14 – 17 Dec 64 : Life on Miami Beach 


Century hotel miami period advert 

The Century Hotel, 140 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach 39, Florida, USA.

Monday 14th December

Dear Mum, Dad, Nigel and Carol,

Well, to start off with, just to make you really jealous, I will tell you that I’ve just come in off the beach where I have been sunbathing and swimming in the sea. The water temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit and it really feels like it too.

I was swimming at 6 o’clock (it is still light here then) and thoroughly enjoying it too. It’s been really sweltering here today with temperatures over 80 degrees again, and very humid. In town it’s a bit uncomfortable, but on the beach it is beautiful as there is always a cooling breeze.

Everywhere is air-conditioned – buses, offices, shops and hotels, even private cars, so it’s not too bad really. The only time I get uncomfortable is when we are walking around the town. It’s very strange to walk out of a beautifully cool building into a blast of hot air. At home it’s usually the other way round!!

We spent all day yesterday looking for a job, and went into nearly every hotel in ‘Millionaires Row’ as it is called. These are the immense palaces that face onto the sea, all the way down the island (actually they are on the same road as us, but as you will no doubt have guessed, we live down the unfashionable end).

Some of the hotels were indescribable. The money in this place is fantastic!!

We both had no luck with jobs – although I was offered a terrific job, but not starting until next Sunday. It was as a beach boy, spending all day on the private beach of the Fontainbleau Hotel (which is amongst the biggest), helping them with their deck chairs and boats and water skis etc etc.  Also, helping with the swimming pool which is about a yard from the sea. The fellow who is the Cabana Manager there does this job at present alone (with his wife) and they really need a third.

Ffontainebleau Hotel 1960s image

Fontainbleau Hotel in the 1960s

He gets no salary only tips and believe it or not between them they collect $200 a day (400 people averaging 50 cents each). He offered me the job at a salary of $80 a week which I thought was fantastic. He was keen for me to work with him (I think this is mainly because I’m English) so I agreed to start next Sunday, but I told him I would keep trying for something else more immediate.

We were so fed up by 3 o’clock that we went back to our apartment, changed, and went down onto the beach!!

Tuesday 15th December

This morning we went out again, and this time went to an address which one of the hotels gave me. It is the headquarters of the Hotel Workers Union who will find you jobs for free. So we went there and filled out the usual forms, putting down loads of rubbish about all the hotels I have worked in, and eventually Colin and I were given a slip of paper and told to go and see a Mrs Barrett at the Eden Roc Hotel, which is one of THE hotels here on the beach!!

We were to apply for two vacancies as ‘housemen’ whatever they are – so off we went.

We met Mrs Barrett who grilled us about our previous experience and finally, and almost unbelievably, she accepted us and gave us the jobs. So now I am a Houseman in one of the biggest hotels in Miami Beach, and start work tomorrow – and I don’t even know what a houseman is (I do know that I have to wear a uniform)!!

The pay is quite good and the hours very reasonable, so we have been quite lucky. We have to work shifts 8 to 4 and 4 till 12, so we shall have some time to sunbathe on the beach.

There’s a great 1960s advert for the Eden Roc here

We plan to stay at this job until Christmas Day and will then quit. (We will work Christmas Day) and on December 26th (Boxing Day in England) we are off to sea again.

I’m sure you won’t believe this, but we are off on a cruise to the Bahamas. It’s a four day on the SS Yarmouth, a one class cruising ship, which cruises between Florida and the West Indies. The all-in fare is $75 which is very reasonable.

So we thought we would lash out and go as we probably won’t have another chance to go to the Bahamas. We cruise mainly at night and stop at Freeport for half a day, and Nassau for two days. When in port we use the ship as a hotel for meals etc.

It should be terrific and I am looking forward to it very much. There is an open air pool and the sea is usually like a mirror, and the menus looks great. I shall really take advantage of the food on this trip and eat and eat. We’ve had tons of mince and mash since we’ve been here so it will be a nice change.

As it is in the Festive Season it should be very lively. I hope so anyway.

We have started to make arrangements to take another car back to Philadelphia and it sounds quite promising. They now know we are trustworthy and Mr Prock, the man whose car we delivered, gave us a good reference so we shouldn’t have much trouble getting one as they now know us. However, if this should fall through, we will return with Herb and Vi.

