See that headline above? I read that on a poster for a local newspaper as I was leaving San Francisco on November 24, 1983.
I just had to buy that paper and was stunned to read the article, a yellowed clipping of which I still have. This is the article by Stephen Maganini and this is how he handled a very difficult subject: The assistant manager of The Condor nightclub was crushed to death early yesterday when an elevator piano accidentally rose to the ceiling while he was entangled atop it with a young woman. James (Jimmy the Beard) Ferrozzo, 40, a longtime employee of the North Beach topless club, was caught between the spangled piano and the ceiling while he was lying partially on top of his 23-year old girlfriend, Theresa Hill, police said. The accident on the piano – a prop used by topless star Carol Doda – happened between 4 and 6 am yesterday. Angel Vincente, the club’s janitor, found the couple pinned between the piano and ceiling 15 feet off the ground at 7:30 am, police said. They remained stuck in the air until 10:15 am when the fire department’s rescue team was finally able to free the hysterical nude woman.
When I returned to South Africa, I related this story to family and friends and was met with ridicule. I couldn’t find the news clipping to prove the validity of the story. In 2007, Monica and I took a 23-hour flight from Johannesburg to San Francisco. One evening, we were strolling in an area known for its jazz and stepped into a club. I noticed a white gilded piano on a small stage and thought no more of it. Well, you’re way ahead of me. We were in the Condor Club and, yes, that was the defiled piano. The manager overheard me, dulcet tones as usual, relating the tale to Monica. He joined us, and on learning that I write a tad, gave us the full story. In a family magazine such as The Jassman, I cannot reveal all the sordid details. But, I have done some research on articles written by various US reporters and am happy to quote some of them. You may find the details a little Runyonesque at times, but such is the style of American hacks.
So, sit back and enjoy the writing skills of our American cousins.
Warning: Sensitive souls may be offended!
The Condor Club in North Beach, closed since the bizarre death of its assistant manager, may reopen tonight, police said. The Condor has been sealed since James Ferrozzo was found sandwiched between the ceiling and a white baby grand piano that topless star Carol Doda uses in her act. Ferrozzo, who was fully clothed, and his naked girlfriend, who lay under him, had to be freed by the Fire Department’s rescue team. Medical Examiner Boyd Stephens has suggested that Ferrozzo may have died from asphyxiation when he was trapped between the piano and the ceiling. Ferrozzo was pronounced dead at the scene. His girlfriend was treated for bruises. She told investigators that she had been drinking and remembered little. The piano is raised and lowered by a cable mechanism, and police speculated that Ferrozzo’s foot had accidentally hit the “up” switch. “There are a lot of questions,” said Daniel Rosenberg, a former public relations man for the club. “It’s pretty hard to believe a guy like that – a rough, tough, John Wayne-type guy – could get so pie-eyed that he’d get squished like a grape on top of a piano with a girl.” Here then follows the true story, from the man himself, Mr. Walter Pastore: “Okay, the joint was closed, four in the morning, and my friend Jimmy, we called him ‘Jimmy The Beard’ — great guy by the way — so The Beard has this cocktail waitress up on the top of the piano and they’re both completely nude right? Except he’s wearing cowboy boots, go figure! So evidently, she’s on her back with her legs spread and The Beard is going down, you know, right there, and this is the amazing part … I mean, later, the guys from the fire department figured the toe of The Beard’s boot must have accidentally hit the switch to the motor. So the piano starts up slow, and they’re out of their brains, so they don’t notice … and Dave, when it gets to the ceiling it shoves the Beard’s face into her crotch so hard he can’t breathe … so, Jimmy got smothered to death in her rug, right there”. “And get this, the reason why she was saved was because Jimmy was so big, I mean his head and shoulders — this guy had tried out for the Dallas Cowboys Dave, oh yea — anyway, his shoulders left her just enough breathing space to survive. And the motor didn’t have a clutch see, so it just kept pulling until it burned out, and then she was stuck up there with Jimmy’s face like that, for hours until the janitor came in the morning and called the police. They called the fire department, and then the fire guys couldn’t get the motor to release, so they had to use a chain-saw and cut a hole in the ceiling to get her out”.
Remember, I and my good-lady wife were in that Club and the story was verified by the manager at that time.