by Archie Black
Atlantic City Newsletter by Archie Black, March, 2000
The 500 Club - Part 3
"What is amazing about Sinatra's appearances at the 500 is that he performed free of charge, doing as many as four shows a night. Skinny D'Amato says that it was because Frank loved him "like a brother," but then Skinny seemed to feel that way about everybody he knew. And he acknowledged with pride that he knew all the important politicians in New Jersey, and every Mafia boss in the country.
The 500 was built by Marco Reginelli, underboss of the Philadelphia family, who lived and operated out of Camden, NJ. His successor, Angelo Bruno, also loved "Skinny" like a brother. "Skinny" was so proud of his new boss and partner that he named his only son Angelo. Through the years, Skinny turned the Five, as the club was known to its devotees, into a local institution and had himself crowned, "Mr. Atlantic City".
In the late 1930's Skinny had done a stretch in Lewisburg after being convicted as a "white slaver", and was still there, in fact, when another brotherly friend, Nucky Johnson, arrived at the federal pen to serve his time.
It was after Skinny's release from prison that Reginelli picked him to front the Five. Skinny put the club on the map and made millions for his friends.
According to Skinny, his managerial abilities so impressed another close friend, Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana, that was when Giancana and Sinatra bought into the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe they picked Skinny to manage the place. But that was short-lived. Sinatra who was blacklisted in Nevada, came to visit his sweetheart, singer Phyllis McGuire, who with her two sisters was headlining the Cal-Neva showroom.
"In recalling that event, Skinny told me that he and Sinatra had advised Giancana not to come. We died when we saw him drive up. But he was in love, what are you going to do?"
During the 1960 presidential campaign, Giancana sent Skinny D'Amato to West Virginia to get votes for Jack Kennedy. He was to use his influence with the sheriffs who controlled the political machine of that state. Most of them had been customers at his 500 Club, and according to Skinny, "loved him like a brother." Whether he helped turn the tide for Kennedy in that crucial primary state is not as important as the fact that Giancana sent him there on Kennedy's behalf.
Frank Sinatra entertaining a 500 Club audience in 1960.
Sinatra made only one more appearance at the 500 after his Nevada debacle. That was the one in August 1964. As Altantic City Press columnist Sonny Schwartz would note in later years, "Sans Sinatra, summer business in '65 and the following years took a decided downhill turn."
"The flames shot throught the roof and smoke belched skyward. The 500 Club was giving its final performance. Watching from across the street on this Sunday afternoon, June 10, 1973, Skinny D'Amato was being consoled by his two daughters, Paulajane and Cathy, and his son, Angelo. Reporters surrounded them.
Fighting back tears, Skinny pointed to the second-floor living quarters above the nightclub. "That's where my kids were born... where they grew up." The tears started running down his sunken cheeks. He lowered his head, wiped at his face, and looked up. "I'll rebuild," he said. "I don't know how, but I'll try. I'm going to keep going. I was born on this street." Then he shook his head. "People can't afford it anymore." What he meant was that the 500 had been in the bankruptcy courts.
A moment later, Skinny was entertaining the reporters with stories about Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. "They each called on Christmas and spoke to the whole family... to the kids." he said, now ignoring the flames that were ravaging the club. "Sinatra appeared here five times and never charged me a penny."
After the fire was brought under control, Skinny toured the smoking ruins. The roof had caved in, the rear wall had collapsed. He moved throught the muddy debris, shaking his head in disbelief at the skeletal remains. Then he stopped and stared in astonishment at a charred wall where he had hung a lifesize photograph of Sinatra. There it was, untouched by the flames. He took faltering steps toward it to make certain. How was it possible? The heat had been so intense that steel girders lay twisted in the ruins. He reached up and touched the photograph. Yes, it was true. It had survived. This had to be a good omen. God's way of assuring him that the future was secure. It was miracle......
"When the chips are down, you can bet "Mr. Chips" will be there to pick them up."