Swimming with the Stars
Tailpipe missed those palmy scotch-on-the-rocks days when Fort Lauderdale was a civilized little haven for celebrities like Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Bob Hope, and Jackie Gleason. Celebrity golf tournaments at the Coral Ridge Country Club, big-name television broadcasts, tennis tournaments of the stars at the now-defunct Le Club International, impromptu performances by famous recording artists, or just exclusive little tête-à-têtes with high-profile personalities on the Fort Lauderdale beach — those were heady days, all right.
Public relations and advertising exec Jack Drury, who has represented — and befriended — a lot of those television and movie biggies, decided last year it was time for a book about all of that. "I was in Barnes & Noble one day and saw all these books by Arcadia Publishing," says Drury, 77, an imposing, gregarious man who was once a member of the Seton Hall championship basketball team in New Jersey. "City histories. Lots of pictures. I said, 'That's my kind of publisher.'"
Drury's photo-packed Fort Lauderdale: Playground of the Stars was released this week by Arcadia. Focused mostly on the 1960s and '70s, when Drury was starting up his own firm, it offers a glimpse of an era when the city was a lot quieter and a lot more celebrity-friendly — at least, when it wasn't in the midst of Spring Break.
Mostly, stars came to town to escape the sizzle of their professional lives, Drury says. Cary Grant and his young bride Dyan Cannon wanted a quiet afternoon of waterskiing. Carson and McMahon needed a place to get away from it all to work on new material. Celebrated members of the New York Yankees like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who trained at Lockhart Stadium (now Fort Lauderdale Stadium), just wanted places to eat and drink and meet the ladies. Drury was there as a genial can-do guy, ready to help out and, in time, to hang out.
But Drury didn't know what he was getting into when cinema sex pistol Jayne Mansfield and her husband Mickey Hargitay came to town in February 1962. Mansfield was prime paparazzi bait in those days, and a scrum of photographers followed wherever she went. One of Drury's clients, Gill Hotels, invited Mansfield to stay at its Jolly Roger Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach. There were photo and autograph sessions there and at other Gill hotels; then the couple, along with Drury, took a side excursion to the Bahamas.
In Nassau, Drury and the Hargitays, after another round of publicity photos (this time on water skis), decided to escape to a small island. A sudden storm blew in, their boat broke loose and smashed on a reef, and the threesome were stranded on an uninhabited piece of sand.
Tailpipe can imagine the media storm that blew in when word got out that one of Hollywood's hottest mamas was lost at sea. Drury's book has reproductions of front-page headlines ("Push Air-Sea Search for Jayne Mansfield," was the wood on Chicago's American). Then, there were the rescue stories — a lot of them suspicious that the whole episode might have been just a publicity stunt.
Hargitay, a former Mr. Universe, was so frustrated by reporters' questions, Drury says, that he offered to fly members of the press, with nothing but bathing suits, to an undeveloped Bahamian strip during a stormy February night.
So what was really going on out there that night? Drury is still a little touchy on the subject. His night with an international sex symbol (along with her husband) was pretty much a disaster, he says.
"It was dark, We were just sitting on the island with no clothes except bathing suits. Jayne was covered with hives. Mickey cut his leg on a rock." Did they huddle? "Exactly. We took turns being in the middle. Believe me, there was no thought about being with one of the great sex stars of the world. We were freezing our asses off."
There, at last, is the scoop the world's been waiting for.
Here's another scoop. University of South Florida researchers have concluded what Tailpipe's readers already knew: Red-light cameras at traffic intersections are a hazard. The report, by professors at USF's College of Public Health and published in the March Florida Public Health Review, studies trends in red-light running in Florida and analyzes the automobile insurance industry's financial interest in cameras.
"Intuitively, cameras appear to be a good idea," the report says. "However, comprehensive studies conclude cameras actually increase crashes and injuries, providing a safety argument not to install them."
The idea behind the cameras is that they provide a deterrent to potential red-light runners by threatening financial punishment, the report says. A sensible solution, eh? Quick justice for the violator, revenue for the city. Not.
"Rigorous and robust studies conclude," the report says, "that cameras are associated with increased crashes and costs."
The researchers found, among other things, that there's a 40 percent increase in accident rates at intersections where the cameras have been installed, and a 2 percent increase in injuries and fatalities.
The reason: Drivers making abrupt stops to avoid getting nailed with tickets.
Are you listening Pembroke Pines and Hallandale Beach (two cities now considering installing red-light cameras)?
Next Stop, Hong Kong
The stars may be gone (or hiding out at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino), but the past does seem to hang around in Fort Lauderdale.
Julie Perry, 33, a former yacht stewardess who served the likes of Richard Branson, was having a smashing time on a New Year's Eve pub crawl when she and a friend hopped into a rickshaw on the beach. How devil-may-care on a festive occasion! But as the operator pedaled across Las Olas Bridge, a vehicle came out of the dark and plowed into the commercial pedi-cab.
Perry was thrown 15 feet across the bridge, leaving her with a broken clavicle, a fractured skull, a fractured pelvis, a nice concussion, and an ever-increasing pile of medical bills. Aside from the broken bones, Perry has been left deaf in her right ear and partially paralyzed on the right side of her face.
"I can't blink," she told Tailpipe the other day. "I have to carry eye drops everywhere I go."
For the average citizen, an odd, anomalous little story. (Rickshaws? How quaint. Here?) For Perry, damn near a tragedy.
She should certainly have a little compensation coming her way. Unfortunately, the vehicle that caused the accident fled, and no witnesses have come forward to identify it. So, it's the pedi-cab company that will have to cough up some medical benefits.
Sure, Kevin Green, owner of Elite Bicycles, including the pedi-cab in question, had an insurance policy. But when Perry followed up on that, the policy turned out to be an empty shell.
In addition, Green, who couldn't be reached for comment, has an apparently spotty past. In 2005 he approached the City of Fort Lauderdale with a request for permits to operate pedi-cabs. According to city documents, officials had some questions about Green's alleged record. Police raised enough questions that they denied a recommendation to award him the permits. In a police memorandum to the Community Services Advisory Board, police described a history that includes an assault near the beach and battery on a police officer.
Despite the police recommendation for denial, the board and, later, the City Commission voted to approve his permits. No one in the city apparently called to confirm Green's insurance policy.
Perry and the friend she was riding with, Suki Finnerty, are planning to file a civil action against the city, Green, and the driver of the pedi-cab. Finnerty's lawyer, Dino Galardi, is doubtful about the outcome.
"Mr. Green has no insurance," Galardi says. "I don't know what kind of assets he has. From what I've been able to ascertain, he's sort of a flim-flam character." And as far as the city's concerned? "I don't see any clear-cut liability. My gut reaction is that it may not be worth pursuing."
Meanwhile, Perry's left arm still doesn't work right, and she's out of work.
Says Perry: "I'm beginning to think it takes either connections or a lot of money to get anything done in this town."
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