Sinatra Corner: Grace D'Amato

In May of 1998, one of the greatest singers of the Twentieth Century, Frank Sinatra, passed away.
We continue our interviews with those who knew '''ol blue eyes'

Grace D'Amato was married to Willie D'Amato, manager of his brother Skinny's 500 Club. Located in Atlantic City, The 500 Club played host to Frank Sinatra at the very bottom of his career and later, at the very top of his career.

Grace writes about The 500 Club, her brother-in-law Skinny D'Amato and Frank Sinatra in her new book, Chance Of A Lifetime - Nucky Johnson, Skinny D'Amato And How Atlantic City Became The Naughty Queen Of Resorts. (Down The Shore Publishing).

GJ: Grace, how many times did you meet Frank Sinatra?
GD: Well, every time he was here I saw him. And once I met him he would just glance and say hello. He knew I was Willie's wife.

GJ: Did your husband ever talk about Sinatra?

GD: Well, he was there (500 Club) all the time.

GJ: Did he ever come home and say, "Grace, you'll never believe what Frank said"?!

GD: Yes. Well, he told me the story about the rum cake. The chef made a cake and laced it with rum. It was the size of a card table. When Sinatra came into his dressing room, the smell of rum made him nauseous so he totaled the table. Willie told me all the time what was going on; how Sinatra would get annoyed at the journalists and reporters because they hounded him. He was very selective to whom he spoke.

GJ: He really didn't grant all that many interviews, did he?

GD: No. Not that much, because after he sang he went into his dressing room and had something to eat and drink. Sometimes he put on an eight o'clock show, and a 12 o'clock show, a 2am show. He would perform as long as he thought there were enough people to see the show.

GJ: So, he would perform at least 2 shows a night at the 500 club, and sometimes 3?

GD: Oh, lots of times 3 shows. Sometimes 4.

GJ: How long of a show would he do?

GD: It was a couple of hours. You know, he would talk and then he would sing. He would take time for the people to stop applauding. But he just loved it there. He loved the club. He called it the best little saloon he ever sang in.

GJ: So, he would start in at 8pm and continue on 'til 2am, or maybe 4am?

GD: Right - if it warranted it. If there were enough people. When he came here every show was booked. He was very generous with his time. You know, he didn't charge Skinny.

GJ: I'm going to get to that in just a moment. How much did it cost to see Sinatra in The 500 Club?

GD: God, there was a minimum. You know, I don't remember. There would be a minimum of $10 - $15.

GJ: For one person?

GD: Yes

GJ: Did dinner come with the show?

GD: Oh, you would have to pay extra. Minimum was for liquor. People that went there dressed to kill. It was a glamorous era, especially the 40's and 50's. people dressed up. It was a glamorous evening. It was an evening out. It was an event when he came here.

GJ: Did he have a house band?

GD: Yes. They would get musicians from the union. Extra musicians that he needed. He would take care of them. He would tip them.

GJ:Now, let's get back to something you mentioned earlier. He would not accept money from Skinny D'Amato to perform at The 500 Club?

GD: No. But Skinny paid for accomodations.

GJ: That would include transportation, hotel,food…

GD: Liquor. But also for his entourage.

GJ: He first performed there in 1947?

GD: Yes

GJ: The last time would be 1962?

GD: Correct. It was a Dean Martin Show, but he surprised Dean Martin and the audience by coming on stage.

GJ: Would he perform at The 500 Club every year between 1947-1962?

GD: Not every year - most of the time he did. Maybe he would skip a year. He was pretty loyal to Skinny because Skinny had been good to him.

GJ: I cannot think of a superstar today who would be as loyal to a club owner as Frank Sinatra was to Skinny D'Amato.

GD: Sinatra was a very generous man.

GJ:Did Skinny D'Amato and The 500 Club need Frank Sinatra or did Frank Sinatra need The 500 Club?

GD: Well, in the earlier years, Sinatra needed Skinny when his career was going downhill. No matter what his reputation was nationally, 'cause he had left his wife and children for Ava Gardner, Atlantic City loved him. Every time he came here, the club was crowded. It held 1,00 people, but then people would line up against the wall. When I think of it now, it was a fire hazard. (laughs)

GJ: And probably everybody smoked too.

GD: Oh sure. Everybody smoked. Sinatra smoked. When he put his cigarette butts out on the stage, people would run up after he got off the stage and pick up the butts. And then, the waiters, I didn't put this in the book, would take butts from other astrays, say they were Sinatra's butts, and sell them!

GJ: Everybody's out to make a buck.

GD: That's it.

GJ: In 1947, when he first came to The 500 Club…

GD: He came in the club before that. He would perform at The Steel Pier and then he would come into the club, 'cause he liked to gamble. There was a casino in the back of the club.

GJ: Was Sinatra being paid for his 1947 appearances at The 500 Club?

GD: Initially he must have been paid - something. Then they became such good friends. They would go out together after the shows to a little restaurant at the Missouri end of the Boardwalk called Fideli's. The woman there was an opera singer and she woul cook and sing for them, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would go there.

GJ: Why did Frank Sinatra value Skinny D'Amato's friendship so much?

GD: I feel that Skinny formed Sinatra's character in this sense: Sinatra was always a scrawny kid, whereas Sinny was a tough kid. As I put in the book, he used to fight family for his power base. But, I think he helped mould his character into a stronger type of man. They used to meet at Toots Shop in New York all the time too. Sinatra, after her performed would get something to eat and relax, and maybe invite some people or just rest. He didn't always have to have a mob with him. He didn't have bodyguards in those days. In the days he was at The (500) Club there was a local policeman guarding him. There was always a policeman around because people were crazy to see him!!

GJ: Where were you when you heard the news that Frank Sinatra passed away?

GD: I was at home.

GJ: What went through your mind?

GD: You know, I was sad. To this day I miss hearing his voice. When they have the commercials about Vegas, it's good to see him again.


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