10 May 2007

El Morocco Family Album. Zerbe, 1937.

Jerome Zerbe. JOHN PERONA'S EL MOROCCO FAMILY ALBUM. Privately Printed, N Y, 1937.

Current Selling Prices
$800-$1400 /£400-£700

An uncommon and much wanted book. Unknown or disregarded by Parr and Badger (also Roth) the deities of the Photobook. Zerbe was a gay socialite from the American Brahmin class and although Slim Aarons makes the cut, most socialite smudgers are ignored, possibly rightly. A book of 62 pages of half-tone photographs from the El Morocco nightclub, one of the prime locations for spotting celebrities and high society in New York City in the 1930s. Prohibition had just ended and nightlife was booming. The club was on East 54th Street in Manhattan and run by one John Perona and his son Edwin. Patrons of the establishment appearing in the album include an array of actors, socialites and notables including Gary Cooper, the Vanderbilts, Ruth Weston, Elsie de Wolfe, Serge Lifar, the Duke and Duchess of Leeds and Clark Gable. All were photographed inside the club, many seated in the signature zebra pattern upholstered booths. Jerome Zerbe was the official photographer of the El Morocco from 1934 to 1939.

Zerbe was one of the first society photographers, now known as paparazzi. He was interviewed by oral historian Studs Terkel for his major work on the 30s, 'Hard Times.' In the interview it emerges that celebriies came to the El Morocco in order to be photographed, as Zerbe told Terkel:-
The social set did not go to the Rainbow Room or the El Morocco until I invented this funny, silly thing of taking photographs of people. And the minute the photographs appeared in the paper, then they came.
Terkel: In short they became celebrities at that moment.
Zerbe: Yes, yes, that's right. So, I would send my photographs not only to the New York papers. I sent them to the London Bystander, to the Australian -- I've forgotten what the name now was -- there was a paper in Rio; I sent them all over the world. So people would come in to the El Morocco and I would get a note saying, "The Duchess of Sutherland has just arrived and would love to have her photograph taken." [laughs]

Unlike later parazzi he never had to hide in the bushes to get shots of the rich and famous. “Once I asked Katharine Hepburn to come up from her place at Fenwick, a few miles away, and pose for some fashion photos for me,” Zerbe recalled in his book Happy Times. “She arrived with a picnic hamper full of food and wine for the two of us. I snapped her just as she came to the door.”

Zerbe was a Navy photographer during World War II. According to the 1951 cocktail recipe book 'Bottoms Up' Zerbe is credited with inventing the vodka martini. He was rumoured to have had an affair with Cary Grant and was known as a celebrated society "walker". He was the author of several other books of photographs, including Happy Times, which includes his photographs from the El Morocco years with text by New Yorker writer Brendan Gill (easily found in nice condition at less than $40). Among Zerbe's other books were People on Parade (1934) and The Art of Social Climbing (1965) both worth about £80, the former more in a jacket. He also did a book with Cyril Connolly 'Les Pavillons' which is sometimes collected as a Connolly item but is worth no more than $80 last time I looked. Zerbe was the longtime companion of the society columnist and writer Lucius Beebe- he wrote the introduction to several of his books and was known as 'the last of the boulevardiers.'

Zerbe had a vast collection of photographs, which a biographer estimated had 50,000 images in 150 scrapbooks. They were thought to be lost or possibly dumped in a skip but it turns out they are part of an extensive private photography archive owned by London based collector Fred Koch, the eldest son of industrialist Fred C. Koch. Koch is a great collector covered in another piece 'Billionaire's Book Club.'

VALUE? No copy on web, a non web mall dealer had a slightly worn copy on sale last year -as I recall the price was about $1200. The only auction record for Zerbe was for his work with Cyril Connolly, the net has thrown too many copies of that book up for it to ever enter auction records again.

By 1992 the El Morocco had become a topless bar. [ W/Q *** ]


Anonymous said...

after 1992 it changed its name to Night Owls or something like that------good to see this entry I collect the history of night life and would like to find this. jasmin della Robbia
soory posted this at entry above too!

Anonymous said...

Nice site. I thought you might enjoy this magazine article from 1937 about the ladies 'dressing rooms' at the Twenty-One Club, Rainbow Room and El Morocco:


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