George Jessel and the "Bloody Mary" (long!)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Thu Dec 2 21:37:31 UTC 1999

     Christopher B. O'Hara's THE BLOODY MARY (1999) dismisses George Jessel
on page 6:

     But what about George Jessel?  Many people erroneously attribute the
creation of the Bloody Mary to him--with good reason.  Jessel, a well-known
comedian, had a side job working for John Martin, a member of the Hublein
family.  Hublein, known throughout the world as a major producer of liquor
and premixed cocktails, was called Hublein Industries in the early 1900s, and
was principally involved in the hotel business in Hartford, Connecticut.
After their hotel garnered acclaim for its fine cuisine and beverages, the
family began packaging prepared food and drinks.  They also bought the
Smirnoff vodka brand from a small distillery in Connecticut, which was then
making only a few thousand cases of it--a tiny fraction of the amount
Smirnoff produces today in a month.
     According to DeGroff (Dale, from Rainbow Room--ed.), "After the war,
John Martin started to promote the hell out of Smirnoff, with screwdrivers,
Moscow mules, and Bloody Marys.  Martin hired Jessel to market the drink, and
that's how he became connected with the Bloody Mary."

    I've been going through the George Jessel papers at the NYPL Performing
Arts Library.  I'm not done--there's a lot of this performing stuff in there.
 This long passage is from George Jessel's book, THE WORLD I LIVED IN (1975),
pg. 83:

     I have always had a great penchant for the sauce and have concocted many
varieties of highballs and mixed drinks over the years.  But very few people
know how the Bloody Mary came to be.  Today, it is one of the most popular
"morning after" or "hangover" cures there is, as well as a companion for
Sunday brunch.
     In 1927, I was living in Palm Beach, or on a short visit, I don't
remember which, where nearly every year I captained a softball team for a
game against the elite of Palm Beach such as the Woolworth Donohues, the Al
Vanderbilts, the Reeves, and their ilk.  My team was made up of rag-tag New
York cafe society.  Because I had been around Broadway and baseball
characters, I managed to slip in a ringer now and again.  (We generally won.)
     On this particular trip I brough along Buddle Adler, a semi-pro on Long
Island and a shoe salesman during the week.  Buddy was later to become
production head at 20th Century-Fox and marry Anita Louise.  Both of them,
unfortunately, are now dead.  The proceeds of our, shall we say, friendly
wagers on the games, went to a charity for underprivileged children.  Adler
hit a home run with the bases loaded, and we won the game and collected
several thousand dollars in bets.
     There was a famous hangout in Palm Beach at the time run by Paddy La
Maze, a former ball player himself.  To the winners, he let them drink all
the champagne they could take; the losers, beer.
     Following the game, Adler (who was hung like a bull, generally came
along to try to find a rich dowager to marry but never did), myself, and a
guy named Elliott Sperver, a Philadelphia playboy, went to La Maze's and
started swilling champagne.  We were still going strong at 8:00 A.M. the next
morning.  I had a 9:30 volleyball date with Al Vanderbilt.  I was feeling no
pain at all.
     We tried everything to kill our hangovers and sober up.  Then Charlie,
the bartender, enjoying our plight, reached behind the bar.
     "Here, Georgie, try this," he said, holding up a dusty bottle I had
never seen before.  "They call it _vodkee_.  We've had it for six years and
nobody has ever asked for it...."
     I looked at it, sniffed it.  It was pretty pungent and smelled like
rotten potatoes.  "Hell, what have we got to lose?  Get me some
Worcestershire sauce, some tomato juice, and lemon; that ought to kill the
smell," I commanded Charlie.  I also remembered that Constance Talmadge,
destined to be my future sister-in-law, always used to drink something with
tomatoes in it to clear her head the next morning and it always worked--at
least for her.
     "We've tried everything else, boys, we might as well try this," I said
as I started mixing the ingredients in a large glass.  After we had taken a
few quaffs, we all started to feel a little better.  The mixture seemed to
knock out the butterflies.
     Just at that moment, Mary Brown Warburton walked in.  A member of the
Philadelphia branch of the Wanamaker department store family, she liked to be
around show business people and later had a fling with Ted Healey, the comic.
 She had obviously been out all night because she was still dressed in a
beautiful white evening dress.
     "Here, Mary, take a taste of this and see what you think of it."
     Just as she did, she spilled some down the front of her white evening
gown, took one look at the mess, and laughed, "Now, you can call me Bloody
Mary, George!"
     From that day to this, the concoction I put together at La Maze's has
remained a Bloody Mary with very few variations.  Charlie pushed it every
morning when "the gang" was under the weather.
     Now, about a year later, the benefit for Joe E. Lewis was to be held at
the Oriental Theater and I was sitting in my hotel room with Ted Healey
before leaving for the theater.  Ted, as usual, was slightly inebriated.  He
happened to pick up a copy of a Chicago paper and read an item in Winchell's
column.  It said that I had named the Bloody Mary after Ted's then steady
girl, Mary Brown Warburton.
     Ted turned white.  "What the hell are you doing making a pass at my
girl, you son of a bitch," he yelled.  And just as he did, he pulled out a
pistol and tried to shoot me.  I ducked and the shot missed, but as the
pistol went off within a foot of my right ear, I was completely deaf for a
week.  I had a hell of a job doing the benefit that night.
     But at least now you know the origin of the Bloody Mary, and I believe
it was _Esquire_ magazine who finally gave me credit for it many, many years
     Too bad I can't collect royalties on it.  In fact, I have never even
received a case of vodka from any of the distillers for helping to make vodka
the most popular, er, beverage in the United States today.

     As the recent THE BLOODY MARY book states, that's not exactly true.
I've seen Jessel in a full-page magazine ad.  But how much of his story can
be believed?  I'll check for the Joe E. Lewis benefit date, and then try to
hunt down the Winchell column.

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