Steel Pier memories

Woody Woodin, former usher at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in the 1950s, stands next to vintage photos at his Mays Landing home.

Ben Fogletto

Walk into Alan "Woody" Woodin's office at his Mays Landing home, and you take a trip back to a glorious period in Atlantic City's past, when unlimited entertainment could be had for $1.50 a head.

"My youth was so enjoyable, working on the Steel Pier," said Woodin, a panoply of vintage programs arrayed on the desk in front of him. "It brings back memories all these years later."

Woodin, 70, was 15 years old in 1957 when his Philadelphia family made its annual trip to Atlantic City - but this time, his father had a new demand.

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"My dad said, ‘Get a job'," Woodin recalled.

So he went down to the Steel Pier, where a gentleman in a suit - "nicely dressed," he added - was yelling at an usher, "You're fired!"

"I looked up at him and said, ‘I'm your new usher.' He said, ‘Who are you?'"

So he got his working papers, somehow, and soon he was putting on his "heavy, 400-pound, 50-year-old winter usher's uniform," as he jokingly described it, and he became an usher.

First, he had a stint in the Casino Theater, "But I wanted to work in the Music Hall Theater," he said, where each movie was followed by a live show. "The next summer, lo and behold, I was assigned to the Music Hall Theater. ... I'll never forget as the curtain closed, the screen rolled up, and out came a full stage show."

His job was to guide the crowds to their seats and make sure each week's featured entertainer was taken care of, from pop singer Jimmie Rodgers to the Lennon Sisters.

But the biggest act was Ricky Nelson, whose 1959 appearance broke records - and led to a difficult decision on how to get him out of town.

"Girls were sleeping on the beach just to get in to see him," Woodin said. "He wasn't even that good! It was his face. After the last show, Ricky Nelson was supposed to fly out of Bader Field to California, but we couldn't get him out the door - there were hundreds of girls who wouldn't let him out."

So they went with Plan B: the celeb switch.

"From a distance, Fabian resembled Ricky Nelson," he said. "So we snuck Fabian in the dressing room, opened the door, and Fabian ran out with a hat on. The girls all ran down the Boardwalk chasing Fabian, and Ricky Nelson got out of the dressing room and into a limo."

Steel Pier, was "absolutely fantastic," he said - and he hopes it can be again.

"I hope the Catanoso brothers can bring it back to the days of old," he said. "Something that people today can relate to."

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