Flo Wolston stands out for her glamour and poise, but behind the perfectly done makeup, she is a veritable treasure trove of New York City history. During the 1930s, she saw the rise and inevitable fall of Minsky's Republic. Does that name sounds familiar? Before it became The New Victory Theater, the theater had many names.
In the 1930s, Billy Minsky opened Broadway's first burlesque club, naming our beloved theater Minsky's Republic. The theater facade featured a bold checkerboard pattern with the faces of Minsky's biggest stars, including Gypsy Rose Lee. Inside, black-tie attire was strictly required. Doormen were dressed as French cavalrymen, and the female ushers wore French maid costumes and squirted perfume on patrons as they entered. And famously, down the center of the orchestra, was a double runway that put Minksy's showgirls, including Ms. Wolston, as close to the patrons as possible.
As she celebrates her 100th birthday on Friday, August 25, we look back with her to a time of a jazz-filled Midtown, after-hours clubs with Liberace, and the perfect corned beef sandwich on rye. Start up a playlist of days long gone and wish Flo a happy birthday with us, here at The New Victory Theater!
What is the biggest way New York has changed since your time as a Minsky's dancer?
There are less delis, no booking agents and too many big syndicates to count. TV has really changed live entertainment. For instance, there used to be a bunch of small jazz clubs on 52nd St. Now, you can only find large venues in Midtown.
What was your favorite song to perform to?
My favorite artist back then was Robert Alda, and I always looked forward to dancing to "Stairway To The Stars
" and "Stay In My Arms Cinderella
Was 42nd Street as crowded and busy in the 1930s as it is today?
Yes, 42nd St was always this busy. It hasn't changed. I love seeing the theater still in use!
How did the Great Depression affect Minsky's Republic?
The Great Depression didn't affect Minsky's at all. Back then, tickets were only 35 cents, 50 cents and $1.
Did you ever meet any celebrities?
I didn't meet any celebrities at Minksy's. But after it closed I worked with Jackie Gleason at La Conga and met actor Ray Milland and his wife. At the after-hours club Spivey's Roof, I became friends with Liberace who you could find playing the piano there most nights.
Where are you from? What did your family say when you moved here and started performing at Minsky's?
I was born in Philly and moved to NYC when I was four-years-old. I earned $50 a week (about $900 today), so my family didn't mind that I worked at Minksy's at all. In fact, my dad would stop backstage to visit me, and my uncle would even catch a show from time to time.
What was your favorite place to eat while you worked on 42nd Street? Is it still there?
My favorite place to eat was at the Stage Door Deli on 47th Street near the Gaiety Theater
. It's no longer there, but I always used to get a corned beef sandwich with mustard on rye.
What was your audience like?
Audience members at that time were mostly men. People assume that the audience was wild but, in fact, you couldn't be rowdy or you'd be thrown out immediately. It was all very well controlled.
How was the experience of attending a show different in the 30s compared to today?
Well, the prices today are ridiculous. Also, I miss seeing tap dancing and toe dancing (pointe). You don't see that in most shows anymore.
What was your reaction to Mayor LaGuardia shutting down Minsky's? Do you think it was the right call?
I was in disbelief when Mayor LaGuardia shut down Minsky's. Absolutely devastated. It took away a steady paycheck, which was not a good time for us performers. Looking at all of the risque entertainment that exists today, I can honestly say it never should have closed.
Tell us about your favorite costume!
I didn't have a favorite costume. We just wore sparkly underwear!
||Discover more about the history of The New Victory Theater here!