Jul 26 2011

Was the Long Island Motor Parkway in the 1937 Classic Film “Topper”?

While researching yesterday's post on the 73rd Avenue Bridge, I discovered a fascinating Motor Parkway statement in the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway Guide developed by the New York City Parks Department. Take a look:

Brooklyn-Queens Greenway Guide (page 63)

This is one of the most historically rich segments of the Greenway. It travels through the outer reaches of the old Flushing township to Little Neck Bay, encountering Fort Totten and the Throgs Neck Bridge. The segment begins by running through the corridor of the historic Long Island Motor Parkway, known as the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway.

The idea for the Parkway was prompted in 1906 by William K. Vanderbilt Jr., a descendant of the family that presided over the New York Central Railroad and Western Union. Vanderbilt conceived of the route as a raceway, but it also served as a fast track for the wealthy to their estates on Long Island. Later, during the 1920s and prohibition, the route became known as Rum-Runners Road, since as a private road it was so frequently used by bootleggers outrunning the police.

It was featured in the 1937 movie Topper, starring Cary Grant. The movie is worth renting to get a sense of the pastoral landscape of the area 60 years ago. You’ll find the area is now built over with neat-as-a-pin middle-class houses.

In the 1930s, Robert Moses undercut the Vanderbilt by constructing the free-of-toll Northern State Parkway. With its revenue severely reduced, the Vanderbilt shut down in 1938, to be shortly resurrected by Moses as a recreational path.

The Motor Parkway in "Topper"? I never heard that one before. In the film, the Kerbys, played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, are driving on Long Island heading to New York City.

Also, can anyone identify the amazing car driven by Cary Grant?

Links to related posts on VanderbiltCupRaces.com

Brooklyn-Queens Greenway Guide

IMDb "Topper" (1937)


Jul 27 2011 Greg Oreiro 9:47 AM

“Also, can anyone identify the amazing car driven by Cary Grant?”

Turns out, that’s a trick question! My first thought was that must be a model of Cord I’ve never seen, (since no other manufacturer had such beautiful styling like that in the 30’s) but I guess I was wrong. Here’s the info on the car from IMDB;

“The fancy finned-back car driven by the Kerbys was custom built by the Bohman & Schwartz Co. using a 1936 Buick Roadmaster chassis. Originally the producers had in mind to use a coffin-nosed Cord, but it wasn’t large enough. In the custom-made Buick there were special compartments for camera equipment, etc. The Buick resembles a Cord, but the supercharger pipes on the side were just decorations (a Cord comes with an actual supercharger). After filming the Buick was bought by the Gilmore Oil Co. and was used for promotional purposes for many years. It was updated in 1954 with a Chrysler Imperial chassis and drive train. The car driven by Cosmo Topper is a 1936 Lincoln Model K.”

Jul 27 2011 Greg Oreiro 4:22 PM

Upon looking at the Topper car a little more closely, (after finding it was custom built) I discovered that the Topper car is a much closer match to a 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster than the Cord 810.(The Topper car and the Auburn are almost identical)

Jul 29 2011 Howard Kroplick 5:10 PM

Hi Greg:

Thanks for the information. Great to see you and Deidre at the Long Island Motor Parkway Preservation Society meeting.



Jul 31 2011 Howard Kroplick 6:14 PM

From Sam Berliner III:

  “This is the segment of “Topper” where the backdrop may have been filmed on the Motor Parkway. Any opinions?”

Far from being the LIMP, that segment appears to have been filmed in or around Old Westbury-Brookville (or the Hamptons).  There are no LIMP guard rails or property posts.  The fences appear only occasionally, on one side or the other, only, and are private property fences, still quite prevalent in the areas.  The wild reverse curves are also not consistent with the LIMP.

  “Also, can anyone identify the amazing car driven by Cary Grant?”

Without extensive checking, it seems to be a 1936 (or so) Auburn 852 Boat Tailed Speedster.  The V-8 had outside pipes on both sides, unlike a Duesenberg straight 8 with pipes only on the right.

As always, I love what you’re doing; keep on truckin’!

Jul 31 2011 Howard Kroplick 10:32 PM

Hi Sam III:

I tend to agree with you that it does not appear to be the Motor Parkway in the background. The concrete posts do not seem to be LIMPish….not enough space between the consecutive posts.

It is possible that the film script identified the road as the Motor Parkway…the Kirbys were driving on Long Island heading to New York City. According to IMDb, the film location was 380 South San Rafael Avenue, Pasadena, California. This was also the TV residence for Batman:


Howard I

Leave a Comment