Quarantine indolence has jogged my memory as I pored through New Haven newspaper archives coming across an ad promoting Macy’s showroom on York Street in a 1941 edition of the Yale Daily News. “Macy’s Knows Its Yale,” the advertisement bragged, seemingly unaware that Yale was about to trade civilian tweed for military khaki. Macy’s closed promptly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Following World War II, Saks Fifth Avenue opened a sleekly timbered University Shop at the same Macy's premises two doors from the tables down at Mory’s.
What prompted each of America’s fabled department stores to join a cavalcade of stars, including an Eli vocalist and the top American crooner to identify with Yale?
“America’s Crooner” Rudy Vallee, Class of 1926, worked his way through school playing the saxophone and singing at country clubs and proms with the Yale Collegians. Fellow band member and Yale Law School plugger Irving Press, my uncle, shared the stand with him as violinist. Vallee flaunted Yale in vaudeville appearances and Hollywood movies sporting a raccoon coat and warbling The Whiffenpoof Song through a megaphone.
Singer Al Jolson appeared in The Singing Fool, a 1937 Busby Berkeley spectacle togged in white tie and tails atop a monumental raised platform chanting above dozens of tap-dancing chorus boys, “I was born the singing foola… went to Yale with Boola Boola.”
During the otherwise tumultuous 1960s, Yale is featured in various national television series including The Flintstones depicting Yale’s prehistoric counterpart “Shale University” pitted against arch-rival “Prinstone University.” The sitcom Gilligan’s Island portrays character Mr. Howell spewing, “You, sir, look like Atilla The Hun; or a Yale man.”
21st century Eli has travelled a long route from its raccoon coat years, so J. Press steps into the void with a complete locker room selection of Yale Sweats and Tee Shirt gear.
For God, for Country and for Yale!