Any account of the Catskill Mountains must begin with Grossinger’s. The G. On either side of the highway out of New York and into Sullivan County, a two-hour drive north, one is assailed by billboards. DO A JERRY LEWIS—COME TO BROWN’S. CHANGE TO THE FLAGLER. I FOUND A HUSBAND AT THE WALDEMERE. THE RALEIGH IS ICIER, NICIER, AND SPICIER. All the Borscht Belt billboards are criss-crossed with lists of attractions, each hotel claiming the ultimate in golf courses, the latest indoor and outdoor pools, and the most tantalizing parade of stars. The countryside between the signs is ordinary, without charm. Bush land and small hills. And then finally one comes to the Grossinger billboard. All it says, sotto voce, is GROSSINGER’S HAS EVERYTHING.
“On a day in August, 1914, that was to take its place among the red-letter days of all history,” begins a booklet published to commemorate Grossinger’s fiftieth anniversary, “a war broke out in Europe. Its fires seared the world. . . . On a summer day of that same year, a small boarding house was opened in the Town of Liberty.” The farmhouse was opened by Selig and Malke Grossinger to take in nine people at nine dollars a week. Fresh air for factory workers, respite for tenement dwellers. Now Grossinger’s, spread over a thousand acres, can accommodate fifteen hundred guests. It represents an investment of fifteen million dollars. But to crib once more from the anniversary booklet, “The greatness of any institution cannot be measured by material size alone. The Taj Mahal cost a king’s ransom but money in its intrinsic form is not a part of that structure’s unequalled beauty.”
Grossinger’s, on first sight, looks like the consummate kibbutz. Even in the absence of Arabs, there is a security guard at the gate. It has its own water supply, a main building—in this case Sullivan County Tudor with picture windows —and a spill of outlying lodges named after immortals of the first Catskill Aliyah, like Eddie Cantor and Milton Berle.
I checked in on a Friday afternoon in summer, and crossing the terrace to my quarters stumbled on a Grossinger’s Forum of the Air in progress. Previous distinguished speakers —a reflection, as one magazine put it, of Jennie Grossinger, in whom the traditional reverence for learning remains undimmed—have included Max Lerner and Norman Cousins. This time out the lecturer was resident hypnotist Nat Fleischer, who was taking a stab at CAN LOVE SURVIVE MARRIAGE? “I have a degree in psychology,” Fleischer told me, “and am now working on my doctorate.”
“I’d rather not say.”
There were about a hundred and fifty potential hecklers on the terrace. All waiting to pounce. Cigar-chompers in Bermuda shorts and ladies ready with an alternative of the New York Post on their laps. “Men are past their peak at twenty-five,” Fleischer shouted into the microphone, “but ladies reach theirs much later and stay on a plateau, while the men are tobogganing downhill.” One man hooted, another guffawed, but many ladies clapped approval. “You think,” Fleischer said, “the love of the baby for his momma is natural—no!” A man, holding a silver foil sun reflector to his face, dozed off. The lady beside him fanned herself with From Russia, With Love. “In order to remain sane,” Fleischer continued, “what do we need? ALL OF US. Even at sixty and seventy. LOVE. A little bit of love. If you’ve been married for twenty-five years you shouldn’t take your wife for granted. Be considerate.”
A lady under a tangle of curlers bounced up and said, “I’ve been married twenty-nine years, and my husband doesn’t take me for granted.”
This alarmed a sunken-bellied man in the back row. He didn’t join in the warm applause. Instead he stood up to peer at the lady. “I’d like to meet her husband.” Sitting down again, he added, “The schmock.”
There was to be a get-together for singles in the evening, but the prospects did not look dazzling. A truculent man sitting beside me in the bar said, “I dunno. I swim this morning. I swim this afternoon—indoors, outdoors—my God, what a collection! When are all the beauties checking in?”
