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Louis DiBella, 91, whose Peabody nude dancing bar set a precedent

A longtime Boston nightclub impresario and wholesale fruit vendor, Mr. DiBella named the Peabody club in honor of his status as one of the top banana sellers in the area.

Louis DiBella launched D.B.’s Golden Banana nightclub in Peabody in 1975, sparking years of legal battles with local officials — and eventually Massachusetts Governor Edward J. King — over nude women dancing in cages and nude men dancing on Monday nights.

Mr. DiBella ultimately prevailed in 1984 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that nude dancing was protected under the state constitution’s guarantee for freedom of expression.

A longtime Boston nightclub impresario and wholesale fruit vendor, Mr. DiBella named the club in honor of his status as one of the top banana sellers in the region, according to his family.


“He was the kindest, most gentle man you could ever meet, just a really great guy,” said attorney Joseph J. Machera, who represented Mr. DiBella for many years and considered him “like a second father.”

Mr. DiBella, who lived in Revere and grew up in the North End, died March 12 in Salem Hospital. He was 91.

“He had quite an interesting life. He worked every day seven days a week,” said his son Frankie of Revere, who recalled the Banana’s early days when his father booked The Monkees and Chubby Checker.

Because the club drew fewer patrons during winters, Mr. DiBella added professional boxing matches as well as nude dancing.

“You were proud when you worked for him because he was so good to everybody,” said former dancer Shelley Crescenzi, who brought her elaborate burlesque show to the Banana several times each year while touring in the late 1970s. She said audiences packed the club to see her emerge from a coffin as The Vampire Lady.

“He was wonderful. He protected everybody. I learned a lot from him,” said Crescenzi, who gave up her career when she married Mr. DiBella’s son.

Mr. DiBella, who lived in Revere and grew up in the North End, died March 12 in Salem Hospital.

Mr. DiBella’s first battle with local authorities over decency issues began when Peabody leaders enacted a morality code requiring that performers wear G-strings and pasties. Hundreds of residents packed meetings to protest nude dancing in their city and implored city councilors to take action.


“They would send in the building inspectors, the fire inspectors. They would send in the dog catcher,” Machera recalled. “The politicians used it as their fighting song.”

Mr. DiBella’s lawyers asked US District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity to issue a preliminary injunction to block Peabody from enforcing the ordinance. During an uncommonly candid court hearing in January 1978, Garrity reviewed a recording of a Golden Banana stripper’s 1950s-style “Teen Angel” show and questioned her about the artistic need to remove her panties. She responded: “Well, your honor, it’s really strange. Guys can’t use their imagination. They don’t want to see the act if you don’t take it off.”

Garrity ruled against Mr. DiBella’s injunction request that day. A state Superior Court judge barred Peabody from enforcing the new law, however, which allowed the Golden Banana to stay open.

In 1981, King sought to help Peabody and Revere drive out nude dancing by prohibiting shows in places where alcohol was served. King signed an emergency law, and Mr. DiBella’s legal team went back to court. Three years later, the SJC issued a 5-2 ruling that the dancing represented constitutionally protected “communication between the dancer and the audience.”

“I was all ready to take the liquor out and make it a juice bar,” Mr. DiBella told the Associated Press at the time. “Either way the thing went, it would have still been nude,” he said.


At heart, Mr. DiBella was a hardworking businessman who was devoted to his family, said Machera, who added that he was embarrassed to tell Mr. DiBella when he went on vacation because the club owner never did.

“My grandfather worked very hard for what he had. He was so generous to everyone. I looked up to him and admired him very much,” said his granddaughter Leah, who studied nursing and lives in Peabody.

One of eight children of Italian immigrants from Sicily, Mr. DiBella built up his family’s fruit business, which began with a pushcart in the North End. He ran a string of Boston nightclubs in the 1960s, including a jazz hot spot called Basin Street South and The Colosseum in the North End. He also owned the Green Apple in Peabody, which featured female impersonators.

Mr. DiBella was married more than 50 years to Gloria Luongo, who was known as “The Dutchess.” She died in 2013 at age 86.

Each Sunday, the family would gather for an Italian feast prepared by Mr. DiBella’s wife, and then he would take her to the movies.

A funeral Mass has been held for Mr. DiBella, who in addition to his son and granddaughter leaves his brothers Gregory of Stoneham and Albert of Quincy, another granddaughter, and two great grandchildren.

In the 1990s, Mr. DiBella was ensnared in a federal corruption probe targeting several Peabody police officers. He pleaded guilty to tax evasion and agreed to testify against an officer who had been accused of taking bribes at the club, where Mr. DiBella gave police loans, free drinks, and lucrative paid details.


“He didn’t want any trouble, and he always tried to do the right thing,” said Machera, his attorney. “His kindness might have been his downfall.”

During one police officer’s trial, Mr. DiBella testified that he gave a patrolman $200 — half so that the man could take a club dancer to dinner, and the other half as a wedding gift after they got married.

Mr. DiBella testified that he made the payments to police to avoid difficulties, and he compared one police sergeant’s attempt to get him to hand out more money to the demands mob wise guys made in the North End when Mr. DiBella was a young man. The sergeant was eventually acquitted of taking bribes but was convicted of tampering with a witness. The judge sentenced Mr. DiBella to probation and fined him $30,000.

The funeral Mass for Mr. DiBella, who served in the Army in World War II, was held in the soaring cathedral of St. Anthony of Padua in Revere, a church founded to serve Italian immigrants. His flag-draped coffin was taken to Everett for burial at Woodlawn Cemetery.

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at jmlawrence@me.com.