December 12, 2016
Happy 101st Birthday, Francis Albert Sinatra! One year has already passed since I was in Palm Springs celebrating the 100th anniversary of Frank’s birth.
While there I took a side trip to Las Vegas and found out even more about Ol’ Blue Eyes. I never did get around to telling you about it then, so I figure now is a good time.
BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED
I have been a Frank Sinatra fan ever since I was a pre-teen, when my family finally got cable television. During summer vacation I watched old movies on WTBS in Atlanta and WGN in Chicago, but MGM musicals held me spellbound. “Anchors Aweigh,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Pal Joey,” “High Society,” and “Robin and the Seven Hoods” were my favorites. My parents, hard-core Country and Western fans and bigots to boot, couldn’t believe I liked that You-Know-What that rhymes with “lumbago.” They made me no never mind. I was in love. I mean, look at the name of my website! Can’t you tell?
As an adult I watched all of his movies and bought all of his albums. I read every book and biography. On a trip to New York City in 1998 I paid my respects at the site of his birth in Hoboken – just a plaque in the sidewalk, the building long-gone. I visited Palm Springs on prior occasions, but to say I was excited to be there on the one hundredth anniversary of Frank’s birth was putting it mildly.
I have a theory about Frank Sinatra: His influence was so monumental, his effect on pop-culture so deep and lasting, that you will hear, read, or see something about him every day, even though he died 18 years ago. Go ahead – give it a try and let me know if I’m right. The trick is you must listen to the music playing in elevators and to what is being said on television and radio, and really look at the images that bombard you every day. But it works. Trust me.
PALM SPRINGS, PLAYGROUND OF THE PRESIDENTS
It’s easy to find Frank in Palm Springs, if you care to look for him. His 1947 first desert home, Twin Palms, is there, the E. Stewart Williams masterpiece in the Movie Colony, now available to rent for a mere $3,000 per night.
That chip in the tile in the kitchen is where Frank threw a bottle at Ava one night, or was it the other way around? When Frank was in residence he would hoist the Jack Daniel’s flag to let everyone know it was time for happy hour.
Later came “The Compound” at the Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage, on aptly-named Frank Sinatra Drive.
Just down the block is Michael S. Wolfson Park, on the corner of Frank Sinatra and Da Vall.
So very surreal; press a large red button and Frank Sinatra speaks to you from the Great Beyond, from a fake rock, about the park, Michael Wolfson, and the local flora and fauna.
Frank welcomes you to Rancho Mirage, “An oasis in the desert and playground of the presidents.” He proceeds to rush and stammer his way through a speech about desert bighorn sheep and lambing season, of all things, the perfectionist in him not even bothering to ask for another take. It’s as if he was returning some political favor and was annoyed by the chore.
After you see the place where Frank last lived, turn on Ramon Road and travel a few miles to Desert Memorial Park, where he is spending eternity.
A short poem:
It is much more fun to seek out Frank
through the food he ate and the drinks he drank.
He and Barbara Marx held their wedding rehearsal dinner at Melvyn’s at the Ingleside Inn, where the bev nap reminds you of its pedigreed past.
Over at Club Trinidad, Frank frequented the place for Johnny Costa’s Clams Casino, eventually hiring Johnny as his personal chef.
Johnny later opened a restaurant, then moved to South Palm Canyon Drive, and the eatery is still there.
While Frank never ate there, you can sample another favorite dish – Steak Sinatra:
Cut NY steak into strips. Thick strips will be rare; thin will be well done. Coat pan in extra virgin olive oil. Heat. Coat steak in ½ cup flour. Sear until brown. Add 1 tsp minced garlic, shallots, parsley, salt, & pepper, 1 cup sliced mushrooms, & ½ red bell pepper. Add ½ cup red wine once shallots & garlic have browned. Burn off alcohol. Add ¼ cup beef stock/bouillon & 2 tbsp tomato paste/concentrate. Reduce stock & paste into gravy. Serve w/ veggies or pasta.
If you really want to walk in the footsteps of The Chairman of the Board, there’s only one place Palm Springs that reverently holds him in their hearts and minds: Lord Fletcher’s in Rancho Mirage. (Click on that link to read my more detailed love letter about Lord Fletcher’s.)
It is my favorite bar on the planet. I will cherish the memories of speaking with Michael Fletcher about Mr. Sinatra,
and sipping adult beverages made by Andy, who has never met a stranger.
You can bet that I will be on a stool at Lord Fletcher’s any time I’m in Palm Springs.
The Sinatra influence is still apparent in other ways in Palm Springs, from the Dolly Sinatra Lodge of the Sons of Italy (named for Dolly after she died in a plane crash on her way to see Frank in concert),
to exhibits at the Palm Springs Historical Society.
The Palm Springs Walk of Stars also coughed up some better real estate in December 2015, moving the stars for both both Frank and Barbara Sinatra to the corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Nothing I’ve told you so far about the Sinatra hotspots in Palm Springs can’t be found in Condé Nast pieces and LA Times articles and other tourist publications. But, while I was in Palm Springs last year, I had the privilege to experience two things most Sinatra seekers do not: Celebrating with someone who knew him personally, and a tour of Sinatra’s mountain retreat.
My adopted mom Maria lives in Palm Springs and plays tennis with Burt, a retired hotelier now in his 90s, who knows Barbara Sinatra and has fond memories of Frank. On the anniversary of Frank’s 100th birthday, we dined at the Purple Palm Restaurant at the Colony Palms Hotel, where there was a special Sinatra menu and a tribute artist crooning his heart out. What a cherished memory.
Villa Maggio, named by Sinatra after the character he played in “From Here to Eternity,” was designed by him in the late 60s and completed in the early 70s. It sits high above the Coachella Valley in the San Jacinto Mountains, where the temperatures are markedly cooler.
During my time in Palm Springs the property was for sale, and I toured it with a local real estate agent. I was asked by the owners not to publish photographs, so I will let this Forbes article show you around. I believe the property is still for sale.
“Las Vegas is the only place I know where money really talks–it says, ‘Goodbye.'” Frank Sinatra, “The Joker is Wild”
In Las Vegas last year for New Year’s Eve, I stopped in at the Wynn Casino for cocktails and a bite to eat at “Sinatra,” Steve Wynn’s love letter to Frank.
On loan from the family to Mr. Wynn is Frank’s Grammy for “Strangers in the Night,” the Emmy for “Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music,” and the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for playing Maggio in “From Here to Eternity.”
Even at the Wynn buffet, the meatballs are from an old Sinatra family recipe.
There was plenty of Sinatra memorabilia at Wayne Newton’s house, “Casa de Shenendoah.”
My most thrilling Sinatra experience in Las Vegas was dinner at the Golden Steer (1959),
where Sinatra and the rest of The Rat Pack hung out after shows in the 1960s. In celebration of Frank’s 100 birthday the restaurant promoted a dinner package, including sitting in the Sinatra booth,
two fingers of Jack Daniel’s,
and a commemorative Zippo lighter.
I was like a kid on Christmas!
Since last year I still seek out Frank where I can find him. While touring the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, I sprang for a bottle of Sinatra Select to commemorate Sinatra’s 100th birthday.
There will be more stops on the East Coast next summer. Perhaps that silly old song was only half right. Elvis AND Frank Sinatra are everywhere.