A New York Times obit for a recently deceased Borscht Belt social director characterized him a “tummler,” a Yiddish word for someone who stirs up tumult or excitement, comedian and master of ceremonies keeping guests amused at the once popular now defunct Catskill Mountain resort hotels.
“Little Georgie Feen,” as he was known around town, was THE New Haven Tummler On The Roof of York Street. Here’s how he operated in his jack of all trades sales position at J. Press. Georgie once fixed-up a Yale Drama School Lauren Bacall lookalike of jaded repute with a Yale halfback who thanked him for the favor by rewarding him with 50-yard-line house seats at the Harvard game that Georgie in turn passed along to the box office manager of the Shubert Theatre in turn for orchestra seats for a sold out tryout of “My Fair Lady.”
Those, he funneled to a New Haven cop who completed the ticket farrago giving them to a Chapel Street liquor dealer he protected selling booze under the table to Yale patrician fraternities, also meaning pledge masters steer his fraternity brothers back to Feen who took over draping them in J. Squeeze tweed. The penultimate Heyday of Ivy roundelay.
Feen’s tentacles even extended to Harlem. He finagled an introduction to jazz legend Duke Ellington during an appearance at the New Haven Arena enticing the elegantly dressed bandleader with lush swatches of Dupioni silk after the show. Duke loved the fabrics allowing Feen to take measurements for a gratis dinner jacket. Feen handed him his J. Press card promising delivery soon after completion of the order in the J. Press custom tailor shop.
George travelled to Harlem and Ellington loved the gift. Feen cashed in with several more orders for the Duke at regular price, but his nebulous patronage lasted only a short time. A more durable relationship occurred when Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s doppelgänger, arranger and lyricist admired his pal’s tuxedo and “followed suit” on 44th Street for many years until his death in 1967.
From New Haven to Harlem and all that jazz courtesy of J. Press Tummler On The Roof, Little Georgie Feen.
Love these stories, Dick. And I’d bet they get better with age!
Extremely fun, Mr. Press – thanks for putting these mini-portraits of an era together. Highly enjoyable indeed.
Best wishes from
Keep ’em coming. These little vignettes are worth their weight in Harris Tweed.