A large part of this story takes place on 125th Street in Harlem...which is now known as a black Mecca. But my stepmother Lois Basden, whose elementary school classroom is known as "Harlem USA" gave me its history, which surprised me.
Lois: 125th street was closed.
June Cross: 125th Street was closed to blacks?
LB: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. There were, you know, back in the 20s and the 30s there were no blacks working in positions of clerks in the stores. The only positions that blacks had were positions of janitors, of cleaning people. That was it. And if you'd go in Bloomstiens -the old department store, 125th Street, you couldn't try clothes on. If you did, if you tried something on, you had to buy it. Simple as that. And there were no clerks in any of the stores.
JC: Jimmy's path crossed with Larry Storch's in the Jewish clubs of the Catskills...and on 125th Street some years later, when it was the hip place to be, in Harlem.
JC: What was 125th Street and the Apollo like?
Buster Brown: Heaven! It was just great.
JC: What about it was heavenly?
BB: It was just great. You know, everything about Harlem was (simultaneous conversation)
BB: Everything about it.
You can go making money and they'd -Every two blocks you'd see a nightclub or a theater up in -It was full of everything that -people who ever thought about being in show business. They wanted to get to New York. Where you from? New York. That's a big deal, you know.
Well, you know, Harlem was a big, big theater. Because when the theaters closed downtown, you could find a lot of Broadway stars uptown.
That's the way it was.
In Harlem, it was night life. Harlem was night life because they didn't clear it out of small clubs. It stayed open after hours you know. Until four or five. Not four or five. Until six, seven, eight o'clock in the morning.
Harlem was a big, big thing. Because when the theaters closed downtown, you could find a lot of Broadway stars uptown..it was the night life. Harlem was night life because they didn't clear it out of small clubs. It stayed open after hours you know. Until four or five. Not four or five. Until six, seven, eight o'clock in the morning.
JC: Jimmy's ex-wife Lois teaches the history of Harlem to her students at the Mahalia Jackson School on 145th Street.
LB: The white folks of the time had been, as they were coming up to the soirees and to the clubs, like the traditional cotton club, the famous Cotton Club, the Plantation, Connie's Inn, these were large nightclubs that were built by the white gangsters of the time, the so-called organized crime-the forerunners of today.
Harold Cromer: It's like you see in the movies, The Godfather. That's from way back there, the reality of exactly what it was, what it was like. If they said you were going to be someplace, you would get there. It's as simple as that.
JC: So out of the money you got, how much of the money did you get?...of your salary...
HC: Well with the salary, when we were performing, our manager was Nat Nazarro, and Jimmy and I received 1/3 a piece. And our manager received 1/3. And we paid all expenses. So you know how much that leaves you. but that's the way it worked. And if we wanted to perform different places, then we had to give in to that 1/3, which is more than we would receive, let's say, if we were by ourselves. We were being exposed to working in better clubs, better places than we would have been able to work if we were just dealing with smaller agencies or smaller people.
????Talking before hand????
LS: We were playing some club jobs together, and uh, this was with Jimmy's original partner Eddie Hartman. And the, uh, the agent was a hard bitten guy. He looked like Peter Falk, and he had a glass eye same as Falk, and while he was driving us in the snowy weather, Jimmy and I, Stump and Stumpy, up to the mountains. This guy would look at you with the one good eye and the glass eye would be looking at the road. And that's the way it went, you know.
LB: Eventually, they went under contract with Nat Nazarro. All these guys were Mafioso type dudes, from what I gather . Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, the early on organized whatsis, O.K. He had everybody-Pearl Bailey and Moke and Poke, and Chuck and Chuckles. And you name the black stars of that era, he had them.
JC: There was a whole black theater circuit?
LeRoy Meyers: Oh yeah. It was called around the world. The Lincoln Theater in Philly, the Apollo, Baltimore and Washington. That was the four theaters. They called that around the world here. You played those other theaters first before you got to the Apollo Theater.
