In a vast ballroom at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator from the musical Million Dollar Quartet is doing his best to pump up the crowd. It’s 2 p.m. on an unusually warm and sunny Saturday in February, only about half the seats are filled, and truth be told, there is not a whole lot of shakin’ going on — more like a moderate amount of somewhat engaged sitting. But the fact that there’s a crowd here at all, and that it’s not completely unwilling to belt out a chorus when directed by the faux Lewis — or by the other rock ’n’ roll replicants on stage, who include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins – stands as a genuine accomplishment.

 

That’s because the crowd is made up of car salesmen, and… More…

The populists are up in arms today about Wall Street moguls awarding themselves huge bonuses, but a little international economic collapse has never really stopped America’s super-rich from living it up. Take the Great Depression. Things were getting pretty rough for the masses: New York’s Central Park had become a shantytown known as “forgotten man’s gulch” — a haunted place to be, especially in the depths of winter. But the city’s super-rich, their wealth largely insulated from the crisis, valiantly rose above the tide of misery to celebrate ever-more incandescent and insensitive parties.

The keynote Manhattan event was the so-called “Fête Moderne,” a fancy dress ball hosted by the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects on January 26, 1931. As America’s unemployed froze on late-night food… More…