Henry Sacks on his song writing –
“I’ll tell you right now, to be honest about it, everything write, I I make fun of people. But I do it with a smile on my face, and a smile in my heart. I don’t try to hurt nobody, and people don’t get mad at me.”
A Ockershausen: Hi. It’s Andy Ockershausen and this is Our Town. We’re speaking with one of the great bonafide local characters of all time. A man I have known intimately for over 75 years. Henry, this goes back to the playgrounds. Sherwood for you and Rosedale for me in Northeast Washington, D.C. Henry Sacks, who most of the guys we grew up with called you Dave Sacks. How did this happen?
Henry Sacks: Middle name.
A Ockershausen: What middle name, Henry?
Henry Sacks: David.
A Ockershausen: Oh. I never knew that. Why are we all calling you Dave?
Henry Sacks: Damn if I know. I never figured that out either.
A Ockershausen: Why didn’t you say something, Henry? What’d they say when you went in the Army? Henry or Dave?
Henry Sacks: They said, “Wake up.”
Growing Up in Southeast DC
A Ockershausen: Henry grew up, as I did in Washington, D.C. in the playgrounds because that was our lives and the Boys Club. Southeast Boys Club, Henry, where you were a member. Don’t fall out of the chair please.
Henry Sacks: No. No. No. Charlie Reynolds?
A Ockershausen: Absolutely. We had a wonderful place that we both worked on called H Street Northeast, which is now a big industrial and restaurant place, Henry.
Henry Sacks: Right.
A Ockershausen: Have you been down to H Street recently?
Henry Sacks: No, but Cully was telling me. He says he’s going to pick me up. We’re going to ride there. I want to see my old house on K Street.
A Ockershausen: Well, you can see it all.
Henry Sacks: Pop paid $2,800 for it. They’re going for a million and a half now.
A Ockershausen: Too bad you don’t live there, but Henry worked … I don’t know whether he worked or hustled at a pool room on H Street.
Henry Sacks: Three of them.
A Ockershausen: I was working there, at a print shop that was folding. The Kiplinger Letter, I was reading that when I was in high school. I didn’t know what Kiplinger meant, but I read the letter every Saturday night before people got it on Monday, and Henry, I found out more than you did at the pool room.
Henry Sacks: Well, the pool room was a way of life then, Andy. You know what I mean? In fact, the main thing about Gus’s pool room down at 9th and H Street Northeast, it had the greatest hamburger the planet has ever had. 15 cents. It had the big piece of hamburger meat, and all that stuff, and cole slaw on it.
A Ockershausen: What were you doing with a hamburger in a pool room?
Henry Sacks: Get some lunch, man. You’ve got to eat something at the little café up front. The guy, Sam, that run it, we used to call him Chewing Tobacco Sam. He chewed tobacco, and when you ordered hamburgers you’d say, “Give me a hamburger with everything, no tobacco juice.” He’s spitting all the time.
A Ockershausen: Henry, that’s one block from Club Kavakos.
Henry Sacks: One block from the most famous place that ever was. It was maybe the greatest nightclub in the history of Washington. Let me tell you how strong it was. When the New York Yankees won the world championship, it was either ’54 or ’55, I’ve got the picture of them on my wall. The big guys came down there to celebrate. Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, they were all at the table, and they came down there.
A Ockershausen: To Kavakos?
Henry Sacks: Yes. It was a hot place, Andy. Pete Generos was the biggest bookmaker in Washington. He used to own Rocky Marciano. The only way Marciano could get a shot at the title, which he kept for 49 fights, for Pete to get rid of him. So Al Weill, the big guy in the fight racket come down from New York. He had all them dunskis with him, with their hands in the furry coats with the pockets, and the pointy shoes. They come down there that night to sign him over to Al Weill. Man, I went and got savvy. I was already over at the pool room. We were all sitting at the table, got a picture of that at home, too.
A Ockershausen: I saw that picture. What about the one you had of you and Joe DiMaggio?
Henry Sacks: Joe DiMaggio.
A Ockershausen: This is Northeast Washington, Our Town.
Henry Sacks: Yeah, Pete Generos knew everybody. They didn’t bet with him, I don’t want to start with all that crap like they did to Pete Rose. Just good friends with him. Pete helped all the nuns everywhere, he was just a good-hearted guy. Made a lot of money. I knew DiMaggio loved my crabs, so when he got traded.
A Ockershausen: Oh, we’ve got to tell that crab story about your famous crab recipe, but go ahead.
Henry Sacks: He went to, they traded him to Oakland and he was a batting instructor out there. So, he was coming in and Pete said, “Henry.” He called me up and said, “Joe wants some of your crabs while he’s in town.” I said, “Man, that sounds great.” In the meantime, they had lost Club Kavakis to the IRS. I was in there then. They shut them down. They owed $341,000 in back taxes. The place was packed every night. Johnny, my best friend, one of the brothers, he was in the Army. The other brother Billy was gambling, and the other brother, George, he rat-holed his money. Anyway, I picked up Joe DiMaggio at the stadium.
