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How did people 'hook up' in the Golden Era?

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by Big J, Oct 9, 2017.

  1. Big J

    Big J Call Me a Cab

    Kind of a noir inspired thread, but these days there's Ashley Madison, before that there was Craigslist (and associated killer!), but how did people hook up in the golden era? Small adds and specialist magazines? It all seems to be incredibly hard work in a world without mobile internet, but human nature being what it is, people must have wanted to meet people for recreational NSA (I believe it's called) 'fun'.
    In fact, in an era without internet dating services, what kind of socially damaging risks and scandals were associated with this sort of thing? Were there secret 'clubs' or organizations in the golden era?
  2. Clubs, bars in the "wrong" end of town, prostitution, affairs with work colleagues...
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  3. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab

    And there were dances, mixers, and church socials (though in that case the organizers would have been getting men and women together with an eye to matrimony).

    Socially damaging risks? Well, adultery was frowned on. There were laws on the books, though probably not enforced very often, about unmarried couples cohabitating. Recall the Mann Act, which forbade bringing underage persons across a state line while engaged in "immoral purposes."* And even more damaging were the risks of certain, ah, "social diseases," as they were referred to. Before antibiotics, those could literally be killers, though syphilis took some decades to finish the victim off. (Probably not too much of a deterrent, as many people would have said to themselves, "Oh, that can't happen to me.")

    * An exchange of dialog in one of the Powell-Loy "Thin Man" movies:
    Cop (to Nick Charles): "You own a gun?"
    Nick: "Yes."
    Cop: "Ever hear of something called the Sullivan Act?"
    Nora: "Oh, that's all right. We're married."

    Clearly the audience was supposed to have heard of the Mann Act, and to get the joke.
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  4. GHT

    GHT My Mail is Forwarded Here

    How did people hook up? Small ads? Nope. Specialist magazines? Nope. It seems incredibly hard work without the internet. It was, as we Brits say, a doddle. (dead easy) The reason that Big Bands were so popular is because everybody could dance. Dances were held everywhere, from village halls to magnificent ballrooms. By dance, I mean Latin & Ballroom, waltz, quickstep and all that.
    Before anyone dismisses dancing as being too girly, think of the advantages. How many other leisure activities are so tactile? You could embrace a woman that you have never met before, just as long as you knew the etiquette of the dance floor. Think Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing where he says to Baby: "This is my space, this is your space." The weekly dance, or sometimes dances, were absolutely packed. The most common way that singletons became couples would be when two guys would engage a couple of ladies in chit-chat that would lead to the dance floor, from there the fellow would ask if he could see the lady home, if she accepted, he would bid her farewell at her door, but not before asking if he could see her again.
    See, it was easy. That's how my parents met.
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  5. There was a huge fad in the US during the 1930s for "Matrimonial Bureaus" or "Lonely Hearts Clubs," which, despite their lofty-sounding name, were basically hookup agencies. You'd send in your name, a description, and a photo, and they'd print it in a tabloid-newspaper-sized "catalog" which would be sent to members. Usually participants were identified only by numbers -- "U-1181" or something like that -- and if you saw a photo that appealed to you, you'd send in the number and the stipulated fee, usually a couple of dollars or so, and would receive the contact information in return. What happened next was up to the participants.

    Cohabitation was a lot more common than people generally believe. Many states in the Era had "common law marriage" laws, which meant if you lived with someone long enough you were considered married in the eyes of the state. Cohabitation was also not uncommon among Catholics, who felt unable to get divorces under church law, and after deserting their spouses might take up with another partner, living as though they were legally married even though they weren't. One of the more famous cases of this in the Era was Babe Ruth's first wife, who, after leaving him due to his extramarital cavortings, became the "wife" of a Boston dentist.

    Another celebrity who cohabitated for many years was newspaper/radio personality Walter Winchell --who lived for over forty years with a woman who was not his wife, while publicly representing her as such.
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  6. I don't know that much about Winchell, but he always seemed like one of those, "do as I say, not as I do" breeds of snake.
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  7. He was, for all his warts, more or less one of the good guys until after the war. When FDR died he lost his moorings and, some argue, his marbles too. I deplore the political direction he took in the postwar era, but I've got to admire, just a bit, a man who had the guts to attack the tobacco industry on live television at the height of its power.

    The situation with his "marriage" was never adequately explained. He'd been married in the 1920s, and got a divorce, but he took up with his second partner before the divorce was finalized -- and evidently never bothered to formalize the arrangement when it became clear to do so. At the time, "common law marriage" existed in New York State, but it was abolished in 1933, and "Mr. and Mrs. Winchell" never bothered to take the next step. It's surprising that they didn't, because Winchell had political enemies who would have made great capital of his situation if it came to their attention. Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi, who attacked Winchell on the floor of the House as a "dirty little k*ke," would have had a field day with this information.
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  8. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

    The Coat Pile.
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  9. My suspicions are almost always piqued by scolds of any and every variety.

