BY DAVID RUSSELL
The 1951 movie Fourteen Hours begins with a disclaimer that the film about a young man on a ledge contemplating suicide is purely fiction. In reality, the movie is based on a 1938 incident in which a Woodhaven resident attempted to save the life of a suicidal man in a hotel on Fifth Avenue.
After staying under the radar for decades, Fourteen Hours is getting some attention.
“This was a completely new piece of Woodhaven history,” said Edward Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society. Wendell spoke about the movie at a recent meeting of the Woodhaven History Discussion Group. “Generally, people in Woodhaven did not know about, so they’re going to be learning about it.”
Patrolman Charles Glasco was on Fifth Avenue taking care of a traffic issue when he learned about a man threatening to jump off the 17th floor of the Gotham Hotel. The man, John William Warde, said he’d jump if any cops tried to talk to him. Glasco dressed as a bellboy and tried to calm Warde down. Glasco and Warde talked as a large crowd gathered, along with photographers, firefighters and police officers. Hundreds watched as Warde stayed on the ledge for 11 hours before jumping to his death.
Thirteen years later, the story came to the big screen. Richard Basehart played Robert Cosick, the man on the ledge for 14 hours, not 11. Paul Douglas played Officer Charlie Dunnigan, who resides in Bayside, not Woodhaven. And the movie ends a lot happier than the incident it was based on.
Film buffs know Fourteen Hours as Grace Kelly’s first movie. The movie also has appearances from a young Jeffrey Hunter, and Agnes Moorehead nearly 15 years before she was on Bewitched.
Although Woodhaven is no stranger to movies being filmed in the area, it is rare for a Wodhaven resident to be the subject of a movie. “Goodfellas had great characters but all the stuff they were doing took place elsewhere,” Wendell said. “Nothing they did in the movie actually took place in Neir’s Tavern in real life, but they filmed it there. Tower Heist was a fictional movie. Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, a TV movie, was a fictional movie. But this was actually a story about someone from Woodhaven. To me, he’s really the star of the movie. The reason for the movie is the guy on the ledge but it’s the story of this officer who tries to keep him alive. The fact that he wasn’t successful in real life doesn’t mean it’s not a great story.”
For anyone interested, Fourteen Hours is on YouTube, in six 15-minute parts. The movie also occasionally appears on TCM.
“People from the area are very proud of their knowledge,” Wendell said. “They like to think they know everything there is to know about Woodhaven, so I’m interested to see the reaction to this.”