Life Before Chinatown 

A middle-aged Emile Bocian posing with his Ricoflex Twin Lens.

Emile Bocian was born in New York in 1912 to Harris and Eva Bocian, eastern European Jewish immigrants who had arrived in New York in 1902. Emile (originally Emanuel) was the youngest of their six children, and the third to have been born in this country. In his Petition for Naturalization in 1915, Harris stated his occupation as “paper hanger.”

Bocian received his first camera at the age of 16. After high school, he tried his hand at comedy and screenwriting, and by the mid-1940s was a contributor to two comedy publications, Humor Business and Comedy World. In 1951, he co-authored a short article for The New Yorker about Cham-Ber Huang, a Chinese harmonica virtuoso. Around that time, he also began working for Mayo & Associates, a PR firm owned by Waldo Mayo, brother of famed actress and theater producer Lucille Lortel. Later, he founded his own firm, Emile Bocian Associate.

Emile Bocian with a camera

Courtesy of Jocelyn Kaplan

120 film contact strip of three photos

NEGATIVES OF CHAN CANASTA AND MEL BROOKS

Emile Bocian 

Date unknown

Featuring Chan Canasta, a young Mel Brooks, and an unknown figure, these negatives date from Bocian’s time at Mayo & Associates.

THE FIVE OLDEST JOKES BY EMILE V. BOCIAN

Comedy World  Vol. 2 No. 6, Summer 1949

A SHORT ARTICLE TITLED THE FIVE OLDEST JOKES
Teenage girl in a striped romper holding a extra-large prop Dariy Queen cone in Times Square.
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MISS DAIRY QUEEN CAMPAIGN

Date unknown

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FLUSHING WORLD’S FAIR SWISS SKY RIDE DOCUMENTS 

Emile Bocian 

1965

In one of his firm’s earliest campaigns, Bocian worked with the Swiss Sky Ride at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York. He publicized an initiative called “Miss Swiss Sky Ride,” meant to promote other pavilions by allowing them to select a “queen” to greet riders and reign over the international area of the fair for one week.

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MAE WONG FAMILY PHOTOGRAPH

Emile Bocian

Date unknown

In the early 1970s, Bocian journeyed to Chinatown to promote the idea of a television variety show starring one of his clients, a Chinese actor and musician named Stephen Cheng. When Cheng performed at the 1971 Miss Chinatown Pageant, Bocian met actress Mae Wong, the pageant's organizer. Wong and her husband Richard would remain close friends of Bocian’s for the rest of his life.