The Telephone Booth Indian
A. J. Liebling
A.J. Liebling relates a series of stories about New York street hustlers during the depression who operated out of telephone booths. Their nomadic nature, migrating between phone booths suggested to Liebling the nomadic nature of plains Indians. The characters that capture Leibling’s gaze include boxers and their managers, bookies, wrestlers, theatrical agents, actors, and general street hustlers. They have names like Marty the Clutch, Hockticket Charlie, Paddy the Booster, Morty Ormont, Lotsandlots, Judge Horumph, Maxwell C Bimberg, Johnny Attorney, Boatrace Harry, Hy Sky and Count de Pennies. I particularly enjoyed Liebling’s use of language. Aspects of the book and Leibling’s style remind me of the dialogs in Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose merged with dialog and descriptions found in Film Noir. His descriptions of the various characters are particularly brilliant such as his description of comedy team Ole Olson and Chic Johnson captures this sense:
The chief comic asset of the team, considered merely as a team, is Johnson’s face. It is a wide, lardy, fatman’s face with bulging eyes that resemble poached eggs with pale blue yolks.
Mostly staged during the depression, Liebling presents a charming and colorful view of a slice of early 20th century New York life and what people will do to survive with little or no money.