Saturday, August 30, 2008
nightclubs - 1954

Many people ask me, 'What were these Nightclubs like?' Well, no surprise: people 'smoked like chimneys' and 'drank like fish' in these clubs. They truly did, of course. And the last thing that the customers were interested in was 'the show', except for the "Exotic Dancer". And the management was only interested in what you did if it helped to sell drinks. The third singing job I had was in a small but rather interestingly decorated Club on Staten Island called. "The Miami Club". It had fake Palm Trees and everything else that signified "Miami".....and it was quite a challenge to get there. Back then, there was no Verenzanno Bridge to get over to Staten Island from Long Island. You had to drive into New York City, if you weren't already there---which I wasn't----and take the then only way to get to S.I., The Staten Island Ferry....It was a rather picturesque little trip because you not only saw all the buildings in the skyline of Manhattan, but you also saw The Statue of Liberty, coming and going. In those days these clubs didn't close until 4 AM, though usually they let you go around 2:45 am or so.....Anyway, they loved me at The Miami Club, and so I was asked back there to perform, four or five times. Just as an aside, one of the "Exotic Dancers" that played that club with me billed herself as "Whirling Janet From Another Planet". Great name, isn't it? And she was a really nice fun young gal with a great sense of humor.

People like Whirling Janet made the job bearable, because the reality of these clubs was that they were "toilets". Yeah, that's what everybody called them back then, and that is because, in truth, that is what they were. They were the bottom of the barrel 'clubs'. This was kind of sleazy show business. (Though a lot of people felt and still feel, that all of the music business is pretty sleazy and always was.....) This is the way things were, back in the day----Waaaaaay back 'in the day' in these lowest of the low clubs, which is where one had to start out. I guess you could say most of these 'clubs' were one step up from just being a 'bar'.....After all there was 'a show'. And the "show" set-up usually went something like this:
There was the MC/Comedian, who started 'the show', and who came back in between acts to tell a few jokes and then to introduce the next 'act'....Then usually next would be 'The Singer', and then after that there was "The Headliner"----the headliner in those days and in those clubs was 'The Exotic Dancer'.....better known as The Stripper. Depending on the place, the 'stripper' could either be pretty good, or really terrible. And in some clubs, besides these three main acts, there might be a line of girls....Dancers in scanty costumes, who also "worked" the bar. The overheard conversations in the Dressing Room could be pretty raunchy, but that was okay. It was sometimes humorous and that broke the tension of nerves. This line of girls might do two or three numbers. They would Open the show, then come back after each act and then, they were done, except for working the bar. How humiliating was that? Well, it could be very humiliating. They never knew what they might encounter......


They were basically 'shills' for the club. Customers would buy them drinks which the bartenders made sure were watered down...so that way the girls wouldn't get drunk, but they would keep the customers company and then the customers would keep buying drinks and more drinks. What else they did with the customer later---if indeed they did anything----was not the managements business.....Although in some places there were strict rules about that. No dating the customers. No hanky panky. Other places, the management didn't care.....Anyway, I was 'The Singer' but I did not have to work the bar, Thank God! Though the first time I worked at The Miami Club, the Bartender said I did have to work the bar. He was wrong. Poor Whirling Janet did have to work the bar and she was terribly unhappy about that, and very angry with her agent because he had not told her she would have to do that. I told the Bartender I had not been informed that that was part of the job. The Manager saved the situation, telling me that I did not have to do that. It's a good thing too, because I was ready to walk. There was no way I was going to work that bar, or any bar.

I worked a lot of these joints....I mean, a lot! And ultimately, it was deeply deeply depressing. Why? Well, for one, the caliber of musicians was just horrific. And, unfortunately, I couldn't afford to have my own accompanist with me on each of these jobs. If Nat Jones had been able to go on all these jobs with me, well, that would have made a huge difference, but, I was getting paid peanuts and so it just wasn't possible to have Nat with me on each of these 'gigs'. So, this meant that I was stuck with whatever each of these clubs had to offer, musician-wise, and the pickings were slim, slim, slim, and sometimes embarassingly so....

