Renee Carroll in the hat check girl at a well-known Broadway restaurant rendezvous of celebrities. Renee has written a book on her contacts with such prominent people as Joan Crawford, ABOVE; Maurice Chevalier, TOP, CENTRE; Walter Winchell, TOP, RIGHT; and Nancy Carroll, ABOVE, RIGHT.

By Gregory Clark, March 23, 1935.


How would you like to be hat checker every day to Maurice Chevalier, Garbo, Jolson, Dietrich, Lou Holtz, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Winchell, Ripley?

How much would you pay for the privilege of taking dimes and quarters off such folk?

In New York, I gave my hat to a hat check girl who is the author of a book that sold 4,000 copies and is now in a second edition. And she is still a hat check girl.

She is Renee Carroll, hat checker in Sardi’s, the restaurant in the heart of the Broadway theatre belt where celebrities lunch, dine and supper far into the night.

And her book, “In Your Hat,” published by the Macaulay Co., New York, is a vivacious, anecdoty and Winchellasque account of the people whose hats and sables she has checked. From her vantage point.

The vantage point of a hat checker is real one. When I went into Sardi’s, I handed over my hat and coat to a girl in a plain uniform of a dress, my eyes eagerly focused forward into the restaurant, already looking to see what celebrities might be there. I had not a glance for the hat checker.

Until I felt her glance on me. And then I saw a dark-headed girl whose real name might be Shapiro – and really is! – in her second half of the twenties, taking in me and my loud Canadian scarf and provincial hat and greedy up-country gaze with a sardonic pair of mocking eyes.

I was already accustomed to that appraising eye-flicker of Broadway. They mostly don’t look at you at all, but if they do, it is an appraising, under lidded flick.

My table happened to be one of the unimportant ones out in the clear and facing the door. When, in a moment, I saw a tall galloping sort of man, with a roll of foolscap manuscript, come in, fling his arms around the hat checker and kiss her ostentatiously, I began to perk up.

When a moment later, three elderly Jewish men, with waves of greeting right and left, clustered around the hat checker to bestow a good three minutes on close, bent-head conversation with her, I asked the waiter:

“Is the hat checker some stage star down in her luck?”

“No, that’s Renee Carroll, who wrote a book,” said the waiter.

So I dawdled over my lunch and caught her when the crowd had dwindled.

“I hear you wrote a book?” I said.

“It’s in its second edition,” said she. “Would you like to buy a copy?”

She had a pile of them in her cloakroom.

Meets People Off Guard

“Did you make money out of it?” I asked.

“It sold 4,000 and is now in a second edition,” she said. “I’ve sold 400 copies here myself. Eddie Cantor bought 50 copies.”

“But you are still a hat check girl?”

“My book is the by-product of the hat check business. I wouldn’t trade my job for the job of any of the best columnists in New York.”


“Because I meet more people, see more interesting people than they do. Because I meet them off guard. When they are all merry and eager, in readiness to eat. This is the swellest job, bar none, in the world.”

“You think of a hat checker,” I said, “as having a measly sort of job. And you think of an author as being a big shot.”

“Here it’s reversed,” said Renee, who has got a wizened Borneo head-hunter’s head as a little gift from Believe It or Not Ripley, who saw what Marlene Dietrich fed her baby, who had to lean up against the wall when she first heard Dempsey’s squeaky little tenor voice, who was caught in the act of trying on Nancy Carroll’s sable coat (and did the fur fly?), who asked George Jessel for a joke to tell at a party, and George couldn’t think of one in twenty minutes of chin resting, hair scratching effort …

“One day Walter Donaldson, the song writer, drove up to the restaurant with Maurice Chevalier,” she says. “It was summer and when Chevalier got out of the swell car which they parked, regardless of parking laws, right in front of the place, he took off his straw hat and tossed in on the seat of the car beside the chauffeur.

“I stopped the great Chevalier.

“Mr. Chevalier,” I said, “I paid a dollar to see your new picture last night.”

“Oh, yes? And how did you like it?”

With the lip out.

“I thought it was fine,” I said.

“Thank you very much.”

“But after I paid a dollar to see the picture, do you think it is fair to leave your hat in the car to save a dime?”

The Frenchman ran out to the car and brought the hat in.

“It will nevaire happen again,” he cried.

The great Adolph Zukor is one of Renee Carroll’s idols.

“He is noted for his unassuming manner,” she says. “He isn’t like some of the swells, who have private elevators, or who won’t ride with others in the common elevator. He gets pushed back by the messenger boys and the stenographers. They push him around. He is mild and meek and has nothing to say.

