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the front pageNot Cafe Wha? nor Cafe whuh? Rather Cafe Society, which  is also a new book subtitled “The Wrong Place For The Right People,” recently published by the University of Illinois Press. Terry Trilling-Josephson is the widow of Cafe Society owner, Barney Josephson, the Trenton, New Jersey shoe salesman turned legendary Manhattan nightclub mensch and one of the heroes of New York culture of the 1940s and 1950s, both for his progressive social views (which got him into trouble with the House Un-American Activities Committee) and his excellent taste in music. Although Barney died in 1988 (New York Times obituary here), Terry continued editing Barney’s voluminous tape recorded reminiscences and Cafe Society— which includes an fine introduction by jazz historian Dan Morgenstern— is the result.

Meet Terry Monday, April 27, at Barnes & Noble at 1972 Broadway (Manhattan) at 7:30 pm, where she’ll be in conversation with Tom Santopietro.

Unlike many oral histories, which can be pretty clunky, this one reads quite well and is largely in the distinctive, still enthusiastic voice of Barney himself, with a modest amount of quotes from others on the scene (note hardboiled newspaper legend Lee Mortimer on page 211) interspersed throughout. One passage of special interest to Brooklyn adepts is Barney’s recollection of director Elia Kazan, who, before Kazan’s inglorious HUAC performance,  had a small role in the Group Theatre production of Irwin Shaw’s Coney Island set play, The Gentle People (1939).

Most assuredly, no honor is due Elia Kazan, who frequented my cafes. Gadge [his nickname], a friendly witness, named his fellow actors from his acting das when he was in the Communist Party [1934-1936]. Tony Kraber, the folk singer, now a CBS radio executive, was an unfriendly witness and subsequently fired. He cracked, “Is this the Kazan that signed a Hollywood contract for $500,000 the day he gave names to the committee?” Zero’s [Mostel's] name for him was Loose Lips. During World War II there were posters all plastered all around the country, cautioning “loose lips sink ships.” In all, Gadge named about twenty theater people, among whom was my friend Martin Ritt.

WWIB readers best know Ritt for The Front (1976) and if Martin’s recollections of Kazan that follow in Cafe Society aren’t as deliciously cold as  Rififi genius Jules Dassin’s elsewhere, it’s always a treat to put Kazan in his place.* Likewise, even sixty-odd years after the fact, it’s a pleasure to spend time with Barney Josephson again too. — Willis Still Sunsweet, Music Director

* The WWIB Award for Best Performance Before HUAC goes to… Lionel Stander!

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