I decided to take a stroll before dinner. The five lobbies at Grossinger’s are nicely paneled in pine, but the effect is somewhat undermined by the presence of plastic plants everywhere. There is plastic sweet corn for sale in the shop beside the Olympic-size outdoor pool, and plastic grapes are available in the Mon Ami Gift and Sundry Shop in the main building. Among those whose pictures hang on the Wall of Fame are Cardinal Spellman and Yogi Berra, Irving Berlin, Governors Harriman and Rockefeller, Ralph Buche, Zero Mostel, and Herman Wouk. The indoor pool, stunningly simple in design, still smelled so strongly of disinfectants that I was reminded of the more modest “Y” pool of my boyhood. I fled. Grossinger’s has its own post office and is able to stamp all mail “Grossinger, N.Y.” There is also Grossinger Lake, “for your tranquil togetherness”; an eighteen-hole golf course; stables; an outdoor artificial ice rink; a ski and toboggan run; a His ‘n Hers health club; and of course a landing strip adjoining the hotel, the Jennie Grossinger Field.
The ladies had transformed themselves for dinner. Gone were the curlers, out came the minks. “Jewish security blankets,” a guest, watching the parade with me, called the wraps, but fondly, with that sense of self-ridicule that redeems Grossinger’s and, incidentally, makes it the most slippery of places to write about.
I suppose it would be easiest, and not unjustified, to present the Catskills as a cartoon. A Disneyland with knishes. After all, everywhere you turn, the detail is bizarre. At the Concord, for instance, a long hall of picture windows overlooks a parking lot. There are rooms that come with two adjoining bathrooms. (“It’s a gimmick. People like it. They talk about it.”) All the leading hotels now have indoor ice skating rinks because, as the lady who runs The Laurels told me, our guests find it too cold to skate outside. True, they have not yet poured concrete into the natural lakes to build artificial filtered pools above, but, short of that, every new convenience conspires to protect guests from the countryside. Most large hotels, for instance, link outlying lodges to the main building through a system of glassed-in and sometimes even subterranean passages, all in the costly cause of protecting people from the not notoriously fierce Catskills outdoors.
What I’m getting at is that by a none too cunning process of selected detail one can make Grossinger’s, the Catskills, and the people who go there appear totally grotesque. One doesn’t because there’s more to it than that. Nothing, on the other hand, can prevent Sullivan County from seeming outlandish, for outlandish it certainly is, and it would be condescending, the most suspect sort of liberalism, to overlook this and instead celebrate, say, Jennie Grossinger’s maudlin “warmth” or “traditional reverence” for bogus learning.
Something else. The archetypal Grossinger’s guest belongs to the most frequently fired-at class of American Jews. Even as Commentary sends out another patrol of short story writers the Partisan Review irregulars are waiting in the bushes, bayonets drawn. Saul Bellow is watching, Alfred Kazin is ruminating, Norman Mailer is ready with his flick-knife, and who knows what manner of tripwires the next generation of Jewish writers is laying out at this very moment. Was there ever a group so pursued by such an unsentimental platoon of chroniclers? So plagued by moralists? So blamed for making money? Before them came the luftmenschen, the impecunious dreamers—tailors, cutters, corner grocers—so adored by Bernard Malamud. After them came Philip Roth’s confident college boys on the trot, Americans who just happen to have had a Jewish upbringing. But this generation between, this unlovely spiky bunch that climbed with the rest of middle-class America out of the Depression into a pot of prosperity, is the least liked by literary Jews. In a Clifford Odets play they were the rotters. The rent collectors. Next Jerome Weidman carved them up and then along came Budd Schulberg and Irwin Shaw. In fact, in all this time only Herman Wouk, armed with but a slingshot of cliches, has come to their defense. More of an embarrassment, I’d say, than a shield.
