The coterie of the rich and famous that launched Spiro Agnew's business career had once had far bigger plans. Mr. Sinatra had vowed to make him president, and that was assumed to be the Agnew plan, especially after a Gallup Poll late in his first term rated him the third-most-admired man in the United States, behind only President Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham.
The only trouble with the plan was Mr. Nixon.
He and Mr. Agnew had met in March 1968, when Mr. Agnew was a governor who'd earned a reputation as a progressive by promoting revenue sharing, a fairer income tax and a fair housing act. But he caught Mr. Nixon's attention with sterner stuff. After race riots erupted in Baltimore, he called the city's most prominent black leaders together, presumably to seek their counsel. Instead, he publicly scolded them, prompting many to walk out.
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
So when Mr. Nixon winnowed from political and geographic extremes to choose a running mate in the summer of 1968, the last man standing was the mid-Atlantic moderate, Governor Agnew.
"Then relations soured and never went anywhere," said John Damgard, former appointments secretary for Mr. Agnew. "Agnew never quite fit the image Nixon had established of him. Also, he [Mr. Agnew] had charm, an easy laugh . . . and I think Nixon resented that."
Although Vice President Agnew soon made a name for himself with sharp-tongued, conservative speeches, behind the scenes he was quickly shoved aside by Mr. Nixon and presidential aide H. R. Haldeman. But Mr. Sinatra helped make it all bearable.
He and Mr. Agnew had met on the golf course in California in November 1970, introduced by Agnew aide Peter Malatesta, a nephew of Bob Hope. Mr. Agnew had just returned from a noisy triumphant tour of campaigning for congressional Republicans. Mr. Sinatra, meanwhile, was seeking new political friends.
"[Mr. Sinatra] is a political groupie," said Gen. John "Mike" Dunn, Mr. Agnew's military assistant at the time. "In his compound he's got these little brass plates on the doors -- 'Hubert Humphrey slept here,' 'John Kennedy slept here.' "
It also didn't hurt that both were sons of Mediterranean immigrants from humble beginnings, and both loathed the news media.
The Sinatra compound in Rancho Mirage became Mr. Agnew's version of Mr. Nixon's retreat at San Clemente, Calif. It had tight security, a helicopter pad, a swimming pool, a health club, tennis courts and private bungalows. Mr. Sinatra would later rename one "Agnew House."
Sometimes after dinner the new pals gathered by the piano. The vice president picked out tunes, and Mr. Sinatra crooned along. Or, in those days before the videocassette recorder, Mr. Sinatra ordered reels of the latest movies flown in from Hollywood. And there always seemed to be plenty of Hollywood celebrities around.
"This was the kind of stuff [Mr. Agnew] used to read about in magazines," said Peter Malatesta's brother, Thomas, who did advance work for Agnew trips. "And it doesn't take a genius to realize, 'Hey, I could use all these people if I ever run for president someday.' "
It turned out he needed their help even sooner. When Mr. Nixon mulled dumping Mr. Agnew from the ticket in 1972, Mr. Sinatra rushed to the rescue with a letter-writing campaign that climaxed with a fund-raiser at Baltimore's Lyric Theatre. Bob Hope was master of ceremonies, and Mr. Sinatra strode out of retirement to sing "The Gentleman is a Champ" to the tune of "The Lady is a Tramp."
On the road to wealth
Two years later, Frank Sinatra was still boosting Spiro Agnew, although by then he was an ex-vice president headed for the Middle East on his first business trip in April 1974.
His timing couldn't have been better. In the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war that had begun the week of Mr. Agnew's resignation, the oil boom was on.
"Everybody was there trying to make a buck," said Duane Butcher, then an economic officer for the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia. "All the hotels were full. People were sleeping on pool tables and sometimes paying $100 to do it. . . . I remember finding the former governor of Oklahoma in the lobby of the embassy one day, and he was under indictment at the time."
Such blots on one's record didn't seem to bother foreign governments, as long as one had a big name. "In a lot of those countries, they couldn't even figure out what Nixon had done wrong, let alone Agnew," said David A. Keene, Mr. Agnew's principal political assistant.
Agnew sightings abroad soon became common among diplomats and journalists, especially in Greece, the Mideast and the Far East.
"I ran into him at the airport in Riyadh in about '78, and I asked