From the 1920s to the early 1960s, Manhattan was America's beacon of sophistication. From the theatres of Broadway to the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel to tables at the Stork Club, intelligence and wit were the twinned coins of the realm. Alexander Woolcott, Irving Berlin, Edna Ferber, Arturo Toscanini, Leonard Bernstein, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, the Lunts and Helen Hayes presided over the town. Their books, plays, performances, speeches, dinner parties, masked balls, loves, hates, likes and dislikes became the aspirations of a nation. If you wanted to be sophisticated, you played by Manhattan's rules. If you didn't, you simply weren't on the guest list. The Heartland rebelled against Manhattan's dictum, but never prevailed. In this lively cultural history, Mordden chronicles the city's most powerful and influential era.
Mordden, a novelist and historian of the Broadway musical, details how Manhattan taught America's often skeptical Main Street to be stylish and sophisticated. This crisp and cheeky analysis of the country's First City from the 1920s through the early 1960s shows how the 20th-century culture of money, influence, and the arts developed. Mordden, a keen observer of Gotham life, looks at the Astors, America's richest family and New York's reigning aristocrats, and the painstaking effort to separate the "Best People" from the great unwashed. He makes candid observations about the public's infatuation with the rich, who "can break rules the rest of us have to live by." His chapters on the noted writers of the Algonquin Round Table, such as Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott, as well as life under mayors Jimmy Walker and Fiorello La Guardia, are gems. Mordden (Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business) also touches on the increasing influence of minorities on American culture, and black Hollywood. The concluding chapters on Truman Capote's betrayal of Manhattan high society in his fiction and his famous 1966 "black and white" ball are equally captivating. Similar to a late-night chat-fest, his book shows Manhattan's glow in its most influential period.