“The End Of An Era” At The Library

The barber shop as community gathering place — a spot where men swap stories, debate issues and tell tales, all under the wise, welcoming eye of the beloved barber — may be a thing of the past.

We’ve still got a few barbers in Westport — though many have morphed into “stylists” — but who has the time to sit around for an hour and yak?

Hold your horses.  A few months ago, 6 long-time Westporters did just that.  They gathered in Tommy Ghianuly’s Compo Barber Shop.  For several hours they talked about this town in the 1950s.

Normally such a gabfest would have less staying power than clipped hair on the floor.  But the oldtimers’ session was recorded for posterity — and arranged by — filmmaker Chuck Tannen.  Now it — and those memories of long-ago Westport — will live forever.

“The End of an Era — Westport in the 1950s” was Chuck’s idea.  He solidified it, appropriately enough, while Tommy was cutting his hair.

Chuck spent his career in journalism.  A year and a half ago he got interested in film.  He took courses at NYU and in San Francisco.  When he heard the Westport Historical Society needed help converting a series of interviews onto DVDs, he swung into action.

One of those DVDs included 3 very interesting residents — Ed See, Leo Nevas and Allen Raymond — talking about our town back in the day.  By the time Chuck delivered his work to the WHS, Ed and Leo had died.

Not longer after, Chuck was telling Tommy — his barber forever, whose walls are plastered with photos of old Westport — that the town’s collective memory was fading fast.  An idea took hold:  invite people to Compo Barbers, to talk about town life in the ’50s.

Which is how First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, former Staples sports star Vince De Pierro, artists Tracy Sugarman and Howard Munce, former disc jockey Ed Baer, and George Marks — who joined the police force in 1947 — came to Tommy’s one Sunday.

They talked.  A 6-man crew recorded them.  Now — 5 months later — the finished product is ready to be shown.

“It’s a reminiscence,” Chuck says.  “Anecdotes about a small town that was friendly and tight.”

The men discuss everything from why artists were attracted to Westport, to the Y’s role as a town center, to the joys of hanging out on Main Street.

“It was the end of an era — a time of innocence,” Chuck explains.  “The war was over.  People wanted to get on with their lives.  It was a quiet period, before all the upheavals of the ’60s.”

Life was not always as pleasant as it seemed.  There was anti-Semitism — particularly in housing.  That came up during the filming — along with the story of how the “Gentleman’s Agreement” was broken.

The 40-minute film premieres at the Westport Library on Tuesday, April 6 (2 p.m.) and Wednesday, April 7 (7 p.m.).  Discussions will follow.  Some of the “stars” will be at both showings.

And after those 2 screenings?  Chuck hopes his film will be shown at the Senior Center; in schools — and to any other audience that remembers, or wishes they knew, what life here was like back then.

4 responses to ““The End Of An Era” At The Library

  1. My Father, brother and I all had our haircut at Compo as did so many others. I loved the little sitting area where I could look at the magazines while all the serious men had their hair cut. It was a window into the world of men that I hadn’t seen. Tommy, Jimmy and the other barbers where so good with kids. When my father passed away in ’92 I remember hearing from my brother that it really knocked Tommy down. He had known my father for so many years and like the rest of us couldn’t believe he was gone. Those old long standing businesses are such an important part of the Westport tapestry.

  2. The Dude Abides

    Intersting piece. Too bad interviews were not conducted with Ed or Leo for they would have great insight. Indeed, I moved here in 1953 and while I am not sure the “age of innocence” ended in the 60’s, it was a great time to live here. But that was also true for much of America during Eisenhower. In regard to the end of the Anti-Semitism, many pockets of “Jewish” neighborhoods were popping up in the 1950’s including Gault Park which was quite large. I always thought the “Gentleman’s Agreement” pertained to Darien vice Westport for by 1966, when I graduated, the town was close to 50% Jewish. I think the celebrities, many of Jewish belief, paved the way for many to move here. Regardless, a nice piece and look forward to the movie.

  3. Richard Merritt

    I am sorry that I didn’t attend your film about Westport in the 1950′ s and 1960’s.

    I now live in Bethel,Ct. but I was born and raised in Westport and remember the early days.

    I was born on 9/2/1946 and I resided on West Parish Road and remember a horse track across the street and at the end of the road was a country store called Tomaski’s.

    In 1950 I heard a terrible crash and the steeple on the Green’s Farms First Congregational Church crashed down during a storm.

    I also saw the moving of the Saugatuck Congregational Church in the 1950’s from across the street to it’s present location.

    I would get my hair cut at Demaria’s Barber Shop which was between the Fine Arts movie house and Schaefer’s Sporting Goods Store which was on the Post Road.

    After a hair cut I would go to Thompson’s Pharmacy to get ice cream. It was like an old time soda shop.

    The Westport Library was housed above the YMCA for a short time.

    My home was at 28 Long Lots Lane (Court) from 1951 to 1970. I would visit my mother who was living there untill her death on December,1998.

    I graduated from Staples in 1965 having gone to Greens Farms, Burr Farms and Long Lots Junior High School.

    My folks and I moved to Long Lots Lane on July 5, 1951, with the cost of the homestead at $13,500.

    I attended St. Luke’s Catholic Church when mass was in a stable on Long Lots Road with Father Looney as the priest.

    Should you care to e-mail me, perhaps I could fill you in with more information.

    Rich Merritt

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