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The Copa

The Copa

The Copa
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The Copa

New York Noir - 1940




    New York in the 40's was the last great refuge in the world. Beyond this safe harbor, the world was in flames. For the first half of the decade it was one of the few major cities not under threat of aerial bombardment. For the second half, it was one of the few not in ruins. It was a haven for Displaced Persons of all stripes: political refugees, deposed regents, scientists, intellectuals, some Communists and a very few Jews... 


It was also, as the media capital of a great nation on the brink of war, a hotbed  of politics, with secret agents from all sides, political operatives and black marketers. It was the seat of underworld power and influence, with a backlog of political corruption. 


It was where new people and new cultural influences entered the country and met the Americans... proud, naive, isolationist, racist...and determined not to be dragged into another European war. The arts flourished, powered by talented refugees. New dances and music appeared as Vaudeville turned into Broadway, which fed the movies, radio and, eventually, television.


     In all this mix of energy, nightclubs were the nexus. They came out of prohibition. Speakeasies were backed by hoods with the collusion of crooked politicians, police, and the general public, thirsty for a drink; hungry for an illicit thrill. The mob was in nightclubs from the beginning, supplying the booze, taking the cash, buying the police and courts. It controlled the talent through cabaret cards, the license to entertain.  It supplied laundry and took away garbage, some of it human. It paid the fire marshal, with an extra bump for actually setting the fire. 


     It was a time before nightly news, when, to learn anything, the Manhattanite went out clubbing. The clubs were a mixing bowl within the Melting Pot, where gangsters and girls, judges and gamblers, secret agents and stockbrokers rubbed elbows and eventually other things. There were four: The Stork Club, The El Morocco, The Latin Quarter and most famous of all, The Copa.


     The Copa is “La Ronde”, as we follow the guests out into the daily life of New York, their stories as intertwined as their fates…    The Copa…like Rick’s Place, but very real.                                                                      

                                             Everybody Comes to the Copa.




    An hour drama that starts and ends with singing, dancing and jokes as we enter the greatest nightclub in the world, just as the world slides into World War. We are a camera, a naif entering a watering hole where all the beasts of the jungle come to drink. We searche, we watch, we hear…a flash of leg, a kiss, a threat, a whisper. A look. The averted eye, the glance. Who is our target for the evening, whose story will be told…?


    Club Creator Monte Proser holds court at table 3, center of the action. Back, in shadow is Frank Costello, “Capo di Tutti Capi” holding his own court. Of the dozen story threads currently identified, in each episode one will predominate, concluding in from one to three episodes, while others will have a long gestation bursting forth when complete. And example of the first is the violently passionate affair between the gangster Joe Adonis, and the gorgeous beauty and Club Photographer, Vera that is told within an hour.  


An example of the latter, is the complex story of how British Intelligence, with the help of American agents working for President Franklyn Roosevelt outwit and out-maneuver the Isolationists to provide the desperate Brits with war material, American public support, and eventually an Alliance.  This may play out as a spy drama over the entire season.


    It is the intention to overwrite this project. In the development process, it will be possible to track each story thread. Those attracting attention will be enhanced, those of less interest, diminished or eliminated. Some of those eliminated may be rethought and reworked for possible future seasons.


Pace and Visual Style



 The Forties, New York City.

“Everything Happens at Night”  A mix of cultures, escaping Europeans, South Americans, Americans from the heartland, writers, agents, spies, prosecutors, gangsters, judges, beauties, grifters and stiffs. New fashions in dance; the samba, the mambo, the jitterbug, swing… Booze and cigarette smoke, fedoras and upswept hair. The torch singers, the teen idols, the classicists … all need a drink, and a respite from the war news, and a new lover, perhaps. 




    The Secret World of Night.  A history that was, that has never before been revealed in all its complexity and one we’ll never see again. A unique look into the past… and strains that have followed us into our present and perhaps our future.




    The mob rises. The Feds falter. New York battles itself and Brooklyn. The Brits against the Bund. Wasp against Jew against Coloreds. Rich against poor. Man against Woman. Secret agents of influence; the columnist, the pollster, the movie producer, the beautiful huntress…




    Who are the good guys and how do you know? Is an “Isolationist” selfish and cowardly or just realistic? Are gangsters all that dangerous? Are chorus girls that easy? Does that Park Avenue swell have any money left? Is that European an agent or just a war profiteer?




    A nightclub is an illusion. A respite. A neutral corner. To observe. To measure. To abide. The characters who share our world, on display, at ease… here to see and be seen… to party. But what is really below the surface?


