If you think the "Miss Turnstiles" plotline in the Broadway musical On the Town is pure fantasy, you should've checked out a special event at Ellen's Stardust Diner, Oct. 27. That's when 22 of the subway-riding beauties turned up in the flesh at the New York City eatery.
Between 1941-1971 the Transit Authority in New York selected dozens of women to represent and promote subway ridership. The TA created posters, plastering the ladies' faces throughout the labyrinthine five borough subway system. Each "Miss Subways" (as she was dubbed) became a neighborhood celebrity for a brief period of time.
Librettist-lyricist team Betty Comden and Adolph Green capitalized on the idea for the 1944 musical, On the Town, by creating an elusive "Miss Turnstiles," the object of affection for a sailor named Gabey, in NYC for 24-hour shore leave.
Hosted by Stardust owner Ellen Strum, herself a former "Miss Subways," the noontime event at the Stardust Diner at Broadway and 51st Street included 22 of the former subway representatives (each with her original poster), plus Comden and Green, Bernstein's daughter, Nina Bernstein, and niece, Karen Bernstein, among others.
Also at the luncheon event was dancer Sono Osato, the original 1944 "Ivy Smith," the show's "Miss Turnstiles." Osato passed a sash and crown over to actress-dancer Tai Jimenez, who plays Ivy in the current revival. The casting of Asian-American dancer Osato by choreographer Jerome Robbins (during wartime) was considered one of the many unique aspects of the original On the Town, which used Robbins' choreography to potently illuminate the story. The show introduced Comden, Green, designer Oliver Smith, Robbins and Bernstein to the Broadway stage.
The "Miss Turnstiles" ballet is one of the handful of dance sequences in On the Town, showing Gabey's dream of the "high-society" personality of Ivy: She's seen as an improbable Renaissance woman who dates all branches of the service, paints, dances, sings, acts, plays homemaker and attends fancy balls.
Comden and Green were not able to use the registered name "Miss Subways" for the show, so they chose "Miss Turnstiles." For the uninitiated, a "turnstile" is the metal-bladed gate passengers cross through after depositing their subway token.
The 22 "Miss Subways" were invited to a preview performance of On the Town the evening of Oct. 27.