A Love Affair With New York City

While I was running the Tucson Sunshine Climate Club I became acquainted with a man by the name of Emil Mosbacher at the El Rio Country Club. He was a visitor in Tucson and was looking for a golf game. The club manager called me and set up the golf game. Emil was from New York City, was affable and played to a low handicap. We played nearly every day for a week and enjoyed each others' company.

One day he told me he owned some property in Tucson and asked me to drive him by it so he could see it. I was surprised, and asked him when he bought it and where it was. He told me he had acquired it a few weeks before and he hadn't known where it was until he received the information in a telegram he had asked his office to send him. He explained that he had bought two Safeway stores in Tucson along with 123 other stores leased to that company for a little over five million dollars.

He bought them as tax shelters, and for the security of the Safeway leases. We drove by the two buildings which he didn't even bother to go into. Until then I had no idea that Emil had that kind of money. He never spoke much about business activities. We became good friends and kept in touch.

In 1941 I received a telegram from him in New York telling me that "Mark Stuart advises me that the William Becker Studios are taking fashion pictures for the Sears catalogue in Tucson and ten Powers models under the direction of Joyce Markley are staying at the Pioneer Hotel. Please throw a champagne cocktail party for them in my name and send me the bill."

I called Joyce Markley, but she said she was having enough trouble with the girls and didn't want to have a cocktail party to add to her woes. She cut me off pretty short. I told her who I was and what I did and that perhaps I could help her find pro per sets or backgrounds for some of her shots. She thanked me and said she'd call if she needed any help. I thought that was the end of that. However, a few days later she called and asked me to join her for a drink and dinner that evening, as she need ed a little help in getting into a couple of places where she had found attractive garden backgrounds.

I was the only man at the table with ten pretty girls in the Pioneer dining room. The girls were some of the top models in New York, several of them later being chosen "Miss Rheingold," honoring them as the nation's best models of the year.

I spent a lot of time with Joyce helping her get into places like the homes of Mrs. Mildred Loew, Miss Florence Pond (which later became the El Dorado Lodge), the university, etc.

The group was hard working, shooting from early morning until almost sundown. At $25 to $30 dollars an hour, the costs of having the models in Tucson was very high for the Becker Studios, at that time the largest photographic studio in the country.

It was owned and run, with an iron hand, by a very unusual man named Bill Becker. They had come to Tucson as a result of Becker's ascertaining from the Weather Bureau of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that Tucson had more hours of sunshine than any other city in the U.S. -- 3,800 hours. Miami, where Becker had previously taken his troops, had only 2,800 hours of sunshine yearly. Sunshine was what he was seeking and sunshine he found in Tucson. The group came back a few months later and continued to come to Tucson twice a year, for ten weeks each time, for many years.

Bill Becker

Becker had been doing the fashion pages for the Sears catalogue for several years. At the outset, the pages featured drawings and sketches, but with the advent of color photography and improved printing reproduction, Becker Studios switched from an art studio to a photography studio. Bill Becker, for years a top illustrator, became one of America's best fashion photographers.

He accompanied his group of models and production assistants for all subsequent years when they came to Tucson. He spent nearly half of the year in Tucson, later buying property in the Tanque Verde area east of Tucson on which he built a studio and several sets. He also had living accommodations for himself, some of his other executive staff, and caretakers. The models always stayed at the Pioneer Hotel.

Bill and I became very close friends within a short time and remained close until his illness caused his retirement in 1973. He was a fabulous guy in many ways, and there never was a dull moment when he was on the scene.

When I was drafted and left Tucson in 1944 to join the infantry, Bill Becker brought a station wagon full of models to my home where my family and I were having a "last supper" before I reported, later that night, to the draft board for induction. He thought it was a great joke to have all the girls rush in, kiss me and make a big fuss over me. It took a little doing for me to explain this to my wife. Then my wife understood why I had spent so many evenings with Bill Becker.

I returned to Tucson after the war in 1945, and Bill Becker and I resumed our friendship. I had never been to New York City at that time and Bill couldn't say enough about "his" city, regaling me for hours about its night clubs, restaurants, buildings, golf courses, and characters.

I left the Sunshine Club later in 1945 and opened my real estate office in April of 1946. In 1947 Hi Corbett and I decided to go to New York to see the World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. Bill was in Tucson making pictures for Sears, but he arranged for some of his people to take good care of me while I was in the big city for the first time.

I fell in love with New York overnight and the romance continued for many years. I guess I've been there a couple of hundred times, and Bill Becker played a big part in increasing my appreciation of that great city.

