The Stork Club at 3 East 53rd Street, just east of Fifth Avenue,
was the haute café of entertainers, chief executives, gossip columnists, sports figures, and respected publicists like Steve Hannagan. If you were unknown and lucky, you might get in to snatch a free matchbook as a souvenir of your bravery.
For those welcomed as regulars into the inner sanctum, the Stork Club was the best Club in New York City to see friends, to be seen by café society, and in Steve Hannagan’s case, to conduct business. As can be seen in the adjacent picture, even the great Hannagan enjoyed the celebrity game of seeing, being seen, and commenting on the rich and famous.i
Hannagan’s work day was not bound by the confines of his office on Park Avenue or by regular office hours. When most white-collar workers in Manhattan called it a day, Hannagan was opening his evening office at his reserved corner table at the Stork Club. Hannagan noted that “You can do some work in an office but you need a forum [(like the Stork Club], too, where you can test your ideas on people who don’t work for you.”ii
Coca-Cola at the Stork Club
The Hannagan table was usually surrounded by a coterie of celebrated New Yorkers trying to get his ear and by two bottles of Coca-Cola on the back of the banquette seating. Sherman Billingsley kept the bottles of Coke there so that Hannagan could quickly grab one for a publicity photo. Coca-Cola was Hannagan’s largest client. To the right is a candid shot of Hannagan with two bottles of Coca-Cola immediately behind him and Ann Sheridan.iii Steve and his bottles of Coca-Cola were also photographed at the Stork Club with his celebrity friends like Morton Downey, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Jack Benny, Jane Froman, James Farley, and too many others to mention.iv The executives at Coca-Cola always liked photos of Steve in the Atlanta papers with bottles of Coke sitting near or on his table.
Hannagan usually brought Ann Sheridan along when he hosted an event for Coca-Cola executives. The following two photographs were from a Coca-Cola event in 1944.v
Hannagan to Hannegan
Hannagan occasionally dabbled in politics. He could often be found at the Stork Club with various political figures of the day.
Here he is pontificating with Robert Hannegan, chair of the Chair of the Democratic National Committee.vi Both men were on opposite sides of the political spectrum and in wins and losses. Steve supported Republican presidential candidates, who lost, and Robert Hannegan supported Democratic presidential candidates, who won. This picture was found in the Truman Library; it is believed that the picture was taken sometime in the late 1940s.
Sherman Billingsley’s Respect for Hannagan
Sherman Billingsley was the owner and host of the Stork Club. His respect for Steve Hannagan was readily evident because he displayed several pictures of Steve along with Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and other famous patrons of the Stork Club. Ralph Blumenthal, in his respected book on the Stork Club, noted that Hannagan was a part of Billingsley’s “inner circle.”vii
As Billingsley later told a friend, “…Steve helped make the Stork popular, … Steve gave me advice about everything, and I always listened to him.”viii In a token of his friendship with Billingsley, Hannagan showed his affection for Billingsley by giving him a platinum ring with a cabochon sapphire.ix
Club Room at the Stork Club
One of Hannagan’s recommendations to Billingsley was to build a special club room to host the ‘who’s who’ of guests to the Stork Club. It was the first club room among the clubs of New York City. The adjacent picture is a veritable celebrity fan chart of the 1940s.xIn this picture, Orson Welles is seated in the front on the left with a cigar.
Fights at the Club
Sherman Billingsley had strict rules at the Stork Club to keep order and for the enjoyment of his patrons. Neither he nor his guests wanted major incidents make their way into the gossip columns of the local newspapers. Steve Hannagan told Billingsley that he believed that one “good fight” a year was permissible for a respectable night club. For example,
“Johnny Weissmuller accused a Navy lieutenant of using a lit cigarette to burn the clothing of dancers as they passed his table. The lieutenant advised Weissmuller to get a haircut; his wife [the lieutenant’s] told Weissmuller to go back to Hollywood with the other ape-men. The Navy man suffered two black eyes and complained that Weissmuller’s friends held him as he was punched by Weissmuller. Ernest Hemingway once took issue with a stranger who slapped him on the back; knocking him into three chairs and a table as he brushed him away. Billingsley contended that many of the incidents that appeared in print were minor disagreements which were inflated by the press.” xi 
Sortilege, the Perfume, and the Stork Club Aces
Sortilege, a high-quality French perfume by LeGalion, was a gift that Billingsley would give to a few select or celebrated patrons like Marilyn Monroe as pictured below. Billingsley, Hannagan, Arthur Godfrey, and Martin Downey (Harper’s Bazaar carried the following ad for Sortilege in its May,1951 issue. xii) always ready to exploit a good opportunity, thought that they could sell the perfume to an upscale market seeking the cache of the label and its affiliation with the Stork Club.
