If you were a youngster who lived in Washington 50 years ago, perhaps you remember when the newly completed Shoreham Hotel opened its Blue Room. The headliner on that occasion was Rudy Vallee, then one of the biggest names in show business.
Vallee was booked for months ahead, but the Shoreham offered him $9,000 for a one-night stand, an astronomical sum in those days, and Vallee couldn't resist.
He canceled a New York engagement, loaded his Connecticut Yankees into a Ford trimotored plane and took off for Washington. The plane was caught in a thunderstorm, and for several hours millions of people held their breaths and awaited news bulletins about its whereabouts.
Vallee and his band didn't arrive at the Shoreham until 4 a.m., but the VIP crowd was still there waiting for him. So the Connecticut Yankees played for 15 minutes and Vallee sang a few songs -- and that was it.Vallee and his weary men went back to New York (by train) with a check for $9,000 for their 15 minutes of labor.
An obscure member of the Shoreham's house band on opening night was a kid named Barnee Breeskin. Barnee had just enrolled as a freshman at George Washington University, but when he got work that the Blue Room was hiring musicians, Barnee showed up, violin in hand, and was hired.
It wasn't long before the Shoreham's Blue Room was the place to go in Washington and Barnee Breeskin was the leader of its band. The rich and the powerful dined and danced there, as did the smart set who came to be known as "cafe society". Hardly a night went by without Breeskin taking special note of a half dozen parties in the room to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.
Breeskin served as the Blue Room's bandleader and host for more than three decades. During his tenure, the Great Depression came and went, Franklin D. Roosevelt brought hordes of new people into government service, and the Washington area underwent a population explosion. When the Redskins came to town, it was Barnee who made them feel loved with his composition, "Hail To The Redskins."
As new hotels, restaurants and night clubs sprung up in the rapidly growing city, the Shoreham Hotel went through some trying times and the Blue Room's exclusive status slowly melted away. Breeskin left the Shoreham and went into public relations.
Time passed. The Bralove family finally sold the hotel, and in due course Richard E. Abati was appointed vice president and managing director of the redecorated Shoreham Americana.
"Day after day," Abati told me, "I kept hearing people refer to some fellow named Barnee Breeskin and the great fun he had generated in the Blue Room. Finally, an idea came to me.
"This is the hotel's 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion, I decided to bring back the boy violinist, Barnee Breeskin. This New Year's Eve, the Blue Room will sparkle in all its old splendor, and we'll give about 200 couples a party they'll remember for a long time. I hope most of them will be people who celebrated birthdays and anniversaries with Barnee over the years and helped him make the room the brightest and best night spot in Washington."
Dinner, drinks (including champagne, of course), dancing, parking, a room at the hotel and all tips will be covered by a flat charge of $80 per person. Don't call me to find out whether there's room for your New Year's Eve party, call Abati.
I need hardly tell you that Barnee has been on Cloud 9 ever since Abati asked him to return to his old love. I hope they get him down in time for the party. They'd have trouble finding a Ford trimotor that could be sent to fetch him down. TIME MARCHES ON
The Panhandler, this column's very own special panhandler, has been working the streets of Washington for almost as long as Barnee Breeskin led the band in the Blue Room.For a long time, the Panhandler was the only man of that profession about whom the District Line received regular reports.
As the years rolled on, a few newcomers appeared on the scene. Readers began to wonder whether The Panhandler had begun to sell franchises.
News of the latest development in this field is now at hand from Jim Arnold, who reports:
"As I was leaving the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station last Thursday, a nice looking,clean, black lad carrying school books approached me and said, 'Mister, I have to get to school but I've lost my subway fare. Can you help me?' I gave him 50 cents. Today at 1 p.m., he accosted me again, using the same pitch. He is a good actor."
At last, intergratin has come to the panhandling business -- and without an order from the Supreme Court!