The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Memories of 1950s Miami Beach, and the Fontainebleau
I grew up in Miami Beach in the 1950s, a few blocks from the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, right around the time fictional Midge of the Amazon Original series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, was honing her comedy standup routines.
Early this year there had been a call for extras in the Miami area, and a few of my friends who grew up on the Beach were interested in being part of the show. None of them made it, perhaps because the requirements included among other things, no streaked hair, piercings, tattoos or obvious cosmetic enhancements (even too-white teeth).
I would have failed for several reasons, so I didn’t even try.
An Emmy-award-winning series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel follows the story of Miriam “Midge” Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan, a New York City housewife who dives into the world of stand-up comedy after her life takes an unexpected turn.
In Season Three, Midge hits the road on tour with Shy Baldwin, making a stop at the hotel (which then was just called the Fontainebleau, and was so iconic it didn’t even need a sign).
So many curves and decorations and pastels and over-the-top names I will never forget: The Boom Boom Room, The GiGi Room, The Poodle Lounge and La Ronde, where Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Tony Martin and other long-forgotten entertainers delighted sunburned tourists from the cold north, before Vegas was the entertainment capital and before jets could whisk you to the Caribbean.
Back then in Miami Beach, a Cadillac convertible and a cabana at the new Fontainebleau was the height of luxe. The curving, Morris-Lapidus designed hotel was built in 1954, on “Millionaires Row” — the largest and most luxurious hotel in South Florida, a bit north of what was then a rather seedy South Beach. I never saw it myself, but I believed the rumor that ladies wore mink coats over their bathing suits when they came in from the pool because the air-conditioning was kept so cold.
If Midge was appearing at the Fontainebleau (even in a supporting role), she was in good company. When I was about 14, my friend Diane and I made it to the top floor where Jerry Lewis was staying. I remember that the curved hall had powder-blue walls and carpets and we hid as best we could, waiting for a glimpse of the goofy comedian coming in or out of his room, which we didn’t quite get (or did we?) before “his people” spotted us and whisked us down the elevator, probably by our ears.
II the new season of the series, Midge will be seen walking down the iconic “Stairway to Nowhere” and strolling through the hotel’s historic lobby, which was restored for the show to match the time period, with cast members donning vintage uniforms.
It was in the Louis Philippe room, above that staircase (now an office, I’m told), that I was married at the tender age of 21, in the 1960s. (That marriage, along with the room, is no more.)
“We are thrilled that Fontainebleau Miami Beach will be featured in season three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” said Phil Goldfarb, President & COO. “Retro-fitting the lobby to its former glory for filming and having the cast and crew here at Fontainebleau this summer was such a fun process for us, and we are excited for our guests to have their own marvelous experience on property.”
I will enjoy looking back, and I will be bingeing.
Lea Lane has written nine books, and over a dozen guidebooks. Her newest is the travel memoir, PLACES I REMEMBER: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. Currently blogging at forbes.com, she’s also blogged about travel at Huffpost, Salon, and the Daily Beast. She’s written for The New York Times, The Miami Herald and Gannett Newspapers; was managing editor of “Travel Smart” (a clue to what she’s good at!); appeared weekly on The Travel Channel; and was a regular speaker at The New York Times Travel Show. As an award-winning writer and avid photographer, she’s written countless pieces over 50 years. Follow her at her Facebook page Places I Remember by Lea Lane. Tweet her @lealane and follow her on Instagram, where she’s Travelea.