Well now, here they are at Grossinger’s, sitting ducks for satire. Manna for sociologists. Here they are, breathless, but at play, so to speak, suffering sour stomach and cancer scares, one Israeli bond drive after another, unmarriageable daughters and sons gone off to help the Negroes overcome in Mississippi. Grossinger’s is their dream of plenty realized, but if you find it funny, larger than life, then so do the regulars. In fact, there is no deflating remark I could make about minks or matchmaking that has not already been made by visiting comedians or guests. Furthermore for an innocent goy to even think some of the things said at Grossinger’s would be to invite the wrath of the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League.
At Grossinger’s, guests are offered the traditional foods, but in superabundance, which may not have been the case for many of them in the early years. Here, too, are the big TV comics, only this is their real audience and they appreciate it. They reveal the authentic joke behind the bland story they had to tell on TV because Yiddish punchlines do not make for happy Nielsen ratings.
The “ole swimmin’ hole,” as one Catskill ad says, was never like this. Or, to quote from an ad for Kutsher’s Country Club: “You wouldn’t have liked The Garden of Eden anyway—it didn’t have a golf course. Kutsher’s, on the other hand . . .” There are all the knishes a man can eat and, at Brown’s Hotel, they are made more palatable by being called “Roulade of Fresh Chicken Livers.” In the same spirit, the familiar chicken soup with lockschen has been reborn as “essence of chicken broth with fine noodles” on yet another menu.
The food at Grossinger’s, the best I ate in the Catskills, is delicious if you like traditional kosher cooking. But entering the vast dining room, which seats some 1,600 guests, creates an agonizing moment for singles. “The older men want young girls,” David Geivel, the headwaiter, told me, “and the girls want presentable men. They want to line up a date for New York, where they sit alone all week. They’ve only got two days, you know, so they’ve got to make it fast. After each meal they’re always wanting to switch tables. The standard complaint from the men runs . . . ‘Even when the girls are talking to me, they’re looking over my shoulder to the dentist at the next table. Why should I ask her for a date, such an eye-roamer.'”
I picked up a copy of the daily Tattler at my table and saw how, given one bewitching trip through the hotel Gestetner, the painfully shy old maid and the flat-chested girl and the good-natured lump were transformed into “sparkling, captivating” Barbara; Ida, “the fun-loving frolicker”; and Miriam, “a charm-laden lass who makes a visit to table 20F a must.” I also noted that among other “typewriter boys” who had stayed at “the G.” there were Paddy Chayefsky and Paul Gallico. Dore Schary was a former editor of the Tattler and Shelley Winters, Betty Garrett, and Robert Alda had all once worked on the special staff. Students from all over the United States still compete for jobs at the hotel. They can clear as much as $150 a week and, as they say at the G., be nice to your busboy, next year when he graduates he may treat your ulcer. My companions at the table included two forlorn bachelors, a teenager with a flirtatious aunt, and a bejeweled and wizened widow in her sixties. “I hate to waste all this food,” the widow said, “it’s such a crime. My dog should be here, he’d have a wonderful time.”
“Where is he?”
“Dead,” she said, false eyelashes fluttering, just as the loudspeaker crackled and the get-together for singles was announced. “Single people only, please.”
The teenager turned on her aunt. “Are you going to dance with Ray again?”
“Why not? He’s excellent.”
“Sure, sure. Only he’s a faigele.“ (A homosexual.)
“Did you see the girl in the Mexican squaw blanket? She told her mother, ‘I’m going to the singles. If I don’t come back to the room tonight, you’ll know I’m engaged.’ What an optimist!”
The singles get-together was thinly attended. A disaster. Bachelors looked in, muttered, pulled faces, and departed in pairs. The ladies in their finery were abandoned in the vast ballroom to the flatteries of staff members, twisting in turn with the hairdresser and the dance teacher, each of whom had an eye for tomorrow’s trade. My truculent friend of the afternoon had resumed his station at the bar. “Hey,” he said, turning on a “G-man” (a staff member), “where’d you get all those dogs? You got a contract with New York City maybe, they send you all the losers?”
