The '40s and '50s were a classic period in New York City nightlife, when the saloonkeeper was king and regular folks could drink with celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason. In this documentary, Kristi Jacobson profiles her grandfather, the king of kings: Toots Shor of the eponymous restaurant and saloon, which was once the place to be seen in Manhattan.
Toots Shor (1903-1977) was Manhattan's premier saloonkeeper from 1940 to 1959. At 18, he went to New York from South Philly, becoming a speakeasy bouncer. In 1940, he opened his place at 51 51st St., the watering hole for sports heroes, actors, mobsters, cops, politicians, visiting dignitaries, and writers. Shor's daughter, Frank Gifford, Peter Duchin, former sports writers, and others comment throughout as the filmmaker mixes still photographs, archive footage, including an appearance on "This Is Your Life," and an audio-tape interview from 1975 to present a portrait of New York during and after Prohibition and of a lovable, larger-than-life, uniquely New York public figure. Written by
"We didn't worry about being 97 with Alzheimer's," a man on the documentary Toots says. "We lived short, happy lives in those days!" The world of restaurateur Toots Shor is explored in this 2006 documentary put together by his granddaughter, Kristi Jacobson. The documentary covers Shor's rise to fame and his famous restaurant, where sports figures, writers, mobsters, film stars, presidents and other politicians would pile in and drink side by side with the common man. As Frank Gifford explains, the sports figures made about as much money as the sports writers -- there was no need for an agent, no need for a lawyer -- they were just guys like anyone else. "You're not going to sit down and talk to a man who gets $25 million for throwing a baseball," musician Peter Duchin says.
In the '30s, '40s, and '50s, Toots Shor and his restaurant thrived in his New York, a place he considered the most dazzling, exciting place in the world, a world of energy and atmosphere. It was a simpler time - again, as pointed out in the documentary - not an innocent time, but a simpler time. The alcohol flowed like rivers and the smoke filled the room, and all you were judged on was whether or not you could hold your liquor.
When things began to change in the '60s, a time of political unrest, assassinations, the recognition of alcoholism as a disease, health considerations, etc., it was harder to go out and just have a good time. The heavy partying days were over. Greenwich Village became the place to be, and Toots couldn't change with the times. Couldn't, wouldn't - he just didn't get it. He became an antique. Tax problems forced him out of business, although many of his old-time friends -- Gifford, Sinatra, Duchin, and countless others, tried to help him. The money he owed was too enormous.
This is such a wonderful documentary, showing New York as it used to be, a party town, post-war, post-Prohibition, more carefree than it later became. Shor was in the center of it. He was a loyal friend to everyone, even mobsters. But when the drug people started to take over, much changed. As an interviewee put it, "There are not nice people who deal in drugs." Though Shor's star descended and he lost his money, this documentary isn't really a downer. He was a remarkable man, he had a blast, and he said if he had to do it over again, he would. I wish there was a place today for a Toots Shor.
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