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Part 4: Famous People at The Redbury

The Redbury Hotel
29th East 29th Street

Part IV: Famous People at the Redbury

Renowned as the only hotel for women at the beginning of the 20th Century, the Martha Washington Hotel (now The Redbury) likely hosted many personalities, including leaders of the suffrage movement, actresses, artists and socialites. It is hard to find a record of all who stayed at the hotel, but here and there, an isolated story gives an indication of the Martha Washington’s prestige.

For example, on April 22, 1904, The New York Times reported that Mrs. Elizabeth Morton passed away at the hotel. She was the wife of the Dr. W. T. G. Morton, who discovered anesthesia during The Civil War. Although compensation from the government was long discussed in congress and the press, neither Dr. Morton nor his widow ever received a monetary reward. The presence of a woman of such significant fame at the Martha Washington gives us a sense of what her fellow guests were like.

We do know of several famous people unmistakably identified with the hotel.

 

Sara Teasdale

Sara Teasdale, the noted American lyric poet, chose to stay at The Redbury/Martha Washington Hotel on her visits to New York beginning in 1913 and through the years of her marriage.

 

Learn about Sara Teasdale and the Martha Washington Hotel's past of celebrities in part IV of our series.
Sara Teasdale.

 

Although she was too ill to begin school until she was 14, Sara Teasdale went on to write several volumes of highly esteemed poetry, including Helen of Troy and Other PoemsRivers to the SeaFlames and Shadow, and Love Songs. The last volume was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1918, the first Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Although she was in love with the famous poet Vachel Lindsay, she married Ernest Filsinger, whom she later divorced to rekindle her friendship with Lindsay. Said to be despondent over health issues, she died of an overdose of sleeping pills in 1933 at the age of 48, two years after Lindsay’s death.

 

I Thought of You
From Flame and Shadow, 1920

I thought of you and how you love this beauty,
And walking up the long beach all alone
I heard the waves breaking in measured thunder
As you and I once heard their monotone.
Around me were the echoing dunes, beyond me
The cold and sparkling silver of the sea —
We two will pass through death and ages lengthen
Before you hear that sound again with me.

 

Louise “Lulu” Brooks

Louis “Lulu” Brooks, an American dancer and actress who was famous for popularizing the bobbed haircut, lived at The Redbury/Martha Washington Hotel.

 

Learn about Louise Brooks and the Martha Washington Hotel's past of celebrities in part IV of our series.
Louise Brooks.

 

Brooks moved to The Redbury/Martha Washington after a “humiliating eviction” from the Algonquin Hotel. In her remarkable autobiography, Lulu in Hollywood, Brooks wrote, “The atmosphere of the Martha Washington was institutional. The women wore short hair, stylish and sensible shoes and worked, I assumed, in offices. (I) was assigned a cell under the roof . . . I was asked to leave the Martha Washington because people in a building overlooking the hotel had been shocked to see me on the roof, exercising in ‘flimsy pajamas’.”1

Brooks was discovered by Paramount Pictures as a leading performer in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925. She made several films in Hollywood but abandoned it for Europe. Her greatest fame came in three feature films made in Germany, which are described as treating modern sexual mores in very frank terms. You can an excerpt from her most famous film “Pandora’s Box” here. Her full-length films are available on Netflix.

Her refusal to return to Hollywood put her on a virtual blacklist and finding Hollywood work was hard. She was offered the lead in the Public Enemy, but was more interested in her lover Marshall, who was back in New York. The rejection of that role effectively ended her movie career. The role eventually went to Jean Harlow, and it thrust Harlow to stardom.

Although Brooks had two husbands and affairs with many men, including William Paley, the founder of CBS, and George Preston Marshall, the president and owner of the Redskins, she continued her life single and childless. She was kind to friends to a fault and a notorious spendthrift, so it was unsurprising when she filed for bankruptcy in 1932. By the 1950s, she was living as a recluse. At about this time, Henri Langlois, a leading figure in the history of cinema and founder of the Cinematheque Francaise, discovered her films and brought about a resurgence in her fame. He is quoted as saying “There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks!” (1953)2 

Liza Minelli, discussing preparation for the role of Sally Bowels in Cabaret, said, “I went to my father (Vincent Minelli) and asked him, what can you tell me about thirties glamour? Should I emulate Marlene Dietrich or something? And he said no, I should study everything I can about Louise Brooks.”3

 

Louis E. Dew

Learn about Louise E. Dew and the Martha Washington Hotel's past of celebrities in part IV of our series.

