The Last Good Time is a richly layered epic that brings to life a fascinating place, its politics, people, and culture, through the portrait of one of Atlantic City’s most famous families—the powerful, flamboyant, and ultimately tragic D’Amatos. Paul “Skinny” D’Amato created and presided over the 500 Club, the celebrated supper club that entertained thousands of Americans and helped guide the careers of the great Rat Pack performers—Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra. Skinny was at the center of it all, hovering behind the scenes during the zenith of one of the world’s most notorious playgrounds.
Veteran magazine writer Jonathan Van Meter captures the volatile history of twentieth-century Atlantic City—from the days of Prohibition and smoky speakeasies to the city’s heyday of imported Hollywood glamour and glitz after World War II; from the near demise of the resort in the 1970s to the city’s current era of legal “gaming” and dazzling high-tech hotel/casinos.
Skinny D’Amato avoided the public eye whenever possible, though he was perhaps the most important person in the history of Atlantic City, where his nightclub served as the ultimate backroom for the big players of entertainment, politics, sports, and the Mob. Skinny is rarely acknowledged as part of the Rat Pack, but he was at the center of its creation, its mentor. It was Skinny who taught Sinatra how to hold a cigarette, tip big, be cool. He paired Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin for the first time at his 500 Club, and on any given night back in the 1950s and 1960s, you’d find Elizabeth Taylor, Toots Shor, the Gabor sisters, Joe DiMaggio, Milton Berle, Liberace, Grace Kelly, Nat King Cole, and just about every big player in the underworld hanging out by the bar or in the back rooms. Skinny was a link between politicians—including John F. Kennedy—entertainers, and the Mob and was the subject of constant surveillance by the FBI and tax investigators. Whether he was in the Mob or not, Skinny was the ultimate connected guy, a gentleman’s gentleman, a passionate gambler who had a special touch that brought bigpeople together so that they could have a good time.
As Van Meter evokes the ever-evolving landscape of Atlantic City, he shows us how the D’Amato family, like other larger-than-life American families during the last century, experienced a changing wheel of fortune, seeing great moments of wealth, power, and personal attainment, as well as all manner of human tragedy. In the space of a few years, Skinny’s beloved wife, Bettyjane, died of a brain aneurysm at a relatively young age; the 500 Club burned to the ground; and, perhaps most devastating of all, his son, Angelo, was convicted of brutally murdering two people. With the last of the good times behind him, Skinny retreated to his Ventnor, New Jersey, mansion, taking his card game with him, emerging to see his Rat Pack friends, and, in the process, becoming a living symbol of how cool it all was once upon a time in America.
Van Meter expertly renders one of the great untold tales of modern America, a character portrait of both an extraordinary time and place, and the Zelig-like man who hovered over it all. The Last Good Time is a classic tale of the whiskey-soaked dark side of America’s mid-century popular culture.
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Published June 17, 2003
Biographies & Memoirs, Business & Economics, History, Humor & Entertainment, Political & Social Sciences.