The G-man, his manner reverent, told me that this bar was the very place where Eddie Cantor had discovered Eddie Fisher, who was then just another unknown singing with the band. “If you had told me in those days that Fisher would get within even ten feet of Elizabeth Taylor—” He stopped short, overcome. “The rest,” he said, “is history.”
Ladies began to file into the Terrace Room, the husbands trailing after them, with the mink stoles now slung nonchalantly over their arms. Another All-Star Friday Nite Revue had finished in the Playhouse.
“What was it like?” somebody asked.
“Aw. It goes with the gefilte fish.”
Now the spotlight was turned on the Prentice Minner Four. Minner, a talented and militant Negro, began with a rousing civil rights song. He sang, “From San Francisco to New York Island, this is your land and mine.”
“Do you know ‘Shadrack’?” somebody called out.
“‘Old Man River’?”
“What about ‘Tzena Tzena’?”
Minner compromised. He sang “Tzena Tzena,” a hora, but with new lyrics. CORE lyrics.
A G-man went over to talk to my truculent friend at the bar. “You can’t sit down at a table,” he said, “and say to a lady you’ve just met that she’s, urn, well stacked. It’s not refined,” He was told he would have to change his table again.
“All right. O.K. I like women. So that makes me a louse.”
I retired early, with my G. fact sheets. More than 700,000 gallons of water, I read, are required to fill the outdoor pool. G. dancingmasters, Tony and Lucille, introduced the mambo to this country. Henry Cabot Lodge has, as they say, graced the G. roster. So has Robert Kennedy. Others I might have rubbed shoulders with are Baron Edmond de Rothschild and Rocky Marciano. It was Damon Runyon who first called Grossinger’s “Lindy’s with trees.” Nine world boxing champions have trained for title bouts at the hotel. Barney Ross, who was surely the first Orthodox Jew to become lightweight champion, “scrupulously abjured the general frolicsome air that pervaded his camp” in 1934. Not so goy-boy Ingemar Johansson, the last champ to train at Grossinger’s.
In the morning I decided to forgo the recommended early riser’s appetizer, a baked Idaho potato; I also passed up herring baked and fried, waffles and watermelon, blueberries, strawberries, bagels and lox, and French toast. I settled for orange juice and coffee and slipped outside for a fast cigarette. (Smoking is forbidden on the Sabbath, from sunset Friday to sundown Saturday, in the dining room and the main lobbies.) Lou Goldstein, Director of Daytime Social Activities, was running his famous game of Simon Says on the terrace. There were at least a hundred eager players and twice as many hecklers. “Simon says, put up your hands. Simon says, bend forward from the waist. The waist, lady. You got one? Oi. That’s bending? What’s your name?”
“Mn Mn,” through buttoned lips.
“All right. Simon says, what’s your name?”
“Now that’s a good Jewish name. The names they have these days: Desiree, Drexel. Where are you from?”
A man cupped his hands to his mouth and called out, “Tell us the one about the two goyim.”
“We don’t use that word here. There are people of every faith at Grossinger’s. In fact, we get all kinds here. (All right, lady, sit down. We saw the outfit.) Last year a lady stands here and I say to her, What do you think of sex? Sex, she says, it’s a fine department store.” Goldstein announced a horseshoe toss for the men, but there were no takers. “Listen here,” he said, “at Grossinger’s you don’t work, You toss the horseshoe but a member of our staff picks it up. Also you throw downhill. All right, athletes, follow me.”
I stayed behind for a demonstration on how to apply makeup. A volunteer was called for, a plump matron stepped forward, and was helped onto a makeshift platform by the beautician. “Now,” he began, “I know that some of you are worried about the expression lines round your mouth. Well, this putty if applied correctly will fill all the crevices . There, notice the difference on the right side of the lady’s face?”
“I’m sure the ladies in the first four rows can notice.”
