When it came to women, there was just something about Nat Nelson. Sure, he was handsome, but not “through the roof” handsome.
In fact, he was pretty soft. His face. His hands.
He described himself as hedonistic.
What he was, was elegant.
Nice face. Nice things. Nice manners.
He had lots and lots of girlfriends. He was what they use to call a lech.
One of his high-society girlfriends, Sandra Kelly, mentioned him in a suicide note before she leaped to her death from a high rise. It was a big story back then. Briefly.
Not just your everyday Lothario, Nelson was a fashion designer and wheeler dealer in the garment district. He was also a personal friend of gangsters Jimmy Dole and Tommy Lucchese, up to his neck in crimes that very few people knew anything about.
Arlyne Weiss, the subject of Teresa Carpenter’s treatise on the gangster groupie, Mob Girl, knew Nelson, personally. She carried on a years long sexual relationship with him. She called him Nattie.
One afternoon, it was probably 1952, Arlyne–an overly bosomed, brassy red-head–stopped off at Nelson’s luxurious West 55th Street apartment to finagle a hundred bucks out of him. She rode the elevator to the 5th floor.
When the elevator doors opened, Arlyne was face to face with another mob buddy of her’s, Jimmy Doyle, who looked startled and none too pleased to see her. He got on the elevator and she disembarked from it without either uttering a single word to one another.
Arlyne was spooked by the encounter as she crept toward Nelson’s apartment door. It was slightly ajar. The air tasted like gunpowder.
Inside she found “Nattie” sprawled on the floor. His upward turned face wore the blank expression of sudden death, a bullet hole reddened, widening between his eyes.
Later she saw a picture of one of her girlfriend’s in the paper. She was wrapped in a beautiful fur coat, pulled up past her neck, apparently in an attempt to obscure her identity. The article under the picture said that Mrs. Janice Drake, wife of comedian, Alan Drake, was the last person seen with Nelson, bar-hoping with him the night before the murder.
Arlyne was surprised, not that Nelson was seeing another woman, but that the other woman was Janice Drake. She just didn’t have an inkling about their “affair” and she felt–not jealousy–but empathy for her, and for Alan Drake, that he would now know about the cheating.
But Drake already knew about it. The only thing he was worried about was the cops questioning Janice as if she might be involved with the murder.
And who knows? Maybe she was involved in it.
If she was, he didn’t want to know. So he didn’t ask.
It was part of the agreement that he and Janice had amongst themselves. They agreed not to let “the notions of the morality of others,” get in the way of their business, which was complete loyalty to each other and to Gus.
Within that agreement, there was times when Janice had to do what she had to do. She was always a lady about it and she only saw men that ran in Little Augie’s exclusive, relatively small circle.
Likewise, there was times when he got lonely on the road…Janice knew this. If his picture was in the paper with some bimbo, she didn’t think a thing about it...
IF Nat Nelson was sleeping with his wife–and that was a big if–then, Little Augie knew about it…
They had an open marriage, he and Janice did.
He just didn’t like that Janice was that close to Nelson’s murder–because Little Augie had to know about that too–but there was nothing he could do about it…They both had to trust that Gus was looking out for them.
Within their agreement, he and Janice and their little boy lived a wonderful life. They lived primarily in Miami and New York, but they also traveled frequently to L.A.
Sometimes Janice and their son traveled with him–always first class accommodations–on the comic circuit. For the most part, Drake still worked the second tier clubs, but he had some big dates in the major leagues too…he opened up for singer Tony Martin at the Copa.
And that was a big deal in the world of the stand up comedian. To get a taste of big money…It was better than nice money…It was power. It was influence.
Once you’ve had it…you don’t want to give it back. Just like you don’t want to go back to nice money. To good money…
Drake knew that some of the guys talked about him. He knew what they said…that he was Little Augie’s lap dog. That stuff.
But they didn’t dare say it to his face.
And he knew them all.
Frank Sinatra. Jackie Gleason. Ed Sullivan. Rose Marie. Lucile Ball.
A lot of them lived just like he and Janice did…or worse, depending on your perspective. Some of the stories he heard about Sinatra…about the way he treated women…girls that liked to have a good time. He had that Madonna/Whore syndrome, thing going on.
And John Houston…the big director in California. That guy…he was into some sick, weird stuff. That’s what Drake heard, anyway…
He and Janice hired a private teacher so that their son could travel with them on his tour.