He could thank his not so auspicious and less than gracious stars for the Boulevard Hotel providing a sanctuary of sorts at a time of high drama.
The strains of Would you like to Swing on a Star? filled the foyer of what at the time was Sydney’s only decent hotel of international standard worthy of such a luminary.
And being ensconced in the Presidential Suite way up on the 23rd floor could almost have afforded such a slim chance to swing away out over the expansive harbour below.
Almost 72 hours had elapsed since the entourage returned to the hotel after fleeing Melbourne and an aborted second show in a hail of negative press and union strong-arm tactics. Threat and effect alike took their toll on what had been billed as a comeback for the legend whose eyes had belied a steady diet of booze, dames and smoke filled rooms long before going into self-imposed retirement.
The time soon came when exile proved to be too self-perpetuating an alternative to the allure and glamour of touring to ignore the offers for the show to go on.
The Chairman had reconvened the board. Yet, the broad by his side this time round seemed to be for keeps. A Marx no less, which added a twist to the plot of the brothers’ movie Room Service. Not to be denied, Sinatra and his retinue had to send out for take away supplies as the Australian Council of Trade Unions had black banned him from not only refuelling his private jet, but also from receiving room service or any of the standard in-house hospitality niceties he’d come to expect.
And all this for the slip of the tongue when at the first Festival Hall gig in Melbourne he had vented his spleen at the journalists who had met his plane and chased him for an interview or at least a comment to hang their name on.
"They're parasites. They're bums and they're always going to be bums”, he told the audience in no uncertain terms.
“The broads who work in the press are the hookers of the press. I might give them a buck-and-half, I'm not sure.”
So much for feminism and equal opportunity.
Frankie was cranky and was taking no prisoners. Only, the upshot was that he became a prisoner of his own uncensored opinion.
He seemed to think the press owed him an apology for what in his eyes had been appalling treatment over the last several years.
No apology was forthcoming, from either the press or the Sinatra suite, and he remained under siege until one side blinked and came to the party.
Head of the ACTU and future Prime Minister of Oz, Bob Hawke, succinctly captured the mood when he said, “If you don't apologise your stay in this country could be indefinite. You won't be allowed to leave Australia unless you can walk on water."
It seemed the deification treatment had slipped a cog.
And so it was that both sides had hunkered down and a war of attrition ensued.
Hawke was at his office when the call came through form Gough Whitlam.
“Hello, comrade. I trust this call finds you in fine fettle.”
“Argh-argh, esteemed leader, to what do I owe the, argh, pleasure?”
“Well, you are no doubt abreast of the skirmish taking place between our union movement and a certain entertainer from the United States. I have heard from their camp that they are willing to talk.”
The line crackled and Bob paused for clarity.
“Those bastards! What makes them think they can call the shots?”
“Well, I received a call from my son Tony, who just happens to be an associate of the public relations man at the Boulevard. I spoke with this John Pond and he had the temerity to ask me to intervene. I cannot be seen to get involved in this comrade. I am of the opinion that this is more your territory. Why, you can be seen to save the day.”
“Argh-argh, why should we bloody well help that overblown crooner who thinks he’s got a second wind? He blew it big time, Gough. It should be a salutary lesson for him and his ilk. Waltzing in here and insulting the fourth estate like that. Not to mention the female contingent of the corps. It’s bloody outrageous!”
“I cannot argue with you on that point. It is a bloody mess, but we don’t want the public perception to be that the unions overreacted. I see it as an opportunity to display good will and for the movement to be celebrated not just as blockaders and breakers but peace makers. You, my friend, could very well come out of this with the kind of kudos befitting a statesman. Can I count on you, comrade?”
“You leave me little option but to demonstrate that we not only will not take this lying down, but have the nerve and tact to find a conciliatory outcome.”
“Excellent. If not an outright apology, which I doubt we’ll get, then a statement of contrition would suffice. Let’s not forget that he’s got as much of a PR disaster on his hands as the tourist industry has for arts and entertainment.”
“Argh-argh, I get it. The players and the stayers, right? Much like politics then.”
“Much, Bob. Much. Let’s get this over with and we can put the incorrigible desperado out of his misery and focus on policy. Remember, crash through or crash.”
“Right. Consider it done. I will make overtures to the unions involved and make an introduction to the PR Pond at the Boulevard. I hear Sinatra has his lawyer travel with him, so he can hopefully make Ol’ Blue Eyes see sense. Argh-argh, it says something about the bloke if he thinks he can’t leave home without his legal muscle.
He must expect to cause trouble.”
“Thank you, comrade. I wouldn’t presume to know what motivates him other than adulation and the money. I’m just a leader of men who hopes to transform this country and leave my mark. I leave this matter in your capably robust hands.”
