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From the news archives 71 years ago: Don the Beachcomber mad at being copied in New York

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The following article came from the digitized archives of Google News (http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=ZuSUVyMx-TgC&dat=19400717&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 4)...

Reading Eagle July 17, 1940

I’m guessing that the unnamed New York night club proprietor is Monte Proser. If so, there’s a great Tiki Central thread on it at http://www.tikicentral.com/viewtopic.php?topic=36222&forum=2.


Great, finally proof of a reaction from Don - though "I am told that Don is mad about it" is more hearsay than proof. :D
I am still amazed that Monte Proser got away with opening SEVERAL places as "The Beachcomber-Home of the Zombie"!


I guess Monte got the hint and opened up a Playhouse Inn instead...

And what's NOT on the menu? Zombie! But many other Don copies, like Mystery Pearl and Kona Grog. I wonder if the "If and When" is really the Zombie copy?


Sven, we can believe that Don was unhappy with Monte, as he sued him (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=71XFh8zZwT8C&dat=19410508&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 14)...

Miami Daily News May 8, 1941

Interesting, Swanky, on the lack of the Zombie in that menu; maybe it was a condition for settling a lawsuit. Don certainly had reason to target Proser on the Zombie, as this gossip columnist notes Monte was “rather widely heralded as the father of the zombie” (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=4oJvMfeQlr8C&dat=19400806&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 4)...

Ellensburg Daily Record August 6, 1940

Contrast this article describing Monte Proser as an optimist with the one above (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=8o7LCxyMrhgC&dat=19610329&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 4)...

Palm Beach Daily News March 29, 1961

Somewhat flattering and, then again, less than flattering is this article (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=SFOYbPikdlgC&dat=19540722&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 3)...

Spartanburg Herald July 22, 1954

Proser unquestionably earned the bragging rights here (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=zEYdoEEwLqEC&dat=19660624&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 14)...

Sarasota Herald-Tribune June 24, 1966



According to what I read, Proser was injuncted (is that a word) from using the name "Beachcomber" or serving anything called a "Zombie" after Don's lawyers got done.

On 2011-11-22 08:39, Swanky wrote:
I guess Monte got the hint and opened up a Playhouse Inn instead...

Couldn't help but notice that theater mask on the Playhouse Inn menu. I wonder it that's where old Monte got the idea for the unique theater mask/hula girl design that ended up on the Lanai mugs?

And later on the Hawaii Kai mugs?


Wow, great findings, Tom! It looks like "The Beachcomber" was just a blip on the screen for this guy (the list of places he opened and closed doesn't even include the "Playhouse Inn")! What a man about town, chasing and getting married to two show girls (though not HER: "..Mamie Van Doren then began working on the stage. She was a showgirl in New York in Monte Proser nightclub version of "Billion Dollar Baby"...)

  • that masked gal mug is clearly related to this and his Broadway theater connections in the Theater District, where the Beachcomber/Lanai/Hawaii Kai was located:

"One famous stretch near Times Square, where Broadway crosses Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan, is the home of many Broadway theaters, housing an ever-changing array of commercial, large-scale plays, particularly musicals. This area of Manhattan is often called the Theater District or the Great White Way, a nickname originating in the headline "Found on the Great White Way" in the February 3, 1902 edition of the New York Evening Telegram. The journalistic nickname was inspired by the millions of lights on theater marquees and billboard advertisements that illuminate the area."

What the film industry was for faux Polynesian places in Hollywood, the Theater industry was for bamboo hideaways in New York. The Luau 400 for example was decorated by a THEATER art director.

Also, the reference to the Puerto Rican rum company....

...must mean this product:

Monte really was ahead of Don in the game for a while, it seems. Don got it curbed, but then he let his wife take over and really start franchising. Although Monte seemed to have been more of a creative "softy" like Don, too:

"Nightclub impresario Monte Proser was the quiet, dynamic force - the entrepreneurial spirit and creative spark - behind the original concept and operation of the Copacabana. This imaginative man, dubbed by Frank Sinatra as "the Genius," created, built, and ran the world's great American nightclub in its heyday, before he was muscled out by the Copa's moneyed organized crime interests. From his early adventures as a press agent, he segued into a number of Broadway and other ventures, from a string of Beachcomber nightclubs - predecessors of the Copacabana - a Madison Square Garden Dance Carnival, producer of Broadway and TV show producer, and owner-operator of La Vie en Rose, to entertainment director of the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas."

of course it all comes full circle with the mob and Vegas:

