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
Just saw the movie on DVD. Shor's granddaughter tells several stories: about Toots, about New York, about Prohibition, about the changing times of the 1960s, and about changing relationships between stars and the public. She's a good storyteller: she's dug out old photographs and news clips from the early 1900s through 1970; the black-and-white scenes of New York City's neon are wonderful; she's found aging sportswriters for whom Toots Shor's place was the watering hole in the age of Dimaggio, Mantle, and Gifford. She gives us a take on ethnicities and religious backgrounds (not so much on race) in the twentieth century. And at the center of it is this unique guy -- tough, quick-witted, generous, a warm father and husband, sly about his ego -- a man who saw things in terms of personal relationships. It's a personal film that transcends the personal. A master class in documentary film-making.
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