‘SKINNY D’AMATO’- THE nickname followed by the Italian surname – sounds like a Mob guy. Yet almost every American male in the first half of the twentieth century had a nickname; and there were plenty of Italian Americans who weren’t mobsters. The FBI had Skinny down as a mobster (more specifically as a lieutenant of Sam Giancana, of the Chicago Outfit), but their reports about his alleged Mob activities were vague and tendentious. Jonathan Van Meter is probably more accurate when he describes Skinny as ‘ambassador to the Mob, diplomat to the stars’. Indeed, his good friend Frank Sinatra dubbed him the ‘Ziegfeld of saloon keepers’.
Van Meter’s job out of college, when he was twenty-one, was a summer internship on Atlantic City magazine, and this book splendidly recreates the mythic atmosphere of that curious New Jersey coastal resort town. For him, Paul ‘Skinny’ D’Amato was the quintessence of Atlantic City, a man without education but with an aptitude for numbers and gambling, who teetered on the edge of criminality and pitched sideways into it, briefly, when he was convicted for pandering in 1938 and for maintaining a disreputable house (gaming) in 1943. What he deserves to be remembered for, however, is the glamorous nightclub he operated for close on three decades, the 500 Club – the place where Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis first performed together and also where they gave their last performance together, and the place where Sinatra loved to perform, partly because it had sustained him through a trough in his career in the early 1950s but mainly because it gave him the opportunity to hang out with Skinny.