December 7, 2007

The Specter of Holiday Attributions, and The Nick and Nora Walk

I was all set to design a Christmas walk involving the wealthy Chelsea scholar and poet Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) when research led me to arguments that Moore did not write A Visit From St. Nicholas but had appropriated a poem authored by Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828). My, my, my. This revelation upset me, because I was already bent out of shape after reading the NYT story of artist Richard Prince's appropriation of Jim Krantz's photography for the Marlboro ads. People should do their own work.

Now that I'm mad, WOTBA readers are saved from a Gramercy-to-Chelsea holiday walk, one that would have started at Pete's Tavern where O. Henry wrote The Gift of the Magi to the house where Clement Moore maybe didn't write A Visit from St. Nicholas.

Instead, I've quickly designed an uptown walk based on Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man (1934), a sophisticated hardboiled tale set during Christmas in New York. This Nick and Nora Charles homage should possess just the right amount of tartness for an appropriate (but not appropriated) Walking Off the Big Apple walk. I pray that Hammett wrote it himself.

First, a quote from the woman who inspired the character of Nora Charles:
"When we were very broke, those first years in New York, Hammett got a modest advance from Knopf and began to write The Thin Man. He moved to what was jokingly called the Diplomat's Suite in a hotel run by our friend Nathanael West. It was a new hotel but Pep West and the depression had managed to run it down immediately and certainly Hammett's suite had never seen a diplomat because even the smallest Oriental could not have functioned well in the space."
- Lillian Hellman, from "Dashiell Hammett: A Memoir,"
The New York Review of Books, November 25, 1965 (link)
(Oh, well. Too late to give Hellman any sensitivity training.)

Walking Directions for the Nick and Nora Walk: Find your way to 330 East 56th Street, formerly The Sutton Hotel, managed by Nathaniel West in the early 1930s and where Hammett wrote The Thin Man. From there walk to the Upper East Side apartment building at 630 Park Ave. (the southwest corner at 66th St.). Lillian Hellman lived on the tenth floor from 1969 to 1984. Follow the walk with a dry martini at Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle (35 E. 76th St.). If you don't want to go home yet, take a cab to Pete's Tavern where Ludwig Bemelmans wrote Madeline and O. Henry wrote The Gift of the Magi.

Link: The Upper East Side Book: Park Avenue, 630 Park Avenue. (The City Review) The essay at this site includes an upsetting rumor about another resident of the building, Dorothy Kilgallen, the gossip journalist and a frequent player on 'What's My Line?"
Link: Website maintained by a family member devoted to Henry Livingston, Jr.

Image: Holiday fun at the WOTBA residence.

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