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Monday, June 26, 2017

Working in the Catskills in 1957

A book titled When Mama Died, written by Joseph Joseph P. Allocca, published in 2009, includes a chapter about the author's experience working in the Catskill Mountains for six weeks in the summer of 1957. He intended to get hired to work as a waiter, but he was too young and experienced, so he ended up working as a golf caddy, a restaurant busboy, and a parking-lot attendant.

The Amazon page summarizes the book as follows:
Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1941, Joseph P. Allocca is the youngest of nine siblings. Readers will discover how When Mama Died! Forged the author's character and how it affected his life. Crafted to keep life mementos forever cherished through old photographs and writings. This memoir relives Allocca's legacy that otherwise might be lost forever. This autobiographical novel offers readers a glimpse of his family's humble beginnings and how he made it to his fi rst million.
About that summer, Allocca writes (pages 104-107):
Right after the 1957 school year, Vince Grosso, a friend from school, and I decided that we would rake up lots of money by working as waiters in the Catskill Mountains in Monticello, Upstate New York. About ninety miles north of New York City is a resort community with plush hotels, golf courses, and live entertainment. Mostly Jewish families from the city that wanted to get away from the hot summer populated it. Usually, the husbands would join them on weekends. During the summer months, the population of the area quadrupled.

The area was, to me, far away from the hot city streets of Brooklyn. It had green pastures and lots of open spaces. The air seemed so clean. Sometimes in the early morning, a slight fog and mist crammed over the pastures and the golf courses. I liked the open spaces and rolling hills. ....

Our first encounter was at the Concord Resort and Golf Club. The Concord was located at the mouth of Kiamesha Lake. I never got a job as a waiter, but did get a nice dig as a golf caddy. Buddy Hackett, a stand-up comedian was appearing at the Concord Hotel along with other popular entertainers. He loved to play golf, and I manged to work at the pro shop. I was appointed to be his caddy for a very humorous eighteen holes. Buddy and his foursome told jokes and drank loads of beer while playing. He had a filthy mouth, and every other word was the F word. In spite of all the interruptions, his golf game was respectable.
This illustration is in the book.
Vince Grosso and I knew that working as a waiter was how to make the big dough. Unfortunately, we were too young and inexperienced to get those jobs. The best we could get were jobs a bus boys. However, down the highway just past the Grossinger's Hotel was a live entertainment show called The Jewel Box Review.

It was a summer stock traveling show that appeared in several cities. It featured twenty-four men and one girl. The men were all gay, transgender and bisexuals. The one girl was a lesbian. The men were dressed as a man. With cosmetics, clothes, and falsies, no one could tell the gender. The show was incredible! They did fantastic imitations of actors, singers, and comedians. The show was very popular and had packed audiences every night. Vince missed his girlfriend back in Brooklyn and went home. I stayed and answered the posted help-wanted ad at the Jewel Box Review.

The manager, a big promoter-type person, smoked big fat cigars and wanted someone to direct cars in the parking lot before the show. I got the job and was handed a flashlight as my utensil. The first night went fine, and so did the second night. However, it was not long before I saw the opportunity to become an entrepreneur. After a car reached its parking place, I would approach the driver and say, "That'a be a dolla."

Without any hesitation, I would collect the buck from the drivers. By the end of the evening, I would end up with a pocket full of money! This went on for two solid weeks. I was rich!

However, the strategy came to a quick halt when a disgruntled customer complained to the manager that charging for parking was outrageous. That night, after the parking lot was empty, the boss approached me. He said, "Hey, kid, come into my office." While lighting his cigar, he asked me how the take was. I played dumb for a short time, but eventually I had to turn over all the money I collected. We agreed on splitting in half the total take. He wanted half of the previous day's take. I told him it was impossible since the money was gone. The next week, the show moved to another city.

During the day, I and some other fellow workers visited a few of the other hotels in the area. The Browns Hotel was one of our favorites. Jerry Lewis often was the main attraction. The Laurels, the Concord, and Grossingers were our other favorites. We swam in the pools, lay in the sun, and flirted with those young Jewish girls. No one stopped us from using the facilities at the hotels, since we had a secret code with the hotel workers. We knew each other and helped each other.

The area was very active. The town even built a new horse race track. I was there on the opening day of the Montecello Race Track. ... Many believed the Catskill area would have casino-type gambling held at the big hotels. It had all the ingredients for a gambling community. ...

Although my episode in the Catskills lasted only six weeks, it was a great experience. I enjoyed the independence, the friends I met, and having money to spend.


I have written an article titled The Concord Hotel at Lake Kiamesha, NY.

I am working on an article about summer stock in the Catskills.


The Out History website includes the following old photograph of the Jewel Box Review.
The Jewel Box Review in about the late 1950s
(Click on the image to enlarge it.)
The Jewel Box Review still travels to perform at resort hotels. The following videos show performances at the Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, Oregon, in 2012.


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