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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Did you know that the same street that now features Disney musicals and high-tech movie multiplexes was once a hotbed of prostitution and pornography? Author Marc Eliot has written an informative and eye-opening chronicle of "the Deuce," otherwise known as Manhattan's 42nd Street.
It seems that 42nd Street has always been the entertainment capitol of New York City (depending on one's definition of entertainment, and one's individual desires!). The early 1900s saw the establishment of a wide number of brothels, nearly side-by-side with the "legitimate theater." Sex, as always, was big business, and business was good for the growing city. Eliot does a fine job of recounting the many New York City mayors of this time period, some willing to go along with the naughtiness of the Deuce, others attempting (and, ultimately, failing) to righteously curtail it.
A large part of the book is dedicated to the efforts of legitimate theater syndicates such as the Shubert Organization to keep their business thriving as 42nd Street began a decline into tawdriness and increasingly more provocative burlesque "revues." There are colorful characters galore, and Eliot does a fine job of portraying them.
As you would expect, there is much here on the Disney "miracle," the city governmentfinanced seducing of the Mouse Machine to come in and "save the street." No respectable company wanted to come near the street during the 1970s and '80s, so it took a lot of financial arm-twisting and tax abatements for Disney to agree to establish a base on the Deuce. One interesting fact pointed out by Eliot is that although Rudy Guiliani is commonly thought of as the "savior" of 42nd Street, much of the necessary groundwork was laid by Edward Koch and David Dinkins, his predecessors as mayor.
Eliot has written a fine look back at Big Apple history. (Nicholas Sinisi)
Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes&Noble.com History editor.