Steve Lawrence Interview

In May of 1998, one of the greatest singers of the Twentieth Century, Frank Sinatra passed away.
In tribute to Frank Sinatra, we thought it would be fitting to offer up remembrances of the singer by some of the people who either knew or worked with him.

Steve Lawrence is one such person. Along with his wife Eydie Gorme, they enjoyed a friendship with Frank Sinatra that spanned four decades.

Q – Mr. Lawrence, were you always a fan of Frank Sinatra?
A – Always. I think Frank Sinatra was like a beacon out there in the world of music. There could’ve been 1,000 or 5,000 people in the audience and everybody thought he was singing to them. He really personalized his interpretation and performance of that experience in that song and made it highly individual so that everybody was listening with both ears to one guy singing them, talking to them. His phrasing was unique. His attitude was equally unique. He probably was responsible for moving that pop song into another world. No matter where in the world you were—–you heard a Frank Sinatra record, man. People related to him even if they didn’t totally understand the language, like in Japan or France or Italy or Germany or Australia or Africa or wherever you were—–Frank Sinatra was on the air somewhere.

Q – When did you first meet him?
A – I think it was 1960, 1961, something like that.

Q – Do you remember where?
A – Well, we were always crossing each others path. Sometimes we were on the same benefit program together. There may have been a big affair at Madison Square Garden and we’re on the same program and we met him backstage. But, we really got to know each other in the early 60’s. Frank and Eydie and I became fast friends. We were in the same milieu of music and it turned out when he complimented me on some records I made early on I was like flabbergasted. I didn’t even know he was aware of who I was or Eydie was. But, it turns out he was pretty much up on what was happening all around him.

Q – So, you did perform on the same bill with him?
A – Yeah. On some benefit and charity organizations. Even in Las Vegas. Wherever it was we were doing benefits together. But, I remember one time, again in the early 60’s, Eydie and I were at The Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and I had terrible laryngitis. I couldn’t go on. So, Eydie did the first show by herself and the late show—–there was a knock on the door. She opened the door and it was Frank Sinatra. Frank said, “Hi Eydie. I hear the kids got a cold. I’ll go on with you”. And, he did! (Laughs). He went on. For a couple of days he was there. We’d meet in Florida. We were working at the Diplomat up in Hollywood, Florida and Frank was at the Fountain bleau. At that time I think he had just married Mia Farrow. He called us and said, “Why don’t you kids come over here because Mia would love to meet you. You guys are more her age than I am. (Laughs). Why don’t you come over and spend some time. You probably have more in common”. So, we did and we had a wonderful time with ‘em.

Q – So, you did socialize with him?
A – Oh, yeah.

Q – I was surprised to hear Bruce Springsteen tell Nightline’s Ted Koppel that Frank Sinatra invited him and his wife over to his house for dinner.
A – I was there that night. Bruce Springsteen and Patti (his wife). Who’s the other kid? He was like the Poet Laureate.

Q – Bob Dylan?
A – Bob Dylan. Right. Bruce Springsteen and Patti and me and Eydie and Frank and Barbara. We had dinner and gathered around the piano. I must say Bruce’s wife Patti—–she knew all the songs that we knew. It was a revelation. We had a lovely night. He seemed like a terrific kid. I really didn’t know him. I’ve met him on that occasion. It was a very enjoyable evening.

Q – How did you find Frank Sinatra to be—–personality wise? Was he easy going? Was he intense? Did he like to laugh?
A – Well, with me and Eydie, every time I was in his company he was very easy going. He loved good times. He loved to laugh. He thought I was funny. I was? (Laughs). We always had good times. Later on, we always played on Sunday afternoon at Frank’s house. It was Frank and Barbara, me and Eydie. Gregory Peck and his wife, Jack Lemmon and his wife, and Dick Martin and his wife. Frank didn’t want to play. He wanted $2.00 for parking. (Laughs). He said, “You guys play. I’ll just watch you. I’ll kibitz.” But, he was terrific. I have heard about that dark side of him, but, I’ve never seen it personally. It was always good times. So many wonderful times we had at his compound in Palm Springs, or his home in California. As a matter of fact, we still have a Beach House in Malibu. Frank and Eydie and I had the same manager. We were booked for the summer and Frank knew that. So, he said, “Hey, can I rent your beach house for the summer”? I said, “What”? He said, “I’d like to rent your beach house for the summer.” I know you’re not going to be around because Eliot (Steve and Eydie’s and Frank Sinatra’s manager) told me you’re on the road all summer. I said, “Yeah, you can use my house. You can’t rent it. You can have it.” Just stay there for the summer. Just make like it’s yours. Just don’t sell it—–that’s all!! (Laughs). He did that for 2 or 3 summers. He stayed at my beach house and I was thrilled. Of course, he was very gracious. He bought us gifts that were probably (worth) more than if he had rented the house. He was a very generous guy, especially to his friends and the people he liked. Then subsequently he bought a house and built one about 12 doors down from us!

