Friday, November 8, 2013

JFK in Atlantic City - What Might Have Been

This article - JFK in Atlantic City - What Might Have Been - 
is scheduled to appear in the November issue of the Boardwalk Journal Magazine 

             Bust of John F. Kennedy at Kennedy Plaza in front of Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City 

JFK and Atlantic City
By William Kelly

In the course of the media frenzy building up for the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, and the nation and the world reflect back on his legacy, Atlantic City’s role in the Kennedy story should be duly recognized.

In looking back over time since the assassination of President Kennedy, it’s quite clear that Atlantic City played a major role in the evolving course of events and some of Atlantic City residents were major characters in the Kennedy drama, which was sometimes comic and other times tragic.

John Martino, Charles Ford, Skinny D’Amato, and Carroll Rosenbloom were all Atlantic City natives who became entwined in the JFK assassination story.

Although you wouldn’t know it, the boardwalk in front of Boardwalk Hall is known as Kennedy Plaza, and if you look for it, back against the rail, there’s a life-size statue - a shoulders and head bust of President Kennedy by renown sculptor Evangelos Frudakis.

Unveiled by New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes at the time of the 1964 Democratic National Convention, held at the Boardwalk Hall, the beautifully sculptured bust is more attractive than the bland monument to JFK the city of Dallas erected.

Not to be left alone, JFK’s bust has been more recently joined by other lesser renown figures, but JFK stands there today as a reminder of what might have been - had he not been murdered in Dallas fifty years ago.

If JFK was not killed in Dallas he most certainly would have been re-nominated as the Democratic Party candidate for President in Atlantic City and the boardwalk would have been the place to party and celebrate, with Sinatra, Dean Martin and the Rat Pack at the Five, Sammy Davis at the Club Harlem and the Beatles booked at the Steel Pier.

“Hap” Farley, the political boss of Atlantic City who succeeded Nucky Johnson, even though he was a Republican, promoted the idea of Atlantic City hosting the Democratic Convention. Farley wanted to impress the Democrats and get both the Democratic and Republican Conventions in 1968.

The deal for the ’64 convention was sealed when Frank Sinatra and Sam Giancana, through Skinny D’Amato, owner of Atlantic City’s 500 Club, helped swing the West Virginia Democratic primary in Kennedy’s favor, thus ensuring Kennedy the party’s nomination on the first ballot at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles.

Sinatra contributed his song “High Hopes,” which became Kennedy’s official campaign song, while Skinny helped Kennedy by greasing the West Virginia Sheriff’s association, who held their annual convention in Atlantic City. Then Sam Giancana, at the request of Sinatra and Old Man Joe Kennedy, Sr., is said to have gotten the dead to vote for Kennedy in Chicago during the general election, which JFK won by only a few hundred thousand votes, the closest election ever. 

Skinny D'Amato confers with Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy at a campaign rally in Camden County, NJ in 1960. 

Kennedy asked Sinatra to make the arrangements for the entertainment for the Inaugural Ball in Washington and then begin making plans for his re-nomination at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, which was given to Atlantic City.

The Inagural Ball was a smashing affair, but a lot happened in the aftermath, as Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby Attorney General, and RFK had his Justice Department go after organized crime, especially targeting Sam Giancana and his mob associates - Johnny Rosselli, Carlos Marcello of New Orleans and Santo Traficante of Tampa and Havana.

And a lot of what happened had to do with Havana, as Fidel Castro’s revolution finally succeeded on New Year’s Eve 1959, and Castro began to eliminate the Havana gangster elements who ran the casinos under the corrupt Batista regime.

With the proceeds of profits made smuggling and bootlegging liquor during prohibition, the national syndicate of organized crime - the Commission, which was formed in Atlantic City in April 1929, had invested heavily in casino gambling in Las Vegas, Florida and Havana,.

Skinny and his wife in front of the Five - Pete Miller, the son of the band leader, is the New York literary agent who handles Vincent Bugliosi, including the adapting of Bugliosi's book on the assassination "Reclaiming History" into the recently released movie "Parkland." 

With the proceeds of profits made smuggling and bootlegging liquor during prohibition, the national syndicate of organized crime - the In 1958, possibly leery of Fidel Castro’s revolution, the syndicate’s treasurer Meyer Lansky sold Havana’s Hotel Nacional casino to JFK’s golfing partner Mike McLaney and Margate’s Carroll Rosenbloom, owner of the Baltimore Colts NFL football team. 

JFK played golf with gambler Mike McLaney, whose partner in the purchase of the Hotel Nacional casino in Havana, Carroll Rosenbloom, was LBJ's Margate host during the 1964 Democratic National Convention. 

Santo Trafficante, Jr. had brought John Martino to Havana from Atlantic City to help run his casino, but Castro had Martino arrested for spying, though most of the other gangsters got out with their shirts and whatever cash they could carry.

