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.
Looking back on that magical time in her life, Marjorie takes us back to 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.
When I first heard about “Summer at Tiffany”, I was intrigued. I’ve only recently started reading memoirs, and this one looked like a perfect way to kick-off my summer reading list. As it turns out, the book was everything I hoped it would be and more!
Just looking at the cover of the book, I was transported to New York City in the 1940′s. Maybe it’s a misconception or an overly romanticized way for me to look at things, but it really did seem like a different city then. It seemed cleaner, fresher, and infinitely more personal. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York. Manhattan is a place where you can’t help but feel alive. But the Manhattan of the 1940′s seemed to really be a special place in time. That is exactly the Manhattan Marjorie Hart tells about in this book.
Marjorie was a small-town girl, going to college in her home state of Iowa. In the summer of 1945, she went to New York to experience city life, see the sights, and enjoy all New York had to offer. With her best friend Marty at her side, she braved the crowds, visited the tourist attractions, and dined out in fine restaurants, trying her best to fit in and come across more worldly than she knew she was. Marjorie desperately wanted to be a good sales-floor page (the job she and Marty both got at Tiffany that summer.) Part of the job meant knowing all the salesmen’s names. Always trying to go above and beyond, Marjorie asked the elevator operator what one of the men’s names was. “Hoydman!” he told her. However, when Marjorie rushed a purchase to him, saying “Here’s the package Mr. Hoydman.”, the man became curt and stiff. Appalled at his reaction, Marjorie could only groan inwardly as he explained that his name was “Herdman”, not “Hoydman”, as the elevator operator had told her. In a letter home, she wrote:
“P.S. Remember that radio program that’s so funny — the way they say “goils” for girls? Guess what — some people really do talk like that!”
This is exactly what endeared me to her. How can you not love somebody who pokes fun at their own naivete?
I felt the giddiness unique to the time when you’re in your early twenties and finally starting to make your way as an adult in the world. You still have that child-like sense of wonder, yet the responsibilities and desires of adulthood are finally starting to become a part of your life. Marjorie’s story highlights all of that.
Not just a trip down memory lane, “Summer at Tiffany” acquainted me with places I have never seen, such as the Automat, Toffenetti’s, and the Hotel Astor. It made me want to visit Jones beach, even though I’m sure it’s quite different now than it was in the 40s.
Marjorie Hart had the unique experience of being able to observe the rich and famous without the red carpet and clamoring paparazzi. Her account of the time Judy Garland visited Tiffany made me wish I could have met her too, if for no other reason than to hear her laugh and charm everyone she met.
The world changed that summer. Marjorie and Marty experienced it all, up close and live. They both wept when the plane crashed into the Empire State Building, terrifying everyone around. And they celebrated in the street at Times Square when the Japanese surrendered.
This memoir is sweet and timeless, and it reminded me to take full advantage of every single minute of my life. That is certainly what Marjorie Hart did that summer. From the Author’s Notes at the end of the book (I bought the trade paperback.) I can tell that’s what she has done her entire life.
There was something special and unique about America during WWII. Marjorie Hart brought some of that to life in “Summer at Tiffany”. I definitely recommend this summery, heart-warming memoir.
5 out of 5