Meet The Press: A Reader Q&A With Richard P.

Mon 20 Feb 2012 - Filed under: The Golden Years by Richard Press — Christian
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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 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.

Golden Years: The Dartmouth Winter Carnival

Sun 22 Jan 2012 - Filed under: The Golden Years by Richard Press — Christian
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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)


Golden Years: Christmas During World War II

Thu 22 Dec 2011 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,The Golden Years by Richard Press — Christian
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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


Golden Years: The Battle To Dress JFK

Tue 22 Nov 2011 - Filed under: 1960s,Clothes,Personae,The Golden Years by Richard Press — Christian
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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


Golden Years: Ivy Trunk Shows During The Heyday

Tue 15 Nov 2011 - Filed under: The Golden Years by Richard Press — Christian
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They never taught me how to baste a suit at Dartmouth, but I had to learn how in a hurry when Ray Jacobs got sick on the road.

“The road” was the term used to describe retail travel exhibits that fulfilled the clothing needs of Ivy grads after they left college and refused to partake in the padded shoulders or faux-Ivy enticements found on Main Street.

In 1959 Brooks Brothers, Chipp, Arthur M. Rosenberg, Fenn-Feinstein, The Andover Shop and J. Press sent dozens of salemen to more than 50 cities across the country to promote their three-button, soft-shoulder wares.

At the time, a quarter of the J. Press business came from the road, a tradition from the ’20s when the salemen, including my father, sold their wares at boarding schools including St. Paul’s, Groton, Choate, Taft and Hotchkiss. When I went for my interview at Andover the admissions officer told my father he remembered buying his first suit from him.

The southern route for J. Press was covered by Ray Jacobs, an endearing and witty raconteur who served more than a generation of loyal customers from Philadelphia to New Orleans. Once on his rounds in Washington, measuring a suit for the imperious but underwear-clad Dean Acheson in his office at the State Department, Ray was going slowly and Acheson had appointments coming. “Ray,” said Acheson, “you’ll have to hurry up before my appointment comes. It really wouldn’t do for the Secretary of State to be caught with his pants down.”

The train rides themselves held all sorts of entertainment. One time Ray grabbed Jerry Lewis in the bar on a train from Philadelphia and screamed, “You stole my act!” The repartee ended to a round of applause from the lounge car as they rolled into Penn Station.

As for myself, I was the low man on the payroll waiting to begin my six months as a private in the Army Reserve when, with two days’ notice, I was called off the bench to serve as a varsity substitute on Ray’s next  stop, Paul’s Below The Steps, a cigar store across campus at the University of Virginia.

That’s when I found out about the basted try-on for Colgate W. Darden, Jr., Dean of University of Virginia Medical School. A basted try-on prepares the needlework of a garment for sewing. I didn’t know how to read a tape measure, let alone pin a suit. Even worse, the fitting was for a white tie and tails Darden was planning to wear for a gala event at Monticello.

Ralph Chieffo, Sr. was the chief fitter and designer at J. Press’ York Street headquarters. Before his career at J. Press he operated a custom tailoring school in New Haven and wrote the textbook “How to Tailor a Custom Suit.” He quickly gave me an emergency tutorial.

Arriving late at night in a deserted Charlottesville depot, I managed to haul the merchandise trunks from the baggage car and drag them on a wagon to the hotel. Those days railroad travel was primitive in rural Virginia. The following morning I set up shop, a pop-up store that was a York Street Potemkin Village in back of the Playboy magazines and cigar humidors.

Warehouse racks and bridge tables displayed the sample inventory amid a symphony of ancient madder, Irish poplin, and stacks of English swatchbooks. Three thousand Virginians received postcard notices for the showing. The business was brisk and I acted like a seasoned pro pinning up Dean Darden. He later told Ray to send his regards to the young Mr. Press for his fluent fitting debut.

The road trip continued to the Dupont Hotel in Wilmington where I outfitted a contingency from the Dupont family on their home grounds. Fast-forward to a final port of call at the Bellevue Stratford in Philadelphia, with a late inning at the posh St. Anthony’s Club at the University of Pennsylvania.

It was the birth of a salesman. But three weeks later I was a private at Fort Dix, where my try-ons were KP and latrine duty. — RICHARD PRESS

Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi Press. A graduate of Dartmouth, he worked at the family business from 1959-1991, ultimately serving as president. He also spent four years as president and CEO of FR Tripler. He lives in Connecticut.


