celebrity.
A number of prominent sports performers are on Grossinger’s staff. Irving Jaffee, Olympic figure-skating champion, is in charge of winter activities. Joe Turnesa, winner of many tournaments, is the golf professional. Lew Worsham, who made a 140-yard hole-in-one last summer, was hired to appear at Grossinger’s two weeks later. Some are merely on the staff to carry Grossinger’s name throughout the world. Babe Didrikson, the famous woman athlete, has been associated with Grossinger’s in this capacity, as has Florence Chadwick, the young woman who swims channels.
Grossinger’s also sponsors a number of athletic events of varying importance. A golf tournament is named after Sylvia Lyons, the wife of the Broadway columnist Leonard Lyons, and a late September tennis event is the “Eddie Cantor-Milton Berle Annual Invitation Tournament of Champions.” Grossinger’s was host not long ago to the world’s barrel-jumping championship.
By far the most important athletic enterprise, however, is the training establishment for prize-fighters, set up in a remote corner of the 700-acre barony. Seven world’s champions, from Barney Ross to Rocky Marciano, have prepared for their work at Grossinger’s, and in the process helped to make Grossinger’s internationally known. It is the only resort to be regularly referred to in a comic strip, the one about Joe Palooka, a mythical heavyweight. A movie about Joe Louis was filmed here in part. And the formal establishment of a Grossinger post office has made it possible for news reports of the training activities to go out over the world with a Grossinger date line. (Marciano’s activities at Grossinger’s were not restricted to the training camp. At a Zionist meeting at Grossinger’s proper he helped sell out a supply of Rabbi Philip Bernstein’s What the Jews Believe by autographing copies).
Sharing honors with the athletes are, of course, the entertainers. Many come to perform for pay, arriving several days early and staying several days late (The usual resort limitations on hospitality to entertainers do not apply at Grossinger’s); some, like the athletes and Zionists, live on the house, especially when they are riding a high wave of public affection; a few come to vacation and out of nostalgia. Milton Berle’s earliest appearances were at Grossinger’s; Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Sain Levenson, Morey Amsterdam, Red Buttons, among others, worked here when still unknown; Eddie Fisher, a young and fabulously successful singer in the tradition of Frank Sinatra, developed and was discovered here; Hollywood producers Dore Schary and Don Hartman once worked on the staff. The current Catskill practice of hiring different bills for every night of the week was pioneered by Grossinger’s, and the consequently enormous turnover of entertainers made necessary the generous trying out of unknown talent. Appearing with the newcomers—maintaining the standards, as it were, and providing inspiration—have been such older figures as Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, and Sophie Tucker. Almost every one of the new stars has paid tribute to Grossinger’s for the opportunity given him to develop his style before a particularly demanding yet sympathetic audience.
In 1914, Selig and Malka Grossinger, their daughter Jennie, who was in her teens, and their nephew Harry Grossinger, a Chicago clothing worker, bought a farm for $450. Selig was sick and the family had been unsuccessful in the restaurant business on the East Side in New York because, to quote a publicity man, “they had been too generous in their portions and in the quality of their food. So their liability in the restaurant business proved their greatest asset in attracting hotel guests.” Actually, the record shows that it was quite a while and quite a struggle before “Mom” Grossinger, as the official chroniclers now refer to her, was really able to exhibit her generosity in a kitchen.
The family began by taking in boarders to fill up the empty rooms of their large, ramshackle farmhouse. Conditions were primitive, light being provided by kerosene lamps, ablutions taking place in a nearby lake, the guests providing their own entertainment and occasionally making their own beds. After a while, tents had to be put up to take care of the overflow. To make sure that she did not miss breakfast for the guests, “Mom” sometimes used to sleep sitting on the stairs. Jennie and Harry soon married, and then: son Paul was born in 1915.
In 1917, the Grossingers were able to buy a hotel they had long admired on top of a nearby hill. It cost them $27,000 and required a down payment of $5,000, which they raised by selling their original property for that sum. The hotel, nucleus of the present main building, had electricity and plumbing. When I talked with Jennie about the early days, she recalled the event with a great smile: “You can’t imagine my pleasure when I went from room to room and pushed buttons to turn on the lights. After all that kerosene, just to push a button for light.” She shuddered. “No more kerosene. I can still feel the stuff all over my hands and smell it.” Today the establishment, now wholly controlled by Jennie and Harry, grosses three to five million a year.