I remember in detail, my first professional job as 'The Singer'. It was a club called "The Neck Inn"....it was in Throgs Neck, just on the edge of The Bronx...an area just outside of New York City, considered sort of on Long Island.

At "The Neck Inn", (Get it? Throgs Neck?) the so called 'dressing room' where I was supposed to put on my make-up and change into my "show" dress was this tiny little horrible room where they stored the extra cases of soft drinks that were served to the customers. It had a large broken mirror leaning up against the wall sitting on top of some cases of Club Soda, Coke and Ginger Ale. I am not kidding you. A broken mirror. This was where I had to get ready to 'go on'. There was a naked light bulb hanging down from the ceiling and that was all the light that there was in this little horrendous store room/dressing room. I know this sounds like I made this up. I didn't. This was exactly how it was. And let me tell you, I have never felt so lonely and frightened in my life, except when I was nine years old and in a hospital about to have an operation---but this, this singing in a nightclub, was supposed to be a happy exciting experience. I was 23 years old, and I had been preparing for this night for years. All the coaching; all the singing lessons; all the hours of rehearsing; all the hours and hours of rehearsing the nightclub act written especially for me. And now, here I was at 'The Neck Inn, about to make my nightclub debut. And I am dressing in a sift dribk store room.

Back in the day, it was a must to have a "club act". Your very own very personal club act that was tailored to you and your particular talents. It included fantastic arrangements where there were key changes and 'special lyrics', and everything. So you brought all your music with you and there was a rehearsal of sorts. In my fantasy, it was going to be like it was in all the movies I had ever seen...This night was going to launch my career. This, was going to make me, 'A Star'.
So there I was with this fabulous "nightclub act" (And that broken mirror and that naked lightbulb) that dear wonderful Kenny Welch had written for me. And it really was amazing and brilliant. Kenny is a genius, after all....and as dear a man as anyone I've ever known.....
There was a flow to the whole "act", like a play---A beginning, A Middle, And an End. And that particular night, for my very first night club debut with my "act", my dear accompanist, the wonderfully talented Nat Jones, did play for me and that included rehearsing with the band and me, thank God. The band. Oy! Six musicians, including Nat.

Well, it was quite clear almost from the beginning that this "act" was too smart for the room. But considering that, it actually went quite well, mostly because of the 20 or so people who were friends and loved ones who were out there sitting at tables who had come to support me. After the show, I came out and sat at one of the tables----this table full of loved ones....a table full of dear people that came specifically to be there for me And, I cannot tell you how incredibly lonely I felt sitting there with all these people who loved me. And I realized that working in nightclubs was very very different than working in "The Theatre". Performing in a club, alone, there was no one to share the experience with---good or bad----as there was when you were in a play....No one to say..."Oh wasn't that scary", when someone forgot a line.....You were all alone....You were out there swimming around in this sea of oil....and desperatelytrying to look like you knew what the hell you were doing, and enjoying it, to boot.

Working in these clubs almost killed my spirit. Each club was worse than the next. All of them were not about the work or the talent or my great club act. They were about selling as many drinks as possible, and if you could do that...well, you could work all over the United States....I was offered that plumb in my second nightclub job. This man with one arm and a hatchet-face called me over..."Hey Singer"....he said...."Come 'ere..."...Yes, New York Accent, and all. He was very scary looking and it turned out he was one of the owners of that club....He ended up speaking to my 'manager'....They liked me, he said. They could book me in 70 places all over the country, if I would just sign a contract....My manager, Buster Newman, knew and understood what this was all about....he told them, 'No'. He said.....'She is just trying out her material here'. "One Arm" kept trying to persuade him, telling him what a great opportunity this was for me. I could be working all the time---eight months out of the year, if I wanted. Buster was polite, but firm. He understood that this was the so called 'syndicate'....to put in more bluntly, 'the mob'. He also understood that if you signed with them you were with them for life. He had been around the nightclub business for a long time and he knew that if you signed a contract with these gentlemen they actually owned you forever, and you had to do whatever they said, forever. He said, 'Thanks, but no thanks'. That was probably the wisest decision of my entire Nightclub Career.










