A Copa moment with Frank, Joe and Andy

Tony with wife Chita on their 50th wedding anniversary in 2009.

By Tony Joaquin

In the fifties, as I was attuned to jazz music and new talents in bands and performers, I read a lot about the Copacabana Club of Manhattan where big name stars like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope used to perform. I had no inkling that one day I would be part of an exciting event at the historic club that inspired Barry Manilow’s 1978 danceable music. But that’s getting ahead of my story.

As the first Filipino student and only Asian in a Toronto City technical school in 1959, I experienced a lot of “firsts:” My first trip outside of the Philippines, my first winter, and my first scholarship in a foreign country for postgraduate studies. At the age of 30, having won a fellowship courtesy of the Canada Council for Communication Arts for the school year 1959-1960, I finally got admitted to the Ryerson Institute of Technology to pursue advanced studies in Radio and TV Arts.

During the school’s Christmas vacations I felt like visiting New York. Manhattan had beckoned to me even before I left Manila.

One Friday, I boarded a Greyhound for Manhattan. The bus arrived in New York at sundown, and I was lucky to get a room at the local YMCA for $1 per night. You got that right. A dollar. It’s a tiny room with hardly any space for anything else. The bathroom for all to share was down the hall. That same evening, since I was truly excited to see the city at night, I phoned a Filipino lady friend of mine who was studying at Columbia University, to invite her to the famous Copacabana Club. She did not even hesitate. Truly my lucky day. I fetched her at her dorm, and we took a cab to The Copa.

When we entered the club, I saw that there was a comedian in the middle of his act. We were ushered to a small round table with a good view of the dance floor about four steps down and the small stage with the bandstand. The comedian was named Morey Amsterdam, known for his vaudeville jokes. Then as I looked around, I learned that most of the waiters were Filipinos; our waiter and I and my date spoke in Tagalog.

Soon, I heard the band playing and then I heard a crooner’s voice singing “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” The singer looked very young and good looking. The waiter said his name was Andy Williams. Andy sang songs that were popular because they were sang by Frank Sinatra in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. While we were happily listening to Andy Williams sing I felt a tug on my jacket. It was our waiter.

“Tony, nakita mo ba kung sino ang dumating? (Tony, did you see who just walked in?)”

I looked and saw Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio just seating themselves at a table not far from ours. They ordered their drinks and were chatting. Frank was smoking as usual, but Joe was not. He just listened to Andy sing. My date was just out of her mind in thrill and so asked me for a piece of paper or any business card. Our waiter produced a Copa card and handed it to her. She just sprinted towards the famous celebrities and summarily asked them for their autographs.

I was observing all this but could not hear what was going on. In a few seconds she was back and gushing, “Tony, ‘got the signatures from two sensational guys. Gosh!”

I was happy for her. While I do admire excellent show people on screen or stage, I am not the type who would approach them for autographs. At the time Frank was still nursing a broken heart after he and Ava Gardner split while Joe lost Marilyn Monroe to Arthur Miller, the playwright.

That evening as we left the Copa I looked back and wondered how soon I would ever revisit the place. It was indeed a memorable event that I would cherish for the rest of my life.

Tony Joaquin was a television producer-director, newspaper journalist, industrial trainer, and a soap opera actor in the Philippines. He still gets excited by new ideas, films, love and living. He is 81.



One Comment

  1. Dear Chita and Tony

    Its been ages! I just found you. I dont blog or have a facebook account. So, send me your email address and we can get re-connected again. My warmest regards to Bobby, cristina and the rest. I still remember you all fondly! Cheers!
    clement, singapore

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