A New York Times obit for a recently deceased Borscht Belt social director described his job title, “tummler,” a Yiddish word for someone who stirs up tumult or excitement, a jack of all trades.
J. Press salesman George Feen (above left), known around New Haven as “Little Georgie Feen”, was a tummler on York Street in the 1950s.
Feen once fixed up a Lauren Bacall lookalike —from Yale Drama School and an alleged nymphomaniac — for a date with a tight end on the football team, who traded George his 50-yard-line seats for the Harvard game in exchange for opening night tickets to “My Fair Lady” at the Shubert Theatre. Those he sent over to a New Haven cop, who fixed a ticket for the Crown Street liquor dealer who was selling booze to Yale’s ultra-patrician Fence Club, where the social chairman steered the tapped pledges back to Little Georgie Feen, who sold them J. Press tweeds at a discount. I still haven’t gotten over the naked pictures of the nymphomaniac he kept in his wallet and showed me when I was 13.
Georgie’s tentacles even extended to Harlem. He finagled an introduction to jazz legend Duke Ellington after a concert at the New Haven Arena, luring the elegantly dressed bandleader with fabric books of Dupioni silk. The Duke allowed him to take measurements. Little Georgie handed him his J. Press card and promised him the gift of a silk dinner jacket made from the Dupioni swatches.
He travelled to Harlem to deliver on the promise. Ellington loved the gift and gave him more orders, this time at regular price. The patronage lasted a couple of years. A more enduring relationship was engendered when Billy Strayhorn, the Duke’s doppelganger arranger and lyricist, admired the tuxedo and followed suit at the J. Press New York store until his death in 1967.
Little Georgie Feene, a tummler on the roof in the pale of Yale. — RICHARD PRESS
1954 photo from the Life archives.
If you can’t get enough of our “Golden Years” columnist Richard Press, former president of J. Press and grandson of Jacobi, then you’re in luck. A little coaxing was all it took for him to start tweeting and the septuagenarian says he’s already addicted.
Richard will be sharing terse anecdotes, words of wisdom, style tips, news updates (like on that book he’s working on), and where to get the best bagels and lox. It’s also a good place to reach out to him as in our recent reader Q&A with him.
If you don’t already use Twitter, consider opening an account. You don’t need to post anything: Plenty of people simply use Twitter as a news feed without posting. You’ll probably find plenty of people and organizations who post breaking news about the things you’re interested in.
Richard Press’ Twitter handle is @RVPress59, and Ivy Style’s is @IvyStylecom. How tweet it is. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
The above image may look like a mere typography symbol, but is actually a work of art.
Richard Press, Ivy Style’s “Golden Years” columnist, former president of J. Press, and grandson of Jacobi, will herein host a virtual question-and-answer session with Ivy-Style.com readers, and the floor is now open.
Use the leave comment feature to ask Mr. Press anything you’d like to know about traditional American style, or any other topic on which you’d like to hear him opine.
Suggested talking points include:
College life in the ’50s (Richard graduated from Dartmouth in 1959)
J. Press during the heyday of the Ivy League Look
What makes a man stylish (Richard’s seen a lot of well dressed men over the years)
How to comport oneself like an American gentleman
Good books, movies and music
What to wear tomorrow
The meaning of life
Richard will answer as many questions as his time permits.
Snow willing, the dazzling ice sculptures of Dartmouth Winter Carnival are slated to be inaugurated on February 9. The winter weekend celebration was an intramural Ivy League event of local consequence before Walter Wanger decided to bring Hollywood into the act.
Wanger flunked out of Dartmouth in 1915, but achieved notoriety in the film world. Intensely proud of his days in Hanover burnishing his contributions to the college, was later awarded an honorary degree. He decided to reward the college and enhance his credentials with a celluloid extravaganza, “Winter Carnival.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Budd Schulberg, a recent Dartmouth graduate, both script writers for Wanger at United Artists, were hired for the project.
Schulberg’s father, B.P. Schulberg, former head of Paramount Pictures, presented them with two bottles of champagne, unaware that Fitzgerald was a recovering alcoholic. The bon voyage gift for the cross country trip grew into a binge with additional booze bought en route.They arrived at the college howling drunk just in time for Wanger’s presentation of Fitzgerald to the literary faculty. The disaster was further amplified with staggered appearances at Psi Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi parties that concluded in a screaming sidewalk confrontation of the two with Wanger in front of the Hanover Inn. Wanger and his studio crew ran them out of town onto the next train out of White River Junction for Grand Central. They dried out for three days at Doctor’s Hospital in New York. (Continue)
As a follow-up to Christian’s Hanukkah post, Richard Press authors this year’s Christmas post.