More To Come......













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37 Comments:
had this to say:

Naomi, thank Heavens you had a manager who knew the score (pun intended) and didn't have you sign with the mob!! I used to think I wanted to be a singer, but working in those kinds of clubs would have been awful for me (and you, as I see). Love the photos - but where's one of old hatchet face? LOL

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 4:54:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Naomi, thank God your manager refused to let you sign on with those thugs. At first it sounded like a good idea...70 clubs around the country, but at what price?? To own someone "for life" sounds horrible.

Much of what you've described here about the nightclub scene (back in the day) is shocking and disturbing and not at all what I would've expected. With your amazing talent, you deserved so much more than broken mirrors and naked lightbulbs!! That just sounded so awful.

The theater is where I picture you...always. Nice, glamourous photos, by the way.

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 5:12:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Your very clear memory always blows me away!

I know a little (very little) about those so called "night clubs".. I didn't work in the "fancy ones" like you did (are you laughing?) but in even smaller ones when I was a drummer in a band. I played in a "club" in Jersey City and another down the shore in Keansburg on the boardwalk called the Shamrock. (shaking my head and smiling) they were really the dumps, but I still managed to have great fun too.

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 5:42:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

What a great read, Naomi! I think the movies have really glamorized that period of time. But you hit it on the mark with that broken mirror and the stacked up cases of soda! Ack!

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 7:34:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Weren't you very lucky you had a wise Buster Newman to watch out for you!!!

These are my favorite kinds of posts, Naomi. The way you write them, the photos,,,,,you make me feel as if I were there.

Hoping you'll share more of your early career. And my, you were very pretty at age 23 - and lucky to not be taken advantage of (in more ways than one!)

Lovely post,
Anne

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 9:07:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

First off, I wish to commend you on documenting a piece of history and preserving your memories here on the Internet for the ages. I truly enjoyed reading this Naomi. And yes, you were lucky to have not signed a contract!

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 9:56:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Thank God you had a manager! That's crazy!

But still, how many of us could get up anywhere and sing for people? and be SO pretty, too.
Even though you describe it as horrible, for some dumb reason I still think it's so exciting. Well, interesting, anyway. You would have to say, you've done some interesting things!

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 10:53:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

What an amazing story! There is a movie right here in this few scenes from your life. There's some parallels with the stories about the London 'Soho' scene and I guess there must be crossover between the two worlds as well.

Your manager did the right thing keeping you off contract.

I've done the Staten Island ferry as a tourist but ot stayed to have a look around. I wonder if there is much left of the old clubs nowadays?

Excellent pictures, as always!

Best, rashbre

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 11:33:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Oh my dear,
I did read loudly for Anna this post.
She responded with laughter and thoughts and respect.
You are a lady over the hills and a story teller out of this world.
Fabulous, that's what you are

You have been so kind to talk to me personally, even when I did visit Suzann. And the Calendar from your garden. wow.

August 31, I've been blogging for 2 years. You are among my preferred blogs I regulary do read.
You know, my time is limited, so I have to choose among the very best.

I'll soon post my 2nd anniversary as a blogger. I would not surprise myself if you are among the few referred to.

hugs
Tor
Anna
Rosa
Felicia
Stompa

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 12:42:00 PM PDT 

Blogger PI
had this to say:

As often happens - Judy took the words right out of my mouth - thank Heavens for your manager. Even so it must have been a baptism of fire working in those places - especially after the theatre.
People - I think - don't realise how vulnerable we girls were in the fifties; Soho in London could be a very sleazy place and that's where I often had to work. The first photographer I visited - you had to walk through the night club below, to reach the studio and to see them in broad daylight put me off them for life. What an experience for you actually singing there and with a band. You have my admiration!

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 3:09:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

Naomi, Like TorAa, I read only a few preferred blogs and your blog is on my preferred list. I read each new post...

I enjoyed your story down memory lane today and look forward to the next post.

We always think "The Singers" life is one of glamor, fun and parties. But you opened our eyes to the fact that it is not!!!