    There were advantages to being raised, as I was, under the authority of a habitual liar and cheat. I knew from an early age that the behaviors against which he railed the loudest were the very vices in which he himself indulged with greatest frequency.
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  10. There's an expression among junkies of an era past (40-plus years ago, say, when travel by intercity bus was much more common) that an addict could get off the Silver Dog in some forlorn middle-of-nowhere town he had never before set foot in and within minutes meet a person who had the connections.

    A person looking to get a little action on the side will find likeminded others. Ain't gotta be attractive, nor smooth, nor wealthy. Just gotta be willing.
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  11. Tiki Tom

    Tiki Tom Practically Family

    I'm suspecting that many simply stifled their inner urges until something popped. Often with results that they lived to regret.

    (It's the romantic in me.)
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  12. One of the things to put in the never-to-be-worried-about bucket is people who want to have casual sex finding each other. The internet, as with most forms of communication, has amped it up, but I have no doubt not-married cavemen and women were "hooking up" behind the cave regularly: "I'll leave a pile of leaves over by that rock when 'he's' out killing a giant animal and we can meet."

    Have not read this book in many years, but in one of the most oppressive and frightening society ever created - "1984 -" isn't a big part of the story Winston's illegal affair? Here is a society that places no value on the individual life (but will kill for the collective - no inconsistency in logic there) / where disobeying is met with brutal torture, but Winston and Julia (I think that's her name) "go for 'it'" anyway, why, in part, 'cause people like to have sex and almost always find a way.
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  13. The thing with Winston and Julia was that they were "Outer Party" members -- an elite class required to maintain a high standard. Nobody cared if proles engaged in random sex -- and this was, in fact, encouraged by the publication of cheap romance novels and pornographic teleplays -- because it was a cheap anodyne that kept them in line. Julia's job, in fact, was working in the "Pornosec," the department in charge of generating such material.

    This is similar to the way in which Aldous Huxley handled the issue twenty years earlier in "Brave New World," in portraying a technocratic society where random sex wasn't just encouraged, it was required, and for similar reasons. Huxley's society prohibited couples from becoming emotionally involved with each other, and Orwell did likewise with his rules for Party members, likely picking up the idea directly from the earlier book.
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  14. Two thoughts from this, one, it's time for me to re-read "1984" as I forgot 80% of what you wrote (and I've read the book at least twice in the last thirty plus years) and, two, individuals have enough trouble balancing the physical desires and emotional attachments of sex, the state should just stay out, but those type of states never do.
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  15. The Nazi state, with its various racial purity laws, had a very heavy hand in the relationships of couples -- the idea being that the purpose of marriage was reproduction, and that couples should pair up on a eugenic basis rather than out of any emotional attachment to each other. This was a line of thought that was actually rather common in much of the rest of the advanced world at the time -- there was a lot written even in the US in the 1930s about how "romantic love" cheapened the real purpose of reproduction, and how "intelligent people" should go about reproduction in an "intelligent way." That's more of the whole technocratic worldview of the times coming to bear.

    The Soviet Union went back and forth on marriage questions. The USSR in the twenties went to great lengths to legitimize the common-law marriages which had been common under Tsarism, to liberalize divorce laws, and to ensure that women had equal legal rights in marriage on every level. This caused much outcry in the West over how the filthy Bolshies were undermining man's "natural and God-given headship" over women in the marital relationship. Later on, though, with the approach of WWII, laws were tightened to encourage larger families, with tax incentives offered for families with children, and abortion was banned. This changed again during the Khruschev era and after with a return for the most part to the more liberalized position of the twenties.

    In general, it serems that Orwell's portrayal of the situation in Oceania owes much more to the Nazis and to the eugenics movement than to the Soviets. And Huxley went even further with his society -- reproduction in his Fordist society was entirely a matter for science, with babies mass-produced in bottles in laboratories, bred to specific genetic standards for specific purposes.
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  16. ⇧ And once again, the answer is...the Nazis were evil. They were - and I'm not making light of that - but it is amazing how evil and how often the finger gets pointed back at them, usually, rightfully so. Oceania, Hitler's Germany, Czarist's Russia or the Worker's Paradise (or plenty of over fussing and messing around in this area by the US Gov't), my answer is always the same - 1. Smaller is better, leave people the widest swath of individual freedom possible and 2. People will mess up their sex lives enough without any "help" from the gov't as that help usually just makes it worse.
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  17. Big J

    Big J Call Me a Cab

    Nazis and Marxists and Huxley, oh my!

    I agree with Fading Fast, politicians ought to confine themselves to being forgettable grey suited administrators of society. When someone who wants to be a 'leader' with a 'vision' for your life comes along, it almost never works out well for the little guy.

