Italian-American Joe Schiavone had Jungle Fever. He also had friends in the business. I mean in DA business. You know. The guys who made money on anything you weren't supposed to do or have. Mobsters.
Joe owned the Savannah Club in Greenwich Village. Well…it isn't that simple. Joe Valachi, big-time Cosa Nostra snitch testified before the Senate Investigating Subcommittee that Mafia chief Vito Genovese really owned the club. Valachi spilt plenty of stories, and it pissed off Vito, who put a $100,000 bounty out for anyone who would take Joe Valachi for a long ride. It never happened…Valachi outlived him, but he did it in prison serving his own term.
The Savannah was a "Negro club" located in 3rd street, and Tony "Bender" Stroller, a major player in the Vito Genovese family was the "on-site" connection. Tony managed various money-making activities for the Genovese family in the Village. Genovese owned, or mostly owned a good number of the bars in the village (in particular the Gay bars where men could go to be men with men. Not too many folks know the Stonewall raid was as much to bust up the mob as it was to bust up some gay men…but that's for another post. In fact, Genovese began investing in Gay bars in the 1930s.) Anyway, Tony Bender, Joe Schiavone's "good friend" was murdered. That's how things go. Some of the he messy details are here on the Friends of Ours website.
The Savannah, or rather Joe Shiavone, hired "exotics" which was the marque name for African-American performers. I am not going to say the dancers had to perform for Joe before getting booked, but that's an old story. The stage was tiny, but Joe loaded it up. At one time, he had 25 people on it performing the "Tahitian Pagan Love Dance" with some of Joe's hires. It was raunchy. Billboard magazine wondered "if the law would go for it" but of course they would. Money switched hands as fast as Schiavone switched acts.
The Savannah was a wild club. One night in 1953 two separate bridegroom parties went at each other and busted up the place. "A Magnificent Brawl" was how it was reported in the papers. Three New York city cops who happened to be making their "cabaret inspecting tour" settled things down. I also don't want to say the three cops were on their tour with their palms up, but you know.
Three shows a night, the last one started at 2:45 in the morning.
Who performed at the Savannah Club? Well, Princess R'Wanda. Venus La Doll "The Bronze Goddess of Love" and Betty Brisbane, La Bommie, Mary Alexander. Sandra, Stephanie and the "Sepia Show Girls"
Most famously, I suppose, one China Doll, a hot effin' shaker whose real name was Elizabeth Dickerson, who covered her tan skin with balloons and let patrons pop them. When the last bubble burst, she dashed off the stage completely nude. When she got a bit older she changed her name to Zabethe Wilde and sang for a living. Do you want to hear the former stripper sing?
One of Zabethe's songs was "I Keep My Baby Hid" but what she really hid was her nude burlesque background. As the photo here by Monita Sleet Jr. for Jet Magazine reveals, China Doll got pretty close to some pretty big microphones, but I am not going to say any of them were Joe's.
The joint burned down in 1963, and seems to have problems still. Google Street View shows it empty.
PHOTOGRAPHS JET MAGAZINE, CALVACADE OF BURLESQUE, GOOGLE STREET VIEW.
(Books and Ebooks by Jim Linderman are available HERE)