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It's Frank's kind of hall

In a salute to his legacy and love of education, Sinatra's family and friends gather at USC's Norris Cinema Center to dedicate an auditorium named for him.

November 20, 2002|Bettijane Levine | Times Staff Writer

Monday was a very good night at USC. The moon was yellow, the breeze soft, and Frank Sinatra's music hung like stardust in the balmy air.

The Eileen Norris Cinema Center at the school was transformed for the evening into a celebration honoring the life and times of the guy some called The Chairman of the Board. It was an event to dedicate the new Frank Sinatra Hall, a state-of-the-art auditorium at the university's cinema and television school. The space has been completely refurbished and updated with funds donated by Sinatra's daughters, Tina and Nancy, to honor and perpetuate their father's legacy.

"My dad thought education was the answer to all the world's problems, and we could think of no more appropriate way to honor him," Tina said as she greeted friends and family who turned out for the building dedication. The hall's outer lobby was filled with Sinatra's Oscars, Grammys, gold and platinum records and an astounding assortment of movie posters from the Cary Grant, Gene Kelly and Doris Day days. Old photographs of the Rat Pack and his ex-wives, Mia, Ava and Nancy, dotted every available surface.

Sinatra's first wife, Nancy (they were married from 1939 to 1951), who's the mother of his children, arrived with actress and family friend Suzanne Pleshette. "We're old friends, our families go way back together," Pleshette said. "My father ran the Paramount theater in New York when Frank was playing there."

Also among the hordes on hand were Alana Stewart; Wendy Stark; John Burnham; Barbara Davis; Wendy Goldberg; Tita Cahn (whose late husband, Sammy, wrote lyrics for dozens of Sinatra's top hits); daughter Nancy's two children, Amanda and A.J.

"Dad wanted me and all his kids to go to school," Nancy later told the crowd during the ceremony. But she slept through her Italian exam, among other things; she was more interested in pursuing a music career than a college degree. Tina "never even considered" college, Nancy added. And their brother, Frank Jr. (not on hand for this event), likewise dropped the academic ball.

Nancy's daughters, however, would have made their grandfather proud. One graduated from USC, the other from Loyola Marymount. Nancy and Tina, sitting at that first family college graduation, realized that "we ought to do something to honor Dad, who would have been so proud," Nancy concluded, breaking into tears.

Quincy Jones, an American icon in his own right, showed up at the event wearing a replica of Sinatra's favorite gold ring, given to him by Tina, he said. "I never take it off. I think about him every day. He made me feel part of his family and his life. I can see him up there now, smilin' down."

Sinatra's legacy will never die, Jones believes, "because Sinatra's got the street sensibilities of bebop and hip-hop. The kids today love him, the rappers. They call him the O.G.," for original gangster. Jones led a student jazz band in renditions of famous Sinatra songs. The night wound down with a party in the outdoor plaza and strains of "I've Got You Under My Skin" filling the air.

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