Further calls were made to shore up admission to the Presidential suite and union reps to grease the wheels of the deal.
Hawke interrupted a meal prepared by Sinatra himself for his entourage and PR Pond, who revelled in thinking he had somehow become the trusted go-between to expedite the whole arrangement, and assured the boss of the ACTU that he would speak with Sinatra’s people to smooth the way for a meeting.
The concert producer and promoter Robert Raymond was also called upon to intercede on Hawke’s behalf. It turned out the legal muscle was also Frank’s personal manager. Milton “Mickey” Rudin was duly impressed to think that the PM had an interest in how things turned out and realised the unions must sit up and pay attention if Hawke himself wanted to broker an outcome.
Rudin convinced his charge that this might be the best bet to salvage what was left of the tour.
“OK Mickey. If you think we can come out of this looking good and I don’t have to say sorry, then it’s your call. That’s what I pay you for, anyway. Lets’ set things up. I need a drink.”
And so it came to pass that, at the eleventh hour, the equally hard drinking and titular ladies man of the left paid a visit to the Boulevard Hotel. It wasn’t long before word spread of Hawke’s arrival and soon a contingent of reporters and photographers had gathered outside the hotel for first word of a truce or a front page worthy snap. The public had become hungry for the story and felt the smug singer had shown only contempt for his hosts. What a nerve to “slag off” on the nation’s media, especially to put down women in the process. Who did he think he was?
Hawke was met by Robert Raymond and Pond who asked the three union delegates to wait at the bar while they went up to open the discussions.
The muzak followed the union leader, promoter and the PR consultant up in the elevator.
Come fly with me, we'll fly, we'll fly away
If you can use some exotic booze
There's a bar in far Bombay
Come on fly with me, we'll fly, we'll fly away
Come fly with me, will float down to Peru
In llama-land there's a one-man band
And he'll toot his flute for you
Come on fly with me, we'll float down in the blue…
The elevator doors opened to reveal the figures of Jilly Rizzo, Frank’s personal bodyguard, and Lane "Shotgun" Britton who wore a red satin windcheater with the word "Shotgun" emblazoned in huge letters on the back. His role was less certain, but the sentiment of the nickname clearly indicated his capacity for settling disputes in no uncertain terms.
Hawke confidently strode up to them where they stood outside Sinatra’s suite.
“We’ve been expecting you Mr. Hawke. Welcome to the main event.”
“Argh-argh, I can guarantee that you won’t need to weigh me in. I’m at my fighting weight and only ever punch above my weight.”
Jilly shot Lane an amused look.
“The boss approves of a sense of humour well enough. Especially if you can laugh at yourself. I’m Jilly and this is Shotgun. We help mind operations. Mr. Rudin is waiting to meet you. Let’s get inside. Thank you Robert, John. We can take it from here.”
The promoter and hotel PR man went to wait with the union officials down in the bar and await word.
Mickey sat on a sofa at the far end of the spacious lounge in front of the large bay view windows. He rose and remained standing as Hawke was escorted into his presence.
As he crossed the room, Hawke noticed that the large dining table was completely clear of any paperwork or clutter, except for a bottle of Courvoisier brandy and a box of cigars.
“Mr. Hawke. Welcome. Please, have a seat. Thank you for taking such a serious view of this.”
Hands duly and firmly shaken, the two men sat at either end of the plush furnishing.
From somewhere in an adjoining room came same the sound of a record player and the strains of a familiar standard.
“Argh-argh, let me just say that I regret that we have reached such an impasse. It’s not in anyone’s interests for this to drag out any longer than has been necessary to bring me here to help resolve the situation. Let’s say we can agree to disagree, but we need to give the injured parties something they can respect and which you can honour.”
“I like your Style, Mr. Hawke.”
“Please, call me Bob.”
“And I insist you call me Mickey.”
“We’re off to a good start. Better than the tour at any rate. Now, a party is something we certainly do honour. Can I get you a drink to ease the pain while we hammer this out?”
“Argh-argh, I wouldn’t say no.”
“Jilly, can you please attend to a drink for our new friend here? Brandy alright, Bob?”
“That should do the trick.”
“I gotta say, you Aussies sure do have an interesting turn of phrase. Let’s just say that Frank is not your average one trick pony in this case.”
Jilly and Shotgun had been sitting at the dining table and busied themselves preparing the drinks.
“Argh-argh, actually, do you think I could start with something I can dilute a little with some ice? Perhaps we can celebrate with the brandy.”
“Now that is a neat trick. Haw, get it? Neat, no ice…”
“You’re quick, Mickey. I’ll say that much.”