I was in New York again in November of 1948 to attend the national real estate convention. Bill had been saying for several years that he would wear me out showing me the city, that he would have me pleading for mercy after about three nights on the town, and that he'd have my tongue hanging out.

Cousin Oliver and his wife, Alice, were there also and it was a wild week. The first night we were out all night, winding up at 6:00 a. m. for breakfast at Reuben's. We stayed out until 3:00 a.m. the next night. On the third evening I called Bill and asked him where I should meet him. He ran out on me and admitted that my love for New York and my endurance exceeded his.

We Arizonans did the town again, and, after leaving Oliver, Alice and some other friends, I revisited some of Bill's favorite haunts, and to prove that I was out till the wee hours I had the hat-check girl at La Cava stamp a ticket showing that I was there at 4:00 a. m., and had left under protest, to which the hostess, Mary, certified.

Club 21, the Stork Club, Billy's Gay Nineties, Chris Cella's, Gogi's Le Rue, El Morocco, Billy Rose's, all got some of our action that week. At Billy Rose's one of the entertainers was a former G.I. with whom I had served while at Camp Roberts in California. A short visit with him was followed by some physical exercise outside of the place. First, the tall, handsome and strong doorlady, dressed in a Cossack uniform with a furry hat that made her seem even taller, accepted a challenge, and hoisted Mark Stuart on her shoulder. After she put him down, he and I ran a footrace around the block. Mark went one way and I went the other. I won handily, but at 2:30 a. m. it was a wonder that neither one of us was shot by the police as a fleeing felon. That booze surely does wonders for a man! Bill Becker was glad to see all of us Tucsonans leave at the end of the week, and I'm sure his wife, Harriett, was also happy.

One night during that eventful week, Bill and his wife had us all out to their home in Forest Hills for dinner. There were fourteen people at the sit-down dinner party, which was served without help by Harriett Becker, who proved that night that she w as a magician, cooking and serving such a magnificent repast for so many all alone.

About 11 p. m. Bill and I drove some of the guests back to downtown Manhattan. I was spending the night with the Beckers. After depositing the folks at their hotel, Bill suggested we go to "21" for a night cap. One drink led to another, and we ended up in Mary's La Cava on 52nd Street, long since replaced by a skyscraper office building. Mary was, as she described herself, a "guinea." La Cava was an off-beat place which Mary ran with a special touch. She could get girls, pros of course, for those who desired such company, or she would watch over her guests with a protecting hand when she saw that they were there for a drink and to listen to the combo.

From La Cava we went to Mike Manucci's for another drink or two. We got back to Bill's home in Forest Hills at 4:30 a. m. We came in the back way through the kitchen which was spotless. Every plate, every spoon, every pot had been washed and put away by Harriett after the party left and before she went to bed. She was some lady! We were up for breakfast at 7:00 a.m., and she was there with the juice, toast, bacon and eggs just the way Bill wanted them!

Late at night it was quite common for show business people to gather at La Cava, especially those on the way up or on the way down. These performers would often sing or play the piano for a spell. The combo was made up of old timers who could sing al most any number requested right at your table. It wasn't the kind of a place you'd take your sister, your wife or your mother, but if you had some other kind of a lady in your life she'd feel right at home.

It was a great place for a group of men to end up. Mary could tell stories by the hour, the kind men enjoy. The members of the combo had some special stag-night type songs to sing. One time I took Leon Gray and Sid Woods there during a World Series trip to New York. Both had flown in the air force and were living in Arizona at the time. They had a ball, and afterwards said that no man should go to New York without spending part of an evening with Mary at La Cava. Personally, I never thought it was quite that good, but who am I to argue with a couple of guys who've been in joints all over the world?

On another occasion while in the city for another World Series with a different set of characters, we decided to go to La Cava. Hi Corbett and a lovable old Scotsman by the name of Andy Liddell, an executive with the Phelps-Dodge Company at Bisbee, Arizona, and I had been to see a show, followed by a late supper. The show was not a musical, and I was embarrassed throughout the performance by the snoring of my two older friends, one on each side. Hi had been to Mary's La Cava before with me, but for Andy it was a first.

From the time we got into the cab and left "21" where we had supper, until we got to La Cava, Andy was adamant about not getting out of the cab and going to see Mary. He wanted to go to his hotel.

It was a balmy fall evening, and Mary happened to be standing in front of her joint when we drove up. Hi and I got out and were arguing with Andy, attempting to talk him into changing his mind. Mary came over to the cab and asked, "Roy, what's the problem?" I explained that Andy didn't want to come to her place and wanted to go home to bed. With that she reached into the cab, grabbed Andy's foot, jerked him off the back seat onto the floor, which his bottom hit with a thud. His eyes were suddenly wide open. He changed his mind; he was afraid not to. Mary was a husky gal with shoulders like a blacksmith, and Andy knew he had met his match.

