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PUBLISHED: 6:05 PM on Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Depression was swell for people in movies
These are hard times, my friend, when news commentators are comparing our dire economic times to the Great Depression.

Do you remember the Depression, which lasted roughly from the 1929 stock market crash until World War II? I wasn't there myself, but lately I've been watching lots of Hollywood movies made during the 1930s.

You know, it didn't look so bad back then, and I hardly think Tinseltown would lie to us.

During the Depression, for instance, everyone resided in huge apartments in New York City, or else in huge hotels in New York City. I've never been able to stay more than one night in a motel, but our forebears lived in hotels!

Their domiciles had one-acre rooms, really tall doors and dumbwaiters (whatever those were).

Seventy years ago, folks never cooked. They dined in fine restaurants or else ordered room service (whatever that was). Most of them employed cooks.

Not just cooks, you understand, but butlers, maids, chauffeurs and dog walkers. (My parents told me of their "hard times" but conveniently left out any mention of servants.)

When the men tired of their digs, they found solace at "the club." I'm not sure what sort of club it was, but it had lots of fat leather chairs occupied by old men drinking brandy, smoking cigars and talking finance.

The younger men sported pencil-thin mustaches and hair plastered down with the grease from one medium-size bear.

Young or old, they wore smoking jackets (whatever those were) at home and tuxedos everywhere else.

The women, lacking clubs, kept busy partying, flirting and tossing another diamond or mink into the shopping cart.

Everyone dressed for dinner back then; I don't understand that, because they dressed up even when they were puttering around the hotel on a rainy day.

Their diet consisted of martinis and caviar, which they apparently didn't realize was fish eggs. I've never had a martini, but then, I've never lived through a depression; that's good, because I hear they're nasty (martinis, not depressions).

Our ancestors never seemed to have parents or children, just rich uncles and aunts who kept them financially viable. That was good, because they never worked. That's why the unemployment rate was so high.

In lieu of work, they inhabited nightclubs, where orchestras played, singers sang and herds of trained girls danced in intricate patterns. In the films I've seen, the society crowd rubbed shoulders with mobsters, politicians, actors and boxers.

After too many martinis and parties, they all would retire to the country for the weekend at a friend's estate. ("Country," by the way, meant more parties and tennis, not crops and cows.)

Best of all, no one during the Depression ever had to push an elevator button to get from their hotel to their limousine. Get this: A young man in uniform would ask what floor they wanted -- and he would push the button!

That one luxury, more than anything, makes me envy the secret life my parents apparently lived but never told me about. Thank goodness Hollywood was there to document it.

Now, each time I step into an elevator and press "lobby," I realize how much we missed out on. If the economy keeps going the way it has been, though, perhaps we'll get to experience firsthand our own "Great Depression."


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