Giancana had also been involved in the CIA plots to kill Castro since 1959, when Eisenhower was president, and they thought their assistance in getting JFK elected and helping the CIA kill Castro would have been enough to get them off the hook for any legal transgressions. But Attorney General RFK kept pursing them, even though his brother, the president, shared a bed with mob Moll Judith Campbell Exner, Sinatra and Giancana. Frank and Judyth, Jack and Sam were all in bed together.

The CIA’s middle man between the Kennedy brothers and the mobsters was Charles Ford, an Atlantic City native who attended Princeton before becoming a CIA training officer. Ford was pulled from his training chores to work the CIA operation to get Castro and served as RFK’s CIA liaison with the mobsters.

When John Martino finally got out of Cuba with the Bay of Pigs prisoners he wrote a book, “I Was Castro’s Prisoner,” and for awhile became roommates with John Rosselli, who oversaw the mob’s business in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and worked on the plots to kill Castro with his CIA case officer William Harvey, who was known as “America’s James Bond.”

At the CIA’s University of Miami JMWAVE station Rosselli was known as “Colonel Rosselli,” and ran one of the anti-Castro commando raider teams who were trying to kill Castro.  One of the plots they hatched was to kill Castro in Cuba with a high powered rifle from a tall building while he rode past in an open jeep, but the plan was apparently redirected from Castro to President Kennedy.

On the morning of November 22, 1963, John Martino told his wife that Kennedy wouldn’t leave Dallas alive, that he would be killed by a sniper and a patsy would be arrested to take the blame.

The following August, President Johnson was paranoid. He knew that shortly after the Democratic convention, his hand picked commission would conclude that President Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin, and there was no conspiracy, but he was scared that the still simmering sympathy for the slain president would lead to Robert F. Kennedy being drafted as the Democrat’s candidate, a distinct possibility at an open convention.

To fight off that happening, LBJ postponed the planned tribute to JFK from the beginning to the end of the convention, after he was safely nominated. He also had Bobby Kennedy’s phone tapped and in order to avoid the bugs he suspected RFK or the FBI had placed in his Atlantic City hotel room, instead stayed at the Margate beach house of Carroll Rosenbloom.

While Rosenbloom may have lost his shirt in Havana when Castro had confiscated his hotel casino without compensation, he was a gambler and the side bets he had placed on LBJ had come up big.

Once LBJ had the nomination in hand, they showed a film depicting the Kennedy presidency and then RFK took the podium and after an extended twenty-two minute standing ovation, delivered a now famous speech in which he quoted a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that the widow Jackie had written on a piece of paper and slipped to him - “When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun.”  

The week of the convention Sinatra kept his end of the deal and appeared at Skinny’s 500 Club, entertaining the convention delegates and the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association, who Skinny had persuaded to support JFK in the vital primary a few years previous. And when Sam Giancana complained that Joe Kennedy didn’t stop RFK from prosecuting him, Sinatra said that he was the one who made the request, and made up for it by getting the Rat Pack to perform for a week for free at Giancana’s Chicago nightclub. Sinatra also performed for free at the Five for Skinny, who picked up Sinatra's hotel tab.

A few days after the convention was over, the Beatle's show at the Steel Pier was moved to the Convention Hall and LBJ's daughters stayed behind to enjoy the show, and then the Beatles went on to perform in Dallas where they stayed at the Cabana Hotel and ducked when they rode through Dealey Plaza in a limo. 

For Atlantic City the 1964 Democratic Convention was a public relations disaster, as the national press corps and international radio and TV journalists reported on the true state of affairs - America’s Playground was the pits. Just as the Kennedy and Sinatra relationship had “High Hopes,” but went sour after the election, Atlantic City was not the same place it was in it’s hey days, when all of the boardwalk hotels were first class establishments. By the early 1960s, the old hotels were falling apart, with pealing paint, plumbing and electricity that didn’t work and employees who treated the guests shabbily.

Although it would take another decade, the sad state of affairs on the boardwalk eventually lead to the casino gambling legislation that would level the old hotels and build modern hotel casinos that would reinvigorate Atlantic City into another era.

Today, the bust of JFK at Kennedy Plaza in front of the Boardwalk Hall is about the only historical vestige left of that time and place, and what might have been, had JFK lived to be re-nominated as President at the 1964 Democratic National Convention on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy - 35th President of the United States - May 29, 1917 - Nov 22, 1963

1 comment:

Kyle Kopitke said...

Hi Bill,

Thanks for the great work you do. The Brits are carrying a story in their media about Nurse Phyllis Hall who now claims there was a bullet lodged in JFK's neck area, that she pulled out and the SS then took. She said she never saw it listed in the Warren Report. I think it would be a great interview if you could track her down and interview her in detail.