Monday, July 17, 2006

New York, New York, A Hell of a Town...

Especially if you're a young magazine writer/editor on the way up. More tales from screen-writer Niven Busch... "I left Princeton to go to work for Time when it was still just a smaller magazine. I had a connection there and I worked in Books, Sports and Miscellany. I worked up to associate editor, and at the same time I was writing for The New Yorker. They had been running personality pieces, written by other personalities. I walked in one day and said I could do a hell of a lot better job for them for a hell of a lot less money. So I began doing profiles for them."
Photo of Niven Busch by Jerry Bauer.
"In New York, I had a routine, where I had a couple of intense days when I worked for Time, and I had about one day when I had to get my copy to The New Yorker, but I had all week to write that. Maybe if I got in a jam it'd be a pressure deal, but for the rest of the time I was trying to write for myself. "And I wrote for so many different magazines. I had a column in the theatre program magazine and I can't remember what the hell I called that. I wrote little homey pieces for a magazine called "Farm and Fireside." I had a couple of stories in Colliers and I was always trying to sell them without too much luck after those first two. Then I was writing fiction, sketches, three columns and "Reporter at Large" pieces and profiles for The New Yorker, and all this jazz. And if anybody came to me with a piece or a project, I'd go. "So, what I would do, I had passes to the fights and the hockey games. I had a police card so I could park in front of hydrants or anywhere else I wanted to. I had a half-price deal on my suite and the Hotel Lincoln on 44th and 8th Avenue. It was a big new hotel and I had written a profile of the people who built it, so they gave me half rate. Walter Winchell lived there too, and several other guys. I had passes to every movie in town. I didn't have first-night passes to plays, but I could get second or third-night passes from the theatre reviewer. "I had a gangster I used to write promo for, try to get his name around in the columns. Manny Applebaum. I'd call guys that I'd know who might be writing about the Sharkey-Dempsey fight, and ask them to put in Manny's name. He was a cloak-and-suit, semi-mafia guy who ran a gambling house. He'd pay me a hundred bucks every time I got his name in the papers. One day they bombed his gambling house when I was on my way over to collect some bread. They had blown off the front of it and I couldn't get up there. But he still paid me. "He would generally buy me a big lunch down at the Old Trade Center Club when he paid me. And I could usually get his name in the papers once or twice a month, so there was an extra two hundred. I'd go down there and say, "Manny, you doing anything?" and he'd say come on down...and we'd eat at this round table with all these cloak and suit guys who were all kind of mafia oriented. He'd take a roll out as big as your fist and peel off a hundred like it was a buck and say "Is this what I owed you?" And I'd say, "There's one more Manny," and he'd peel off another. "Finally the guy died of a ruptured appendix, and I was kind of mean. I called his widow and said "Look, Manny owed me a couple," and she said, "Sorry, I just can't pay you." Manny owed everybody. So I gave old Manny two freebies. "Most of my fun would come in the evening when I rambled around Broadway and I'd go to these various things for free. So I didn't have any problem. What I'd do is get up about ten o'clock and have a big breakfast, then I'd go over to a little studio I rented to write in. If it was one of my days at Time or The New Yorker, I'd go over to my office at one of those places and maybe write until midnight to get the things done, then I'd go home exhausted, maybe stop someplace for a drink. "And I'd keep in shape. I'd go to the gym and work out. I'd jog and hike. I'd put on sneakers and run ten miles around that f*cking reservoir in Central Park. "But a lot my life was lived at night. Now when I got the Hollywood it was an awful effort for me to get up and get to the studio at nine o'clock in the morning. And when night came there was not a goddamn thing to do. Unless you could take out a starlet and most of them were after the big money guys and not a struggling writer. So the consequence was, what were you going to do? I used to ramble around when night came and ask guys if there was any hockey in this town. I'd go down to some lousy little stadium and see some of the worst hockey I ever saw in my life. "And fights? The Friday night fights in New York were big, dress-up things. I'd take a gal, and have ringside seats. But you'd go to Friday night fights out here at the Legion stadium, and they'd be pissing on you from the galleries and there'd be two second-rate bums waltzing around in the ring, and it'd be awful. "It took me a while to get used to Los Angeles."


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