From up and down and still somehow

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Looking south along 3rd Avenue from 85th Street. 4:30 PM.

Thursday, December 12, 2019.  Rain stopped yesterday morning but the temps were Spring-50s, now heading down to the lower 30s last night. 

At Sunset yesterday, I took the dogs out for a quickie down along the Promenade. The sky was beautiful clouds passing through, full of pinks and blues and greys. I went back inside to get my little Canon to catch the last of the sunlight over the easternmost side of the Metropolis. It was 4:45 in the afternoon.  They offered drama and warnings those clouds — depending on how you were feeling — as well as serenity and contentment. The verse of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”  was running through my mind:

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all.

Looking north from the promenade.
Looking south.

Today is Frank Sinatra’s birthday. He would have been 104. He died 22 years ago this coming May. He was an enormous influence and interpreter of 20th century popular music – which at some far off time if we humanoids are still around – will be crowned as Folk Music. I met him only once, and that was to shake his hand as he and his wife Barbara Sinatra were leaving a party at the Waldorf. I was with Judy Green, who, with her  late husband Bill Green, was a very close friend of the man. 

Frank Sinatra, 1947.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

As it happened when I lived out in Los Angeles, I came to know several people who were friends and/or had close relationships with Frank Sinatra. I had been familiar with his crooning, as a second generation fan, in the late 1950s and early ’60s. It was a rare voice and delivery, and if you got to know a little about him personally, you learned that he knew exactly what he was doing, and it was a literal reflection of his heritage and his generation in Modern Times. He was a total pro just like any expert in one’s field.

His friends loved talking about him if you got to know them well enough. It was a life as dramatic and fascinating as his songs and film performances. He was a rare one — mercurial, enormously generous and kind ,as well as that wise-guy bullying. He was a great star and celebrity, but never a snob, yet well aware of his great fame. As he got older — when those I knew talked about him — he particularly liked a life among the upper social sets of his world, as well as his pals in show business and in a performer’s nightlife. His many friends knew him to be the cultural icon that he was. But human. And not perfect. They liked him for who he was as an enormously successful and generous man.

Listening to Sinatra stories about his behavior and his relationships was like entertainment because it was a Big Life and full of off-screen drama. He was a man sure of himself and powerful enough in his world to have it his way. The onus to his wide and broad social life was his relationships with men who were members of what was generally referred to as The Mob. Many were denizens of Las Vegas and its economic environs where Sinatra frequently performed and was a major draw. For him, his friends were his friends no matter their financial or “social” backgrounds. 

However, a man of his celebrity and wealth was naturally attractive to many in the upper echelons of social life. In the early 1960s when Jack Kennedy was President, Frank was known publicly to be a friend. There was a moment in Kennedy’s brief Presidency when he invited the President to be his guest at his compound in Palm Springs while JFK was making a public appearance there.

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy arrive at Sinatra’s inaugural ball on the evening of Inauguration Day.

Anticipating this important guest, Sinatra had a special helicopter pad constructed on the property so that the President could arrive and depart away from the crowds. A few days before his arrival, however there was a quick change in the President’s schedule, his stay with Frank was canceled, and his guest location was changed. 

The last minute change was said to be made because of the Frank’s well known association with certain members of the Mob. When Frank learned of the change in the President’s schedule, he went into a rage, ending when he took a sledge hammer out to the helipad and began smashing the concrete. It didn’t destroy it, of course, but it defined the intense fury of the man.

Morton Downey at the height of his fame on the cover of TIME Magazine, June 22, 1931.

The real irony was that it was Joe Kennedy’s personal connection with Sam Giancana who arranged the multimillion cash loan from Las Vegas to the Kennedy campaign. Jack was running in the primaries behind Hubert Humphrey when they got to campaigning in West Virginia. He had to win West Virginia. If he lost this state, he wouldn’t have made it to the nomination at the Convention. The Vegas money was put to work, immediately, and the outcome was Kennedy remaining in the race, and ultimately winning the White House.

Nevertheless, Sinatra’s associations were still too much for a public association with the Kennedy White House at that time. The relationship between Frank and the Kennedys remained accessible, nevertheless, through the President’s brother-in-law Peter Lawford. The reality was that the Kennedys liked the association (and connections) with Frank Sinatra as well as the pleasure and charm of his company.

In the 1970s and 80s, with his wife Barbara he had a strong association with a group of socially prominent people that were the converse side of his famous Rat Pack. These people included Judy and Bill Green, the Bennett Cerfs, Leland and Pamela Churchill Hayward (who later married Averill Harriman), Armand and Harriet Deutsch and Ann and Morton Downey. 

Unknown in the world of society and celebrity today, Morton Downey was a very wealthy man, and a longtime close friend of Joseph Kennedy. Downey had been very famous on the radio in America in the 1930s. He had his own show that made him a big star and in recordings too. One of Downey’s adoring fans in his hey-day was a young woman in New Jersey named Dolly Sinatra. Her admiration of the famous Irish tenor made a big impression on her boy Francis Albert. By the late 1970s the two men were very close friends and admirers. A late and yet longtime realization of a childhood dream of the boy born in Hoboken on this day in 1915.

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