This article originally appeared in the July 24, 1973 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
Joe Savino jumps up from behind his desk in an office at the old Pilgrim Theatre.
“You see my point?” he says, waving his cigar around. “I hadda give her $7,000 and a round-trip transportation from California and back, and you don’t even know who Tempest Storm is? You see my point?”
Amidst much hoopla, Joe Savino brought burlesque or burlesk back to the Hub last week, and the point he wanted to make was that no one understands it.
“Most people think burlesque is four, five, six strips,” he says. “Now we’ve got sex and plenty nudity, but yet we’re featuring our burlesque comics. The thing is like a Broadway show.”
Joe Savino put some forty odd people on the payroll for his show, and they treat him as if he were running all of Broadway. Three or four aides do his bidding, eighteen-year-old chorus girls hang around for a word from the boss, and stagehands nervously approach him to ask for advice about the stage lighting.
“If you want it, Joe,” says one, “We’ll do it.”
Savino seizes the opportunity.
“Anything that will perfect this show,” Savino says to them, “is worth any price.”
But Savino is more than a showman, he is one of the four powers behind Boston’s Combat Zone.
In addition to the Pilgrim, Savino’s current holdings include the Beantown Lounge (41, 45 Essex St.); Dinty Moore’s (8, 10 Haymarket Place); the Normandy Lounge (25, 31 Essex St.), (described by police as one of their prime “trouble spots”); and the hard-core State Theatres I and II, (617-629 Washington St.).
Savino also owns the 183rd St. Burlesque Theatre in Miami.
And he admits it all, including his period as a “nudie” film financier. No, he says, he is not worried about the Supreme Court’s recent decision on pornography, because “you should see the film library I’ve built up.”
“I can switch between hard-core and soft core like that,” says Joe Savino. “We don’t anticipate trouble. This thing is a constant process of inquiry, you see. My lawyers and I, we keep asking ‘em what’s proper.”
Joe Savino will tell you all about his life: about how he sold candy at Werber’s burlesque theatre in Brooklyn as a kid, about how he came to Boston in 1939 and worked at theatre concession stands, how he brought his own stands in ’41. He will tell you how he bought a North End bar, a burlesque house in Newburyport, then the old LaSalle Hotel, then the theatres and lounges.
He will tell you he did all this on his own and that he does not think there is any Mob money in the Combat Zone.
And when he is finished, he will remind you of his frankness.
“One thing you gotta remember,” he says, “is I gave an open interview in the light of day, you see my point?”
Savino does have a point: the major powers in the Combat Zone are not given to granting interviews. Police sources say, in fact, that the openness of Savino’s holdings is a rarity in the area.
Available public records, the sources say, are often useless in determining the real backers of particular Combat Zone operations.