    I can understand that pre-WWII you could go to bars and speakeasies to hook up, but that required some disposable income, and I was under the impression that disposable income for the masses was a post-War invention as part of consumer culture. And outside of the big cities, was that culture so widespread?
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  18. There were speaks for every budget, so to speak. The five-cent glass of beer was still common into the mid-1930s, even if it was vile needle-beer, and there were plenty of places to drink it. The image of swanky cocktail lounge Rainbow Room elegance we associate with the period was far outweighed by cheap dives and shady roadhouses where people went to drink and cavort. The Boston Daily Record did an expose a few months after beer was legalized in Massachusetts in 1933, which, despite its typical Hearst-tabloid sensationalism, did document quite nicely the sexual doings that went on in such places around the Hub City, and by extension, everywhere else:


    Declaring that the licensing of 3.2 beer establishments has resulted in the creation of an entirely new crop of dives in which "shocking conditions" exist, with drunken women staggering about and the sexes mingling indiscriminately in darkened booths, Rev. Roland D. Sawyer of Ware yesterday demanded a cleanup of conditions.

    Sawyer, a member of the Legislature, and of the special recess commission which was created to draft proposed hard liquor legislation, said that the hearings of his commission have brought out these facts. He addressed open letters to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board, the licensing boards of Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, where he said conditions were the worst, and to the heads of police departments in those cities.


    This committee found, he said, that in places that were licensed to sell legal beer, the proprietors were not satisfied with the beer sales and soon began selling hard liquors of all kinds varying from 35 to 75 cents per drink. Some of the patrons, he said, were girls as young as 14 years of age. In many of the places visited, according to the committee, they were admitted only after the scrutiny of villainous-looking bouncers, but they failed to state how they were able to pass this inspection.

    "Within some of these beer gardens," according to Mr. Sawyer's letter, "were stalls completely shielded from observation, unlighted, and in which there were persons of both sexes. In one place they caught glimpses of men and women in a hilarious condition, and in another place there was a drunken woman running about to get her shoes shined. In practically all places they saw drunken girls as young as 14 years of age. These same joints had regular licenses to sell beer. The situation demands correcting forthwith."

    The recess commission of which Rev. Mr. Sawyer is a member has completed its public hearings and is now in executive session, drafting laws for the control of liquor sales after the repeal of Prohibition."

    -- Boston Daily Record, 9/26/33

    Now, just guessing from the context, but I kind of suspect "getting her shoes shined" is a polite euphemism for "getting her ashes hauled."
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  19. Let’s hear it for the “Golden Age of Comics” and "Professor Marston"




    Last edited: Oct 11, 2017
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  20. Roadhouses...... yes.... those were a thing. Well covered in King's 11/22/63 from a c.1958 perspective, if memory serves. (The protagonist in that book has a relationship with a lady whose divorce is not yet finalised; both before and after than point, as single people, they visit an out of town roadhouse / motel type place for discreet adult encounters.

    Isn't that the one that Chuck Berry was caught out by? Yes - appears so: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-...sted-on-mann-act-charges-in-st-louis-missouri

    Hence another gag - "Hey, I got a social disease!" (during the number Officer Krupke in West Side Story.

    I remember a university history professor who would often say "the marriage of affection is a twentieth century invention." By which he meant that it was one for the rich before that, who had property and inheritance worries, and who would marry for land or political reasons, while the poor did as they liked. Poor people would often have some form of marriage in England / the UK, whether religious (which carried legal weight) or not - see, for example, the 'tramp marriages' of the Middle Ages, when people would literally ask an actual tramp (for my American cousins, this means a hobo, not a naughty lady!) to perform the ceremony, typically in exchange for a meal or some small change. Not legally valid, but those who were not able to have a church wedding viewed it as legitimising their relationship in the eyes of the Divine.

    In Scotland, the early traditions of legally-recognised "irregular marriage" by "mutual agreement" or "public promise followed by consummation" were abolished in 1939, however, marriage by "cohabitation with repute" (commonly referred to as "habit with repute") survived until 2006, when Scotland became the last European jurisdiction to do away with common law marriage. Habit with repute covered the situation where a couple lived together as if man and wife, and their relationship was such that people generally might assume them to be married, or as good as. In such circumstances, until 2006, Scots law considered them legally and validly married. (This of course only applied to conventional, heterosexual couplings; full same sex marriage only arrvied in Acotland about a decade later, and to the best of my knowledge habit and repute never extended to cover same-sex couples during the era of the Blairite 'civil partnerships').

    Quite so. Winston and Julia's crime wasn't their affair per se, but that it was more than purely sexual.

    Indeed. Churchill himself was an advocate of eugenics. If memory serves, it was he who stated "One generation of idiots is enough." (with the then contemporary understsnding of the word 'idiot'). This was in the context of his expressed desire for a law requiring the forcible sterilsation of all those who fell below a specfic mental capacity in order to prevent them breeding.

    It does often fascinate me how it was often the Soviets, who I grew up with being demonised during the Cold War era, who were more advanced in terms of gender equality.

    Possibly reflective of the difference between, in that specific period, Hitler and Stalin. Whereas Hitler was all about building the Aryan Superman and trying to reach the pinnacle of racial superiority, Stalin seems often to have regarded his own people as almost disposable: in part, the willingness to just throw men at the vastly better-equipped Nazis seems to have played a significant role in the crucial role the USSR played in defeasting Nazi Germany.
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