Recalling a Summer at Tiffany
LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
In New York City, during the summer of 1945, a B-25 aircraft crashed into the Empire State Building. General Dwight Eisenhower celebrated the allied victory over the Nazis in Europe with the parade down Fifth Avenue. And some two million people gathered in Times Square to celebrate the end of the Second World War after the Japanese surrendered. Marjorie Hart says it was the best summer of her life.
She was Marjorie Jacobson then and with her best friend, Marty Garret(ph), traveled by train from Iowa to Manhattan to work as shop girls. They were both hired to be pages at Tiffany and Co., the first women to have those jobs at the famous jewelry store. Marjorie is 83 now and has written a memoir about that time called "Summer at Tiffany" and she joins us from member station KPBS in San Diego. Welcome to the program.
Ms. MARJORIE HART (Author, "Summer at Tiffany"): Thank you.
HANSEN: What were your duties as pages? Now you were, first of all, the first women to actually have that job on the floor. What were your duties?
Ms. HART: Well, when they salesman would wrap on the counter with their diamond ring, we would go to the salesman, he would hand us one of the black velvet cases, and from there, we would be told whether it should go to shipping or to be repaired or maybe a check needed to be verified. And we were just actually, just little errand girls. The young men that had had the position have been drafted so they were, you might say, pageless when we came in.
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HANSEN: Tell us about the pearls in the elevator episode?
Ms. HART: Well, of course, that story is one of my grandchildren's favorite stories. It was very scary to me at that time. Probably not anymore, but at that time they had a secret elevator that went to a pearl and diamond room. I was given this case and taught how to use this automatic elevator. At that time, most elevators were run by elevator operators. But this one was a private automatic elevator that all you had to do was press a button. So in the elevator, I decided to look in the black velvet case. And when I snapped it open, lose pearls fell all over the floor and they bounced around like popcorn.
HANSEN: And you ended up riding that elevator up and down three times as you tried to find all the pearls?
Ms. HART: Oh at least, and then, of course the scariest part is, as you know, when you go into an elevator, that there's this long narrow crevice and you don't know what is underneath that, but certainly room for these precious pearls.
HANSEN: As I was reading it, I'm imagining you, you know, almost sprawled on the floor of the elevator with your leg covering, you know, the crevice, trying to keep those pearls out.
Ms. HART: That's right.
HANSEN: And you keep pushing the buttons so no one else would get in. You recovered all of the pearls though?
Ms. HART: I recovered them all thank heavens. And also, when the door automatically opened, nobody was waiting on the other side. That was the other part of it.
HANSEN: How did you live? I mean, you were making what, $20 a week at Tiffany's?
Ms. HART: That's right, $20 a week. And our apartment swallowed up most of it. We had a lovely leased apartment out by Columbia University. And by the time we paid our rent and our electric bill, we had enough money to buy some Nestle chocolate milk, which we had morning and night. And then we'd go to the Automat and get an egg salad sandwich that was our dinner you might say.
HANSEN: What are your memories of VJ Day in Times Square?
Ms. HART: I guess that the huge, huge crowds and the excitement. It was a very powerful experience because it was all of a sudden it seemed like everybody around you had experienced so much of the war with you that you felt like they were a good friend of yours or a neighbor or someone that you had known. It was almost like a bonding with millions of people.
And of course, waiting for the Times Square Zipper to come on with final news that Truman have received the surrender. It was what everyone was anticipating. And it was a spectacular moment certainly in my life. And I think everybody else's.
HANSEN: So why do you call this the best summer of a very long life?
Ms. HART: I guess I call it the best summer because every moment was undoubtedly embedded in my mind. And the wonder of - for certainly working at Tiffany's. And it was an incredible experience every single day.
HANSEN: Marjorie Hart, she's the former chairman of the fine arts department of the University of San Diego. She's a professional cellist, and she's also author of the book, "Summer at Tiffany" published by William Morrow. She joined us from the studios of member station KPBS in San Diego.
Mrs. Hart, thanks for the memories.
Ms. HART: Thank you for having me. I've enjoyed it.
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