And they had bought a dumpy place down at 9th and F Northwest called the B&B. It was just a real one-eyed joint, a bar. So my wife, she was from Jersey. She begged me, because she’d go, because DiMaggio was always here. I took her and I said, “What you don’t do, you don’t dare mention Marilyn Monroe to Joe.” I mean, he loved her so much he goes crazy. You can’t even mention her name.
A Ockershausen: Uh-oh. That was the wrong thing to say, Henry.
Henry Sacks: So I says, “All right.” So DiMaggio comes down, Andy. He must have ate a dozen and a half crabs, and never took that suit and tie off, and he said, “Can we take a walk?” I said, “Yes sir.” That’s a true story, Andy. We walked out of that place, we’re walking down the street. Two doors down, we look in. Just looking in the window he says, “What the hell is this?” Pictures of naked women, guys naked with all their artillery hanging down there. Geez, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. We went in there and then Joe said, “Let’s get out of here. I don’t want to be seen in here.” I said, “Me either.” He said, “I’m from San Francisco, and we ain’t got nothing like this.” We go back in there, and this is my claim to fame. Janet Cavaga said just today they’ve been waiting to open. The Supreme Court made it legal to sell that stuff, them magazines and all that kind of stuff. I was with Joe DiMaggio when I saw my first pornographies.
A Ockershausen: Did you recognize it?
Henry Sacks: No, I’ve never been in there before. I never went back, before I forget it.
A Ockershausen: Did Joe go back?
Henry Sacks: No.
A Ockershausen: I thought for sure you were going to say Sonya, the first thing she said to him was, “How’s Marilyn?”
Henry Sacks: No, I had her trained for that.
Sonya Sacks and the Kids
A Ockershausen: Didn’t you say your wife, as I remember her, looked like Ava Gardner?
Henry Sacks: Exactly.
A Ockershausen: Looked like Earl Stanley Gardner to me.
Henry Sacks: When she died, and she couldn’t quit smoking and drinking that wine, when she died she looked more like Barbara Mikulski.
A Ockershausen: Barbara Mikulski?
Henry Sacks: But she was a good woman.
A Ockershausen: She was a wonderful woman. You have three wonderful children, and they take good care of you now?
Henry Sacks: Yeah.
Southeast Boys Club and Eastern High School
A Ockershausen: I think it’s a shame that those kids don’t have the benefit that we had of a Southeast Boys Club. They had something out in Silver Springs, out PG County, but nothing was as great as Southeast Boys Club, and all the things that we did. We both went to Eastern High School, that shall live in infamy now. It’s a big stadium there now, Henry.
Henry Sacks: Get out of here.
A Ockershausen: Yeah. A beautiful, beautiful stadium.
Henry Sacks: The school ain’t there no more?
A Ockershausen: They put lights on it. No. The back of the school, they rebuilt the football stadium.
Henry Sacks: You know, one of my fondest memories there? You remember who one of the gym coaches was, one of the most famous athletes that ever lived. Chief Guyon.
A Ockershausen: Oh, the Chief.
Henry Sacks: He played with the famous Carlisle Indians in Pennsylvania.
A Ockershausen: He played with Jim Thorpe.
Henry Sacks: He played with Jim Thorpe. Charlie Guyon was his cousin, was considered one of the greatest athletes who ever lived. The Chief had an old Model T Ford with the rumble seat in it. He just took a liking to me. He always had a bow tie on. He said, “Come on, let’s take a ride.” I’ll never forget, he was so pigeon toed. We got in that car, and we drove down to McGuire’s Tavern on Pennsylvania Avenue. As soon as we walked in the door, the guy put six draft beers up there. I reached for one, and I thought he was going to break my arm. No. “All right Chief, I’ll watch you drink them.” We drank ’em down, and we went back. Another story I’ve got with him, you remember Tommy Wingo?
A Ockershausen: Chief had an old dog he used to take with him.
Henry Sacks: Yes. You remember Tommy Wingo?
A Ockershausen: He always wanted a beer and an RWL wine.
Henry Sacks: He just drank that beer when I went down there with him to McGuire’s Tavern.
A Ockershausen: We know some characters, right Henry? Still do.
Tommy Wingo and Henry at the Racetrack
Henry Sacks: Yes. Remember Tommy Wingo?
A Ockershausen: Certainly.
Henry Sacks: Great guy we went to school with, good athlete. Him and Al and I would go to race track, and we’d have maybe a dollar, $1.50 between us. I don’t want too many kids to hear this, but if you take a soap chip, a piece of soap, put it up under your arm, leave it up there for about 15 minutes, it takes your temperature up. They had a nurse in the infirmary at Eastern, and I went in, she’d check our temperature, let us go, and we hitch hike out to the track.
A Ockershausen: You’d get out of school?
Henry Sacks: Yeah, we’d skip school. They had some stands out there, and it was free. I’ll never forget a guy out there booking, he didn’t have no hair. He said, “Get ’em in early with curly.” You could bet a quarter with him. We tried to win enough, make enough money to go inside the track.
