I picked up Summer at Tiffany: a Memoir (Morrow, 2007) by Marjorie Hart a few months ago to send to my mother, who at age 91 still leads an active reading life. Then I got to read it when I visited her on Long Island. As perfect as any beautifully wrapped Tiffany box, this is a book you want to recommend to anyone with ties to Manhattan. Though set during the summer of 1945, it has a certain timeless excitement that can only come from a young person's first encounter with the Big City.
Marjorie and her best friend Marty are University of Iowa college girls who manage by a fluke to acquire summer jobs as the very first female "pages" at Tiffany & Co., the swanky jewelry emporium. They only earn $20.00 a week, and must count every nickel to get by. Interwoven with Marjorie's letters home and news of World War II winding down, this memoir is a vivid historical portrait. Their summer in New York is one they find most thrilling, indicated by frequent sprinklings of their excited "ohmygosh" reactions. Agog when movie stars such as Judy Garland walk into Tiffany's, thrilled by treats such as ice cream sundaes at Schrafft's or sandwiches purchased at the Horn & Hardart Automat, Marjorie and Marty also get a taste of New York's nightlife. They date and dance with soldiers, and even celebrate VJ Day in Times Square.
Marjorie Hart did not publish this memoir until she was age 83, realizing that the summer of '45 stories she told her grandchildren were grand fodder for a book. She is a professional cellist and former chairman of the Fine Arts Department at the University of San Diego.
The New York City Hart describes is the one my parents spoke of, my mother as an overseas telephone operator and my Dad a returning soldier/college student. In the 1950s, I was taken into the city for special events. I too remember Fifth Avenue, Radio City Music Hall, Schrafft's and the Horn & Hardart automat. One of the biggest childhood thrills at Christmastime was seeing the city's store windows: Lord and Taylor's (still the best!), FAO Schwarz, Tiffany's. So naturally I took to this book like cream cheese to bagels! Give it to anyone who enjoyed The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw. New York, New York -- long may she prosper!