Hats off to your manager. And Oh! you were and are still a beauty.

Until next time...Ann

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 4:27:00 PM PDT 

Anonymous Anonymous
had this to say:

Gosh, what a story! And I love the photos of you, Naomi.
You did a great job of sharing with us the very, very difficult route to try to make it to the top. Not an easy profession, in the least.
And what really gets me.....I've heard your incredible singing voice. You deserved to make it. And yet....just like my difficult career of being a published author, so many times the honest-to-God talent is passed by.
I've said it before and I'll say it again....it was THEIR loss, Naomi!
Terri
http://www.islandwriter.net

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 4:44:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

You are so beautiful!

The Short People are very into the whole MGM musical scene thanks to the "That's Entertainment" series on TCM, and they are beginning to believe that during that period everyone used to sing and dance their way through the day. They especially love Esther Williams, Syd Charisse and Fred Astaire. If only it had really been what it seemed...

Just finished watching "Cover Girl" with them, starring my fave, Gene Kelly, and Rita Hayworth. It gives you a Hollywood glossy, shiny version of what you are describing, I think. MGM made even the tough times seem glamorous, but clearly they weren't.

What a life! And you made it through and are tough yet still soft, too. Unique, and a testimony to your character. Kudos to you!

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 5:07:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

I never would have imagined your 1st singing experience would have been like that. Now at 50 (oy vey), I realize at 23, you were just a baby & so extremely vulnerable, thank goodness you had responsible people watching out for you.

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 11:19:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

I love your posts. I truly do, and I especially loved this one.

As trying and as difficult as it was, your recollection is a goldmine. Just like the piece of tile you found at The Ambassador, your memories give us a glimpse into things as they were, not just as we want to remember them.

Can't wait to read more.

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 1:30:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Wow Naomi, this is great reading!! I love hearing your showbusiness stories, and how it really was; you were lucky to have good people around you though.

It's funny isn't it: that in much of the arts 'profession', 'art' is usually the last thing the profession is actually about. Strangely enough, I could really relate to this post as a writer, and that's saying something about the writing profession now isn't it...(and by this I don't mean working freelance, but being employed in the profession itself)!!!

I look forward to Part 2!

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 1:38:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

what a great bit of history and a great story! I can see the place---the naked light bulb, cracked mirror and stacked cases of soda. Great description!

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 7:29:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

By the way, I forgot to mention that those are such beautiful photos of you Naomi.

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 9:02:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

the photos of you are fantastic! love the lacy neckline! so classy sexy looking

I remember how traveling to SI was like leaving the country (in many ways it was and still is lol) - I could see the island from my home in Brooklyn but it would take hours to get there.

I wish I could remember the name of the nightclub my aunts took me to for my First Communion. Yes, I was 10. they took me to the first show. It was Steve and Edie and Steve sang a song for me and called me "a little bride"

Clearly I wasn't a feminist yet :)

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 10:02:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Absolutely fascinating, Naomi. Did you ever record any of those gigs? Would LOVE to hear a tape! Or even just a set list if you can remember. Did you sing the current standards or did mix in some of your own songs?

I am choking from the cigarette smoke just hearing about those clubs!

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 10:12:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

What a marvelous story! Of course, I'm glad you share it with the rest of us, but part of me thinks you ought to sit down and write your autobiography for a wider audience.

Cheers.

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 10:13:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Ohhh Naomi, what a great story teller you are - your memory blows me away in this post.

In 1954, I was two years then and grew up in a small town in Norway. Your description fit more into the variete life in Oslo in the 60s.

How great that you've saved some of the photos then - I really enjoy watching and reading this - thanks for sharing from your colourful life dear.

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 11:12:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

I so love hearing (yes, since seeing your videos and hearing your voice I really do "hear" your posts now!) your stories and this one was especially great. You have such a knack for bringing us right here with you.

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 11:23:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

Naomi, I just had to listen to your 4 1950s songs again. I just loved listening to them again. After reading your story about your experiences, it was nice to hear your beautiful singing voice...

