Sinatra’s manager taps into ageing singer’s decline in new book

In a new book focusing on the music legend’s life, the man behind his career recalls how non-stop work took its toll. But the concerts always went on

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 01:  Photo of Frank SINATRA; posed, next to microphone, recording at Columbia Recording studios, Liederkrantz Hall  (Photo by William Gottlieb/Redferns/Getty Images)
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The Way It Was: My Life with Frank Sinatra by Eliot Weisman and Jennifer Valoppi
Hachette Books

Frank Sinatra's prime years as a singer were long behind him when Eliot Weisman managed his career. Yet even into his 70s, "the Voice" could deliver what fans wanted or were willing to settle for.

The challenge Weisman soon faced was how to showcase the best of a septuagenarian Sinatra while playing down the ravages of time and handling the unexpected – such as Golda Meir’s Uzi.

Anecdotes are the diamonds and lessons about problem-solving the gold to be mined in The Way It Was: My Life with Frank Sinatra.

Weisman and co-author Jennifer Valoppi recount his 20-year relationship with Sinatra, one based on business and nurtured with trust and friendship.

Other celebrities crop up, perhaps most notably Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jr, but the authors know who sells books even two decades after his death, and they salt Weisman’s memoir with Sinatra minutiae.

About that Uzi: Weisman became accustomed to the idea that the music legend often carried a concealed handgun while touring. But he didn’t expect to find a submachine gun, a gift from a grandmother, hidden aboard Sinatra’s jet.

In the early 1980s, Weisman built his talent-management company around Sinatra, who kept Weisman busy overseeing his career and finding venues for him at home and abroad.

Sinatra needed the work if he wanted to keep flying on private jets, frequenting the best hotels and restaurants, picking up cheques, bestowing jewellery on his wife and slipping money to friends and strangers who were enduring tough times.

Near the end of the book, Weisman and Valoppi write: “These are the stories that are rarely told about icons ... the stories of decline”. Like the time Weisman discovered Sinatra trimming his toupee and saying: “You can’t believe how fast it’s growing.”

Actually, much of The Way It Was is a story of decline. For years, age had been taking a toll on Sinatra's vision and hearing. More and more often, he forgot lyrics. There were fears that weaning Sinatra off an antidepressant blamed for his memory loss would lead to belligerent fits. For safety's sake someone filed down the firing pin on his handgun.

Retirement didn’t seem to be on the table – covered as it was by all that money. Instead, one tour led to another.

Sinatra was practically bullied into following through on his 1993 Duets album. Selling millions of copies of the long-player meant a sequel was quickly arranged to squeeze a bit more money out of the failing legend. Sound wizards could sweeten the voice electronically, but a live concert was another story.

While Weisman says he and Sinatra’s family did not want to see the legend embarrassed, they continued to take that chance – and so the concerts kept coming.

On the flight home after two poor performances in Japan in 1994, Sinatra, then 79, pointed to a passenger and asked: “Who’s that black girl?” It was Natalie Cole, his opening act and daughter of Nat King Cole.

One more gig followed and Sinatra was done for good. Weisman notes that he believes Sinatra would have died sooner than he did, in 1998, had he stopped working earlier, but it comes off as a rationalisation for keeping the money flowing.

Besides, as his manager points out, Sinatra found joy in family and friends, not just performing. Even this unique "Chairman of the Board" may have wished that, in the end, had spent more time with them and less time at work. 

Douglass K Daniel is the author of Anne Bancroft: A Life.


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The Way It Was: My Life with Frank Sinatra by Eliot Weisman and Jennifer Valoppi
Hachette Books