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A Night To Remember

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December's Winner:  Short Story;  Gold Medal





I had just given birth to my first child in Nov of 1949, in Jersey City, N.J. I had had some notoriety as a singer there, 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 at that time…some of which…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.


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 they could provide a snowplow for the town, which became virtually impassable in the winter, due to the above average snowfall every year.


The Mayor responded by appointing a committee to oversee a huge benefit concert to not only 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 a couple of selections later on in the program.


At the time the plans were first formulated, I was 7 months pregnant and expecting my baby shortly before I was to perform.  I would have about a month after the birth to get myself prepared for the big day…or so I thought! Nature didn’t cooperate, and I delivered my son Roger, just 2 weeks  before the big night! In those blessed days, before HMO’s and insurance companies taking over for Doctors, mothers spent at least 5 or 6 days in the hospital recuperating and bonding with their baby!  I came home just a week before the big event!


The afternoon of the concert, I was a guest on the television show OK MOTHER starring Dennis James, a celebrated game show host, and who would host that evening’s benefit bash.   I was mortified when he introduced me, explaining that my mother was a Funeral Director, and that as a policeman, "My father shot them...my mother buried them and I sang at the funeral!" While I wanted to hide, the audience was convulsed with laughter!  We discussed the evenings concert, and he reminisced about growing up in Jersey City and being told by my father, at that time a Police Dectective Sergeant, 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, for 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 event.  (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 crowd.


Inching my way backstage, escorted by security police (who by the way, were just as curious as the rest of us) I ran smack dab into Frank Sinatra who was standing at the door greeting his pals as they came into the hall.


Here is the roster of 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, John Scarne (Card Wizard),

Gus Lesnevich (prize fighter) Toni Arden (singer)

 Phil Rizzuto, Rocky Graziano, and many more. whose names escape me. A veritable who’s who in the entertainment world at that time.  And here was I…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 hightlights 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, etc, which was his trademark as he sang “Inky Dkinky Doo” and, much to my embarrassment, dragging me onstage to participate in his madness!  (For you young ‘uns, he was a famous 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 played in such illustrious company before and I dreaded going on stage…sure that I would make a fool of myself.  But that old adage “the bigger they are…the nicer they are…proved to be valid…Dolly Sinatra, Frank’s mother, who was head of entertainment, 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 around. because when I came off stage after my first number, Richard Conte, who was waiting in the wings as the next performer, gave me a big hug and shoved me back out there!


Needless to say, the concert was a huge success, and raised over $20,000... a large amount of money for the time... and two weeks later, the plow was on its way to Italy just before the bad weather set in.  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!





Copyright 2004 Beatrice Boyle

(All rights reserved)

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Papagone and Little Italy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Dear Aunt Bea,
My Great Grandfather's last name was Brancaccio. He owned a food store on the corner of Grand Ave and Mulberry Street in Manhattan's Little Italy section. In this store he made and sold, among other things, soup and sandwiches which he often gave away to the poor.
He was known by those in the area as "Papagone:? or "Big Papa." He was six feet in height, and in those days that was considered quite tall.
In any event, one of his many customers was Jimmy Durante, before he became known.
This of course is that area of Manhattan where the St. Gennaro Feast
is held each year.( St. Gennaro, Patrone Di Napoli)
I enjoyed your story. Keep up ihe fine work.

Mike Pitocchi
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Very interesting & enjoyable! I heard about all but 3 of those famous names. I watched NY Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto at Yankee Stadium before your big night. My Dad, a well known athlete during that era, was presented on stage in NYC with a few of those famous names, plus Bob Hope. That was his "night to remember!"My Quaker family is a stones throw from Jersey City, residing in Westchester County, NY since about 1640. Dad was one of the fastest runners in the world, beat Jesse Owens 2 out of 3 times in the 100 yard dash, & held 2 world records. He graduated from Washington Irving High in Tarrytown & attended Syracuse University. I'm surrounded by Italian's down here in Cajun Country, & live with a Sicilian. I think she is Mafia too! :(
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Avatar Reviewed by Mean Dean
December 30, 2009
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