Stan Isenberg

lives in Merion

It's a quiet autumn evening in the early 1950s and I am on my way to meet Frank Sinatra, who is having dinner in the CR Club adjoining the Frank Palumbo nightclub in South Philadelphia.

I am on the public relations staff of the Community Chest, an umbrella organization that solicited support for many nonprofit agencies in and around Philadelphia. It's now known as United Way.

In Palumbo's, several hundred volunteers who go door-to-door to raise funds during the annual CC campaign are anticipating the appearance of Sinatra. But, first, he has to finish dinner and do me a favor.

You see, Francis Albert Sinatra has agreed to record an announcement that I have written in support of the campaign. I'm in my mid-20s and Ol' Blue Eyes reigns supreme as a vocalist, so I'm almost giddy about my assignment.

I have driven from Center City in my 1950 Studebaker Starlight Coupe because I am carrying a heavy, suitcase-size wire recorder, predecessor to the tape recorder.

I knock on the hefty door of the CR Club and what follows is right out of a gangster movie. A slot in the door slides open and a pair of tough eyes precede the simple question: "Yes?"

I state my mission, the door swings open, and "tough eyes" invites me to have a seat at the small bar and order anything I want. So I ask for a light Scotch and sit on a stool with the recorder at my feet.

Carefully, I scan the room and find Sinatra and company around a table sagging with large bowls of food and bread and bottles of wine and spirits. A contingent of waiters attends to their every need.

Talk about a "power lunch." (OK, so it's dinner.) The diners include Manie Sacks, then vice president of RCA Victor Records, at whose brother's house in Germantown Sinatra married Ava Gardner; Walter Annenberg, head of Triangle Publications (The Inquirer, WFIL AM-FM, TV Guide, etc.) and later U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James's in London; John Crisconi, head of the largest Oldsmobile dealership in the state; Eugene Alessandroni, a prominent local judge; and, of course, Palumbo, friend to the famous.

I nervously take sips of my drink and wonder when my chance to meet the Chairman of the Board will come and how I should address him.

Suddenly, all the diners rise, so I lift my recorder and, clutching the piece of copy I wrote, head to the group. Catching Sinatra's eye, I address him as "Mr. Sinatra" and remind him why I'm there.

"May I see the spot?" he asks as I put the recorder on the table and hand him my composition.

Simultaneously, disaster strikes. Sacks has Sinatra by the arm and is reminding him of all those volunteers waiting for him to entertain them and they're very late, so he does not have time to record my piece.

But Sinatra tells Sacks it'll only take a minute to do and then asks me to show him the "record finger" when ready.

Sacks is fuming as Sinatra records, and I'm euphoric. He finishes and I express my delight, but in comes Sacks, tugging harder to get Sinatra away.

"Wait a second, Manie," says Frank, "I want to hear it."

Sacks protests and I tell the crooner it's OK and I so appreciate it. But Sinatra insists, so I push the play button and . . . OMG! (an expression we didn't use then). The recorder is as silent as an empty box.

I press the play button again and again until it becomes obvious - in my anxiety, I had not pressed "record."

But through the fog of distress, I hear Sinatra say: "That's OK, kid. Give me the copy and we'll record it for real this time."

Sacks sighs, Sinatra reads, and I smile, even broader as I play the recorder to hear the words I've written delivered by one of the most famous voices in entertainment history.