A Ockershausen: With a quarter?
Henry Sacks: Yeah, bet a quarter outside. Illegal, but you know. Anyway, everything was good. It was such a good time.
A Ockershausen: Our Town, Henry. By God, we love it. We were talking about Chief Cullinane, Maury… Maurice Cullinane, our dear friend, the chief of police. We knew so many characters. We talked about Sidney Ho, the poor guy had an accident. He was one of the great racers of all time, right? And he had an accident and became a derelict.
Henry Sacks: Sidney Ho and three guys named Franny. Franny Tombs, Franny Burke, Franny Thibodeaux always used to hang in Sam’s pool room, down the street. They were coming back from North Beach.
A Ockershausen: Our place.
Henry Sacks: Had a real bad curve. They missed it, and it rolled over, and Sidney’s the only one that really got hurt. He was the handsomest guy in our school.
A Ockershausen: A movie star.
Henry Sacks: He had track records that they probably still haven’t broken, and he was gone after that. His life after that, he come to the bars.
A Ockershausen: He was a derelict, yeah.
Henry Sacks: He smoked them two for nickel cigars, and I never turned him down. I’d get him a 10 cent draft beer, he’d inhale the cigar and chug the beer and he’d waddle out.
A Ockershausen: He was a bum.
Henry Sacks: Then he used to sell eggs. Yeah, he turned into a bum. He had a little basket. He’d walk in different places selling eggs. It was pitiful, but he was a hell of a guy, you know?
A Ockershausen: Henry, you’ve got a great story that I want to hear. How in the world did you leave Our Town to work for the gas company? I’ve got to hear that whole story. We’re going take a break here first, Henry. When we come back, I want you to talk about the gas company, tell me what happened to you.
Henry Sacks: All right. This is fun.
Announcer: Our Town with Andy Ockershausen.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen.
Work Outside of Our Town
A Ockershausen: We’re back here on, Shipwreck Henry Day I call it. Wait a minute, before that, I want to find out about your career with the gas company. How did that happen?
Henry Sacks: When I first got out of high school, we had them summertime jobs, jumping for the post office. Everybody did that, the post office trucks, and you got like 50 cents an hour, and you’d jump packages off anyway.
A Ockershausen: Post office, right.
Henry Sacks: My first legal job, I got a job with the government at the Internal Revenue Service. $4,400 a year.
A Ockershausen: That’s a lot of money.
Henry Sacks: Yeah. I wasn’t long for that. Then a bunch of my buddies that were a little older than me. They got out of a high school, also didn’t go to school, hanging in the pool room. They were down at the unemployment office, and this guy coming in said, “We’ve got some work. We’re going to go all over the country putting in natural gas. The first big city we’re going to do is Washington, and you guys, after you’ve been with this company for a few years, working all over, you’ll be able to buy that farm.” His name was Hoot Adams. He was an old country boy. So, they got the job.
A Ockershausen: You’re converting from the other kind of gas.
Henry Sacks: From manufactured. Used to have those big holders, and got rid of them.
A Ockershausen: And then you went to natural gas.
Henry Sacks: And had to go into every house, every everything. Change all the equipment. So, they went to a little job up in upstate New York, a little small town. When they come back, they said they loved it. Man, making good money, making a dollar an hour, and now they’re going to go to $1.27. I’d have to start at a dollar an hour. I said, “Man, I’ve got to get into that.” I went down there, signed up, and the way I went, we went to Binghamton, and Endicott, and Johnson City, the three triple cities in New York. I’ll never forget, that’s the first time I ever saw one of them jukeboxes where you had the picture on it. We worked all over, and there was a lot of Russian and Polish people up there.
A Ockershausen: You traveled the country, didn’t you?
Henry Sacks: Oh my God, from Maine to Spain. Even one year in Canada. They had a Russian wedding, and they invited all of us. That thing lasted two weeks. They go to work, they come back that night, they go back and start drinking and dancing and everything again. It’s wonderful to see how the different parts.
A Ockershausen: The different cultures.
Henry Sacks: Like my father, he come from Ukraine. I said, “Pop, you ever want to go back for a visit?” He said, “Are you crazy? You taste the water over here, you don’t go nowhere.” His favorite saying was, “The boats come over here every day full, they go back empty. There must be something in this wonderful country.” That’s the way I grew up.
A Ockershausen: Tell us about one of the famous ladies you got close to in New Jersey.
Mrs. Sinatra – Frank Sinatra’s Mother
Henry Sacks: I was one of the first guys they hired. We worked in Brooklyn in 1951, and we had 6,000 guys working, so they made me a crew foreman. I didn’t want to take it, I was one of the youngest guys on the job. They said, “You’ve got to take it.” So, I give the guys their work. They come out at lunchtime, and we hired a lot of guys in Brooklyn. Now we’re working over in Jersey, and whenever they finish their work, we used to get paid 10 hours a day. I let them go anywhere they want. They go to the racetrack, wherever they want. I’d sign them out at night.
