EXCHANGE: Owner tells story of bygone nightclub

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JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - A pantomimist concentration camp survivor and a dry tuxedo helped put Joliet on the map.

At least that’s how Earl D'Amico remembers it.

D'Amico, owner of D'Amico’s 214 (now the Joliet Renaissance Center) from 1957 to the 1970s, hosted the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo, Tina Turner and scores of musical stars and big bands in his grand ballroom.

“It was a challenge, but it was so much fun,” said D'Amico, who will talk about his experiences.

D'Amico’s foray into show business began in 1957, when he and his brother purchased the Harwood Post American Legion at 214 Ottawa St. and converted it into an upscale restaurant/banquet/entertainment facility.

D'Amico hired a local pantomimist, John Yonely of New Lenox, to entertain patrons. Yonely was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps.

“One time John said to me, ‘Earl, you’ve been awful kind to me, I’m going to do you a favor,’” D'Amico recalled. “‘I’m going to get you a satellite booking of big stars traveling on the road that would have time to come and do a show for you.’”

Yonely introduced D'Amico to the owner of the New York-based Associated Booking Corp., then the largest booking agency in the country.

The first big booking came a short time later.

“They asked me, ‘Will you take Louis Armstrong?’” D'Amico said. “Would I take Louis Armstrong? Of course I would take Louis Armstrong. He was my first big star.”

Armstrong’s passionate jazz trumpet and vocal performances were legendary, usually leaving him drenched in sweat.

“He always had to take out a big white hankie and mop himself off,” D'Amico said.

Knowing this, D'Amico wanted to make sure his first big act stayed comfortable.

“So we stripped him naked and put a dry tuxedo on him for the second show,’ D'Amico recalled.

Armstrong was so impressed, D'Amico said, that the jazz great told Associated Booking, ‘You can send me to Joliet anytime. They know how to treat people there.’

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