Characters and Arcs


    The characters are real. They are historic, famous figures, many who have been portrayed in their own starring roles… as themselves or as historical stand-ins: FDR, Churchill, Hoover, Winchell, Costello, Sinatra, Kennedy…”Wild Bill”, “Crusader”, “Intrepid”… Even Monte is portrayed in “Copacabana”, Groucho’s last picture. 




Monte Proser


Monte is dark, mysterious and seemingly powerful. A famous and loved denizen of Broadway, he is also a legendary raconteur. That’s a storyteller who drinks and talks rather than drinks and writes.  An immigrant, as a boy he took to the rails to find adventure and fortune in America. With a natty suit and a natural gift for promotion, he became a press agent to such notables as Eddie Rickenbacker, Harold Lloyd, W.C. Fields and Walt Disney. Soon he was opening his own restaurants and clubs.


Monte is no stranger to the boys.  He’d been hunted in Chicago for a bet that went wrong.  He’d been on the line with the Wobblies as they tried to organize. And, with the hundreds of clubs across the country he’s opened, he’s had to take an unsavory backer or two.  


He was press agent for Texas Guinan’s speakeasy in the Twenties and shot crap with Mayor Jimmy Walker.  His silent partner in Saratoga was Lucky Luciano.  He was being hunted by Arthur Flegenheimer, for an unfortunate booking in a club he backed when the Dutchman was gunned down in Jersey.


So when Frank Costello walks in, Monte knows what he wants and he knows there is no way out.  He also knows the price of failure. The only thing to do is to make the club a wild success.  He’ll have to make it so famous and so popular that everyone will want to go there… even judges and pols, and the world’s elite.  The boys are going to be here, that is part of the deal. But if every one else is there, too, how could they blame him?


Monte is ambivalent about Frank. Personally, he likes him. He is a man of his word. He makes no idle threats. He dresses and acts like a gentleman, and Monte know, coming from the same streets, how hard that is to do.


But he knows the dark side as well. Not a killer himself, Frank is not above ordering a hit. In fact, that is part of his job.  Then there are his associates; the Capos, Joe Adonis, Trigger Mike Coppola, Little Augie Pisano… and they are killers. Then there is Bodle, the enforcer Frank will force into the club; a thug Monte despises. …a thug who makes no bones about wanting Monte’s job. 


Monte also knows he is high profile, and the chance of getting out clean, or getting out at all, is not very good. He has earned the enmity of Mayor La Guardia, with a dance club in Madison Square Garden that attracted blacks and caused a riot.


But it isn’t all bad. With the backing of the Chairman, there are no headaches that couldn’t be fixed with a phone call. His job is an envious one, he simply has to pick the most beautiful girls in the country and get them to dance.  He books the best acts, hires the best band,  dresses the girls in diamonds and mink.  He is the toast of Broadway, with a frisson of danger attached. He is master of ceremonies at the hottest club in the world. There is drinking and music and dance. The top people in the world stop in to join the fun and pay top dollar. 


His job is to make the rounds of clubs and scout talent; to drink with the guests and gamble with the machers;  to party.  It is an addiction. And the money rolls in,  but for how long? So he gambles. He may not live to spend it, so why not gamble it away? …on the ponies, on crap games, on Broadway shows, it doesn’t matter. He is also known as the softest touch on Broadway, always available for a hard-luck story from friends or strangers.


The money rolls in. And out. Every night is a party. And every party could be his last. It is going to be an interesting ride. 


And then she walks in… 


Frank Costello


Frank is an immigrant who took early to the streets, grabbing what he wanted. A small time hood, he was propelled to early success and wealth, as they all were, by Prohibition. The money in illegal hooch, and his business acumen in delivering the quality goods enabled him to make and buy many friends.


He sees himself as a businessman; no more an outlaw than the robber barons of any other industry.  In fact, he brings order and business sense to the ethnic gangs that were a response to the public’s desire for girls, gambling, fast money and booze that the upper classes, with their police, courts, judges and politicians want to keep for themselves.


He feels he is a Medici prince; taking no more profit from vice than the police and the power brokers themselves. He holds down crime, ending the gangland wars of the thirties. Investing in America. Going Legit. 


He dresses in expensive, conservative suits, always perfectly turned out. He exudes sophistication and quiet power, but can also terrify with a stare.  He befriends politicians and judges, and offers campaign contributions where he can. 


He leads a separate life as Chairman of the Board, leader of the Syndicate, arbiter of the Five Families and of their relationships to other crime leaders across the US and beyond.


He has an eye for the ladies and enjoys the nightlife of Manhattan. He is sensitive to those who will not be seen with him in public. He knows it is necessary, but it bothers him. He will never get into their club, and that hurts. 


