SKYLINER BALLROOM. The Skyliner Ballroom was a night spot on "Thunder Road," the 3½-mile stretch of the Jacksboro Highway between Tiffin Hall's Mexican Inn and the Skyline Drive Motel in north Fort Worth. This strip sported eighteen restaurants, six liquor stores, seven nightclubs, and ten motels. The Skyliner Ballroom, one of the wildest and most colorful clubs on the strip, was established in the late 1930s when platinum recording artist George Campbell and his partner Gene Hames decided to open a club, both men wishing to get into the lucrative and burgeoning entertainment business on the north side of Fort Worth.
At its inception, the Skyliner Ballroom was by far the largest dance hall in Fort Worth, playing host to as many as 500 of the city's upper-income couples. The white stucco building held 2,500 square feet of maroon plastic dance floor, surrounded by blue carpeting, furnished with wine and rose colored couches and armchairs, all reflected by numerous mirrors, and decorated with a mural of the Fort Worth skyline at the entrance. Campbell's fourteen-piece black-tie orchestra serenaded the dancers. Many popular big bands played at the club. One of the regular performers who packed the Skyliner with his elaborate musical acts was Denny Beckner.
Despite bringing prominent national acts to the club, such as Louis Armstrong, Hames and Campbell could not meet their overhead. The two partners eventually sold out to F. A. Florence, and Florence eventually sold out to W. D. Satterwhite. Satterwhite hired the Jewel Box Revue, a cast of female impersonators, to perform musical numbers in the club. Although business soon tripled with the addition of the female impersonators, so did fistfights, once the unwitting male patrons realized they were dancing and flirting with men.
In the 1950s Satterwhite also opened the Annex Club, a small gambling room run by gangsters Tincy Eggleston, Nelson Harris, and Howard Stripling. In addition to gambling, the Annex Club offered X-rated movies, strip shows, and other illegal activities. By 1954 Satterwhite sold the Skyliner club to Jimmy Levens and his partner, Emmett Spinks.
Levens hired Charlie Applewhite, a former actor from the Milton Berle Show, who became a regular headlining performer and singer at the Skyliner Ballroom. Levens also hired the famous stripper and dancer Sherry Lynn for late-night performances. Another famous dancer, Candy Barr, worked as a stripper at the Skyliner, but she eventually ended up in prison. Miss Barr was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana, but many claim that the real reason she was sentenced to fifteen years in prison (she served three) is that she would not give information to authorities about her Las Vegas gangster boyfriend, Mickey Cohen.
Other notables who performed at the Skyliner Ballroom include Nick Lucas, who popularized "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" long before Tiny Tim. Ike and Tina Turner recorded their live show at the Skyliner (along with some recordings made at Lovall's Ballroom in Dallas), and the recording was subsequently released in two volumes, the first of which came out in 1965 as Live! The Ike & Tina Turner Show. Sally Rand, Rudy Vallee, and Delbert McClinton also performed at the club. McClinton's band played Blue Monday nights at the Skyliner Ballroom as the backing band for headliners. He received a first-class tutelage from such masters of blues as Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson. McClinton claimed about his nights at the Skyliner, "I was at the right place at the right time and knew it." After Levens died in 1966, the club closed and stood abandoned for three years. In April 1969, condemned by city inspectors, it was demolished.
Ann Arnold, Gamblers and Gangsters: Fort Worth's Jacksboro Highway in the 1940s and 1950s (Austin: Eakin Press, 1998). Delbert’s Biography (http://delbert.com/biography.htm), accessed November 23, 2011.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Jahue E. Anderson, "Skyliner Ballroom," accessed February 13, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xds01.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on June 19, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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