During World War II, Yale professors still wore tweeds, but the boys they taught would soon graduate into khaki. Behind Woolsey Hall are the many rows of names of the boys who never came back.
My father, Paul Press, was a riveter who made M-70 rifles at the Winchester factory on Dixwell Avenue in New Haven. His brother Irving ran the PX store at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. My grandfather assisted the war effort overseeing custom-tailored uniform orders for candidates at the Officer’s Training School at Yale. J. Press was on a wartime footing along with the rest of America. The Princeton store was closed in 1942 when the entire staff joined the army. Civilian business necessarily diminished with shortages of inventory and customers during the war years.
My prescient grandfather prepared for the European conflict in the late ’30s and loaded up all available English goods before the start of war in September, 1939. Cases of Welch, Margretson shirts and ties, Twin Steeples hosiery, Druhmohr Shetland sweaters and Locke hats occupied all the space in the basement.
I was six years old in 1944 when grandfather Jacobi set up chairs and blankets for us to watch the Christmas Day Parade on the balcony in front of his office of the J. Press store on York Street. The wartime spectacle offered a key spot to view the brigades of Sherman tanks and armored vehicles clanking their treads towards the rally downtown for speeches and songs later on the New Haven Green. Soldiers, Sailors and Marines blared their bugles and beat the drums in military cadence to “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.” The back of the parade featured All-America Yale Football Captain Paul Walker, the Dink Stover and Frank Merriwell of his time, riding on top of a Ford truck garbed in a Santa Claus suit and beard, both a part of and yet removed from the instuments of war. He directed his Winston Churchiil “V for Victory” salute right to me on the balcony.
Spiffed up in the army uniform my grandfather gave me for Christmas, I returned the salute standing stiffly at attention until the grand old flag finally passed me by. When I got home I couldn’t wait to turn on the Victrola to play my favorite Spike Jones record: “When The Fuhrer Says He Is The Master Race, Sieg Heil (flatulate), Sieg Heil (flatulate), Right In The Fuehrer’s Face!” — RICHARD PRESS
Forty-eight years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX. Richard Press remembers this icon of American politics and who won the battle to dress him.
The epic saga of President John F. Kennedy’s individual travail and public triumph is recounted with explicit and captivating detail by Chris Matthews in his new best-selling anecdotal biography, “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.”
Scant attention is paid in the book to the candidate’s wardrobe, but Matthews included a revealing moment from the 1959 Wisconsin primary. Kennedy’s local operatives wanted him outside the factory gates at six in the morning in sub-zero temperature, and figured he would wear his heavy blue overcoat topped with a fur-trimmed aviator hat. Instead, JFK threw out the hat and braved the cold in his favorite H. Harris custom-tailored Shetland Tweed Herringbone Topcoat.
Matthews failed to include JFK’s dumping of H. Harris, his longtime Savile Row tailor who maintained a New York branch on 57th Street run by third-generation family member Sam Harris.
Seven months after the inauguration, “Tailor” Sam Harris, as he was condescendingly described in LIFE Magazine, disclosed the intimate wardrobe details of his most prominent customer. Harris concluded his comments with a benediction from hell, “He is the best dressed president since Grover Cleveland. We made his suits, too.”
There were no more “happily-ever-afterings” in Camelot for Sam Harris.
This was all undisclosed to the public, but Frank Brothers/Fenn Feinstein leaked to a Connecticut newspaper that the president got rid of his tailor because of the LIFE article. Fenn Feinstein, whose client roster included Kennedy brother-in-law Sargent Shriver and Gov. Abe Ribicoff, speculated that JFK might come on board.
Irving Press and my father, Paul, reached out to our J. Press regulars. The Kennedy circle included Charlie Bartlett, who introduced Jack to Jackie, longtime JFK intimate Chuck Spalding, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., FAA head Jeeb Halaby, foreign affairs advisor Bill Bundy, Kennedy personal photographer Mark Shaw, and his chief economic advisor Walter Heller.
Chipp, however, won the contest by default. Their stalwart customers included JFK’s brother Bobby, brothers-in-law Peter Lawford and Steve Smith, and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. Sid Winston, his son Paul and master fitter Bob DiFalco began to include the White House on their finished-garment schedule.
These tailoring tidbits were admittedly incidental to Matthews’ great new addition to Kennedy lore.
The night Marilyn Monroe delivered her allegedly drunken rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to JFK in Madison Square Garden, Jimmy Durante also croaked his birthday tribute to the president in raspy Brooklynese, “The song’s gotta come from the heart.”
Chris Matthews’ book comes from the heart. — RICHARD PRESS