Recently there have been a number of flicks on the tube starring Frank Sinatra. They reminded me of the many times I interfaced with the singer in Reno, Tahoe and Vegas. The most memorable follows:
An interesting side note to the local press was that unbeknownst to any of us, an enterprising young reporter Walt MacKenzie availed himself of a room service waiter’s uniform and delivered some drinks to Frank’s room. As far as I know he was the only member of the press who got a glimpse of Frank during his stay. Another newspaper item that broke during Frank’s stay at the hotel occurred when I was called to figure out how to get Frank outside for some exercise. From his room we went to the back of the hotel where the freight elevator was located and took it to the kitchen of the Skyroom at the top of the building. From there we took the short flight of stairs to the roof. We walked around the roof of the hotel for about 45 minutes. During that time Frank was fairly noncommittal and kept staring at the easily visible mountains saying, “He’s up there somewhere, Harry.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the FBI agent had confided in me that the longer the boy was missing, the less likely was the chance that he would be found alive.
As it turned out later Frank, Jr. was nowhere near Lake Tahoe. At the time he was abducted he was appearing at Harrah’s South Shore and his captors were able to get out of the lake area before the roads were closed. They were hiding Junior at their secret hideaway in sunny Southern California rather than the frigid confines of Lake Tahoe.
As far as Frank’s physical appearance was concerned, he looked gaunt and haggard and a very concerned parent. I thought to myself that he was suffering from a triple whammy in that his former good friend President Kennedy had been assassinated, he had lost his gaming license, and now the final blow – the kidnapping of his son.
Shortly after our first trip to the roof the top photographer in Reno, the late Don Dondero, showed up in my office. He said that he had a juicy assignment from the wire service to see if he could get a picture of Frank senior. I told him that I would be walking Frank on the roof the next morning and that I would give him a call when we were about to go up there. I suggested he position himself near one of the large windows in the men’s restroom on the 14th floor of the First National Bank building across the street from the Mapes which would afford him a commanding view of the roof of the hotel. When the appointed time came I maneuvered Frank to the north side of the roof and we stopped there for a brief moment. Later I got a call from Dondero and he said he had gotten a perfect shot. The next morning a photo that covered half of the front page of the San Francisco Examiner featured the roof of the Mapes with two tiny figures. Frank was the one wearing the hat.
Finally the kidnappers made contact with Sinatra and had him going to various locations to answer phone calls. The upshot of all this was that Frank was to raise $240,000 and leave it at a specific location in Los Angeles. In order to get the funds as the banks were closed that night Frank called upon Bill Harrah and Charles Mapes to loan him the money.
The problem that faced us now was how to get Frank out of the hotel without being seen by the reporters. We decided that we would have a limo at the front door and Frank’s plane warming up at the airport while another plane that he was actually going to take was ready further down the runway.
Back in the hotel I alerted the members of the press that Frank would be coming out the front door to take the limo. Then the FBI agent and I went to Frank’s room and escorted him via the freight elevator to the basement of the building. Once there we started along a dark passageway to the back door of the hotel. It was the entrance where supplies were delivered on a regular basis. We were half way along when I spotted the silhouette of a Reno newspaperman I knew at the rear entrance. His name was Clark Bigler. Without a word the FBI agent and I grabbed Sinatra by the arms and tossed him into a nearly potato bin. It was an easy feat because Frank didn’t weigh much at the time. I then rushed up to tell Bigler he was missing the big story by not being out front. He immediately hotfooted down the alley to the front of the building. Rushing back, the agent and I pulled Frank out of the potato bin. As he dusted himself off, Frank shook my hand and said, “If I can ever do anything for you, don’t hesitate to call.”* We got Frank into a car at the rear of the hotel and he was off to the airport and the waiting plane.
The end of the story occurred when Frank successfully delivered the money and his son was released on foot near Frank’s Los Angeles home where the father picked him up.
The kidnappers were eventually caught and convicted but served a very light sentence because their defense attorney used the claim that Frank, Jr. who knew the head of the gang had orchestrated the kidnapping as a publicity stunt.
*A statement he lived up to several years later when he was selling his interest in the Cal Neva Lodge to the group that was running the Cal Neva Club in Reno. Because the club owners would only purchase the lodge if they could add a hotel to the property, it would require a great deal of PR work to gain the approval of the Washoe County Commissioners. The club owners contacted me to mount up such a campaign. I told them that it would be a very expensive effort and they said, “Not to worry because Frank suggested that we use you and that he would pick up the tab for the campaign whatever it costs.”