One of the guys named Mike Quinn, he was a great guy. He was from Staten Island, but he stayed drunk. His buddy would bring him in the morning, he’s drunk. I said, “Sleep it off, Mike.” He’d sleep in the car, then he’d wake up and go do his work. He said, “Hen, you’ve got to go in this house.” I said, “What’s the name on ticket?” Francis Albert Sinatra. I said, “Oh my God.”
A Ockershausen: The Francis Albert Sinatra?
Henry Sacks: Yeah, yeah. Well no, this was the father and the mother.
A Ockershausen: I understand.
Henry Sacks: Now, they were originally from Hoboken, and he was the fire chief in Weehawken, the next town. The father was not friendly at all. I only met him twice. He used to come out with the Italian undershirt on, smoking them little stinkers, them little cigars, you know? You can’t break ’em with a hammer. But she was a doll baby. Her name was Natalie. She was really Irish. Little, short thing. She said, “Well, they were just here. I only have one gas hot water heater in here.” I said, “I’ve got to inspect the job.” “Okay, come on in.” I’ll never forget it. You know the old people used to wear them little sweaters with the buttons down? She had a hole in both sleeves.
A Ockershausen: Sinatra’s mother?
Henry Sacks: Yeah. You’ve got something comfortable, you wear it. I loved her. She could not have been any nicer. I started going by, seeing her all the time. I was just going with Sonya at the time, introduced them. Sonya would take her shopping. She told me about a place in Hoboken called the Clam Broth House.
A Ockershausen: You’ve been promoting that place for years.
Henry Sacks: To this day, there’s never been another place. It was huge, right on the waterfront. In there you hear “Woo,” boats right across. You can go take a ferry ride across to Manhattan. One day I was over there, and I wish I would have brought it, it’s down the basement. She had this little envelope there. She said, “Look what I got from my son yesterday.” She opened it up, she was very, very religious, and he wasn’t too much. One of her best friends was Cardinal Cushing from New England. Frank sent her this religious brooch, she said, “I bet he paid $5,000 for it.” It was unbelievable. She had just thrown that thing away. I said, “What are you going to do work that envelope?” She said, “Give it to you.”
Women’s Smocks – A Side Job
Henry Sacks: Everywhere there was a factory up there, they always had a guy that was taking a little something. In Jersey they had a little saying, “What Jersey makes, the world takes.” That little state had so much industry in it, and South Jersey was the greatest farm country. I went in this one place to just check it out. I didn’t have nothing to do all day. I gave them their work, I walk around here, and the guy come up to me. He was in charge of the place. His name was Frankie Carol. I said, “What are you making here? It’s huge.” Women’s smocks. You come home from church on Sunday, you don’t want to change your clothes, you put the little smock on and you do your cooking and everything.
Oh my God, he said, “They sell 15, 20 dollars on sale.” I said, “Man, I’d like to get some of them and sell them. Come on.” He started selling them to me for 50 cents a piece. I was getting crates of them, and guess who was my greatest salesman? Nick Miller. Sonya was working for Curtis-Martin Aircraft then, and she said, “You can’t sell nothing there,” but oh my God could I sell them things. I said, “Never mind, I’m going to take some of them.”
A Ockershausen: What are you selling them for? You’re buying them for 50 cents.
Henry Sacks: A dollar and a half.
A Ockershausen: So you’re making a lot of money.
Henry Sacks: Yeah. Even when I had a layoff on the job, we’d work eight or nine months a year and then I’d come home. Pop says, “Why does that railway express truck keep pulling up in front of this house with them boxes?” “Pop, don’t worry about it. It’s legal. Everything’s fine.”
A Ockershausen: Then, how did you get reconnected to town? Because you were a stranger for a long time.
Henry Sacks Reconnects with Our Town
Henry Sacks: I was out of town 20 years on that job. Come home a couple of months a year. This is the best part of the story. Johnny Kavakos, who we talked about before, everybody loved Johnny. Dead broke when they shut the club down, when the father died they were millionaires. They had 10 or 12 apartment houses. But Johnny was wonderful. I taught him how to cut a card game. I started a card game in his house, and then during Redskins season, you know how hard them tickets, even back then were to get, Johnny would take in 10, 15 guys a week. He kept the miniatures of whiskey in his pocket, he’d give the guy on the gate some whiskey and everything, and Tommy Sullivan, who was a lieutenant in the police department, Number 5 Southeast, he worked on the lot.
Washington Redskins Football Games – Henry Finds His Own Way In
Henry Sacks: One of my all-time friends, Pete Cattucci, he worked on the parking lot, so I was working between the three of them, we was getting guys in. Every week, I was something different. One week, no lie, I went in as a doctor. I had that little black pouch. Guy said, “Wait.” I got somebody to call me. I went in. One day, I’m standing out there waiting to go in that stadium and I hear this loud voice, “Henry!” Who in the hell is that? “Come here!” And I looked, it was him. And I said, “He can’t be pointing at me. He’s got a three piece suit on. That can’t be Andy, when I left town, no way. Andy, what are you doing?”
