And now, ladies and gentlemen, Francis Albert Sinatra on the subject of President Ronald Reagan:
"Mr. President," said Sinatra, "I have heard many great performers, as you have, do Shakespeare, read wonderful books on recordings and so on and so forth, and I have been dealing in theatrical people, like you have for so many years, and I have for many years.
"And I should like to say publicly that one of the great performances I ever witnessed in my life was just a few days ago, in one of the best moves I've ever seen a human being make, and the best retort that I ever heard from a human being, in the most unique way, when you were asked a question as you got in a car and you turned quietly and said, 'Never.' "
The audience at the 10th anniversary dinner of the National Italian American Foundation knew exactly what Sinatra was talking about -- a moment during the recent seajacking incident when Reagan was asked if he would apologize for the decision to intercept the jet that carried the hijackers -- and they cheered and clapped.
"That statement will go down in American history for a thousand years," Sinatra said, "because it said to everybody, 'Enough is enough.' "
It was dinner. Saturday night. With Ronnie and Nancy and Frankie . . .
. . . And foundation chairman and pizza magnate Jeno Paulucci, boxer Ray "Boom-Boom" Mancini and Italian Ambassador Rinaldo Petrignani. There were also Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), dinner chairman, Reps. Frank Annunzio (D-Ill.) and Peter Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), a couple dozen secret service officers, the Carabinieri band, a pack of press and 2,000 Italian Americans.
Everyone went through metal detectors. Uniformed men led around two dogs who tugged at their leashes and looked eager to be free. Security guards used penlights to look in the horns of the band members, just to make sure.
Inside the enormous Washington Hilton ballroom, during the introductions, boxer Mancini got one of the biggest rounds of applause for the night. On the dais, Reagan sat next to Barbara Sinatra and Nancy Reagan sat next to Sinatra. Nancy Reagan pulled out her compact and powdered her nose once during dinner. And Frank Sinatra fanned himself with a program. They spoke to each other often, tilting their heads together and smiling.
People from the crowd walked up to the rope dividing the dais, and the guests and took pictures. One woman, wearing a low-cut purple dress, yelled at Sinatra from behind the rope to ask if he would sign her program. He looked up long enough to say no and raise his wine glass to her instead.
When Reagan stepped up to the microphone, however, everyone got quiet.
"Francis Albert," Reagan said, "I just want to tell you that I'm granting you full amnesty, complete forgiveness, for replacing all the Irish tenors in show business."
That was before Reagan told this story:
"There's a secret side to the man you honor tonight," said Reagan. "I'm going to touch on that secret, which he guards angrily, jealously."
Reagan was talking about Sinatra's hidden generosity. He remembered a time in California when Sinatra answered a call from Reagan about a widowed mother who had been dropped from the welfare rolls due to a "bureaucratic bungle." Her son wasn't going to celebrate Christmas. He would be the only boy in his school without a bicycle.
The day before Christmas a deliveryman appeared at the widowed woman's door.
"He was wearing dark glasses," said Reagan, "and she thought he looked familiar." He was buried under gifts, including a bike for her son.
"That Santa Claus, disguised as a deliveryman, was Frank Sinatra," said Reagan. "I'm not going to look at him because he angrily hides this."
Modestly, Sinatra did not smile.
But Domenici brought smiles to the crowd as emcee of the event, whose official purpose was to honor Sinatra with a "lifetime achievement" award.
"I want to tell you that when I announced to my family that I was being honored to be master of ceremonies at this dinner, I told them that it would be a very exciting evening because we have as our guest the most famous man in America," said Domenici.
"And my wife said, 'Oh, do you mean the president?'
"And I answered, 'Oh, no. I was referring to Frank Sinatra.' "
The crowd liked that one. They liked anything having to do with Sinatra.
"After all, a president stays in power no more than eight years," said Domenici. "Frank has been in power for 50 years. Old Man River is a quitter compared to Frank."
But jokes and red wine weren't the only things that were flowing.
This dinner was political, as these big National Italian American Foundation charity ($150 a plate for education) dinners always are. The politicking this year, though, was mostly just a big hug between Italy and America, despite the recent shakeup in Italy's government, which comes on the heels of the Achille Lauro terrorist incident.
"The differences that we have met in the last few days have been trying for all of us, but frankness and friendship go together," said Italian Ambassador Petrignani in his address. He turned his head to look at Reagan, who sat on the right side of the podium.
"I assure you the friendship between our two countries is unshakable," said Reagan, in his only remark about the Italian government to the crowd. He turned to look at Petrignani, seated to the left.
"We look forward to a continued, excellent, fruitful and broad relationship between the United States and Italy," Petrignani said in his speech, his voice getting louder and stronger.
"It is this spirit and tradition of friendship which has always existed that is the strength of the alliance that binds us together for the preservation of our common security and for the defense of world peace."
But it was really Sinatra who stole the show and hearts of the audience.
He said, "I've been given many awards in my life, but this award comes from, you might say I think of the people as my family, in a sense, because we are related.
"I shall continue to do what I can for underprivileged people and to do my work the best I know how. And if a new Irish tenor comes along, I'll give him . . . I'll let him go on ahead of me."