A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from June 08, 2017
Great White Way (Broadway nickname)

"Great White Way” has been the most popular nickname for the Broadway theater district.

I discovered the origin of “the Great White Way” in 1992, just a few minutes before I discovered the 1926 origin explanation of “the Big Apple.” The essential information was on the same microfilm reel of the New York Morning Telegraph. “Big Apple Corner” is, as it turns out, on the Great White Way (Broadway).

“The Great White Way” was originally the title of a 1901 book about the South Pole. The term was applied to Broadway by Shep Friedman of the New York Morning Telegraph, after a snowstorm on Broadway in 1902 had turned the street into a “white way.” Later, “white way” referred to the lights of Broadway.

Other nicknames for Broadway and its bright lights include “Bulb Belt,” “Incandescent District,” “Mazda Lane” and “Tungsten Territory.”

(This book about the Antarctic has nothing to do with Broadway—ed.)
Type of Material: Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.)
Brief Description: Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937.
The great white way; a record of an unusual voyage of discovery, and some romantic love affairs amid strange surroundings. The whole recounted by one Nicholas Chase, promoter of the expedition, whose reports have been arranged for publication by Albert Bigelow Paine. With drawings by Bernard J. Rosenmeyer, sketches by Chauncey Gale, and maps, etc., from Mr. Chase’s note book.
New York, J. F. Taylor & Company, 1901.
1 p. l., 4 p., 1 l., 5-327 p. front., illus., plates. 20 cm.

American Words
by Mitford M. Mathews
Cleveland: World Publishing Company
Pg. 56:
More than fifty years ago Broadway received a nickname in an unusual manner. In December 1901 a new novel appeared with the title The Great White Way. The scene of the story was the region of snow and ice around the South Pole. At that time there was a column in a popular New York newspaper telling about things of interest taking place along Broadway. It was the practice of the writer of this column to use at the head of it the title of some current novel. When the novel just mentioned came out, the newspaper writer entitled his column one day: “Found on the Great White Way.”

Broadway happened to be covered with snow at the time this issue of the paper appeared. Those who read the column at once associated “The Great White Way” with Broadway, and the title of a novel, now long forgotten, became the nickname of a famous street.

The brilliant illuminations in the theater district on Broadway are often thought to explain the nickname, but they had no part in the origin of it.

(This newspaper had various titles for its roundup of small items. The titles include “SOUNDS OF AN AXE IN THE BARN” and “HOOFBEATS ON LIFE’S TANBARK” and “MOURNING OF THE WHANGDOODLE"—ed.)
11 November 1901, The Evening Telegram (New York, NY), pg. 6, cols. 3-4:

23 November 1901, The Evening Telegram (New York, NY), pg. 6, cols. 3-4:

3 February 1902, The Evening Telegram (New York, NY), pg. 6, cols. 3-4:

SNOW SHOVELERS DESERT; Barely Clothed, They Could Not Work in the Rain. Notwithstanding This 12,881 Loads Were Removed from the Streets Yesterday — 106,000 Cartloads Gone Since Thursday. ; New York Times (1857-Current file), New York, N.Y.; Feb 3, 1902; pg. 6, 1 pgs

FRESH SNOWFALL IS NOT WELCOMED; City Without Adequate Means for Its Speedy Removal. Men, Horses, and Carts Lacking — Cellar Diggers’ Association Calls On Truck-men — Manhattan to be Cleaned First. ; New York Times (1857-Current file), New York, N.Y.; Feb 1, 1902; pg. 16, 1 pgs

(NOTE: The NYPL holdings are March 17-April 30, 1901, then Sept. 1-October 31, 1902. This year-plus gap prevents an exact dating—ed.)
7 September 1902, Sunday Telegraph (New York NY), pg. 7, cols. 4-6 headline:
Along the Great White Way
(This “Along the Great White Way” head was continued for several Sundays after this. A man is shown with a cane, and there are well-dressed women behind him. It is not possible to determine when the column began—ed.)

28 November 1926, New York (NY) Morning Telegraph, pg. 20, col. 1:
“The Great White Way”
If you’ll buy a copy of that sprightly sheet, The New York Press, which will be on the newsstands Thursday, if not before, you will find this bit of history in its columns:

The Morning Telegraph recently quoted Arthur L. Lee, manager and director of the Hotel McAlpin, as saying:"Along the Great White Way, so named by O. J. Guide years ago...”

Mr. Lee undoubtedly meant O. J. Gude, the advertising man, but even at that he’s all wrong—a thousand miles wrong.

That name was tacked on to Broadway by a Morning Telegraph man more than twenty-five years ago.

