Edith Wharton (NYC) chronicled the concerns and foibles of turn-of-the-20th-century Manhattan and Hudson Valley elites in books like The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, and Old New York. Washington Irving (NYC/Tarrytown) coined the nickname "Gotham" for New York City and set Legend of Sleepy Hollow on the banks of the Hudson River; he also wrote the Knickerbocker's History of New York, a fictionalized history of the city when it was Dutch. Henry James (NYC) examined the psyches of New York residents in Washington Square and many essays, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was set on Long Island's North Shore (the Gold Coast). Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man unforgettably wandered the streets of New York, while Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye had memorable encounters in the city after being expelled from prep school. Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather, the quintessential portrait of the New York mafia families; William Kennedy (Albany) penned an entire series of novels about life upstate in the capital, including Ironweed; and Jay McInerney (in Bright Lights, Big City) and Tom Wolfe, in The Bonfire of the Vanities, captured the ethos of 1980s New York, from the drugged-out club scene to "masters of the universe" and their trophy wives. For a look at upstate New York, don't miss the novels of Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo, including Nobody's Fool, Straight Man, Empire Falls, and Bridge of Sighs.
Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee are the three modern auteurs most closely identified with New York, not only because they hail from the city, but also because they've made New York a vital character in virtually all their films. Allen (Brooklyn/NYC) has repeatedly portrayed his native city with acerbic wit and charm in movies like Manhattan, Annie Hall, and Hannah and Her Sisters. The films of Scorsese (New York's Little Italy), such as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Age of Innocence, and Gangs of New York, exposed the rituals, fight for survival, and underbelly of urban life in New York. And Lee has delved into the city's complicated race relations and aspirations in lower-middle class neighborhoods in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood, most memorably in Do the Right Thing.
A list of films set in and about New York City is very long indeed; in addition to those of Scorsese, Allen, and Lee, a sampling of the most notable include: King Kong (1933); On the Waterfront (1954); Rear Window (1954); The Apartment (1960); Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961); The Odd Couple (1968); Midnight Cowboy (1969); The French Connection (1971); The Godfather (1972); Serpico (1973); Dog Day Afternoon (1975); Saturday Night Fever (1977); Once Upon a Time in America (1984); Desperately Seeking Susan (1985); Moonstruck (1987); Wall Street (1987); Working Girl (1988); You've Got Mail (1998); Eyes Wide Shut (1999); and The Squid and the Whale (2005). Fewer films are featured in the New York that extends beyond the city, though Ironweed (1987) is, like the book it's based on, set during the Great Depression in Albany; You Can Count on Me (2000) depicts small-town family troubles in the Catskills; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) takes place in large part in Montauk (East End of Long Island) -- even when it's inside the heads of its principals; and Frozen River (2008) examines the desperate transportation of illegal immigrants across the Canadian border into upstate New York.
Great composers and musicians from New York include George Gershwin (Brooklyn), famous for "Rhapsody in Blue" and songs that celebrate New York City, including "Harlem River Chanty," "Union Square," and "New York Serenade." The New York jazz scene revolutionized pop culture in the '50s and '60s, with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk playing and experimenting at the Village Vanguard and other downtown haunts. Bob Dylan hit the ground running in Greenwich Village in 1961, launching a soundtrack to a countercultural movement, and Beatle mania landed on U.S. shores at Shea Stadium. Other members of the pop-music pantheon include Lou Reed (Freeport, Long Island), a founding member of the Velvet Underground, a scene-defining New York City band; and the Forest Hills, Queens, band Ramones, who jump-started punk rock with their Blitzkrieg bop. Billy Joel, who wrote "New York State of Mind," is now almost as well known for his automobile accidents in the Hamptons as his songbook. New York's hip-hop artists, from Run-DMC to Jay-Z, defined the East Coast street sound. And if you've ever attended a sporting event in New York, you've undoubtedly heard your share of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," surely the most famous song ever about the city (even though he hailed from across the Hudson in Hoboken, NJ).
While it may seem as though two of every three sitcoms on television is set in New York City, several shows over the past four decades, which include the most popular and acclaimed series ever on TV, elevated New York into a character that nearly outshone the stars. "I Love Lucy" was set in New York, until Lucy and Ricky Ricardo moved to Connecticut, and "The Honeymooners" was a portrait of marital strife and working-class life in Brooklyn. "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was set in the suburbs of Westchester County. "All in the Family," about Archie Bunker and his lower middle-class family in Queens, and "Taxi" defined the 1970s. The Cosbys lived in Brooklyn, and the cast of "Friends" in ridiculously large apartments downtown. "NYPD Blue" set the standard for gritty cop shows. The self-centered nut-jobs on "Seinfeld" lived and breathed the city's narcissism and obsessions on the Upper West Side; the fashion, cocktail- and man-obsessed girlfriends on "Sex and the City" paraded Manhattan streets in designer shoes; and the filming of "Law and Order" and its multiple spinoffs in real life continue to wreak havoc with car owners who have to continually move their automobiles from choice parking spots to accommodate filming. The newest TV darlings to use New York City as a vital backdrop are "30 Rock" and "Mad Men," the latter about 1960s advertising execs and their daily habits of martinis, cigarettes, and girlfriends in the city and wives in Westchester.
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