Back when Miami was Hollywood East — when Esther Williams performed in the Raleigh Hotel’s pool, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin crooned up the street and the Coconut Grove Playhouse was on the stage circuit for serious playwrights and studio-system stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age — Charlie Cinnamon was its ringmaster, gatekeeper and glue.
The larger-than-life, Bronx-born publicist, who passed away in 2016, a couple days shy of his 95th birthday, is the subject of a touching, nostalgic exhibit, “Charlie Cinnamon: Legendary Press Agent,” at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in South Beach from Tuesday through mid-September. A bevy of Charlie’s Angels as they’re called (The coiffed hair! The sequins!) came out for the preview, saluting with Cinnamon Toasts, the night’s signature cocktail, and reading the show’s custom “Playbill.”
“I feel like it’s our own version of the Academy Awards,” said Susan Gladstone, the museum’s executive director, who promised speeches would be limited to two minutes as if it were the real deal. “We have Kleenex should the program bring a tear to your eye.”
It came in handy when Broadway veteran and exhibit co-producer Richard Jay-Alexander sang “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” one of Cinnamon’s favorite standards, to accompany a short video of his big-grinned mug alongside Liz Taylor, Eartha Kitt, Joan Collins and Chita Rivera. A pair of cuff links gifted from Taylor and Rivera’s note are displayed with painted portraits — he founded the Coconut Grove Arts Festival as a publicity stunt, naturally — and a lifetime of personal belongings and mementos like his 1920s Smith Corona typewriter, World War II correspondence and red-carpet tuxedo.
“He would have been thrilled it’s standing room only,” said Jay-Alexander, who wasn’t the only Broadway name in the room.
Cinnamon’s godson, Tony Award winner Adam Epstein, flew in from Los Angeles for opening night.
“Charlie taught me to do favors in show business and do it with generosity, not simply because you want something in return,” said Epstein, a Miami native whose parents were introduced by the matchmaking mensch. “The curtain may have closed on his life, but his loving legacy remains immortal.”