“Mom” Grossinger retained her old-fashioned, Old World ways up until her death a few years ago. She spent a great deal of time in the kitchen, gossiping with employees, and forever slicing prunes and keeping a suspicious eye out for violations of kashruth. A gentle and kindly woman, she was upset by the establishment of the fighters’ training camp and accepted it only after she had been charmed by Barney Ross, the first occupant and an Orthodox Jewish boy; it was at her insistence, however, that the camp was kept so far away from the main area. A photograph in the canteen shows her wearing a kerchief, long coat, dark hose, and high-buttoned shoes while shaking hands limply with an immaculately dressed Governor Dewey. Both are smiling broadly.
The present Grossinger establishment lies on an eminence just off Route 17, a quarter of a mile below the town of Liberty and just under a hundred miles from New York City. The roadside a mile or so before the turn-off to the hotel exhibits nothing but a gaudy red and stainless-steel diner—which does a good business in bacon and eggs among employees at Grossinger’s—and a scattering of ramshackle country buildings. Liberty itself is a small hilly town with tiny houses cramped against one another, most not higher than two stories. You ascend to Grossinger’s on a steep road which winds past a permanently manned gate-house; the buildings and grounds are hidden from outside by the slope and the trees. The main building is a phenomenally vast structure, various huge wings having been added as needed. In addition to rooms for several hundred guests, it contains an enormous dining room, perhaps a block long and a half-block wide, seating 1,300 persons; two kitchens, one for dairy and one for meat meals, which can prepare 2,000 servings; a vast, cavernous night club downstairs, the “Terrace Room,” with two stages and several levels, which can be divided in half by black folding walls; counters outside the night club selling such things as costume jewelry, neckties, and embroidered purses; several great lobbies containing dozens of fine leather chairs and sofas in various colors, a concert grand piano, and two fireplaces, one of them real. The walls of the lobby and dining room are paneled in knotty pine, the different shades revealing old and new construction. A mantel above the paneling close to the ceiling holds large copper vessels of various shapes, and porcelain figures and plates. Mounted stag heads abound in the lobby. Bronze plaques from various Jewish and business organizations are hung here and there, testifying to the Grossingers’ generosity and devotion to various causes; and over the real fireplace is a portrait of Selig Grossinger in white cap, wire-rimmed glasses, and sweater. His eyes are narrowed in a smile, he is holding a curved pipe to his mouth, and he has a small white beard. The floors are covered from wall to wall with thick carpeting.
The other buildings, of the same massive, vaguely old-English architecture—’light-tan stucco crisscrossed by wide brown beams—are distributed irregularly about the main building. The “Roosevelt,” named after the late president in spite of some guests’ objections, has a beauty parlor, a barber shop, and a five-room mirror-and-pine-paneled dancing studio, which I was told is the only one of its kind in a resort hotel. A new extension to the “Ritz” will have an elevator and individually air-conditioned rooms with television outlets in each. In addition to the Roosevelt and the Ritz, which are big buildings, there are a great number of smaller ones—the “Milton Berle” and “Eddie Cantor” lodges, and a series of cottages, one of them named after Abe Lyman, the orchestra leader, and another after Barney Ross. There is also a “Baby Villa” near the children’s day camp, which is a good distance away from the main building. A number of service buildings are scattered about, including a laundry with a gigantic smoke stack that occasionally belches thick black smoke.
These buildings can accommodate close to a thousand guests at the height of the different seasons; their remote corners hold a good number of employees on a nearly year-round basis. Overflow guests are sent to rooming houses in neighboring Liberty and transported to the hotel for meals and facilities; the dining-room capacity (which the management does not plan to expand beyond its present thirteen hundred) limits the number of such guests to three to four hundred. Weekly rates ranged last summer from $98 per person in a party of three or more occupying one room without bath, to $157.50 per person for two in a room with private bath; these rates are lowered somewhat for the other seasons. Children are charged the same as adults. Throughout the year there are never fewer than several hundred guests.
