Do you remember the best summer of your life? New York City, 1945. Marjorie Jacobson and her best friend, Marty Garrett, arrive fresh from the Kappa house at the University of Iowa hoping to find summer positions as shopgirls. Turned away from the top department stores, they miraculously find jobs as pages at Tiffany & Co., becoming the first women to ever work on the sales floor—a diamond-filled day job replete with Tiffany blue shirtwaist dresses from Bonwit Teller's—and the envy of all their friends.Hart takes us back to the magical time when she and Marty rubbed elbows with the rich and famous; pinched pennies to eat at the Automat; experienced nightlife at La Martinique; and danced away their weekends with dashing midshipmen. Between being dazzled by Judy Garland's honeymoon visit to Tiffany, celebrating VJ Day in Times Square, and mingling with Café Society, she fell in love, learned unforgettable lessons, made important decisions that would change her future, and created the remarkable memories she now shares with all of us.
NYC, 1945: Author Marjorie Hart (then Marjorie Jacobson) and friend / sorority sister Martha "Marty" Garrett were just a couple of young Iowa girls who jumped headfirst into life in the Big Apple, hoping to find exciting positions in upscale department stores. They thought they'd be guaranteed work at Lord & Taylor because three other sorority sisters were hired on there, but on arrival Marjorie and Marty were told there would be nothing for them until the fall season. Desparately needing work, they hit the pavement, inquring at a number of other stores, only to be repeatedly turned away. Then that monumental moment came: Marty, feeling bold, suggested they see what Tiffany & Co. department store had to offer...even though at that time, sales floor positions were held exclusively by men. I mean, after being turned down so many times in one day, what's one more no, right?
It turns out the ladies picked a fortuitous time to apply for work there. Because of World War II, the store was short on pages, the guys that ran orders back and forth between the sales floors and the repairs and shipping departments. It was decided by management that day that Marjorie and Marty would become the first women ever to hold sales floor positions with the iconic jewelry and home goods retailer.
In this memoir, Marjorie recalls all the most memorable scenes of that glorious summer: daily lunches with Marty at the Automat, evenings at the Stork Club, flirting with military men at dances. Hart also shares a couple of her favorite celebrity sightings while working for the store: Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich. Judy Garland popped in while on her honeymoon. Later, when Dietrich came in, Hart mentions feeling a connection to her because of their shared musical background --- Hart being a trained cellist, Dietrich a violinist.
That summer, Hart was also witness to a couple of highly emotionally charged moments, one being her memory of being in Times Square on VJ Day, seeing the announcement that WW2 had officially ended projected onto Times Tower.
We stayed rooted to our spot with one eye on the Times Tower and the other on the street. Suddenly, at three minutes after seven, the big screen went dark. The crowd seemed to pause momentarily in anticipation. When the lights came on, the screen read:
**** OFFICIAL **** TRUMAN ANNOUNCES JAPANESE SURRENDER
A thunderous roar rose from the crowd. Church bells pealed, air-raid sirens wailed, cars honked, tugboats tooted, firecrackers exploded, and people cheered as confetti and paper fell from the windows. Near me, an old man threw his cane in the air. An army private kissed every girl he could find. Including me. Streams of tears ran down the cheeks of an elderly woman as she watched the words circling the tower. No one was a stranger in that crowd.
The other was the day a plane crashed into the Empire State Building. It was not an act of terrorism. Disoriented by the fog that morning of July 28th, pilot William F. Smith flew his B-25 Army bomber into the side of the building. Newspapers later reported that he HAD been advised to land earlier, but decided to disregard. His decision to do so cost the lives of thirteen people (including his own) and injured twenty-six more.
After that summer, Marjorie left her position at Tiffany's but promised to return one day. She went on to pursue a musical career, joining the San Diego Symphony in 1954. She also played accompaniment to a number of famous acts such as Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr. , Liberace, and Nat King Cole. In 1965, Marjorie decided to return to school, going on to earn her master's degree in music from San Diego State University. She began teaching music at University of San Diego (yes, they are different schools) in 1967, becoming chair of the Fine Arts Dept in 1978. Marjorie retired as professor emerita in 1993 and retired from performing music professionally in 2004 at the age of 80. It wasn't until 2004 that she finally fulfilled the promise to return to Tiffany's for a visit (cue end of A League of Their Own).
This was such a lovely, easy breezy read full of wonderful notes of history and nostalgia, so if that's your jam, this is definitely perfect summertime chill-out material for you! It certainly leave the reader thinking on one's own pivotal moments in life, those that feel like basic, everyday moments at the time but turn out to be essential to forming your later self.
I will say, I was left curious as to what happened to Jim... that part of the story just seemed to go off into the ether... but the way she left it, I imagine it was one of those connections that just seemed to quietly fizzle out after the war.