Turntable Talk – A Really Big Show

It’s time for another edition of Turntable Talk with Dave from A Sound Day. He continues to come up with interesting musical topics for his circle of “melodic” blogger friends. When he emailed each of us, he mentioned reading a book about a cafe’ where you could time travel (with restrictions). That got him to thinking about “how it would be cool to go back and see some historic concerts. So the next topic is … A Really Big Show ! If you could safely go back in time and move about for one day, what one concert or live performance would you choose to go to?

There are so many great concerts I could choose from. I thought about the Beatles at Shea Stadium, Buddy Holly’s last concert, Elvis’ Aloha From Hawaii, Woodstock, Queen at Live Aid, just to name a few. I decided to go with a concert I have heard, but would have loved to experience it live.

November 26, 1962. Villa Venice, Chicago. Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr.

A friend of mine knew that I was a Dean Martin fan and worked at a record store. He called me and told me he had an amazing CD set for me. At that time, I had heard plenty of Dean Martin recordings, but never a live one (and certainly not one with Frank and Sammy, too)! I can’t even begin to tell you what a thrill it was to hear the Rat Pack in their prime having a blast on stage together!

The concert itself starts with Dean warbling, “Drink to me only … that’s all I axe ….(correcting himself) ask. And I will drink to you.” The band begins to vamp an intro over and over. My first listen I wondered what was going on. What’s with the vamping? Then Dean says in all seriousness (and in character), “How long I been on?” Hilarious. After his first number (a parody medley of When You’re Smiling and The Lady is a Tramp), he does 5 minutes of comedy and I was belly laughing.

After Dean’s set, Frank comes on and does his set. He comes out swinging and sings a few tunes, then does a brief comedy set and wraps with more songs. Sammy comes out last and while he is on stage Dean and Frank are heckling him from back stage. It was evident just how much they loved hanging out together and how much fun they were having.

At some point in Sammy’s set, Dean and Frank come out and the three of them joke and sing and laugh. I know that for the most part the show is scripted, but as you listen, it sounds completely spontaneous and you are left to wonder what was ad-libbed and what was written.

The show is an absolute joy to listen to! The Chicago Tribune said Frank, Dean and Sammy, “croon, carol, caper and clown to the biggest cabaret audiences this town has seen in years.” I doubt they could get away with some of the stuff said on stage today, but it is a wonderful piece of entertainment history.

What I didn’t know was the circumstances of the show itself. The Villa Venice was an ailing nightclub where mafioso Sam Giancana had a piece of the action. The Villa Venice had been tricked out in a style imported from Las Vegas. Giancana reportedly spent upward of $250,000 to restore it and its canals plied by gondolas. The showroom seated 800, was furnished with satin ceilings, tapestries, and statuesque, lightly clothed showgirls. Nearby was the ultimate accouterment of a Vegas-like operation: a gambling casino in a Quonset hut a few blocks from the Villa. High rollers were whisked between the supper club and the dice and roulette tables in a shuttle.

The Chicago Tribune said, “Shortly before the Sinatra show closed, the casino shut down under belated pressure from law enforcement authorities who told the Tribune that the gambling operation had grossed $200,000 in two weeks. That threw a monkey wrench into Giancana’s business plan, which depended on recouping his investment by attracting gamblers with a parade of big-name acts. But how could he hope to book stars like Sinatra and his buddies into a scarcely known venue in the hinterlands of Chicago? What kind of money did he dangle in front of them? Wondering if there might have been a nonmonetary enticement, the FBI interviewed the Rat Pack during their engagement. Perhaps the feds took a clue from Dean Martin’s rewording of the old standard “The Lady is a Tramp“:

I love Chicago, it’s carefree and gay

I’d even work here without any pay.

The Rat Pack’s Villa Venice appearances were wildly successful, as the Tribune reported: “It is now estimated that the total Villa loot for the seven-day Sinatra-Martin-Davis run will hit $275,000 to $300,000, a new night club record.”

Apparently, the Villa Venice never again hosted big-name stars after the Rat Pack shows. It continued operating thereafter as a catering hall, with a new management taking over in 1965. Two years later, it was destroyed by a spectacular, and mysterious, fire. The spot is now a Hilton hotel.

I have seen plenty of footage of Dean, Frank, and Sammy performing on various TV shows and in documentaries. I can only imagine just how amazing it would be to see their show live and in person. Each one of them was a talent in their own right and their solo shows would be a must see, but to have them all together on one stage – wow!

The CD’s of the show are available online if you search for them and are worth the money!

Thanks again to Dave for allowing me to take part in this feature. I cannot wait to see what the other participants are going to write about. I’m already looking forward to the next topic!

7 thoughts on “Turntable Talk – A Really Big Show

  1. Keith…are there many videos of them all together? Mysterious fire LOL… yea we know what happened there.
    It would have been really cool to see them! Of all the stories I have heard…none were bad about their performance.


  2. Thanks again for taking part Keith. A cool & interesting post…it was out of left field for me but a very valid post. Three great entertainers to be sure, and as odd as it now seems, quite a good idea to mix music and a bit of comedy. Glad you brought this to our attention on your site and mine

    Liked by 1 person

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