"How about the succeeding owner, Jules Podell? Actually Jules Podell was there from the beginning. He was the often violent, profane co-operator, mob representative, and Monte Proser's bitter rival for control of the club. While the Copacabana was still under construction, Mafia kingpin Frank Costello introduced himself to Monte Proser as his new partner, making it clear to the Broadway impresario that he had no choice in the matter. A week later Costello brought in the ex-op of Broadway's unsavory Kit Kat Club, Jules Podell, to oversee his financial interests in "Monte Proser's Copacabana." It was agreed that Proser would run the front operation, the floor and entertainment, and Podell would control the kitchen and wait staff. Podell became known as the boss man of the Copa. He was a tyrant, who was belligerent and ruthless. He was famous for screaming, spewing obscenities, and slapping waiters. When he was disgruntled, he would bang his huge pinky ring on the table, bang, bang, bang, and everyone would come running, "Yes, Boss? Yes, Boss? What is it, Boss?" In the tug-of-war for control, Monte Proser finally lost out when manager Jack Entratter backed Podell, instead of him. With the Copacabana's originator forced out, Podell continued to run the club for many years, while Jack Entratter was offered a sweet deal to run the Copa Room of the Sands Hotel in the new mob outpost, Las Vegas."

In this great LIFE photo you really get the sense of the man as the "brain" behind the scenes of the show biz operation:

..dubbed "The Genius" by Frank Sinatra? Not bad, Monte.

[ Edited by: bigbrotiki 2011-11-23 08:20 ]

I just checked last night's post, and the Copacabana text passages were made really confusing by the fact several words were replaced by "Proser" and read "Jules Proser","Proser Vegas", and "Proser Hotel" for Thunderbird Hotel !?? Fixed that, so now it should make sense. :)

I just found this interesting bit from an interview with Chip Proser, his son, now a cameraman/script writer/documentarian:

"My father, Monte Proser, created the Copacabana nightclub and lost it to the Mob. He produced "High Button Shoes" on Broadway and very early television, including the very aptly named "Coke Time" with Eddie Fisher. My mother was a Broadway chorus dancer, a Copa Girl and Gregory Peck's first screen girlfriend in "Keys to the Kingdom". He left her for the priesthood and moved to China, which, if you knew Mom, made a lot of sense."

Wow, what a way to end such a career!


And from there, we have Jack Entratter running things for the Rat Pack... What a tale!

Swanky, this web site (http://www.scandalpark.com/blog/americana/the-man-who-stole-the-zombie/) indicates Don was ill-advised to pursue legal actions against Monte Proser because of Monte’s connections to the New York mob. I assume that means the mob had financial interests in Monte’s Beachcomber clubs. Perhaps Don received an “offer that he could not refuse” and didn’t press his case beyond nominal settlements that prohibited Proser’s continued use of “Beachcomber” and “Zombie” nomenclature.

DC, very astute observation on the Lanai and Hawaii Kai mug designs! Those are eye-catching!

Sven, wonderful stuff you unearthed on old Monte. Notwithstanding Proser’s misappropriations of DtB, he’s a fascinating and colorful character in his own right. While he never seemed to find lasting personal wealth, Monte made things happen and helped the careers of others. Here he is, happily surrounded by shapely show girls (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=8_tS2Vw13FcC&dat=19510325&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 73)...

Toledo Blade March 25, 1951

In the following Monte article, you learn how Ethel Merman got her stage name (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=wZJMF1LD7PcC&dat=19651208&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 7)...

The Milwaukee Sentinel December 8, 1965

More on Monte and his stars (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=VaBbNeojGYwC&dat=19410420&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 8)...

The Sunday Morning Star April 20, 1941

How Monte won WWII (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=wZJMF1LD7PcC&dat=19531130&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 34)...

The Milwaukee Sentinel November 30, 1953

And finally, here’s an article on Monte starting up the Lanai – love the Catalina Island anecdote (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=feST4K8J0scC&dat=19610323&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 23)...

St. Petersburg Times March 23, 1961


Great thread, now that's Tiki! But, did the Mob ever approach Don himself? How did Don get around them?

Jeez Louise, Monte seems to have been quintessential showman! DC's earlier post in the Monte Proser thread (where all this should have been posted) did not quite reach home until now:

On 2010-05-23 10:05, Dustycajun wrote:

Talk story about Monte Proser & his night clubs, including the Copacabana. He is now managerially involved in six night clubs; the Beachcombers, In N.Y., Providence, Boston & Miami; La Conga, in Hollywood; and the Copacabana. He also has an interest in a new place George White is about to open on Broadway. Proser had dozens of partners. He has been connected with fifty night clubs during the past six years, generally as press agent. Mr. P. has also been a publicity man in Hollywood. "I once wanted to have all the clubs in the world, but I kind'a cut down. As it is, I've got a thousand employees. When you achieve your ambitions they become commonplace," he said. "I got a lot of saloons So what?"


I would say that the combined research on this site renders the below blog:

On 2011-11-23 11:01, TikiTomD wrote:
Swanky, this web site (http://www.scandalpark.com/blog/americana/the-man-who-stole-the-zombie/) indicates Don was ill-advised to pursue legal actions against Monte Proser because of Monte’s connections to the New York mob. I assume that means the mob had financial interests in Monte’s Beachcomber clubs.