Billingsley, Downey, Godfrey, and Hannagan staged a promotional stunt for the perfume in Boston that garnered a tidal wave of publicity, a political brouhaha, and a near-riot. xiii They kicked off their campaign by flying a real stork (the icon for the Stork Club) named “Shorti-Legs” into Boston. The stork was accompanied by a flagon of Sortilege worth $5,200 (about $52,000 in current dollars). The stork was presented to Boston’s Mayor on the Boston Common by Edward North, a representative of Sortilege. At the ceremony, the Mayor announced that “Shorti” would be housed at the Boston Zoo. This goodwill gesture was immediately censured by the local press because the Zoo was not interested in a stork. Instead, the Zoo and its patrons wanted a baby hippopotamus which obviously did not fit a Stork Club or Sortilege promotional event.xiv
After the presentation of Shorti-Legs, a near-riot occurred at the airport when a plane dropped 20,000 perfume-soaked blotters with the autographs of the four intrepid investors. Forty-eight of those blotters were coupons that could be exchanged at E.T. Slattery’s, a fine women’s store, for a dram of the perfume.xv This giveaway produced tons of publicity for the product and its investors, but it not only caused a near riot at the airport, the stunt instigated chaos at the store and on the streets leading to it.
Marilyn Monroe Receiving a Sortilege Boxxvi
Hannagan Featured in the Stork Club Cook and Bar Books
Two books were published with the imprimatur of Sherman Billingsley. One was a cookbook and the other a bar book with drinks. Both books had specialties of the house named for notables who frequented the Club. Several examples from the cookbook included the: “Walter Winchell Burger,” “Poached Kennebec Salmon Steak a la Morton Downey,” and “Omelette Steve Hannagan.” xvii
Billingsley used Steve Hannagan’s name because he was an early patron of the Club. Hannagan’s omelette recipe had an omelet garnished with diced mushrooms, fried eggplant and stewed tomatoes.xviii Another recipe in the book named for Steve Hannagan was Squab of Guinea Hen with the hen split and sauté in butter, garnished with sliced oranges, black cherries, and Porto Sauce.xix
In addition to the Stork Club Cookbook, there was a Stock Club Bar Book written by Lucius Beebe, commentator of the New York social scene. Hannagan and Beebe were close friends who were often found in the same social circle. Beebe included Hannagan’s and Ann Sheridan’s favorite drinks. Hannagan’s drink was a dry martini made with dry sherry rather than vermouth. xx
Steve Hannagan – Not a True New York City Glitterati!
Although Steve was a part of the café society scene, he was not a true New York sophisticate. He lacked the breeding, education, and appreciation for the arts; and he did not have truly intimate relationships with high society and the wealthy of the City. For Steve, the arts were merely decoration and meant nothing to him. He could not or would not converse with New York’s power brokers beyond the practical facts of a business deal. Steve’s contribution to café society was a flashing grin and a quick mind.xxi As he said, “Although I’ve been around quite a lot, I’m still just a Hoosier boy with mud and manure on my shoes.” xxii
By-Line – Damon Runyon
Steve Hannagan was a favorite of Damon Runyon, who often ran a note in his column about Hannagan’s latest escapades. Early in Steve’s career, Runyon wrote a humorous comment in his March 25, 1939, column about Hannagan’s prowess at the Indianapolis 500.
“We have often wondered what Steve Hannagan, publicity promoter for Miami Beach… does with his spare time. Now we know. He devotes it to publishing things like ‘wildlife week’ [a conservation piece of publicity], which is now upon us.… We will bet anything he [Hannagan] thinks that ‘wildlife week’ is any week in the Stork Club with plenty of glamour in all its various phases spread o’er the scene … sustaining [the] resources of this nation, eh.’”xxiii
Steve Hannagan’s Passing
On February 6, 1953, Billingsley was sleeping at the Stork Club when a reporter called saying that Steve Hannagan had died in Nairobi, Kenya, the previous night. Ralph Blumenthal said that “The news shattered Billingsley who couldn’t imagine the Club without the bluff, bearish figure he had come to rely on for sage advice and friendship since the Stork’s earliest days.”xxiv
Here is one of the last relics from the Stork Club, a napkin with a note to the front desk of Hannagan’s passing.xxv
i Photograph of Steve Hannagan and Ann Sheridan taken at the Stork Club in the early 1950s (Retrieved July 16, 2014); http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_94wGm5Prdv0/Sj25ogUlPYI/AAAAAAAADr8/S3mffxeebgE/s1600-h/0095-Ann+Sheridan,+Steve+Hannagan+StorkClub+1951.jpg.
