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Saturday 20 Jul 2024

Meeting Johnny Carson
Stan Klees

"It was 1962," say Stan Klees. "I was in New York City, on business for Astral Records. I met up with Connie DeNave, a respected publicist in the entertainment business. We went for drinks at the rooftop bar of Beekman Towers. Our table looked over the United Nations building, a reassuring image in those days."

At the time, Connie was working for the "Peppermint Lounge," at 128 West 45th Street, in midtown Manhattan. She helped the owners transform the Lounge from a rundown 50s-style gay bar, with table telephones and a cardigan-wearing clientele, into the hottest spot in New York City. The first of her many coups was to persuade the reclusive actress, Greta Garbo, to venture out to the club one night, and tolerate the press attention.

Once Garbo went to the Peppermint Lounge, other celebrities were anxious to follow. If you're a celebrity, your daily bread is in being known for your well knownness; that means being seen and talked about. Connie made the Lounge the "Studio 54" of it's time, a place to be seen, which lead to talk about you, notoriety and income.

The Twist was the dance craze, in 1961. "Joey Dee and the Starlighters" became the house band at the Peppermint Lounge. They had a huge hit called, "The Peppermint Twist."

Three of the "Starlighters," Eddie Brigati (vocals), Felix Cavaliere (keyboard, vocals) and Gene Cornish (guitar), originally from Ottawa, formed the "Young Rascals," in January, 1965. Dino Danelli joined the new band on drums. The name was later shortened to "The Rascals," and they had several hits, including, "Good Lovin'" (1966), "Groovin'" (1967) and "How Can I be Sure" (1968). The Rascals are a mainstay of the syndicated show, "The Best of Ed Sullivan," which is available on many digital channels.

Despite rough edges, the Peppermint Lounge was the hottest spot in New York City, and celebrities flocked to its dance floor. Tennessee Williams, Merle Oberon and Noel Coward were regulars. Norman Mailer twisted the night away with the granddaughter of Lord Beaverbrook. Unlike Studio 54, in the 1970s, just about anybody could get into the Peppermint Lounge. Sailors, salesmen and soldiers twisted with socialites and tourists from the mid-west. Connie DeNave did her job well.

"On the rooftop bar of the Beekman Towers," says Klees, "Connie and I were having a couple of drinks, Negronis, as I recall, and talking about where to have dinner. The Beekman Towers is located at 3 Mitchell Place, in New York City, which makes it convenient to everything, including Lexington and Fifth Avenues. You can tour central and lower Manhattan, on foot, in one afternoon, from the Beekman. We had lots of choices for dinner. Eventually, we decided on 'Danny's Hideaway.'"

Charles Stradella pushed his sons into the restaurant business just before World War II. His youngest son, Dante, opened "Danny's Hideaway & His Inferno," at 151 E. 45th St. The Hideaway started as a one-room bistro seating six, with Mamma Rosa doing the cooking and Danny waiting on tables and tending bar.

The Hideaway quickly became a trendy restaurant, favoured by celebrities. In a dozen years, the Hideaway expanded to three, four-story buildings and 11 dining rooms, seating 300; two separate kitchens and two completely stocked bars, all on different levels. A 60-foot awning toped the front of the complex, proclaiming the "The Home of Danny's Hideaway and His Inferno; His Music Room; His Menu Room; His Key Room; His Nook." You could have a week's worth of entertainment in one night at the Hideaway.

"Danny's Hideaway wasn't far from the Beekman Towers," says Klees, "the night was comfortable, so we walked. When we arrived at the Hideaway, we were lead to the best table in the house. Connie had a lot of clout. She had obviously been there many times, as the staff fussed over us.

Connie asked Klees if he knew about Johnny Carson. He said he knew Carson hosted "Who Do You Trust," the top TV game of the time. DeNave said he was a friend of hers, who was going to take over the "Tonight Show" from Jack Paar in two weeks and he's on his way to our table to say hello.

"Carson," says Klees, "was warm and pleasant, more so because Connie had wisely prepared me for his arrival. He stood at our table for quite a while. We discussed his upcoming new job, which he was confidently anxious over. He asked what I did in Canada, and seemed genuinely interested in my work. Little did I know that he would become such a success."

Stan Klees, co-founder of "RPM Music Weekly" and the Juno Awards, imagineer, broadcaster, record producer and entertainment entrepreneur, lives in Toronto. Connie DeNave owns a jeweler. Streeter Click is a Canadian writer.

Stan Klees, with Walt Grealis, founded and made viable the Canadian Recording Industry.

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