Happy New Year’s Eve. I wonder if there’s a Jimmy Devine working double shifts at the hotels in New York tonight. I hope so. He’ll be a friend to all the clerks at the front desk.

Hotel work was my favorite way of making a living as a struggling young actor in Manhattan in the middle to late ’50s.

A hungry thespian who needed to keep a nice look about him, pay the rent and woo the occasional dancer had to stay on his toes. I soon learned the tricks of the trade.

An actor could go away each summer to do a summer stock theater stint somewhere in New England or the South, anywhere where they had an old professional barn theater.

It was a good life. You did six or seven weeks of plays, were treated like a movie star by the locals, maybe met a local girl, had a romance, and then left her in September and returned to the city and tried to find a job to get you through the winter and a new girl.

C’mon, a boy has to have a hobby.

 

I was very lucky in those days. My first job was typing reservations at the old Sherry Netherland Hotel. In the next couple of years, I came back to the Sherry or went on to another hotel.

Being Irish Catholic was key to securing a position at any hotel in Manhattan. This was thanks to Tommy Donahue, now long gone to his rest.

Of course hotel jobs, from bell boy to reservation typist, room service or front desk clerk, were filled with New Yorkers of all bloods; but the front desk, that prestigious position, a prime spot where you got to wear a snazzy blue blazer with the hotel emblem on the front, a nice white shirt and a dark tie, was prominently staffed, at least at the famous Waldorf Astoria, by Irish and Italian guys from Queens or the Bronx.

Occasionally a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn snuck in. But Tommy had a soft spot for us “Micks.”

In the passing years, I drifted to the New Yorker, the Essex House on Central Park South and the Plaza; but the Waldorf, for three years, was my longest stay.

There I was taken under the wing of Erick Killackey, Jimmy Carmody, Jimmy Kelly and the great Johnny Jannelli, Frank Sinatra’s childhood friend from Hoboken, who was in charge of Frank’s stay at the Waldorf Towers.

I was single in those days and dated a lot; but to stay solvent, I took whatever slots I could.

I had left home in St. Louis years ago and never went home for the holidays. The word got around about this and that I was single, unattached and available to fill in at a moment’s notice.

So for a few years, besides my own shifts, I filled in nonstop for whoever needed a day off. I worked Christmas Eve and Day, for the Catholics, going from 7 to 3 in the afternoon and 3 to 11 at night with quick naps in the “Boys” room.

At the Sherry and the Essex House, I filled in for all the Jewish guys on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah; and in addition, I learned a lot of Yiddish.

New Year’s Eve was my biggest night. I never had enough money to take a girl out on New Year’s Eve. Tony’s Pasta Palace on Seventh Avenue or Joe’s on Second Avenue were not New Year’s Eve choices. So I took Erick Killackey’s shifts, so he could take his wife to a finer place and Jimmy Carmody and Tony Salmoni could party with their wives’ families.

At first, I did these shifts as a favor until a new guy paid me 20 bucks. That spoiled it for the regulars, who now felt obliged to offer me cash. The word “bribe” was never used.

It was, in the words of Michael Corleone, “just business.”

My lucrative hotel days ended when I met She, who demanded more of my free time.

The rest of my holidays were spent with her, selling ties, shirts, colognes and toys at Bloomingdale’s Department Store, where we ate free lunch, holding hands in the commissary. Hey, a boy has to have a hobby, does he not?

Happy New Year, but don’t call me unless there’s money in it.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.