A Washington Post article on Feb. 17 about the Nevada gaming license hearing on Frank Sinatra stated that Hank Greenspun, publisher of The Las Vegas Sun, "came to this gambling town with Bugsy Siegel." The Post meant to say that Greenspun arrived in Las Vegas at about the time Siegel did. There was no intent to indicate that the two men were associated or acquainted with each other.
There was this time, between the incidents with Mattie the Horse and Jimmy the Weasel, when Ol' Blue Eyes stepped backstage to do his be-kind-to-children bit.
It was, after all, just a photograph with a little kid, and Frank Sinatra liked kids. If the kid was Carlo Gambino's granddaughter, well, a kid's a kid. If Gramps and half the New York mob moved in afterward for a couple of snaps of their own, well, that's life as a superstar and one of the ways all those nasty rumors get started.
In the superstar world, you get called backstage for lots of photos with lots of folks. If you find "three Chinamen from Hong Kong" back there, Ol'Blue Eyessaid at his gaming license hearing last Wednesday, you don't give'em a sputum test as if they were racehorses. Same with a Luchy Luciano, a Sam Giancana, a Carlo Gambino. A guy's gotta have more class than that.
Kirk Douglas, testifying for Sinatra's character, explained the perils of stardom still further. He'd had his photo taken with unsavory typesover the years, too -- "People who barely escaped prison and some who didn't escape prison.
"I might say those were people in the political arena," Douglas added, and Sinatra, who had been wearing a frozen Peter Lorre face till then, cracked into laughter. Sinatra had played in both worlds and,for a kid who grew up in the pool halls of Hoboken, N.J., the dark world had often been kinder than the light. Sinatrahadn't given salva tests to the politicians he had run with, either. He stuck with Spiro T. Agnew long past the time the Agnew photos went out of fashion.
Some of the politicians had not stuck with him quite so loyally.
Sinatra had filled up John F. Kennedy's campaign coffers, crooned at hisinaugural, added Hollywood glitter to Camelot and done a few other favors, too -- like introducing him to Giancana's girlfriend.
But Kennedy dropped him faster than Sinatra could warble "Chicago," where Giancana shared power with Mayor Richard Daley, when J. Edgar Hoover and Kennedy's brother, the attorney general, heard about the girlfriend thing.
Itwas all a little embarrassing and even puzzling. How do you explain a world like that, when the FBI flies off the handle on such a thing while the other side of the spook government, the CIA, was trying to get Giancana to settle the Castro problem the way Sam settled problems in Chicago.
And then there was Hubert H. Humphrey, who hustled Teamster contributions and Sinatra appearances at fund-raisers until Sinatra made the mistake of having both HHH and Jimmy Hoffa's wifeto dinner at the Rive Gauche while Hoffa was stewing in prison. Sinatra suddenly was out in the cold again. How do you explain double standards like that?
"I'm going to do asI please," Sinatra said shortly afterward. "I don't need anybody in the world."
But he didn't mean it. Gregory Peck, who was here in Las Vegas with Douglas and a lot of other friends to stand up for Sinatra, said his friend might talk tough, but he hadn't lost his capacity to "feel pain and rejection." mAnd he didn't want to be rejected again, either bythe Nevada Gaming Commission, from which he was trying to get his gambling license back, or the president who had welcomed him into the White House once again.
Just three weeksearlier Sinatra had been crooning "Chicago" at another inaugural, adding "Nancy With the Smiling Face," ad-libbing "Nancy With the Reagan Face."
Nancy Reagan responded to the personal serenade by blowing him a kiss that wafted across theland on national television and inviting him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the president's birthday party.
So Sinatra was back in Nevada, trying to explain the other side of his life, and bringing along a set of character witnesses cast straight out of Hollywood.
A priest stood up to say that having his picture taken with Sinatra wouldn't make Sinatra a priest or the priest a singer. A California sheriff said the mob had been swirling around Sinatra so long because,back in those early days when the golden voice caused bobbysox to curl on teen-aged ankles, only the mobsters had enough money for front-row seats.
Hank Greenspun, publisher of The Las Vegas Sun, who came to this gambling town with Bugsy Siegel, said Nevada should vindicate Sinatra because it also would vindicate "the highest authority in the land," meaning President Reagan.
