There were supper clubs and there were supper clubs. And they don’t exist anymore. What they call a club today has almost no connection with the legendary supper clubs of the great years. There were the big, fancy rooms for high rollers, like the Copacabana and the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel just across the street, and the jazz clubs like Birdland, Basin Street East, and the Village Vanguard (although originally it also had folk singers and comedians in addition to jazz), and the more intimate nights spent at small cabaret rooms, like Upstairs at the Downstairs, where the audience was poorer but somehow more exclusive – that was where you went if you wanted to impress your date with your taste rather than your money. But all of these venues were more akin to a Broadway revue than anything you’ll find in Supper clubs today; today you just get one singer or specific show for 70-80 minutes; from the 1940s to the 1960s, you got a whole show, multiple singers, comics, dancers, and a star headliner. (Even the jazz clubs offered multiple acts in a single show.) Like the old Cotton Club in the pre-war days, the Copa particularly aimed to give customers a show to compete with what you could see on Broadway, and not only that, the top-flight supper clubs offered the four D’s as well: dinner, drinks, dancing, and dress-up.
Two clubs that emerged around the early war years were the Copacabana on 60th Street, right off Fifth Avenue, and the Latin Quarter, which opened in the site that had been the Times Square Cotton Club in 1942. Our great friend Julie Wilson was a part of both of those establishments, which was around the time she first arrived in town from her native Nebraska – years away from being the legend that she is today. Around 1945, Julie got a job at the Latin Quarter, singing in the chorus. Normally when you think of a chorus in a nightclub, you think of a line of dancing girls; but this was a singing chorus. It seems like a distant memory that some nightclubs were so well-appointed that they actually could hire a mixed choir to sing behind the star vocalist. And that was Julie’s first major job, not long after she landed in New York, New York.
After working for a few months, she was hired away from the Latin Quarter, to do essentially the same job at a higher salary by the Copacabana. “Well, who wouldn’t? Wouldn’t you? I mean, for fifty dollars more? She told us, “You worked seven days a week. You did two shows a night. It kept you off the streets. Ha!”
Julie’s first memory of The Copa is the way that the shows were directed and choreographed by Doug Coudy: “The guy that was our leader and our coach. He’d say, ‘Alright. Put your shoulders back and down. And keep your posture. I’ll never forget.” She later added, “The chorus girls had a little routine. They were real good dancers. Doug was very nice to us. But he was a nut about posture—the correct movements and all that. He’d say ‘shoulders back and down!’ So we all developed good posture. I passed that on to so many girls. They’d say, ‘How did you get that good posture?’ I said, ‘Somebody told me what to do! Take a deep breath. Put your shoulders back and down.’ That’s it. For life.”