36 – Will You Travel Me?

Will you travel me?

When I interviewed a woman whose mother travelled with the Abbey Company in the 1940s, she told me this was the ‘lingo’ the actors used when they needed help with their luggage. A kindly request, and another member of the company might take some of the things you couldn’t fit into your case, or take one of your bags.

Will you travel me?

I’d forgotten about it until today, when I was sitting on a suitcase packed with books, makeup and Lego trying to close it.

Aideen also had no such help when she left for Grand Central. The truth is, I don’t know where exactly she left from in 1940, as I don’t know exactly where she was living. Her address keeps changing throughout her stay in New York, and much of her correspondence was going to Choate’s office rather than anywhere else. She did live at the Whitby building at some point.

At that time, they were small, studio apartments full of theatre people, humming with parties until late and rarely awake before noon. Now, it’s a sedate and historical place to live or stay. Set back from the sidewalk is a revolving wooden door leading into an expansive lobby. There’s a blast of hot air as you come in from the street and a doorman touches his cap.

Whitby Building
Whitby Building


I don’t like to think of Aideen alone here, pacing the floor of her small room on the sixth floor with a drink in one hand and the telegram announcing Frolie’s death in another.

Kay’s arrival brings a wave of perfume and a charge of energy that sends the revolving door spinning. As she waits for the elevator, she sings under her breath the tune she’s currently composing for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Upstairs, she makes coffee, black as lead, and they sit to talk things over.

Kay Swift - For those who've been trying to picture her
Kay Swift – For those who’ve been trying to picture her

It now appears that the connection between Kay and Aideen was Ed Byron: an actor and radio star that was a friend of the Abbey Company. Kay dated him after Gershwin left for Hollywood, and according to Swift family lore he was a fun, hard-drinking “Mr Right Now”. When Gershwin died, Byron ended it suddenly with Kay, as if he didn’t want to be dating a grieving widow. But the women stayed close. So close that in 1941, when Kay was on the ranch in Oregon, she sent a letter from her US bank stating that her Warburg trust fund would support Aideen, in her application for a US visa. Many a female friendship is consolidated by the unanimous dismissal of a man.

So it strikes me that as these women sit there in the apartment in the Whitby, talking things over, that Kay’s advice to Aideen may be to keep her options open. Given Gershwin’s brain haemorrhage (at 38), Frolie’s death (at 32) and Arthur’s TB, they have already learnt about unexpected death and the pain and struggle of those left behind. There are plenty of eligible men and plenty of work in New York City, she reminds her. Including Philip Merivale, a theatre producer who has been close to Aideen for some time. (I found out about him here: Date Nights) As wonderful as Arthur is, she is young and talented and deserves a life of her own …

Regardless, Aideen leaves for Grand Central Terminal. She walks under the widespread wings of the eagle, through the wooden swing door and into Vanderbilt Hall to wait, studying the Tiffanys’ clock set in green marble or reading a magazine from the newspaper stand. There are sleeper carriages on the train, but she won’t sleep a wink until she is reunited with Arthur.

Waiting Room in Grand Central Station
Waiting Room in Grand Central Station

At the tour I did of Grand Central, the tour guide insisted that New York isn’t a city that goes in much for history, or sentiment. I couldn’t disagree more; it wasn’t the time to point this out. With tears in my eyes, I went back to the Hotel Edison and that overweight suitcase. I’m writing this in the lobby, where they’ve done their best to keep the art deco style although when you sit here to rest you’ll notice it’s faded and getting close to shabby.

I learnt from Aideen’s journals (kindly shared by Christine in Los Angeles) that at this point, she wanted nothing more than to go back to Ireland. And, for once, I now know exactly how she felt. Wonderful as New York is, I’m ready to go home.

PS – Don’t worry – I’ve only started to process the Kay Swift/Aideen information from Columbia AND the Ria Mooney papers from the New York Public Library. There are many more posts to come, at more reasonable intervals.

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