Camera Girl Captures Essence of 1950s Nightclubbers

The girl wandering around with her big camera and flash was a ubiquitous feature of American nightclubs prior to the 1970s.  Generally, people posed stiffly.  But every once in a while the camera captured the essence of a couple, such as these two examples.  The first is from Bill’s Gay 90s café on East 54th Street in New York.

The whole Gay 90s theme was big from the 1950s through the 1970s, especially for ice cream parlors (remember Farrell’s?), but not many are around today.

In this photo the only Gay 90s element that I can discern is the stained glass window in the door next to the bar.  I love these people who are smoking and drinking in the crowded bar while tuxedoed waiters scurry about.  Check out the bow ties.

Happy times at Tijuana’s Aloha Café in Old Mexico.

About Peter Moruzzi

Historian Peter Moruzzi is passionate about the middle decades of the 20th century: its nightlife, classic dining, and architecture. Born in Concord, Massachusetts and raised in Hawaii, Moruzzi graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and later attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. In 1999, he founded the Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS ModCom) an architectural preservation group. In 2006, Moruzzi produced "Desert Holiday," a jaunty documentary chronicling the history of the Coachella Valley as seen through vintage postcards. He is also the author of "Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground" and "Palm Springs Holiday: A Vintage Tour From Palm Springs to the Salton Sea." Moruzzi's latest book is titled "Classic Dining: Discovering America's Finest Mid-Century Restaurants" with photography by Sven A. Kirsten. Peter Moruzzi resides with his partner in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles and in Palm Springs.
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13 Responses to Camera Girl Captures Essence of 1950s Nightclubbers

  1. swiveltam says:

    Hi, I’m looking for more information about the girls who took the pictures. Who employed them, how much money they made etc. Thanks.

    • Gosh, you ask excellent questions. I have not looked into how much they made although they did work at all of the major nightclubs throughout the U.S.

      • swiveltam says:

        I’ve been searching for two days and have found very little. Not even the name of any agencies. I may just have to fabricate and guess. I did find an awesome picture of a Camera Girl so at least I have some idea of costume. Thanks anyway :)

  2. Linda Manning says:

    I have postcard same as on this page at the top. On the back are four signatures. I can make out two…Chickie Castro, L. Carruls?, something Quinn, one I can’t decipher and then there is the letter W. Could these have been entertainers back in the 1950’s. I appreciate your help

  3. DeSoto says:

    In the post-World War II years, the so-called “Gay ’90s” were also called “The Gaslight Era” – all completely over-romanticized in the usual way of being happier, more carefree, less complicated, etc. than the hectic, worrisome Atomic Age. And, as seen here, there were a whole lot of bars and nightclubs that used the theme.

    In Honolulu in the early 1970s, an early gay bar used the name “Gay 90s” as a play on the phrase, but using “gay” in its newer definition.

    In the photo of the happy (?) couples at Tijuana’s Aloha Cafe, I’m thinking these are two American gringos who are making merry with two resident senoritas they’ve encountered on-site.

  4. Carlos King says:

    Wonderful pictures Peter! In the first picture I love the contrast of the pink and black concept; to me it carries to the the other two photographs not in color itself but through the meaning of color. Pink is such a joyfull, gay and whimsical color and black is elegant, sophisticated and also can be depict a persons dark side. The women and men in the in the first picture are having a blast which carry the pink and black “scheme,” and the people in the second Tijuana picture to me convey black! They seem to have such an aloof attitude, specially the woman wearring the black dress, one can wonder what perverted thoughts are going through her mind.

    • Carlos, I love your interpretations of the two photos! Sometimes the club photographer captures the essence of people…or at least what they’re feeling at the time. Pink and black. Yes.

  5. david behl says:

    Peter:
    If you think the 1890’s were so gay or even happy, read Luc Sante’s LOW LIFE,
    a history of NYC. It covers this period which was full of hardship for most. Nostalgia typically recalls only the good memories, culture and advertising amplifying and misinforming us as time goes by to sell us to the highest bidder.

    • Peter Moruzzi says:

      Certainly the same was true of the “Roaring Twenties” or “Fabulous Fifties.” It’s impossible to capture a decade in a slogan and silly to try. The point of my posts isn’t to gloss over the hardships of an era but to recognize that an important aspect of our existence is attempting to enjoy ourselves a bit, to celebrate with our fellow human beings what it means to be alive.

  6. Nix Cooper says:

    Too fabulous! However………..the only Gay 90s element that I can discern is the stained glass window…………..I think you need to take a closer look at the gentleman behind Hermione (don’t you think the name fits), that sweet pose with his right palm cradling a martini smile and the ‘come hither’ glint in his eyes looks steeped in gayness to me.

    • Of course, the Gay 90s didn’t refer to homosexuality but to the supposedly lighthearted and carefree 1890s in the U.S. That said, the guy behind Hermione sure might be gay in all meanings of the word.

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