On the surface, Wildwood appears to be improving with age, but something is missing. Will the big stars ever return?
During my youth, some of the biggest of the big showed up in Wildwood, usually for shows at some of the various clubs. The Rainbow, The Beachcomber, The Surf Club, The Manor Supper Club, and Lou Booth’s were just a few of the places hosting big names during the summer months.
Bill Haley and the Comets sort of started things off by performing “Rock Around the Clock” at the Hof Brau, and half a decade later, Chubby Checker first performed “The Twist” at The Rainbow Club, according to area nostalgia buffs.
Minors generally were not permitted in night clubs, so my star gazing was very limited. I saw Peggy Lee during a poolside interview at the old Carousel Motel. On our way home from the boards one night, my brother, another friend, and I heard some twangy guitar sounds leaking through the cracks at The Beachcomber, and the bouncer allowed us to peek through the door to see Duane Eddy during his performance.
On another warm summer evening bike ride, I noticed my brother and some of our friends hanging out in the parking lot of The Caribbean motel. They told me that Jimmie Rodgers was in a room on the second floor. Uh-oh! Awhile later, his manager came down to tell us that if we gave him some paper, he would take it up and get autographs. He said that Jimmie would come down and speak with us before leaving for his show. Jimmie did come down and talk with us before he and his wife got in the back seat of a black Lincoln Continental convertible to be chauffeured away for his performance.
Okay, so The Beatles never quite made it south of AC, but The McGuire Sisters, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, and many others, made it to the island. Bobby Rydell spent a considerable amount of time in Wildwood through the years, and his song, “Wildwood Days,” is still remembered rather reverently by some of us old-timers.
My uncle wrote for Variety and Billboard, which gave him an inside advantage, so to speak. Frankie Laine showed up on our front porch one evening, and Bruce Davison (who spent some summers just a few blocks away) , of “Willard” fame, called up one day. In the seventies, I remember when my uncle told us about interviewing The Carpenters and David Cassidy when they performed at the old new Convention Hall.
So where has everyone gone? I guess they’ve gone to the bigger venues, like Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and other cities with huge facilities. Yes, Wildwood has a new Convention Center, but at least for the time being, that venue seems relegated to the stars of yesteryear. Fat chance that any big star not named Chubby would ever show up in a place like the old Rainbow these days.