Most of the guests, as might be expected, are from New York City, but a substantial number come from all over the country, many from small towns. “Where else but to a place like this could you go to meet other Jews on your level on vacation?” a bachelor lawyer from Texas explained. Few Gentiles come to Grossinger’s by themselves on their own initiative. Either they are celebrities, invited to be guests of the house, or they come with Jewish friends. Occasionally, parties have flown in from the West; Canadians have long been coming in large numbers, and more recently many Europeans. One titled British guest confided to a member of the staff that it did his heart good to find in the world an establishment of this sort that was so completely Jewish. A wealthy Jewish family on a distant continent has for several years been sending their eligible daughter to Grossinger’s in the summer and to Miami in the winter in search of an American husband.
A Short walk from the living quarters are the hotel’s main daytime facilities. The swimming pool, which was built to hold official Olympic contests, is on a slight hill, and a wide area around it is paved with large, vari-colored stone slabs with grass growing between them. Several hundred aluminum chaises-longues and yacht chairs, with brightly colored plastic webbing, surround the water. A row of cabanas, each containing dressing and lounging space, open off a terrace raised a few feet above one of the long sides of the pool. These are paneled in a brown wood and are available at an additional charge of fifty dollars per week. The water-purifying system, which may be seen through a door below the pool, is large enough, I was told, to take care of the drinking supply of the town of Liberty. The pool, built for $400,000 five years ago, is now rivaled by an all-year indoor pool with sun lamps over at the nearby Concord, and Grossinger’s is planning an indoor pool of its own to surpass the Concord’s. The “Playhouse,” where religious services are held on the High Holidays, adjoins the pool.
Another handsome wood-paneled building near the pool is called “Holiday Inn” after the musical film of the same title that was inspired by Grossinger’s. This building has been used for art classes, concerts of classical music, and public-speaking lessons, but now serves mostly as press headquarters for the reporters covering the training camp. In the same area are also twelve tennis courts, a toboggan slide, and a large skating rink with a lodge attached. The rink has refrigerating pipes threaded through it, and there’s an artificial snow-making apparatus for the ski slope, which is nearby, not far from the riding stable. During the summer all this cooling equipment is hooked up to air-condition the dining room. A nineteen-hole golf course with its own clubhouse lies above this terrain, and a hill is topped by an intricate wooden scaffolding on which several television antennas are mounted. The lake is reached by a road that climbs steeply across the golf course to the clubhouse and then falls with equal steepness to the shores of the lake. A bus carries anyone who doesn’t want to make the climb and descent by foot. The lake water, it is said, is so pure that it once kept the hotel in business when other hotels in the area had to refuse guests because of a shortage of drinking water. It is stocked with pickerel and bass. But the most popular attraction, aside from the pool, is the golf course; lake activities and horseback riding are among the least popular.
Beyond the lake, some three miles from the main building, is a high grass plateau on which planes can land. This is Grossinger Airport. The one hangar, a small affair like a quonset hut but with a somewhat higher dome, houses a boxing ring surrounded by rows of plain wooden seats. There is also a barn, whose white paint is patched and peeling, and a trim little farmhouse; these are the accommodations for the fighter and his entourage. This “airfield,” which has received a good deal of publicity, is reported variously to have cost between $100,000 and $250,000. Occasional planes do land, and the resort keeps a small plane of its own there. Lately, a regular helicopter service between Newark and Grossinger’s has been instituted by Mohawk Airlines.
The feeling one gets everywhere, except possibly at the airport, is of pleasantly solid permanence. The wide walks in the main area are of cement, with irregular squares of slate in different colors set into it at random; these are charming, for they look from the higher floors in the surrounding buildings like scattered confetti. The immense patio outside the main building is similarly paved. The ceramic-tiled bathrooms and the thickly walled bedrooms are done in pastels; everything is in perfect repair, from the heavily chromed plumbing to the easy-sliding drawers in the attractive maple chests. All walls seem newly painted; all day long white-jacketed men move slowly through the halls and lobbies dusting obscure spots, including the high reaches of the sprinkler system.
Neat signs offer directions to the various facilities and indicate rules for behavior and dress. Golfers are asked to replace divots. Men are asked not to remove their shirts, and both sexes not to wear shorts. Persons in shorts or bathing clothes headed for the pool are steered away from the main lobby and the main terrace area; three hundred free lockers for bathing suits are provided near the pool. Women are admonished not to wear slacks into the dining room, and men to appear for the evening meal in tie and jacket. The carefully trimmed lawns and flower beds have signs reading: “Please do not pick us. We bloom for your pleasure. Signed, The Flowers.” Arrows on trees point the way to an antique shop in “Flo’s cottage.”
