My first performance at the Sands in Las Vegas was due to a generous recommendation by one of my early idols, Frank Sinatra. We maintained that cherished relationship for the rest of our lives.
Earlier, I had heard so many negative stories about Frank that I was somewhat apprehensive about approaching him. To my absolute surprise, he wound up being quite amiable and the most caring individual that I have ever known. During that period I had befriended a number of fellow entertainers. There was Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Nat “King” Cole, but I was especially thrilled to work alongside Frank Sinatra.
I first met Frank at Lindy’s Restaurant in New York City in the early fifties. Lindy’s was one of the great show business restaurants whose walls were covered with caricatures of the great and near-great entertainers of our time. He was sitting at a table with friends, and when we were introduced, he stood up, which was an unusual custom for big stars. When he rose, he tried to ease the table away to make room for himself. I'll never forget what he said, “I'm trying to push this table back, but the damn thing is pushing me instead.”
As time went by I would encounter Frank at various show business events and affairs. He was always the gentleman and made it a point to ask me if I needed anything, something he always earnestly inquired of his friends, either when seeing them face-to-face or over the telephone. One night he asked me when I was coming to Vegas to perform my act. “When somebody asks me,” I responded.
Frank was a partner in the Sands Hotel and shot back without hesitation: “Come to Vegas next Friday and you'll start in the lounge.”I almost choked up. I, of course, kept the date. That first performance lasted twenty-two weeks and was the first important start that has continued through my career. And it was all due to Frank's generosity and caring about people he liked. He didn't have to do that for me. He also cared for many others.
When Buddy Hackett and I worked together in Florida, Frank would invite us up to his suite in the Eden Rock Hotel for sandwiches and pizza. Frank could stay up all night and perform a great show the next evening, without even napping. They were wonderful days spent with a great friend. I'll always treasure them.
Over the years Frank, his wife Barbara, and my wife Rita and I became kindred, especially when we lived in California and spent much time at Frank and Barbara's Rancho Mirage home. In 1996, I was honored to perform in a special tribute to Frank at the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament.
I was honored. The show also featured a powerhouse of great vocalists: Vic Damone, Andy Williams, Jack Jones, and Buddy Greco. We all belted out Frank's favorites as he sat at a front table and cheered us on. When it was my turn I announced:
“Frank, I'm going to sing some tunes that are associated with your great career. I only hope to do them justice, as God knows you already have,” to a smile and a wave.
In the past Frank and I had performed together at a number of shows including some for the Italian American Organization.
And, I must tell you about the Sunday afternoon card games with Frank and our friends Gregory and Veronique Peck, “M*A*S*H” creator and writer Larry Gelbart, Angie Dickinson, Jack and Felicia Lemmon, at Frank's home. When Frank fell ill, we continued the games and talked about the old days, so to speak, trying to keep his spirits up. Frank would sometimes try to quit early, but I would say something like, “Hey, c'mon Frank, stay up with us. You're bringing me luck. Stay a while. Don't you remember singing 'Luck Be a Lady?' Then don't go to sleep. You can sleep tomorrow.”
I was trying to keep Frank in the game and not allow him to give in so easily. We talked about many things he had enjoyed in the past like the Convair plane he bought in which he would take us for a spin when we were playing Vegas.
He would light up like a kid finding a set of trains under a Christmas tree when we touched on such antics and recall the fun we had back then.
When Frank reached his eighties and became too ill for the Sunday get-togethers, I would visit him as often as I could as I had done a hundred times before. Barbara would receive me warmly and excuse herself to bring her husband out to greet me. While waiting in the kitchen I would hear a familiar voice over my shoulder, “Hello, Jerry!”
When I turned around to see Frank standing there, I could not avoid the feeling of a deep emotional attachment. It was upsetting to see my teacher, my friend and idol Frank Sinatra, in such condition, his health deteriorated. It hurt, but wear and tear, illness and age had taken its toll on this marvelous man as it will someday on every one of us.
God Bless Frank Sinatra.
BACK COVER TEXT:
This is a book about singing: Sinatra Singing! The loving foreword is by another singer, Jerry Vale. Inside there are many singers who learned to sing from following how Frank Sinatra did it, then geared their own careers because of his influence. It takes you from his days with Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and his own exploding singing career that had its roots in the New York Paramount appearances and developed at Columbia & Capitol Records and Reprise Records with some great concerts in-between.
Starring Tony Bennett, Patty Andrews, Vic Damone, Michael Feinstein, Carol Kidd, Tony (B.) Babino, Pat Boone, Cristina Fontanelli, Michael Buble, Tony DeSare, Julia Keefe, Lou Lanza, Roberto "Weatherman" Tirado, Johnny Mathis, Daryl Sherman, Bruce Springsteen, Ervin Drake, Van Alexander, Doris Day, and from the past Peggy Lee, Matt Monro, Connie Haines, Mildred Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday, among others.
P.O. Box 344 - Stony Brook - NY - 11790