Chris Nashawaty
June 27, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Last Good Time

Current Status
In Season
Jonathan Van Meter
History, Nonfiction

We gave it a B-

Paul ”Skinny” D’Amato wouldn’t exist without Atlantic City, and Atlantic City wouldn’t exist without Skinny. Or, so argues this dual biography of New Jersey’s wicked little city by the sea and its unofficial ambassador of vice, dice, and everything nice. On his own, D’Amato isn’t nearly as interesting as Van Meter seems to think he is — he’s just another Mobbed-up club owner who dressed as if he were colorblind. What elevates him is the ritzy clientele of his 500 Club a half century ago: Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis. Martin & Lewis put Skinny’s joint on the map when they debuted their half-sozzled/half-spastic act there in 1946. Van Meter paints D’Amato as a ring-a-ding-ding Zelig: a mystery man wheeling and dealing with the Mafia; greasing JFK’s way into the Oval Office; and inventing the Rat Pack. But the evidence isn’t really there. Van Meter hangs too much on Skinny, and the book buckles under the weight. And in the places we most want to hear something fresh — JFK’s dalliances, Frank’s flair, Marilyn’s demons — we get rehashed anecdotes ripped from the pages of other, better books.

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