Recalling Magical, Poignant Memories of Sinatra

By Dennis McCarthy, Columnist
Los Angeles Daily News

Frank Sinatra was on a roll. He was three songs into his set and the packed arena was adoring every minute of it. Then, it happened. The greatest saloon singer of all time went blank.

“He was on his fourth song, `I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,’ when he blanked on the lyrics,” says comedian Tom Dreesen, who opened for Sinatra for 14 years. “The teleprompter kept rolling and you could see him just standing there all confused. He looked so forlorn and lost.” The music stopped. “I’m sorry,” Sinatra whispered into the microphone. “I’m so sorry.”

Up in the balcony, a man stood up and began to shout – “That’s all right, Frank! It’s all right. We love you, Frank. It’s all right.”

The man began to applaud loudly, and soon the whole arena was on its feet cheering and clapping. Sinatra acknowledged them with tears in his eyes, then turned and began to walk off the stage, the microphone still dangling in his hand. It was over, Dreesen thought. Mr. S, as he called him, was 78. He had a great run, but now it was time to go home.

Suddenly, Sinatra stopped. He looked as if he had been jolted awake, Dreesen says. The singer turned and walked back to center stage.
He motioned for people to sit down. Then he pointed to the orchestra leader. Next song, please. It was “Mack the Knife.”

“He absolutely drilled that song,” Dreesen says. “He hit every nuance, every note. I could feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.” When the song was finished, Sinatra let the long applause die down before pointing to the upper reaches of the balcony.

“I love you too, pal,” he shouted.

Sinatra finished the show, walked off the stage, patted Dreesen’s cheek like he always did, and disappeared into his dressing room. He toured for two more years.

That’s just one of the many poignant stories Dreesen shares in his remarkable one-man show, “An Evening of Laughter and Memories of Sinatra From a Stand-Up Comedian.”

Only a guy who traveled with Sinatra for 14 years and stood in the wings watching him work his magic night after night to packed houses could pull off a show like this.

It’s filled with funny jokes – clean because that’s the way Sinatra wanted them – and poignant stories about being on the road with the Chairman of the Board that you won’t hear anyplace else.

“Most opening acts go back to their dressing room and take off their tux when the main act is on,” Dreesen said last week during lunch at Fab’s Restaurant in Van Nuys, just a few blocks from his Sherman Oaks condo.

“Not me. This was Sinatra. I wasn’t going to miss one song. I pulled up a chair and sat in the wings every night watching him perform.

“He paced like a caged tiger before he went on. He’d say `how’s the crowd tonight, Tommy?’ He was 78, but when that spotlight hit him 20 years came flying off.

“He needed the audience the way they needed him. He was that guy sitting at the end of the bar at quarter to 3 in the morning thinking about the girl who got away.”