In praise of Jerry O’s…

jerry oOn my recent visit to New York City I decided to look up a movie memorabilia store that I’d dropped into by chance the last time I was there (some ten years ago). I couldn’t remember the location or even the name so I started with a very generic and random Google search.

The first result was Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store… but the news wasn’t promising – one of the first results I found was this article by Jeremiah Moss for The New Yorker in October 2013 which didn’t bode well. Jerry was thinking of selling up and going online only, but I was heartened to find that his website suggested there might be a chance he was still going strong, or at least going. And so he was. From the outside you’d be forgiven for missing Jerry’s; an unprepossessing doorway of an office block on W. 35th Street bears a small sign, maybe not enough to entice the casual passer-by, but for those in the know this is the gateway to hidden treasures.

Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store is the last of a dying breed; with the onset of the internet and online auction sites like eBay, the opportunity to rummage through boxes and files of film goodies is now few and far between. Flea markets and car boot sales throw up some jewels now and then, but you’re really relying on luck and tenacity to find something truly worthwhile. Jerry’s is all worthwhile. Files and files, boxes and boxes, shelves and shelves of movie and television related memorabilia, stored scattergun and Tetris-like in a number of overflowing rooms, this is a cinephile’s dream.  However obscure you think your cinematic obsession is, Jerry will have something to set your heart racing. I was only interested in Luise (I could’ve easily spent days in there satisfying my curiosity) and the collection of still photos alone was breathtaking.

William Powell and Virginia Bruce in Escapade (1935)

William Powell and Virginia Bruce in Escapade (1935)

It goes without saying I easily blew my entire budget. The highlight for me was the number of stills from Luise’s first MGM picture, Escapade (1935). This is a film that hasn’t been shown on television in living memory (if ever?) and has never been released on home video or DVD, so to see such a vast collection of images was a real thrill; I’ve researched the film and am familiar with the plot but now I can put images to the storyline I’ve built up in my head. This was like seeing the film for the first time, like I’d personally discovered my holy grail. But Jerry had more… and more… and more… the files just kept coming. Each of Luise’s films had their own collection, with some familiar and some not so familiar images. On top of all of this, there were posters and pressbooks, lobby cards and programmes.

Price-wise Jerry is reasonable; more often than not the prices for the stuff I was after were comparable to what I’d pay online. I have nothing against online sites (most of my collection wouldn’t exist without eBay), but being able to handle these pieces, some original MGM stills, programmes, posters is priceless. The added bonus is meeting Jerry himself, a genuine NYCharacter, a genial host and conversationalist, and his friendly and knowledgeable staff with a genuine enthusiasm for the collection (and an understanding of your obsession!). If you are a movie fan of any era and you’re in New York you must drop in to one of the last of its kind – you deserve it and you owe it to yourself (and Jerry).

Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store is an almost unique time capsule; don’t let it go, we’ll regret it when it’s gone.

Luise Rainer’s New York

I’ve just returned from a brief visit to New York City and while I was there I couldn’t resist a mini-tour of the places that have figured in Luise’s life and career. Whilst most of her time in the US was spent in California during her MGM contract she did have a couple of apartments on the east coast too, with both of her husbands. She also appeared on stage in New York a number of times over the course of 40 years. Most significantly, it was in New York that she married her second husband, Robert Knittel, in 1945.

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First stop was #1 University Place in Greenwich Village. This apartment block, overlooking Washington Square Park, housed Luise’s first New York apartment in the late 1930s. She lived here, on and off, with her first husband Clifford Odets. It was an especially important place for both of them as for most of their marriage they were apart. Odets was working in New York with the Group Theatre at the time, whilst Luise was filming in Los Angeles. They exchanged phone calls and letters throughout their tempestuous and fluctuating relationship but it was here that they spent the little time together that they had during those three years.

JFullSizeRender (5)ust around the corner from Greenwich Place is the historic Church of the Ascension, on Fifth Avenue (left). It was here, in July 1945, that Luise married her second husband Robert Knittel. Luise had remained, for the most part, in America during the early 1940s, after leaving MGM in 1939. It’s possible that she remained in the apartment she had with Odets (above) for some of this time, however, by the time of her second FullSizeRender (10)marriage she had moved across town to Beekman Place (right), another grand apartment building in a quiet side street in Midtown East, with a view over the East River. During their long marriage they spent time in New York, Switzerland and London and after their marriage I believe they moved to a townhouse in the nearby Sutton Place area of Manhattan. The exact address isn’t known to me, nor is their later home in Stamford, Connecticut where they lived in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Any more information about these residences or indeed any missing details of Luise, Clifford and Robert’s New York homes is gratefully received; you can leave a comment below if you have anything to add.

FullSizeRender (8)Luise made her Broadway debut in 1942 in a production of J. M. Barrie’s A Kiss For Cinderella, at the Music Box Theatre on W45th Street (left), currently showing the musical Pippin. Her only other appearance in a play on Broadway was in 1950 when she took the role of Ellida in Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea (with a young and unknown Eli Wallach in the cast). This was directed by Sam Wanamaker and ran briefly at the Fulton Theatre on W46th Street. This theatre was demolished in 1982 and the location is now a Marriott Hotel.

These were the only two New York plays that Luise appeared in, despite a number of options to take touring productions to the city. She appeared in a touring production of Maxwell Anderson’s Joan of Lorraine in 1946 and 1947 although it was Ingrid Bergman who debuted the play on Broadway in 1946 (and won the Tony Award). Luise also arranged a contract for Bertolt Brecht to write a new play for her to star in on Broadway, with producer Jules Leventhal’s backing. He wrote The Caucasian Chalk Circle for her, but the production was never to see the light of day, with Luise walking out on the project after a disagreement with the playwright.FullSizeRender (9)

There are a couple of other appearances on the New York stage that are worthy of mention: her first ‘performance’ was, in fact, in 1937 when Luise took to the stage in the marathon Ohio Flood Relief Benefit concert, arranged and hosted by Noel Coward, with a cast of hundreds working and performing through the night for an audience of millions on the radio. This took place in the historic and iconic Radio City Music Hall (right) and she performed her (already famous) telephone scene from The Great Ziegfeld. Her next appearance was in October that same year; although not a performance it was just as dramatic – buoyed by the success of her performance as ‘O-lan’ in The Good Earth Luise was highly regarded by the Chinese community and she was invited to address a 22,000 strong crowd at FullSizeRender (7)Madison Square Garden as part of a protest evening against the Japanese invasion of China. Her next New York appearance (as far as I know) was in an odd little variety artistes show, at the Manhattan Centre Theatre in 1941, a year before her ‘official’ Broadway debut in 1942.

After 1950 I can’t find any reference to appearances in New York, although Luise did appear on stage elsewhere, albeit briefly. Her next appearance on the Great White Way is a one-night tribute to the theatrical attorney Arnold Weissburger at the Golden Theatre, also on W45th Street (left).

Luise did return to New York, however, to appear in her one-woman show, based on a recital of the epic poem Enoch Arden. In April 1982, for one night only, Luise performed the piece at a benefit in the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher StreetFullSizeRender (3) (right).

You can find out more about Luise’s theatrical shenanigans, in New York and elsewhere, on the theatre page of the website, and for more information about significant locations in Luise’s life take a look at the Luise Rainer Google map which includes homes, theatres and other venues where Luise has appeared.