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.
But despite difficulties in obtaining information, in addition to Savino, three other groups appear to control most of the Combat Zone’s operations.
The first group, say the sources, is the Venius Brothers – Teddy and Louie – who allegedly got their start in what is called the treasury racket, a gaming operation similar to the numbers.
Although their names do not appear on any available public records, the Venius Brothers are reported to control the Two O’Clock Lounge 642 Washington St.; the Picc-A-Dilly 657 Washington St.; the Twin-X Cinema 669-675 Washington St.; the Capri Theatre 701 Washington St.; Jerome’s Lounge 666 Washington St.; and a “live model” studio over the Twin-X.
The brothers are reportedly interested in opening another establishment in Park Square, according to Boston Police.
A second group of brothers, the Balliros, run the Intermission Lounge (663 Washington) and have a piece of the Attic Lounge (103 Stewart) and the Champagne Room (227 Tremont) according to the source.
One of the brothers, Joe “Da Gangster,” is currently serving time on a federal charge of receiving stolen goods. Another, Rocco, is doing time for murder.
The Balliros are often represented in their legal entanglements by a cousin, Joe “Da Lawyer.”
And finally there is Joseph N. Palladino of Saugus, Massachusetts’ king of porn. Operating under several corporate names, Palladino is responsible for distributing most of the pornographic literature in the state, transporting it here by truck from New York.
There is reason to believe that Palladino is Mob-connected, according to one police source. In 1970 he set up a company called United Books, Inc., along with one Carlo Mastrototaro.
Mastrototaro, who the source identified as “up there on any Mob list,” is currently serving time after conviction in a stolen bonds case.