Shep Friedman, cleverest, brightest and most sophisticated of the newspaper men of his day, so named the long street, and the name clung because it belonged. Scores of other tags equally effective were coined by him and are in use today. Shep got a lot of credit in his day, as Jake Mincer could testify, but there’s still a lot coming to him.

And even the bright young man quoting Mr. Lee didn’t know! Thanks to The New York Press for turning the spotlight on the original source of one of the most quoted phrases in the American language—"the great white way.”

Henry L. Mencken once turned out an interesting volume called “The American Language.” I don’t believe that he proved his premise: that the tongue spoken on these shores is distinctly different from that used under the British Jack. But he could write a brilliant essay on the subject:

The American people live on illusions fostered by brilliant phrases coined by their newspapermen.

What is more illusive than “The Great White Way”? Even as you read these lines ten times ten thousand youths and maidens are dreaming of the day when, carrying a bag full o’ dreams, they will come here to make their dreams come true on “The Great White Way.”

Of course, the majority fail; but they might fail at home as well. Such an illusion asthat one, of fame being found on Broadway, brings to the Street the most talented in the land. Those who can keep their heads and work, win—with just a bit of luck on “The Great White Way.”

5 December 1926, New York (NY) Morning Telegraph, pg. 20, col. 1:
Do You Remember?
The origin of that phrase, “the great white way,"—one of the most allusive and illusive phrases in the American tongue—was revealed on this page last week, thanks to that enterprising journal, The New York Press. The Press, as quoted here, said in part:

That name was tacked on Broadway by a Morning Telegraph man more than twenty-five years ago. Shep Friedman, cleverest, brightest and most sophisticated of the newspaper men of his day, so named the street, and the name clung because it belonged.

Now comes this interesting letter from that beau ideal of press representatives, Arthur J. Levy, of the House of Belasco, who writes:

“Dear Charley Parmer:”

It’s mighty good to know that some one is left in the newspaper game that remembers Shep Friedman. Good old Shep, what a jolly time he must be having now looking down upon some of the gang he knew and laughing that dry kindly laugh of his. Do you remember that laugh? I can hear it now. No one could laugh like Shep, with you or at you. Many times he has razzed a story of mine. But the knowledge of “The Big Street” he crammed into me is responsible for any little success I have achieved in the theatre.

“I heard a well-known film P. A., one of whom we both know, tell how he first termed Broadway “The Great White Way.” But the few oldtimers left, and thank heavens, a few are still left, will always remember it was Shep who first gave the greatest thoroughfare in the world the name that it is known by in every nook and corner of the universe.

“It was he too, that called it “The Big Street.” If you would start out to find a list of the bright sayings coined by Shep you would only have to seek the book of most any musical comedy of the day—the successful ones I mean—and you would find a heap of librettists, who have also remembered Shep—only they don’t want any one to think so.

“So, if in your peregrination up and down the street that Shep loved so much, you find a saying here and there that you know Shep coined, let us have it. You will find a few of us have not forgotten Shep and we still treasure his quaint old ways. But where ever Shep is, he is happy. He would not know how to be otherwise.

“Thanks for the good thought. He sure was a regular guy.
(Signed) “Arthur J. Levy.”

Those of you who knew Shep Friedman well, and remember the glittering original phrases which he tossed off while wandering up and down the street, won’t you write them out and send them in?

(I didn’t find a follow-up article, but I didn’t look closely. There may have been a small one—ed.)

25 March 1921, New York (NY) Times, pg. 15:
Sheppard Friedman.
Sheppard Friedman, long a member of the staff of The World, as a reporter, copy editor, and latterly as a rewriter of local stories, died yesterday in Mt. Sinai Hospital of pneumonia. He was 47 years old, and after reporting for the Fort Worth Gazette, he came to New York in 1900. Mr. Friedman had been with The Herald, Telegraph, Telegram and Evening World, but most of his journalistic career here was with The World. He was also well known in the theatrical profession, having acted as publicity agent for various productions.

31 August 1930, Boston (MA) Herald, “Paine Wearied of America’s ‘Don’ts’” by Carl Warton, Magazine Section, pg. 3, col. 3:
Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain’s official biographer, and the writer of many successful novels, is willing to accept responsibility for naming Broadway “The Great White Way” but he is not willing to accept responsibility for the phase of modern American life which it has come to symbolize. In fact he is heading back to France to get away from it.

Mr. Paine really was responsible for that name. Years ago he wrote a book called “The Great White Way.” The book wasn’t about Broadway at all. It was about a trip to the South Pole—a trip to the Antarctic. But a writer on the New York Telegram was running a column of Broadway items, adapting as a heading the titles of current novels. When Paine’s book came out this writer called his column “Found on the Great White Way.” He kept it standing until the vaudeville jokers took it up and the name has stuck ever since.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • Thursday, June 08, 2017 • Permalink