Old School Reporting At Its Finest

by J. J. HUNSECKER · January 9, 2008

sweetsmellofsuccess

[Sidney Falco and J.J. Hunsecker from "Sweet Smell of Success" 1957]

Note from Guestofaguest: These days, the media network has evolved into a beastly machine. It's a world where our celebrities have lost their class, and we have lost our minds...getting caught up in blogging about everything from Dr. Phil's advice to Britney, to what we had for lunch. We often long for the days of clean and poignant journalism, the stuff that films were made on. Which is why, we are thrilled to introduce the newest member of our team who is set on reclaiming a lost art, in keeping with the thriving spirit of this town, J.J. Hunsecker:

"I love this dirty town."

...such was the sentiment of J.J. Hunsecker, the Walter Winchellesque columnist, who could make you or break you with the ink of his typewriter, in the film noir retro-classic, Sweet Smell of Success, 1957. This film, starring Burt Lancaster as the ruthless J.J. Hunsecker, alongside the spineless publicist Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), captured the grit and murky underworld of New York entertainment like no other. With it's stylized dialogue and monochrome production quality, Sweet Smell of Success has become a favorite of film buffs and critics alike. While much has changed in our little town, such as its literal and figurative cleanliness (thanks to Rudy Giulliani's "Broken Windows" crime-fighting strategy), and the paradigm shit of consolidated columnist power in favor of populist bloggers (i.e. Gawker, etc.), one thing hasn't changed; how much I love it.

el morocco

[A night out at El Morocco]

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose - The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The 1940's and 50's saw the heyday of Manhattan nightspots both in terms of "cafe society" and importance. Back then, Midtown was Downtown, the tony boites of the day were the Stork Club (3 East 53rd Street), El Morocco (2nd Avenue and 54 street), and the 21 Club, (21 West 52nd), all within walking distance of each other. Manhattan debs with surnames of Astor and Windsor, along with the likes of Errol Flynn, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra frequented these haute monde establishments, which without the globalizing tools of the digital age, were the confluence points of the columnists and their subjects. The finite media real-estate made every sentence that much more coveted and the sentence writer that much more powerful. A night out would include the mendicant press agent, embodied by Tony Curtis, siddling up to the indelible image of columnists sitting at round tables riddled with rotary phones at the Algonquin, upstarts trying to dazzle with tasteful or tasteless peacockery, a star spawning the headline "splitsville," or the decolletage of an heiress spelling "scandalous." At one time, Walter Winchell, the grandfather of gossip, was the highest paid man in America. Alas, the pen was mightier than the wallet. Journalists begot patrons, and not vice versa.

Long gone are the days where the nightspot was the crossroads of so many walks of life and the provider of tangible utility. No longer is media the cruel zero-sum game it once was, making and breaking those that graced its pages. Ink and paper are plentiful and so are its artisans. The circularity of nightlife has gone counter-clockwise with the patron or star breeding the paparazzi. The game has evolved, spread out, power structures have shifted, but the elements and end goals are still the same. The pulse of our town is throbbing, the spirit has never waned, and New York and its New Yorkers are still exemplars for the world. I love this town, dirty or not, and I love this game. So, as I enter modernity and embrace the blogosphere, I say, "Match me, Guest of a Guest."

[All Posts by J.J. Hunsecker]