ii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 330.
iii Candid photograph of Steve Hannagan and Ann Sheridan with two bottles of Coca-Cola sitting on the back of their banquette (Retrieved August 25, 2018); unknown attribution.
iv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 318.
v Photograph of Steve Hannagan and Ann Sheridan meeting Coca-Cola Executive at the Stork Club in 1944; (Retrieved July 12, 2015); https://www.google.com/search?q=steve+hannagan+and+stork+club&rlz=1C1AJZK_enUS813US813&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiK-vWmuvndAhVLY6wKHZvoC2cQsAR6BAgBEAE&biw=1920&bih=969#imgrc=ueNtqJIeOdt-jM.
vi Photograph of Steve Hannagan and Robert Hannegan, Chair of the Democratic National Committee; Truman Library; (Retrieved October 9, 2018); https://www.trumanlibrary.org/photographs/view.php?id=40495.
vii Blumenthal, Ralph (2000); Stork Club; New York; Little, Brown and Company; p.132.
viii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 329.
ix Blumenthal, Ralph (2000); Stork Club; New York; Little, Brown and Company; p. 34.
x Photograph of the Club Room at the Stork Club (Retrieved July 20, 2017); https://www.google.com/search?q=steve+hannagan+and+stork+club&rlz=1C1AJZK_enUS813US813&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiSw-GUtvndAhXC3FMKHYsiDmkQ_AUIDigB&biw=1920&bih=969#imgdii=HkrRY2TEt7QdWM:&imgrc=8Q4shjUyYcuIcM:.
xi Whelan, Russell (September 1944); “Inside the Stork Club” (Retrieved February 13, 2015); The American Mercury; pp. 357–365.
xii Sortilege advertisement in Harper’s Bazaar (Retrieved September 25, 2018); http://www.google.com/imgres?q=%22steve+hannagan%22&um=1&hl=en&biw=1260&bih=754&tbm=isch&tbnid=w22rBEmHP10fsM:&imgrefurl=http://theprintedpast.blogspot.com/2012/06/harpers-bazaar-may-1951-page-61.html&docid=vTVW5gVHE-v8fM&itg=1&imgurl=http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-q5ZJh8LKRdg/T9SSpKqtCeI/AAAAAAAAA2c/53FV81W2yuM/s1600/Harper%2525E2%252580%252599s%252BBazaar%252BMay%252B1951%252BPage%252B61.jpg&w=1184&h=1600&ei=0pN8UJfwBJHo8wThg4HoBA&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=1024&vpy=380&dur=5130&hovh=261&hovw=193&tx=115&ty=163&sig=113817484123995085873&page=3&tbnh=143&tbnw=106&start=59&ndsp=39&ved=1t:429,r:64,s:20,i:323;http://theprintedpast.blogspot.com/2013/11/.
xiii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p .336.
xiv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 336.
xv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 336.
xvi Picture of Marilyn Monroe receiving a Sortilege box at the Stork Club (Retrieved September 25, 2018); http://divinemarilyn.canalblog.com/archives/2014/11/30/31057091.html.
xvii The Stork Club Cookbook (Retrieved October 3, 2018); https://www.newyorkfirst.com/gifts/the-stork-club-cookbook-264/.
xviii The Stork Club Cookbook (Retrieved October 3, 2018); https://www.newyorkfirst.com/gifts/the-stork-club-cookbook-264/.
xix The Stork Club Cookbook (Retrieved October 3, 2018); https://www.newyorkfirst.com/gifts/the-stork-club-cookbook-264/.
xx Beebe, Lucius (1946); The Stork Club Bar Book; Toronto; Rinehart & Co; p.21.
xxi Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 282.
xxii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 282.
xxiii Runyon, Damon (March 25, 1939); “The Brighter Side”, The San Antonio Light; San Antonio, Texas; p. 5-B.
xxiv Blumenthal, Ralph (2000); Stork Club; New York; Little, Brown and Company; p. 189.
xxv Photograph of a note about Steve Hannagan from the Stork Club (Retrieved August 8, 2018); AntiquePhotoWorld.Com.