Reading Barbara Sinatra’s reflections about her husband (“Doing it Sinatra’s Way” (February 2008) reminds me of one afternoon in the early 1940s when I drove 75 miles from my home in Topeka to Lawrence, Kan., to hear the Tommy Dorsey band play at Kansas University. On arrival, I found that the dance sold out. But as I was about to leave, Dorsey’s band pulled up with players disembarking. I approached trumpeter Zizzy Elman and told of my plight. Ziggy, who had replaced Bunny Berrigan, handed me his horn and said, “Here, carry this for me.” I strutted in, with Frank Sinatra beside me.
I recall that the skinny Sinatra (with bow tie and a scar on his right cheek that I later learned was the result of a birth injury) sang the Lucky Strike hit of the day, “I’ll Never Smile Again,” backed by the Pied Pipers with Jo Stafford. When the band played another Dorsey hit — with Ziggy taking Berrigan’s legendary solo — Tommy admitted that “Marie was the lady” that had really propelled his band to fame.
A year later, I heard Sinatra when the Tommy Dorsey band played Meadow Acres ballroom in Topeka. I was following Frank, walking aside Buddy Rich, to the back entrance of the dance hall, when a young woman asked for their autographs. Frank obliged, but Rich refused. This irritated Sinatra, and the former bantamweight boxer decked Buddy.
Now living in the Palm Springs area, I often drive on Frank Sinatra Drive, past the Sinatra compound at Tamarisk Country Club, where Frank had a pad paved for President Kennedy’s helicopter, scheduled to arrive for New Year’s Eve. JFK reneged because of Jack’s familiarity with mob members. The president spent the night at Walter Annenberg’s mansion, also on Frank Sinatra Drive. Sinatra changed his support to Ronald Reagan and was observed destroying the unused helicopter pad.
I occasionally stop at the Cathedral City cemetery to show visitors Sinatra’s gravesite with the small stone marked, “The Best Is Yet To Come.” On Frank’s birthday, Dec. 12, I once found that the single red rose often placed there had been supplemented with an array of flowers and birthday cards. Within putting distance is the grave of Frank’s close friend, Jimmy Van Heusen. A little farther away is the [grave of] former Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono, marked “The Beat Goes On.”
William H. Smith