Still protesting that he was only going to have one drink, he reluctantly sat down at a table, which was soon surrounded by the singing combo. Andy was born in Scotland and had been sent by his mother to America to find fame and fortune. He said she shipped him on one boat, and put his trunk on another, so that if either boat went down there wouldn't be a total loss. Andy knew many old Scottish songs and was amazed to learn that one of the musicians also knew them. Three hours later Mary had to run us out at the closing hour of 4:00 a.m., with Andy admitting that he had never had more fun.

I loved everything about New York in those days. As one of the sports writers wrote about that city, "New York in the fall is like a lovely lady. Adding the World Series is like putting a beautiful necklace around the lady's neck." The hotels and restaurants were great, and the people who served you were proud of their work and did their job with a smile and a bow. You could ask anyone on the street for help and get it, rather than the brush-by and pained expression that you're almost sure to get to day.

Bill Becker knew all the head waiters, whom he took very good care of. I remember one evening we went to "21," and before we were seated, he had tipped to the tune of $55. The Copa Cabana was another place we frequented. They had, without a doubt, the most beautiful chorus girls in the whole wide world, but getting in that place and getting a good table was an expensive thing, even twenty years ago.

One night Bill took a party of us to the Copa after dinner. There were three tables, each of which could seat about six to eight people. Joe, the host and the guy who decided whether you sat in the bleachers or on the 50-yard line, took us to one of the tables on the side of the mezzanine area. It was an excellent table, but the best one was next to it in the center of this raised area. Becker wanted the center one, but people were having dinner there. Becker wanted it anyway. He got it too, by paying Joe $100 to move the other party to the table he had offered us.

The William Becker Studios were located on the top three floors of the building at 275 Seventh Avenue, in the heart of the fur district, which is part of the larger garment district of New York. The garment district is made up of various areas such as millinery, furs, and dresses. During the daytime you see dozens of racks with dresses or pajamas or slacks or what-not being pushed up and down the streets from one place to another.

Hundreds of shops and small factories are located in the high-rise loft buildings where thousands of members of the garment workers union make millions of dollars worth of clothing for men and women all over America, and the rest of the world for that matter.

Becker's studio was a part of the industry. For over forty years his firm had produced fashion pages for the catalogues of both Sears and Wards, and later for Penney's. He made big money and spent big money; he loved life and knew how to enjoy it. He was one of the hardest working men I ever knew, and he expected the seventy or eighty people who worked for him to work just as hard. Working till late at night was not an unusual thing for Bill, nor for his top personnel.

He could be tough to get along with, but he was a true diamond in the rough. Bill never knew his father and was raised by an old maid aunt. His mother died when he was very young. Finding that life was hard in the big city, he fought his way up in the art field. His lifetime friend, Robert Fawcett, eventually became a famous artist and illustrator, later doing the illustrations for the principal story in Saturday Evening Post each week. Together the two started the studio that later became the William Becker Studios.

Bill married a lovely lady, but who was as different from him as a husband and wife can be. She was soft spoken, very kind, a most capable housekeeper and cook, and a fine mother. They had a good life for many years, but later work became an obsession with Bill, who absolutely refused to retire, despite his financial ability to do so and despite reaching the age of the early seventies.

I spent many, many times with Bill in Tucson, of course, but also in New York, Chicago, Palm Beach and places in between. He loved to gamble, and for big stakes. Once I was his partner when we played four handed gin rummy for $2 a point! However, one of the more sensible men and I were playing for ten cents a point, which is still stiff enough.

One night after leaving his studio about eight in the evening with two of the models, one of whom brought her husband along, we had dinner at Christ Cellas and then went to the Stork Club for dancing and a few drinks. The usual skimpily dressed photographer asked if she could take our picture, which Becker always before had turned down. He asked her to take a shot of us, with me sitting between the two girls. I didn't realize till later that Bill had leaned way out of the picture, so just the four of us could be seen in the photograph. I found out when I got home that he had sent the picture to the publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, William Mathews, with a proper caption identifying the four of us having a night on the town.

He thought it would be great to have my wife know that I wasn't lonesome while in New York. Thank goodness Mathews was smart enough to realize that Becker was having fun with him and me and never ran the picture.

