Visits from 'ol' blue eyes'

Baltimore Glimpses

November 17, 1992|By GILBERT SANDLER

GIVEN its location on the lower end of the "Bos-Wash corridor" and within 40 miles of Washington, Baltimore is a stopping-off point for the famous and near-famous, the politician, even the queen. It's parochial to mention that So-and-So visited Baltimore five times. He or she darn well should have!

Having said that, Glimpses makes an exception for "ol' blue eyes," Frank Sinatra, who creates excitement wherever he goes. And Baltimore has been no exception.

There've been at least three visits, maybe a fourth. (And there could be more; he's still alive and crooning.) The first was in 1940 at the Hippodrome, Eutaw Street between Baltimore and Fayette. He appeared with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, a skinny vocalist with a tender, silky voice that turned teen-agers into maniacs. In that performance he sang with Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers. Among the tunes: "I'll Never Smile Again," "South of the Border," "Deep in a Dream."

Another visit occurred July 17, 1965, at the Civic Center. Appearing with Sinatra were the Count Basis Orchestra, Quincy Jones and the Oscar Peterson Trio. By this time his repertoire included "Mac the Knife," "Five Minutes More" and "Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week." While he was deep into one of his old standards, "I've Got You Under My Skin," the shrieking got so loud he had to stop the show temporarily.

Douglas Tawney, then the executive director of the Civic Center, said ticket sales for the 1965 Sinatra performance had set a record, topping sales for a Peter, Paul and Mary concert at the arena in January 1964.

"Tickets were gone in hours," he recalls, "and there were a lot of sore people who stood in those lines only to have to go away empty-handed. But it was an older crowd, and more orderly than the gang we had for the Beatles later that same year.

"What I remember best about Sinatra was seeing him as a really great monologuist. He told great stories, standing up by himself. And second, he insisted on having a well-stocked bar backstage whenever he performed. He always had a lot of visitors backstage, and he was very free with his Scotch and vodka."

Another time was Aug. 1, 1968, also at the Civic Center. This visit started in the afternoon, when the crooner cut a ribbon to open Hubert H. Humphrey's headquarters on Charles Street. Then he was the guest of honor at a dinner party given by Edgar Berman, then Humphrey's personal physician.

That evening Sinatra created the usual carrying-on as he ran through his standards: "I Get a Kick Out of You," "The Lady Is a Tramp," "I've Got a Crush on You."

He might have been here another time.

In June 1971, the switchboard at Johns Hopkins Hospital was suddenly flooded with calls. There was a rumor spreading about town that Frank Sinatra was a patient at the hospital. Doris Osborne, chief telephone operator, told reporters, "I don't know how this rumor got started. I did get a call from a nurse in the hospital who asked me, 'Is Frank Sinatra here? He must be. I just passed him in the hall.'"

Reporters followed up on the rumor, but it was never verified. If Frank Sinatra was in Hopkins Hospital 21 years ago, he got out of town without publicity. He's always done it his way.

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