In the late 1940s, The Copacabana club opened in New York on 10th East and 60th Street, with Frank Costello, a mob boss. An interesting fact was that the leaseholder was in fact an Englishman, Monte Prosser who had nightclub experience and was press agent for the Ziegfeld Follies, actress Mary Pickford and Walt Disney amongst others. The manager appointed by Costello was an ‘enforcer’ by the name of Jules Podell, a dubious character who was eventually to replace Prosser.
Podell was to deny future Copacabana performer Harry Belafonte entry during the war due to a strict ‘no blacks’ policy. The dichotomy of a club being designed with a Brazilian decor, using Latin rhythms and having a Chinese menu with a ‘no blacks’ policy lost on the society of the time.
‘The Copacabana Girls’ became the in-house dancers and from the late 40s big name entertainers such as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were to perform at the club, beginning the long line of famous faces to draw in New York society.
In the late 50s, notoriety struck with members of the New York Yankees baseball team, causing problems during a performance by Sammy Davis Jr. Billy Martin was celebrating his birthday with his team, including Elston Howard, the first black player to join the Yankees. The team became intoxicated and started to interfere with Davis’ act. Howard took offence and there was a fracas resulting in bad publicity and scandal.
Belafonte returned as a performer and Sammy Davis Jr. had a phenomenal run in 1964. Sam Cooke, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Martha and the Vandellas proved that times had changed and the restricted ‘no blacks’ entry policy consigned to the gutter of history.
During the 60s the club was a haunt of ‘wise guys’ and their wives, mistresses and girlfriends. Famously in the film, ‘Goodfellas’ (1990) Ray Liota with Lorraine Bracco made their entrance through the kitchens, the scene from exterior to sit down being completed in a single Steadicam shot and taking a minimum of takes by director Martin Scorsese.
Joe Gallo (‘Crazy Joe’ or ‘Joe the Blond’) member of the Colombo family in New York, ran the club up until the early 70s after which when things began to change. The glory days might have been considered over.
Book you and your friends tickets to socialise at Norwich’s very own Copacabana club, The Raspberry Cannoli Cabaret this May.