This weekend begins the year-long celebration of the 100th birthday of one of the 20th Century’s most popular entertainers. On Sunday and Monday nights, April 5 and 6, HBO airs a documentary about the crooner’s life.
Throughout the year, there will be further major Sinatra birthday events, particularly in Las Vegas, the town he made famous through the 1950s until his final performances in the 1990s. As a lifelong fan, I have a very fond memory of when I sat down and talked with Frank Sinatra in 1953.
I had just completed my two-year Navy active duty time during the Korean War, and was working for the now-long-gone Beverly Hills Citizen daily newspaper. To get a story about the newly-opened Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, I had a fortunate connection. Al Freeman, a high school classmate of my older brother, was publicity director of the hotel, and he invited me to spend several days there as his guest.
The first night Al invited me to a party at one of the luxury suites at the Sands. When I arrived, the room was full of businessmen, showgirls and familiar entertainment celebrities. Just outside on the balcony was Al talking with a familiar-looking slim man. He waved me over and introduced me to Frank Sinatra.
I shook hands and unsuccessfully tried to act casual. I expected Sinatra to offer a few polite words and then get back to more important people. Instead, he took me by the shoulder and said, “Al told me you’ve returned recently from Korean War service. You know, I just completed a war movie called “From Here To Eternity”, and did my damnedest to act like a real soldier.”
He then escorted me to a couple of chairs and we chatted, not celebrity to fan, but guy to guy. The movie he mentioned was released later in 1953, and at the 1954 Academy Awards ceremony, Frank Sinatra won the Oscar for his very realistic portrayal of a soldier.