Back before I got married, I used to bowl on Thursday nights in the old Port Jackson League and then head over to Shorty’s for a few beers with my brother. By then Pete Leggiero had taken over the business from Shorty Persico and he would let his patrons play rummy.
Our regular game would usually start just after 11:00 PM and include myself, Nick Fusella, Ralph “Nutsy” Baia and today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Ralph DiCaprio. Now since I was maybe nineteen years old at the time playing against three senior citizens who had lived in Amsterdam all their lives, I learned more about the history of this City during those rummy games than I ever could have from any other possible source. I also regularly got my rear end handed to me in those card games. I felt like a five year old trying to outsmart Plato, Aristotle and Archimedes and I never could.
The reason why we had to wait till after 11 to start those Thursday night rummy games was because Ralph Dicaprio was the Manager of the Tryon Movie Theater in downtown Amsterdam. For those readers not old enough to remember the Tryon, it was by far the nicest theater in Amsterdam in its day, plushly and spiffily decorated, clean and it featured the latest of Hollywoods best movies. It was a part of the Brandt Theater Chain. The Tryon opened in 1948 in what was one of the coolest buildings on Main Street. The art deco two-story front facade extended from above the theater’s large brightly lit marquis and continued eastward over neighboring MaryLou’s Dress Shop and Weissman’s Liquor Store. It was located on the north side of Main about in the middle of the block that extended from Chuctununda to Church Street.
The main seating area of the theater was huge and in the rear of it, stairs led directly up into the balcony. Plush velvet upholstered seats assured movie watchers of comfort even during double features.
A signature spiral staircase led patrons to the stylish and always clean restrooms located in the basement along with Ralph’s very nice office. The young people who worked for him back then absolutely loved the guy because he had a good sense of humor, a positive easy going manner and he knew what he was doing. The Tryon was the best-run theater in our City from the first day it opened.
By the late 1960’s Amsterdam’s downtown was drawing smaller shopping crowds and Tryon’s numbers suffered as moviegoers began migrating in large numbers to theaters outside the city. In 1968, Brandt’s sent a district manager to work with Ralph to try and figure out what changes could be made to make the Tryon popular again. Nothing really worked. The venue closed and the beautiful building was demolished to make way for the Amsterdam Mall.
Ralph remained a bachelor all his life. He lived with his sister Ann and he was extremely close to his nephew Danny, the only son of another of Ralph’s sister, Molly Simiele. Danny’s death in Vietnam in 1968 was a crushing blow for Ralph. But he continued on, charming the ladies with those dreamy blue eyes and trademark laugh of his. I don’t think I ever beat him in rummy. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 88. Leonardo may be the most famous DiCaprio in movie theaters today but back in the 1950s and ’60s, Ralph was the most famous in Amsterdam’s.