Why you should care

The rich are very much touchier than you and me.

It started as an innocuous assignment.

Write a quick 500 words on the cinematic oeuvre of Frank Sinatra, the singer, producer, actor and bon vivant who had passed away in 1998. The publication? A cable television magazine. The article? A look at a TCM retrospective marking the decade since Ol’ Blue Eyes’ passing with a month’s worth of programming.

As a bonus, I was initially told there was a chance that I would be flown out for a press junket, with the Sinatra kids — Nancy, Tina and Frank Jr. — dangled as potential interviews.

This seemed a little over the top for such a short article, but free trips across the country are not to be turned down. Eventually, it was changed to a phone interview with Nancy, and while I was disappointed that I didn’t get my trip, I was still thrilled to talk to the sassiest of the Sinatras.

It was early on, but Nancy already had her hackles up and would brook no bullshit.

 

Could you blame me? This was the woman who (with Lee Hazlewood) gave us such unforgettable songs as “Jackson,” “Summer Wine,” “Some Velvet Morning” and the brilliant “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.’” As an actress, she had starred with Elvis (in Speedway) and Peter Fonda (in The Wild Angels), showing those boots (and accompanying legs) to good effect.

Nancy still ranks as something of a feminist icon for “Boots,” which has been covered by the likes of Lil’ Kim, Ella Fitzgerald and Megadeth, to name just a few. Her collaborations with Hazlewood have kept her discography current among hipsters, and Sinatra herself kept current by collaborating with the likes of Morrissey, Sonic Youth and Black Devil Disco Club. She was very much of her time; while Frank covered successive decades, constantly reinventing himself with each era, Nancy remains one of the most indelible and loved ’60s icons.

 

Things moved fast once I agreed to write the piece. A Sinatra publicist got me on the phone a few days after to arrange an interview, and almost immediately I could hear an impatient, slightly rasping voice behind his. It could only be Nancy’s. The publicist capitulated to her query with a certain amount of wryness: Was I willing to go ahead and do the interview now?

Hell yes, I was.

I knew my Sinatra, his singing career from Columbia to Capitol to Reprise, and I was a fan of his movie work, including his Oscar-winning turn in From Here to Eternity and his role in the underappreciated World War II action-thriller Von Ryan’s Express. I didn’t have much in the way of notes in front of me, but casually chatting with Nancy about her dad’s silver screen work shouldn’t be a problem, right?

The publicist turned the phone over to Nancy, we exchanged terse greetings, and I somewhat awkwardly told her that I was a fan of her dad, both “the good and the bad.”

A cold silence ensued, and then she hissed, “Whaddaya mean? There’s nothing bad about my dad at all.”

Recognizing a stupid opening gambit almost immediately after stupidly saying it, I scrambled to rephrase it. “I mean the media image of your dad, how he was sometimes perceived as a loose cannon. I kind of get a kick out of that.”

It was early on, but Nancy already had her hackles up and would brook no bullshit.

“Is this gonna be that Kitty Kelley stuff? That tabloid crap?” she demanded. “’Cause I won’t talk to you if it’s gonna be!” This was unexpected for what was meant to be a friendly conversation. Kelley was a notorious biographer who had been threatened with a lawsuit by Frank himself after she wrote His Way: An Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra. Having my name linked with that of the much-despised Kelley was a surreal moment, one that I will forever cherish.

I admired Nancy, and I wanted the interview to move forward.

All I was thinking about was surviving her wrath long enough to get one or two quotes that I could shoehorn between descriptions of Frank’s movies. I quickly responded with, “No, no. The article is just going to be about how your father is an American icon, a vanishing type of actor in the current film landscape.”

There was another moment of silence, and then she finally said, “I thought we were talking about stamps?”

Bewildered, I said, “Stamps? What stamps?” 

She impatiently shot back, “What, have you been living under a rock? THE STAMPS.”

Turned out the U.S. government was issuing commemorative Sinatra stamps in a few months, which was what Nancy thought the interview would be about. I made placating noises, she handed the phone back to the publicist, and he apologetically rescheduled for the next day, with Nancy loudly declaiming, “You tell him none of that Kitty Kelley crap! I won’t do it!” in the background.

The publicist received assurances from me — by that point I was helplessly trying not to laugh — but the damage was done. I opted for a much quieter interview two days later with the thoroughly polished and professional Tina, and kept my Nancy story in my back pocket for entertaining friends. And now you.

After all, who wouldn’t want to have a fiery Nancy Sinatra walk all over you in an interview?

OZYTrue Story

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