In Another Time > Some stars were happy with local fame

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When those who were there and done that talk about the heydays of entertainment in Wildwood back in the 1950s and ’60s, the names they mostly remember belong to such stars of that era as Tony Bennett, Jerry Lewis and Esther Williams, all of whom with many others headlined in what some observers called “The Last Vegas of the East.”

Overlooked, however, with the passage of time are the names of other entertainers who were very talented but never quite made it to national stardom because of circumstances or because the chemistry was not right.

Comedian Cozy Morley, perhaps the most popular home grown entertainer in the county, has said more than once that he chose not to go out on the national circuit because he did not like to do all that traveling. But he succeeded here on the home front as a single act (“Cozy Morley And His Corn Cob Humor”) and as the owner of North Wildwood’s Club Avalon where he booked headline acts.

One adopted local act who prospered here but never quite made it to the status of Jerry Lewis stardom, for instance, was Marty Bohn, a vaudevillian who emceed on the same bills that starred Sophie Tucker, Bette Davis, the Ink Spots and Joe Penner whose comedy trademark was “Wanna buy a duck?” That was very good company for Bohn but he still did not match in fame comedian-actor Eddie Cantor, who was a Broadway star then.

The energetic Bohn, an artist when he was not entertaining, started his career in 1925 with the rock em’, sock em’ Three Stooges and eventually made it to the Earle and Schubert Theatres in Philadelphia as well as the Steel and Million Dollar Piers in Atlantic City. At one time in the era of the Roaring Twenties he was introduced on stage by a young master of ceremonies named Milton Berle.

As was the case with other entertainers, his path led Bohn to the Wildwoods where he played the showplaces, including the piers there. But after 50 years on the road, singing g and telling jokes from coast to coast, Bohn and his wife Nancy fell in love with the Wildwoods and decided that it was best to stay put for a while. And there seemed to be no better way to do that but to acquire a night spot during World War II, call it The Nut Club and entertain people in the heart of North Wildwood.

It worked. The crowds came, Bohn did his routine, the packed audiences loved him and he contributed to the community by doing charity work here. By 1950 when Cozy Morley was beginning to make a mark here Bohn was the king of comedy in the Wildwoods.

There were others, too, who were on the fringe of big time fame elsewhere but succeeded higher than that only in the Wildwoods. One of them was Mike Gallo whose Jolson songs earned him bookings at North Wildwood’s Red Garter nightclub at Spruce and Olde New Jersey Avenues for at least 10 consecutive years. When the Garter closed during the winter, Gallo opened elsewhere for such nationally booked performers as Jack Carter, Pat Cooper, David Brenner and Sammy Davis Jr.

Some of the performers were high on the list of New York nightclub entertainers but not in the superstar category. One of them, Elizabeth Carrigg Coleman, billed as “Diamond Liz,” came to the Red Garter from New York’s then famous Gaslight Club where she headlined for six years. She and Gallo shared an album in which he sang the Jolson favorites “Alabamy Bound” and “Mammy” and she vocalized “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” and “Runnin’ Wild.”

Louise Booth, who changed her name to Lou during prohibition because bootleggers wouldn’t deal with women, owned a nightclub at the corner of 18th and Surf Avenues in North Wildwood and while she booked many big names she also featured at one time Irishman Joe McGrath and his Rhumba Band. Her Club Chateau Monterey was once the home of entrepreneur Henry Otten. She was said to be the catalyst for the nightclub industry that developed in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Bolero, one of the busiest showplaces of the times, headlined Sam Cooke and Connie Francis and on the same bill was Ralph Mathis, brother of the more famous Johnny Mathis. Mickey Shaughnessy, who was successful as a nightclub entertainer in the Wildwoods and also made it in the movies, performed at the Bolero and on the same bill were Daisy Mae and Her Hepcats.

The Riptide was one of the nightclubs that contributed to the Wildwoods’ early Las Vegas image. Among its entertainers were top star Louis Prima and “20 Swinging Sepia Beauties.” Also featured in lesser billing was someone called “The Great Sousa” who had nothing to do with the famous bandleader. His talents were apparently otherwise because management wooed the public to see this Sousa with the advertisement “See Sousa Get Soused.”

The Hurricane Club at Garfield and Pacific Avenues called itself “The Gay Club of Mirth” which had a different meaning than that of today. One of its entertainers was a man who was billed as Jelly Bean Johnson. In 1962 The Shirelles headlined at the Hurricane and the current version will return to the county at the Performing Arts Center of Middle Township on Sunday, Feb. 12.

In 1948 at the Surf Club Cab Calloway was the star and was supported by an act advertised as Pete Rubino’s Crackpots. That same venue also booked such headliners as The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots. The Papanicholas Sisters, a semi-famous act in those times compared to the Andrews Sisters, also played the Surf Club and were especially popular with many restaurant owners because of their Greek heritage.

At the Manor Supper Club an ironic twist occurred. The headliner was Minsky’s Follies, named after New York burlesque king Billy Minsky. The supporting act here was the singing group The Temptations. But when New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia shut down Minsky’s burlesque houses, the Follies was shut down too and The Temptations went on to become the top drawing act.

Few of those headliners appear in the Wildwoods anymore. They have either passed on into the great theater in the sky, have retired or command such big fees local entrepreneurs cannot afford them. Their born again replicas occasionally perform here, as do some of the supporting acts. They are reminders of a past when the Wildwoods were so different and so were their entertainers, headliners or not.

 

(Some of the information for this article was researched at the George F.Boyer Museum of the Wildwood Historical Society.)


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