Doc and the 1939 World’s Fair, Part 3

There was certainly huge anticipation for the opening day of the World’s Fair on April 30, 1939. An interesting note about the Doc Savage novel World’s Fair Goblin, was that in order to have it also appear in April 1939 (to take marketing advantage of Fair mania), the novel was written before the Fair itself opened. Its depiction of the crowds, bustle and excitement was speculation, based on pre-opening visits to the fairgrounds, and the immense amount of promotional materials everywhere in New York at that time.

But Opening Day itself was something special. General Admission tickets were 75 cents…a not inconsiderable sum for that time (you could buy seven pulp magazines for that amount, and still have a nickel left over).

World’s Fair Ticket

The President, Franklin Roosevelt, would give the official opening day speech.

Ticket to attend Franklin Roosevelt’s Opening Day speech

Newspapers were filled with ads about how to get to the Fair.

Newspaper ad for the Fair

For the Doc Talos novel Towers, I wanted to capture a little of that excitement and anticipation. So the beginning of the book is a series of preludes, in which the characters look ahead on the eve of Opening Day. In one of them, Rickie Talos, Andy (Kong) Kingman, and Theo Jacob (my versions of Pat, Monk and Ham), share a midnight dinner before the Fair opens. For a long time before writing it, I pondered about what each of them would be doing at the Fair. Rickie, with her salon and her passion for flying, would certainly visit the Cosmetics Pavilion and the Aviation Building. Andy, eminent chemist, would probably have had some sort of contact with DuPont, but would be more interested in the Amusement area. I thought it likely Theo would have been involved in the legal side of the Freedom Pavilion (a project promoting free societies, and a repudiation of war which was then actively brewing in Europe). Though the Freedom Pavilion never did come to fruition, there was a constant stream of legal work in assisting people in their efforts to escape countries deeply shadowed by war and oppression…an important mission for the most astute lawyer Harvard ever turned out. And Doc, well, the brain tumor operation on an underprivileged child was fine for the pulp World’s Fair Goblin, but taking a more realistic tack, I thought perhaps a speech in the Hall of Medicine on the treatment of brain tumors.

Here are Rickie, Andy and Theo, in an excerpt from the novel, chatting about the day to come.

April 30, 1939 12:15 AM, Anatole’s Restaurant, New York City

Rickie couldn’t keep her eyes from straying to Theo’s hair. Perfect cut of course, neat, masculine and professional. But since Andy had whispered to her the apparently momentous secret that it was dyed, she’d been trying to spot some evidence of the coloring job. No…it was perfect. She wanted to know what he used. It would be fabulously popular in her salon. Still, how did one approach asking a question like that?

Andy had obviously put the question in her head in order to prompt her to an indiscreet inquiry that would profoundly embarrass Theo..what a devil he was. She shifted her gaze over to him, polishing off the rare steak he had drowned in sauce. “Hey Andy,” she said, “I just have to ask. You’re an Okie, right? How in hell did you end up with hair the color of an Irish pimp’s?”

Andy gagged on his bite of steak. Theo chuckled. Rickie did her very best to suppress a grin.

“Well,” Andy recovered himself enough to supply a much more gigantic grin than she ever could have managed, “Mom got around, you know? Catholics had to have been more fun than the local Presbyterian stiffs.”

“Uh huh.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

She rested back in her chair. Anatole’s was a nice place. She enjoyed putting on the ritz to come out for late dinner, and had been delighted when Theo and Andy had invited her. With the Fair opening tomorrow – today, actually – they were ready, as always, to start partying early.

“So what are you boys going to be checking out?”

“I thought I might have me a look at Rosita Royce at the Crystal Palace.”

“A girlie show,” Theo sniffed. “Why doesn’t this surprise me?”

“According to their leaflet, she’s gonna do the Dance of the Six Doves, shyster. Finest exhibition of graceful movement since Salome did her veil thing. And don’t get on your high horse with me. When we were watching them set up all the shows in the Amusement Area, I saw you taking in the babe over the spread legs of that Venus funhouse.”