“Come on, I’ve got a ticket for you.” “You’ve got a silver ticket?” I said, “Man, I don’t want no ticket. Tickets to get in this place? Are you crazy?” I said, “You’ll ruin my reputation.” And the guy with him says, “He ain’t going to get in this place without a ticket.” Andy’s like, “You want to bet that he’ll get in here?” Andy bet him five dollars. Now, you know Andy don’t think no more of five dollars than he does a right eye. He bet this guy five dollars that I would get in that stadium. For years, I said, “Tell me where you’re sitting.” He wrote down where their seats were. I was about three minutes after the kickoff, I reached over and tapped him on the shoulder, “Give me my five.”
He beat the guy that five dollars. Years later, I found out who he was with. Do you know who it was? Edward Bennett Williams and Margo Jurgensen. He was with the owner of the stadium, and he bet him five dollars that I wouldn’t get in there.
A Ockershausen: You got in.
Henry Sacks: Oh, yeah.
A Ockershausen: How did this lead to your career has a restaurateur, or as they say, a guy that ran a restaurant?
Henry Sacks: Let’s get back to the beginning. I’m so proud of this guy.
A Ockershausen: It’s not about me, though, Henry.
Henry Sacks: Wait a minute. Nobody in my life has been better to me than this guy. We both went down the same path, and he went this way, I went that way. He became as big as you can possibly get in what he did. Now, I took the path, I am probably the world’s most successful failure, but I’ve loved every minute of it, okay? I’m in the twilight of a very mediocre career. I came back. Tommy Curo heard I was in town. You know, when I left town, he was laying brick during the day and driving a cab at night, trash poor. I heard now, he was a manager at a Lincoln Mercury dealership.
A Ockershausen: In Laurel, right.
From Car Salesman to Restaurateur – Shipwreck Henry’s
Henry Sacks: Yeah. “Henry, you’ve got to sell cars.” I said, “Man, I ain’t never sold nothing in my life.” He says, “You’re full of crap. You’ve been selling all your life.” Selling what? He said, “What do you think you do when you go in a pool room? You’re selling the game. You make a game with a guy, that’s selling.” So he said, “You’re going to start selling cars.” He said, “The people that own my company, they’re getting ready to own a Volkswagen dealership.” I told him where I live, out there by you, Freestate, and he said, “I’m going to get you a job there.” He called, and he got me a job there. I hated selling cars. I didn’t like dealing with the public, but then I wound up wholesaling cars. Then, I got out of wholesaling cars. I got tired of it. I mean, before I got into wholesaling, John Ponchak owned, I met him through his son.
A Ockershausen: The electronics place.
Henry Sacks: Yeah. His son played ball with my son in the Boys Club. Him and Skip McMahon wanted to open up a restaurant. They put up the money, and I was going to run it.
A Ockershausen: You were going to name it, too.
Henry Sacks: Yeah. Shipwreck Henry’s.
A Ockershausen: They all got into that naming.
Henry Sacks: Shipwreck Henry’s. Every day but Monday, I had people standing in line to get in there, that’s how good the food was. He’d send all these big shots from the media that come in, and that one lady, you remember that story? What was her name? She was mean at first, but she was a big shot and all that. You sent her down with some people, and there’s people waiting in line to get in. She called me. She says, “Andy sent us down here. We don’t want to wait in line.” I said, “How am I going to do this? You want to come around the back, through the alley?” And she got hot.
So she waited in line, then she got in there. When she got through she said, “I want to apologize. That’s the best seafood I ever ate in my life.” She was really nice after that. She started going down here. You knew her real well. I cannot forget her name.
A Ockershausen: It was called Shipwreck Henry. You’ve got to remember. It wasn’t Nella May, Jani thought it might be Nella May.
Henry Sacks: No.
A Ockershausen: But it was somebody. I’ll think of who it was. I know who he’s talking about.
Janice Ockershausen: Ellen Farland?
A Ockershausen: No, she wasn’t in the business. She was in advertising. But Henry, Shipwreck Henry’s was a successful venture.
Henry Sacks: Yeah, but we found out in one day they sold the place. Old man Al Poznik, who was the original owner, he used to come in every night with his bow tie and his suit on. “I don’t want nothing free. I’ll pay for everything I get, but please, I want to hang in here. I can’t believe how good it’s doing.”
A Ockershausen: It was doing super.
Henry Sacks: Yeah. He said, “I had other people in here, they didn’t do nothing and all that.” Willie saw it in the paper, that you’ve got one day to get out of there. Willie rented this big tractor-trailer, and we’d taken all that stuff out of there. He wanted to get out that night.
A Ockershausen: What happened was, they had a contract with the lease on the building, and it was a multiple year lease with a 90 day cancellation clause, and they pulled the plug on him. They said, “We want this property back. We’re tearing this building down.” They built a high rise there. It was Parchays before that, Henry, right? Wasn’t that the name of it, Parchays?
Henry Sacks: No, it was the most famous French restaurant in Washington.
A Ockershausen: It wasn’t Parchays?
