It was 1954. The world was suffering from unrequited love, a big post-war baby boom and an insatiable craving for sweet solace.
In the heart of Little Italy, sharing a cold water flat with creepies, crawlies and things that go bump in the night lived Serendipity 3. Princes under their frog suits, they waited, lips pursed, for the kiss that would reveal their true selves. But it took a magic word to open the palace door.
Days, they hounded producers’ offices. Nights they built skyscrapers of ice cream at Howard Johnson’s. One of them became a lead dancer in “Catch a Star,” and Jose Limon said he might have reached Nijinskian heights, had destiny not called him to the kitchen.
He was Calvin Holt of the sassy ass and incorrigible ways. Fresh from the cornfields of Arkansas. Full of beans and Aunt Buba’s sand tarts. Uninhibited by grey flannel rules. Lit up with crazy electricity that outshone Broadway.
Fast as his heels came Stephen Bruce. Two black, slanty, Slavic eyes in league with the devil. Sly and shy, saucy and sweet talking. A wittily mustached enigma, he could be a son of a B or Pola Negri’s love child. Mixing fantasy and innuendo, he dressed windows at Macy’s and dreamed of draping the stars.
It was Patch Carradine who found The Word that would turn their fortunes. Composing salacious song lyrics and comedy routines for tiny Village boites. Tossing around a vocabulary that wandered from obscure to obscene. Able to do the whole Times crossword puzzle weekly, the London Times on off days. One day he uncrossed a word that rang a bell. A word that you couldn’t find in the dictionary of common usage back in ’54.
The Word was Serendipity. The art of finding the pleasantly unexpected by chance or sagacity. Invented by eighteenth century wordsmith Sir Horace Walpole, it evoked the ancient legend of the three princes of the island no longer known as Serendip.
“ Hey,” said the boys, “that’s a good name for a place of our own.” The rest reads like A Thousand and One Nights. The Serendipity 3 pooled their entire fortunes of three hundred dollars and staked a claim to a tiny principality in the basement of a tenement on East Fifty-Eighth Street.
It was New York’s first coffee house boutique. The first Tiffany lampshaded meeting place since the days of Diamond Jim Brady. Serendipity had come into the world four tables, sixteen chairs and a towering espresso machine strong. In no time, [patrons out numbered the facilities. Nightly the line formed, stretching around the block and under the old Third Avenue El.
Before he was anyone, Andy Warhol declared it his favorite sweet shop, and paid his chits in drawings. Photographers discovered the charms of Tiffany glass set against whitewashed walls. New York’s avant-garde caught on that nineteenth century junk was suddenly twentieth century chic.
The Serendipty 3 lost no time learning how to cook, design, whip and turn on the frozen hots. They rolled in the loot and rolled around the corner to the cozy brownstone on Serendipity Street. The entire Silk Stocking community squeezed into its tightest jeans and queued up.
The kitchen buzzed to all hours producing never-before extravaganzas. The general store and boutique grew trendier with every passing Hebrew Eyechart dishtowel and Little Red Riding Hood’s jigsaw puzzle (365 pieces all of them red). Swivel-hipped waiters balanced trays overflowing with calories. Everything was for sale, including the waiters. Frozen Hot Chocoholics were nurtured and Apricot Smushniks were sated. Palates pampered with caviar developed a list for Hard Times fare like Lemon Ice Box Pie and Texas Chili.