On The Waterfront – 1954
by Prof. Joe Dorinson
Coney Island, a special place for “R and R,” beckoned to moviemakers. In many ways a freak show in the early years of mass entertainment, it became a vital part of popular culture–and, of course, fodder for the movies. A 20th Century Fox movie starring Betty Grable capitalized on both name and association. Perhaps, the best film inspired by Coney was a semi-documentary, The Little Fugitive about a little Bensonhurst boy, Richie Andrusco who runs away from home and school. Made in 1953, it won rave reviews among the cognoscenti.
Coney’s Brooklyn neighbors invited cinematic treatment too. The Brooklyn character answered deep-rooted needs in the kaleidoscope that is American culture. Often pegged to the lowest common denominator, shades of Phineas T. Barnum, Hollywood moguls offered national audiences a proliferation of dumb blondes, laconic cowboys, precocious children, refined Englishmen, and a host of other gargoyles. They took certain recognizable traits and magnified them as the Brooklyn New York type.