The city’s first female cab driver remembered her first day on the job like it was yesterday – and she wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms.
Instead, Gertrude Hadley Jeannette, 96, started with a bang.
“Stupid me. [I] pulled up in front of the Waldorf-Astoria,” the Harlem pioneer said. “In those days they didn’t allow black drivers to work downtown. You had to work uptown.”
But Jeannette was more than a cabbie. She was also an actor, who had a 70-year career that included theater, television and movies. She also founded the H.A.D.L.E.Y Players, a theater club based in Harlem.
For those accomplishments, she was honored Tuesday by the Coalition of Theatres of Color at the Dwyer Cultural Center on St. Nicholas Ave. and W. 123th St.
But Jeannette’s first day cruising the city still stood out.
She instantly got the attention of the other drivers in front of the swanky Park Ave. hotel, who were clearly irritated that a black cabbie had dared to venture downtown.
“The drivers tried to hem me in,” she recalled. “They said, ‘Say buddy, you know you’re not supposed to be on this line.'”
But Jeannette didn’t budge. She sat calmly in her cab with her hair neatly tucked under her hat as other driver’s verbally harassed her.
Then a cabbie in a green Checker cab tried to cut in front of her. Finally, she’d had enough.
“I rammed my fender under his fender, swung it over to the right and ripped it!” she said.
She broke her silence, telling the angry driver: “You tried to cut in front of me, I couldn’t stop.”
Her sweet voice prompted the irate cabbie to yell out, “A woman driver! A woman driver!”
A hack inspector was already at the scene and scolded both drivers before she got her first customer at the hotel.
“I took him down to Wall Street,” she remembered. “I wasn’t a tough cab driver. I was just a cab driver.”
But Jeannette, who started driving during World War II when there was a shortage of male drivers, continued to drive until 1949 when she got her first big acting gig on Broadway in the play “Lost in the Stars.”
She said being a cab driver didn’t totally prepare her for the lights of Broadway, but it did help.
“It made a writer out of me,” she said. “I met so many interesting people. I wrote a play about one . . . So many interesting stories.”