Monday, September 18, 2017

Ghosts of Nationwide Theatrical Agency

Remember when I wrote about the Nationwide Theatrical Agency and its uniquely-shaped sign at 1629 Broadway? At the time, I wondered what kind of acts the agency actually booked.

Well, recently a small window to the world of Nationwide Theatrical Agency mysteriously cracked open, after being literally boarded up for decades, and provided me with my answer.

Here’s the fascinating story, a tale of haunting showbiz images revealed.

I recently received an email from Mark Stadul, who along with his wife owns the building in which the Nationwide Theatrical Agency was located. It's now the home of their business, Steel Coast Trading – which sells used and surplus tools, machines, electronics, test and vehicular goods.

Mark and his wife had been renovating the building and recently made an interesting discovery. He wrote, "During recent repairs, I uncovered a door that had been walled over in the building that had several posters, postcards, and pin-ups from the agency.” It seems that the plywood had been there for decades and only needed to be pried off to reveal the various promotional pieces that hadn’t seen daylight for years

Mark invited me to stop by and take a look at his findings, and I did just that.

The actual promotional pieces seem to be from the 1960s, with a few bearing postmarks. I spread them out on a workbench and grabbed some quick shots of some of them. Most were yellowed, curled and full of pinholes.

It’s quite an eclectic collection of acts, all striving for the bookings that would catapult them to fame and fortune. A few made it big; others, we’ll probably never know. 
Little is known about Tia and her "volcanic, tempestuous and seductive" Tahitian Fire Dance. 
On the other hand, Frank and Denise Agostino had a fine career with their acrobatic balancing act. The back of their postcard was postmarked November 1969 and advertised that they were currently appearing in Minsky’s Revue at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. By 1976 they were sharing the playbill with Joey Bishop in Philadelphia.
Colonel Jerry Lipko and his "Human Chimps” were based in Florence, New Jersey. They also performed as “Lipko’s Comedy Chimps” and were billed as “America’s Finest Chimp Act.” A July 1973 newspaper report in the Monroe Evening Times described the act, noting, "Col. Jerry Lipko has had chimps for 18 years, using them in his shows and lectures. At present, he features Skippy, eight-years old; Roses, five; Hazel, 24, and a new member, George, who is two, and still in training. All Chimps wear shoes and clothing and amaze crowds with their human traits. They roller skate, balance on rolling balls as well as on the high perch. They play musical instruments, ride bikes, and even a Honda, where their working area permits. They have appeared on television shows with Red Skelton, Jimmy Dean and Mike Douglas and with numerous circuses and fairs throughout the country.”
A tragic fire in Col. Lipko’s camper in Dec. 1976 claimed the lives of several of his famous chimps.
Here are a few more promotional photos for Lipko’s Human Chimps.

Burlesque performer Von Ray, the “Texas Tornado” also enjoyed a successful career with her novelty act. She often performed while standing on her head, which is why she was also billed as “the Upside Down Girl." She owned her own bar in New Orleans as well. 

Here’s another promotional shot of Von Ray from the late-1960s.

But getting back to the other acts...

Mississippi Rain was a Southern pop group based out of Jackson, Mississippi. The band recorded an album for Polydor Records and was represented by Fras-Co Productions. Here’s a link to a nice collection of photos of the band on Facebook, collected by the man who wrote and arranged their album.

Buck Buckley and his “neoteric wit” unfortunately seem to be destined to remain a mystery, with no internet “footprint” to reveal anything about the man and his act.
Of all the acts represented here, Eddie Floyd was by far the most successful, with a long career as an American soul/rhythm & blues singer and songwriter. Heres Eddie today (below).
And heres the link to his website.
Lastly, and happily, Walter Blaney and his big one-man show featuring 100% clean, wholesome fun, comedy and magic" are still around as well. 
Herethe link to his website.
Also included in the collection of items retrieved from behind the plywood wall was, appropriately, this postcard of Fremont Street in Las Vegas as it used to be in all its original neon glory. 
It was postmarked August 17, 1970 and was sent to Frank Gimello from Ralph, one of his employees. “Hi Boss,” it read, “Looking things over for anything new you might be able to use or interested in…”
Sounds like Ralph had a great job!
Special thanks to Mark Stadul of Steel Coast Trading for sharing his findings. Heres the link to the Steel Coast Trading Ebay store.
While preparing this post, I researched Mark’s building a little more. It was built around 1948 and was originally known as the Central Lorain Commerce Building.

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