Henry Sacks: Well now. Maybe that was it. When the old man come in there, he was so happy to see you doing good again. It was unbelievable. We had a party, and I had bought some of this high dollar whiskey. I said, “Hell, it’s got to go tonight.” People were waiting in line just to get on the sidewalk. And then they had, I had outdoor seating, and all my kids worked in the summer off school.
A Ockershausen: I know that.
Henry Sacks: Tammy was 11 years old.
A Ockershausen: My son worked there, too.
Henry Sacks: She’d give out all the stuff, and I could seat 44 people out front. People would come out there just to watch the people getting in and out of the cars with the girls. Better than that, Slug Witucki, what a great guy. He played six years for the Redskins. Everybody loved Slug. He lived around the corner from me. He helped us in our Boys Club and everything. He said, “Henry, I’m going to come down one night a week,” because I was working 14 hours a day. “I’m going to replace you, let you go home.” All right. So, he got a bunch of the Redskins coming down there. And I had a room upstairs, it was a huge place, seated 180 people. So Slug said, “The Touchdown Club of Washington wants to know if we can rent your place to have our meetings once a month.” I said, “Hell yeah. You ain’t got to rent it, come on up here.”
A Ockershausen: Henry was giving it away.
Henry Sacks: Pay for your beer and everything. Oh my God, what a crowd we had in there that night. I’ll never forget . . .in fact. . .
A Ockershausen: Henry, we’re going to take a break here. I want you to hold on to the rest of those stories, but the restaurant folded, I know that. It was a big success. It was a successful failure, like you always said.
Henry Sacks: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: I brought Blackie Auger down there, and Blackie found out that Henry sent his laundry out. Blackie said, “No, no, you do the laundry yourself.”
Henry Sacks: $15 a month he’d save.
A Ockershausen: That’s right. We’ll be right back with some more Henry Sacks stories.
Henry Sacks: I’ve got to go to the little boy’s room, where is it?
[Commercial] Tony Cibel: Hi. Tony Cibel here to tell everybody about our wonderful restaurants at Washington Harbor. Tony and Joe’s, the best seafood in the city. Nick’s Riverside Grill, wonderful chops and steaks. Wonderful views of the Kennedy Center, Roosevelt Island, the Rosslyn skyline, spectacular. Two bars outside, right on the water. Fabulous food. For dinner reservations, call (202) 944-4545. It’s really a great experience. We’ll see you down at Tony and Joe’s, or Nick’s Riverside Grill. [End Commercial]
Announcer: Our Town, brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
A Ockershausen: This is Andy O, and this is Our Town. We’re talking to Henry Sacks, one of the great characters of all time, and he had a story about Frank Sinatra’s mother he wanted to finish. So, finish it up fast, Henry. We don’t have all night.
Frank Sinatra Buys His Parents a Home in Hoboken
Henry Sacks: Okay. I got so close with her, and she told me about the Clam Broth House, which I’ll never forget. It had about eight huge rooms for carriage trade, and they had a men’s bar only in the front, sawdust on the floor, and they had big coffee urns. You get the clams with the little tails on them, I don’t want to give you their nickname, but 40 cents for a big plate of them, and you help yourself to the broth, throw the shells on the floor. She grew up with the Sivendi’s that owned that place.
I told you about the smocks. I had that deal with that guy in the factory, so I got me a box with a dozen in there, high class. I knocked on her door one day, “This is for you.” “Oh my God, they’re beautiful. Let me pay you for them. Oh my God.” “No, no, no, I get them for nothing. Don’t worry about it.” I gave her them, and she told me real quick the story of how she got that beautiful, beautiful house up at Fort Lee. The minute you come out of the Lincoln Tunnel, on the Jersey side, you look and you can see their beautiful house. They were living in Hoboken. Frank started making the big money then and he said, “Come on Pop, let’s take a little ride.”
Took him up to here, this is in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He walked up, “What are you doing here?” His father wasn’t real friendly, like I said before. “Don’t worry about it,” and he knocked on the door, the guy opened up, “Oh yeah, hello mister. Come on in.” “Pop, look around.” He looked around, he said, “You like this house?” “Yeah, it’s a nice house.” “Do you like the house?” “Yeah, it’s a nice house.” He said, “We’ll take it.” $50,000, them days.
A Ockershausen: Whoa, big money.
Henry Sacks: He had the cash. He paid the guy with cash money. The mamma told me that story, how they got that house.
The Soccer Ball Reception – President Bush (41) and Secretary Kissinger
A Ockershausen: All right Henry, that was a great story, but that’s not as great as when we had The Soccer Ball here in Washington. 1980, and I couldn’t go to the Ball, but we were having a reception at the stadium, and invited you and some of your cohorts to attend this reception about The Soccer Ball. Pele was making his appearance in Washington, and you met George Bush, who was running for president of the United States.
Henry Sacks: He was with Kissinger. They were there together.
A Ockershausen: No.
Henry Sacks: Yes he was, Henry Kissinger. I’ve got the picture home.
