"You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days."*
There are several funny lines by Burt Lancaster's character in the 1979 movie Atlantic City. As a longtime resident of the declining resort town, he first appears to be someone who remembers the town's glory days. As the movie progresses, you start to realize he is someone who is hopelessly nostalgic about a past that never truly existed. Not only were the organized crime rackets better back in his day, the ocean was better too. Pursuing a much younger Susan Sarandon, it becomes clear what he misses most about the past is his youth.
I don't think I am blinded by nostalgia however when I describe the New York National Boat Show in the 1960's and '70's. Life Magazine covered it; the Tonight Show stopped by; and Jackie O' brought John-John too. It was like Super Bowl Sunday.... a January ritual....a mid winter classic.
You should have seen the boat show back then.
We would arrive on a Friday night; check out the spanking new boats; mingle with summer friends; gaze in awe at the swanky new gear; and leave with stuffed shopping bags full of brochures and giveaways. Afterwards, we would eat at Lima's Fish-A-Teria (any fish you wish). My dad would have the fried fish special with a Lowenbrau; I had linguine with red clam sauce and a Freddie Bartholomew. My dopey older brother would ask for beef burgundy, in white wine, without the beef. It was a cosmopolitan and nautical, slapstick nirvana.
Four decades have done nothing to diminish those midtown-Manhattan, Polaroid days. Yes, the mostly mythical Mad Men era of girdles and scotch gave way to a more gritty and declining New York in the early 1970's. Films such as Serpico, The French Connection, and Midnight Cowboy show a city on its last legs, far removed from Breakfast At Tiffany's and An Affair To Remember. New York no longer had God (or Gerald Ford) on its side.
The New York National Boat Show however, was Burt Bacharach in a turtleneck, and Sterling Hayden smoking a pipe; with Natalie Wood-dressed girls inviting us aboard. Created in 1905, it was held in such long lost locales as the second Madison Square Garden, Grand Central Palace, Kingsbridge Armory, and the New York Coliseum. It is the Coliseum (1958-1986) years where it reached its highest fame. It is also the years I remember best.
Like baseball's All Star Game, the show began to lose its cache sometime in the 1980's. And also like the All Star Game, it was for a multitude of reasons:
- the autumn in-water shows are now larger.
- potential customers today don't need to wait for a product to appear at a show in order to view it.
- many boats today are not transportable by land due to their height and width.
- there are cheaper ways for companies to showcase their wares.
You should have seen the teamsters in those days.
The New York Boat Show is underway at the Jacob Javits Center, January 19th-23rd. Though only a shell of its former self, it is still a fun way to spend a winter afternoon. Sadly, Lima's Fish-A -Teria is long gone; so are the Freddy Bartholomews.
Google/Life Archives: 1961 Boat Show Delivery
Soundbounder: Triborough Bridge 1961
Video: 1964 Boat Show Newsreel
Video: 1963 Boat Show Newsreel
YouTube: 1970's Lowenbrau Commercial (Merv, you're a genius)
YouTube: Burt Lancaster, Atlantic City (quote is at 1:15)