Memoirville

EXCERPT: Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

By Kim Brittingham

In 1945, Marjorie Hart and Marty Garrett arrived by train to experience a summer of glamour in The Big City, their pert blond heads filled with Café society, Gershwin, handsome midshipmen and dream jobs in swank Fifth Avenue department stores. Hart, now 83, has just published her memoir, Summer at Tiffany. Read an interview with her here. Below, read how it all began…Summer at Tiffany

From the top deck of the bus, Marty and I were mesmerized by Fifth Avenue as we watched glamorous stores spring up like pages out of Mademoiselle. Bergdorf Goodman. Bonwit Teller. Cartier. De Pinna. Saks Fifth Avenue. Peck & Peck. We knew all of the stores even if we had never been through any of their doors—or even seen a store bigger than Younkers in Des Moines!

When the Empire State Building loomed ahead, we were speechless. I felt like a princess on a Fourth of July float, looking at my kingdom, which in this case was a landscape of high-fashion show windows, screeching traffic, and the tallest building in the world.

We couldn’t stop to sightsee. We were looking for a job.

Marty was holding a Manhattan map in her lap, while I held on to my hat.

“Get ready.” She pointed. “Thirty-eighth Street is coming up!”

We barely made it down the narrow circular stairs before the bus took off again. In my eagerness to cross the street, I stepped into the path of a Checker Cab. A man pulled me back and Marty screamed. My heart lurched as I tried to catch my breath. The light changed from red to green, red to green, before I found the courage to step off the curb and cross the street.

I felt calmer as we entered Lord & Taylor. It was a historic moment. We could be working behind one of their glistening counters as early as tomorrow. In a trance, I followed the scent of Chanel No. 5 past the cosmetics counters and the racks of two-piece bathing suits, Hawaiian dresses, and turbans with sparkling rhinestone clips. By the time we reached the elevator, I had mentally spent my first paycheck.

Opening the door to the employment office, I stared in disbelief. Marty was wide-eyed. There, cramped into a vestibule with overflowing ashtrays, were over thirty girls waiting for applications, some crouched on the floor. Included in that group were a Powers model type in a sleeveless pink linen dress; a pert brunette teetering on four-inch white ankle-strap heels; and two elegant girls with white shantung jackets. Looking at us, they smiled, giggled, and laughed. My face flamed as we squeezed into the line.

We were garbed in black. Totally. Black dresses, shoes, and cartwheel hats. Our inspired outfit had been copied from a glossy ad in Vogue, but that sweltering day, we looked like characters out of a Tolstoy tragedy.

Marty and I gave each other The Look. With heads up, we peeled off our white gloves to fill out our applications, and smiled back at the girls. Little did they know the kind of pull we had.

The harried manager didn’t bother to look up when we handed our applications in.

“Come back next fall,” she said crisply.

Next fall? She’s dismissing us without reading our applications? She doesn’t know our connections? I was furious! We’d counted on this job. We needed it for the summer. Now.

“Excuse me,” I said. “We have friends working here”—my voice was so tight, I scarcely recognized the anger in it—”and an important reference—”

She shook her head, filing our applications without glancing at them. Or us.

“Don’t worry, Marjorie, this isn’t the only big deal in town,” Marty said on the way out.

Beads of sweat trickled down my face. We trudged in and out of a dozen stores, waiting in lines and filling out applications. When we reached Saks Fifth Avenue the management only shooed us away. I couldn’t believe it! What was this wild rumor that finding a job in Manhattan was easy?

It had all started a month ago, when three of our sorority sisters had landed fabulous jobs at Lord & Taylor. Lord & Taylor! The day they received the letters, they shrieked and celebrated the news all over the Kappa house until our housemother put the kibosh on the wild conga line they had started.

“Come along,” Anita had urged every Kappa. “Getting a summer job in Manhattan is a cinch!”

The next thing we knew, every girl at the University of Iowa wanted a train ticket for the East Coast to find a high-fashion job.

“We can get on a train for New York, too,” Marty said in our dorm room.

“New York City?” She couldn’t be serious. Summer school was beginning in a few weeks and I was sure that her savings were as meager as my own.

“You bet,” she said, pitching our summer schedule in the wastebasket. “All we have to do is collect Coke bottles—there’s tons around the campus. Enough for a couple train tickets.” Gesturing with her cigarette, she added, “Think of the fun we’ll have—Broadway shows . . . nightclubs . . . and those beaches!”

That struck a chord. I’d never been east of the Mississippi River and had always wanted to see the ocean. Remembering the last stifling Iowa City summer that only a row of corn could love and the dim social life at Whetstone’s Drug Store—now that nearly every eligible man was either fighting in the Pacific or waiting to be shipped out—it wasn’t difficult to start collecting those empty Coke bottles. Leave it to Marty. Scooping up those bottles was fun, frenzied, and frantic. All we needed was that job.

Now, standing outside of Saks Fifth Avenue, Marty shrugged. I was scared. We climbed back on the next bus. The upper deck was crammed with servicemen, shoppers, and kids with ice cream cones dripping from the blazing June sun.

Two navy lieutenants tried to stir up a breeze with a newspaper while they debated the merits of President Truman. I fanned myself with my hat. A red-hot blister forced me to take off my shoe.

Marty was undaunted. Sitting close to the rail, she studied each block looking for the next strategy like some four-star general. The stores were becoming smaller, more exclusive, and more unlikely. Hattie Carnegie? Good heavens.

The foregoing is excerpted from Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

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