Golden Years: New York Nightlife In The ’50s

Fri 14 Oct 2011 - Filed under: 1950s,The Golden Years by Richard Press — Christian
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During the Eisenhower years, Manhattan was an island of social, economic and cultural equanimity. The legal drinking age was 18, the bars stayed open until four in the morning, and the Biltmore Hotel advertised special student rates for Seven Sisters and Ivy Leaguers.

Here are some memories from those days of my misspent youth.

The hub was Under the Clock at the Biltmore, where everybody poured through the tunnel from Grand Central. The Palm Court was next to the hotel lobby and served convenient cocktails along with Emory Deutch and his violin, who serenaded a conspicuous and well groomed college crowd. On holiday weekends it took on the appearance of a freshman mixer in Northampton.

A couple of blocks away, social climbers patronized the Stork Club. Sherman Billingsley, a former prohibition bootlegger, was saloon keeper and arbiter of Cafe Society. He famously gifted samples of Sortilege, his signature perfume, and winked if your companion stashed a Stork Club ashtray into her handbag. For the price of a drink at the bar you gained entree to the plush Cub Room for a rhumba played by Payson Re’s orchestra. This was the upscale part of the evening. The nitty-gritty was at Jimmy Ryan’s.

Before Elvis or the twist, the popular sound of New York was Dixieland. The uptown headquarters was Jimmy Ryan’s, where Wilbur de Paris and his band turned 52nd Street into Rampart Street.

Ryan’s was a prep United Nations. The room was not restricted to the Ivy League, but was a democracy that also welcomed outliers from far-flung places like Rutgers, Lehigh, RPI or CCNY. The insiders knew when you bought intermission pianist Don Frye a drink; he never forgot and rewarded you at the door or even a trip to the men’s room with a six-step pianistic flourish.

Dixieland in the 1950s was a revival of the earlier Jazz Age chronicled by F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Great Gatsby”:

All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of The Beale Street Blues while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust.

Dixieland clubs were all over town. Central Plaza Casino and Stuyvescent Casino were seedy second-floor union halls on Second Avenue with sawdust on the floor and spilled pitchers of beer. Bobby Hackett, Conrad Janis, Zutty Singleton and the regulars climaxed the evening strutting around the room while playing “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

Farther downtown, Nick’s specialty was Pee Wee Irwin in jam sessions. Eddie Condon’s provided the wayward horn of Wild Bill Davison, and the sotto voce tableside vocals of legendary trumpeter and proprietor Eddie Condon.

The marriage between Dixieland and Ivy was finally consummated at two sold-out concerts in Carnegie Hall during the 1955 Thanksgiving vacation. Princeton’s Tiger Town Five, led by clarinetist Stan Rubin (pictured above on a 1959 album), had appeared on Steve Allen’s “Tonight Show” and previously gigged at Jimmy Ryan’s. Their Friday-night concert also featured Eli’s Chosen Six, from Yale.

The Saturday-night concert began with Williams College Spring Street Stompers. The Indian Chiefs followed after intermission before a boisterous Dartmouth-loaded audience that prompted security to stop the show with a warning to the students to curb their enthusiasm.

The Broadway Musical was in its heyday during this decade. Orchestra seats on Broadway were reasonable, and we all went to the theatre and belted out the songs from “Damn Yankees,” “The Boy Friend” and “The Pajama Game” at parties. The Waverly Lounge at the Hotel Earle on Christopher Street was a great hangout for fans of the genre. Laurie Brewis, a fey bistro version of Noel Coward, was the featured pianist and lounge singer. He was accurately billed “The London Edition of Showtune Encyclopedia,” and made a specialty getting to know his college devotees on a first-name basis.

There was more on the fast New York track than the sound of music. Cerebral standup comedy was provided at the Blue Angel by Mort Sahl, who preceded Woody Allen in the hearts and minds of Ivy League Adlai Stevenson-type intellectuals.

At the other end of the spectrum, a $7 cover charge with a two-drink minimum was the price at the Copacabana for a bridge-and-tunnel spectacle of buxom chorus girls and comedian Joe E. Lewis in his drunken Damon Runyon act about bookies, barkeeps and broads. I can still remember the punchlines.

Last call and last dance, the morning sun peeking over the Queensboro Bridge, the goings on about town always closed with bagels, lox and eggs at Reuben’s. — RICHARD PRESS

Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi Press. A graduate of Dartmouth, he worked at the family business from 1959-1991, ultimately serving as president. He also spent four years as president and CEO of FR Tripler. He lives in Connecticut.

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