My Week at Grossinger’s started with a visit to the New York office on West 57th Street, a cluttered array of battered desks and rusting metal files. The rather small space is shared by Grossinger’s, Milton Blackstone’s publicity and advertising offices, Eddie Fisher’s headquarters, an entertainment booking agent, and an advertising agency with four names in its title. No partitions separate the different occupants, but I learned that much of their work was interrelated. Thus the advertising agency, which is independent and has its own clients, does the production work for Blackstone’s clients. Mr. Blackstone himself is the public relations man for Grossinger’s, as well as Eddie Fisher’s manager; he also owns a shipyard. The booking agent works for Grossinger’s on a salary but has his own clientele in addition.
To talk with Milton Blackstone, who is widely credited as the behind-the-scenes genius responsible for Grossinger’s development, I had to go to a Radio City rehearsal of Eddie Fisher’s television show and try to buttonhole him during a pause in the activity. While waiting, I found myself providing the pen and a writing support so that Mr. Blackstone could sign a contract between Eddie Fisher and George Jessel. And, because my briefcase apparently gave me an air of authority, I also found myself vouching to questioning guards for various persons present, most of them strangers to me, but one of whom was the very man who had brought me there, Blackstone’s own assistant. “He’s with me,” I assured a dubious guard, who then nodded and left us alone.
Blackstone had promptly disappeared after returning my pen, and I didn’t get to talk with him until Eddie Fisher had retired for a nap. Blackstone is a well-built man of average height, bald, with tight mouth and an air of great self-confidence and calm. He is not married. Because of his name and a certain guardedness in his answers, I got the impression that he was a lawyer, but I learned later that he had left Lehigh University before graduating, to join Grossinger’s staff in 1926. He had come there originally as a guest, then had struck up a friendship with Paul Grossinger, some ten years his junior. After a while he took over Grossinger’s advertising, setting up an agency in New York, and when, as the story has it, it was decided that Grossinger’s ought to have publicity to become really big, the publicity program as well.
“I get a lot of credit for building up Grossinger’s,” he said. “But Jennie is really responsible. She has a magnificent sense of what is right for the place, and is very receptive to ideas. She gives the place its tone, its dignity and hospitality. Harry Grossinger is very important too; don’t forget him. He’s responsible for building the place physically into what it is.” Then he excused himself; he wanted to watch the final rehearsal before that night’s show. He sat on the sidelines, checking everything closely. “You see,” one of the bystanders told me in a hush, “Blackstone helps settle problems in the script or in directing the show. All these years at Grossinger’s he has been alongside great people. Now he is one of them himself, and he gets a big kick out of writing and directing things.” I saw Mr. Blackstone only twice after that, when I caught a glimpse of him in the night club at Grossinger’s energetically directing the seating of a visiting congregation of sports writers, and then when he was leading Joe Louis to a table in the dining room.
I Was cautioned repeatedly, in New York and during my stay, that Yom Kippur week was completely uncharacteristic of Grossinger’s. The winter crowd, which generally comes on weekends and holidays, is supposed to be made up largely of college students, the summer crowd consists of unattached men and women ranging considerably in age, also many families and honeymooners. During the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur days it is a tradition for the older, regular guests to return. Many of these, however, leave just before Yom Kippur. “Who wants to pay twenty dollars a day just to last?” said a guest, explaining the exodus. Of the several hundred persons I saw, most did appear to be over fifty; many of them boasted of how many years they had been coming to Grossinger’s for the holidays. There were a good number of single persons, however, taking late vacations; and one handsome young man and a pretty girl, visiting with their separate families, met and became engaged during the week.
Contrary to the warnings received, the High Holidays may in certain respects be really the best time to catch the essence of Grossinger’s. These older guests had, so to speak, grown up with Grossinger’s: their rising prosperity paralleled Grossinger’s growth; indeed, it had stimulated it: as their inclination for vacationing along typical American lines was refined, Grossinger’s met their needs, and often anticipated them, with such things as the golf course, the swimming pool, the night clubs with celebrities. (The designation “Country Club” was added to the hotel’s title in the late 20’s, at about the time when discontent was developing over the exclusion of Jews from country clubs throughout the country.)