A Ockershausen: You became a pen pal with George Bush, right?
Henry Sacks: Oh man, he sent me tickets to all the inaugurations and everything. I told him I’m writing a song about Reagan. He said, “Sing it to me.” I’ve got a picture of me singing to him up there, and he’s drinking a beer and going like this with his fingers, George Bush. They had a mountain of oysters and clams. Remember on the ice?
A Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
Henry Sacks: Bernie was with me, your brother. He goes, “Oh, don’t go near them people, man. They’ll lock you up. Don’t go near that man.” I said, “I’m going to go talk to that man.” I wanted to go talk to Bush. “You ain’t with me. Don’t go over there.” Everything was alright after that.
A Ockershausen: He became a good friend.
Henry Sacks: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: Well, there’s and the famous story. I know it’s true, I’ve seen it for real, that you got an idea that you would like to have the Pope to come for crabs some time. So, what did you do?
Henry Sacks’ Maryland Crab Parties
Henry Sacks: Well, I’m going to brag a little bit. Nobody ever, ever cooked crabs like me. I used to have parties in my yard, he never missed, they never missed.
A Ockershausen: Howard Brenner, he used to have a gang.
Henry Sacks: 70, 80 people in there. I enjoyed it. That’s when I was getting crabs 12 dollars a bushel, but them days are gone. I mean, you wouldn’t believe who would come to that thing. This guy, everybody came here. One time, the first Tonight Show, Jerry Lester, he was there.
A Ockershausen: Yeah. Well he was a comedian, he was out at the call room or something.
Henry Sacks: Yes. He had Dagmar with him on the first Tonight Show, before Steve Allen and all them.
A Ockershausen: That was the first Tonight Show, yeah.
Henry Sacks: You couldn’t believe who came to this thing. One year, it was raining some and I said, “Oh jeez, I just ordered six bushels of crabs. What am I going to do?” And I got all that beer and everything, so the kids in the neighborhood, they started putting canopies up and everything. Everybody was calling me. I wonder if I ever told you this story. Everybody was calling me, “Henry, are we gonna eat crabs today?” “Yeah, yeah, fine. Come on, come on.” “Okay.” His brother Harry called me. Harry was 97 years old then. “Yeah Harry, we’re going to have them.”
“Hold on. Is there going to be any girls out there without somebody, that don’t have an escort?” 97 years old, he wanted to know if there’s going to be any young girls. His older brother. I swear to God, that’s the true story. He wanted to know if there were any girls there.
A Ockershausen: But he wasn’t 97, Henry.
Henry Sacks: Yes he was. How old was he?
A Ockershausen: Probably 67.
Henry Sacks: He was 101 when he died.
A Ockershausen: Yeah I know, but that was way before that. How about the story with the Pope?
Henry Sacks: Oh yeah, everybody wanted to know, you’ve got it by our stock. I’m going to write to him. I invited him. I invited Gorbachev.
A Ockershausen: Never mind Gorbachev, tell me about the Pope.
Henry Sacks: I invited the pope, and somebody at the Vatican sent me a letter, a very nice letter.
A Ockershausen: The Secretary of the Holy See.
Henry Sacks: Yeah, yeah.
A Ockershausen: Do you know what that is, Henry? That’s big time.
Henry Sacks: Big time, brother.
A Ockershausen: He said, “The Holy Father appreciates the invitation, but he’s going to be busy, and is not sure he can make it on his next trip.”
Henry Sacks: That’s right.
A Ockershausen: Thank you for the invitation, Father Guido Panducci. What was his name?
Studio Tech 2: Guido Sarducci.
A Ockershausen: Guido Sarducci.
Studio Tech 2: Father Guido Sarducci.
A Ockershausen: That’s it. He probably thought he was the Pope. But Henry, before you leave here, which will be soon, I hope, can you entertain us with one of your great, favorite songs? Henry has been a songwriter for most of his adult life, and I’ve heard it all for the last 70 years.
Janice Ockershausen: Where’d he get that case?
A Ockershausen: Where do you think?
The Hideaway Cup
Henry Sacks: Oh man, let me tell you. I’ve had this thing, I guess 70 years. “Gee Dad, it’s a Martin. For me, Dad?” Anyway, this came along with it. This thing’s been in Yale, it’s been in jail, it’s been everywhere. This bar where I hang out right now, over there by PG County, the Hideaway, a real one-eye joint. If a guy walked in there with a three piece suit and a briefcase, they’d call the police on him and get him out of there. My kind of place. So I went in there one day, I needed some strings for this, and there’s a guitar place down near Waldorf.
I went down there and told the guy what I needed and all. I’m looking around and I said, “Man, look at them nice ukulele cases.” So I bought a brand new one for $40. I was proud of it and everything. That night, I went over by the Hideaway and was going to sing some of my songs. As soon as I got in the door, this buddy of mine, Dennis Cheseldine. Dennis is sitting there, drinking shots and beers, “Henry, what the hell is that?” I said, “I’ve got a new case.” “A new case? Are you serious? You?” “Yeah.”
