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.