Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Before it moved to The New Yorker:
Ask the Librarians

Best of Emdashes: Hit Parade
A Web Comic: The Wavy Rule


More about the New Column

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Wondering who those mystery staffers are? The brand-new monthly column here on Emdashes will be written by two of The New Yorker's senior library staff, who'll be researching and answering your questions. Well, not all of your questions, smartypants! We're being very picky.

These two know pretty much everything--and what they don't know, they know who to ask or where to look it up in the vast archive over which they preside. (True fans: It takes your breath away to stand inside it.) They're the caretakers of the entire history of the magazine, and have awesome knowledge. Tap into it by emailing me your best questions, and you might even make it into the first batch in the column, which will debut next month. I'm excited.

[Arthur Getz cover, above, courtesy of the Cartoon Bank. It's from March 3, 1973, so it was likely on my parents' kitchen table the day my sister was born (a day I swear I remember). I also dig this 1957 Getz cover of the cool inside of a bookstore on a sunny day.]

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Hey, doesn’t that sunny bookstore interior remind you of something? Check this out, from Vertigo!

That’s funny—it reminds me of the W. 47 St. Gotham Book Mart….

It’s true! For the lethargic, here’s a direct link to the Vertigo still to which Carolita is rightly calling our attention. It’s Jimmy Stewart in the Argosy Book Shop (that is, San Francisco’s Argonaut), which is indeed reminiscent of the 1957 Getz cover. Vertigo was released in 1958. Could Hitchcock have been inspired?

Here’s a description of the Argosy scene by Tim Dirks of Filmsite.org—still, for my money, the best internet movie resource there is:
In Midge’s apartment, Scottie pours himself a whiskey drink and then asks Midge for a recommendation of an authority on San Francisco history for research purposes, focusing more on “the small stuff, you know, people you’ve never heard of.” She attempts to clarify his question:

Oh, you mean the gay old Bohemian days of gay old San Francisco. Juicy stories like who shot who in the Embarcadero in August 1879.

But Midge is suspicious of his search and wonders what he is looking for: “Hey, you’re not a detective anymore. What’s going on?” But Scottie doesn’t explain that he wants to learn more about Carlotta Valdes. She recommends the owner of the downtown Argosy Book Shop.

At the Argosy Book Shop, the local-history expert and proprietor Pop Liebel (Konstantin Shayne), in a European accent, tells them historical information about Carlotta Valdes, the former mistress of a San Francisco capitalist. Supposedly, a wealthy, powerful, but abusive man [with power and…freedom] built the house that is now the McKittrick Hotel for Carlotta. He took their out-of-wedlock child and banished her there when he tired of her. After being abandoned and having her child abducted, she became lonely, went mad and committed suicide:

Oh yes, I remember. Carlotta, beautiful Carlotta, sad…It (the McKittrick Hotel) was hers. It was built for her many years ago…by…the name I do not remember, a rich man, powerful man…It is not an unusual story. She came from somewhere small to the south of the city. Some say from a mission settlement. Young, yes, very young. And she was found dancing and singing in cabaret by that man. And he took her and built for her the great house in the Western Addition. And, uh, there was, there was a child, yes, that’s it, a child, a child. I cannot tell you exactly how much time passed or how much happiness there was, but then he threw her away. He had no other children. His wife had no children. So, he kept the child and threw her away. You know, a man could do that in those days. They had the power and the freedom. And she became the sad Carlotta, alone in the great house, walking the streets alone, her clothes becoming old and patched and dirty. And the mad Carlotta, stopping people in the streets to ask, ‘Where is my child?’ ‘Have you seen my child?’ (Midge responds: “Poor thing.”)…She died…by her own hand. There are many such stories.

As Pop Wiebel comes to the end of his explanation, the scene becomes increasingly darker as a strange veil of darkness descends over everything.
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