Either way, we must be back in Philadelphia by January 4th to start our job with SKF. One week in Philadelphia, then off again. What a life – it’s fantastic!! Returning to sub-zero temperatures from this tropical climate will be terrible. It’s difficult to believe we are still in the same country.

Miami Beach has turned out to be a great surprise to us. It is almost completely full of, run by, and owned by – Jews. There are literally thousands and thousands of old decrepit, broken down, rich and dying Jews. They make their fortunes and come here to die.

(Editors note: This section is rather startling – especially with Tony’s typical bluntness of description and dark humour!! However if you check this article from the Jewish News Service, it describes a massive migration, starting in the 1950s, of wealthy elderly Jews to Miami Beach, until up to 70,000 Jewish OAPS lived there, thus making 1960s Miami Beach a sea of pensioners and synagogues… Well worth reading to cross reference!! Tony loved to note down anything novel to report home, so described everything he saw around him for his family.) 

Consequently Miami Beach is full of old people for most of the year. Tomorrow the ‘season’ officially starts and all sorts of people will start moving in for Christmas, but for most of the year the old dying Jews live here. The area we live in (South Beach) is the worst. We have nicknamed it ’77 Funeral Strip’ etc.

Jews own all the property here, and run the Miami City Council – everything. There are Jewish films and newspapers, and even radio and TV programmes.

We are happy with the sun and the sea, but apart from that there is nothing for young people, outside the big plush hotels who have their own entertainment. On Saturday night (the Jewish Sabbath) there were open air religious meetings, and everywhere we went we could hear Jewish music.

Anyhow, in spite of all this, it surely must be the most fabulous place in the world. There is NO evidence of poverty here at all. It’s plush, modern, luxurious and expensive – and RICH!!! The whole place is white and clean and fresh. It really is as all the pamphlets say – ‘a Millionaires Playground’.

The climate is amazing. Our apartment has no windows, only mosquito mesh to keep out insects, and there is no provision for heating at all. No blankets are provided, only sheets as the temperature at night never falls below 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

The only snag is that it does tend to get a bit clammy due to the humidity, but most people wear these Bermuda shorts here. We are one of the few to wear trousers. Some of these little old men in their long shorts look really funny.

Fruit here is very cheap. It’s too hot for soup so we now have grapefruit which we can buy for three cents each (about 2d) so we have a whole one each before our meal.

They practically give orange juice away. Each soda bar (as they are called) has a machine, and if you order a drink the fellow throws in a handful of oranges, which are immediately crushed, and out comes your drink – and it’s delicious too. A large glass only cost 10 cents.

Tuesday (night)

Well, I now know what a houseman is. We started at 8 o’clock this morning and changed into blue trousers and shirt (with ‘Eden Roc’ all over it) and were commissioned to our posts. I was allocated to The Penthouse which is a terrific place to be. I spent all day either drinking tea or coffee with the maids, washing down floors, hoovering the corridors, polishing door knobs, hanging curtains, etc, etc, etc. There are four penthouse suites, which are out of this world.

The view alone is worth the cost (a mere $200 a day). To give you some idea of the standard, Frank Sinatra is having one for Christmas, while he appears in the cabaret downstairs.

The service the hotel offers is ridiculous. We had to clear one suite, and take up all the carpeting and fit new carpeting, because the occupier didn’t like the colour of it. And the management willingly do it!! This apparently happens frequently. The suite for Frank Sinatra is being completely refurbished and decorated for him. There is a TV in EVERY ROOM in all the suites, and fully fitted kitchens.

The work is very easy and very enjoyable.

We have to go to get Police Cards tomorrow, from the State Police, as we shouldn’t be working without them. This involves once again having our photographs and fingerprints taken, and being cleared by the FBI. This is the routine for numerous things in this country, and it’s costing us a fortune, as it cost $2 each time. Still, we can’t work without it, so we have no choice.

We will be working 16 hours solid on Christmas Eve so think of us then, won’t you!!!

Colin has the most ridiculous job ever thought of. I nearly died laughing when I saw him. He walks around the hotel with a portable vacuum cleaner strapped on his back, and with a ladder. He has to dust all the artificial plants, some of which are 20 feet up in the air in the main lobby. He looks like some kind of spaceman, and all day gets cracks like ‘What time is take-off?’ I don’t think he is very amused by his job, but I think it’s hilarious!!

