Tony Delvecchio and Rich Herschlag’s Sinatra, Gotti and Me: The Rise and Fall of Jilly’s Nightclub Reviewed By Dr. Wesley Britton of Bookpleasures.com
Dr. Wesley Britton
Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four books on espionage in literature and the media. He is also co-host of the online radio program, Dave White Presents, for which he interviews authors, musicians, and entertainment insiders. His website is www.spywise.net; the radio program is archived at http://www.audioentertainment.org/dwp. Dr. Britton teaches English at Harrisburg Area Community College.
Author: Tony Delvecchio and Rich Herschlag
Publisher: ArcheBooks Publishing
In some ways, Sinatra, Gotti and Me is a companion volume to Pat Cooper’s 2010 memoir, How Dare You Say How Dare Me. For one matter, Rich Herschlag is co-author of both, the first based on the recollections of the caustic Italian comic, the second the autobiography of Tony Delvecchio who, among other things, ran the famous Jilly’s New York nightclub during its second incarnation in the 1970s and 1980s. Cooper’s story was of a tough kid who grew up on rough streets to become an entertainer in nightclubs like Jilly’s; Delvecchio’s tale is of a kid who grew up in similar circumstances who became overseer of a venue closely associated with Frank Sinatra, assorted wise guys, and entertainers like Pat Cooper. One is the story of the guy onstage with the mike; the other about the guy who makes sure the audience is wined, dined, and smiling before and after the acts.
While both men came from families where child abuse was the norm, Tony Delvecchio’s path became a more vicious rough and tumble course. While never a “made man” in gangster circles, in his early years Delvecchio alternated between hairdressing and acting along with collecting debts for bookmakers, running cigarettes across state borders, and using his fists to take bullies down a few bloody notches. John Gotti’s place in his life was more in the background than the book’s title might imply, but it’s clear Delvecchio benefited from Gotti’s quiet patronage of a man who ran with the wise guys while never quite being one of them.
The first third of the book is Delvecchio describing the days before he created the Jabberwocky club which led to his being invited to be a partner in the reboot of the legendary Jilly’s, once the playground for the likes of Sinatra, Sammy Davis, and Tony Curtis. Under his guidance, Jilly’s was refurbished and enjoyed a new run attracting the same crowd, their entourages, and hangers-ons. Describing his years at Jilly’s, Delvecchio is detailed and vivid in his character portraits of the owners, staff, performers, and guests of the club. Alcohol and testosterone flow in abundance, and knowing how to keep things balanced without pushing the limits becomes a fine art for Delvecchio both within the club and with a family he sees too rarely. He demonstrates an interesting moral code which precludes extramarital affairs but not cheating the water company, agreeing to teach an abuser a lesson as a favor for Sinatra while accepting no payment for the beating, always walking a fine line between being as tough as the gangsters while trying to stay independent of them.
For Sinatra fans, there are more than enough stories to make this a must read, and Ole Blue Eyes comes across as a man much like Delvecchio—thriving in a world of wise guys without fully embracing them. While Jilly’s is a colorful, lively, and often comic tableau as any reader should like, the real story is the man Tony Delvecchio with all his contradictions and ambitions. One suspects co-author Rich Herschlag’s primary contribution was organization. While the book starts with an unhappy childhood incident, much of Delvecchio’s memoir is not chronological but rather a blend of related events from various time periods in his life, showing connections between his formative years and why he did some of the things he did. Many readers will not find Delvecchio the “stand up guy” Pat Cooper claims in his introduction, but they should find him engaging, readable, and as entertaining as a night on the town.