Grossinger’s has everything—and a myth. The myth of Jennie, LIVING SYMBOL “HOTEL WITH A HEART,“ as a typical Grossinger News headline runs. There are photographs everywhere of Jennie with celebrities. “A local landmark,” says a Grossinger’s brochure, “is the famous smile of the beloved Jennie.” A romantic though mediocre oil painting of Jennie hangs in the main lobby. There has been a song called “Jennie” and she has appeared on This Is Your Life, an occasion so thrilling that as a special treat on rainy days guests are sometimes allowed to watch a rerun of the tape. But Jennie, now in her seventies, can no longer personally bless all the honeymoon couples who come to the hotel. Neither can she “drift serenely” through the vast dining room as often as she used to, and so a younger lady, Mrs. Sylvia Jacobs, now fills many of Jennie’s offices. Mrs. Jacobs, in charge of Guest Relations, is seldom caught without a smile. “Jennie,” she told me, “loves all human beings, regardless of race, color, or creed. Nobody else has her vision and charm. She personifies the grace and dignity of a great lady.”
Jennie herself picked Mrs. Jacobs to succeed her as hostess at the G.
“God, I think, gives people certain gifts—God-given things like a voice,” Mrs. Jacobs said. “Well, I was born into this business. In fifty years I am the one who comes closest to personifying the vision of Jennie Grossinger. The proof of the pudding is my identification here.” Just in case further proof was required, Mrs. Jacobs showed me letters from guests, tributes to her matchmaking and joy-spreading powers. You are, one letter testified, T-E-R-R-I-F-I-C. You have an atomic personality. “There’s tradition,” she said, “and natural beauty and panoramic views in abundance here. We don’t need Milton Berle. At Grossinger’s, a seventy-five dollar a week stenographer can rub shoulders with a millionaire. This is an important facet of our activities, you know.”
“Do you deal with many complaints?” I asked.
Mrs. Jacobs melted me with a smile. “A complaint isn’t a problem—it’s a challenge. I thank people for their complaints.”
Mrs. Jacobs took me on a tour of Jennie’s house, Joy Cottage, which is next door to Millionaire’s Cottage and across the road from Pop’s Cottage. A signed photograph of Chaim Weizmann, first president of Israel, rested on the piano, and a photograph of Jack Benny, also autographed, stood on the table alongside. One wall was covered from ceiling to floor with plaques. Interfaith awards and womanof-the-year citations, including The Noble Woman of the Year Award from the Baltimore Noble Ladies’ Aid Society. There was also a Certificate of Honor from Wisdom magazine. “Jennie,” Mrs. Jacobs said, “is such a modest woman. She is always studying, an hour a day, and if she meets a woman with a degree she is simply overcome . . .” Jennie has only one degree of her own: an honorary Doctor of Humanities awarded to her by Wilberforce University, Ohio, in 1959. “I’ve never seen Jennie so moved,” Mrs. Jacobs said, “as when she was awarded that degree.”
Mrs. Jacobs offered me a box of cookies to sustain me for my fifteen-minute drive to “over there”—dorten, as they say in Yiddish—the Concord.
If Jennie Grossinger is the Dr. Schweitzer of the Catskills, then Arthur Winarick must be counted its Dr. Strangelove. Winarick, once a barber, made his fortune with Jerris Hair Tonic, acquired the Concord for $10,000 in 1935, and is still, as they say, its guiding genius. He is in his seventies. On first meeting I was foolish enough to ask him if he had ever been to any of Europe’s luxury resorts. “Garages with drapes,” he said. “Warehouses.”
A guest intruded; he wore a baseball cap with sunglasses fastened to the peak. “What’s the matter, Winarick, you only put up one new building this year?”
One of them is that “exciting new sno-time rendezvous,” King Arthur’s Court, “where every boy is a Galahad or a Lancelot and every damsel a Guinevere or a fair Elaine.” Winarick, an obsessive builder, once asked comedian Zero Mostel, “What else can I do? What more can I add?”
“An indoor jungle, Arthur. Hunting for tigers under glass. On shabus the hunters could wear yarmulkas.” (Skullcaps.)
