1951 -


“When I Worked at Finocchios"

by Diana Ricci





            This memory dates way back.  


            World War Two had ended and there was a mass migration from the colder climes in the east to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in California.   A lot of soldiers who had been stationed there wanted to return, remembering how much they liked it and how much better the weather was and, I believe, many went with their families to southern California.  A lot of recent college graduates with tendencies toward what we called Bohemianism,  went to San Francisco.  I was one of them.  North Beach in San Francisco was the Greenwich Village of the west coast. 


            I got off the train in the fall of 1947.  I was twenty-three years old, sans job and sans much money.   But I and lots of others survived some way, some how.  I was a part time artist’s model.  A friend worked in a pawn shop.  And another friend got a job with Social Services in the relatively new Old Age Welfare Program.  A couple of years later, it became obvious to me that if you had no particular training or skills which a BA in Liberal Arts didn’t provide, that social work or teaching was the job market available in those days.  So I went back to school to get a teaching credential.


            The challenge was to come up with enough money, for rent, food, and transportation,  and the occasional glass of wine at 12 Adler Place or Vesuvio’s  across the street, both on Columbus Avenue.  I never was a big consumer of the red stuff and there was always some kind man who would  offer to buy me a glass, so rent at $35.00 a month,  food at about $1.00 a day, and transportation to and from San Francisco State at ten cents each way was all that I really needed.


            I had a friend who was married to an Italian waiter, who had made lots of money during the war, but struggled in the post war years, and with two children, she had to earn some extra money.  That came about from a company who put a Polaroid camera in her hands and told her to hit the nightclubs.  While working at one of them, Finocchios on Broadway, she found they needed a program vendor, information she conveyed to me knowing I needed a job.  You, see, it was a famous club and had been for quite a few years.  The entertainers were drag queens and the patrons were generally naďve mid-westerners who needed a program to assure them that they were being entertained by men dressed as women.


            To get the job, I had to approach the boss – Mrs. Finocchio.  An appointment was made to see her and I had to go to the nightclub for an interview.  I remember walking up the stairs to the entertainment hall.  There was a rather big stage with all the accoutrements necessary like curtains and backstage dressing rooms.  The patrons sat at tables that stretched across the lowered space in the front of the stage.  I don’t remember how many rows there were but I estimate there were enough tables and chairs for 100 people.  There was an admission charge to enter.  Seating was at a table  and  you  ordered drinks from the liquor menu while you watched the show.   But I am getting ahead of myself.  When I got to the top of the stairs, I was met by a well-dressed older woman.  She wore expensive looking clothes that included a fur piece that was popular back then.  To me it was gross with a little fox head that draped above her bosom on one side and a fox tail on the other side.  And a rather large bosom it was.  She was top heavy.  Her legs were thin and appeared a bit bowed.  She wore modest heels that contributed to her matronly looks.  She was short and not attractive,  but might have been in her younger years.  Her husband, Mr. Finocchio was not particularly handsome but very debonair.  


            I told her I could work nights, including week-ends.   She hired me, showed me the programs, and informed me that my earnings were 10 cents for each program I sold.   I was to be there at 10 pm and at 12 pm – I seem to remember that there were two shows every night.   


            So my work began that very night.  I walked between the rows of tables carrying a stack of programs – they sold for 50cents each.  Most nights I did okay,  that is I left the joint with a couple of dollars – don’t remember exactly – except for one night – New Years’ Eve.   That was when I sold many programs and got  lots of tips – working until the wee hours of the morning.  I made twenty-five bucks that one night! 


            The job also entailed answering questions:  mainly about the gender truth of especially  one of the more glamorous stars who wore  a svelte ankle length gown with high heels and a blond wig and sang songs.  The persona happened to be tall with a good figure and a pretty feminine face.  Most of the nightly audiences didn’t believe they were seeing a man.  I assured them that while I didn’t know the performer personally, I did see the person leaving the theater in a man’s suit.  Others in the show sang songs, danced or had comedic acts.  One older entertainer- who I was told had been there for at least 12 years-  was a good song and dance act,  and quite funny.  The audience sure laughed when at the end of the skit, out came the rubber tits and off they went bouncing across the stage.  Answering their disbeliefs was time consuming and boring – it was always the same question, over and over again and obviously by unworldly customers who had never seen anything like that before.  People flocked to the nightclub to see the show having heard about Finocchios.  It was a famous place in San Francisco.  People also came in tour groups.  There were different people every night – I didn’t meet any repeaters.  It was generally the same show time after time and for me it was just a tiresome job.


            I survived the job for the school semester.  I never returned to see the show, not even with friends of mine who came to San Francisco as first time tourists.  But I know that Finocchios continued to exist for years after I was long gone.


            I don’t know when it actually closed its doors but I was in San Francisco, walking along Broadway Street one day in 2005, when I turned a corner and noticed that it was no longer there.


            Bye, bye, I thought, to the unique and wonderful spectacle which was …Finocchios!


*  *  *



NOTE:  Diana Ricci has lived in Oaxaca for more than fifteen years and has long been a friend of Bill Wolf.  Visit her and her partner Stan Gotlieb's beautiful and insightful, personal website called A Letter form Oaxaca.