#1: Pee Wee

Pee Wee Marquette was the caustic M.C. at historic jazz club, Birdland, during the 1940s and ’50s.

The short-tempered midget spent the last 25 years of his life as doorman-greeter for Hawaii Kai, a schlock tourist restaurant next door to the Winter Garden Theatre in Times Square. Come bend your ear to another voice of Lost New York.

TRANSCRIPT

NARRATOR: This is Tales of Times Square: The Tapes. I’m Josh Alan.

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, the mysteries of Times Square loomed large. 1,200 prostitutes raged across 8th Avenue from 34th to 50th Streets with a corridor of super-fly pimps in their Cadillacs, so many that the police department set up a cordoned-off walkway described by one sergeant as “two pimps wide.” There were dozens of clapboard massage parlors that sprung up week by week with homemade psychedelic signage. Criminality was out of control right outside the legitimate Broadway theaters. All of this mixed uneasily with the history of old Broadway whose Guys-and-Dolls senior denizens still survived in their old age amid this new squalor.

By the time I was 30 years old in 1986, I’d spent 10 years on old Broadway, culminating in the publication of the book, Tales of Times Square. But I forgot about the tapes, disintegrating cassettes from 35 years ago that I recorded during research for my book; an audio landscape of Times Square in the 1970s and ’80s where local people I’d spent years getting to know bared their souls.

It’s 1982 and the hit musical, Cats, has just opened at the Winter Garden, but next door a short-tempered black midget paces at the doorway of Hawaii Kai like Napoleon. He’s been serving time here since 1960, greeting folks with his cane and pointing the way upstairs at the shlock tourist restaurant next to the Winter Garden. His domain resembles a tropical Hawaiian Disney Land exhibit with a coat check and restrooms. Business is terrible. If you grease his palm, he’ll sit you down by the mock waterfall and tell you his life story.