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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

In Honor of One Book, One Denver

Nick and Nora Charles lived in San Francisco and New York in the uber-stylish 1930s. Their clothes were fashionable, their repartee was pithy and their home was no doubt filled with great design. (It was the era of Art Deco, though the term was not coined until 1968 by art historian Bevis Hillier. Nick and Nora would not have been familiar with it, so we won't use it here.) A walk through the Kirkland Museum collection may give us an idea of what constituted great home décor in the 1930s –

A Day in the Life of Nick and Nora Charles

Nora Charles left her husband Nick in their living room, sitting in the Wolfgang Hoffmann (1900–1969) Tubular Chrome and Leather Armchair (1930s) gazing out their apartment window at the skyline of Manhattan. She walked into the bedroom, hoping he wouldn't use her brief absence to pour himself another drink, knowing, of course, that he would.

She glanced at her reflection in the Bluebird Radio (Spartan Corp. 1934) designed by Walter Dorwin Teague (1883–1960) on her bedside table and applied a dab of Shalimar behind each ear from the little red Nautilus Perfume Bottle (Cambridge Glass Co. 1932) nearby.

With a sigh she turned to the closet to select her late afternoon dress...

Back in the living room, Nick awakened thirsty from his daydream...Manhattan, Manhattan – yes, of course, the skyline had reminded him of his Norman Bel Geddes (1853–1958) Manhattan Cocktail Shaker (Revere Copper & Brass Co. 1937) beckoning to him from the colorful Jazz Serving Tray (1930s) across the room. Damn, he'd have to get up if he wanted that drink.

He filled a Floating Square Cocktail Glass with the perfect Dry Martini*, after indulging in a turn around the room with the Manhattan Shaker humming When I Grow Too Old to Dream (Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II, 1934) –
"You see, the important thing is the rhythm. You always have rhythm in your shaking. With a Manhattan, you shake to a foxtrot time. A Bronx to two-step time. A Dry Martini you always shake to waltz time."(William Powell as Nick Charles in the The Thin Man, MGM 1933)

Taking careful aim he sent the Rollodor Smoking Stand (Belmet Products Inc. 1930s) careening across the room, coming to rest gently beside his cozy chair. It was a skill that required practice. Relaxing again, drink in hand, he lit his cigarette with a clever little Varaflame Futura Table Lighter (The Ronson Co. 1930s).

Asta, their Schnauzer, settled herself at his feet, adding to the feeling overtaking him of being a king in his castle.

Nora emerged from the bedroom, a vision in emerald green bias-cut silk. He admired his good taste in a woman. She was smart, a knockout and never boring.

"Where to, this evening, Son?"

"Let's hit the Stork Club, Mama. It's been a while. If Winchell's there, that dress may get us a mention in tomorrow's paper."

She reached for the Model 300 Bakelite Telephone (1937), designed by Henry Dreyfuss (1904–1972) –

"Shall we put in our breakfast order now? It will be nice to have it waiting for us when we get back...

"Make mine chicken livers. Let's go."

"Satisfactory, Son, very satisfactory."

*To enhance your reading of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, we offer a recipe for the perfect Dry Martini circa 1930:

Ice cubes
1/2 measure dry vermouth
4 drops orange bitters
2 1/2 measures gin
1 green olive or lemon twist

Fill the mixing glass with ice cubes and add the vermouth and orange bitters. Stir until the ice cubes are thoroughly coated then pour off the excess. Pour in the gin and stir thoroughly then strain the cocktail into a chilled glass. Drop an olive or a lemon twist into the mixed drink and serve.

From Martini by David Taylor (Hamlyn, Octopus Publishing Group, London 2002)

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