Q – I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to have Frank Sinatra staying at your house. You’re a fan of his……
A – Right.

Q – He gets up in the morning and is sitting at your dining room table. Did you ever look across the table and say “What’s Frank Sinatra doing sitting across the table from me eating breakfast?”
A – I can’t tell you how often I’ve been in his company and just sitting across the table looking at him. I’ve grown up in the shadows of this musical giant. I couldn’t believe we were friends, chatting about everything and anything. He loved to talk about music and songwriters and orchestrators and arrangers. I just used to, with mouth open—–listen to him. We were on tour with Frank for a year. One night we were in Ireland. After the show, Frank always used to like to relax. You know, just have a sandwich or a couple of drinks with everybody at the show. We were sitting there talking. He loved to talk about music and I loved to hear him talk about it—–the writers, the orchestrators. Everybody just peeled off and suddenly I was alone with Frank. It was about 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the morning, talking about music. He said to me, “What’s your favorite song”? I said, “Well, I don’t know. There’s a lot of great songs out there. It’s hard to pick a song”. He said, “Well, just pick one”. So, I said, “Moonlight In Vermont”! He said, “Why”? I said, “Because it’s a great melody, great lyric. It’s also like prose. There’s not a rhyme in the whole song”. He said, “What are you talking about? I recorded that with Nelson Riddle”. So, he went to the piano. I said, “Play Moonlight In Vermont and see”. Then he started to sing it to me across the table. And, I’m sitting there and Frank Sinatra is singing to me. I’m staring at him, looking at him. He finished the song and said, “I’ll be damned. There is no rhyme. I never realized that”. I said, “Well, that’s one of the reasons why it’s one of my favorites”. He said, “I never realized that. Thank-you”. If you know the song—–“Pennies in a stream, falling leaves of sycamore, moonlight in Vermont, I see finger waves, ski trails down a mountainside, snowlight in Vermont! No rhymes”. Telegraph cables that sing down the highway, traveled each bend in the road, people who meet in this romantic setting are so hypnotized by the lovely summer breeze, the warbling of a meadowlark, moonlight in Vermont.

Q – You actually recorded a CD Tribute to Frank Sinatra in the Fall of 2003. Who were you marketing that to?
A – Well, those are all of Frank’s original orchestrations. He was gracious enough many years ago….. He sent a big carton of music over to my home. It was filled with orchestrations from his personal library. Years later when he passed away a lot of people were coming out with Sinatra this and Sinatra that. I just didn’t want to jump on that. I just felt that the time was not right. It was just too soon. Several years after he had passed away, my manager Eliot Weissman said, “You know, I think it’s time now to do some of these arrangements that Frank bestowed on you”. I said, “I think you’re right”. So, we went into Capitol where Frank recorded, where he and I recorded for many years. We went into the original studios, A and B at Capital. Half the musicians on the date played on Frank’s original recordings. The engineer was the original engineer who was used on a lot of our records. So, it was like a labor of love. My son, David produced the album and conducted the orchestra, not only because I believe in nepotism, but, he’s a very accomplished musician. He’s a composer. He writes for t.v. and films. He did a sensational job. He produced a beautiful album. It was aimed at his audience (Frank Sinatra’s), my audience, and hopefully just people who like that kind of music. Hopefully, it was exposed to a new audience of younger people. That kind of music will never die. Frank was such a powerful influence and such a huge star world-wide. After all, not only his recordings, but, the man made 60 motion pictures. World-wide his reputation is there and it’s intact. I think he’ll always have a presence in the music world. But, there are people who have been forgotten. It hurts me to say it. There are a lot of wonderful vocalists who people don’t remember any more and it’s sad. It really is.

Q – When did you last see Frank Sinatra?
A – Just shortly before he passed away.

Q – How will you remember Frank Sinatra and how do you think the world will remember Frank Sinatra?
A – I think how I will remember him and how the world will remember him is probably the same way—–with a Big Smile on your face, all the happiness he brought into this world through his music and his films. He did make a difference that he was here. His impact will be felt for generations to come.

© Gary James All Rights Reserved

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