29 August 2014

El Morocco Memories

With Clifton Webb, c 1937.
The zebra print on the banquettes was really dark blue, but that pattern (which reproduced so well in newsprint photos) served as background for the rich, the famous and the climbers of a generation and clearly identified their location at Manhattan's El Morocco nightclub.

The club, originally opened as a speakeasy, on 54th Street in in 1931, claimed to have invented not only the velvet rope at the entrance, but Sibera, too (on the wrong side of its tiny dance floor, to which the socially undesirable were banished). Nanette Fabray remembered: “One entered, and there was a hierarchy of where one sat. The first table on the right was the best; the second was reserved for the owner, John Perona. You didn't dare go unless you were perfectly turned out.”

Marlene Dietrich  and  Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney.
Mädchen in Uniform: a 1945 farewell party for daughter Maria before her leaving to entertain troops overseas. Marlene herself  had returned home from a USO tour only a few days prior.
Those who wanted to dance could do so to the two, alternating dance bands (one playing sweet showtunes and the other doing the latin bit). For those who didn't, there was the haute-haute Champagne Room — where favoured clients supped, serenaded by a  violinist playing continental melodies.

Marlene with two Canadian pilots. 1943.

Lord Snowdon with Dietrich in the 1960s.
In 1960, El Morocco relocated to a townhouse nearby, but by the end of the decade, the era of café society (people who didn't get invited to homes, according to Elsa Maxwell) was coming to a close, being replaced by the jet set and ladies who lunched. El Morocco limped along in the guise of a steakhouse and a topless bar, before finally closing in the 1990s. Some of its fixtures were installed in a private mansion in the Hamptons; the building itself was demolished to make way for a highrise condo, the Milan.

Items from the collection of El Morocco's original proprietor will be offered for sale by Doyle New York in September: some zebra print scarves and bow ties, momentos for those who never made it there. And hundreds of photos, of those who were.

Photos: Doyle, New York Daily News & Life Magazine


  1. Thank you very much for this article. The color photo of MD with Iva "Pat" Patcévitch is wonderful!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Sauli! I love that photo too -- it's part of lot 710 in the sale. Don't you think that dress Marlene is wearing looks like the one Jamie Lee Curtis later wore to the Oscars?

  2. I bet it is the same dress. It always seems to be reported that Jamie Lee cut down the dress from "A Foreign Affair" but this looks more like it.