This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Toots Shor. For 20 years, the most famous saloon-keeper in the world. A huge, towering man with a sloppy grin, a bear hug, a big laugh, a big gut, and a lot of friends. His restaurant at "51 West 51" in Manhattan was where you had to be for the action. The regulars included Jackie Gleason, Sinatra. Mickey Mantle, DiMaggio and Monroe, Babe Ruth. Mobsters like Frank Costello. Boxers like Rocky Graziano and Tony Zale. Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Bogart and Bacall, Hemingway, Yogi Berra and John Wayne. He wasn't a regular, but Richard Nixon came when he was in town.
A critic trying to explain Astaire and Rogers once said, "He gives her class. She gives him sex." That's how the saloon worked. There was no VIP area. Everybody stood at a big circular bar or was clearly visible in booths. Sinatra was maybe a little pleased to nod to Costello, who ran the mob in Manhattan. Costello was maybe pleased to nod back. They were big guys, but they were maybe impressed. It made Costello classier to hang out with Sinatra. It made Sinatra sexier to be the drinking buddy of a godfather. And Toots Shor provided a stage for the road company of Damon Runyon's imagination.
New York had 11 newspapers in those days, and all the columnists made a nightly stop at Toots Shor's. Ed Sullivan, Earl Wilson, Walter Winchell. The best movie ever made about a newspaper columnist, "The Sweet Smell of Success," shot on location there. Sports writers were the newspaper superstars. They sat down with Yogi, Mickey, DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Frank Gifford. Sportswriters in those days, we learn, were paid as much as the players, and could meet them on equal terms. "One of today's baseball stars," Gifford muses in the movie, "makes as much in two weeks as Mickey Mantle made in his entire career."
The documentary "Toots" evokes the era with seductive charm; it's a fascinating memory of a time past, directed by Kristi Jacobson, Shor's granddaughter. She has access to all the archives: an 18-hour tape of Shor's memories, video of him on "This Is Your Life" and "What's My Line?" and being interviewed by Edward R. Murrow and Mike Wallace, newsreels, photos, newspaper clippings. She draws heavily on eyewitness accounts by Ford, Gifford, Cronkite, Gay Talese and many others. Her doc plays like a film-noir version of "Entertainment Tonight."