That's Show Business
Outdoor seating at Jones Beach Theater
While going to college in the early 1950s, my summer employment was as a toll collector at Jones Beach State Park on the southern shore of Long Island, New York. It was mostly a boring job, standing in the broiling sun for eight hours, breathing noxious carbon monoxide fumes. One of the job's advantages was wearing a crisp white deck officer's uniform, designed in the park's marine motif.
In my first summer at work, 1952, there was an evening performance of a musical, "A Night In Venice" at the newly constructed outdoor theater. All the toll collectors were to support this event by handing an advertisement flyer to each patron as they paid the sixty-cent toll. Most people paid with a dollar bill, so the collector was required to give back the change -- usually a quarter, dime and nickel -- as well as the flyer. When cars were backed up by the hundreds at the tollbooths and a small child made payment with sticky hands, the flyer was clearly not a high priority.
One day early in that first summer, the collectors noticed a man standing behind the toll plaza, watching the cars passing through the booths. He was the show's producer, Mike Todd, a successful Broadway showman. He demanded that we hand out flyers to all cars.
Since he couldn't watch us every day, a bureaucratic control system was set up to ensure compliance. Each toll plaza would receive a specific number of flyers, and reorders had to match the traffic count. But the supervisors and collectors were up to the challenge -- at the end of every workday, the collectors' cars were loaded with packages of flyers. We also made sure the driver was offered a flyer, and we then asked whether each other person in the car wanted one. These mini-transactions caused such massive traffic delays that it wasn't long before the rules changed: Flyers were to be distributed only during non-rush hours.
The show was moderately successful, despite the problems of rain cancellations and the effect of the ocean winds on the sound system and scenery. Mike Todd went on to bigger productions in the movie world ("Around the World in 80 Days"); he created the movie projection process called Todd-AO; and he was the third husband of actress Elizabeth Taylor. He died in 1958 at age 50 in an accident on his private plane, which was named "The Lucky Liz."
I have many memories of Jones Beach. Fortunately for me I still live on Long Island
and can get to the beach as often as I want. Please read more about Jones Beach
and check out this nostalgia rich Jones Beach documentary.