“He came regularly to the restaurant, and instead of demanding, as some of them do, with eyes and gestures, to be handed their hat before any others who may be ahead of them, Mr. Zukor waits at the end of the line.


Smear of Lipstick

Nancy Carroll left a new and gorgeous sable wrap in Renee’s booth, and Renee was caught in the act of trying it on. Nancy was so angry, she never came back.

“One day Rudy Vallee came in with Fay Webb and they lunched in the corner. After they had gone, the waiter came to me with a soiled serviette. It had a smear of lipstick on it.

“Look at this,” he said.

“Well, what of it? Since when is it a crime for a girl to wipe her lipstick off on a napkin?”

“It wasn’t the girl’s napkin,” said the waiter.

Renee makes a note of what the celebrities eat, and is astonished at the prevalent love of garlic. Katharine Cornell has a salad named after her, garlicked up to the roof. Ripley takes three orders of chicken tamales. Kate Smith has given up long ago and lunches off desserts.

“George Jean Nathan, the best critic in the world according to his own researches, asked me to keep his hat separate from all the others. Helen Menken, reddest of redheads, eats lunch with her gloves on. Jimmy Walker, the mayor, refused to have his caricature sketched in our restaurant. Chevalier lunched several times with Carnera, and always won the toss to see who’d buy the lunch, which nearly drove the Frenchman crazy with delight. Texas Guinan came in and ordered roast beef for her dog Feet, and coffee only for herself. Just a slam at mankind.”

The smallest tip Renee ever got was a cent, in mistake for a dime, and the largest, a $100 bill, grandly presented by a big shot in the presence of some guests he was entertaining. And an hour later, surreptitiously called for by the same big shot, after his guests had left him.

“I get slugs, buttons, phonies, bad coins,” said Renee, “and it would be interesting if I could fingerprint them and see which of the celebrities they come from. I think I know. I get telephone numbers written on little pieces of folded-up paper.”

But Renee was born Rebecca Shapiro right on Fourth Ave., New York, and she knows her town. Taking her cue from the Broadway that had always fascinated her, she changed her name to Rente Carroll, and set out on a career. But she was too shrewd to be taken in by that cardboard lover with the double-padded shoulders and trick moustache she knows as Broadway, and after learning about night clubs and show people, she got, six years ago, the hat checking privilege at Sardi’s and there she is, and will be, as long as she can cling to it.

She sees more than the laughs of Broadway from her closet. She sees the tears.

One of the greatest producers came in one day and gave her a brief-case to keep.

“Guard it with your life, kid,” he told her. “That’s the play I’m going to produce, the greatest thing Broadway has ever seen, a smash hit!”

She returned it to him with his hat, after a hasty lunch. Two months later the same great man said:

“Remember that brief-case I got you to mind one day?”


“I wish you had lost it. You’d have saved me thirty thousand dollars.”

Renee Carroll – nee Rebecca Shapiro – stands on the side line of the world’s biggest show, the most unregretful girl in the world. Her book is packed with anecdote and record of the kaleidoscope her clothes closet door makes, and no day passes without its thrill.

“I wouldn’t swop my job” she says, “for all the five-year contracts in Hollywood. Nor change places with all the girls Earl Carroll thinks he is going to discover in the next five years. In few years, my face and figure …! But they’ll always want their hats checked.

“Ten years from now, all these will be gone, and new ones will be here instead, and to me they will look as lovely as Dietrich, and instead of Buddy Rogers striding in and bending like a duke to kiss my fingertips, maybe some other handsome joker will do it. At any rate, some new duke will be here, young, lithe, alive. I haven’t mid much in my book about the ones who are going, going and gone.

“But I’ve seen their faces when Joan Crawford sweeps in here – a look as if they had been dealt a blow.

“I check hats. They are lovely, and gay and kind, and cold and hateful, and they move past, the most exciting parade in the world, and always they have hats to check. “Where are you from?”

“Canada,” I said, humbly.

“Belleville?” cried Rene eagerly.

“No,” I said. “Toronto.”

“Oh,” said Renee. “I know where Belleville is. I looked it up on the map.”

Editor’s Notes: Sardi’s is famous in New York as a restaurant in the Theater district and is known for the caricatures of Broadway celebrities on its walls.

I won’t bother linking to articles of all of the celebrities mentioned, you can look them up yourself if interested. I made an error and missed scanning part of the article in the middle, and have left that part out.