As a server at Atlantic City's 500 Club, Rita Marzullo rubbed shoulders with Sinatra and other stars. Her stories enliven a new book about the legendary nightspot.
A self-described "glamour girl" in the 1950s, 20-year-old Rita Marzullo couldn't cook, but was in desperate need of a job. She worked for a short while at the Bella Napoli Restaurant in Atlantic City, then landed a waitressing job at the legendary 500 Club. Much like Palumbo's in South Philly, the Atlantic City venue was a celebrity magnet that drew stars including Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Marzullo, of Fulton Street, met them all.
During a visit to the club, she was requested at the private table of Angelo Bruno, Philadelphia's mob boss. He was very protective of his South Philly "family" and inquired about Marzullo's well-being. While they were talking, Paul "Skinny" D'Amato, the owner of the 500 Club, approached the table.
After introducing himself, he asked Marzullo, "Why don't you come and work here?"
She responded, "Here? I can't work at a nightclub. Do you know what my brothers would do to me?"
But with D'Amato's assurances, Marzullo accepted the job and was offered a place to live in the adjacent hotel, Penn Plaza.
She was soon making a ton of money. "The first time I went to Atlantic City, I left with two suitcases. I came back with a tractor trailer," she says, describing her haul.
Marzullo was working only summers at first, but D'Amato -- famous in his own right as a star-maker -- asked her to stay year-round. He became like an older brother to her and promised Bruno he would keep an eye on her.
The waitress, the eighth of 10 children, visited her family back in South Philly every week. They had been against her moving to Atlantic City in the first place and begged her not to leave. But after suffering a broken heart when her beau married someone else, she just couldn't bear to stay in Philly anymore.
Looking back, Marzullo, now 74, says, "I made a good decision and nobody could stop me."
She loved the 500 Club and Atlantic City so much that she lived there for nearly 30 years.
Her colorful stories are a highlight of a book released earlier this year called The Last Good Time: Skinny D'Amato, the Notorious 500 Club, and the Rise and Fall of Atlantic City.
Marzullo describes the old Atlantic City as "so much better than it is now."
"It was fantastic; everyone was one big, happy family."
And it was exciting, too, especially for a young woman surrounded by stars.
At her surprise 21st birthday party thrown by D'Amato, Marzullo mingled with everyone from childhood friends to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio.
She fondly recalls the bash, which seemed more like a night at The Ed Sullivan Show.
"Every time the door opened, somebody from TV or radio walked in. I was sitting on Dean Martin's lap and my party continued for three days and nights," Marzullo says.