I was impressed by the sense of common proprietorship displayed by many of die guests. Grossinger’s was their place; they were more worried than the management itself about the threatened competition from the Concord. A good number claimed personal friendship with the Grossingers. There were many Yiddish accents. Reading the Tattler, the daily sheet that identifies guests by their business affiliations, one learnt that their wealth was of their own making, in the garment industry, as ice-cream or matzoh manufacturers, as fur and diamond merchants; there were no bankers or industrialists among them, and it seemed that very few representatives of America’s older Jewish families come here.
The awareness of material success was engagingly un-self-conscious and outspoken. People were constantly being evaluated in terms of what they had; announcements were made about how much money was being spent daily in the beauty parlor or barber shop. Many of the women had dyed hair, either in shades of silver blue, or in very light blonde, depending on their ages. One dinnertime a woman with a diamond ring about as wide as a dime and as thick as a pencil stopped at my table to talk with one of my neighbors. The others at once began speculating in low voices about the size of the diamond. Then, unhesitatingly, someone asked her about it, and she answered just as unhesitatingly that it was seventeen and a half carats. When she had gone, one woman remarked that it was really not so big (I did see two others afterward that seemed bigger), and a man authoritatively appraised it at between $15,000 and $20,000. The woman was identified as the wife of the owner of a man’s clothing chain. In a heavy accent another man remarked, “He has reached the pinochle of success.” (The man who said this apparently felt that he himself had reached some kind of “pinochle” when he discovered his name printed in the Tattler.)
And yet, once these people had got over the preliminary probings as to wealth and success, they were more ready than most to engage one another on less material questions. They knew both the importance and unimportance of the world’s goods, and knew this as only the self-made could know. Once that issue had been disposed of matter-of-ractiy and bluntly, once the minks and sables, the stoles and scarves and jackets, bad been flourished—they became merely clothes. The most expensively outfitted woman I saw wore a different dress for every hour of the day-each, I was informed, had been made for her in Paris—but after her first two days she put her mink on only when it got chilly. The comments of one occupant of my table changed during the week that we spent together from estimates of the wealth of our fellow guests to shrewd appraisals of their character. I overheard a touchingly candid conversation between a handsome, youthful-looking grandmother, who was a widow, and a slickly tanned grandfather, who was a widower, both of them obviously well-to-do, about how difficult it was to find a companion late in life, let alone a mate—both had already accepted the fact that they were not for each other.
My sense, toward the end of the week, was of the healthy self-assurance of most of the guests, their glowing confidence in their ability to deal with the world, and, perhaps more than anything else, the open-hearted respect they accorded to any and every newcomer in his, or her, simple capacity as an individual. At least that was the way they acted in the milieu of Grossinger’s. I met only one megalomaniac businessman; he constantly dropped big names in politics and finance, and was just barely tolerated.
Daytime activities during this week were mostly sedentary. (Food and entertainment were also modified, in the direction of the bland.) After breakfast, a kind of organized gossip session, a super-shmoos, was led on the large patio just outside the dining room by a tall young bachelor, Lou Goldstein, who had once played basketball at Long Island University, but had left before graduation to join Grossinger’s as an attendant and had since risen to the post of Director of Daytime Activities, which title was embroidered in white on his blue jacket. He bantered with his guests in the fashion of a radio or television master of ceremonies, ribbing honeymooners and asking for all the old-timers in his audience. Many jokes were made at the expense of the Concord, always referred to as “dorten” (“over there”). His most successful routine was leading his audience in the “Simple Simon Says” game familiar to elementary-school youngsters. His wit was sharp but carefully controlled; his irreverence did not go too far; his bawdiness kept carefully this side of some invisible line. His patter was heavily sprinkled with Yiddish phrases and Yiddish mispronunciations of English. He referred to every dapper man as “Der Continental,” giving the phrase a heavy Yiddish swing.
Alternating irregularly with him was another young man, Emil Cohen, who gave a dry, calm lecture on some of the peculiarities of Yiddish: the fact, for instance, that ailments are described onomatopoeically: “es zsku-zshit mir in eiver; es klopt mir in kof; es hurtschet mir in boich.” Originally a real estate operator in Maryland, he had come to Grossinger’s five years ago on vacation and was so well received when he gave his monologue informally one evening that he was invited to stay on as a staff member. He Jives with his wife in Liberty.
