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by Francesca Di Meglio
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by Cookie Curci
Una Mamma Italiana
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by Cookie Curci
The news flashed across my TV screen at 12:30 a.m. "We interrupt this program for a special bulletin," the voice announced. I braced myself for news of some devastating world event.
A moment later, a picture of Frank Sinatra with the dates 1915-1998 told the story. I didn't hear what else the announcer said; I was remembering the day I met the icon.
It happened during the mid-1970s, when Lake Tahoe was a Mecca for superstar entertainment. In those days, the elaborate showrooms of Harrah's, Harvey's and Del Webb's Sahara Hotel played host to the greatest names in show business. Their marquees offered a changing menu of stars: Elvis Presley, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Bill Cosby, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., Danny Thomas, Liza Minnelli, Liberace, Jimmy Durante, Alan King and the Smothers Brothers. And I was lucky enough to have met them all.
My family owned a vacation home at the lake. I spent a lot of vacation time at the clubs, even working as a bingo runner at Harrah's. About 20 years ago, Sinatra and John Denver were appearing together at Harrah's. Denver was rarely around the clubs, preferring the fresh mountain air. Sinatra loved the nightlife and made himself very visible at the casino cafes, bars, lounges and gaming tables.
When an attractive cocktail waitress brought Sinatra's drink to the gaming table he'd give her a tall stack of chips along with his customary words of approval, "Ring-a-ding-ding!" Perhaps they were politically incorrect by today's standards, but nonetheless, women loved Sinatra's hip remarks. Sinatra's friendly demeanor was a sharp contrast to the hot-tempered leader of the Rat Pack that we'd all read so much about.
Perhaps Sinatra's new personality was due to the propriety and respectability of the company he was keeping that week: Spiro Agnew, Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Peck, Mary Livingston (Mrs. Jack Benny) and Mr. and Mrs. Milton Berle. Whatever the reason, Sinatra was on his best behavior.
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