“Get the hell out of here. We don’t want you in here.” He said, “Go on up Montgomery County and start hanging out there. “All right, I’ll see you later.” I got in my car, went home, got the new one, threw it in the trash, and I got back where I belong with this one. That’s a true story.
A Ockershausen: Are you still in the race? Did you think about that during the Olympics?
Henry Sacks: What’s that?
A Ockershausen: That you have that race, and you win it every year.
Henry Sacks: Three years in a row, I won the Hideaway Cup.
A Ockershausen: How far a race is it, Henry?
Henry Sacks: Five yards. When I was a young kid, nobody could beat me 50 yards. I could move. I could get out the gate. I raced David Todd, he didn’t stop complaining yet. “I wasn’t ready.” I don’t want to hear that, David. Met those guys, all of them at least 30 years younger than me.
A Ockershausen: Beat all the 55 year olds?
Henry Sacks: All three of them. My son Joey, he says, “Dad, please don’t do that, you’re too old.” “Joey, leave me alone.” “Is a doctor there?” I said, “Ain’t no doctor there. I’m all right.” So they retired the Hideaway Cup. I won it three years in a row.
A Ockershausen: They kept it over there, though.
Henry Sacks: Yeah. I can get out the gate, though.
A Ockershausen: The Hideaway Cup.
Henry Sacks: Let me tell you, talking about that the ukulele. Dino wants to hang this up in the Hideaway. Dino’s got this artist that paints pictures, and Dino gives them to me. I said, “Paint one of the Last Supper, and have my crabs on the table.” So, we’re working on that.
A Ockershausen: Do you think the Last Supper would have eaten crabs?
Henry Sacks: Hell yeah, with my seasoning on them.
Song Writer Henry Sacks and His Ukulele
A Ockershausen: All right, some of your more famous songs are?
Henry Sacks: I’ll tell you right now, to be honest about it, everything I write, I make fun of people. But I do it with a smile on my face, and a smile in my heart. I don’t try to hurt nobody, and people don’t get mad at me. I make fun of everybody. My most famous song, I can’t sing it here. I buy a lot of repos, I wholesale used cars, and I got to thinking about, I wrote a song called “Getting Ready for the Repo Man.” Oh my God. The brothers love it. “My man, how you know all that?” I said, anyway, I’m going to sing Janice’s favorite song.
“She’s Got the Roughest Body on the Beach”, and a buddy of mine, he just died. He owned a place down at Ocean City, on 16th Street. I went down there one time, was singing some of my songs, and the guy that was the interim coach for the Saints was there. He’s from Maryland. Oh man, he said, “Bring him down on me, on the Super Bowl.” They had a Super Bowl in New Orleans that year. Anyway, he wanted me to come down there every week and play this, and girls would be coming from all over the country to get in the contest. At the end of the year, we would have a winner.
She’s got bunions on her toes, and cellulite that shows. She’s got the roughest body on the beach. No matter how much time she spends in the mirror, she always looks the same. In her extra large bikini, no man wants to get near her. Her glands have all broke down, ain’t that a shame? When she walks by, the boys all close their eyes, and no one tries to reach. She’s got the roughest body on the beach. When she goes near the water, all the kids report her, and the lifeguard starts to shout. Get back on the shore if you don’t want to drown. When she dives in, the tide goes out.
There’s hair growing wild ‘neath her arms and on her chest. Her face won’t tan, it’s always red. She’s only one size, from her shoulders to her thighs. She’s under-clothed and overfed. She’s got no way of knowing if her underwear is showing, you can’t tell her ankles from her knees. She might be good in bed, but no man will ever know. She’s got the roughest body on the beach. The sun’s the only one to touch her goodies. There’s enough of her to go around. Everything shows when she touches her toes, when she dives in the boats go up and down. She leaves the local bars alone. She only takes the morning paper home. When she stumbles through the sand, the Richter scale won’t reach. She’s got the roughest body on the beach. Baby, I’m coming home with pizza.
A Ockershausen: Henry! This has been a wonderful, wonderful time with Henry Sacks, a real Washington institution. Henry, I appreciate it. You’re a good man. We’ve been friends a long time, Henry.
Henry Sacks: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: Don’t forget, we’re going to see a lot of you this Fall.
Henry Sacks: What a pleasure. You’re going to do what?
A Ockershausen: See a lot of you this Fall. This is Andy Ockershausen. This has been Our Town, with a cast and a crew that we appreciate.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town season one with your host, Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town podcast episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. We welcome your comments and suggestions on how you like the show, or who you’d like to hear from next. Catch us on Facebook at OurTownDC, or visit our website at ourtowndc.com. Our special thanks to WMAL radio in Washington, D.C. for hosting our podcasts.
Debby Robinson says
Loved the podcast with Henry Sacks! Thanks for the interview and hosting Our Pal Henry!
We Loved Henry and are Sad to Learn of his Passing! We all worked together many years ago at General Trading Corporation (GTC) in Lorton, Va. Rocky and I considered Henry family to us! RIP Shipwreck Henry!