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Atlantic City Newsletter

by Archie Black

Atlantic City Newsletter by Archie Black, March, 2000

The 500 Club - Part 2

The following is taken from "The Boardwalk Jungle" by Ovid Demaris, (1986).

"With Nucky Johnson behind bars, Hap Farley lost little time in establishing himself as the boss of Atlantic County. Besides being a Senator, Chairman of Atlantic County's Republican Committee, and a practicing attorney, Farley appointed himself county treasurer. This not only gave him control of the purse string, but made it clear to county employees who was signing their paychecks and to welfare recipients who was responsible for their checks.... and he let the judges know who was boss. Once a month, he had his nephew deliver their paychecks."

"If anything, vice operations became more rampant under Farley's reign. He made sure the police were underpaid so that vice payoffs would be more palatable. And to make sure the police understood their role, Farley demanded that they sign "loyalty oaths" to the Organization, as his Republican Club was called. So when Farley or one of his flunkiies told a cop to lay off a vice operator, he laid off, or else."

By 1951 the stench of vice in Atlantic City was so ripe that U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver decided to bring his Crime Committee to Atlantic City. Kefauver would later write in his report: "When this committee moved into Atlantic Ctiy at the height of its tourist season, numbers runners and bookies ran for cover and a storm of protests arose from the politicians and racketeers".

Among the conclusions reached by the committee was that Farley was head of the city's rackets, that the Republican party assessed members of the police force $30 a year, that the police department showed "signs of deliberate laxity" and could never find any gamblers to prosecute, despite the fact that about 200 bookmakers were operating there.

Like all political bosses, Farley had a lot of pals. One of them was Public Safety Commissioner Mario Floriani, head of the Fourth Ward Italian American Club. A strong supporter of Floriani was Paul "Skinny" D'Amato, who never had any problem running prositiution and gambling in the 500 Club which he fronted for a succession of Mafia bosses. The 500 was a hangout for Mafiosi and politicians. That is where many of the deals were cut while Skinny acted as genial impresario.

Not all entertainment in Atlantic City was on the Boardwalk. What kept the city going in the fifties and early sixties was the side avenue nightclubs that offered top entertainment.

The Club Harlem, with Larry Steele's high-kicking chorus line, featured black stars (that were mentioned in Part 1). Graces' Little Belmont featured organist Wild Bill Davis and his jazz trio, and Le Bistro booked Jack Jones, Belle Barth, Vic Damone, Jackie Mason, and a young comic named Lenny Bruce.

But the 500 Club, only 50 yards from Le Bistro, became the "Big Daddy" of them all after Sknny took over in the early forties. Its showroom was gradually expanded until it seated a thousand people, and his backroom house a plush casino. At one time or another the lineup included all the top headliners on the nightclub circuit from Sophie Tucker to Patti Page, from Jimmy Durante to Joe E. Lewis and Jackie Leonard. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin teamed up for the very first time at the 500 Club back in 1946. But the biggest draw ever at the 500 was Frank Sinatra, whose five engagements over a period of a half-dozen years literally became historical events."

The photos are of "Paul "Skinny" D'Amato and his pals who played his 500 club helped make Atlantic City the swingingest spot south of Manhattan in the 40's and 50's". "Skinny" is pictured with Jimmy Durante and Donald O'Connor in top photo and with Sammy Davis, Jr. in the bottom scan.

To Be Continued in.......

"When the chips are down, you can bet "Mr. Chips" will be there to pick them up."

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