GENE COOK, ‘BOOGIE MACHINE’ & PLAYBOY
Playboy of Dallas Maitre’d – Entertainer, “Boogie Machine”
Interview by Paul Heckmann, Executive Director Memories Inc.
Paul: Gene, can you tell me about growing up?
Gene: I am from a small town in Louisiana called Bastrop, when I was about 5 we moved over to the north Houston area. I ended up going to McArthur HS, playing baseball and basketball.
About 6 weeks after graduation from high school, I ended up getting married and had two sons, Sean and Heath. During the second year of marriage, I got an invite from the Astros to come to a tryout camp. I went and did pretty well but during the event I twisted my ankle and couldn’t finish. However there was a scout from the California Angels there who invited me to a camp in Shreveport. So all of a sudden I signed a deal to go to camp with the Shreveport Captains in AAA ball, had a great camp and got an offer from the Angels. My wife didn’t want me to go out on the road, I digressed and lost the opportunity I had been working for all my life.
After about 5 years, I ended up getting a divorce. My roommate Danny and I moved to Dallas. And that’s where life really changed. Dallas was totally different from Houston, definitely a much faster paced lifestyle.
I remember we went to the Adolphus for a show where ‘Buddy + 2’ was headlining. I had never danced before but I was a quick study and picked it up quite well. I started dating one of the dancers and ended up auditioning for Buddy. I still remember doing his solo number, ‘Bad’ and blowing him away.
I joined the dance team, but I knew dancing wouldn’t pay the bills so that’s when I got the job at Kenray Ford and of course, that’s where you and I met.
Paul: Those were the days. We spent a lot of nights at leJardin, #3 Lift and a few other dance spots.
Gene: Oh yes. And one day you told me we needed to go to the Executive Inn to see this dancer named Cathy Luchessi. That was a real turning point for me. She became my dance and life partner for the next couple of decades. Just a fantastic person.
Paul: Tell me about coming to the Playboy Club
Gene: You kept bugging me to come to work with you, so I finally relented. Wow. We probably made $100 each the first night, pretty good money for 1978.
I guess you and I worked together for about a year running the front room at Playboy. We really learned how to work it because we communicated so well. Who would have thought there was an art to seating people? There were folks you wanted close to the action that helped that action, other folks that preferred to be in the back, you learned pretty quickly to read people. And because we learned how to do that, the tips were pretty generous.
We were really making great money. Then my dance group came on board and I was double dipping. I would be in my tux working the front room, run to the dressing room and change for our dance gigs, do them – then run back and change into my tux, sweat dripping from every pore. Whewwww! And then we started doing two shows a night. That was absolutely crazy!
Paul: I seem to remember you opening a bottle of champagne one night and the cork flew right off.
Gene: Oh my gosh yes. It almost hit Nick Felix in the head. It was he, Beth and Pat Applewhite. I was pretty new at it and wasn’t paying enough attention. Thank goodness no one was hurt. And also Nick was a Bunny magnet. They loved that shock of white hair – and he wasn’t shy with the tips!
Paul: I still remember the ‘fin’
Gene: The $5 bill. And a $10 was a sawbuck – the $20 was a double sawbuck. But I really liked the CNote! We’d get one of those every now and then.
Paul: I remember a Saudi Arabian prince that would come in. The first night he gave me a $50 bill.
Gene: I don’t think that guy had any idea how much money he had. He threw money around like crazy.
Paul: Who were some of the celebrities you remember?
Gene: Oh man, so many. Chevy Chase, Jesse Lopez, Mel Torme, Charley Pride, Professor Irwin Corey – we didn’t get along so well. He was a grabber and grabbed Cathy’s tush. I chased him all across the club and folks thought that it was part of the show. Luckily for him Tony Signori grabbed me and got me to settle down!
Paul: And then there was dancing
Gene: Oh yes. The dance team that was there had moved on and were working the Playboy Club circuit. That was the ‘Dance Machine’. While I was Maitre’d I spoke to our boss Tom Labella about our dance group, “The Boogie Machine” with Cathy and Rick Marshall. We auditioned for Joe Cimino and he hired us.
Our time there at Playboy club is what truly validated us. It put us on the map. Before that we were working different places around Dallas, Texarkana and other small gigs. We had to work to book them, but when we got the gig at Playboy, it was really the start of something special. Doors really began to open for us, not to mention the other stuff like having a seamstress to make our costumes which we had always done ourselves
Paul: Wasn’t there a dance routine with the Bunnies for ‘Saturday Night Fever’?
Gene: Oh yes. You may remember that we got the video of “Saturday Night Fever” before the movie came out. They wanted us to be ready the premiere showing with some dance routines and that’s how our show for Saturday Night Fever began. We wrote a bunch of different routines for both that and “Star Wars”. We also got the video before “Grease” came out and premiered it at Playboy.