“That’s a reproduction from Botticelli…”

“Yeah, she’s really demure. Arm positioned sort of strategically over her bazooms and all.”

Theo sighed. “Shall we move on? What are you planning on seeing, Rickie?”

“They look to have some interesting stuff for the salon at the Cosmetics Pavilion. But I plan on being in and out of there pretty fast. Then I’ll be making a beeline for the Aviation Building. It’s been great that security’s been letting us in before the Fair opens…I got a sneak peek at some of the planes they’ll be hanging from the rafters. Some sweet chariots.”

“Our little aviatrix,” Theo smiled.

“You call me that again Attorney Jacob, and I’ll personally fly a prop plane up your ass.”

“Speaking of things being flown into private places,” Andy put in, “any truth to the tale that Hughes asked you to go with him on that Fair stunt flight? You two were seeing quite a bit of each other a little while back.”

“Nice conversational segue. And not a chance.”

“He’s a cad, from what I hear,” Theo pronounced.

“The counselor is addicted to gossip,” Andy laughed. “So, is he at least a good ride while on the ground, Ricks?”

“Screw you.”

“I really cherish these gentle conversations…”

“Look, there was no way he was going to include me on that little spin. He wanted the around the world speed record to be in all the papers, not talk about his latest conquest.”

“Aha. And is that what you are?”

“All the cad stuff aside, he’s pretty charming.”

“So you’re still an item?”

“Will you lay off about Howard? The only romance he’s really interested in is the one he’s got going with his mirror.” Rickie took a sip of her wine. “My focus at the Fair is going to be on cosmetics and planes. But you’re going to be the star among us tomorrow, Theo.”

“Nothing of the sort,” he waved away the thought.

“All that legal work you’ve been doing for the countries stomped on by der fuhrer? I’m going to be proud to be in the audience listening to you speak at the opening of the Polish Pavilion.”

“Well, it’s bittersweet. Most of that work has been clearing obstacles from the path of Poles and Czechs trying to get out of their own countries. And all the work we put into making a statement through the Freedom Pavilion came to nothing.”

“I say you did good,” Rickie raised her glass to him.

“It’s relative, I suppose. What constitutes achievement. My father used to threaten he would put me under his own teachers at the University of Warsaw when I complained about Harvard. Fair as angels, tough as bats out of hell. His favorite phrase was pravo musi byc odwazne, ‘the law must be brave’.”

“Pretty decent words to live by.”

Andy raised his last forkful in a salute similar to Rickie’s. “You were brave enough at Verdun.”

Rickie looked at the two old friends. It always touched her when they set aside their playful squabbles in moments of simple respect. Of course then they found themselves tongue-tied. She reached over to ruffle Andy’s bristly hair, bringing them back to easier ground.

“Why didn’t you hook up with any of the exhibitions, Andy?”

“Aw, those fuckers at Du Pont…”

“…stiffed him,” Theo finished.

“Look, it’s real simple with those guys. You’re on staff and anything you come up with belongs to them, or you’re persona non grata. They got ungodly profits to look out for. That’s a real look at the World of Tomorrow.”

“Poor baby,” Rickie transferred her touch to lay her hand open-palmed on his forehead. “Getting all hot and bothered. And I’m guessing you’re broke again.”

“Hey, I’m eating here, aren’t I?”

They ate quietly for a while. She thought about Doc, probably up in his eyrie right now polishing his lecture for tomorrow. On the treatment of brain tumors. Sexy as all hell.

She knew very well that the Fair had approached Doc to be no less than the figurehead of the whole shebang…the “man of tomorrow” moniker they’d given him in the pulps being tailor-made for their promo. Of course he’d modestly declined.

Someday she’d have to twist his arm to step out and take some of the accolades he deserved. Pipe dream, of course. He’d just be embarrassed. And yeah, she loved him for that.

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