The Frank Sinatra Spectacular

By Marin, Cheech | Newsweek, April 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Frank Sinatra Spectacular


Marin, Cheech, Newsweek


Break out the broads and booze. Frank, Dean, Sammy and the boys are at it again. Ring-a-ding-ding! Why we dig their pre-P.C. high jinks.

Lauren Bacall coined the name. "The Rat Pack" was her husband Humphrey Bogart's recidivist drinking circle: David Niven, Judy Garland, agent Irving (Swifty) Lazar, restaurateur Mike Romanoff and junior inductee Frank Sinatra. When his idol Bogie passed, Sinatra continued the tradition with a few pallies of his own: Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr. Frank was the leader, Sammy the mascot. A classic publicity shot from "Oceans Eleven," their genially bad 1960 heist flick, lines up the five stars in skinny ties and sharkskin suits under the Sands marquee in Las Vegas. Squinting into the desert sun, these cats look like they could stare it down.

That was the first Rat Pack moment. Here comes the reprise. Ben Affleck says he'd love to remake "Oceans Eleven" (which Warner Bros. is considering). HBO just wrapped a movie called "The Rat Pack," airing in August. Martin Scorsese is planning "Dino," based on Nick Tosches's biography, with Tom Hanks as Martin and a wish-list cast that includes John Travolta (Sinatra) and Jim Carrey (Jerry Lewis). Two new books pay their respects to the Chairman and his bygone Board: "Rat Pack Confidential," by Shawn Levy, and Bill Zehme's "The Way You Wear Your Hat." Both are subtitled with nostalgia: Levy hyping "the last great showbiz party," Zehme lamenting "the lost art of livin'." And wait'll the cocktail kids crowding martini lounges and re-renting "Swingers" get a load of"The Frank Sinatra Spectacular" (cable's TV Land, April 20). This 90-minute concert from 1965 is the only footage of Frank, Dean and Sammy performing together, and, baby, it is spectacular.

The gig was a benefit in St. Louis for Dismas House, a halfway joint for ex-cons founded by Father Dismas Clark, a.k.a. "the hoodlum priest." This was Sinatra's version of Farm Aid. Johnny Carson is the emcee, a last-minute substitute for Joey Bishop, who had hurt his back "backing out in Frank's presence," Carson cracks. The band is the hard-swinging Count Basic Orchestra, led by a baby-faced Quincy Jones. Close-circuited to 10 cities, the program wasn't seen again until a copy was scavenged out of a closet at Dismas House and the Museum of Television and Radio gave it a bicoastal screening last year, boosting the fascination with Ol' Blue Eyes and his bad-boy brotherhood.

Sinatra called these shows with Dean and Sammy "Summits." They usually did them in Vegas, mixing songs and gags into a rehearsed routine that felt totally improvised. The jokes are Friars Roast material, pre-P.C. in a way that seems inconceivable now. "I'd like to thank the NAACP for this wonderful trophy," Dean says, carrying Sammy onstage in his arms. "Put me down!" Davis protests. Drinking was always the main source of mirth. "I feel sorry for you people that don't drink," Dean slurs, amber-tinted glass in one hand, cigarette in the other. "Bemuse when you wake up in the morning, that's as good as you're gonna feel all day. …

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