2016-10-19 / Star Journal

Queens And The Roaring ’20s Are In Full Swing

The Greater Astoria Historical Society presents pages from the Long Island Star Journal by Dan McDonald

Welcome to October 1927!

The month was October, 1927, and the Roaring Twenties were in full swing in Queens. Bootleg liquor flowed, and flapper dresses and the new “talkies” hitting the movie houses were all the rage. While the talking picture, “The Jazz Singer.” was released that month, patrons at The Jackson in Jackson Heights contented themselves with the romantic drama “Don Juan,” which starred John Barrymore, and was the first feature length film with a synchronized soundtrack. Moviegoers at the Astoria Grand Theatre, meanwhile, took in the German science fiction epic, “Metropolis” or “Mockery,” a film about the Russian Revolution starring Lon Chaney.

Back in the good old days, many stars of the silver screen in fact called Queens home. While filming a comedy titled “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” out in Hollywood that month, Bayside resident W.C. Fields was injured while performing a chase scene on a bicycle. Although he fractured a vertebra running his bicycle into a truck while looking back at his pursuer, the comic actor made a full recovery and the film was released in March of the following year.

W.C. Fields was by no means the only celebrity to call our borough home back then. Ernie Hare, who achieved radio fame singing novelty tunes as one of The Happiness Boys, threw a birthday party for his lovely daughter Marilyn at his home in Flushing that month. The proud father amused his little girl and her guests with a parody of the song, “Johnny Get Your Gun,” which he sang on the radio the week before. Billy Jones, the other Happiness Boy, was among the guests and would perform on radio with Marilyn after her father passed away 12 years later. The birthday girl herself achieved fleeting fame as a Hollywood actress in the 1940s, and later appeared in bit parts on TV shows including “My Three Sons.”

Elmhurst residents Nina Pritchard and Eleanor Norton had enough of fame and glamour that October after returning home following a 15-year world tour. The vaudeville actresses took their act on the open road back in 1912, and during their travels they glimpsed the opulent splendor of the Russian Tsar’s court in St.

Petersburg, entertained war-weary troops fresh from the trenches in the

Great War and performed for the Prince of Wales during a visit to South Africa.

After barely escaping a riot in Rio de

Janiero, Brazil, the two globetrotters seemed ready to settle down and perform locally in Brooklyn and Queens.

One woman in Queens not quite ready to settle down that month was the aviatrix Frances Grayson. Following three unsuccessful attempts to cross the Atlantic Ocean with her crew in The Dawn, her College Point-built Sikorsky aircraft, Mrs. Grayson returned to her apartment in Forest Hills to ponder her next moves. Speaking to a reporter from the Daily Star, she remarked with determination “I’m simply back, and for the present I am going to continue with some tests on The Dawn. It has behaved very well, but there are certain things about the ship which we must learn from Mr. Sikorsky.” Frances Wilson Grayson, niece of former President Woodrow Wilson, was never to complete her pioneering journey. Sometime after taking off from Curtiss Field on Long Island on December 23rd that year, her crew radioed that they were in trouble. They never arrived at their first stop in Newfoundland, Canada.

That’s the way it was October 1927!

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