Hand Signals at The Stork Club | A Continuous Lean.

Hand Signals at The Stork Club

Mar 2nd, 2009 | Categories: Drinking, LIFE | by Michael Williams

The Stork Club was a famous Manhattan night club that was founded by Oklahoma native and ex-bootlegger Sherman Billingsley (ed. note: amazing name), and operated continuously from 1929-1965. The NYC hot spot — which was located on 53rd Street near Fifth Avenue — was a destination for celebrities, artists, writers and wealthy people in general. You might remember The Stork Club from an appearance in the second season of Mad Men when Don and Betty infamously attended a party hosted by Jimmy Barrett.

While cruising through the LIFE archive, I found a mesmerizing series of images of Mr. Billingsley demonstrating his own brand of nightclub-code via hand gestures. The full set of images are below.

LIFE caption: Closeup of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley w. hand on tie, one of his elaborate signals to his nearby assistant which means “No check for this table,” while sitting w. patrons over his usual Coca Cola, in the Cub Room.

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LIFE caption: Closeup of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley pointing down, one of his signals to nearby assistant which means “Bring a round of drinks,” while sitting w. patrons over his usual Coca Cola, in the Cub Room.

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LIFE caption: Closeup of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley w. palm up on table, one of his signals to nearby assistant which means “Bring a bottle of champagne,” while sitting w. patrons over his usual Coca Cola, in the Cub Room.

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LIFE caption: Closeup of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley tugging at his pocket handkerchief, one of his signals to nearby assistant which means “Get them a bottle of perfume” (ranging fr. $7.50 to Chanel at $150) while sitting w. patrons over his usual Coca Cola, in the Cub Room.

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LIFE caption: Closeup of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley w. hand to nose, one of his signals to nearby assistand which means “Not important people” or “Their check is no good.” while sitting w. patrons over his usual Coca Cola, in the Cub Room.

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LIFE caption: Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley (2R) flashing one of his eleborate signals (5-fingers spread out on L hand) to his assist. Gregory Pavilides meaning that music in the main dining room is too loud, as he chats w. patrons over a Coca Cola, in the Cub Room.

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LIFE caption: Closeup of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley w. hands interlocked & thumb up, one of his elaborate signals to nearby assistants which means “Get them out & don’t let them in again” while sitting w. some annoying patrons over his usual Coca Cola.

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Comments: 38

38 Comments to “Hand Signals at The Stork Club”

  1. Foster
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 9:45 AM

    Michael,
    This is my favorite ACL post hands down.
    Foster

  2. plaidout
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 9:54 AM

    Hilarious! Great find.

  3. JL
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 9:57 AM

    Definitely, this is great stuff!!

  4. Rob
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 9:57 AM

    i feel bad for the assistant. they would have fared better as a 1st base coach for the Yankees w/ all those signals.

    great find and thanks for sharing

  5. sam
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 10:23 AM

    awesome, but what happens when he rubs his nose by accident?

  6. Alpha
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 10:26 AM

    I use only one, universally understood, hand signal these days. :-)

  7. Steve
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 11:32 AM

    Greatness – thanks for sharing.

  8. Tom
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 12:00 PM

    A glimpse high snobriety. I love it.

  9. Ol' Sport
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 12:00 PM

    Makes me want to open…

  10. Ol' Sport
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 12:00 PM

    …a club. Great Post!

  11. bcarter3
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 1:17 PM

    For some strange reason, I suddenly have an urge to go buy a Coca Cola….

  12. ADG
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 1:27 PM

    There is a great biography of Billingsley and the Stork Club…can’t recall the exact title. His only surviving family member….his daughter…lives in Ridgewood,N.J.

  13. thesundaybest
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 2:11 PM

    Get these people out and never let them in again…if only I could flash that sign at work.

  14. joshua
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 2:41 PM

    There was a great book that came out a few years ago detailing the rise and fall of the club. Fantastic book. Also, if you check out e-bay, you can find some killer original items from ash strays to the bottles of perfume Billingsley gifted.

  15. Rob
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 3:10 PM

    I don’t get it — this is some kind of ad campaign by Pepsi right?

  16. The Standard Edition
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 3:25 PM

    Life prevails yet again…Good find.

