Friends, family recall fond Sinatra memories

GOOD MORNING: Applause shook the Good Shepherd Catholic Church as the funeral mass for Frank Sinatra went into its final act. Kirk Douglas, leading those speaking in remembrance, recalled in a light vein how he was “angry” when he first met Sinatra — Douglas’ hot pastrami sandwich got cold as Kirk had to fight his way slowly through mobs of Sinatra fans around the theater. In a tribute to Sinatra’s wife — of over 20 years — Barbara, Kirk said, “Don’t cry much, think of Frank up there with Dino and Sammy. Boy, heaven will never be the same!” Barbara’s (and Frank’s adopted) son, Bobby Marx, also received applause for his tribute to Frank. Tom Dreemen, who served as m.c., bringing up these friends, had opened for Sinatra for many years — and told of the long nights with Frank, who insisted the rest of the entourage stay up with him, a feat impossible to achieve Gregory Peck said, “Frank made us feel good about ourselves.” He read Buzz Kohan’s words on Sinatra’s return from retirement — at the age of 60! “He returned and remained the world’s heavyweight champion — of song.” Again applause filled the church, where Tuesday night and earlier on Wednesday, it was nothing but prayer and solemnity. The laughs continued as George Schlatter recalled several hysterical travels with Frank — one in particular to Hong Kong, where everything went wrong, but never Frank’s doing. He closed with, “We’ll be close to you from here to eternity.” Sinatra’s son, Frank Jr., told how his dad was “an anomaly.” And he recited the list of his anomalies: from difficult birth to megastardom. “He had the romantic mystery of Valentino, the appeal of James Dean, the sex appeal of Marilyn Monroe, and the adulation given to Elvis Presley. But Frank lived to a ripe old age — and it wasn’t because he took care of himself!” Jr. recalled his dad getting a speeding ticket in front of that very church — 40 years ago! He also recalled his father getting an NAACP award while, said Sinatra Jr., young black picketers outside that arena carried placards accusing him of racism. Never was Sinatra a racist. Frank Jr., noting the outpouring for his father, said, “Today everyone sang for him, and today he listened.” Jr. turned to the coffin at the foot of the altar, and recalled his father’s words to Harry James at his funeral: “Thanks for everything. So long and take care of yourself.” And last to speak — emotionally — was Robert Wagner, who said of his friend, “What you saw is what you got — loyalty.” Earlier, Jerry Weintraub, Sidney Poitier, Bob Newhart, Jerry Vale and Quincy Jones read briefly from the New and Old Testaments. … Cardinal Mahony conducted the Mass as he had led the Vigil on the previous night. He reminded all of Sinatra’s gift of voice — and how he used it. He urged all to use what gifts they have. As for Sinatra, the Cardinal admitted, “I can think of no other musician in this century to match his talents — and to inspire (other musicians) to excellence.” The church choir, which sang beautifully throughout the ceremony, brought audible sounds of crying when they finale’d with “May the Angels Lead You to Paradise.” Everyone had, of course, hoped to hear Frank’s voice one more time — if only on record. And we were not to be disappointed, as The Voice gently filled the church and the hearts of all those there with “Put your dreams away (for another day),” an unforgettable moment. The pallbearers: Tom Dreesen, Nathan Golden, Steve Lawrence, Robert Marx, Tony Oppedisano, Don Rickles, Frank Sinatra Jr. and Eliot Weisman led the mourners out of the church followed by the honorary pallbearers, participants in the services, and the Sinatra family, including first wife Nancy and ex-wife Mia Farrow. The casket was then taken to the hearse, bringing Frank to his final journey — to the grave in Cathedral City, next to his parents.

EARLIER, AS THE SERVICE WAS TO BEGIN, a piano played songs like “All the Way, ” “Laura” and, of course, “My Way.” There was no voice. The voice was stilled — for now. But forever to be heard by old and new generations. As Tony Bennett told me, “Frank advised, ‘Don’t ever do “cheap” songs.’ It sustained me 45 years.” Bennett, Sinatra’s favorite singer, today accepts the Sons of Italy Award for Frank in D.C., presented by President Clinton. When Bennett read elsewhere he was to sing “Ave Maria” at the funeral, he told me, “They gotta get Perry Como for that!!” While Nancy Jr. and daughters A.J. and Amanda delivered moving memories of Frank on Tuesday, Tina was unable to speak. And many of those on hand also found it difficult to speak leaving the church, having passed the casket and Frank for the last time. … Among those on hand were Jeanne Martin and Altovise Davis, widows of Dean and Sammy, alumni of the Rat Pack. Also on hand, nearby each other for the first time in years, Liza Minnelli and sister, Lorna Luft. … Longtime friends Nicky Blair and Larry Manetti were also there, as was musician Al Viola, who told me he’d first played for Frank at the Steel Pier in ’47. There were representatives from every decade of Sinatra’s career and, of course, Lew Wasserman. His press agents, who had the unenviable job of fending off reporters but who occassionally enjoyed the rare atmosphere surrounding Sinatra, were also there. They included Warren Cowan, Lee Solters, Jim Mahoney and Susan Reynolds. And attorneys, past and present, Mickey Rudin and Harvey Silbert.