I have strong doubts that a Bloody Mary was served at Harry's Bar in the early 1920s. For one thing, canned tomato juice didn't come along until the late 1920s. For another, the drink does not appear in Harry's drink book that was published during this decade.
George Jessel was born in New York City. He has claimed to have invented the drink and the name. Again, I unearthed first citations.
Wrong on all counts is this from "21," Every Day Was New Year's Eve: Memoirs of a Saloon Keeper (1999), pg. 112: "Arguably the most famous drink credited as having been invented at the club is the Bloody Mary. Almost as famous is the combination of brandy and Benedictine known as 'B&B.' Others with '21' birth certificates are the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Southside."
8 January 1975, San Francisco Chronicle, pg. 44, col. 1:
Fernand Petiot, the former Paris bartender credited with inventing the tomato juice and vodka cocktail known as the Bloody Mary, has died at the age of 74.
Petiot was said to have been experimenting with vodka after having been introduced to it in Paris in 1920.
He settled on a mix of half vodka and half tomato juice and introduced the drink where he worked, Harry's New York Bar, which was frequented by American newspaper corrrespondents and bankers. An American entertainer, Roy Barton, provided the name, saying it reminded him of a Chicago Club, the Bucket of Blood.
In 1934, the drink which didn't do well in Paris, caught on in New York. Petiot, then bartending for Hotel St. Regis, revived it as the Red Snapper because the hotel felt the original name was too vulgar.
Other bars, however, preferred the original title, and its use continued as the drink's popularity spread. The revived drink's mix was changed toinclude Worcester sauce and black and cayenne pepper.
Petiot died Monday at a local hospital.
Perhaps Petoit's didn't invent the Bloody Mary, but merely improved on the recipe of someone else?
M. Ferdinand Petiot was profiled in The New Yorker, "The Talk of the Town: Barman," 18 July 1964, pp. 19-20. Petiot came to the St. Regis from the Savoy in London. On pg. 20, col. 1, Petoit explains:
"I initiated the Bloody Mary of today," he told us. "George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour. We serve a hundred to a hundred and fifty Bloody Marys a day here in the King Cole Room and in the other restaurants and the banquet rooms."
This long passage is from George Jessel's book, The World I Lived In (1975), pg. 83:
I have always had a great penchant for the sauce and have concocted many varieties of highballs and mixed drinks over the years. But very few people know how the Bloody Mary came to be. Today, it is one of the most popular "morning after" or "hangover" cures there is, as well as a companion for Sunday brunch.
In 1927, I was living in Palm Beach, or on a short visit, I don't remember which, where nearly every year I captained a softball team for agame against the elite of Palm Beach such as the Woolworth Donohues, the Al Vanderbilts, the Reeves, and their ilk. My team was made up of rag-tag New York cafe society. Because I had been around Broadway and baseball characters, I managed to slip in a ringer now and again. We generally won.
On this particular trip I brough along Buddle Adler, a semi-pro on Long Island and a shoe salesman during the week. Buddy was later to become production head at 20th Century-Fox and marry Anita Louise. Both of them, unfortunately, are now dead. The proceeds of our, shall we say, friendly wagers on the games, went to a charity for underprivileged children. Adler hit a home run with the bases loaded, and we won the game and collected several thousand dollars in bets.
There was a famous hangout in Palm Beach at the time run by Paddy LaMaze, a former ball player himself. To the winners, he let them drink all the champagne they could take; the losers, beer.
Following the game, Adler (who was hung like a bull, generally came along to try to find a rich dowager to marry but never did), myself, and a guy named Elliott Sperver, a Philadelphia playboy, went to La Maze's and started swilling champagne. We were still going strong at 8:00 A.M. the next morning. I had a 9:30 volleyball date with Al Vanderbilt. I was feeling no pain at all.
We tried everything to kill our hangovers and sober up. Then Charlie, the bartender, enjoying our plight, reached behind the bar.
"Here, Georgie, try this," he said, holding up a dusty bottle I had never seen before. "They call it _vodkee_. We've had it for six years and nobody has ever asked for it...."
I looked at it, sniffed it. It was pretty pungent and smelled like rotten potatoes. "Hell, what have we got to lose? Get me some Worcestershire sauce, some tomato juice, and lemon; that ought to kill the smell," I commanded Charlie. I also remembered that Constance Talmadge, destined to be my future sister-in-law, always used to drink something with tomatoes in it to clear her head the next morning and it always worked--at least for her.
"We've tried everything else, boys, we might as well try this," I said as I started mixing the ingredients in a large glass. After we had taken a few quaffs, we all started to feel a little better. The mixture seemed to knock out the butterflies.
Just at that moment, Mary Brown Warburton walked in. A member of the Philadelphia branch of the Wanamaker department store family, she liked to be around show business people and later had a fling with Ted Healey, the comic. She had obviously been out all night because she was still dressed in a beautiful white evening dress.
"Here, Mary, take a taste of this and see what you think of it."
Just as she did, she spilled some down the front of her white evening gown, took one look at the mess, and laughed, "Now, you can call me Bloody Mary, George!"
From that day to this, the concoction I put together at La Maze's has remained a Bloody Mary with very few variations. Charlie pushed it every morning when "the gang" was under the weather
Now, about a year later, the benefit for Joe E. Lewis was to be held at the Oriental Theater and I was sitting in my hotel room with Ted Healey before leaving for the theater. Ted, as usual, was slightly inebriated. He happened to pick up a copy of a Chicago paper and read an item in Winchell's column. It said that I had named the Bloody Mary after Ted's then steady girl, Mary Brown Warburton.
Ted turned white. "What the hell are you doing making a pass at my girl, you son of a bitch," he yelled. And just as he did, he pulled out a pistol and tried to shoot me. I ducked and the shot missed, but as the pistol went off within a foot of my right ear, I was completely deaf for a week. I had a hell of a job doing the benefit that night.
But at least now you know the origin of the Bloody Mary, and I believe it was Esquire magazine who finally gave me credit for it many, many years ago.
Too bad I can't collect royalties on it. In fact, I have never even received a case of vodka from any of the distillers for helping to make vodka the most popular, er, beverage in the United States today.
Here's a George Jessel ad. From the Peter Tamony papers, taken from Collier's, 30 March 1956, pg. 65:
"I, GEORGE JESSEL, INVENTED THE BLOODY MARY" "I think I invented The Bloody Mary, Red Snapper, Tomato Pickup or Morning Glory," reports George Jessel. "It happened on a Night before a Day and I felt I should take some good, nourishing tomato juice, but what I really wanted was some of your good Smirnoff Vodka. So I mixed them together, the juice for body and the vodka for spirit, and if I wasn't the first ever, I was the happiest ever."
The popular food and drink writer Lucius Beebe mentions "Bloody Mary" in his Stork Club Bar Book (1944). It was only a matter of time before I found it in his columns in the New York Herald Tribune. These are our first citations for "Bloody Mary."
From "This New York" by Lucius Beebe, New York Herald Tribune, 2 December 1939, pg. 9, col. 2:
George Jessel's newest pick-me-up which is receiving attention from the town's paragraphers is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka.
Lucius Beebe describes "Personal Preferences of Personages" in the New York Herald Tribune, 27 July 1940, pg. 7, col. 2:
George Jessel thrives on an arrangement of half vodka and half tomato juice, known as a Bloody Mary.
This is a cocktail mix that everyone should try. It’s a premium drink that satisfies vampa-rific thirst. Mixed with spices that makes a little spice to the drink, this reddish drink will make you want for more.