  17. citizen wayne
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 3:38 PM

    P. Diddy and Fonzworth wished they would’ve had this system back in the day. Favorite post to date Michael.

  18. Dal
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 3:41 PM

    Great post. A good old Okie makin’ it in the Big Apple. Bootlegger. Great.

  19. componentsofenthusiasm
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 6:23 PM

    Very classic stuff, Micheael. Really enjoyed this one.

  20. JP
    on Mar 2nd, 2009
    @ 10:25 PM

    great stuff.

  21. Gianni
    on Mar 3rd, 2009
    @ 6:40 AM

    Brilliant! I am turning my left palm up on the table for this one.

  22. Hester
    on Mar 3rd, 2009
    @ 10:02 AM

    Aw… No pictures of the hand signals for “No Jews allowed” and “Don’t serve Josephine Baker”?

  23. joanna goddard
    on Mar 3rd, 2009
    @ 10:04 AM

    amazing. LOVE.

  24. Tone Loki
    on Mar 3rd, 2009
    @ 10:09 AM

    Perfect… The best thing I’ve read all week…

  25. Dolphin Hater
    on Mar 3rd, 2009
    @ 1:11 PM

    Reminds me of the Modern Drunkard Magazine’s take on (albeit more sarcastic) drunken sign language. This is infinitely more classy than “The SS me is going down, please don’t step on me”.

  26. Dave
    on Mar 3rd, 2009
    @ 3:51 PM

    Sherman Billingsley also was the uncle of Barbara Billingsley, who played the mother on Leave It To Beaver

  27. Andy
    on Mar 3rd, 2009
    @ 3:56 PM

    very ingenious…subtle yet effective

  28. Mandi
    on Mar 4th, 2009
    @ 1:48 AM

    I am just wondering why you mentioned “Coca-Cola” as many times as you did. Since it was outside the quotes, I assume it was you, and not part of the photo captions. If it was part of the captions, how much money did Life make off of that?

  29. Coolahan
    on Mar 4th, 2009
    @ 4:09 AM

    Gives some inspiration that some things can actually spawn out of Oklahoma and can be represented well and remembered..

  30. Mike van Dike
    on Mar 4th, 2009
    @ 6:24 AM

    great link and another one for ‘ http://rulesformyunbornson.tumblr.com/page/1

  31. Josh
    on Mar 4th, 2009
    @ 3:08 PM

    I just read a great article on the Stork Club (last article Damon Runyon ever wrote for publication) and it mentioned this very photoshoot. The assistant in this photo was fired because he became too famous as a result of the article and started mugging for other photos instead of actually keeping up with the hand signs. Additionally, Billingsly gave away something like $400,000/yr in gifts which he justified by never spending a dollar on traditional advertising

  32. clarissadalloway
    on Mar 4th, 2009
    @ 5:09 PM

    Why would he give guests perfume? To be nice or because they smell?

  33. Andrew
    on Mar 4th, 2009
    @ 8:41 PM

    What in the…
    I couldn’t quite possibly imagine myself working for him. With all those hand gestures I would’ve screwed up a long, long time ago.

  34. stumbler
    on Mar 10th, 2009
    @ 3:13 AM

    wow. this is an amazing find for cultural anthropologists inside us all! woot

  35. Junior
    on Apr 19th, 2009
    @ 6:54 AM

    Wow, what a great find. Really interesting and quite funny that he always has a Coke :)

  36. Reader
    on Apr 20th, 2009
    @ 5:32 PM

    The Stork Club was a live TV show in the ’50′s. It was on every night and my parents and I used to watch it together.
    Sherman B. would go from table to table greeting and chatting with the special ones at selected tables. We’d see the waiters pour champagne and the ladies adjust their purple orchid corsages. Everyone was well dressed and charming (on the air).
    It was a slice of life as it was then and maybe still is in some circles.

  37. Eduardo Corrochio
    on Jun 26th, 2009
    @ 11:06 AM

    What a douche.

  38. philip greaves
    on Jan 10th, 2010
    @ 7:54 AM

    This is for Hester who implied that no Jews were allowed in the Stork Club. Many Jews patronized the club, just to name a few – Milton Berle, Al Jolson and Walter Winchell.