“Gotta keep your wits about you, Bob. That’s for sure. How about some Jack Daniels?”
“Two fingers should just about do it.”
“You heard the man, boys. Two fingers on a little ice. I’ll go straight to the heart of the matter.”
With drink in hand, the lawyer and union leader continued their verbal sparring.
“You gotta admit Bob, that some of those headlines were not too flattering. It’s all rumours, of course. Anything to undermine true talent. Mafia connections, for Christ’s sake. Let’s not blow it all out of proportion. Even the Kennedys traded in favours. That’s how the game is played. You of all people should know that.”
“Argh-argh, you don’t beat about the bush, Mickey.”
“Haw, there you go again. Now listen, more than that, there’s the issue of dragging the names of Frank’s romantic partners through the mud by associating them with the mob. “Sinatra’s Molls”, ran the line. Come on, Bob. They can do better than that. It’s a cheap shot not worthy of the profession. What business is it of theirs who he has in his life or for how long. The photographs portrayed them as mug shots or ‘wanted’ posters.”
“All I can say is that the women of the press are not two-bit hookers. No matter how you may want to line them up, they still deserve respect. The least he could have done was politely decline any interviews. Say it up front so they know what not to expect.”
Hawke had already finished his drink and Mickey motioned for his glass to be refreshed.
“And it works both ways, both ways. We all have feelings. Just because he’s famous doesn’t mean he’s bullet proof. And anyway, can you blame him for losing his cool or blowing his top, however you want to put it, after they had hounded him? Not just here but all over the place. For the last few years he’s been out of favour. Bad two-bit reporting sure doesn’t help pave the way for smooth talking. The guy needs some space. For crying out loud, the signs were there from the start. Jilly and Shotgun sure had their work cut out for them. You do not get in the face of the man and expect that he’ll take it lying down. You know who you’re dealing with.”
Hawke contemplated this with one arched eyebrow as he savoured the liquor.
The music from the adjoining room had stopped.
“We all have high hopes for restoring his good name. He’s been a much respected entertainer over the years. My wife Hazel is a huge fan. But, you have to appreciate that there are certain boundaries that anyone should try to avoid overstepping. Especially when they’re a guest in another country.”
“I appreciate this. Don’t get me wrong. Frank just hates to have his buttons pushed. And this time it was personal. His relationships are private, not fodder for the headlines. That sure was a boundary that was overstepped. Another drink?”
“Argh-argh, you could twist my arm. What we want to strike is a chord of consensus. Now, an outright apology would be the best outcome, but I suspect this will not be something you’d agree to.”
“You’re not wrong on that score, Bob. Frank doesn’t apologise to no one. Like getting blood from a stone. Cheers.”
The men raised their glasses in respect for their respective reservations.
“What we need to do is draft a statement I can take to the union delegates downstairs and get their approval. I can then take it to the press for release. That will definitely ease the tension. Even if you could get out, your leaving the country isn’t in anyone’s interests. We can still salvage something.”
“Yeah, right. Not that we could leave even if we wanted to. Not until the refuelling ban is lifted. You’ve got us in a nice fix.”
“You said it, Mickey.”
The door to the adjoining suite had opened to reveal the instantly recognisable figure of Frank Sinatra himself.
“I heard ice and it made me thirsty. Can’t hide in there all day, now can I? Not very becoming for a star of my pedigree. I’ll have what you’re having.”
Frank strode across to the sofa where Bob rose to shake his hand.
Jilly and Shotgun busied themselves with fetching the drink and cutting the tip off a fresh cigar.
“Mr Hawke I presume.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr Sinatra. I’m doing everything in my power to resolve the situation for you.”
“I’ll bet you are. So where are we at Mickey?”
Frank took a dining chair and sat on it in reverse to the normal pose, as would a cowboy in a saloon, and used the back of the chair as an arm rest.
“You didn’t have to take part in this, Frank. That’s my job.”
“What, and miss all the fun. Besides, we ran dry in there. Cheers.”
Frank raised the drink he had been handed and lit the cigar with a proffered zippo, took a couple of long puffs and placed it in the standing ashtray Shotgun had put by his side.
“I think we’re very close to reaching agreeable terms. Wouldn’t you agree, Bob?”
“I think you’re right on the money, Mickey.”
“Only if they’re terms I can agree on. We’ve all got our pride and reputation to consider, don’t forget.”
“And sometimes some of us just have to swallow our pride for the sake of compromise. That’s the art of it. Ain’t I right, Bob?”
“Argh-argh, in so many words. How would you prefer to phrase it, Mr Sinatra?”
