Frank Douglas Destra
Frank “DooWop” Destra grew up in Chicago, learning to dance and pantomime to ‘50s popular music.
At 14, he was dancing on a teenage dance show televised in Chicago. He invented a dip where he dropped his partner backward to the floor and she swung both feet as high as his head and then he lifted her back to her feet. They were chosen to represent Waller High School in the Harvest Moon Festival held at the Chicago Stadium; 22,000 people attended this charity event sponsored by the Sun Times. The show’s headliners were Sarah Vaghn, Edie Gorme, Red Buttons and the Harry James Orchestra. He and his partner won a gold medal in the High School Jitterbug category.
The next summer, they were in the dance group that opened the Pan-American games at Soldiers Field. No Jitterbugging, but he learned to cha-cha, mambo, and samba. Then he and his partner were invited to open the Howard Miller Rock and Roll Show held at the Chicago Civic Opera House on March 1, 1959. The show’s performers included Bobby Darrin, Connie Francis, Frankie Avalon, Conway Twitty, The Everly Brothers, Jack Scott, The Ponytails and Bobby Day. He rehearsed for three days with these performers who were just getting started. He even had a drink with Connie Francis.
He also learned to speed up records so his pantomime routines were funny. By adding some costumes and props, he earned some extra money entertaining at the Chicago Italian Club, the YMCA and some resorts and private parties.
After high school, he and his mom joined his older sister in California. Frank joined the Air Force. After the Air Force, he cooked with his mom at her Italian restaurant. In the evenings he found night clubs where he could enter the twist contests.
It was at the El Rey Night Club where he met Martha and fell in love. They were married in Las Vegas, which was the popular place for a wedding and honeymoon in 1965. They started a family and had Frankie in 1966, Angel in 1967 and Michael in 1968.
Frank worked at Douglas Aircraft fabricating parts and also helped with the cooking at his mom’s new restaurant, La Pizza Mia, in Fountain Valley. The restaurant had a jukebox, a piano and a bar, so sometimes he would entertain there for family and friends.
In 1975, his mom agreed to remodel her second restaurant into the diet restaurant that Frank and Martha wanted to try. It was very successful in helping the customers stick to their Weight Watcher diets.
In 1985, they sold the resby taurants so mom could retire and Frank became a school bus driver.
For the past 22 years, Frank and Martha have enjoyed retirement at Leisure World.
Through The Let the Good Times Roll Club, Frank found a venue where he could entertain with his skits. Thanks to Paul Salay and Carl Bourhenne, he even found out he could sing. In 2012 he won the Best Act trophy in a contest sponsored by the Theater Club.
Frank’s cooking became famous when he was asked to made a spaghetti and meatball dinner for the residents of Mutual 2. He was elected president of the Italian-American Club, where he changed the refreshments from a Danish and coffee to homemade soups with Italian bread and butter.
After being elected president of the Let the Good Times Roll Club, he planned a corned beef and cabbage dinner to raise money for new karaoke equipment. With Terry Otte and Abilene entertaining for dancing, Clubhouse 2 was sold out. Green beer, red wine and green pistachio icecreamwereserved, and the club earned enough for new equipment.
Frank was treasurer for We the People and for the LW Coin Club. He was in a few performances for the Theater Club and for the Chorale. In 2014, he presented a petition signed by 200 residents asking the Recreation Committee to change one of the Saturday Night Ballroom dances to a Rock and Roll dance night.
Frank and Martha enjoyed traveling with cruises. They went to Alaska, New York and New England, the Caribbean and Aruba, Mexico and even organized group cruises along the California coast to San Francisco.
In the fall of 2018 the couple took their dream trip to Italy for 18 days. They arranged a side trip to visit Bagheria, the city where Frank’s mother was born.
For the past few years, Frank’s favorite pastime was going to karaoke to sing and meet friends.
He is survived by his wife, Martha; his children Frank Jr., Angel and Michael; his grandchildren Nikki, Tristan, Danica, and Rachel; and his great-granddaughter Rowan.
We will all miss Frank, who was a great people-lover and friend. He made life so fun for all who knew him.
The family will hold a memorial reception for Frank on Saturday, May 20, at 3:30 p.m. in Clubhouse 2. All of Frank’s friends and fans are welcome to join. People can RSVP to Martha at marthad111442@icloud. com or by calling 562-225-0037.