He likes Monte.  A self-made man like himself.  He enjoys Monte’s company, his jokes and stories. He recognizes talent and Monte’s ability to open and publicize clubs.


When he hears Monte has gone broke trying to open his new club, he steps in.  He’s already half-in to any nightclub, with the control of the laundry and the cabaret cards and the booze.  But this is a chance to step up, to move into show business, and other businesses. Besides, it’s fun. And no one can throw him out of his own club. Frank buys judges and pols but so does every corporation in America. Some of them sell deadly things. Some pander to the public. All are hypocrites when they try to tell him that he alone is a hood. He knows them. He has supplied their vices. 


He’s “friends” with the rich and powerful, including, of note, J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI.  As enabler of the Director’s criminal vices, he ensures that the Mafia will be left alone by the federal forces to grow into a national threat. 


     To Frank, every man has his price and meeting it is much cheaper and safer than killing him.  Having bought many judges, he is a fixer and a consigliere to the hard guys.  


Now he has a few problems: His boss, Lucky Luciano is doing fifty years upstate for prostitution and he has to figure a way to spring him.  His rival, Vito Genovese fled to Italy ahead of a murder rap, but he runs drugs and vice from there, while building a war-chest and angling to return.  The war will bring new opportunities, and threats. Prosecutor Hogan and Governor Dewey are out for his head.  Havana and Las Vegas beckon. There are judges and politicians to be bought. He must balance the ambitions of his capos. He is the Prime Minister of Crime. He must eliminate threats. He must avoid being killed…


Jane Ball


A blonde, green-eyed dancer and “Apple Blossom Queen”, she looks fresh off the bus, but has had long experience brushing off drunks and hoods at her stepfather’s bar in Kingston. Jim Morgan had run booze across the border for Legs Diamond and had gotten shot twice by competitors for his trouble. 


Jane moves in with other girls, also dancers, in the Madison Hotel. The girls are fresh to New York and on the make, for fame, fortune and fun.  Their beauty opens doors and their sexuality closes them, usually to their great profit. As a chorus dancer in Broadway shows, Jane attracts the attention of  critics and leading men of the theatre.  With them she samples all New York life has to offer. She auditions for shows. She pals around with June Allyson, Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair, all determined to get into show business.


But when she auditions for a new job, at the Copa, she attracts the immediate attention of the Boss, Monte. He announces he’s going to marry her, which annoys her greatly.


She works two jobs, dancing on Broadway eight times a week, then rushing uptown to the Copa, to work into the morning. She sends the money to her mother and younger siblings upstate.  It’s a brutally physical regime. Some of the girls in the dressing room pass around pep pills to keep up their energy. After the show, its drinks with the high-rollers of the night. Monte is a pal of the famous and infamous, a man of extensive travel and vast experience.  A man of the world. There is another thing that both intrigues and repels her. Under the sophisticated British exterior, he is a Jew. 


Joe Adonis


Hood, murderer, loan shark, pimp, underling to Lucky Luciano, Director of “The Syndicate”, he controls Broadway and Upper Manhattan; the clubs, the rackets, extortion, prostitution and enforcement.  He is vain, always grooming his thick black hair. Joe renamed himself Adonis after seeing a magazine article on the Greek God… Like a God, he takes what he wants. He is a sexual predator, once indicted for rape.


He will haunt the Copa, as his fief, eyeing the pretty new things.  He keeps his eyes open for Frank.  With more than several reputed murders, including both Mob bosses Maranzano and Masseria, he is a man not to rub the wrong way. Or look at too hard.


He makes moves for the hat check girl, the cigarette girl and anybody’s girlfriend. And none dare tell him no. 



Vera Brooks


is a stunner, fresh off the bus.  She’s there to audition but she can’t dance a lick. Still, she’s a knockout, and there has to be a place for beauty. Monte hires her as the club photographer. This night she takes a shot. The FLASH freezes the scene. Suddenly, there’s a man in her face. He’s tall and dangerous good looking. He grabs her and forces her up against a pillar. He wants the camera and he takes it. Joe Adonis is incensed, his usual demeanor. The gorgeous but naïve Copa photographer will fall for Joe A. and become his mistress, until he is arrested for raping her.


Walter Winchell


The night-time King of New York is the inspiration for the venal columnist J.J. Hunsecker in  "The Sweet Smell of Success". His column and radio show are read and heard coast to coast. He has a wife and kid stashed in the suburbs but lives for the action at night. He hangs at the Stork Club and other hot spots, dates chorus girls, hobnobs with gangsters and Governors. Winchell has invented new journalism.  He packages gossip and innuendo with threat and rules the land. A confidante of clubbers, pols and hoods, he makes and breaks whomever he chooses.  His iconic staccato delivery and coinage of new Broadway-isms...narrates part of the action...As he types we hear it in the cadence America's radio audience knows: “Mr. and Mrs. America...and all the ships at sea...”


