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PC: Today is March 17th and I’m Penny Chumley talking with Frankie Maxwell, former manager of the Top Hat and I’d like to begin by asking her about her personal history which is a very interesting history asking her where she’s from and her transition in getting to Louisville and the work that she did in show business and how she got her job as manager of the Top Hat.

FM: Well, as I said before I’m not a Louisvillian but I am a native of Kentucky, however, I am considered somewhat of a globe trotter in a way to be a woman it’s amazing how far I traveled and into what activities I had I was first of all a teacher, not too long, then I married went to Chicago not too long went to New 1:00York was in show business when show business was the biz no business like show business you know they say and I think with the experiences that I had traveling and with the fact that I learned to get along with people now I just love people then the reason that I landed here in Louisville in 1933 was the fact that my sister was very ill and my Mother asked me to come home to help her take care of my sister and that I did but with everything going out and nothing coming in I said Mother I’ve got to get a job now but I left my job at Pleasures Inn a night club in Chicago to come here and from then on got a job as a maid in the 2:00Kentucky Hotel, left that waitressed over at the Canary Cottage left that, that’s where I was working when I met this man by the name of Robert Williams, alias Rivers everyone in Louisville knew him as Rivers and I had entertained in the Cotton Club in Cincinnati two weeks with two boys and we billed ourselves as the three black dots and we stayed there for two weeds engagement and that’s where I really met this Mister Williams and when he came to Louisville in ’35.

PC: Alright, ok.

FM: So when Mister Williams came by to visit me he wanted me to show him the 3:00city which at the time he knew the city better than I did because he was coming to Louisville for Derbys years before but anyway we were friendly we were good friends and then he had it in his mind that he wanted to go into the victrola business and he bought them old victrolas and if he tore that machine down once he tore it down a hundred times or more just to acquaint himself with the mechanisms in order he could understand how to service the machine in case of a breakdown and he was doing that and there was a man and wife and Mr. and Mrs. 4:00Williams I believe that had a little club in the 1200 block of West Walnut Street and it was namely the Angel Child and it was anything but an angel that was in ’38 and they had family troubles and they wanted to leave Louisville and of course Mr. Williams having this victrola in his place of business and he turned to him to say if you’ll give me a little money I’ll turn this business over to you, you take it, you got it, it’s yours. That’s how we got involved in the business, it didn’t last too long because there was so much upset. Just 5:00almost fifteen minutes by anybody’s watch you could look and watch everybody in that little place run out on the street but at that time twelveth and Walnut was a four way street car stop and there was so many complaints made about it that until, well, all the brass from over at police headquarters and everybody came down and the ABC administrator gave us notice that we would have to relinquish our licenses and close up. He gave us through Labor Day, now after twelve o’clock midnight after Labor Day 1938 we were to close and we did. So through contact with a Mr. Shoeman I think his name was or Goldberg or something was 6:00right on the corner, Jewish fellow, and a grocery store and butcher shop. He owned this little cottage right on the corner of the alley, 1210 West Walnut, at that time a fellow had a used store in there, used store, furniture, clothing, you name it, he had it and then he was way behind in his rent of course so Max told Rivers that he could have that place, he could clean it up, get it off his hands, just take it over, he’d rent it to use. It took us about two weeks to get it in operable condition. We moved everything from across the street right over to 1210 on a dolly, the boys in the neighborhood all that hang around us helped 7:00us and on the 17th of September 1938 we opened up what was called Deluxe Rest. That was the name of it. Now, I was still working at the Kentucky Hotel because in ’37 after the flood, Mr. Childs put all of the black waiters and waitresses our of the dining room at the Canary Cottage and put in white girls so that left me without a job so I went right back to the Kentucky Hotel as maid and when things got just a little too much well then I decided I’d just devote all my 8:00time to the club which at that time was just a neighborhood tavern because all we sold was beer and soft drinks and all baggaged foods like and that was ’38. Every year there was something done some change we’d do this or we’d do the other. Now in ’41 or ’42 I can’t be sure which it was, his friend a George Jackson out of New York was quite a well known national comedian and every Derby even right now, I’m, he’ll be here this Derby. He hasn’t missed a Derby I don’t 9:00think in fifty years I don’t think he has I know he’s made every one since I’ve been here. Anyway, we Rivers had the idea that he could draw all the Derby crowd that at that time was known to be in the block which was on Walnut between Sixth and Seventh. If you wanted to find anybody just get in that six hundred block of West Walnut, stand long enough and that person would come by or stop and you’d find them. Anyway, Rivers says I know what I’ll do, I‘ll name the club for George Jackson, that’s a smart move and I’ll bring all that club from up the 10:00block down here and I said, awe, you know, not too much, I didn’t have much confidence in his logic but it worked. We named it instead of the Deluxe Rest, we forgot about that renamed it Top Hat Tavern and under that he put George Jackson’s Top Hat Tavern. George would tall all of his friends yes, I’m going to the Kentucky Derby and I’ve got my club wide open for you entertainment, live entertainment and everything, ok, here we go. We didn’t have live entertainment then, it was either in ’41 or ’42 but it was in ’48 the first group of live 11:00entertainers now that was ten years later. During the fall and winter months of 1948 we had the back end of the club because we had expanded and built onto it we had the floor all tore up, we was building the bandstand where it could be up higher, we were extending the bar bringing it around the bandstand connecting it around and that’s why it’s serpentine and we had those pieces you know that you lifted over, they were covered the same as the bar, glass. The lower part of the bars was glass brick, illuminated neon lighting effect all around, stools, nice 12:00leather upholstery stools at the bar at that time it was really something of course all of that’s history but we were the first to go into it to that degree and there was you could sit at the bar at the front window and look into the mirror bars that were all around and see all around everywhere. We had tables and chairs all over the floor space but not you still had aisle walking space, no dancing, just come in to sit and drink or rather sip and enjoy the 13:00entertainment. We had been able to make contact with agencies in Detroit, Atlantic City, New York, almost all the agencies that had the type of entertainment we wanted because we had no dancers on the stage it was all just instrumental and maybe a vocalist and that was it. Then, people were coming in for years and years year after year, really had more people in the place that we should have had because they would be standing like cars bumper to bumper well 14:00the people were standing just as close, but no confusion everything was peaceful and it was nice and we had fun and everybody enjoyed it. Somebody bump you, oh I’m sorry, oh forget it, did you spill your drink? Oh that’s alright I’ll get, no I’ll buy you a drink, everybody was just congenial and we had sometimes it was a fifty, fifty crowd there’d be as many blacks as whites or as many whites as blacks and they had a grand time. People were more like people then, now I’m even afraid to go to what you call {inaudible}. I have a very dear friend that has a very lovely club and I only go once a year and that’s when this George 15:00Jackson comes to Derby and he’ll take me over to Joe’s.

