McSorley's Wonderful Saloon

McSorley's Wonderful Saloon

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Overview

McSorley's Wonderful Saloon by Joseph Mitchell, Calvin Trillin


“Mitchell’s collection of portraits is the exact opposite of the books that choose an important subject, but are hastily written and have nothing much to say. These books, which form the bulk of current writing, always make you feel as if you had paid for looking into the wrong end of a telescope. Mitchell, on the other hand, likes to start with an unimportant hero, but he collects all the facts about him, arranges them to give the desired effects, and usually ends by describing the customs of a whole community. Commodore Dutch, the subject of one portrait, ‘is a brassy little man who has made a living for the last forty years by giving an annual ball for the benefit of himself.’ Mitchell doesn’t try to present him as anything more than a barroom scrounger; but in telling the story of his career, he also gives a picture of New York sporting life since the days of Big Tim Sullivan. The story called ‘King of the Gypsies’ is even better. It sets out to describe Cockeye Johnny Nikanov, the spokesman or king of thirty-eight gypsy families, but it soon becomes a Gibbon’s decline and fall of the American gypsies; and it ends with an apocalyptic vision that is not only comic but also, in its proper context, more imaginative than anything to be found in recent novels.
“Reading some of his portraits a second time, you catch an emotion beneath them that curiously resembles Dickens’: a continual wonder at the sights and sounds of a big city, a continual devouring interest in all the strange people who live there, a continual impulse to burst into praise of kind hearts and good food and down with hypocrisy.”—Malcolm Cowley, The New Republic

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375421020
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/2001
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.41(w) x 9.59(h) x 1.31(d)

About the Author

Joseph Mitchell came to New York City on October 25, 1929 (the day after the stock-market crash), from a small farming town called Fairmont, in the swamp country of southeastern North Carolina. He was twenty-one years old and looking for a job as a newspaper reporter. He eventually managed to find work as an apprentice crime reporter at Police Headquarters for The World. He was a reporter and feature writer—for The World, The Herald Tribune, and The World-Telegram—for eight years, and then went to The New Yorker, where he remained until his death, on May 24, 1996, at the age of eighty-seven.

Aside from writing, Mr. Mitchell’s interests included the waterfront of New York City, commercial fishing, gypsies, Southern agriculture, Irish literature, and the architecture of New York City. He served several terms on the board of directors of the Gypsy Lore Society, an international organization of students of gypsy life and the gypsy language, which was founded in England in 1888. Bajour, a musical comedy based on stories about gypsies by Mitchell, ran for 232 performances on Broadway in 1964-65. He was one of the founders of the South Street Seaport Museum and one of the original members of the Friends of Cast-Iron Architecture. For five years he was also one of the Commissioners of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Mr. Mitchell was married to the photographer Therese Mitchell, who died in 1980; they had two daughters, Nora Sanborn and Elizabeth Mitchell.

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