...as rather lacking and incomplete now. Monte was not a mob man, he was however a classic operator and wheeler dealer. After such a productive showbiz life (and private life: 5 kids!), maybe I would have become a priest too!

[ Edited by: bigbrotiki 2011-11-23 12:19 ]


Yes, Don had his affiliations with the mob. Various situations are described in the Bitner book about Don and the mob, and I have first hand stories of a certain mobster coming into DtB in Chicago, and well, we'll leave it at that.

I think if you were doing business in NY or Chicago in the 1940s, you dealt with the mob in some way or other.

And then, we have both of them doing business in Las Vegas as well!


Monte Proser passed away on October 6, 1973 (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=ZuSUVyMx-TgC&dat=19731008&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 23)...

Reading Eagle October 8, 1973

The following article, appearing just after his death, makes clear the relative roles of the Copacabana management team, and underscores what Sven said about Monte being no mob man (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aFwNBOTKqaYC&dat=19731019&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 24)...

Sarasota Journal October 19, 1973


Is this the longest thread on one page ever or what!? :)
What a sad ending, suffering from injuries from being robbed...I thought he became a priest in China !!!?


Sven, I believe that was the character played by Gregory Pech (Father Francis Chisholm) in the movie, "The Keys of the Kingdom." Jane Ball, Monte's wife, played opposite Mr. Pech in this 1944 movie as the adult, Nora, according to IMDb.



Here’s a birthday quote and photo of young Chip Proser, quoted earlier in this thread, and his mom, Jane Ball (Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=ZuSUVyMx-TgC&dat=19470218&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 18)...

Reading Eagle February 18, 1947

Within five years of Monte Proser’s death, his wife and sons lost their home and estate
(Google News http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aFwNBOTKqaYC&dat=19780925&printsec=frontpage&hl=en, page 12)...

Sarasota Journal September 25, 1978



Don't take what I said to imply the Don (or Monte) were "in" with the mob. I think it was just a part of business back then. They knew the characters like all their important customers and knew how to treat them. Just facts of life.

On 2011-11-23 16:09, TikiTomD wrote:
Sven, I believe that was the character played by Gregory Pech (Father Francis Chisholm) in the movie, "The Keys of the Kingdom." Jane Ball, Monte's wife, played opposite Mr. Pech in this 1944 movie as the adult, Nora, according to IMDb.

Ha ha, I totally misread that, I was so fixated on "Monte did this, Monte did that.."


Here is Jane Ball in her showbiz heyday:

In the beginning of the revealing article above it says about Monte's passing (I paraphrase):
"Jules Podell and Monte Proser died within a week of each other, and they died enemies."

Now: The final fate of Monte and his wife is unusual. Was that beating and robbing of Monte and the "mysterious way" that Jane had her estate "pulled out" from under her perhaps some delayed settling of a mob bill !?


Sven, it is easy to imagine that Monte had unpaid obligations to former business partners with long memories and unforgiving principles. Perhaps, as you conjecture, those debts were collected.

I ran across references to Monte Proser (spelled “Prosser”) in testimony given by Virgil W. Peterson, Operating Director, Chicago Crime Commission, to the 1950 U.S. Senate Hearings before the Special (Kefauver) Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (see http://www.onewal.com/kef/kefp2.html)...

Mr. PETERSON…Another individual who has held leases to hotels in Florida in which the gangster element has been closely identified is Thomas Cassara. Several years ago Thomas Cassara took over the lease of the Grand Hotel, 220 Twenty-third Street, Miami Beach, Fla. In 1940 he took over the lease of the Wofford Hotel, Miami Beach, Fla., which he operated for one season only. In 1947 Cassara reportedly operated the Chanticleer Restaurant, 8572 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, with Monte Prosser and Danny Romano. Prosser is manager of the Copacabana Night Club, New York City, and Danny Romano has a brother by the name of Louis who has been prominently identified with the Capone syndicate in Chicago.

The CHAIRMAN. Do you know who owns the Copacabana Night Club?

Mr. PETERSON. I can't prove who owns it. I know whose name has been very prominently identified with it.

The CHAIRMAN. If you do not know, just say so.

Mr. PETERSON. I think it has been printed in the papers as a matter of fact, who supposedly is connected with it, one of the big mobsters. That hasn't been proved.

That name was Frank Costello, boss of the Luciano crime family. Within a year after the Copacabana opened, Costello replaced Proser with Jules Podell, who ran the club until he died in 1973. Here’s an eBay photo of Podell...


Well it does seem that Monte was the one who got stiffed in the Copacabana deal, and so HE should have been sore. But maybe he found a way to get back at them, eventually, he was smart -and they didn't like that. Or he simply owed money from one of his many later short-lived club projects, and they came to collect years after -with interest.

All pure hypothesizing, of course, since it was so many years later. His kids might have the real scoop.

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