Memorable New Year's Eves in Times Square - 1953/54 and 1954/55

  • Blog Post by: Barry ZeVan
  • January 1, 2013 - 10:30 AM

In the mid-1950s, the legal age to consume alcohol in New York City was 16. I had turned 16 August 5th, 1953, thus when 1953 was about to become 1954, I was invited by a fellow 16-year-old high school classmate to join him in Times Square during those transitional years to enjoy the revelry and legally imbibe thereafter. His name was, and still is, Charlie Brill, who would later become a very successful comedian, along with his wife, whose stage name was Mitzi McCall, but nee Mitzi Steiner. Mitzi was an actress in my first stage play at The Pittsburgh Playhouse  (STRANGE BEDFELLOWS) in 1948. I had no idea she'd become Mrs. Charlie Brill years later, nor that I would know him at a different time in my life, before he and she met. We all still keep in touch occasionally

Regardless, Charlie was hilarious, even during our high school days. The only times I visited his hometown of Brooklyn was to swim with him and some other friends in the cavernous St. George Hotel pool in that famed borough, In those days, the swimming was free. Charlie was a free spirit, and was a good influence in regard to "chilling out" about most everything that might be a challenge.

Now to our consecutive Times Square New Year's Eve visits, circa 1953/54 and 1954/55: Charlie and I met at Al-Jo's, a non-crowded coffee shop on West 46th Street at 11 o'clock that night, 12/31/53, in plenty of time to get into the thick of the Times Square crowd between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, flanked by 44th and 45th Streets. (These days, a Marriott Hotel is on the Broadway side of the street. In those days, The Astor Hotel, Astor Theater and Victoria Theater...both the theaters first-run movie houses...were in that territory. The brightness of the lights and gigantic Artkrafft-Strauss spectactular signs ("spectaculars" are what the sign industry named them, and they were) truly eclipsed the brightness of Times Square today.

Charlie and I made our way through the mob to stand in the exact center of the crowd. There were no police barricades then, as there are these days on New Year's Eve there, thus the entire Square was filled with people and not cordoned off in any way. As the time drew nigh to midnight, and the then white-lights-only ball eventually dropping, the crush of people against people was, and is, truly indescribable. It was actually scary, because if anyone wanted or needed to fall over, it would have been, and was, impossible. I actually began to not be able to breathe very easily and was glad when the ball dropped and the crowd began to thin, albeit very slowly.

Prior to the ball dropping to transition 1953 into 1954, I'll never forget Charlie's hilarious words, yelling at the top of his lungs in the midst of the screaming crowd: "Everybody stop havin' fun!". Only a few people in near proximity to Charlie and me heard him, but laughed appreciatively. Execpt for yelling. "Everybody stop havin' fun!", again, our second visit to "The crossroads of the world", the 1954 into 1955 visit was almolst exactly the same. In my opinion, they were two experiences that truly should probably have happened only ONCE, but we "wild and crazy" kids decided to get crushed for a second time.

Afterglow: Because the drinking age limit was 16 (in NYC only, not New York state) I also decided to hit every possible bar on 8th Avenue, then Broadway,  between 44th and 100th streets (the latter street where my mom and I lived, between Broadway and West End Avenue) from just after midnight, when Charlie and I went our separate ways, to about 5 a.m. I repeated that 1953-54 ritual the following year, i.e., 1954-55. I wouldn't recommend that to anyone. I didn't know one could die from alcohol poisoning, thus after those two binges, I almost never drank again, in excess or otherwise, except for one silly time at a bar called The Tugboat in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, circa 1980-something, and not on a New Year's Eve.

Happy New Year, and thanks for taking the time to read some more of my geezer memories. I hope 2013 is the best ever for you, and all of us.

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