The Press: Dry Manhattan

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When he started writing "Dream Street," a once-a-week Broadway column, for the New York Daily News in 1951, Drama Critic Robert M. (for McPhierson) Sylvester saw little future for Broadway columnists. The migration to the suburbs, he reasoned, was not only killing off nightclubs but the demand for warmed-over café gossip as well. Columnist Sylvester was too pessimistic. When busy Telecaster Ed Sullivan cut his columns to two-a-week last May, the News upped "Dream Street" to five-a-week. By last week, it was syndicated in 30 papers.

Four Paris Fun. "Dream Street" is booming because Columnist Sylvester, unlike most of his competitors, lays no claim to omniscience, peddles no phony inside dope, and conducts no esoteric feuds. He cheerfully admits that "I have no pipeline to the Kremlin and no idea what Congress is going to do." He thinks a Broadway column should be "entertaining, give people a laugh." To do so, he serves his readers a dry Manhattan—four-parts fun to one-part reporting. Now a balding 48, Sylvester covers a bright-light beat that ranges from the East Side Chinese Laundromat called "Helpee Selfee" to the West Side gypsy who advertises "all fortunes guaranteed," from the Bowery tattoo parlor which offers "personalized monograms" to the swank Sutton Place apartment building which prohibits "beggars, baby carriages, bicycles or foreign cars in the lobby." The freshness of Sylvester's approach stems from innate curiosity, a versatile talent (he has written six novels, one movie script, is collaborating on a musical), and a sharp ear for the irreverent crack and the offbeat anecdote: Some Sylvesterisms : ¶ On progressive schools: "Johnny, stop playing with Joseph's ear.

"Johnny, I said stop playing with Joseph's ear.

"Johnny! Give me Joseph's ear!" On the Russian farm delegation: during a tour of a California factory, one Russian asked a foreman how many hours U.S. workers put in weekly. Amazed to hear about the 40-hour week, the Russian pointed out that Soviet workers stay on the job 70 hours. Replied the foreman: "You'd never get this crew to work 70 hours. They're a bunch of Commies." ¶ On the baby sardine who was frightened by a submarine: "Don't worry, dear," soothed his mother, "it's only a can of people."

It Only Takes Two. Sylvester seldom peddles nightclub scandal, but likes to take a good-natured poke at such cafe society figures as the interior decorator for neurotics who "specializes in furniture made of overwrought iron" and the Sultan's son who "drives a foreign elephant." He is an authority on functional (if fictitious) drinks, e.g., the Mambo cocktail ("two of these and you can't stop shaking"), the Instant cocktail ("two drinks and you have your hangover immediately") and the Do-It-Yourself cocktail ("two of them and no one can help you"). And he has, to date, topped all others in the dry Martini sweepstakes: he knows a bartender who puts the gin and vermouth bottles close together and "just lets the vermouth's shadow fall on the gin."

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