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I remember New Orleans: Bellhop days at the Roosevelt Hotel, 1940s

By Evans Powell

In the late 1940s, I was a country boy from a small town in Louisiana who had aspirations of becoming a doctor.  Money was tight, but I managed to be accepted to undergraduate school at Tulane University. My whole family decided to move with me  to New Orleans in hopes of finding a better life in the big city.

We settled on Garfield Street, and I managed to scrape together enough money to graduate from Tulane, then was accepted into Tulane Medical School.  I was suddenly faced with the daunting task of finding a way to pay the gigantic amount of $400 per semester to attend medical school.

Many nights after supper, we would walk down to the corner bar, Fees, for a beer.  It was a chance to relax, meet the neighbors and socialize.  It was on one such night that I threw out the general question, “Does anyone here know where I can get a job?”

A gentleman who was sitting nearby said he knew Seymore Weiss’ wife and he’d give her a call. At that time Mr. Weiss ran the Roosevelt Hotel. After the call, I was interviewed by him and related my financial problems with attending medical school.  Mr. Weiss picked up the phone and called the Bell Captain and told him to put this boy on the floor.

Thus I became a bellboy at the Roosevelt.

I was the youngest bellboy by far. The others had been there for years and were very protective of their jobs. But they took me under their wing, calling me “Doc,” and taught me the tricks of the trade.

A lot of famous people came to New Orleans during this time, and they all stayed at the Roosevelt. We used to sneak into the kitchen and watch the shows in the Blue Room.  I particularly remember Claudette Colbert, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Webb and May Wynn, to name a few. May Wynn was starring in the “Caine Mutiny” at the time, and I was especially impressed by her name in lights at the theater across the street from the entrance to the hotel.

Jack Webb was another story.  He came with his entourage and a huge amount of luggage, which we struggled to get to his rooms.  After we delivered the bags and there was no tip forthcoming, he said, “Okay boys, I’ll take care of you later.” Which he never did. We were “stiffed,” as it was called.

Earl Long was often at the hotel and was a genial if seedy-looking character.  He gave us tips on the horses.

A number of people lived at the hotel. I remember one gentleman, owner of a bag factory, who lived there with his wife and young son. Another was the owner of a nationally known import and export business.

I was once called up to one of the rooms at the hotel, and arrived to find two men there, and the room trashed from a party the day before. A few days later, The Times-Picayune ran a story about the “Church Bandits.” It seems that two men posing as policemen were making the rounds of local churches, telling the ministers that there were robbers in the area about to rob their institutions. They then asked if they could sprinkle finger print dust near the church money in an effort to catch them. While the minister was occupied, the two guys would take the money and ran.

The two men I discovered in the trashed room, it turned out, were the Church Bandits. During the time of all their robberies they had been living and partying at the Roosevelt.

There were many wonderful things I remember during my years at the Roosevelt. The Christmas decorations were fantastic. We changed our uniforms from blue to red for the season. The International Suite, which hosted Presidents and famous people, was a fabulous set of rooms and rented for $100 per day.

The job was exciting, fun and provided the cash I needed for medical school. I probably made about $275 per month, including tips.

Even though I eventually left New Orleans and moved out west, where I practiced medicine for 50 years, I will always consider myself a native New Orleanian at heart, and I remain grateful for the generosity shown me by this wonderful city.


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