Sunday, July 29, 2012

Florida History - Miami: of ermine cabana jackets and big name acts

By Jane Feehan

For many across the U.S. in the 1950s, Miami  was the place to be during the winter. Some could credit radio and television personality Arthur Godfrey with making Miami America’s vacationland with his live broadcasts from the Kenilworth Hotel. But many already knew about the city’s attributes thanks to mobsters who drew the adventurous into casinos masquerading as nightclubs in the 1940s. (For more on organized crime in South Florida, see:

By the late 1950s, mid-February was considered high season. Hialeah Park Race Track was open, the weather was stellar and Miami’s South Beach hotels were packed with tourists knee to knee at 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.  Morris McLemore wrote a terrific column during the 1950s and 60s for the Miami News about the tropical playground.

He wrote in February, 1959 that 104 hotels were built in Miami Beach after World War II. More were built there “than the rest of the world combined.” In all, there were 374 hotels with 30,200 rooms. He counted 24 bakeries and two Wolfie’s restaurants on the beach serving Northern visitors. McLemore also noted there were 158 bars, 94 in hotels, 16 in social clubs and “only 43 regular bars.”*

The Miami Federation of Musicians reported 500 musicians “tootling or thumping away.” In a week, a visitor could be entertained by headliners Tony Martin at the Eden Roc Hotel, Jimmy Durante at the Latin Quarter or Teresa Brewer at the Diplomat. Cabaret singers, burlesque queens, big bands and bevies of show girls were ubiquitous. Everyone wanted to see or be seen in Miami; night life was central to that quest.

“What a place, really … " declared McLemore  “It’s the only town in the world with ermine cabana jackets.”

* A recent count of South Beach clubs: 49

Miami News, Feb. 26, 1959

Tags: Miami in the 1940s, Miami in the 1950s, Miami entertainment during the 50s, Miami Beach history, Miami history, Miami entertainers, Miami mobsters, Mafia in Miami, Miami floor shows, Morris McLemore, Miami memories, history Miami, Miami Beach in the 1950s, film industry researcher

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