Once while Bill was in Tucson, Jack Martin and his wife, Helen, had a party for about a dozen of us, including Bill. She had never met Bill before. Before dinner there was the usual gin rummy game, with Bill being one of the players. After cocktails had been served, Helen came around to the gin table and suggested that the men break up the game after that hand was played, since the steaks were on the fire and would be ready to be served within a few minutes.

Without barely looking at her, Bill brusquely said, "Get lost! We'll eat when we get ready." She was shocked, of course, and quietly walked away. Some of us onlookers stepped in and saw that the game terminated very soon. When Bill was told by me the next day about his rudeness, he called Helen to apologize and sent her two dozen long stemmed roses with a proper note. But that was Bill, either great or terrible, and sometimes at the same moment.

For years and years he was a member of the Winged Foot Country Club in Westchester County, north of New York. Although an avid golfer, he was not a very good one, but that never prevented his betting heavily on the outcome of his matches. Mark Stuart, at one time Metropolitan Amateur Champion, was a fine golfer and for several years was on Becker's payroll as a p.r. man. Bill helped Mark get started on Wall Street years ago, and they often played at Winged Foot and at other clubs also.

When Bill first became ill (having had a series of small strokes), he had to leave his business and become a patient in an institution. I was talking with his son, Billy, Jr., about his dad, with whom he has never gotten along. In fact, at times during recent years they were estranged and didn't speak to each other. I was saying to Billy what a great guy his dad was, how kind and thoughtful he was, and how much I, and his many other friends would miss him.

He interrupted me, saying, "Wait a minute. Who are you talking about? You can't be speaking of my father, because he is a no good blankety-blank. You may like him, but I certainly don't!" Then he laughed and said he knew that I thought his father was an okay guy, but that was my business.

Bill Becker felt money could buy anything in New York, and he pretty nearly proved it most of the time. I've seen him drive up in front of the Waldorf Hotel when there were already two lines of cars standing in the street in front of the entrance on Park, get out, hand the keys and a five dollar bill to the doorman, and say, "Here, take care of my car. It's the Caddy out there in the middle of the street." And that is exactly where it was, the third car from the curb.

I've also seen him park in the no parking zone at the Grand Central Station where the "no parking" sign was larger than a six-foot man, lay on his horn until a police patrolman showed up, hand him a saw-buck and say that he'd be back in a little while.

And this happened in Chicago and Palm Beach also. Out in the West we wouldn't think of doing such a thing, but Becker got away with it in his favorite places. One time when I had flown into Chicago to meet him and play in a golf tournament sponsored by the catalogue department of Sears Roebuck, we were staying at the Ambassador East. Early one morning he called the police department, reached his friend Lt. Judd McCarthy and asked him to come up for a drink and breakfast. Judd arrived with his siren blowing, parked in front of the hotel with his light flashing, came up, had a couple of drinks and breakfast with us.

Bill loved to have his friends around him and thought nothing of transporting some of them with him on his jaunts to Palm Beach or Chicago to play golf in the Sears annual tournament. And he would even insist I fly in from Tucson to Palm Beach or Chicago, at his expense, to join him and his friends for golf. One of his close buddies was Donald Grant, now president of the New York Mets, and a stock broker. Don is an entertainer of professional quality, and can sit at a piano singing songs and ditties by the hour. Bill loved to show him off. He was great company besides.

Bill Becker opened a lot of doors for me in New York City and it will never be the same with him not on the scene.

He and I invested in quite a bit of real estate in Tucson on two or three occasions and we did very well. He just wanted to know how much money was needed, and when. He'd never ask any questions, and allowed me to handle the properties as I thought best.

Once while in Tucson, he and I played golf with Hank Greenberg and Dan Topping, then co-owner of the New York Yankees and a long time friend of Becker. We played for modest stakes as Hank and I didn't want to get involved in any large wagers. Bill and Dan played for $500 Nassau, and when we reached the eighteenth tee Bill was up on Dan about $2,000. Dan had a lower handicap than Bill. Bill said, "Dan, if you give me half a stroke I'll play you for $1,000. " To which Dan replied, "No, I won't do that. I'll give you half a stoke, and play you for $2,000." Bill needed to sink a five foot putt to win his bet, but he left it a few inches short and Dan got even for the day.

Another bet that turned out better for Bill was the one he made that the N.Y. Giants would win the playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers for the National League Pennant in 1951. He and I were sitting together at the Polo Grounds the day that Bobby Thompson hit his famous home run, driving in the winning runs in the last of the ninth inning. Bill had bet $2,500 on the Giants and up until that blow by Thompson, he was a cinch to lose. In fact, it took a couple of minutes for me to convince him that he had, indeed, won his bet.

