A classic work on Broadway sharpers, grifters, and con men by the late, great New Yorker journalist A. J. Liebling.
Often referred to as “Liebling lowlife pieces,” the essays in The Telephone Booth Indian boisterously celebrate raffishness. A. J. Liebling appreciated a good scam and knew how to cultivate the scammers. Telephone Booth Indians (entrepreneurs so impecunious that they conduct business from telephone booths in the lobbies of New York City office buildings) and a host of other petty nomads of Broadway—with names like Marty the Clutch and Count de Pennies—are the protagonists in this incomparable Liebling work. In The Telephone Booth Indian, Liebling proves just why he was the go-to man on New York lowlife and con culture; this is the master at the top of his form, uncovering scam after scam and writing about them with the wit and charisma that established him as one of the greatest journalists of his generation and one of New York’s finest cultural chroniclers.
The title of this 1942 collection of Liebling's early New Yorker pieces refers to those lowlife entrepreneurs whose offices were the telephone booths of New York City, where they waited for associates to call them since they didn't even have a nickel to phone on their own. The 10 essays, profiling a variety of scamsters and promoters, showcase Liebling's dry wit, his sharp commentary on the mores of the time and his knack for eliciting hilarious quotes (a carnival operator explains that a so-called Hawaiian dancer ``was not a Hawaiian but she had once eaten some Hawaiian pineapple''; a ``pillar'' of the hat-check industry observes, ``Better a kid who takes ten in tips and knocks a buck, than a dummy who gets half the tips and turns in all she gets. But please don't use my name, because on such a question I hate to quote myself''). Not all of the businessmen in the book are as low on the totem pole as telephone booth Indians. Liebling takes on, and shows no mercy to, such luminaries as the ``head man'' of the Scripps-Howard newspapers and the Shubert brothers theater moguls. For example, he quotes J. J. Shubert as shouting during a rehearsal, ``There is only one captain on this ship, the director and me!''
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Great book ... but
I saw several instances of words running together ... pity.