21 June 2011

The Show Folks Shoe Shop in Better Times

I was browsing through an old magazine when I found this 1919 ad for the I. Miller shoe store in Times Square. The Miller building, which still exists, is familiar to all New York history buffs, owing to its one-of-a-kind statues along the south face, depicting Ethel Barrymore, Marilyn Miller, Mary Pickford and Rosa Ponselle, representing the arts of theatre, song, film and opera; and for its timeless motto, "The Show Folks Shoe Shop Dedicated to Beauty in Footwear."

It's been laboring as a garish TGI Friday's for some time, and the south facade has long been grimy and in need of a refurbishment. But this ad shows how clean and beautiful it once was: the statues white and free of bird dropping' and the windows—not cut in half by a TGIF floor plan—allowed to soar. We can also see that the wire cages on the second floor windows once held hedges.

Here's the building today. It most certainly has not had a bath in 92 years.


upstate Johnny G said...

Say, Brooks, any thoughts on what the language of the ad means? For me, the word "Equity" stuck out like a sore thumb. The labor union, Actor's Equity, was founded in 1913 and in 1919 it joined the American Federation of Labor and, more importantly, launched a major strike in NYC that spread to Chicago, Boston, and DC, and sparked the formation of Chorus Equity (for those in the chorus line). Since this ad ran in 1919 I am wondering if it is the store's way of showing support for the actors and the strike. Which made me wonder whether the four actresses named in the ad were also prominent in Actor's Equity. I have seen a photo of a picket line during the strike that shows Ethel Barrymore holding a placard. Also, Mary Pickford was very involved in the idea that actors should own their own production companies (she and Douglas Fairbanks and a few other top stars started PickFair studios, if I recall correctly).

I may be completely off-base with this, and I confess that originally when the idea occurred to me I thought "how much business could I. Miller hope to generate by supporting Equity?" But then I read the history of the strike and realized that over the course of its 30 days the membership in Equity went from around 2,500 to 14,000 which is a heckuva lot of potential loyal customers, customers who would have more money to spend on shoes thanks Equity winning the battle with the producers and managers association.

Whaddya think? Is there a message in that ad that has become opaque to us in the 21st century?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

You're absolutely right. It's a reference to Equity, which was going through a historic strike at the time.

Lisanne! said...

It looks like there are names now under each figure, the earlier photo doesn't show that detail.

When I was a kid I was in awe of that sign. I. Miller was out of my class, unfortunately. They had a 57th Street store. Way expensive.

upstate said...

Since my earlier comment I've done some reading up on Marilyn Miller and it seems her first big NYC triumph was in the Zeigfield Follies of ......1919! According to what I've read about the Actor's Equity strike, Chorus Equity formed shortly after the strike began and promptly struck against.....the Follies of 1919!

My Mary Pickford reference was a bit off, however. Pickfair was the name of the Hollywood estate she shared with her second husband, Douglas Fairbanks. Pickford, Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin founded United Artists. UA was a film distribution company set up to free film makers from the restrictions placed on them by the vertically integrated studio companies, who had their own distribution subsidiaries and owned their own theater chains. UA made it possible to be an independent film maker. Pickford and Fairbanks did have their own studio as well, which I think was called the Pickford-Fairbanks studio. Given how committed Pickford was to artistic freedom and rights, I suspect she would have been a major supporter of Equity.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

You're right. I made a mistake. This ad dates from the mid-20s, after Miller had become well established through roles such as "Sunny."