28. Sociable Bridge: The social status of playing bridge in the 50s

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“Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow–which are you?” was the title of a 1949 Life magazine article, based on a book by Russell Lynes, categorizing people on their tastes in popular culture. What do people do in their spare time? Lynes’ premise was  money had nothing to do with being Low, Middle or Upperbrow. You could be rich and forevermore a Lowbrow because of your tastes in popular culture or poor with Highbrow tastes.

According to Russell Lynes’ questionnaire, playing bridge in 1949 made you a Middlebrow–a Lower Middlebrow in fact.  I forget what he said was now the game of choice of the Highbrows.  How the social status of playing bridge had fallen since the turn of the century! If, that is, Lynes was correct.

From the upper class status of auction bridge at the turn of the 20th century when socialites brought it to New York from London–Queen Alexandra herself played bridge–bridge had spread to the upper middle class after World War I. By 1928 Culbertson was wooing middle class auction players to convert to contract bridge and the democratizing effects on pop culture of the draft and WWII did the rest.

That’s how come I learned to play bridge in the early 50s. My husband had learned to play in the Signal Corps. We met a couple in the suburbs who had learned to play in college, and the three browbeat me to make a fourth. I’m sure that story was repeated thousands of times following WWII.

All through the 50s and 60s, bridge did spread to the mass of middle class America. Seemed like everyone in our suburban neighborhood could play bridge–“dinner and bridge” was a favorite form of entertaining (in addition to the women-only bridge clubs and a men-only bridge club that met separately).

So while I don’t disagree that bridge had indeed spread to the middlebrows of America–perhaps even lower middlebrows–but my recollection is upper class bridge players clung to the game as well all thru the Goren years. I specifically remember an account of a party given by the Duchess of Windsor that included dinner, dancing after dinner, and a room set aside for playing bridge by her upperclass international set–definitely highbrow!

 

 

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