I’m sorry, Mr Si­na­tra, but Syd­ney air­port has a cur­few

Aus­tralian mu­sic pro­moter Michael Chugg re­mem­bers the blacker side of Ol’ Blue Eyes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music - Michael Chugg’s

Among my first mem­o­ries as a war baby grow­ing up in Launce­s­ton were the sounds of Frank Si­na­tra waft­ing through our house.

Due to World War II, Dad driv­ing land­ing barges in the Pa­cific for the Yanks, where he re­ceived reg­u­lar food parcels from my gran, we were among the first to hear all of Si­na­tra’s mu­sic right through to the 1950s. The records came in the mail, as thank-you presents from ex-Marines who, thanks to my old man, had en­joyed gran’s fruit­cake dur­ing and af­ter the war.

My dad’s sec­ond job was as an usher at the lo­cal pic­ture the­atres, so I also got to see Frank in ev­ery movie he made. He had a pro­found in­flu­ence on me. The idea that I might one day meet him — and his wrath — would have seemed ridicu­lous back then. As a kid the only fu­ture I could see was in cy­cling. That was my pas­sion be­fore mu­sic kicked in.

In 1988, how­ever, I was lucky enough to see Si­na­tra’s re­turn to Aus­tralia, 14 years af­ter he had left here in a huff vow­ing never to re­turn af­ter a run-in with the press. This wasn’t to say he had mel­lowed with age, as I was about to dis­cover.

Si­na­tra’s un­ex­pected Aussie come­back came at The Main Event at Sanc­tu­ary Cove on the Gold Coast, run by my friend Tony Cochrane, the man who con­vinced Ol’ Blue Eyes that Aus­tralia would welcome him back. At the time I was a part­ner in the Fron­tier Tour­ing com­pany along with Michael Gudin­ski and oth­ers

So taken was I by Frank’s per­for­mance that night, I blagged my way back­stage and con­grat­u­lated Tony on his bril­liant coup. Ev­ery pro­moter of note had been in the au­di­ence and it turned out that I was the only one who went back and gave Tony his dues. Sev­eral months later Tony of­fered Fron­tier a share of a planned na­tional Main Event tour with Si­na­tra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Liza Min­nelli re­placed Martin in the line-up af­ter he pulled out of the Amer­i­can leg for per­sonal rea­sons.

The tour here was a to­tal sell­out, with amaz­ing per­for­mances by the three le­gends, but it was not with­out its chal­lenges.

Frank’s mood swung be­tween ig­nor­ing ev­ery­one and be­ing very grumpy, although he posed for photos with all of us. It was al­ways in­ter­est­ing to see what mood he was in when he ar­rived at the venues. Liza would ar­rive usu­ally af­ter a long lunch and float through our pro­duc­tion-ad­min­is­tra­tion area. Sammy was such a great bloke, a true gen­tle­man, and would hang out with the crew and pro­duc­tion team for 20 min­utes ev­ery night. With­out ex­cep­tion, greet­ings of “Good evening, Mr Si­na­tra” would elicit a grunt as he stomped through. That was for­got­ten and for­given when he hit the stage. He was truly a mag­nif­i­cent en­ter­tainer.

The tour rolled on and with it came an un­prece­dented se­ries of A-list tantrums and ex­trav­a­gances, in­clud­ing po­lice es­corts, Frank’s wife Bar­bara’s lug­gage full of ex­pen­sive jew­ellery be­ing left at the ho­tel and hav­ing to be de­liv­ered to the US by pri­vate jet, plus Frank’s grumpi­ness and his hor­ri­ble treat­ment of his mu­si­cal di­rec­tor, his son Frank Si­na­tra Jr. I will never for­get the way he screamed at Frank Jr in front of the or­ches­tra and other peo­ple dur­ing a dress re­hearsal at the Mel­bourne Ten­nis Cen­tre. We all felt sorry for his son.

I will never for­get how, af­ter a din­ner at Darcy’s in Padding­ton fol­low­ing the show in Syd­ney, I went back to the ho­tel to check on things around 3am. I was talk­ing to our lo­cal se­cu­rity team when the daily pa­pers ar­rived. One of the front pages had the head­line in huge print ‘‘Sammy steals the show”. About 20 min­utes later, amid the sound of slam­ming doors, there was Frank, scream­ing in the cor­ri­dor of the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal: “Get up, get up, start pack­ing. We are go­ing home, I’m never go­ing to sing with that lit­tle black cock­sucker again!”

I was ter­ri­fied as I ap­proached Frank and said po­litely: “I’m sorry, Mr Si­na­tra, but Syd­ney air­port has a cur­few and there is no way you can fly tonight.” I copped a few clas­sic curses and the man went back to his room.

The best thing to come out of it all for me was it rounded off the jour­ney that be­gan with my fa­ther and his records all those years be­fore. He had al­ways given me shit be­cause I didn’t have what he con­sid­ered a real job, such as be­ing a lawyer or a doc­tor.

Here was my big chance to show Mum and Dad that what I was do­ing was some­thing spe­cial. I flew them to Mel­bourne for the show and had seats 20 rows from the in-the-round stage, plus five-star ac­com­mo­da­tion — the works. Five min­utes be­fore the show, Frank’s tour man­ager Gary Labri­ola came to me and said: “Chuggi, Bar­bara’s friends have not ar­rived and he needs two trust­wor­thy peo­ple to sit with her.”

Dad set­tled down next to Bar­bara, with Mum on the other side. Bar­bara held Dad’s hand for the en­tire show and he loved it. Mum didn’t talk to me for months af­ter­wards, but Dad never gave me shit again about get­ting a real job.

au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Hey, You in the Black T-Shirt, was pub­lished by Pan Macmil­lan in 2010.

Michael Chugg, right, with Frank Si­na­tra and Tony Cochrane

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