I have yet to meet a more passionate Frank Sinatra fan than my grandfather. From 1969’s My Cole Porter LP to the 1955 flick, The Man with the Golden Arm, anything with Sinatra’s name on it was an instant favorite for my abuelo.
He was so enamored by Ol’ Blue Eyes he would make me play old Sinatra records on his vinyl player and would often sing aloud, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in broken English. He felt such a connection with the singer that he cried the day he died on May 14, 1998. And like any good music fanatic, he made sure to pass on his fandom to his granddaughters.
Sinatra was such a powerful force who not only touched my grandfather, but who impacted people everywhere through his music, acting career, and even personal struggles. To the world, he was a superstar. But to AJ Lambert and Amanda Erlinger, he was simply grandpa.
“[He was] really great,” recalls Lambert. “He was really doating and loving, very affectionate, and really fun.”
Sitting in the lobby of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach last Wednesday, the sisters relived memories of their grandfather as they celebrated the unveiling of the hotel’s “Frank Sinatra Photo Gallery” exhibit and the release of Sinatra, a limited edition photo book put together by Erlinger in honor of the Hollywood star’s centennial.
“[My sister and I] have a lot of normal childhood memories which was, I think, a testament to our parents trying to give us a little perspective while living in that fishbowl of being from a famous family,” explains Lambert. “We did all kinds of fun things [with our grandpa],” she adds. “Like one time in Las Vegas, we were little and had nothing to do, so he bought us Big Wheels to ride around the halls in the hotel, like in The Shining.”
“The funny thing about that,” interjects Erlinger, “I don’t know if you remember this, but he was like, ‘Alright, but you can only use them on this floor.’ They would block off the floor he was on so nobody would come in... it was awesome, but at the same time it was like, 'keep your feet on the ground.'”
In the eyes of Hollywood, Sinatra was seen as a playboy who always had a glass of whiskey on him. But behind the smoke and mirrors, he was just a boy from Hoboken.
“I would never feel that [he was this big star] except when you were around it and [had all] the people reacting to him,” reflects Lambert.
“He was really down to earth,” adds her sister. “I think that’s something they don’t really talk about much and I get it — that there was this whole other side — but there’s also the time to turn off the persona and relax. I remember there being a distinctive difference between those two.”
“It wasn’t always him singing ‘New York, New York’ or drinking Jack Daniels and smoking all day and sleeping with his women,” explains Erlinger. “He just wasn’t like that at all, at least when we were around. I didn’t find him to be on at all, never ever, unless he was on show.”
His down-to-earth attitude even reflected on his food choices. “He had his favorite little place in Palm Springs and around the bar, he had these little Lucite containers of just snack food, and you’re gonna laugh, but this is really what was in there,” Lambert chuckles. “One would be Goldfish, the other would be cheese balls and pretzels, and one would have nuts like peanuts and pistachios.”
“He also loved Eskimo Pies,” Erlinger claims. “He wasn’t too fancy."
And, from her sister's recollection, a prankster as well. “He was a very big practical joker and loved to play tricks on people,” smirks Lambert. “There are two things I remember. One, they would sneak into somebody’s room and cut their neckties. They thought it was hilarious that it would look normal, but when they rolled it out, the tie was shorter."
"The other one was about cigarettes," she goes on. "They would take all the tobacco out so they’d go to the cigarette and it was an empty thing. And the punch line all the time was, ‘And I fell on the floor.’ That was his way of saying that he cracked up.”
But out of all their fun memories and his accomplishments, Sinatra's granddaughters — and people like me, who had the opportunity of being raised with a grandfather — admire their grandpa for the man he was.
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“I feel like there was a close-knit aspect to our family in which he was a very pivotal pull,” reminisces Lambert. “It was a very wonderful energy to be around him. He was just so loving and warm and I remember that to be the thing I noticed right away to be missing [when he died]. It was this instant happy you would get from being around him.”
“He had a very intense sense of calm and peace and relaxation,” adds Erlinger. “The second you were around him everything just sort of of mellowed out there was nothing you had to do. It was just about enjoying the moment; sitting and enjoying a crossword puzzle or sitting and eating your pancakes and bacon in the morning.”
Lessons like those are what Sinatra’s little girls hold dear to their hearts. “To this day, I remember those moments and remember not to take anything for granted," concludes Erlinger. "We’re all here and we should enjoy it while we’re here. He was always appreciative of how lucky he was.”
The “Frank Sinatra Photo Gallery” is on display until February 2016 at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-538-2000; fontainebleau.com.