It was the last weekend of November, 2014, and we were celebrating our new holiday display: 26 lighted photos of South Philadelphia celebrities – drawn from our star-packed 1960s photo album – looked down from our windows onto E. Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street.
Feeling festive, we headed out to Stogie Joe’s Tavern for a square pie with sausage and broccoli rabe.
It was the perfect choice: Stogie Joe’s Passyunk Avenue building once housed the gym where boxer Joey Giardello trained, and Joey was among our window celebrities.
But, like everything related to Art Tavani’s magical South Philadelphia photo album, the coincidences didn’t end there….
“NICE LOOKING MUSSELS!”
Soon we were comparing appetizers with the people at the next table.
“Be sure to check out our holiday windows on your way home,” we told them. “We’ve got everyone from Bobby Rydell to Fisher and Marks up there!”
“Fisher and Marks?” one of the men asked. “I’m friends with Lou’s son!”
Understated as always, I nearly face-planted in their linguine.
“Lou Mark’s son – whoa! Can you connect us…?”
SHINING WITH THE STARS
Soon we were trading photos with Lou Franco, Jr. (Marks’ real last name), and lapping up stories about backstage visits to Palumbo’s, Sciolla’s Supper Club and the Latin Casino to rub elbows with Joey Bishop, Jimmy Durante, Al Martino, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Mayor Frank Rizzo, and more.
(Thank you, Jim Drnec, for the introduction…!)
“I remember going to his shows in the early ’60s, when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Lou, Jr. said. “He and Al Fisher were both great tap dancers, and started out separately as dancers and singers. When they got together, they did Italian humor that people really got.
“I still remember people losing their minds laughing, just from my dad’s funny faces. When we walked down 9th Street, you couldn’t go five feet without someone calling out his name.”
THE SHOW MUST GO ON…
A South Philadelphia High School graduate, Marks first gained fame as a jitterbug champ. He and Al Fisher performed together for almost 40 years until Fisher’s 1986 death, regularly playing venues like the Las Vegas Sands Hotel.
Marks was “the quintessential entertainer,” his son recalled. “He always performed in a tuxedo and patent leather shoes. Even off-stage, he was always a sharp dresser, with a hat, tie, cufflinks, rings and a watch.
“I remember when I was 10 or 11, and he was really sick. He was coughing and had a fever, but he still went onstage to entertain.”
After Al Fisher’s death, Marks variously teamed with singers Dave Michaels and Bobby Burnett, still playing venues like Atlantic City’s Showboat casino into his 80s. He died in 2007 at age 83.
“We never waited in a restaurant or show line with Dad,” Lou said. “It was quite embarrassing to us kids, but we would always be marched right in past all these people waiting to eat or see a show. Wish I had that privilege now!”
Lou Marks was married to Delores Maye, an actress and dancer who taught ballet and tap dance.
And yes, Lou, Jr. is also a longtime performer, playing award-winning guitar locally and nationally with groups like Pretty Poison, Aviator, Don’t Call Me Francis, and Robert Hazard.
Check out the schedule for his Lehigh Valley classic rock band, the Lou Franco Project, here. Tuxedos and patent leather shoes optional.