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January 7, 2014
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Remembering the 'Rat Pack'

The phone rang at 6 a.m. one morning, just after Christmas. Of course, like any normal person, I was certain something terrible had happened to someone I loved. Indeed, it was a call from New Jersey by a former associate of my days working for the Reno newspaper who had just heard that our dear friend Larry Porter had passed away.

He had to know by the sound of my voice that I wasn’t too happy being called at such an early hour and apologized. “I forgot about the difference in time,” he said, and since I like this kid so much, I immediately forgave him. Then, of course, the subject of our conversation became “the good old days.” He laughed and I could almost imagine a smile on his face.

It seemed that every time something came up about a celebrity, Edna would have had some kind of contact, be it a singer, an actor or a politician. We began to reminisce.

Somebody got to talking about the “Rat Pack” as Frank Sinatra’s group had always been called. There was some kind of mention of Sammy Davis Jr., and I told my associates that I had seen Sammy acting in a dramatic play in Philadelphia years ago.

“Sure,” somebody said!

I told them to go ahead and look it up, for he had indeed been a really fine actor, not just an entertainer and singer. In the audience was his then wife a blonde from Sweden or Denmark — I can never remember which one — and his mother and father. My friend and I were sitting in the front row of the balcony and could see everybody down below in the lounge seats.

“Yeah,” somebody in the office said, “but you never got to see the Chairman of the Board, did you?”

I sighed before I told them my story of my association with that skinny kid from Hoboken. Back in the late 1930s or early 40s you could go to the Earle Theater in Philly and for a quarter see a show put on by all of the famous bands of the era.

Of course, they weren’t really famous yet but climbing that ladder of success. There were many others I got to see on Saturday afternoons. There were the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Tommie Dorsey and even Paul Whiteman, the latter not all that “in” with the “swing era” as it was called. And included in the performers were all of the later to become famous singers. I remember Rosemary Clooney well.

But most of all, how could anybody forget teenager Frank? Many girls did what we called then, swoon. I thought they were crazy; I loved his voice but he was a skinny kid in a too big suit with too much hair on his head. Of course, many years later I took a trip with Barbara, the mother of two of my daughters-in-law — my sons David and Dean — married Barbara’s daughters, Wendy and Tara respectively.

We all flew from Irvine, Calif., to Las Vegas to see “old blue eyes” paying $50 apiece for the privilege. By now that skinny kid was a really handsome older man who had polished his image and it was one wonderful show. Now my friends at work got a kick out of watching my boss ask that big question — “Has Edna seen so-and so?”

It wasn’t always yes. However a lot of times it was, if by nothing more than coincidence. I laughed watching my boss when the answer was in the affirmative. There was the time my husband and I were waiting for somebody to exit a plane at Los Angeles airport.

Back in those days you could sit just outside of the area where people came pouring out of planes into the waiting area.

In front of us was a couple, a short man with balding head and a huge mustache accompanied by a very large woman with terribly dyed red hair. Their conversation was sprinkled with mention of Frank, and Peter and the names of other Rat Pack members.

I kept thinking, to myself, yeah, sure they know these people.

Then a plane arrived, not the one we wanted. As people deplaned, our Mutt and Jeff duo stood up and happily greeted arriving passenger, Peter Lawford. So much for making fun of somebody. I had to smile. I told my friends this story. My boss, always the doubter, just shook his head.

Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Jan 7, 2014 08:39PM Published Jan 7, 2014 08:39PM Copyright 2014 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.