Friday, July 24, 2015

At the Copa...

When I recently read the book "Dean and Me: A Love Story" by Jerry Lewis, I noticed that spoke highly of their days performing at New York's Copacabana Club. Between 1946 and 1956, no one was bigger in show business than Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Their final performance together was at the club in 1956.

In May of 1964, Sammy Davis Jr. broke all attendance records at the club.

The club opened in 1940 in Manhattan, at 10 East 60th Street. Although his name was not on the lease, a partner in the club was powerful mob boss Frank Costello. It remained at the 60th Street location for over 50 years. In 1992, it moved to 57th Street. In 2001, it moved to 34th Street. Since 2011, the Copa has been located in Times Square on 47th Street.

The 1978 song "Copacabana" by Barry Manilow reignited interest in the club. A 1947 film of the same name starred Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda. It has been a setting for many well known more recent films, such as Good Fellas, Raging Bull, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Carlito's Way.

Many famous recordings were taped there such as "Sam Cooke at the Copa" and "The Supremes at the Copa".

*Some information from

Monday, July 20, 2015

John Lithgow: "Drama: An Actor's Education"

Many people know the actor John Lithgow from his role as Dick Solomon in the NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001). But, he released a book called "Drama: An Actor's Education" which chronicles his life in television, film and live theatre.

He was born to an actress mother and a theatre director/producer father. His family moved frequently as he grew up and John worked for his father on various live theatre productions. At one point his father worked for Princeton University.

When he first started his college career, Lithgow wanted to be an artist. He was excited to meet his artistic hero Norman Rockwell. Lithgow graduated from Harvard and studied theatre abroad in London.

When he was drafted for the Vietnam war, he dodged the draft by utilizing his acting skills. He pretended to have psychological problems and did not serve. He compared it to a scene from the film Alice's Restaurant. To this day, he still feels guilty about avoiding his military service.

In the 1970s he appeared in many Broadway shows, but few musicals. He said that the two worlds of musical theatre and the world of non-musical plays were separate. He had an affair with one of his co-stars, Liv Ullman. She was the muse of iconic film director Ingmar Bergman. During this period he met an unknown teenage actress whom everyone knew was bound for greatness, Meryl Streep.

His career highlights include; All That Jazz (1979), The World According to Garp (1982), Terms of Endearment (1983), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Footloose (1984), The Pelican Brief (1993), 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001, 139 episodes), Shrek (2001), and Dexter (2009, 12 episodes).

Lithgow has been nominated for two Academy Awards. He has won two Golden Globes and five primetime Emmy Awards. He has been nominated for three Grammy Awards. He has won two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

His autobiography is beautifully written, with many interesting stories about his life in show business. My only complaint with the book is that sometimes Lithgow comes off as a bit pompous and self-righteous. I think that he is an intellectual snob. But, he did graduate from Harvard after all.

*Some information from

Friday, July 03, 2015

Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness and the Mob

A book's title is an important tool to attract the interest of potential readers. But, when a title is deceptive, readers feel slighted. That is how I felt after reading Matt Birkbeck's book "Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness and the Mob". I have always had an interest in the mega stars that were members of the legendary bunch of entertainers known as The Rat Pack. The group included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.

I expected this book to be all about the life and times of Sammy Davis Jr. I knew that he was a man of many talents, famous for his singing, dancing, acting, his impressions and his overall charisma. I had assumed that the book would tell behind-the-scenes stories about his many experiences in television, film, recording albums and performing all over the world. There is so much that could be covered about a life such as his.

Instead it was a book primarily about his financial indiscretions and how he left his family to clean up the mess he left behind after his death in 1990. Sammy made a lot of money, estimated to be $50 million over his career in show biz. But he also spent a lot, through his gambling, substance abuse, his divorces and his lavish lifestyle. He was known for his extensive collection of jewelry, his fancy homes and cars. He invested in some ill-advised business deals that ended up costing him millions. So, the book was largely about how his wife Altovise Davis tried to figure out how to repay Sammy's enormous debts to the IRS, which totalled $10 million. Everything was liquidated and it still was not enough.

Sammy wrote 2 books about his life himself, one called "Yes I Can" and one called "Why Me?" So, hopefully those will be more up my alley, with plenty of show biz stories.

For a much better book about old school entertainers, check out "Dean and Me: A Love Story" by Jerry Lewis. That book is filled with fascinating stories about Jerry and his deep friendship with Dean Martin. I would also recommend the book "Johnny Carson" by his longtime lawyer/manager/friend Henry Bushkin.