PC: That’s hard.

FM: That’s it and Joe is a very good friend of mine …{inaudible}

PC: Uh, huh.

FM: And that’s how the business took us eleven years before we really quit building on or fixing up making changes. You know the air conditioning, sometimes it would be so uncomfortable for the waitresses they’d bring sweaters to work, I’d say you don’t have to do that, they’d say oh Max it’s too cold. {laughs}

PC: {laughs} Ok, uh, when before you came to Louisville, you were telling me that you had different jobs in Chicago and New York and in New York you worked as a dancer on Broadway. I’d like for you to talk about that, it’s a very 16:00interesting story.

FM: Well, this was in ’26 and there was a comedy team called Miller and Lyles and they had an angel that wanted to produce a show around them on Broadway. At first they wanted the brown skinned girls prior to that time of course all the lighter skinned girls was used. Of course the name of the show was Rangtang which gives you the idea that it would be the African side so naturally that’s where the brown skinned girl got her chance, but it was anything but African because it was a beautiful show and it was nice and it was funny and that’s 17:00where I learned the difference between my left foot and my right foot. All before that the Charleston, I was a whiz doing the Charleston, always danced you know, but nothing like the stage and then from Rangtang the choreographers, Charlie Davis and Addison Carey, took the sixteen of us girls together and put us in what we call stock and we did a different show every week and it was the dances we did, we were shown around whoever the featured singer or featured group of dancers or what have you an we were like that and we where at the old 18:00Lincoln theater down West Huntington District. Now, Addison says I’ve got an idea got what we call the, I think it was called the {inaudible}. You’d play a week at this theater and go play a week at the next theater and we had what we called the little {inaudible} we played a week in the Lafayette Theater there at 131st and 7th Avenue then we would commute over to Newark and play the same show a week in Newark if I’m not mistaking I think that was the {inaudible}. Then the following week we’d go to Philadelphia and play the old Stanley Theater there on Broad Street, a week later we’d play in Philadelphia to Baltimore, Maryland we 19:00played the Royal Theater there on Pennsylvania Avenue {inaudible} all them weeks we were at the {inaudible} Theater at 7th and {inaudible} there we was and during the weeks that we were showing every night when the theater would close we were in the theater rehearsing a new show to go right back to New York. We did that for five weeks, the sixth week we were back in New York and we did that over….we did that for quite some time and I don’t remember the date but Bill Robinson the programmer would be featured in the show to be shown on Broadway 20:00called Brown Buddies so Addison took us away from this little stockroom {inaudible} and we started rehearsing for Brown Buddies and that didn’t last too long but we were downtown with, doing Brown Buddies at the same time that Ethel Waters was downtown in Africanna, that’s where I met her.

