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Sherman Billingsley in 1950.
March 10, 1896|
|Died||October 4, 1966
New York, New York
|Occupation||Owner, Stork Club, New York City|
John Sherman Billingsley was the youngest child of Robert Billingsley and Emily Collingsworth. He was born in Enid, Oklahoma on March 10, 1896. (In later years, Billingsley claimed to have been born in 1900, but this is refuted by both the 1930 census and the Social Security Death Index.) His parents had settled in Enid following the 1893 land run. The Billingsley children attended school in a one room schoolhouse, riding a horse to get to school. When an older brother committed a murder and was sent to prison, the family relocated to Anadarko to be near him. Upon the brother's release from jail, he enlisted Sherman as an assistant in his bootlegging business.
The family moved again, this time to Oklahoma City where Sherman was again drawn into the bootlegging business by another of his older brothers. This business extended into Omaha, Toledo, and Detroit.
In Detroit at age 18, Billingsley was arrested and convicted on Federal charges. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison, and spent time in Leavenworth before his conviction was reversed. When his brother ran out on his Detroit mob partners, he left for New York, with Sherman joining him within a short period of time. Billingsley began buying drug stores in New York City and even started his own real estate office to help him acquire drug stores.
He created and owned the Stork Club. From the time of the speakeasy until the 1960s, he held court on East 53rd Street. According to Ralph Blumenthal in his 2000 book, Stork Club, another New York nightclub owner named Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan, widely known as "Tex Guinan", introduced Billingsley to her friend, commentator Walter Winchell, in 1930. In his column in the New York Daily Mirror, Winchell called the Stork Club "New York's New Yorkiest place on W. 58th".
In 1951, the Stork Club began to decline in popularity after refusing service to Josephine Baker. Having witnessed the incident, actress Grace Kelly raced over to Baker and took her by the arm, storming out of the establishment along with a large party, all vowing never to return. The two women became close friends after the incident and Baker sued Billingsley and the Stork Club. After seeing that her actions had caused the club's ultimate demise, Baker withdrew her lawsuit in 1955, feeling vindicated.
Billingsley offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the return of his son-in-law, Alexander I. Rorke, Jr., in 1963, when his plane disappeared over the Caribbean.
- "Billingsley" American National Biography: Baker-Blatch, Oxford University Press, 1999, Page 775
- "Social Security Death Index for Sherman Billingsley".
- Blumenthal, Ralph (July 1, 1996). "Look Who Dropped In At the Stork". New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
- "Mrs. Rorke Says No Search Made For Her Husband". The Palm Beach Post. October 4, 1963. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
- Brian Kellow, Ethel Merman: A Life (Viking, 2007), pg. 70
- Blumenthal, Ralph (2000). Stork Club: America's Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of Café Society. Little, Brown and Company; ISBN 0-316-10531-7 (hc); ISBN 0-316-10617-8 (pb)