Louis E. Dew in the 1920s.

 

Born in 1871, Louise Dew was a famous editor, writer and literary agent, who served as associate editor of Ladies Illustrated Journal and editor of McCall’sSmart StylesWoman’s Home CompanionThe Lady’s World and The Philadelphia North American, among others. Dew was also a leading contributor to many leading publications in the U.S. and acted as a literary agent for fellow writers from the time she moved to The Redbury/Martha Washington Hotel in 1906 until 1929. Her articles appeared in many languages, and she was a member of several prestigious journalistic organizations. Her extensive biography appeared in Who’s Who for many years.

“In 1899 she was sent on a tour of the world by Chicago newspapers, and took a keen interest in the orient, particularly Japan. She interviewed Queen Victoria, and published an article entitled “Queen Victoria and I,” which was well received. Louise E. Dew also interviewed Admiral Robert Perry, who discovered the North Pole. She was the first woman allowed to travel in a locomotive engine car, and rode across the country, writing syndicated stories along the way to leading newspapers. Louise E. Dew was know as the “flower lady” to hundreds of Italian and Jewish children on the lower east side of New York City. It is said that there were more that 1,000 children who were named for her as either “Louis” or “Louise,” as the result of her humanitarian work with children. While editor of This Lady’s World, Louise visited many homes, and sent several hundred children to summer camp in the country with her own money, and with money collected from friends.”5

Dew’s published works in the 1930s and 1940s were mostly romantic fiction, including Flower Lady and Her Children and Entertainment for All Seasons. Dew died in 1962 at 92 years of age.

 

Veronica Lake

The Redbury’s past also has a connection with the film, stage and television actress Veronica Lake who, during the 1940s, was regarded as one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses. Like Louise Brooks, she also popularized a hairstyle — “the peek-a-boo.”

 

Learn about Veronica Lake and the Martha Washington Hotel's past of celebrities in part IV of our series.
Veronica Lake.

 

Lake’s pictures include, I Wanted Wings, Sullivan’s Travels, and This Gun for Hire, among others. For a time in the 40s, she was considered one of Hollywood’s most reliable box office draws playing opposite Alan Ladd. She was also a famous pinup girl during World War II, and she traveled throughout the United States to raise money for war bonds. For her contributions to the movie industry, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

By 1952, however, Lake was unable to continue working as an actress because of her difficult reputation resulting from mental illness and alcoholism. The screenwriter Raymond Chandler referred to her as “Moronica Lake,” and Joel McCrea turned down a part in I Married a Witch, saying “Life is too short for two films with Veronica Lake.”4

After divorcing her third husband and romances with Howard Hughes and Aristotle Onassis, she drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and New York City and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. In 1962, a reporter found her working as barmaid at The Redbury/ Martha Washington Hotel. At first, Lake claimed that she was a guest at the hotel and covering for a friend. Soon afterward, she admitted that she was employed at the bar. The reporter’s widely distributed story led to some television and stage appearances.

Her later career was spotty, but in 1969, she did receive rave reviews in London for her performance as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Lake returned to the U.S. in 1972, to await the divorce from her fourth husband. She fell ill with cirrhosis, hepatitis and an acute kidney injury and died on July 7, 1973 at age 50.

For more of the The Redbury’s fascinating history, see Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 5 of our series.


Footnotes

  1. Louise Brooks, Lulu in Hollywood, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1983.
  2. Wikipedia, “Louis Brooks,” downloaded 6.8.14.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Frank Passic, “Historical Albion Michigan” downloaded from http://www.albionmich.com/history/histor_notebook/, July 25, 2014. Quoting an article “Louis E. Dew,” in the Morning Star, January 30, 1994, Page 16, by Frank Passic.
  5. Wikipedia, “Veronica Lake,” downloaded 6.8.14.

Bibliography Sara Teasdale
Wikipedia – “Sara Teasdale” and “The Martha Washington Hotel,” downloaded 5.29.14.

Bibliography Louis E. Dew
Morning Star, “Louis E. Dew,” January 30, 1994, Page 16, by Frank Passic.

Bibliography Veronica Lake
Wikipedia – “Veronica Lake,” downloaded 5.29.14.

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