PC: Huh.

FM: Then when these moving pictures, now this is something you’ll get a kick out of, when the movies started talking we would walk from one side of the stage to 21:00the other to make our entrance from the other side of the stage you get scraped {inaudible} like work with a great big horn on it, nobody saw that but us backstage see and the sound was going through this horn with the picture being shown on the screen and any number of times they’d have to stop it because the guy would be making oh making love to the girl and maybe a dog would be barking at something else, I don’t know, but they’d have to cut it off you know and adjust it but that was in the talking’s infancy and I can remember it well. Now, the fact that you could go to a movie completely and hear it too that was gradually taking a little bit away from the stage you know. So I decided I 22:00better go home now, this was ’33 it’s long enough, I’m going back. So I got ready and flew to Chicago and I’ve got show business in my blood I haven’t gotten it out, so I started working at the Pleasures Inn in Chicago and my sister was ill and my Mother asked me to come home. I’m on my way to the Realta Theater I was working with Sammy Dyre of course and I had my little bag that I carried from the theater with my shoes, makeup and maybe another dress to put on 23:00{inaudible}. I said to the girl in the cab I said when you get to {inaudible}…….first woman {inaudible} in Louisville, Kentucky and that’s what I did {inaudible} January 1933.

PC: Who else did you meet in New York City besides Ethel Waters and Bill Robinson?

FM: Oh, there was Duke Ellington, there was Cath Calloway, and there was Hendersons had a band I can’t think of his name his name was Henderson. As a matter of fact all of these bands you hear about now you may have {inaudible} wonder if they are still around, oh yes, and don’t forget Milton Buckner, now Milt Buckner was in the {inaudible} and I knew {inaudible} to get on the Crusade 24:00for Children. {inaudible section} But there was Lionel Hampton the guy that says “oh yeah” Rogers, Jimmy Rogers, oh just any number professionally. {inaudible} and every time they come this way they usually in class and now that I’m not in the life anymore they still ask about me you know, try to find out if I’m still alive.

PC: What would you consider to be a hay day of the Top Hat night club?


FM: The hay day was from, oh I’m trying to think just who the entertainer was, there was a fellow called Lynn Hope, L-Y-N-N Hope, Lynn Hope he did a saxophone and he wore a turban because he kept his head pretty shaven you know and they called him The Turban and that I think was the hay day of the club. We had more people come in that place just to watch The Turbin and he o was {inaudible} turban and the ladies room you’d walk in one door and that was more or less like 26:00a powder room and then you could walk through but he’d walk right in that ladies room, but the guests weren’t aware of the powder room first they’d just scream and get so excited over the fact that he was in the ladies room but he was really just inside the door but {inaudible section} and he would come out the door, out the front door walk out to 12th Street and the first bus that stopped he’d get on the bus and go on the bus and get off at 13th Street and the bus drivers were aware and they had been alerted about it and he was doing it all the while he would come back in the front door and he’d even get up on the bar and walk the bar and everybody would get so excited over him {inaudible}. I 27:00think that was hay day of the Top Hat, then of course you have, I don’t know if Anita Bryant would want to hear this or not but I made, we made more money than one entertainer that played at the club for six months. That was seven nights a week for six months, her name was Gloria {inaudible} full of {inaudible} beautiful {inaudible section} all the {inaudible} the whites, the blacks 28:00{inaudible section}

And when they left thinking tomorrow night maybe {inaudible section}

You don’t forget there are {inaudible} ones like that leave an impression on you.


PC: Who were some of the other entertainers that you had in your club? What 29:00kinds of entertainment did you have?

FM: Mostly instrumental {inaudible} you had um, Tiny Bradshaw, Candy Johnson, {inaudible} no relation Candy was from Detroit and Bruce was from Springfield, Ohio and they would say ahhh the trumpet player was Doc {inaudible} now the black trumpet player you’re too young {inaudible} came to us from Atlantic City 30:00{inaudible} and every time I {inaudible} tonight’s show and I’d {inaudible} then I forget about it {inaudible}

Side 2

PC: Okay.

FM: and when we were the only ones in the theater {inaudible} all the black entertainers {inaudible} and there was only one that Rivers would want to entertain our guests and that was Sarah Vaughn {inaudible section}