Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Six photos of ‘People in pairs’
My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.
This week’s theme:
A few weeks ago I displayed a selection of pictures called “People, one at a time.” It featured shots of individuals in various settings and circumstances. (Click the link at the end of this or any other Kaufman’s Brooklyn post for the index if you want to go back and take a look through previously posted images.) I knew I’d follow that at some point with pictures of two people together, and this is that point: “People in pairs.”
I’ve tried to provide a variety of settings and circumstances, like I did with the individuals. But as you’ll see, there are a number of photos of people in entertainment. For some reason, in the ’40s and into the early ’50s, my father did a lot of business with agencies that handled entertainers — particularly jazz and big band artists. I have photos of most of the big names from that post-war era, either in rehearsals, performances, studio sessions or business settings. They’re not always in pairs, of course, but many are and I’ll show a few of them this week.
The first six photos this week include three from the entertainment world and another one in an entertainment setting. Together, they represent two of the greatest popular singers of the time (or any time), one of the greatest Broadway shows of all time, and one of the most famous and successful (and controversial) films of all time. The other two show anonymous people, just for a change of pace.
Young stars, November 19, 1946
Frank Sinatra is unmistakable. Though certainly well-established by 1946, he was not yet the superstar he was to become as one of the most popular, versatile and successful entertainers of the 20th century. His partner here is Peggy Mann, not recognizable to many and not a household name. But she sang with many of the big bands in the 1940s and ’50s before choosing to retire from a moderately successful radio, performing and recording career. In late 1946 and briefly into 1947, she was a regular on The Frank Sinatra Radio Show. It was during a rehearsal for that show that this picture was taken. Another of my father’s photos that day – with Sinatra, Mann and their pianist – wound up on the cover of the December 16, 1946 issue of Down Beat magazine.
Waiting patiently, mid-late 1940s
Though not the star Sinatra became, Nat King Cole had a voice that was second to none, as were his recordings and performances of much of the same music Sinatra was singing, at much the same time. I had many pictures of him to choose from but how could I resist this one? Obviously OK with not taking himself too seriously, he waited for his pants to be pressed before taking the stage. I have to believe my father was delighted to catch this candid moment (with permission, no doubt), but as far as I know this is the first time the photo has been published. Remarkably, both Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole had daughters who followed in their footsteps. Both daughters had successful careers, Natalie Cole with a voice almost as smooth as her father’s, and Nancy Sinatra with versatility like her father as a singer and a TV and film actor. Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable” virtual duet with her father is one of my favorite “Soft Oldies.” It’s beautiful to see as well as hear.
Opening night, audience, February 1940
After opening in Atlanta on December 15, 1939 and coming to Broadway two days later, “Gone With the Wind” arrived in Brooklyn in February, 1940. The big night was hosted by the Loew’s Metropolitan on Fulton Street. It was greeted by ticket-seekers lined around the block but also by picketers protesting that the movie glorified slavery, portraying Black people as happy and docile in bondage, and that the whole production was permeated by racism.
Though the Brooklyn audience didn’t match the cast and countless celebrities that crowded the earlier openings, the couple shown here prove that Brooklynites could display appropriate glamor and spectacle. Top hat, gown, fur are the appropriate attire for the evening. The line of soldiers and their rifles announce that Brooklyn pulled out all the stops. Don’t recognize the couple? It’s then-recently retired Brooklyn District Attorney William F. X. Geoghan and his wife Gertrude.
Opening night, backstage, March 31, 1943
These are the two leading women in the original Broadway cast of “Oklahoma!”: Joan Roberts, left, and Celeste Holm. The show previewed in New Haven, Connecticut, where many predicted it would flop. But with some revisions and a new name (it had been called “Away We Go”) it defied the early critics and went on to set the Broadway record up to that time by running for five years and 2,212 performances.
Two personal stories, if you’ll allow me. First, it defied my father’s prediction as well. My mother remembered that he came home that night complaining that the show was loud and raucous and wouldn’t last long. (He probably didn’t get there in time for the mellow opening number, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” but was in plenty of time to hear the booming full-cast finale.)
The second story is that not only did the show last, so did the pictures my father took that night. When I first got going on his photos (about 2015) I discovered this one. I had the two stars’ names, but wanted to be sure I knew who played which role. After some clicking and scrolling online, I was looking at the same image on the computer screen as the negative I held in my hand. What a wonderful shock.
Elegant and charitable, March 15, 1942
I don’t know the names of these women, or any other personal details. But I know something more important. This negative was in an envelope labeled with the date and identified as the Brooklyn Home for Children. A little research revealed the Home’s long and impressive story, starting in 1854 and still going today. It has adapted with the times, but has always focused on young people in need. Its mission in my father’s time was to provide residential care for abused and/or abandoned youth.
Most of the pictures in the envelope were of children and teenagers living in a clean, well-cared-for environment, doing chores and activities. No doubt it was staged as a photo-op, of sorts, probably used for communication and fundraising. A few of the pictures showed the adults who were responsible for supporting and running this home, including these two women. The world has often had generous people who give time, money and skills to help any who need it. These two women – looking relaxed and elegant as they serve their coffee – were two such people. Despite, or maybe because of, their fur and silver service, I thank them.
Evocative pair, 1936
These women are as anonymous as the previous two. I found this photo, and a couple of others taken at this table, in an envelope stuffed with pictures from two different charities with a few miscellaneous shots mixed in. So it’s not clear if these two were with one of those charities or if their photo was just randomly stored among them. This is definitely not a typical location or look for one of the luncheons or receptions for any of the charities.
I was attracted to the picture, frankly, more by my imagination than any realistic speculation about who these people are. Their hats, their dresses, their eyes and especially the setting made me think of a 1930s film noir, maybe a story about spies or saboteurs in pre-war Europe, or a Bogart-like murder mystery set in the rough part of town. The “Fire Hose” behind them is a perfect touch, and would be a great, subtle clue (in a film where you only catch a glimpse of it) to a revelation later in the story. Don’t they look like there’s more to them than meets the eye, with something mysterious and complex going on behind those faces?
An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.
Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.
I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at http://yourartgallery.com/irvingkaufmanstudios. All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.
Weekly collection 7: Photos of ‘People in pairs’
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