The testimony droned on about helping orphan children and threatening cripples, about high-stepping with presidents and high-flying with mobsters, about the schizophrenic world of a star so super his very proximityfilled charity coffers, the political war-chests and Vegas cash boxes. Everyone seemed to want a piece of Sinatra, because where he went the money flowed.
On and on the testimony went about a man who was to American crooning what Laurence Olivier was to the English theater, about a man who had been besmirched by the press and hounded by the FBI.
One of SinatraS lawyers said the FBI had accumulated a 14-pound file on the singer, the Internal Revenue Service had added 13 pounds more and neither could prove a thing, which ought to prove something.
Another said it was ridiculous to believe, as confessed mob hitman Jimmy (The Weasel) Fratianno had charged, that Sinatra had asked Fratianno to break a man'sleg's when the singer could have sued the guy instead, "which would have been worse."
Sinatra told about the time he had a gun shoved in his ribs by a pit boss on the Strip and "the fascinating media" reported it the other way around. Greenspun the newspaper publisher said he couldn't even get his own reporters to write the story straight about why Sinatra had lost his gaming license 17 years earlier.
They kept writing, Greenspun said, that the license was pulled because Giancana, who was banned as an undesirable in Nevada, hadcome visiting the casino Sinatra owned near Lake Tahoe. The real reason, Greenspun said, was that Sinatra had simply lost his temper, as he has been known to do, and told the gaming chairman where he could put his license.
Everybody agreed that Sinatra had a way with words. That conversation with the gaming chairman made its way into the record only as"vile and vituperative." But elsewhere the singer was on the record in more specific terms.
He once called Washington Post reporter Maxine Cheshire " a $2 ----," adding a word that has trouble getting past skin-mag censors. He called another columnist "so ugly she has to lie on the analyst's couch face down."
A few years ago he visited Australia and called all gossip columnists "the hookers of the press." An Australian labor leader found the words so insulting to his nation's women that he threatened to shut down the country's transportation system until Sinatra left or apologized.
The gaming board, which questioned the superstar as if he hadflown into Las Vegas on his own wings, pushed him on that one. Sinatra said he couldn't remember anything about his visit to Australia.
One of his lawyers said that Sinatra neither left nor apologized, and that the labor leader, who was running for the Australian parliament, later backed down.
And lost the election, too, Sinatra interjected.
So you remember the incident? a board member asked.
"I don't remember," Sinatra replied.
So the board went on to other questions.
One of the board's three members then asked ifSinatra knew a man named Luigi Picella.
"Very well," thesinger replied. "He had a restaurant in New York. I likedit. It served clean food."
Did the applicant have any idea why Picella, who was indicted in a skimming operation at a gangland club at which the singer appeared in New York, took the Fifth Amendment when he was asked if he knew Sinatra?
Sinatra's lawyer cut in to explain the facts of life on the Fifth Amendment. When you take the Fifth once, the lawyer said, you might have to take it 40 times just to be consistent. Even if you get asked your address or your mother's name.
Gaming board chairman Richard Bunker mumbled that Picella had taken the Fifth only when he was asked about Sinatra. But Bunker allowed as how the lawyer's answer took care of the matter anyway.
And then Bunker said Sinatra has answered all the questions, that he was just as tired of thegossip and the innuendo as the applicant was. Bunker wished Sinatra could hold his temper better, he said, but it was a tough world out there, and Nevada didn't expect its casinos to be run by choirboys.
Most of all, the chairman was tired of reading in the outside media, which had no way of understanding Nevada, that the fix was in to give Sinatra his license back.
A week earlier, The Las Vegas Valley Times,a local newspaper that claims to understand the state, editorialized that Sinatra not only deserved the license by alsodeserved special treatment, the same way Howard Hughes had gotten special treatment here, because they both kept the money flowing.
"What we do object to is the ridiculous charade of Gov. [Robert] List and his gaming authorities," the paper editorialized. "Everyone knows that the deal for Mr. Sinatra's license was struck a long time ago and that what wewill go through next week is merely for show. Come on governor, Nevadans weren't born yesterday."
Then the gaming board voted unanimously to recommend approval of Sinatra's gaming license application -- for a six-month period, just in case the famous temper flares again and he decides to tell them where they can put it.
If the full state commission approves the application Thursday, Sinatra will be back in business at Caesars Palace, an emporium whose owners have been banned by New Jersey gambling authorities because they are too close to the mob.