Thomas Dewey


The New York Prosecutor, a thin, dapper man with a pencil mustache, is dedicated to cleaning up New York. Gaining fame as a gang-buster, he’s prosecuted gangsters, Waxey Gordon, Dutch Schultz, Lepke Buchalter, and will target Frank Costello. He will become Governor of New York. He would clean up the city, but most judges and Pols are bought. He watches as Costello consolidates power and turns the mob into a multinational corporation.  Stymied by Hoover’s FBI, he cannot get traction on busting the mob. He will make a run for the Presidency. Perhaps that will give him the power he needs.


New York Prosecutor Frank Hogan with Dewey to bring down the mob. The bloody street gangs of the twenties and thirties are morphing into something new: Organized Crime. The mob can cross the river, leave his jurisdiction, and Hoover will do nothing about it. Hogan will help expose the “Syndicate”, the confederation of mobs that control organized crime in America


Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Burton Turkus


With the end of the Castellamare War, murders are singular, quiet, predictable, even “Incorporated”. The public is quiet. Known mobsters rule the night. He will uncover the enforcement arm of the “Syndicate”; Murder, Inc., and will take it down.


J. Edgar Hoover


The bureaucrat rules the Federal Police.  His men have taken down the populist gangsters and bank robbers, and this has garnered him fame and political power. He is a collector of secrets.  He uses his agency as a political tool, to keep himself in power, to dictate terms to other powerful people, and to protect himself…and his deputy and homosexual lover, Clyde Tolson, from the consequences of their illegal acts. 


He knows and befriends Costello.  The Syndicate is a powerful friend. He shares their vices: gambling, alcohol, celebrity and prostitution.  As for extortion, it is how he runs his business. 


Hoover is totally corrupt. He uses FBI men as personal servants, takes gambling holidays on the government coin, solicits inside stock tips, takes money through gambling “wins” and refuses to let his men go after organized crime. Frank helps him keep the others in check, making sure there is just enough public crime to justify the Agency, without cutting into what the establishment steals for themselves.


J. Edgar’s coin of the realm is the sexual slip. …the glossy photos, the police report, now suppressed... the explicit notes from his stake-out agents, detailing who did what to whom, and when…and his phone calls to the powerful, informing them that their secrets are safe in his hands. His files are huge and crammed with surveillance reports of Senators and Congressmen, alike… especially those on the Appropriations Committee.


With the threat of war, Hoover pulls a masterstroke. He convinces FDR to give him nearly unlimited power to investigate subversives. He will use that power against the Congress, Presidents, his real and perceived enemies and the people of the United States. And as for organized crime, why there is no such thing.

Damon Runyan


The writer will hang with the boys on Broadway, commenting on the action.


President Franklin Delano Roosevelt


will successfully defend his New Deal from backsliding Republicans but also secretly prepare the country for World War II.


Prime Minister Winston Churchill


Will plot to get America into the War by any and all means necessary.

Harry Hopkins

FDR's closest friend and advisor will be tasked with vetting Churchill and the British to see if they are capable of winning the war and if American should ally with them  He will be called the most important man in the war.

Lord Lothian

The British Ambassador to the US will help run the secret Intelligence campaign.

Wendell Wilkie


The unknown businessman will capture the Republican nomination for President in the “Miracle in Philadelphia”, undercutting the Isolationists in a British-American plot to hand the election to FDR.

Ernest Cuneo


A larger than life Falstaffian figure, he is the secret link between FDR’s Whitehouse, America’s secret intelligence agency, the New York media, British Intelligence and the secret mission to engage America in the World War. 

Wild Bill Donovan


FDR had asked him and he had taken up the burden. There would be a new secret agency modeled on British Intelligence. As it would happen, British Intelligence also had an office at Rockefeller Center. As Director of the Coordinator of Intelligence, later the Office of Strategic Services, (OSS) America’s secret intelligence agency, precursor of the CIA, he will work closely with the British.


William Stephenson, Code Name “Intrepid”


The Canadian/British Intelligence Agent will run the British Security Coordination office in Rockefeller Center, and work against Nazi agents and American isolationists to bring the U.S. into the war on Britain’s side.


Mitzi Sims


The continental socialite and British agent of influence is tasked with seducing a key American Isolationist Senator.


Senator Arthur Vandenberg


… an isolationist, dead set against America entering another European war. He is vainglorious, with a weakness for flattery …and the ladies…