On two other occasions, “forums” were conducted by a man named Nathan Fleischer, who identified himself as a member of the New York and Newport, Rhode Island, bar, a former hotel owner in Newport, a thrice unsuccessful candidate for mayor in that city, an art collector and lecturer, and an amateur marriage counselor. Unmarried and forty, he had first come to Grossinger’s some years before to lecture on his unique art collection, which consisted entirely of self-portraits by an eccentric recluse in Newport. The forum I attended was entitled “McCarthyism, Communism, and the Jew”—it had been announced in the dining room, in order not to disturb the guests, as “McCarthyism, Communism, and You.” Mr. Fleischer’s introductory talk was an extraordinary performance sown with strong statements about McCarthy’s “vicious anti-Semitism” and about the $100,000,000 a year the Arabs were reputedly spending in this country to support McCarthy and “other” anti-Semites and anti-Zionists (the distinction between the two was not too carefully made). One person in the discussion that followed advised his hearers as Jews to support McCarthy lest he turn against them. A number of others in the audience, however, were received with approval when they tried to get at the facts, and Mr. Fleischer himself kept admitting that certain of his statements were merely hearsay. An older woman sitting next to me, knitting busily, raised her head every time a speaker used a “big” word like “jurisprudence,” “scintilla,” or “inalienable,” and muttered “Gut, gut, gut, gut, gut, gut.” Mr. Fleischer called for applause for each speaker. I was told that these forums were, after “Simon Says,” the most popular daytime activity. The most popular subjects, after politics, were marital relations and the techniques of meeting people. The political opinions expressed are generally, in a broad sense, liberal. Mr. Fleischer conducts similar sessions at other hotels in the area. During the summer, lectures are given and forums led by members of the Brandeis University faculty, including Ludwig Lewisohn. Murray Banks, popular in New York for his Saturday night lectures on self-improvement and self-understanding, given in conjunction with public dances, has also led discussions.
On one or two afternoons operatic music was piped over the portable loudspeaker on the patio; once I came to the pool and heard the conclusion of a Mozart symphony, followed by a rumba. These musical sessions were sparsely attended, nor did a recording of the eventful night at Grossinger’s on which Eddie Cantor discovered Eddie Fisher singing with the band and announced then and there that he would launch his career in a nationwide tour draw any great number of listeners. Card-playing, always a major resort pastime, went on in a large room in the main building and on a side porch. Occasionally during the morning the loudspeaker would call out asking for pinochle, poker, or bridge players. Free elementary rumba lessons were given on the patio by the operators of the dance studio, Tony and Lucille (Tony is a dark, handsome Spaniard with a thin mustache; Lucille, his wife, a willowy blond Italian girl). These lessons were followed by a sales spiel; two well-preserved widowers told me they had spent over a thousand dollars for rumba instruction while at Grossinger’s.
Not much time was spent on reading. The New York Times was far and away the most popular paper at the lobby stand, with the Daily News and Mirror close seconds; the Herald Tribune had a negligible sale. The Times was most commonly opened to the business pages and the stock quotations-one woman I met got daily telephone reports from her broker. Of afternoon papers, the Post led, with the World-Telegram and Journal-American not far behind. During my week there the Forward, Morning Journal, and Day were also on sale. I saw more Reader’s Digests being carried around than any other magazine, although the canteen also sold the Atlantic, Harper’s, the New Yorker, and the usual mass-circulation magazines. Crossword puzzle and pocket books were an important item in the canteen—some of the pocket-book titles were Naked in the Dark, Four Lost Ladies, and Darling, I Hate You; I saw none of the usual classics. There was no library as such; a circulating library in the canteen had been abandoned for lack of patronage. One wall of the writing alcove in the lobby had a built-in bookcase, but the books, which bore impressive titles, including an immense complete file of the Atlantic Monthly, were dummies. There was a bookcase—Grossinger’s official library—with locked glass doors in the other lobby. An attendant who was dusting it one day told me that in the ten months he had been at Grossinger’s he had never seen it opened; but Mrs. Karla Grossinger, the hostess, who is in charge of it, insisted the guests frequently borrowed from it. During my visit, a young man asked for The Short Novels of Henry James. Other items it contained were Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City, two odd volumes in Yiddish of Sholem Aleichem’s work, a set of the Talmud, and an assorted collection of 1948 and 1949 COMMENTARIES interspersed with copies of the Rosicrucian. Mrs. Jennie Grossinger’s personal books, I was told, were also available to guests, but this was a privilege rarely taken advantage of.
[The second part of this two-part article will follow.]