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the otto files

where the classics never go out of style

I wrote yesterday of my first Sinatra concert in April of 1980. In truth, It was the only actual “Sinatra Concert” I ever attended although I did see him perform live one more time about four years later in the summer of 1984. Back in those days, Sammy Davis Jr. used to host a Pro-Am Golf Tournament in Hartford, Connecticut. On the Saturday night before the final Sunday round, there was a benefit concert to support whatever charity the tournament supported. I don’t remember now what it was. Anyway, that summer of 1984, Frank Sinatra opened Sammy’s benefit show with five songs. Interestingly, the only song I can remember him singing now is “This Is All I Ask” which had originally been released almost thirty years  before on one of my all-time favorite Sinatra albums, 1965’s September of My Years. Following Frank was a tremendously funny comedian and impressionist named George Kirby who I knew from an obscure little show in the 1970s entitled The Kopykats. Finally, the main attraction of the evening, Sammy Davis Jr., came out and bowled us over, as expected.

Needless to say, that night in 1984 in Connecticut I was NOT ten feet away from the stage like I had been in April of 1980 and I did not know anyone in the show. By 1984, Vinnie Falcone had moved on. He’d parted company with Sinatra in 1982 although he did come back for a spell during the 1985-1986 concert season. The most significant change was I didn’t go back stage after the concert either although, to be technical about it, I didn’t in 1980 either. Here’s what happened:

When my Uncle Bob, mom, and I exited the theater that night in 1980 I was euphoric. I was so excited I thought I was going to burst! We waited for a few moments in the lobby outside and were quickly joined by Vincent Falcone in his tux. He, too, was pumped up. According to Vince, the show we had just seen was one of the very best “The Old Man” had done in recent memory. Falcone almost always referred to Frank Sinatra as Mr. S., The Old Man, or Boss – never as “Frank.” I seem to remember that Vince actually had to sit down while he discussed the show with us. He was sweating and a little out of breath. We stood around him happy to share in his enthusiasm and wanting to thank him for the great show we had just seen. However, as wonderful as the afterglow of the concert was, the more Falcone talked to us out in back of the theater, the more I began thinking, “Oh no, is this it?”

Now, I should say that while I was thinking “Is this it” I was simultaneously chastising myself for such an ungrateful thought. However, you must remember, Vinnie Falcone wasn’t just some local musician playing with the big headliner. He was Sinatra’s Musical Director, pianist, and conductor! I had already heard more stories over the past four years of my uncle having hung out with Vinnie and the Sinatra entourage. I wasn’t really expecting to hit the crap tables with them but I was hoping to just get introduced and shake his hand!

But no, instead we just kept talking and talking for what seemed like two weeks to me. The longer this went on, the more I realized we weren’t going to meet Sinatra. And why should we? We were literally just the sister and nephew of a friend of the conductor . . . from Rochester, New York, no less! By this time, I was more or less lost in my internal labyrinth of thoughts when all of a sudden I heard, like a foghorn cutting through the fog, “Let me get changed and we’ll go downstairs and see the old man.” Wait! What? Did he just say we were going to see . . .? Vinnie got up and was gone and I’m sorry to say that I now have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of what happened in the time that we were waiting for Vinnie to get changed. We must have talked about what was going to happen but it’s just a total blank. All I remember are the butterflies that were bouncing around in my stomach.

The next thing I remember is walking down the corridors of Resorts International Casino, the gaudy, fabulous corridors. I do remember passing a high-end chocolate shop where earlier in the day we had bought some delicious dark chocolate non-pareils. Next thing I knew, we were entering one of the many lounges in the hotel. There was live music emanating from inside the room but the band stand was in the furthest back end of the room. On the right was a long bar stretching halfway down the entire length of the room. A Maitre D’ came over to us and immediately we were headed for the left side of the room directly across from the bar where there were tables and then a raised platform with more tables. The raised platform area with the tables was actually roped off with those large velvet ropes you used to see in theaters. Do they still have those? Anyway, the rope was pulled back and with Vinnie leading the way, we ascended the two steps onto the next level, literally and metaphorically. All of a sudden, before I knew what happened, there was Frank Sinatra in front of me. Vince was introducing all of us and Frank barked to someone, “Get some chairs and put them around the table.” Someone grabbed three chairs and we squeezed in to the group that was Sinatra’s audience around this low coffee table in the lounge.

Once again, it’s hard to remember the seating assignments perfectly after all these years but I know there was someone to Frank’s right at the table but I don’t remember who that was. Continuing counter-clockwise around the table was Paul “Skinny” D’Amato, best known for running The 500 Club in Atlantic City for many years. It was at The 500 Club that the team of Martin & Lewis was actually born in July of 1946. D’Amato was a long time Sinatra pal. Frank felt a special loyalty to D’Amato because, according to Sinatra, he was one of the few guys who continued to hire him during the dark days of his career in the late 1940s and early 1950s. To D’Amato’s right was Yours Truly. I know, right!?!? To my right was Uncle Bob, then my mom, then either Vinnie or the former Police Commissioner of NYC and then a young woman and Bobby Marx, Barbara Marx’s son. There may have been one or two other people on the outside fringe of the circle but I can’t remember it all clearly.

