GANGSTERS & GOLD DIGGERS: Old New York, the Jazz Age, and the Birth of Broadway

Jerome Charyn, Author . Four Walls Eight Windows $24 (256p) ISBN 978-1-56858-278-8

Charyn's paean to Jazz Age New York stars the multifarious characters who graced the stages, speakeasies and diners around Broadway in the 1920s and '30s. Never, he says, was New York "New Yorkier" than in this "lawless, unbridled mecca where everybody could meet—hoodlums, heiresses, jazz singers, funny girls, dentists from Des Moines (so long as they had a little money)...." Around Broadway, Al Jolson rubbed shoulders with Ellin Mackay, "the richest girl in America," and George Gershwin would run into Mae West. In the words of nightclub owner Texas Guinan, "Better a square foot of New York than all the rest of the world in a lump." High spirits, though, don't prevent deep flaws in Charyn's book. The author, who has written more than 30 books of fiction, memoir and cultural studies, presents a huge array of characters, few of whom are explored deeply or coherently. Many of the myriad players are cursorily glossed over and then dropped from the narrative. The result is like walking into a glittering party where you don't know a soul and nobody bothers to make introductions. Those who already know the major and minor stars of this era will glean some colorful anecdotes, taken from disparate sources. Al Capone, for example, "liked to drink whisky out of a teacup" and Zelda Fitzgerald, before her breakdowns, was prone to dive into the fountain at Union Square. The force of the running prose, reminiscent of the high-kicking Follies girls, might carry interested readers through the disorganized narrative. Illus. not seen by PW . (Dec. 1)

Reviewed on: 10/06/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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