“You can call me Frank if we can sort this out. How about ‘regret’? Now I’ve had a few of those if you can believe the lyrics in the song. I just want to move on and get on with things, so if I have to say anything then I would say that I regret it. Period.”
Drinks were replenished and the moment held like a precious stone to admire in all its shining facets.
Mickey had stood and walked over to look out into the twinkling harbour-side lights as night descended to enshroud a statement with its solemnity.
“I think we’ll have to dangle something in front of the public to entice an acceptance. How about we offer to televise one of the remaining Sydney shows? And we won’t charge for the broadcast rights…”
He returned from the picture postcard outlook and resumed his position on the sofa.
“I can live with that, Mickey. What do you say, Mr Hawke? Do we have a deal?”
“I think we can make the appropriate arrangements. How about something to the effect that Frank Sinatra did not intend any general reflection on the moral character of working members of the Australian media. Frank Sinatra also expresses his regret for any physical injury suffered by persons as a result of attempts to ensure his personal safety.”
Frank mused upon the sentiments expressed in this.
“Mmm, I think that might work. I suppose it’ll have to do. Maybe something about how I sincerely regret any inconvenience caused to fans who missed the second Melbourne show.”
“Argh-argh, you have an ear for the conciliatory, Mr Sinatra. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Please understand that I can sympathise with how you feel about any such invasion of privacy. I’ve had times when I just wanted to escape from the public eye and get away from interviews and the media. But we both have a job to do. And sometimes there’s just no getting away from the fact that we have to give ‘them’ what they want.”
“What a bunch of coconuts we’ve had this week.”
“You can say that again, Frank.”
“You know, Mr Hawke, I seriously did entertain the notion to call the admiral on board the American aircraft carrier in Tokyo Bay and asking him to sail into Sydney Harbour and send a helicopter to land on the roof.”
“I’m glad we didn’t go so far as that, Frank.”
“You’re a union man, so you’ll understand how it works. I was also prepared to call our Teamsters' Union boss Jimmy Hoffa and ask him to persuade US truck drivers to refuse to handle any Australian goods exported to the US by cargo ships or planes. I guess you gotta call in favours when you have to.”
“And I’m glad we didn’t decide to go down that route. Last thing we want is a trade war. We’re allies after all. Right Bob?”
“Shoulder to shoulder. Either way, you could definitely say that you would be seen to have done it your way, Mr Sinatra.”
“I’ll drink to that. Think I was beginning to go a little stir crazy cooped up in here with these layabouts for company. Old Jack sure does give your mind room to wander. Same again, Bob? Can’t let you go down to greet the press and read the statement without wetting the whistle. Come to think of it, that brandy sure won’t drink itself and now we have something to celebrate. From here to eternity now sure doesn’t feel so far.”
Mickey slapped Hawke affectionately on the back, stood up and walked over to the dining table and the bottle of Courvoisier.
Jilly and Shotgun had ducked out the back in search of supplies in case the negotiations failed to produce the desired result and the room service continued to fail to deliver.
A deal had been done on the quiet to ensure there was non-union private security presence at the hotel as well as the hotel’s own understanding with police to maintain the peace, especially with the press camped out front in expectation of an announcement.
“Well, Frank, I guess it puts everything into a kind of perspective, don’t it? All these years later, and you’re back on the verge of great things again. You really could say that it’s the night that we called it a day.”
Bob remained on the sofa transfixed by the steely blue gaze of Francis Albert Sinatra.
“Argh-argh, that’s one of Hazel’s favourites. Your first hit, she tells me.”
There was the hint of an ill-concealed hiccup.
“Hah! You said it Mickey. Indeed. You can tell Hazel she knows her stuff. Don’t suppose she’d like to see one of the Sydney shows? But, then…I know, I know, it might look bad and we don’t want to stir up another hornet’s nest. How about an autograph?”
“She would be thrilled, Mr Sinatra. Most gracious of you.”
“Ah, cut it out. Least I can do. I’ll sign one of the hotel’s sheets of letterhead stationary as a kind of time capsule of what we went through hereabouts.”
Barbara Marx’s voice cut through the banter from the adjoining suite.
“Oh, Frank. Where’s my drink? Don’t you dare leave your lady waiting at the mercy of her ill-humour…”
Hawke squirmed uncharacteristically, while Mickey located four new glasses.
Sinatra was quick with his reply.
“Alright, sweets. On its way.”
He flashed his teeth in a broad grin directed purposefully at Hawke before he rose, dismounted his neutral stand in steed and strode to assist Mickey in fetching the drink.
“You know, Ava had a similar experience with her On the Beach blow up. Now I know how she felt, especially since I said what I said. Still, it’s kinda fits to say it’s ‘the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world’.”