The House of Morgan (Helen)

the house of morgan
"The world's greatest water power is woman's tears."

                                                           J. KENFIELD MORLEY

Once there were two Houses of Morgan in New York: J.P.'s and Helen's.

Helen's was more popular. She sold booze and sad songs. J.P. dealt only in money. James Montgomery Flagg, the artist, probably explained Helen Morgan best. He said she was a composite of all the ruined women of the world. She had the music to go with it such enduring torch numbers as Jerome Kern's "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," "Bill" and "Why Was I Born?" They all came out of Show Boat with La Morgan, permanently identified with her husky contralto tones. In her clubs, towards the end of the Lawless Decade, men paid the highest prices in town to sip bad liquor in a cloud of smoke and foul air and sob softly as the proprietress perched on a piano and let the music come.

songThat was the difference between Texas Guinan and Helen Morgan. You went to Guinan's for horseplay Tex herself might play leapfrog with the out-of-town buyers if the spirit moved her. You went to Morgan's for the blues-in-the-night, washed down with illicit happy juice.

Sometimes, as in the Guinan places, there was an extra added attraction: raiders. The more spectacular forays occurred at Chez Morgan. Major Maurice E. Campbell took a platoon of agents in one night, wrecked the club with axes and carried off everything that wasn't nailed down. The courts made the Prohibition watchdog return what he hadn't smashed to bits. On another occasion, Miss Morgan had her eight-piece band play a dirge while Federal men in boiled shirts, paying guests up to that moment, stripped the joint clean. The more sincere customers booed the agents lustily, all the way to the moving vans outside. But the lady herself grew weary of the battle after awhile. She quit the night club business towards the close of the Twenties, saying the wear and tear on the nerves not to mention the high cost of her gowns was too much for her.

showboatMiss Morgan, Tex Guinan, and Belle Livingston were among the more notable women who dominated the night clubs and other rendezvous of revelry in the Twenties. But the pattern persisted all over the country speakeasies and "intimate" spots featured women torch singers and piano players. That is what the night-life public wanted. And in the Lawless Decade the night-life public was no longer predominately male. The women wanted their fun, too, their share of whoopee a word that's almost obsolete probably because the wild, hectic, abandoned and aggressive kind of gaiety it described is also almost obsolete now. Let's face it: By contrast with the drinking traps of the Prohibition Era, today's after-dark resorts often border on the genteel.

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