Born to Run (2016)

BOOK THREE

LIVING PROOF

SIXTY-THREE

KING OF NEW JERSEY (HOLLYWOOD DAYS)

There’s a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and get lost in a sea of blue. A Jersey-accented voice says, “It’s about time, kid,” and Frank Sinatra rattles the ice in his glass of Jack Daniel’s. Looking at the swirling deep-brown liquid, he whispers, “Ain’t it beautiful?” This is my introduction to the Chairman of the Board. We spend the next half hour talking Jersey, Hoboken, swimming in the Hudson River and the Shore. We then sit down for dinner at a table with Robert De Niro, Angie Dickinson and Frank and his wife, Barbara. This is all occurring at the Hollywood “Guinea Party” Patti and I have been invited to, courtesy of Tita Cahn. Patti had met Tita a few weeks previous at the nail parlor. She’s the wife of Sammy Cahn, famous for such songs as “All The Way,” “Teach Me Tonight” and “Only the Lonely.” She called one afternoon and told us she was hosting a private event. She said it would be very quiet and couldn’t tell us who would be there, but assured us we’d be very comfortable. So off into the LA night we went.

During the evening, we befriend the Sinatras and are quietly invited into the circle of the last of the old Hollywood stars. Over the next several years we attend a few very private events where Frank and the remaining clan hold forth. The only other musician in the room is often Quincy Jones, and besides Patti and I there is rarely a rocker in sight. The Sinatras are gracious hosts and our acquaintance culminates in our being invited to Frank’s eightieth birthday party dinner. It’s a sedate event at the Sinatras’ Los Angeles home. Sometime after dinner, we find ourselves around the living room piano with Steve and Eydie Gorme and Bob Dylan. Steve is playing the piano and up close he and Eydie can really sing the great standards. Patti has been thoroughly schooled in jazz by Jerry Coker, one of the great jazz educators at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. She was there at the same time as Bruce Hornsby, Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny, and she learned her stuff. At Frank’s, as the music drifts on, she slips gently in on “My One and Only Love.” Patti is a secret weapon. She can sing torch like a cross between Peggy Lee and Julie London (I’m not kidding). Eydie Gorme hears Patti, stops the music and says, “Frank, come over here. We’ve got a singer!” Frank moves to the piano and I then get to watch my wife beautifully serenade Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan, to be met by a torrent of applause when she’s finished. The next day we play Frank’s eightieth birthday celebration for ABC TV and I get to escort him to the stage along with Tony Bennett. It’s a beautiful evening and a fitting celebration for the greatest pop singer of all time.

Two years later Frank passed away and we were generously invited to his funeral. A classic bright sunny day dawned in Los Angeles. But upon approaching the church, the scene outside looked like something out of Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust. Television trucks and cameras were set up everywhere, with reporters stationed on the rooftops of nearby homes. There was a horde of protestors being kept on the far side of the street with signs blaming Frank for everything from God’s indifference to the decline of brown shoelaces. Inside the church, however, all was serene. There, along with Kirk Douglas, Don Rickles, Frank Jr. and the last of the old Hollywood stars, we said our goodbyes as Frank’s voice filled the church. At the end of the ceremony I stood for a moment with Jack Nicholson on the church’s front steps. He turned to me and said, “King of New Jersey.”