It is unlikely, however, that anyone at the Concord would ever wear a skullcap, for to drive from the G. to dorten is to leap a Jewish generation; it is to quit a haimishe (homey) place, however schmaltzy, for chrome and concrete. The sweet though professional people-lovers of one hotel yield to the computer-like efficiency of another. The Concord, for instance, also has a problem with singles, but I would guess that there is less table-changing: Singles and marrieds, youngs and olds, are identified by different-colored pins plugged into a war plan of the dining room.
The Concord is the largest and most opulent of the Catskill resorts. “Today,” Walter Winchell recently wrote, “it does 30 million Bux a year.” It’s a fantastic place. A luxury liner permanently in dry dock. Nine stories high with an enormous lobby, a sweep of red-carpeted stairway, and endless corridors leading here, there, and everywhere, the Concord can cope with 2,500 guests who can, I’m assured, consume 9,000 latkes and ten tons of meat a day. Ornate chandeliers drip from the ceiling of the main lobby. The largest of the hotel’s three nightclubs, the Imperial Room, seats 2,500 people. But it is dangerous to attempt a physical description of the hotel. For even as I checked in, the main dining room was making way for a still larger one, and it is just possible that since I left, the five interconnecting convention halls have been opened up and converted into an indoor spring training camp for the Mets. Nothing’s impossible. “Years ago,” a staff member told me, “a guest told Winarick, ‘You call this a room, at home I have a toilet nicer than such a room.’ And Winarick saw that he was right and began to build. ‘We’re going to give them city living in the country,’ he said. Look at it this way. Everybody has the sun. Where do we go from there?”
Where they went was to build three golf courses, the last with eighteen holes; hire five orchestras and initiate a big-name nightclub policy (Milton Berle, Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, etc.); install a resident graphologist in one lobby (“Larry Hilton needs no introduction for his humorous Chalk-talks. . . .”) and a security officer, with revolver and bullet belt, to sit tall on his air-cushion before the barred vault in another; hire the most in lifeguards, Director of Water Activities Buster Crabbe (“This magnificent outdoor pool,” Crabbe recently wrote, “makes all other pools look like the swimming hole I used to take Jane and the chimps to….”); buy a machine, the first in the Catskills, to spew artificial and multi-colored snow on the ski runs (“We had to cut out the colored stuff, some people were allergic to it.”); and construct a shopping arcade, known as Little Fifth Avenue, in the lower lobby.
Mac Kinsbrunner, the genial resident manager, took me on a tour beginning with the shopping arcade. A sign read:
SHOW YOUR TALENT
Everyone’s Doing It
PAINT A PICTURE YOURSELF
The Spin Art Shop
5 x 7 oil painting
Only Non Allergic Paints Used
Next door, Tony and Marcia promised you could walk in and dance out doing the twist or the bossa nova or pachanga or cha cha.
“We’ve got five million bucks worth of stuff under construction here right now. People don’t come to the mountains for a rest any more,” Kinsbrunner said, “they want tummel.”
Tummel in Yiddish means “noise,” and the old-time nonstop Catskill comics were known as tummlers, or “noisemakers.”
“In the old days, you know, we used to go in for calisthenics, but no more. People are older. Golf, O.K., but—well, I’ll tell you something—in these hotels we cater to what I call food-coholics. Anyway, I used to run it—the calisthenics —one day I’m illustrating the pump, the bicycle pump exercise for fat people—you know, in-out, in-out—zoom—her guts come spilling out. A fat lady. Right out. There went one year’s profits, no more calisthenics.”
We went to take a look at the health club. THRU THESE PORTALS, a sign read, Pass The Cleanest People In The World. “I had that put up,” Kinsbrunner said. “I used to be a schoolteacher.” Another sign read:
FENCE FOR FUN
Mons. Octave Ponchez
Develop Poise—Grace—Physical Fitness
In the club for singles, Kinsbrunner said, “Sure they’re trouble. If a single doesn’t hook up here, she goes back to New York and says the food was bad. She doesn’t say she’s a dog. Me, I always tell them you should have been here last weekend. Boy.”
