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A book of 62 pages of half-tone photographs from the El Morocco nightclub, one of the prime locations to spot celebrities and members of high society in New York City in the 1930s. The club was on East 54th Street in Manhattan and run by John Perona and his son Edwin. Patrons of the establishment appearing in the album include an array of actors, socialites and luminaries including Gary Cooper and Barbara Balfe, the Vanderbilts, Ruth Weston, the Duke and Duchess of Leeds and Clark Gable. All were photographed inside the club, many seated in the signature zebra pattern upholstered booths. The pictures were taken by Jerome Zerbe, official photographer of the El Morocco from 1934 to 1939, who by his own account helped draw celebrities to the club by regularly sending photographs taken there to the newspaper society pages. Copies of this book are scarce.
Jerome Zerbe was one of the first society photographers. He was interviewed by oral historian Studs Terkel for his major work on the Thirties, Hard Times. Here is an excerpt from their conversation:
Zerbe: From 1935 until 1939, I was at the El Morocco and I invented a thing which has become a pain in the neck for most people. I took photographs of the fashionable people and sent them to the papers. And Morey [sp?] Paul on the Journal American at least four times a week would use a large photograph on his society page of important people.
Terkel: This was your idea, the idea of photographing the fashionable people on the society page...And you see, the reason that you were at the Rainbow Room or the El Morocco was because there is where the social set went.
Zerbe: No. The social set did not go to the Rainbow Room or the El Morocco until I invented this funny, silly thing of taking photographs of people. And the minute the photographs appeared in the paper, then they came.
Terkel: In short they became celebrities at that moment.
Zerbe: Yes, yes, that's right. So, I would send my photographs not only to the New York papers. I sent them to the London Bystander, to the Australian -- I've forgotten what the name now was -- there was a paper in Rio; I sent them all over the world. So people would come in to the El Morocco and I would get a note saying, "The Duchess of Sutherland has just arrived and would love to have her photograph taken." [laughs]
Terkel: Tell me about these people who came to El Morocco. Now these were more or less, if I could use this phrase, the upper crust.
Zerbe: Yes they were. They were really the top, top social -- and what you mean by society, that's difficult again to define. These were the people whose houses one knew were filled with treasures. These were the women who dressed the best. These were the women who had the most beautiful of all jewels. These were the dream people that we all looked up to and hoped that we or or our friends could sometimes know and be like.
For over 40 years, Jerome Zerbe traveled the world taking pictures of celebrities and what we now call “lifestyles of the rich and famous,” amassing an archive over 50,000 photographs. From 1934 to 1939, he was the official photographer for El Morocco and was instrumental in making it the most famous and successful nightclub of its time. Zerbe was in the elite company of celebrity photographers Cecil Beaton and Lord Snowdon in the degree of access he had to the special occasions and festivities of high society. The son of the president of a coal company in Ohio, he received a degree at Yale University in1928, followed by a stint as an art student in Paris. Declining his family’s offer to assume the presidency of the coal company, he took up residence in New York City, where he served as the art director of Parade magazine from 1931 to 1933 and as photographer and society editor for Town and Country from 1931 to 1976. He also contributed photographs to Life and Look magazines and was a Navy photographer during World War II. Zerbe was the author of several books of photographs, including Happy Times, which includes his photographs from the El Morocco years with text by former New Yorker writer Brendan Gill.
Lucius Beebe was educated at Yale and Harvard, and was a writer, poet and publisher. In 1934, he began writing a column documenting New York cafe society called "This New York" for The New York Herald. In 1950, Beebe moved to Virginia City, Nevada, with his partner Charles Clegg, and later purchased the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, building its circulation to the highest in the West for a weekly newspaper by 1954. Beebe and Clegg collaborated on more than 30 books on American railroads and Western Americana. He also wrote for numerous magazines including Holiday, Gourmet, Playboy, Newsweek, American Heritage and Saturday Review. From 1960 until his death in 1966, he wrote a column called &This Wild West& for the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Happy Times." JMVintage.com. http://www.jmvintage.com/cgi-bin/jmv455/scan/tf=author/mp=keywords/tf=author/tf=title/cs=no/em=yes/st=sql/se=Jerome Zerbe (4 June 2003).
"Lucius Beebe." Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. 14 November 1997. http://www.library.unr.edu/friends/hallfame/beebe.html (4 June 2003).
"Sources of U.S. Naval History in the United States." U.S. Naval History. 7 May 2002. http://www.history.navy.mil/sources/ny/zcl.htm (4 June 2003).
Terkel, Studs. "Recordings from 'Hard Times.'" Chicago Historial Society. 2002. http://www.studsterkel.org/htimes.php (4 June 2003).