LM: You could have four or five acts on a bill and everybody was doing something different because it was more of a challenge then, you know, who could outdo the other. I mean, everybody wanted to come up with something new and different than the other guy, you know.
JC: Maurice Hines remembers working with Stump and Stumpy in Las Vegas...
JC: Tell me about the Moulin Rouge. You had told me about it before -You don't have to tell me the story -Tell me what it was...
Maurice Hines: Oh, it was great. 1955 and it was, I think, partly black owned but it was in the black section of Las Vegas. And in those days, the black audience weren't allowed to see the night shows on the strip, which was white. Although there were black performers working there even though they couldn't stay in the hotel. They could work there. And so they opened up this hotel...(inaudible) It was fabulous.
And all of a sudden, we're doing three shows a night and Stump and Stumpy are the rage. And the show was hot. These beautiful black women in these costumes, dancing, kicking.
JC: What show was this?
MH: This was Black, Brown, and Beige. And what's interesting -it shows that it just don't change. In the Sands which was the big hotel on the strip at the time. They had wonderful dancers. You know, the girls that are dancing. From cheek to cheek. At the Moulin Rouge, the girls were hopping, they were kicking. (simultaneous conversation) Boom, boom, bop, bop. It was fabulous. So everybody wanted to come over to see those girls. You know, the guys.
And there were a long line of...(inaudible) girls. Fifteen beautiful women. Beautiful. You can't -Oh my God. Black women are so beautiful. I think they're so beautiful because they have these tiny wastes and cakes, you know. There was none of this Claudia Schiffer look, they had cakes! A man wants to see cakes every now and then. And they were so classy. I mean, they all wore pony tails. Pony tails was the big thing. Especially with a lot of the steele shows, they loved pony tails. And everybody can look alike with the little bangs.
Just beautiful. All colors of the rainbow. Just beautiful women. And so it was successful, three shows a night. And on the strip, they only did two. So then all the big stars like Sinatra would come over because Dinah Washington came and next after Stump and Stumpy -Although Stump and Stumpy stayed there. They stayed there and we stayed there and they brought in George Kirby. So it was that and Dinah Washington. And they knew Dinah Washington. Well, Sinatra's there and Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis. They all came to see Dinah now. And so the big owners said, "Wait a minute, we're losing" -And where the stars come, the audience goes. We're packing that in that third show. They were not having that. Next thing we knew, that hotel was closed. It became a motel. They closed the nightclub. That's when my mother said, "It went from hotel to motel." And it became the Moulin Rouge Motel. No gambling, no nothing. That was very sad. They did not want that. They were mad about money, you know. But to have hour own, was so exciting. It was so, so wonderful. You could dream dreams.
HC: And we didn't realize then how bit it was, because hey, Las Vegas was Las Vegas. It was comparatively new. So that was it. So that was it. So we were very happy. It's just that we have conditions, the living conditions were very bad. They had your name up the top. And then to stop the show like we did. And then still be confined to our dressing rooms, and even opening night when they said , come out. Jimmy couldn't care less, my partner, as I told you what he was. he was like color blind.
JC: So what did he do?
HC: He put on his clothes, and he went out there and sat at the table with the rest of them, with Eddie Arcarlo, and Marlon Brando and the rest of them. They didn't chase him away. Just walked up to them and said, look, Mr. Cross, you know, so and so, and the people at the table, they raised hell. So, they finally got the point and said, OK. So they all jumped up from the table in protest, and they came backstage. And they put tables and chairs and everything, and we had like our opening night party there.
Back then white show business and black show business were as segregated as the country.
MH: There was white show business and black show business. It began to blur in Las Vegas but usually white show business was Miami Beach, Puerto Rico, where a lot of the white tourists to. The black circuit was more a lot of theaters. There was the Howard in Washington, was very famous of course. The Apollo in New York. Then there was the Uptown in Philadelphia. There was -I forget what it was called in Baltimore. Then there were the black clubs. There was the Club Harlem in Atlantic City which is very famous for doing shows at 7 o'clock in the morning because it was called a breakfast show. It was fabulous.