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In 1949, as an aspiring singer, I was fortunate enough to perform with some of the great stars of the day (including Frank Sinatra)at a benefit performance. I still have the newspaper clippings of that remarkable night!
I had had some notoriety as a singer in my hometown of Jersey City, N.J. and was called upon to perform whenever there was a special occasion, to represent the City.
There was a large Italian representation in the city, some of whom, including my father, had been appointed to serve in various political positions by the newly elected and highly controversial Mayor, John V. Kenny.
Many famous celebrities of that day had their roots in Jersey City and Hudson County and never failed to respond to a call from City Hall, to "bring their pals" and perform for worthy causes. As we lived just across the river from New York City, we were only a short ride from where they were performing in the hot nightclubs of the day.
In 1949, The Mayor, with an eye to consolidating his hold on the city (and insuring the Italian vote in future elections) responded to a call from the Mayor of an obscure little town in Italy...Capricotta...to see if we could provide a snowplow for the town as their previous one had been blown up in the war. Their roads became impassable every winter, due to the above average snowfall every year.
The Mayor responded by appointing a committee to oversee a huge benefit concert to be held in November of that year, not only to provide said snowplow, but to send someone to accompany it to instruct them on how to use it. He also called in favors owed from his showbiz pals, including Dolly Sinatra...Frank's mom...to head the entertainment division. What followed was sheer pandemonium and the biggest success the city had ever had. I was recruited to open the program with the National Anthem and another selection later on in the program. At the time the plans were first formulated, I was seven months pregnant and expected my baby to be born in plenty of time for me to recover. However, Nature didn't cooperate, and I gave birth just 10 days before the big event.
The afternoon of the concert, I was a guest on the television show "OK MOTHER," which was hosted by Dennis James...a hometown boy who had made good hosting game shows and his own afternoon talk show. He would be the host of this evening's festivities. His introduction of me was priceless. My mother was one of the first women Funeral Directors in New Jersey at that time, and my Father was a Detective Sargeant. He greeted me warmly on stage and said of me: "Her father shoots them...her mother buries them...and she sings at the funeral!" The audience laughed uproariously while I sat there wanting to hide.
He reminisced about growing up in Jersey City and being told by my father, to "move along...don't loiter on the street corner...and don't be late for school!" For which, he now admitted, he was grateful because he could never get into trouble, as he had my father's eyes upon him all the time.
I hurried home to my baby, who was being taken care of by assorted relatives, fed him and rushed to get ready for the big night. (Ah youth...what stamina!)
The event was being held in the Armory, the largest venue available at the time, and I arrived to find thousands of people, clutching autograph books, lining up to get into the cavernous hall. Photographers lights were popping everywhere, and as each celebrity alighted from their limousine, the cries would go up from the crowds.
Inching my way backstage escorted by security police who, by the way, were just as curious as the rest of us, I ran into (literally) Frank Sinatra who, surrounded by police and his entourage, had fought his way through the crowd just ahead of me. Here is the roster for that evening...some of these names may not be familiar to you today, but I think you might know some of them for sure:
Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Milton Berle. Joey Adams, Perry Como, Dennis James, Richard Conte Joe Louis, Jean Darling, Phil Rizzuto, Rocky Graziano, Gus Lesnevich (prize fighter)Toni Arden, (singer) and many more, whose names escape me at the moment. A veritable who's who in the entertainment world at that time. And here I was, just a young girl, starry eyed...shaking hands with most of them...it was like a dream that was not to be believed.
One of the highlights of the evening (besides the obvious...Frank Sinatra) was the performance by Jimmy Durante, who brought the audience to its feet with his ridiculous antics, by tearing up the music and flinging it to the audience, which was his trademark, as he sang "Inky Dinky Doo." Much to my embarrassment, he commandeered me and a young man to participate in this madness with him! For you young 'uns, he was a poplular comedian...a star of stage, movies and his own television show.
I was never overly nervous whenever I performed...I rather enjoyed the tension, but that evening was an exception...I had never entertained in such illustrious company before, and I dreaded going on stage...sure that I would make a fool of myself. However, that old adage "the bigger they are...the nicer they are...proved to be valid. Dolly Sinatra, Frank's mother, who was on the committee, had heard me sing before and assured me I would be able to hold my own and to this day, I'm convinced she passed the word along, because when I came off stage after my first number, she and Richard Conte (the actor) who were waiting in the wings to make speeches,, gave me a big hug and shoved me back out there!
As expected, when Frank Sinatra took the stage, pandemonium erupted and all the women in the audience, some not so young by the way, rushed toward the stage and had to be restrained by the security guards. Imediately after his performance, he was spirited away through the back door before the concert ended.
Needless to say, the event was a huge success and raised over $20,000, (a large amount of money in those days) and two weeks later, the Plow cum driver, was on its way to Italy, just before the bad weather set in for the winter.
Everyone was happy...the town got its plow, the entertainers reveled in the publicity it generated for them, the Mayor's Italian vote was assured...and as for me...it was the most memorable night of my life!
Copyright2004 Beatrice Boyle
(All rights reserved)