yet more on Art Hickman

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Jan 7 20:39:50 UTC 2010

The first of these two items is from the SFChronicle, but not to be found in the Proquest database, which skips that date entirely -- as well as the entire issue of the following Sunday; I haven't checked to see whether the Proquest file skips every Sunday issue.  The librarians in the SF History room of the SF Public Library gave me the reference from their Hickman file, and I copied it from the microfilm of the paper, which remarkably is available at the Vassar library.

        HICKMAN TELLS SECRETS OF SHOW BUSINESS.  ***  By Walter Anthony.
        ***  For the time being, Hickman is director-in-chief of the jazz forces at the St. Francis, taking up his post nightly at the "traps" of his trade, beguiling the most reluctant into the dance, and thence leading them on to the extravagances of the latest steps. . . .  . . . Art Hickman, originator of the hotel dance in its present aspects, and sought eagerly by the swellest caravansaries of Gotham, to tempt Manhattan feet into further extremities of folly, is still at heart a showman, regretting perhaps the ups and downs of the managerial career, missing the blind excitement attendant upon guessing what the dear public wants, and a little bit annoyed with himself that he has made a great success in an unexpected quarter.
        Last week, encountering Director Hickman in the St. Francis, where he has his office by day and his job by night, he led me to his desk and drew forth therefrom the copy of a newspaper, dated April something, 1911.  It was illuminated with many clever pictures and covered with dense writing, It was, in short, my interview with Hickman before the naughty jade of music, Miss Jazz, caught him up to make him rich.
        "We're doing pretty well," said Hickman, rubbing his head, whence his hair threatens certain departures. . . .
        [reminisces with Hickman about when Hickman was manager of the Garrick Theatre, "the largest motion picture theatre in San Francisco"]
        Just how Hickman came into his own as a musician is really another story and would belong on the music page, only Hickman doesn't aspire to break in there.
        He can't read a note of music, but he can play in all its remote and unusual keys.  That's how he composes his songs -- for he has invaded the cataloguer of publishers successfully, and the book of Victor notes two of his dance records.
        "It's funny," he says, "how a man who didn't want to be a musician was forced into it.  When I get some one to write out what I have composed, he always has to put it into another key.  I can only play in many flats and many sharps, and music musn't be that way if you to sell it on the popular counters of the stores."
        A natural bent, undeveloped by serious training, has found expression in Art Hickman in a form of rhythmic appeal that has given him the widest popularity.  The Biltmore, the Commodore and the Pennsylvania hotels of New York have wired him offers with figures in the prima-donna class.
        But Hickman has no intention of leaving San Francisco.
        Well, I know, but I will not tell, for it concerns a sentiment and the sentiment does Art honor.  ***
        He prefers to remain here, and the St. Francis, where the innovation was introduced, rejoices that the pioneer in the jazz of life makes too much money at it to escape to the perplexities, the worries and the heartaches of showmanship.
        San Francisco Chronicle, March 9, 1919, section E, p. 7, cols. ?-?

LC's American Memory newspapers and the California Digital Newspapers both cite an ad from the SF Call in January, 1910, showing the Hickman was managing the Chutes Theatre; in 1911 he had moved to the Garrick; I don't have a reference to him from 1912; by 1913 he had formed an orchestra and was entertainment director at Boyes Springs.

A couple of months ago I turned up through Proquest's NY Tribune file an interview in which Hickman slights his musical talent, but I supposed that he was just jiving the interviewer.  But Walter Anthony seems to have known him fairly well, and the statement above evidently isn't just artful modesty.  In my last post on Hickman, a couple of weeks ago, I said that the musicians in the St. Francis orchestra could read flyspecks, so it's surprising to find that their leader couldn't read at all.

                New York Not Hospitable? Its Arms Were Open to One Just Back From Saranac.   By Harriette Underhill.
         ***  By and by Art Hickman's band came up and after they had played the opening number Mr. Kiraly asked us  if we should like to meet Mr. Hickman.  ***  He is big and blond and muscular, and even if he is manager of the St. Francis Hotel at home (San Francisco) he is very modest and blushes easily.  ***  . . . a little later, [Hickman] admitted that New York was nicer than San Francisco. . . .
        "This is my first trip to the metropolis and I haven't yet gotten used to it.  It is a wonderful city."
        "You know, I just happened to be a musician and while I play nearly every instrument a little, I don't now one note from another.  What I'm best at is picking men who do known how to play.  See them now -- they are playing better than if I were there directing them."
        New - York Tribune, August 8, 1920, p. ?, col. ?


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

The American Dialect Society -

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