The Latin lover
By Tom Waring
Times Staff Writer
For years, Bernie Coane wanted to publish his collection of photographs from the old Latin Casino.
"I’d been talking about it for a long time," he said.
In 1992, Coane was on a cruise when he met Zinn Arthur, a studio photographer who had captured images of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and others.
Arthur told Coane that he should publish his photos of the stars who appeared at the Latin Casino nightclub, which opened in 1948 in Center City.
For the next decade-plus, Coane went to work. The 40-year Fox Chase resident organized his black-and-white glossy photos, did extensive research on the stars, compiled a history of the Latin Casino and even dug up an old menu.
He found newspaper clippings detailing various problems that the Latin Casino experienced, including the filing of a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
After dealing with a couple of potential publishers, he decided to publish Life at the Latin Casino on his own.
"For the whole world to see," he said.
Coane grew up in Germantown and served in the Army during World War II. After the war, he studied photography at Temple University.
That was a natural course of study for a young man who had been taking pictures since he received his first camera at age 5.
"I love photography," he said.
The Latin Casino had been flourishing at 1309 Walnut St. for five years when Coane started working there in 1953. He stayed until 1958.
Coane gave up the photography gig, which forced him to work late hours, because he had recently married. The book is dedicated to his late wife, Adele.
The Latin Casino left Philadelphia in 1960, closing after a two-week engagement featuring Johnny Mathis. The venue had outgrown its Walnut Street location, and parking was limited.
The nightspot relocated to Cherry Hill, N.J., across from Garden State Park. It thrived for years until changing entertainment trends and the arrival of casino gambling in Atlantic City, along with big-name acts who played the casino theaters, helped to hasten the Latin’s closure for good in 1978.
Coane’s five years at the Latin Casino were exciting because he had the chance to watch the performances of entertainers he had seen on television.
"It was a thrill," he said. "I enjoyed it so much."
But Coane also had to take a professional approach to his duties and not get distracted by star-gazing.
"It was a job," he said.
Still, there was plenty of time for fun. The young photographer especially liked dealing with Joey Bishop, Eddie Fisher and Buddy Hackett. He often talked with Patti Page in her dressing room.
Coane recalls that sexy entertainer Mae West wasn’t eager to see him as she aged.
"She didn’t like her picture to be taken," he said.
Still, West is pictured on the front of his book, along with Bishop, Fisher, Eydie Gorme, Eartha Kitt, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett and Harry Belafonte.
The book includes many autographed pictures. There are also pictures of the author with the stars, along with Latin Casino guests like Joe DiMaggio and Howard Cosell. And there are photos of parties on Halloween and New Year’s Eve.
Coane, a 78-year-old father of two and grandfather of seven, is happy that a comprehensive book on the Latin Casino finally has been published.
"It’s a grand book," he said.
His only regret is that there wasn’t enough space to include all the great stars who appeared at the Latin Casino.
At the time he worked there, Coane took high-quality photographs. Looking back, he’s glad he did.
"They’ve lasted over fifty years," he said. "They never faded away."
Life at the Latin Casino was published just over a week ago, and Coane is trying to market the book.
Some conversations about the project with acquaintances have made the author confident that his book will be a big seller.
"So many people want the book," he said.
Coane promoted it at a senior expo last week that was hosted by Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel (R-172nd dist.). He also hopes to speak to audiences at the Northeast Regional Library.
Book signings will likely take place at Firstrust Bank and the Northeast Racquet Club & Fitness Center, and the author hopes to entice Joey Bishop to appear.
Coane has appeared on Channel 12’s nostalgic program, More Things That Are No Longer There, and his book is being mentioned on the station during fund-raising breaks of the Lawrence Welk Show.
In addition to the local market, Coane wants to sell his book elsewhere. His son Bruce has a law office in Miami, where a lot of ex-Philadelphians live.
Coane, who is remarried, already is looking to publish a second picture-based book, this one chronicling travels with his family. ••
Life at the Latin Casino sells for $39.95. To purchase a copy, call 215-728-7717.
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org