The Temptations. Diana Ross and the Supremes. Frank Sinatra. Johnny Mathis. Lena Horne.
The list goes on and on and on. In the 1960s, Cherry Hill was the place to be for one reason. From Sweet Sixteens to first dates, the Latin Casino played host to many fond memories of get togethers and incredible performances from legendary performers.
The nightclub moved to New Jersey after vacating its original spot at 13th and Walnut streets in 1960, having been there since the ’40s. It was before the towers of the Borgata and the Tropicana populated Atlantic City, where today there is no shortage of places to see big names and performers.
Now 40 years since “the Latin” closed, you have the chance to relive nights at the club — long tables and all — with a special performance by Eddie Bruce at 2 p.m. on Jan. 28 at the World Cafe Live, “Remembering the Latin Casino.”
“Everybody you talk to has a story about the Latin Casino,” Bruce said.
After all, there isn’t really anywhere like it anymore, he noted.
“There aren’t as many nightclub-type places,” he said. “Stars play theaters; they’ll come in and perform at the Kimmel [Center] and the Merriam Theater or Forrest Theatre or wherever, and do concerts there, but that nightclub feeling where you go out for dinner and sit there, and you go out to eat and drink and then the show comes on — that’s very rare to see anymore.”
He first went to the Latin in 1959, when his mother took him to see The Three Stooges for his birthday.
However, he found out Larry, Moe and Curly Joe (Curly was dead by then) were actually opening for Ella Fitzgerald.
“I didn’t even know who she was — I was 6 years old,” he recalled. “But that sort of was my introduction to jazz and it never left me, the impact of that.”
He went with his family until he was old enough to drive and go to Cherry Hill on his own. He saw comedians like Milton Berle and legends like Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.
During the performance, Bruce will be backed by a 15-piece orchestra — echoing performances at the Latin — and he will share photos and stories that will stoke nostalgia. He wrote lyrics for the occasion, which include a nod to the practice of sneaking money into the maitre d’s hands to get a better seat.
He recalled a show in which Don Rickles went over to an audience member whose elbow was resting on the stage and asked him if he was in show business. The audience member said, “No,” and Rickles jokingly rebuked him, “Then get off the stage.”
The hardest part of putting this performance together was choosing which artists to highlight, Bruce said. He narrowed it down to a selection of performers who really showcase the era, such as Ray Charles, Fitzgerald, Bennett, Davis Jr., and Sinatra.
He’s excited to bring forth memories for the audience.
“I’m looking forward to walking out on that stage and bringing memories to people and watching their faces as we do some of these songs,” he said.
Memories of the Latin Casino
And for readers of the Jewish Exponent, there are plenty of memories at the Latin.
From holding hands with Robert Goulet to having songs dedicated to them, here are a few stories (lightly condensed) submitted by readers from that bygone era:
“My fondest memory of a Latin Casino show is when I was a teenager and my parents took me to see Liza Minnelli perform. We braved a winter snowstorm to get there. … Fortunately, she arrived; unfortunately, her luggage ended up elsewhere. Not wanting to disappoint her audience, she performed in her jeans and wool turtleneck sweater. For the choreographed numbers, she removed her boots and danced in her stocking feet! … Did I mention that her band performed without all of their instruments and sheet music? Still, it was fantastic!” — Kathy Feinstein
“It was an exciting time for my group of teenage buddies that December evening in 1967. We had all saved our hard-earned dollars to see The Temptations at the Latin Casino. I don’t know how we got a front-seat table for the show, but there we were about to witness one of the hottest Motown groups ever! … As the show began, an attractive young African American woman approached us and asked if we minded that she join our table. … As we enthusiastically agreed to her request, we suddenly realized we were in the company of the famous Miss Tammi Terrell. … So there we were, a bunch of North Philly guys enjoying our idols with the lovely and equally talented Tammi Terrell. Safe to say, we felt very special and lucky that night.” — David Corsanico
“My favorite memory of the Latin Casino was in the early ’70s when I went to see the great Anthony Newley perform. Not only did I love the show, but I got the opportunity to meet him, and guess what? We dated for nearly three years. … Just goes to show that you never know what can happen if you don’t take the shot!” — Hanna Zbik Monblatt
“When I was a senior at Penn, I went with a group of guys to the Latin Casino to see Buddy Hackett. … The warm up act for Buddy was a very mediocre singer of Italian favorites. … As his act dragged on and on, indifference turned to hostility. No one could figure out what was going on! All became clear when Buddy virtually staggered onto the stage, drunk as a skunk. Despite his condition, Buddy was hysterical. We all laughed our heads off. No one, however, laughed harder than some guy in the the back. When he laughed, the entire audience redoubled their laughter. … When the lights came up, the boys and I jumped up for a hasty exit back to Philly. As I walked back up the steps toward the lobby, to my unbelievable shock, I saw my parents sitting in the aisle and I immediately realized that the ‘guy in the back’ was my own father!” — Art Simons
“The Latin Casino had a mystique that belonged to a grown-up world, with high heels, skinny ties, martinis and cigarette smoke. My 16th birthday was my entree into that world. … The Lettermen headlined that night, my favorite group. The kind that made a 16-year-old use the word ‘dreamy.’ Mom had written a note to ‘someone in charge’ and mentioned my special birthday. She had also written that ‘Portrait of Love’ was my favorite song. I knew none of this. To this day, I will never forget the thrill of hearing The Lettermen announce my name and wish me a happy birthday. And then, they dedicated ‘Portrait of Love’ to me. It was nothing short of magical.” — Cheryl Wexler Scott
I remember going to the Latin Casino for my 18th birthday to see the Fifth Dimension with a boy from South Philly. It was memorable.