I am very impressed by the hotel, the standard of hygiene and cleanliness is fantastically high, and the organisation brilliant. We start at 8 and finish at 3:30 with half an hour for lunch, which is very pleasant. It means we can go straight onto the beach after work and sunbathe.

There was no sunbathing today however, as it has changed to rain, and the temperature has dropped alarmingly to 65 degrees which feels more like freezing (it has risen again this evening to 70). Apparently this is very rare for Miami (just our luck).

I am working with some very nice people at the hotel, and one fellow I met is an ex-lawyer from Cuba, and is a personal friend and ex-schoolmate of Castro. He told us a lot about the revolution, and the present situation.

Apparently even today refugees are still landing in small rowing boats, having escaped and rowed here (it’s only about 100 miles) – as many as six in a boat. About half the population of Cuba is here in Florida, and they are (so he said) organising another revolution. I don’t think it will happen while we are here so don’t get alarmed.

Castro prepared his revolution here in Miami, so it’s quite the usual thing here, although everyone without fail agrees that things were pretty tense here during the last session which nearly ended in war.

The US government has allocated every refugee $90 per week as soon as they arrive, whether they have jobs or not, and this has recently been stopped. Now instead they have set up refugee camps.

Wednesday (night) 16th December

Today we had to go and get our Police Cards, and went through a fantastic procedure – and finally got to work at 9:15. I had spent all last night laughing at Colin about his crazy job, but when we arrived I wasn’t so amused, as I had to join him!!!

So today saw the two of us perched about 50 feet up, on a ledge which is over the main lobby, and has an absolute jungle of artificial plants, which are almost black with dust. The vacuum idea had proved useless, so we devised a method of our own.

We each had a bucket of water, and we pulled the plants out of their bases (some of them are great tropical things), folded them up and put them in the buckets of water and swished them about until they were clean, then bent them back to shape again and stuck them back in. I’ve no doubt the whole thing was arranged originally by some artistic genius, who would blow his top if he could see what we are doing to his display!!

I had a major catastrophe this afternoon when my bucket burst, and filthy water showered all over the main lobby!! All the walls were streaked, and it was absolute chaos for a few minutes. I was sure I would be fired on the spot.

Our boss is a woman, Mrs Bassett, who is German, and a dragon to most people, although we get on well with her. We tease her a lot and are able to make her laugh. She has a son in Europe, so she is quite sympathetic towards us.

Thursday 17th December

Well, today I was back to Housman again -this time on the 6th floor, cleaning and polishing and putting rooms back in order after the decorators have moved out. Colin has been working in the linen room distributing linen.

We are getting to be a bit bored here actually, as although it is one of the most fabulous places in the world, (of that there is no doubt), it only caters for millionaires. For poor mortals like us there is nothing at all (except of course the beaches and sea and sun) but this applies to the daytime only. At night there is nothing for us at all!

This is because all the nightclubs and entertainments are in the big hotels and price-wise these are incredibly high. Outside of these there is nothing.

Vi was telling us that she spent two weeks at one hotel here, and she didn’t move outside it once. They have their own shops, cinemas, beaches, pools, hairdressers, etc etc etc. So consequently Miami Beach is as dead as a dodo. It’s sad but it’s true. Of course the climate compensates this to a large extent, but I certainly wouldn’t care to spend long here.

The majority of the USA at the moment is having a SEVERE cold spell, but here it is still around 80 degrees night and day. We are dreading returning to the cold, as it will be such a change in a very short space of time.

It’s ages since I had a letter from you. This is because Herb and Vi are bringing mail down with them instead of sending it, because of the Christmas mail rush. So,  we should have some mail when they arrive, which should be any day now.

I hope you are receiving my mail alright. In my last letter I told you I would be phoning on Christmas Eve at 9:15 your time. I hope you have received this message ok, and that everything will go off as planned.

I expect you are in the middle of Christmas panic by now, and have put up the decorations etc. Christmas doesn’t seem to mean a thing here somehow. Some people here in our hotel asked last night when Christmas is!!

For us of course it’s so different because of the weather. We saw one poor Father Christmas the other day, in the street, practically melting away. Also there are no carol singers. In the hotel where we work they have decorated the lobby, and in the centre is a huge revolving Christmas tree.

Well I can’t think of anything else to tell you, so I will end now. If this reaches you before Christmas have a wonderful time, and don’t drink too much gin (Mother!!) Hope you are all fit and well.

Keep writing, Lots of love.

Tone xxxxx

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