It’s near midnight in New York. Manhattan, on a balmy summer night in the mid- 1950’s, to be precise.
The French Line’s SS. Liberte is making ready to sail for Europe from Manhattan’s Pier 88. Fully booked, the ship is a mad rush of scarlet jacketed bellboys, delivering flowers, telegrams and cases of champagne to cabins already overflowing with hundreds of light hearted and laughing passengers. Last minute stores are coming aboard; valuables are being secured in the safes. Throngs of visitors mill around the palatial Art Deco interiors, their eyes as wide as saucers.
On the quay, mountains of baggage are being manhandled into the belly of the beast. Some people think nothing of sailing with sixty pieces of luggage for their extended European tours. A tidal wave of ambitious hacks turn the pier into a blazing neon dawn as each new limo swaggers up to the ship. Rumour has it that both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable are sailing tonight.
The quay fairly groans under the combined weight of an assorted fleet of Daimlers, Bentleys and Packards, delivering the stars of stage, screen and sport to the ship. The French Line has a reputation for food, service and sheer fun that is second to none; the Liberte has always been a magnet for the famous, the fussy, and the downright frivolous.
As sailing time, nears, an avalanche of brightly coloured paper streamers rain down from the Liberte’s decks to the crowd on the pier below, trailing an amazing technicolor splash along the length of the great liner’s soaring, floodlit flank. The siren roars out in the night; a deep, gut shaking boom.that reverberates in the humid, muggy air, before it disappears among midtown Manhattan’s steel and glass canyons of skyscrapers.
Then, almost imperceptibly at first, she gets under way, backing out gingerly into the darkened Hudson. Like puppies trying to move a dinosaur, a quintet of feisty Moran tugs push, pull and cajole the nine hundred foot hull, until she swings lazily around into the midstream. The muted throbbing of their engines forms a surreal backdrop to the cheers of the passengers, and the popping of an entire salvo of champagne corks.
Now the Liberte is pointed downstream, and the famed Manhattan skyline is off to port; a million twinkling lights that form an unforgettable backdrop. Cars barrel along Twelfth Avenue at breakneck speed, tooting and honking in salute, or just out of sheer impatience at the idiot in front of them. Clad in all her luminous finery, New York City never looked sweeter or finer than on this warm, summer night.
Row upon row of the Liberte’s deck lights shimmer bewitchingly on the ink black Hudson, so far below. Artfully concealed lighting at their bases makes her two huge, red and black funnels stand out in a glorious show of bravado. Between them, huge electric letters spell out her name for all to see.
Forward now. Streamers flail skittishly against her flank as she slowly gathers way, like some mythical sea goddess, gliding out of an enchanted fairyland. The siren roars again, sundering the night air as the tugs back off respectfully, like courtiers bowing to a queen.
Pale green and floodlit, the Statue of Liberty bids farewell to the Liberte and her human cargo with sightless eyes as she makes her stately progress downstream. On board, the supper club opens, and Xavier Cugat’s Mambo Kings are laying down some blistering salsa in the Cafe De L’Atlantique.
It’s summer in the city, and another crossing to Europe is under way…