There are only a few things I took pains to remember all these years, one being the fact that I was sitting next to “Skinny” D’Amato. The other was Sinatra’s attire. He was wearing a black, faux silk warmup jacket with a colorful NBC peacock over the left breast. I think he had just finished shooting some special at NBC and that’s where he got the jacket. He regaled us with a few stories of his days with Dean and Sammy. It was thrilling to me because I was essentially in a bar at 2:00 am as part of Frank’s inner circle, if only for that one night. At the time, the stories were thrilling to me although I imagine many in his internal group had heard the stories numerous times before. The one I remember best had to do with the 1961 marriage of Sammy Davis to May Britt, a fair-haired, caucasian actress. Sinatra, as Sammy’s best man, was making various arrangements for the affair. He and Dean went looking for a gift for the happy couple. They went shopping for a sofa for the couple’s new home. They agreed on a style they liked and when the salesman asked what color or design they wanted for the actual fabric that would cover the sofa Sinatra said, “Oh, Mr. Martin can choose that.” Sinatra said on the day of the wedding, the sofa was wrapped and delivered to the Davis home where the wedding took place. It came time for the gifts to be opened and when they unwrapped the sofa, the sofa was covered in a black and white zebra stripe design. Frank said, “I turned to Drunky [Dean] and said, ‘What the hell is that?’ Dean said, ‘What? I thought they’d blend right in!'”

My next memory has to do with the Trilogy album that my Uncle Bob had purchased for me at the concert. At some point, someone asked or suggested that Mr. Sinatra sign the album for me. Sinatra said, “What should I write? Vince mentioned that the young man (me) listened only to our music – the standards, the big bands, the great composers. They were all amazed and impressed that I didn’t like any of the current rock music and that my musical interests were focused solely on Sinatra and his contemporaries. Someone found a sharpie and handed it to Sinatra who proceeded to write something on my album. Before I saw what he wrote, a few others in the entourage got a glimpse of the inscription and laughed and complimented Sinatra on his clever note. When I got the album back I read, “For Billy – “Rock Stinks” 1980 Frank Sinatra”

Trilogy, by the way, was the album that contained this song that forever after became a Sinatra staple in all of his concert performances. Here’s one just two months after we had seen Sinatra in A.C. Falcone is conducting and that’s the great Tony Mottola on guitar.

At some point, it was time to leave. I seem to think Frank had told one of his guys that he needed to go to the men’s room and with that Uncle Bob or Vince decided it was probably time for us to go as well. By this time it was past 4:00 am. We all got up to say our goodbyes and Frank got up and reached across the table to shake my hand. Then he squeezed my cheek between his thumb and index finger before giving me a little tap and telling me that I needed to get to bed.

But that wasn’t the end. No, what came next is actually the moment that lived on in memory and lore in our family for years and years and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. Remember I told you that we were seating around a low, circular coffee table? Well, I was only two people away from Frank at the table so it was easier for him to reach around one side to shake my hand and give my face the little love tap. However, in my mother’s case, she was directly across the table from Sinatra so there was the expanse of the table’s diameter which was probably 3-4 feet wide. Now you need to know that my mother always had a thing about how she carried herself. She was very much a lady. The older she got, whenever we’d drive her somewhere when it came time for her to exit the passenger seat of the vehicle she would invariably say, “How to get out of a car gracefully?” She was always very aware and concerned about being clumsy. She wasn’t really clumsy at all but for whatever reason, she was wary of it. Now Sinatra reaches out to my mother to say goodbye. He grasps her hand and leans slightly over the table and puckers up for a kiss. My mother grabs his hand and looking back at him puckers her lips and makes an air kiss. And that was it!! Essentially, Frank Sinatra had given her the go ahead to come on in for a landing to one of the most famous pair of lips in American history and my mother rebuffed him!

For years afterward, my mother would say, “I can’t believe I had the chance to kiss Frank Sinatra and I blew it!” The reason she didn’t take the smooch from Ol’ Blue Eyes was because she was afraid to lean over the table, lose her balance and cause a scene. It all worked out because it made for a wonderful story to tell. My mother – the only woman in America to refuse a kiss to the heartthrob of the bobbysoxers. By the way, my mother had actually been one of those screaming kids that saw Sinatra at the Paramount in the 1940s!

Oh and there was one more ridiculous addendum to this story. During the concert I had taken some pictures with the camera that  I had with me. However, not knowing or thinking yet about the possibility of meeting Sinatra, I burned through the roll. Remember, these were the days before digital so you only had 12, 24, or 36 pictures to a roll. Now we’re in the lounge and someone remembers to ask for the autograph but NO ONE THINKS TO ASK FOR A PHOTO!!! So 37 years later, I have the misty memories of a magical night but no photographic evidence. And we thought my mother’s blunder was our biggest goof!

Next up, my reunions with Vincent Falcone in the years following my Sinatra Summit.

 

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