Episode 13 - The Sin Cities of the East - The Media Gets Wind of a Story
The Sin Cities of the East - Joined at the Hip - Ocean City and Somers Point, New Jersey
The Sin Cities of the East - Joined at the Hip - Ocean City and Somers Point, New Jersey
With Levon and the Hawks and Conway Twitty at Tony Marts, Johnny Caswell and Tido Mambo at Bay Shores, Mike Pedicin, Sr. at Steels Ship Bar, the Under 21 Club bringing in big name recording stars like Dean Martin and Little Stevie Wonder, singing waiters at Your Father's Mustache and the High Point on the circle, and live entertainment at most of the pubs and restaurants, Somers Point was running on all cylinders, with a good mixed crowd of young college kids, hippies and older folks filling the streets and sidewalks, especially Bay Avenue.
There were other similar scenes – Wildwood, Sea Isle City, Margate and Atlantic City all had their rock and roll scenes, and many of the bands – like Bill Haley & the Comets, the Carroll Brothers, Caswell, et al. played them all, but Somers Point really stood out in the Summer of '65 as people began to recognize that something special was happening and those who heard about it just had to check it out for themselves.
And the Christian island resort of Ocean City, New Jersey swelled to capacity, its hotels, motels, rooming houses and apartment rentals were sold out through Labor Day and college kids were sleeping in their cars and on the beach.
The 10,000 year 'round residents of Ocean City didn't mind the windfall, when their small community suddenly swelled to over 100,000 people, making money renting rooms, t-shirts, ice cream, pizza and junk jewelry.
Mainly, it was the estimated 20,000 college students who made the most trouble, especially the hippies, parking their VW buses in one spot for three and four days at a time, playing loud music on the beach and boardwalk, sleeping on the beach, leaving piles of litter behind.
In Ocean City there was only one possible responsible official reaction – the knee jerk reactionary one - there was nothing else to do but close the beach at nights and out law playing music on the beach and boardwalk. So one of the more conservative city commissioners proudly introduced a resolution to close the beaches and parking lots to the public between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am and outlaw the playing of music on the beach and boardwalk.
The two square mile mainland city of Somers Point was more tolerant of the sudden influx of tourists and the college kids, as they had a special thirty man summer time police force – Bader's Raiders, who kept order along Bay Avenue.
People still complained about the noise, the traffic jams, the lack of parking and drunks urinating on lawns, but when they complained at City Council meetings, someone from the Somers Point Beverage Association always spoke up, saying something like, “Hey, you don't buy a home next to an airport and then complain about the airplanes.”
You can't have all this happening at the same time at the same place without people complaining, someone trying to outlaw it, and without the media getting wind of it.
The local weekly newspapers first reported the introduction of official city resolutions closing the beaches to the public at night and banning the playing of music on the beach and boardwalk, brief news reports that raised the eyebrows of the local daily news editors – who sent some new young, cub reporter to check out the scene and report back on what's really going on.
The Camden Courier Post got the scoop when it reported all about it under the headline: “Thirsty Teen Throngs Besiege Point,” with the subheading of: “Saturday Night at the Point – Youth Capitol of South Jersey – the Magic Number 21 – When Boy Meets Girl.”
Then the Philadelphia Inquirer and the afternoon daily Bulletin did major news stories and the New York Times chimed in, “A New Look Slowly Comes to the Jersey Shore – Some Abrupt and Flamboyant.”
Then, to top it off, the notoriety of the scene and the situation went national when Life Magazine made it a photo-featured cover story that proclaimed Ocean City and Somers Point, New Jersey joined at the hip as the “Sin Cities of the East,” making it an even more popular destination for those who wanted to partake in the sinning or just gawk at the side shows and tell their kids, “See, this is what you can't ever do,” but still finding amusement at it all.
The new producers at the Philadelphia offices of KYW TV News also took notice of these media reports and began talking about it. KYW was the newest of three broadcast network affiliated TV stations in Philadelphia at the time, and they wanted to make a splash, so they put together a documentary film crew they called the Investigative Unit that won journalism awards for reports on nursing home abuse, insurance fraud and mob controlled unions. Now they were looking for a new assignment and they knew their boss didn't have one ready for them.
