Brooklyn Boro

Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Eight photos from the ‘Variety’ collection

October 6, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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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:

I’ll continue this week with a display similar to last week’s. Instead of focusing on a single theme for the whole week, each day has its own focus.

Again, variety is the spice of life.

Today’s photos:

You may have noticed that I’ve added more than just the occasional non-Brooklyn photo recently. If so, guilty as charged. I hope you don’t mind. After showing about 500 almost all-Brooklyn photos in 21 weeks this year, I hope you’re ready for a few from Manhattan.

My father moved his studio and his professional focus into Manhattan in the mid-’40s. But he was still a Brooklyn boy, and the work I show here is all the product of the place where he learned, practiced and developed his talent.

Today’s pictures are of a number of celebrities my father encountered in the 1940s. I’ve shown some before, and mentioned that he had a period of covering many jazz musicians. That’s mostly true for today’s subjects too, but the first three photos are exceptions to the rule.

Hyper-dramatic: Mike Todd and “Midnight Players,” c. 1944

Mike Todd, on the left in the first photo, is directing his “Midnight Players” into the perfect poses and expressions for what he has in mind. This could be preparation for either “Pick-up Girl” or “Spook Scandals,” both of which were produced on Broadway in 1944.

The Midnight Players was a group of young actors that Todd put together to train and direct in small productions early in his career. The second photo shows Todd so you can actually see him, with his “Staff” (another name for the group) in more relaxed poses.

Todd found success later as a theater and film producer. He won the Best Picture Oscar in 1957 as producer of “Around the World in 80 Days.” In March, 1957, he married Elizabeth Taylor, becoming the third of what would be her seven husbands. Todd died a year later, at age 48, in a private plane crash.


Who’s the man in the middle? Name and voice may be familiar; face, not so much, Nov. 23, 1955

Alan Freed was an extremely popular and influential 1950s disk jockey. He was the first mainstream radio DJ to introduce the term “rock and roll” to describe the novel mix of blues, country and R&B that grew in the early 50s. He helped bridge the gap of segregation among young teenage Americans, presenting music by Black artists (rather than cover versions by white artists) on his radio program, and, even more ground-breaking, many live concerts he organized and ran that were attended by racially diverse audiences.

His career was destroyed by the controversial “payola” scandal that hit the broadcasting industry in the early 1960s. Many saw it as an unwarranted attack by establishment politicians on the phenomenon of rock and roll, especially in light of its racial integration. Freed’s career was ruined – more by publicity than serious legal malfeasance – and he died in 1965, barely 43 years old.


Zoot suit: Cab Calloway, Café Zanzibar, Broadway, Aug. 25, 1944

This is a zoot suit at the peak of its sartorial impact. Cab Calloway was one of its most ardent advocates. He called it “the ultimate in clothes. The only totally and truly American civilian suit.” Padded shoulders, wide lapels, loooong jacket, baggy-then-pegged-at-the-ankles pants. It was quite a distinctive look.

As they grew in popularity during the war, when everything was severely rationed, including clothing material – and possibly as a result of their association with mostly Black jazz musicians – many objected to the suits as wasteful. Ridicule was one thing, but violence was another. Zoot-suiters were subject to violent attacks, often by mobs. The suits were widely prohibited for the duration of the war, and their popularity never returned.


Trumpeter, band leader, singer, songwriter, personality: Louis Prima, 400 Club, Broadway, March 2, 1946

This multi-talented performer is entertaining high school students at a Broadway night club. If he was true to form, he provided a hyperactive variety spectacle. He mixed endless musical genres – New Orleans jazz, big-band swing, jump-blues, R&B, and traditional Sicilian folk music, among others.

The variety at this performance even extended to the kindergarten set. Though almost always accompanied by a young female singer, the one here seems to have been a walk-on, maybe a sibling of one of the high-schoolers in the crowd.

Prima was a frequent Las Vegas performer, beginning in the mid-1950s. In the ’60s he provided musical soundtracks for a number of Disney animated features, and appeared in many films. His recording career spanned three decades and included dozens of LPs.


Bright smile: Lionel Hampton at the vibes, Adams Theater, Newark, Oct. 28, 1946

A familiar smile from a jazz star. Lionel Hampton was a master of the vibraphone (an enhanced xylophone). After playing with many of the best jazz artists of the 1930s, he started his own band in 1940. For the next fifteen or twenty years, his bands were recognized as the most popular and exciting in jazz.


Two more smiles, two more stars: Mel Torme and Nat King Cole at the keyboard, Oct. 18, 1947

These two singers and performers crossed paths – with each other, and with my father – a number of times. Here, they’re at an unidentified location, but they’ve turned up, together and separately, in others of my father’s pictures. They were together at the Meadowbrook Club in Cedar Grove, New Jersey (Torme is shown there in a “Vehicles” shot from September 16) and you may remember Nat Cole waiting for his pants to be pressed before a performance, posted on June 15.

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 All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collections 22 and 23: Photos from the ‘Variety’ collection

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  1. Hi Phil — great stuff! The woman kneeling on the floor and laying on the piano is Maila Nurmi — better known as Vampira. Todd was also well-known for his association with Gypsy Rose Lee.