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Billingsley in 1951
March 10, 1896|
|Died||October 4, 1966
New York, New York
|Occupation||Owner, Stork Club, New York City|
Life and career
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 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 Texas 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".
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.
One of Billingsley's mistresses in the late 1930s was actress Ethel Merman. His nephew, Glenn Billingsley, was married to Leave It to Beaver actress Barbara Billingsley. (The actress should not be confused with Sherman Billingsley's daughter Barbara, who like his other children sometimes figured in publicity about the nightclub.)
- "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, Stork Club: America's Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of Café Society (Little, Brown and Company, 2000) ISBN 0-316-10531-7 (hc); ISBN 0-316-10617-8 (pb)