Rat Pack Reunion

Wandering Billy

Memories of Sinatra, Martin and The Golddiggers

By Billy Eye

“My father said get a regular job already, what are you doing? What is this with the singing? Get a job!” — Frank Sinatra

Ring-a-ding-ding, Hep Cats. Back in 2012, I had the pleasure of creating an extensive oral history of the Alberici Sisters, who, as teens in 1973, joined Dean Martin’s girl group The Golddiggers. For the book, Beyond Our Wildest Dreams, I interviewed dozens of folks who worked with Dean and Frank Sinatra. So, in conjunction with the Sinatra-themed bash this magazine will be throwing on October 20th at Blandwood Mansion, let’s wander back in time for some up-close memories of the one and only concert tour Ol’ Blue Eyes and Ol’ Red Eyes ever undertook together in 1977.

Maria Alberici, Golddigger 1973–1990: We were scheduled to do two shows a night. Pat Henry would go on first, then The Golddiggers, then Dean and finally Frank. After Frank’s set, Dean would join him on stage for some comedy and a long medley of their hits. When the first day of rehearsal arrived, there was an air of respectful anticipation backstage as if history was in the making. They both showed up for rehearsal in tuxes. Frank was a little more casual, he was wearing a black top coat instead of his tux jacket. They faced off onstage like two matadors in search of a bull.

Dean had a natural way of making people feel comfortable. He didn’t go out of his way to make an impression or try to be charming, he just was. With Frank you had to know he was in command but, even though he had a take-charge air about him, he displayed a wider range of emotional colors when he performed. Frank was all about getting inside the music. It was the art of seduction for him.

Frank was the master chess player, the manipulator of the chessboard. One night he invited us all to dinner in a lovely private room backstage. When it was time for dinner, his bodyguards escorted us to our tables.

Helen Costa, wife of Sinatra’s musical arranger Don Costa: The reason they called him Ol’ Blue Eyes — a lot of people have blue eyes but Frank had a tremendous energy coming from his eyes. When he walked into a room, it was electrifying. His eyes were it, I think that’s what really endeared him to the audience because they connected through that energy, and he made every person feel he was singing to them. It was more his talent for phrasing than having the greatest voice ever; it was enough that he had the phrasing and the energy to simulate that intimacy on stage. He had that power. He was very intense all the time. He was particular, had perfect pitch and great ears for any kind of mistakes.

Robyn Whatley, Golddigger 1976–1987: Dean was naturally very funny so he had Frank laughing all the time. They had such a routine and fell right back into it even though they had not been together in concert for a decade or so. Dean never rehearsed, but Frank Sinatra was very professional, into details, let’s put it that way. Our dressing room was right next to his and the walls were paper thin. He would literally do vocal rehearsals for at least thirty minutes before every show. And Dean would come in and kinda go, “Ah, is the stage still where we left it?”

Linda Alberici, Golddigger 1973–1990: At the start of our run, newspapers all over the country ran photos of Dean and Frank performing together on stage again. The Rat Pack was back and we were right in the thick of it. Frank was the Chairman of the Board and traveled with his kingdom wherever he performed. And the court jesters were these shady wise guys that followed him around everywhere. Every once in a while they would quickly assemble and look like they had something important to attend to, but mostly they would just hang out.

It wasn’t all laughs and inside jokes on the tour. Frank fired his longtime friend and opening act Pat Henry over a bad bet or something. I heard Pat never got over that. After that the atmosphere of the tour got a little more tense. I must say, I was tiptoeing around. One evening I asked Dean about our being told before the tour began to “stay away from Mr. Sinatra.” His reply was, “I’m keepin’ away from him too!” Dean explained that Frank was bugging him to stay out late and party with him. I wanted to know more but wouldn’t dare probe into their relationship. Dean, being a man of few words, didn’t go into much detail except to say that Frank’s nocturnal lifestyle was not for him anymore.

Just outside the stage door Frank had a big limo waiting with the motor running. As soon as he got offstage he was escorted directly to the limo by a bunch of guys in suits. They were trying to escape before the audience was let out of the theater. It was very much like a scene out of a mafia movie with the bank robbers making their getaway.  OH

Beyond Our Wildest Dreams is available at bookstores and from Amazon.com. Billy Eye will be attending the soirée on October 20th if the lawyers and insurance people can hash it out in time.

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