02/16/07 - the hook

In today's excerpt - New York introduces the hook:

"By the [1890s], the major venue [in the Bowery] was Miner's theater, home to such nascent legends as the young dialect comedy duo Weber and Fields ... and the Four Cohans, from which young George M. eventually graduated. ...

"What made Miner's absolutely unique for a time, however, was Amateur Night, held on alternate Fridays. ... A 1905 account outlines a typical night's fare: a juggler, buck-and-wing dancers, a blackface comedian in a red plaid suit, a clay modeler (incredibly, arts-and-crafts demonstrations carried off with a certain amount of panache and speed went over with the roughest crowds), a quartet of singing newsboys. As entertaining as the acts on stage might be, people often came to amateur nights at Miner's to take in the audience reaction, which could be brutal. ...

"Since the procession of semi-talented and utterly untalented hopefuls could be painful, not to mention boring, an enterprising stage manager at Miner's came up with a way of policing the lengths of unsuccessful acts: the hook. The first one apparently was a stage-prop shepherd's crook lashed to a pole. Before long, hooks were being manufactured. The hook appeared in theaters all over the world, entered the language ... Back at Miner's, 'Give 'im the hook' took barely twenty-four hours to establish itself as the crowd's favorite line. Soon it was a cliche, and stage managers were kept busy hatching entertaining alternatives: dousing performers with selzer from spray bottles, carrying them out on stretchers manned by burly stage hands."


Luc Sante


Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York


Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Copyright 1991 by Luc Sante


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