Bill hated to see the Yankees win the American League Pennant each year because he knew he would have to dig up tickets, hotel rooms and what-not for visiting firemen, who would come to town expecting the Becker Studios to take care of their every want .

Del Webb was the co-owner of the Yankees, lived in Phoenix, and was a close friend and business partner of mine in several real estate ventures. I could get just about as many tickets for the World Series as I needed through Del. Bill knew this and depended upon me to get tickets for him each year.

In 1949, Hi Corbett, Jack Martin and I went to the Series in New York. On the train between Chicago and New York I told them that the first night we were in New York I wanted them to be my guests at what I considered to be the best restaurant in the town, Christ Cellas.

The next evening we went there. The place was crowded and the captain said we'd have to wait quite a while. I asked about eating at the round table in the kitchen. Before he could respond, Jack said, "Hell, I don't want to eat in the kitchen. Let's go some other place."

The captain said that he didn't know if we could eat in the kitchen. I mentioned that I had been there several times with Bill Becker. He smiled and said that if I was a friend of Mr. Becker's I could sit in the kitchen. Jack, very reluctantly, walked back to the kitchen with us.

We were seated there a few minutes when two couples came in and were also seated at the oval shaped, white pine table. There was no table cloth over the spotless white pine. These people were seated at my end of the table with the two men next to me.

Naturally, the conversation was soon on the subject of the Series. Jack began telling about our trip into New York on the N.Y. Central train from Chicago, how rough the ride was, and how a bottle of scotch had fallen and spilled, etc. He said when he got home he was going to write a letter to Mr. Mercier, his friend, and president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, and ask him to write the president of the N.Y. Central about the matter.

Kiddingly, I suggested that Jack should write directly to the president of N.Y. Central himself, instead of doing it through a third party. With that, one of the ladies across the table said, "Yes, why don't you write him. I have written him several times but he never answers my letters."

I figured out pretty quickly what the situation was. I whispered to the man sitting next to me, "Which one of you guys is president of the N.Y. Central?" The other man heard my question, pulled a card out of his pocket and slid it to me. It read "Gus A. Metzman, President, New York Central Railroad."

I started needling Jack and suggested he mention one or two other things that had happened on the train the night before. Jack took the bait and said that he really was going to write the president of the N.Y. Central. I finally said, "Jack, you don't have to write him. He has heard your complaints. Let me introduce you to Mr. Gus Metzman, President of the New York Central."

Jack started laughing, and didn't believe me until I showed him the man's card. We had a couple of moments of great hilarity over jack's boo-boo.

I added, "Now, Jack, do you think that eating in the kitchen at Christ Cellas is so beneath you?" He admitted that this was a special privilege after all.

While I was visiting New York City so often in the mid-fifties I ran into Ray Lee one night. He was the man who originated and developed Rave Creme Shampoo, and later Toni Shampoo, and was an old friend. He had two Hollywood starlets with him, and we made it a fivesome. After visiting a couple of places, we ended up at El Morocco.

However, El Morocco closed at 4:00 a.m., and we were still thirsty. We had only been drinking since about 7:00 the previous evening! Ray suggested we all go to the Golden Key Club, an after-hours cocktail and food place. As we got ready to leave, one of Ray's gals became ill and wanted to go home. Ray had a limousine waiting and drove us to the Golden Key, telling us he would take the sick one home and would meet us in a little while.

The three of us got through the door okay, but found that we had to wait in line to get a table. I thought while waiting, "How dumb can a guy be, waiting in line to get another drink at 4:30 in the morning after having had a dozen already!" We finally were seated.

In a few minutes I saw a cop coming up the stairs, I turned to look to the back of the place to see if there was a way we could get out if the joint was pinched, and a couple of cops were walking in from the kitchen. They all sat at a table and had breakfast on the house. I felt better when I realized they were not there "on business."

Ray Lee never did show up, and it was bright daylight when I took the two girls home. I left to fly back to Tucson the next day.

When I was back in New York about ten days later, I called Ray Lee at the hotel where I knew he always stayed. I said to him, "Say Ray, this is Roy. I'm still at the Golden Key Club with these two dames. When are you going to show up?"

On that same trip I happened to dash into a quick food operation in Times Square one day. There were quite a few people in the place and I was in a hurry. I tried to rush the guy back of the counter who had an apron and a white cap on. He shook his head and said, "You damned New Yorkers! Why don't you take it easy. I just returned from Arizona. They know how to live out there. They never rush, and they live longer." I thanked him for the advice but had to produce my driver's license to convince him I really was from Arizona.

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