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Happy summer recollections of post-war New York City

It's the summer of 1945 -- wartime, but with the jubilant hint of the war's ending in the air like so much Dorsey Brothers music.

Two best friends from Iowa, Marjorie and Marty, both of them tall Nordic blondes with great legs and pretty faces, head to New York City. They want to find summer jobs. They want to have the best summer ever -- a summer they'll always remember.

And, by a stroke of luck, they do. The pair -- Kappa girls at the University of Iowa, don't you know -- strike out at a few department stores before unexpectedly landing a dream job: as pages at Tiffany & Co., the flagship store on Fifth Avenue (then practically new; and yes, the same solid-looking store a gawking Audrey Hepburn would make famous in "Breakfast at Tiffany's").

Marjorie Hart and Marty Garrett even made a bit of history, becoming the first women to work on the sales floor at the venerable old Tiffany. Not that it was an enlightened position: the store dressed them in matching eggshell-blue dresses and black heels, and sent them out onto the floor to scurry around with packages.

"Summer at Tiffany" is the girls' story, as told by one of the two -- Marjorie Hart, now 82 and living in California. This is her first book, a memoir of that unforgettable summer at the end of the war.

"Summer at Tiffany" should be read for two reasons: partly because it's just plain readable fun, and partly because it's a quaint curio-cabinet piece, a book so much in the style of those midcentury career-girl-on-the-town frolics that filled young women's bookshelves in the late 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s that you'll need to glance up from the page periodically to reassure yourself that you're still in 2007.

Remember those stories? They always featured a plucky heroine (the word "gumption" came up a lot) out in the wide world looking for respectable work and romantic love and finding both, by tale's end, all the while experiencing the thrills of city- or office-life, winning friends, and bravely tackling dilemmas no more serious than how to afford a coveted new dress or cosmetic.

That's what you get here, curiously untouched by the passage of time, and all wrapped up in a Tiffany-blue package with a bow on top. The company should put this book on prominent display in its stores, for heaven's sake -- it's that much of a paean to the Tiffany glory days.

We read Marjorie's account of how the newly married Judy Garland came to the store -- with her "whoops of laughter" preceding her -- to pick out a wedding gift from MGM studios on the occasion of her marriage to Vincente Minnelli. Judy, tiny in a white pique dress and hatless, clung to Minnelli and chose an emerald bracelet and matching brooch, Hart writes; Minnelli selected a gold Patek Philippe watch.

We read of New York's society 400, who filled the store during the season, about the heirs and heiresses who frequented its aisles, including Jimmy Donohue, "heir to the Woolworth fortune," who flirted with Marjorie as she helped him pick out diamond earrings one day.

And we read about lunches at the Automat and dinners in swank cafes, dancing to big-band music, when any night the next table over might be a movie star's or millionaire's -- who could tell?

You can't help liking Marjorie in this book, of course, and rooting for her. Her memoir makes for light-as-souffle reading, no doubt; but it nonetheless delights in its sheer joie de vivre about this one amazing summmer, even 60-odd years later.

You go, girls.

Charity Vogel is a News features reporter.


Summer at Tiffany

By Marjorie Hart

William Morrow, 272 pages, $15

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