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RSVP : Sinatra's Birthday Takes the Cake

November 22, 1995|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Frank Sinatra has been quoted as saying, "At 38 years old I was a has-been. Sitting by a phone that wouldn't ring. Wondering what happened to all the friends who grew invisible when the music stopped."

That was then. Now he's 80, has plenty of friends and the music looks like it will play forever. At least that was the view Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium, after the benefit concert celebrating his birthday.

"He's just larger than life," said Mike Meyers, who brought his wife, mother and mother-in-law to the show. "It's as if the Eiffel Tower were having its 80th birthday."

This echoed Dick Gregory's remark: "As an entertainer, I feel the same way about a chance to be around Sinatra as a nuclear physicist feels about a chance to be around Einstein."

Meyers and Gregory were part of the black-tie crowd that filled the Shrine's exposition hall for a buffet dinner after the George Schlatter-produced taping.

The show will air Dec. 14 on ABC. It included Bruce Springsteen (who called Sinatra "the patron saint of New Jersey") singing "Angel Eyes," a Paula Abdul dance number, standing ovations for Ray Charles and Patti LaBelle, Bob Dylan doing a precise rendition of "Restless Farewell" from his 1964 "Times They Are a Changin' " album, the Moulin Rouge Dancers, Little Richard, Tony Bennett, and Hootie & the Blowfish performing "The Lady Is a Tramp."

Although the crowd was by no means young--in fact, one guest described it as "reassuring" in the sense that "the people you thought might have died haven't"--it was eclectic.

There was artist Ed Ruscha, who said he grew up with Sinatra's music in the 1950s during his "back-seat-of-the-Chevy days." Ed McMahon said listening to the songs made him think, "how lucky I was to have latched onto it and had it for 50 years." And Roseanne, who said she was "flabbergasted to have been able to get to know him."

On the other hand, Milton Berle, who has known Sinatra since 1938, said he felt "slighted" not to be a part of the show. "I don't blame this on Francis," he said. "I don't think this was his doing."

Among the other guests who helped raise more than $1 million for AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center, were Marvin and Barbara Davis, Christian Slater, Jackie Collins, Anthony Quinn, Suzanne DePasse, Brett Butler, Johnny Depp, Martin Short, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Ira Reiner, Sandra Moss, Lee Solters, Wayne Newton, Ed Moses and Gregory Peck.

"You grow up with this music," said sculptor Robert Graham. "You absorb it by osmosis. You can't dismiss in any way the wonderful pervasive magic he's had for over 50 years."

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