Have a nice evening.

Ann

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 1:15:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

Naomi, I think you should put all these amazing posts and memories in a book!

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 1:52:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

I think a lot of people have a romanticised version of the era and the whole nightclub scene rather then the smoky,underbelly truth. Nice to hear a version from someone who has been there, done that :)

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 6:07:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

Hi Naomi! Wow...what interesting insights and color life you had! You're blessed indeed.

Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 6:22:00 PM PDT 

Blogger Mar
had this to say:

I simply love your "professional" pictures!! lovely dresses, too! How interesting to read about this time of your life , Naomi. It's amazing how well you remember things and it's wonderful you had a clever manager!

Monday, September 1, 2008 at 12:08:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

You look gorgeous! Great pix!

And thanks for sharing your night club adventures. I always wondered what it was like.

Monday, September 1, 2008 at 6:18:00 AM PDT 

Blogger VV
had this to say:

Wow! Talk about paying your dues. That was rough work. I don't think I'd have been able to do it.

Monday, September 1, 2008 at 2:25:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

How scary and awful! I can see why those clubs were so seedy and not at all good places to work. Making money off of the drinks was all that mattered.
In that last photo, you look like you are waving and saying, "Thanks, but no thanks! Adios!!!!!"
Great photos of you!!
Such glamour!
I'm glad you later got plugged in at Theatre West and other much better places to perform.
No more changing clothes next to boxes of soda in some hovel of a dressing room!!!

Monday, September 1, 2008 at 6:52:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

Great pictures of you Naomi! You were very brave at 23 to be singing in those clubs. I sure am glad your manager was wise directing you away from that contract with the mob!

I was born in 1954 while you were starting out. Who knew that someday we'd meet through blogging! Amazing isn't it?

I imagine that you had many dressing rooms that were far from glamorous. I'm glad you had such success in the theater. What an interesting life! I love reading about it. When you describe things, I can picture it in my mind how you must have felt being there alone in a dressing room filled with stored soda pop and a cracked mirror...the things that must have gone through your mind!

Monday, September 1, 2008 at 11:14:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

I love when you post about stuff like this. I've seen a lot of movies that were like this, with the crappy "dressing room" and the scary patrons and owners. You had a lot of spirit and tenacity to do this at all. As bad as some of your memories may be, there are thousands and thousands of women who would have like to have at least tried. You went for it, and that makes you a cut above. The pictures were great too. I hope they make a movie of your life some day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 12:39:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

I agree with all the others who like it when you post these true stories from your past. They are so interesting I just get wrapped right up in it. Of course, for you some of it has to be painful memories. It is amazing the trials and hurdles people can overcome, it is a wonder your spirit was not broken but that is probably why you are so very stong today.

Were the real lounges that bad, I mean like the ones with Frank and Dean and Sammy or was that all Vegas and Hollywood or was that already the big time? I guess when people come to just "see the singer" it is big time. I just love the old style lounges where you can sit in your comfy chair in the dark, candle on your table and hear smooth jazz...those seem to be disappearing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 10:17:00 AM PDT 

had this to say:

How fascinating. Your story and pictures remind me of the things my mother talked about. She was a musician (Mama played bass) in all-girl orchestras and sang a trio with her sisters through the 30s and in the old burlesque houses. She had so many stories and they match your experiences. I love your publicity stills, very lovely.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008 at 7:57:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

There is always a more visceral story behind the facade isn't there? I can imagine nightclub work was tremendously spirit killing. And, the way women were treated back then too. It's good thing you had a reliable and protective Manager.

It also makes me think about how political spinners and organizers as well as the media try to maintain a facade with respect to their candidates and the election process. The reality behind the scenes I'm sure is very different than what we are fed through the media. I find it all very disconcerting because it's difficult to know what to believe.

Great story Naomi.....I thoroughly enjoyed learning from what you've shared here.

Friday, September 5, 2008 at 7:34:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

I got sucked in reading.

This blog is like writing your memoirs, Naomi. What a unique life of so many ups and downs.

Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 6:41:00 AM PDT 

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