So the lead field director, David Brenner, a local South Philly boy, held up the newspaper clips in one hand and the Life Magazine in the other and made the pitch to his boss, saying, “This is a great story! The college kids take over, the officials want to outlaw music and close the beaches. Jesus Christ! We couldn't make this shit up and get people to believe it.”
“Okay, okay,” said the senior executive producer, “but I don't want to just repeat this crap about everybody having such a good time and the music and dancing and beach blanket bingo. I want a story, a real story, and from all this noise we're getting, there's got to be a good story down there somewhere. But you don't have it yet and you got to dig in the sand to get it, but don't come back with the same junk the Inky put out.”
David Brenner slapped his hands, shook the hands of the executive producer, kissed him on both cheeks and promised him a good story, then as he got to the office door, stopped and turned around, "Correct that - we'll get a GREAT – G-R-E-A-T- Story,” he spelled out, almost dancing out the door.
Walking across the KYW newsroom, he walked into a small conference room where there were three people waiting for him – two young men and young women, Brenner's secretary-girl Friday, Tom Snyder, the on air reporter and the cameraman-technician who made up Brenner's Investigative Unit crew.
“We're going to the Shore,” Brenner said smiling, “We're going to the Jersey Shore!”
“Hot damn,” the cameraman said, “I was getting tired of these nursing home and mob shit stories. Maybe we can finally have some fun in the sun.”
“I don't know how much sun I can take,” Snyder said shyly and dryly, “or how much of your fun I can take."
Tom Snyder - Circa 1965
Brenner slapped Snyder with a towel, put him in a head lock and began screwing his fist into the top of Snyder's head giving him a hard nuggie while laughing and looking at the others, “Do you think he's serious or not? I can't tell sometimes.”
“The bad news is,” the secretary paused for effect, “the bad news is there are no rooms available for anywhere within 20 miles of Ocean City, - it's booked solid.”
“But the good news is,” she smiled, “my parents have a summer home in Ocean City and they said we can stay there, though somebody might have to sleep on the couch.”
Everybody looked at Tom Snyder and laughed.
“No, I'll take the couch,” the cameraman said, swinging a pack of electronic gear over his shoulder.
They then left immediately, over Snyder's protests, without packing.
"I'll buy you a t-shirt and bathing suit on the boardwalk - that's all you'll need," Brenner said, noting that with a thousand dollars in cash budget, and not needing to rent a motel room, they had plenty of money for accessories.
So David Brenner, his secretary, cameraman and Tom Snyder piled into a white KWY van, packed with broadcast equipment and headed down the shore, not knowing exactly what their story was going to be but with high anticipation and the expectation that whatever happened, it was going to be a really good, check - make that great time.
And yes, it is David Brenner the comedian who was an award winning documentary film producer for KYW TV before he became a famous celebrity, and yes, it is Tom Snyder the talk show host, who was a rookie, first year street reporter at KYW TV when he accompanied David Brenner to find a story in Ocean City – Somers Point scene. .
The Long Cool Summer was the title of their one hour long documentary film aired on KYW TV 3 a week after Labor Day that reportedly won additional awards for them, and is said to be stored and archived in a cold storage vault in the media library at the Urban Archives at Temple University in Philadelphia. It could provide an actual documentary film footage of all that then transpired.
David Brenner once related the story of what happened on that assignment to Johnny Carson on one of his appearances on the Tonight Show, and later fondly reminisced about it with Tom Snyder on his late night talk show, which was humorously pantomimed by Dan Akyroid on Saturday Night Live.
Next – Opening Bay Shores - Flashback #232 - That was to be the end of Act One – but then I had this flashback that clearly chronologically belongs after the Prologue murder of Harry Anglemeyer and the introduction to Ocean City's Ninth Street the beach and boardwalk, but since I just remembered this part - I'll tag it on here like a Pulp Fictionesque interlude that makes the rest of the story make more sense once you know it.
END of ACT ONE – The Summer of '65 Revisited.
Coming Soon – Act Two – The Long Cool Summer Plays Out