Toots Shor was born on this day in 1903
Word of the Day – Weekend Edition
New York restaurateur of the mid-twentieth century
One day while visiting one of his restaurants, Toots Shor found himself in conversation with Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin.
Some time later, Shor was informed by a waiter that Mel Ott, the manager of the New York Giants, had just come in. "Excuse me, but I gotta leave you," Shor declared, turning to Fleming. "Somebody important just came in."
Bernard "Toots" Shor (May 6, 1903 – January 23, 1977) was, during the 1940s and 1950s, the proprietor of a legendary restaurant, Toots Shor's Restaurant, in Manhattan. He was known as a saloonkeeper, friend, and confidante to some of New York's biggest celebrities during that era.
Shor was born in Philadelphia to Orthodox Jewish parents — his father of Austrian descent from Germany and his mother from Russia. He and his two older sisters were raised in a home above the family candy store in South Philadelphia. When Shor was 15 years old, his mother was killed by an automobile while she sat on the stoop outside their home. His father committed suicide five years later. Shor attended the Drexel Institute of Technology and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania before working as a traveling shirt and underwear salesman.
Shor went to New York City in 1930 and found employment as a bouncer at the Five O'Clock Club, which served as his introduction to celebrities. He later worked at several other nightspots: The Napoleon Club, Lahiff's Tavern, the Ball & Chain, the Madison Royale, and Leon & Eddie's. He became a great man about town in Manhattan after opening his own restaurant at 51 West 51st Street. While the food at Toots Shor's Restaurant was known to be “nuttin’ fancy” — standard American, sports-bar fare such as shrimp cocktail, steak, baked potato — the establishment became well-known for who frequented there and the manner in which Shor interacted with them.
In one incident, Shor outdrank comedian Jackie Gleason famously leaving Gleason on the floor to prove the point. (At Toots' funeral, the coffin had a spray of red roses with a card which read, "Save a Table for 2," signed: Jackie Gleason.)
Shor was a raconteur and a master of the "needle," jibes or quips directed at the famous. Celebrity alone was not enough to receive first-class service in Shor's restaurant. According to David Halberstam in his book The Summer of '49, guests had to observe the unwritten "code" which prevailed in Shor's establishment. Charlie Chaplin, who was not privy to that code, was made to wait in line. When Chaplin complained, Shor told him to entertain the others who were waiting in line. One day, Hollywood boss Louis B. Mayer complained about waiting twenty minutes for a table and said, “I trust the food will be worth all that waiting.” Shor replied: “It’ll be better’n some of your crummy pictures I stood in line for.”
Shor cultivated his celebrity following by giving them unqualified admiration, loyal friendship, and a kind of happy, boozy, old-fashioned male privacy. Those whom Shor really liked were called “crum-bums”. Shor reputedly said that he didn’t care if he was a millionaire—so long as he could live like one.
In 1959, Shor sold the lease for his 51st Street restaurant for $1.5 million to William Zeckendorf (taken from the documentary Toots (2006)). The following year, he opened at a new location at 33 West 52nd Street and tried to emulate the decor and atmosphere of the original. The then-Chief Justice, Earl Warren, considered Toots one of his closest friends. "The Chief" showed up to be photographed with a shovel full of dirt when Toots broke ground on Toots' 52nd street "joint."
In 1971, authorities padlocked the doors of the 52nd Street restaurant for nonpayment of federal, state, and local taxes totaling $269,516. He vowed to open again in three weeks, but 18 months passed before his restaurant at 5 East 54th Street opened. For a variety of reasons, however, his famous clientele never returned with their former regularity.
Shor and his wife Marion ("Baby") lived for many years in a 12-room double apartment at 480 Park Avenue where they raised their four children named Bari Ellen, Kerry, Rory and Tracey. Tracey, who was Toots' youngest daughter and a late arrival, was taken in and raised by his friends, comedian Bob Hope and his wife Dolores, who was her Godmother at birth and eventually her legal guardian. During his final years, they lived at the Drake Hotel. He died at age 73, ending a six-week stay in New York University Hospital.
In 1950, Shor was the subject of a three-part biography published in The New Yorker entitled "Toots's World" and written by John Bainbridge, who later combined them into a book. Twenty years later another biography, Toots, was written by Hearst columnist Bob Considine. In 2006, the biographical documentary Toots, in which his granddaughter Kristi Jacobson profiled his life, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. It took "Best Film" at the Baseball Hall of Fame's first annual film festival in November 2006. Toots was released to theaters in the fall of 2007.
Bob Broderick was quoted in The Record, NY. 4/20/1968 saying,"Having Toots Shor for a friend and Margaret for a wife is about all a man can ask for out of this life."