The Concord, indeed most of the Catskill resorts, now do a considerable out-of-season convention business. While I was staying at the hotel a group of insurance agents and their wives, coming from just about every state in the union, were whooping it up. Their theme-sign read:
ALL THAT GLITTERS
IS NOT GOLD
Groups representing different sales areas got into gay costumes to march into the dining room for dinner. The men wore cardboard moustaches and Panama hats at rakish angles, and their wives wiggled shyly in hula skirts. Once inside the dining room they all rose to sing a punchy sales song to the tune of “Mac the Knife,” from The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. It began, “We’re behind you/ Old Jack Regan/ To make Mutual number one. . . .” Then they bowed their heads in prayer for the company and held up lit sparklers for the singing of the national anthem.
The Concord is surrounded by a wire fence. It employs some thirty security men. But Mac Kinsbrunner, for one, is in favor of allowing outsiders to stroll through the hotel on Sundays. “Lots of them,” he told me, “can’t afford the Concord yet. People come up in the world, they want to show it, you know. They want other people to know they can afford it here. So let them come and look. It gives them something to work toward, something to look up to.”
The Concord must loom tallest from any one of a thousand kochaleins (literally, “cook-alone’s”) and bungalow colonies that still operate in Sullivan County. Like Itzik’s Rooms or the Bon-Repos or Altman’s Cottages. Altman’s is run by Ephraim Weisse, a most engaging man, a refugee, who has survived four concentration camps. “The air is the only thing that’s good in the Catskills,” Ephraim said. “Business? It’s murder. I need this bungalow colony like I need a hole in the head,” He shrugged, grinning. “I survived Hitler, I’ll outlast the Catskills.”
Other large hotels, not as celebrated as Grossinger’s or the Concord, tend to specialize. The Raleigh, for instance, has five bands and goes in for young couples. “LIVE ‘LA DOLCE VITA’ ” (the sweet life), the ads run, “AT THE RALEIGH.” “We got the young swingers here,” the proprietor told me.
Brown’s, another opulent place, is more of a family hotel. Jerry Lewis was once on their social staff, and he still figures in most of their advertisements. Brown’s is very publicity-conscious. Instead of playing Simon Says or the Concord variation, Simon Sez, they play Brown’s Says. In fact, as I entered the hotel lobby a member of the social staff was entertaining a group of ladies. “The name of the game,” he called out, “is not bingo. It’s BROWN’S. You win, you yell out BROWN’S.”
Mrs. Brown told me that many distinguished people had stayed at her hotel. “Among them, Jayne Mansfield and Mr. Haggerty.” Bernie Miller, tummler-in-residence, took me to see the hotel’s pride, the Jerry Lewis Theatre-Club. “Lots of big stars were embryos here,” he said.
Of all the hotels I visited in the Catskills, only The Laurels does not serve kosher food and is actually built on a lake. Sackett Lake, But, oddly enough, neither the dining room nor the most expensive bedrooms overlook the lake, and, as at the other leading resorts, there are pools inside and out, a skating rink, a health club, and a nightclub or two. “People won’t make their own fun any more,” said Arlene Damen, the young lady who runs the hotel with her husband. “Years ago, the young people here used to go in for midnight swims, now they’re afraid it might ruin their hairdos. Today nobody lives like it’s the mountains.”
Finally, two lingering memories of the Sullivan County Catskills.
As I left The Laurels, I actually saw a young couple lying under a sun lamp by the heated indoor pool on a day that was nice enough for swimming in the lake outside the picture window.
At Brown’s, where THERE’S MORE OF EVERYTHING, a considerable number of guests ignored the endless run of facilities to sit on the balcony that overlooked the highway and watch the cars go by, the people come and go. Obviously, there’s still nothing like the front-door stoop as long as passersby know that you don’t have to sit there, that you can afford everything inside. ◊