Hugh Hefner and Playboy had some great connections with John Travolta and some of the other folks involved and I guess that’s how they got those videos so early.
Paul: And there were other events you were part of.
Gene: Yes indeed, we did all sorts of things. We did a St. Valentines Day Massacre by dressing up like them and running around in these old era cars, driving around Dallas with a bunch of Bunnies, machine guns in hand, we ‘robbed’ a bank – they even had it set up at a real bank!
We had so much fun, we did several special shows at Good Morning Texas, WFAA, coaching the Bunny softball team. Those days playing semi-pro ball really paid off. Once they found that out, I would get the call anytime baseball was involved.
And there was the dance floor itself. I had broken my ankle playing basketball with Harvey Martin, Drew Pearson, Too Tall Jones and some other guys at a church. But I had to dance so I got a walking cast, added a heel onto it and did my shows in it. I broke two casts dancing. The shows didn’t stop. As a matter of fact I fell off the edge of the dance floor one time. I was doing a spin and ended up cracking the glass on the edge of the floor! The cast fell off, but I got right up and finished the routine.
One of the most embarrassing moments in my career happened there. I had gone back to change in the dressing room and it included white satin pants – we all dressed in the same costumes. I think it was Rick and Judith that were with us. Kathy and I came off the floor, Rick and Judith came in in their white satin. We were changing “Night Fever” where the Bunnies danced with us. So there were a bunch of Bunnies back in the dressing room.
And then I broke my zipper. Dang… the Bunnies are ‘down there’, pinning me up so I can do this routine. We were flying, we had maybe 60 seconds, so we all shot out of there. And then I notice all these folks in the audience looking ‘downwards’ – I’m thinking the worse. Once I got a look down there were all the blood spots all over these white satin pants, two distinct lines of red up and down the front where the pins caught me. Definitely my most embarrassing moment!
Paul: And then your dance career took off and I was left looking for another Gene Cook to work with.
Gene: Sorry about that
Paul: Tell me about the circuit.
Gene: Our dance team worked at Playboy for about a year before we decided to get on the circuit. It was about a 6,000 mile round trip. Oddly enough we ran into the same dance group we had replaced, the ‘Dance Machine’ out in Century City while they were working the Playboy Club there. They had just finished their gig so we stayed with them a couple of days to rest up before we went on to Phoenix for our next show. We also met up with Frankie Avalon and his wife and his eight kids out in LA, we really loved those guys.
What a good time we had. And it all came from working at the Playboy Club.
After that we did a lot of work in Dallas, we added Judith as a 4th, and did a lot of work at the Crocodile Club at Loews Anatole.
Rick, Kathy and I had six great years together. Then Kathy and I got an offer from Carnival Cruise lines to come to work there. They only wanted a dance duo, so that broke the group up. Judith had recently joined the group, and she was about to get married. Rick went back to being a DJ
We worked for Carnival for several years, we really loved. The first night I met Jackie Welsh who was very instrumental in me wanting to become both a great entertainer and a cruise director. I saw him doing his Midnight Special and I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the foreseeable future.
And then you came to work for Carnival in the Purser’s Office and life was good!
Paul: Indeed. We had some great times and went to places would never would have been able to afford to go
Gene: I worked for 4 years for Carnival waiting for a Cruise Director, learning how to do everything. Began to realize that it was going to be several years before that took place, I was way down the pecking order.
Paul: Tell me about RCCL
Gene: One day, we were approached by a fella from Royal Caribbean who was a spotter. He had already figured out how valuable we were and told me that I would be a Cruise Director for RCCL in no time. He said for us to talk it over and call him back. So Cathy and I spent the day talking and decided to make a move. So we gave our two week notice to CCL.
It was a fantastic decision, in my 4th week at Royal Caribbean they made me a Cruise Director, mainly thanks to Ray Rousse, aka Lord Rousse. That guy was the patron saint of Cruise Directors!
It was a great time for us. But eventually Cathy wanted to go back stateside. I really wasn’t ready to give the life up yet, so after two decades, all of a sudden we were no longer partners.
Then my Mom starting getting sick so I ended up leaving the ships anyway. I moved to Dallas at first to work with you at The Gold Club. Spent a couple of years doing that and driving back and forth the Conroe. I moved there not too long before she passed away.
After that, I moved to Tyler and started a business, Dance Doctors. Had several good years with my friend, Nick Felix Jr.
Once that business ran its course, I decided to move back to the Conroe area to be around my family. It’s been fantastic to really connect with Heath and Sean and my grandkids. My sons run a church in Willis.
I started a Dance Ministry, “Steps in Faith” that has turned into a real blessing for my family and I.
All in all, it’s been a wonderful life. I really wouldn’t change a thing. I have found so many life-long friends. Life has been wonderful.
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