Berger’s Burg: I’ll never forget when Frank eased my pain

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I picked up a three-year old newspaper I am saving forever and reread the terse beginning: “Frank Sinatra, 82, died May 14, 1998 in Los Angeles.”

Yes, it will be three years since “The Voice,” “0l’ Blue Eyes,” “The Crooner,” “Chairman of the Board” and “Frank,” the man many critics consider the greatest entertainer in this century, left us. It was impossible then, and it is impossible now, for anyone to truly tell the full story of this icon who thrilled the world with his singing for over 50 years, and I won’t attempt to try.

But for me, one personal event stands out above the rest, and it still creates a smile across my lips whenever I think of it. No, it is not my immeasurable enjoyment of listening to his marvelous recordings. No, it is not my pleasure in seeing his delightful movies (especially those musicals with Gene Kelly), and no, it is not his largely unpublicized humanitarian endeavors on behalf of the needy.

It was, indeed, that wondrous day when he ... Wait, I am getting ahead of myself, so let me start at the beginning. My earliest memory of Sinatra occurred when I was in elementary school. My class was celebrating a day of patriotism and our teacher, Mrs. Braunstein, showed us a short, vintage World War II-era film, “The House I Live In.” The short attempted to teach religious and racial tolerance to American school children. (Don’t you think that many people would benefit from viewing this same film today?)

The highlight was Sinatra singing the title song. I’ve never forgotten the stirring melody since.

When I grew to a young adult, I tried to get the record many times but never was successful. When I married I tried the next best thing — I acquired the sheet music and listened to Gloria playing it on the piano. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same as when Sinatra sang it.

A few years later, I read that a popular radio station (now defunct) each year played every Sinatra song alphabetically over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. But to my dismay the “H”s would be played at the most inopportune times and I would continually miss it. Next year would be different, I kept telling myself, but it seemed that it never would happen.

One lucky year, though, my wish finally came true. The “H”s fell on a Saturday morning when Gloria and I were not working. With military precision, I prepared Gloria for the big event. We rehearsed her pressing the recording button at just the right moment. And, with a fresh cassette in the recorder, telephone off the hook, and the cat locked up, we eagerly awaited the playing of that song.

Finally, the disc jockey announced the words we waited for, “The House I Live In.” My plan went into immediate operation. I deftly signaled Gloria and the recording commenced.

The song was beautifully sung as I had remembered it. Every note sent goose bumps up and down my spine.

When it was over, I saw an ashen-faced Gloria. She had inadvertently punched the wrong button. The song was not recorded. Men have divorced their wives for less.

Time passed and I mended. I then learned that Sinatra would sing that song at the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

The following morning the same radio station announced it would play the song during the morning show. Hooray! No more mix-ups. This time I would do the recording myself.

So with another fresh cassette in the recorder, telephone off the hook, and with the cat AND Gloria locked up, I glued myself to the radio.

After two hours, the song finally played. Since I was totally prepared, nothing could go wrong.

Alas, I was wrong again. With one-third of the song barely over, a the station inadvertently broke in with a commercial. The song and the mood were destroyed. The announcer profusely apologized for the apparent mechanical malfunction and he promised that the station would play it again on the nighttime show.

Throughout the day, I paced nervously, waiting for the night. Finally, it arrived.

Since the evening DJ did not announce the names of the songs before playing them, I was compelled to start recording every impending song, hoping that it would be my song. No such luck. I soon lost patience as I continually recorded unwanted songs and I decided that enough was enough. I then took Gloria by the hand and we went to a movie. When we returned, I flipped the radio on.

I knew that I had already missed the song and I reached to turn the set off when the disc jockey announced the next song, “The House I Live In.” At long last, my suffering would end. I pressed the recording button and - you guessed it - the machine ran out of tape.

For weeks, I poured my soul out to friends and relatives. My misfortune became the laughingest gossip of my small world.

But a few weeks later, a package arrived. It was from “Sinatra Enterprises, Los Angeles, California” and it contained a complete Sinatra album with my song included. Tucked into the sleeve of the album was a personal, handwritten note dated December 1986. It read: “Dear Alex, Sending you an album with “The House I Live In.” If this breaks down, go find a new song! All the best to you and Happy Holidays.” It was signed FRANK SINATRA.

Who informed the man of my misery I will never know. However, you can speak all you want about “The King” (Elvis Presley), “The Boss” (Bruce Springsteen), or even “The Punk Idol” (Billy Idol), but for me, the Chairman o the Board will always be a man named Frank.

Postscript - The following year, the radio station repeated the playing of every Sinatra record, alphabetically, over the Thanksgiving weekend. A few days later, I received 20 “The House I Live In” tapes from friends and relatives who were unaware that Sinatra had already sent me a copy. Thanks anyway, guys.

After Sinatra's death, many of his possessions were auctioned off at Christie’s. But you can keep all those other Sinatra memorabilia pieces. This Frank-o-phile already has the one piece of memorabilia Sinatra knew I wanted. And he sent it to me on that magical day several years ago where it will remain in the house I live in as long as I have a house to live in.

Frank, thanks for the memories.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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