By WILLIAM S. PEYKO | Metro Monthly Arts and Culture Writer
This article is about a bygone era, an earlier time of places to go and things to see and do in Youngstown. Three of these places were the Palace Theater, the Elms Ballroom and Idora Park, with its one-of-a-kind dance floor.
Idora hosted many nationally known big bands as well as local entertainers. The Elms Ballroom usually had local big bands for dancing several days a week. I don’t remember if any national big bands appeared there. The Palace catered to many nationally known big bands as well as stage shows and movies. A local dance band that saw a lot of action on Saturday nights and played at Yankee Lake was under the direction of a local known as Benny Jones.
Youngstown had a reputation as being a tough audience – and I witnessed this fact several times myself.
One night, Henry Busse’s band (Henry Busse and his Orchestra) was performing on stage when someone heckled his last name. It was a derogatory substitution and the heckler kept at it. Busse walked off the stage for about 15 minutes and the band just sat there until he returned and the heckler was removed. Another time – I believe it was Tommy Dorsey’s band – someone threw pennies on the stage and the bandleader got really angry. He also walked off the stage and didn’t return for quite a while.
When I was in my senior year of high school and if there was a big band or stage show, many of us would play hooky and go see the matinee shows. We saw many people perform – Vaughn Monroe, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tony Pastor, Tommy Dorsey, and, later, the Dorsey Brothers. We also saw Frank Sinatra. I believe he did his last gig with an orchestra and went solo after his engagement at the Palace.
In the 1950s, the Three Stooges played the Palace. Some friends of mine – Julius, Stanley and Andy Geewax – had a tie store on the Square. One of them told me to be sure and see the Three Stooges when they played downtown. I attended, and they came out on stage to do their slapstick comedy. All three had loud ties on – about a foot wide – and the ties covered their shoes they were so long. The crowd went wild.
In the early 1950s, I went with my then-girlfriend (and future wife, Ella) to Idora to dance. I remarked that the band was really good for being local. We later found out that the orchestra was a nationally known big band, but I can’t recall their name.
Youngstown also had a burlesque house called the Princess. It was a really rundown theater. The comedians were third-rate and the chorus lines were even worse. The women in the dance line were really past their prime. During one show, they were all out of step and the audience heckled and jeered them. But the women ignored the hecklers as they danced away. I remember that some of them were chewing gum as they danced off the stage. Throughout the show, a candy butcher sold goods at the theater.
The Princess closed in the late 40s or early 50s. It was replaced by the Park Theater across the street. It was a more-attractive venue and had better acts, comedians and strippers. I think some big-name strippers appeared in Youngstown. I’m pretty sure fan dancer Sally Rand and Gypsy Rose Lee made the scene in Youngstown. The Park closed after several years and that was the end of vaudeville in Youngstown.
In the words of Edith and Archie Bunker (as sung by Jean Stapleton and Carroll O’Connor) on “All in the Family,” “those were the days.”
Editor’s note: Electronic images of the Palace Theater and Tony Pastor courtesy of Historic Images and Wikimedia, respectively. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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