When the Beach was Hot

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"Up on the 79th Street Causeway you had the Bonfire, a pick-up joint. Rip Taylor started out up there. At the Seagull Hotel on 21st Street there was a late-night disc jockey called Sleepytime Gal, operating out of one of the rooms. People would come by and talk to her, and she'd play Tony Martin records all the time. Martin was like an obsession with her. She was great, really ahead of her time.

"There was a hotel of the year, every year A the Eden Roc, Fontainebleau, whatever. The lobbies would blow your mind; people would go over just to look at them. What really ruined things was the American plan, which meant tourists ate three meals a day at the hotel and then stayed in for the shows at night.

"Miami Beach was the resort town in the winter. To be here in the height of the season meant you had money. It was really part of that borscht-belt circuit: summers in the Catskills, winters on Miami Beach. The Broadway Series is bringing a show down this season, Catskills on Broadway (the revue opened last week and runs through February 7 at the Jackie Gleason Theater) with all the comedians who used to play down here: Freddie Roman, Mal Z. Lawrence, Dick Capri, and Louise DuArt. People are still aching for that kind of humor.

"The excitement of those times was unbelievable. You never saw anything like the parade of jewels and furs. The town was full of high-rollers. It was all about eating, drinking, gambling, and getting a tan. And people definitely came down here to connect. You'd have women in the Boom Boom Room at the Fontainebleau trying to find a rich husband. Some of those women married very well and are quite respectable now. The town was flamboyant, outrageous, and ultimately very glamorous."

A Publicist Charlie Cinnamon "Miami Beach in the Fifties was far better than now. Men wore hats and jackets, ladies all had mink stoles and gloves, everybody always dressed up for dinner. People even go to nice restaurants in jeans now. The whole country is more casual and downscaled than it was then.

"In season, stars were everywhere. You'd see Lana Turner and Susan Hayward shopping at Saks on Lincoln Road. At night they'd have the whole Rat Pack at the Fontainebleau: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford. Afterwards they'd all go to the clubs. There was Murray Franklin's on 23rd Street, where all the performers would come in after their shows. They had risque comedians, that kind of stuff. It was a riot, really sensational.

"The Patio Club on Dade Boulevard, I think it's a gas station now, was a little quaint after-hours place. I was in there one night when Frank Sinatra and Joe Di Maggio walked in; Winchell came in a lot, too. Joe and Ethel Stein owned the Jewel Box, and it was a very classy kind of place, absolutely gorgeous female impersonators, a mixed gay and straight crowd.

"The Saxony and the Sans Souci were the two largest hotels then. The restaurants were wonderful. Joe's, of course, was always crowded. Morris and Ruth Lerner had The Famous, where The Strand is now, and it was great: kosher food, kreplach and things like that, seltzer bottles on the table. The Park Avenue on Twentieth Street was a very nice steak house, and then you had the Embers, where Club Nu is now. They served delicious spiced apples with every dish. First class. Jacket and tie required. Then Wolfie's for deli food, all the waitresses in starched white uniforms with big pocket handkerchiefs.

"Lincoln Road was more upscale than lower South Beach, and it seems to me that you still had a lot of older people down there. I lived on Pennsylvania and Tenth. Unfortunately it was also a time of restricted hotels and apartments. The Kenilworth didn't allow Jews, as well as some of the buildings on South Beach. My husband couldn't get into many of the places we wanted to live.

"You still have celebrities from New York coming here, and royalty, but you don't get wonderful people anymore. They act differently than they used to. It seems like the whole world was more grand in those years than it is now." A Rose McDaniel, 30-year veteran of Joe's Stone Crab

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Tom Austin