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The Telephone Booth Indian (Library of Larceny) [Kindle Edition]

A.J. Liebling
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $19.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
You Save: $8.01 (42%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

A classic work on Broadway sharpers, grifters, and con men by the late, great New Yorker journalist A. J. Liebling.

Often referred to as “Liebling lowlife pieces,” the essays in The Telephone Booth Indian boisterously celebrate raffishness. A. J. Liebling appreciated a good scam and knew how to cultivate the scammers. Telephone Booth Indians (entrepreneurs so impecunious that they conduct business from telephone booths in the lobbies of New York City office buildings) and a host of other petty nomads of Broadway—with names like Marty the Clutch and Count de Pennies—are the protagonists in this incomparable Liebling work. In The Telephone Booth Indian, Liebling proves just why he was the go-to man on New York lowlife and con culture; this is the master at the top of his form, uncovering scam after scam and writing about them with the wit and charisma that established him as one of the greatest journalists of his generation and one of New York’s finest cultural chroniclers.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The title of this 1942 collection of Liebling's early New Yorker pieces refers to those lowlife entrepreneurs whose offices were the telephone booths of New York City, where they waited for associates to call them since they didn't even have a nickel to phone on their own. The 10 essays, profiling a variety of scamsters and promoters, showcase Liebling's dry wit, his sharp commentary on the mores of the time and his knack for eliciting hilarious quotes (a carnival operator explains that a so-called Hawaiian dancer "was not a Hawaiian but she had once eaten some Hawaiian pineapple"; a "pillar" of the hat-check industry observes, "Better a kid who takes ten in tips and knocks a buck, than a dummy who gets half the tips and turns in all she gets. But please don't use my name, because on such a question I hate to quote myself"). Not all of the businessmen in the book are as low on the totem pole as telephone booth Indians. Liebling takes on, and shows no mercy to, such luminaries as the "head man" of the Scripps-Howard newspapers and the Shubert brothers theater moguls. For example, he quotes J. J. Shubert as shouting during a rehearsal, "There is only one captain on this ship, the director and me!"
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“Liebling remains the nonpareil.” —Anthony Lewis

Product Details

  • File Size: 2059 KB
  • Print Length: 274 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0767917367
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (December 10, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #718,501 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liebling Puts the Lumpen Back in Lumpenproletariot September 1, 2000
This collection of stories, written mostly in the late 30's for "The New Yorker," describes a motley group of a certain type, what Liebling calls (with his usual dry, inventive humor) "a a state of pre-primary acquisition." Call them what you will-- lowlifes, riff-raff, or con men--Liebling describes them with both humor and humanity. The "Telephone Booth Indian," for example is a man or woman so poor as to not have an office; so poor, in fact, as to not have a "nickel with which to make a telephone call, and so must wait in the booths until another fellow calls him."
Among Leibling's most successful entrepreneurs are the two men who put on shows at Fairs and Exhibitions. They drop an intended religious display because, "Rogers says, without any intended disrespect, `the nuns would not play ball with us.'" Liebling is attuned to social forces at work in these late depression years; for example, the minority group boxing amateurs fighting for $15 watches, and still having an easier time making a living than the professionals. And, in great detail, Leibling describes the occupants of the composite "Jollity Building," including the telephone booth Indians (those without offices), heels (those who rent offices for $10 to $12.50 a month) and tenants (those who lease offices, but who often rotate back to "Indians" within a short time). "Heels are often, paradoxically, more affluent than the official lessees of larger offices" who often share desk time and name on the office door time, since the manager allows only one official lessee. They get around this by having their names painted and taped to the door during their scheduled time. "One two-desk office ...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A TRIBUTE TO THE SCAMMER December 19, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
THE TELEPHONE BOOTH INDIAN is the second A.J. Liebling book that I've read in the past two weeks. The first, "The Earl of Louisiana," was published in 1961 and this was published much earlier in 1942. The earlier effort, in my opinion, is better because it is written with more clarity and with less confusion. I can't help but think that the author more carefully followed the writing standards of "The New Yorker" in his earlier writing.

Liebling was a staff writer for "The New Yorker" from 1935 until his death in 1963. He published many books in that period and his "The Sweet Science" was recently voted the finest sports book of all time. That's on my reading list but first I need to tell you about this one.

Telephone Booth Indians was the name given to the denizens of Broadway in New York City who were nomads along the great thoroughfare looking for a dime. Much like the hermit crab, according to the preface, they chose abandoned structures, in this case the innumerable phone booths lining the Great White Way, as the center for their hard scrabble existence. They would conduct their business of trying to scam a meager living by answering public phones, the numbers of which they had previously handed out on cards to anyone who would take them. Their promise was that "If you need anything, give me a call. I can make it happen." Then they would hang around the booth, shooing away any potential users, waiting for the phone to ring with a request -- any request.

The calls were infrequent making an Indian's existence shaky. But once a call came in, the scam would start.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars December 9, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A humorous look at how people will find a way to survive without having to work, only in America
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