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Virna Lisi

Virna Lisi

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FRANK SINATRA led the group out of The Sahara, some of them carrying their glasses of whisky with them, sipping it along the sidewalk and in the cars; then, returning to The Sands, they walked into the gambling casino.

It was still packed with people, the roulette wheels spinning, the crapshooters screaming in the far corner.Frank Sinatra, holding a shot glass of bourbon in his left hand, walked through the crowd.

He, unlike some of his friends, was perfectly pressed, his tuxedo tie precisely pointed, his shoes unsmudged.

He never seems to lose his dignity, never lets his guard completely down no matter how much he has drunk, nor how long he has been up.

He never sways when he walks, like Dean Martin, nor does he ever dance in the aisles or jump up on tables, like Sammy Davis.A part of Sinatra, no matter where he is, is never there.

There is always a part of him, though sometimes a small part, that remains Il Padrone.

Even now, resting his shot glass on the blackjack table, facing the dealer, Sinatra stood a bit back from the table, not leaning against it.

He reached under his tuxedo jacket into his trouser pocket and came up with a thick but clean wad of bills.

Gently he peeled off a one-hundred-dollar bill and placed it on the green-felt table.

The dealer dealt him two cards.

Sinatra called for a third card, overbid, lost the hundred.Without a change of expression, Sinatra put down a second hundred-dollar bill.

He lost that.

Then he put down a third, and lost that.

Then he placed two one-hundred-dollar bills on the table and lost those.

Finally, putting his sixth hundred-dollar bill on the table, and losing it, Sinatra moved away from the table, nodding to the man, and announcing, "Good dealer."The crowd that had gathered around him now opened up to let him through.

But a woman stepped in front of him, handing him a piece of paper to autograph.

He signed it and then he said, "Thank you."In the rear of The Sands' large dining room was a long table reserved for Sinatra.

The dining room was fairly empty at this hour, with perhaps two dozen other people in the room, including a table of four unescorted young ladies sitting near Sinatra.

On the other side of the room, at another long table, sat seven men shoulder-to-shoulder against the wall, two of them wearing dark glasses, all of them eating quietly, speaking hardly a word, just sitting and eating and missing nothing.The Sinatra party, after getting settled and having a few more drinks, ordered something to eat.

The table was about the same size as the one reserved for Sinatra whenever he is at Jilly's in New York; and the people seated around this table in Las Vegas were many of the same people who are often seen with Sinatra at Jilly's or at a restaurant in California, or in Italy, or in New Jersey, or wherever Sinatra happens to be.

When Sinatra sits to dine, his trusted friends are close; and no matter where he is, no matter how elegant the place may be, there is something of the neighborhood showing because Sinatra, no matter how far he has come, is still something of the boy from the neighborhood -- only now he can take his neighborhood with him.In some ways, this quasi-family affair at a reserved table in a public place is the closest thing Sinatra now has to home life.

Perhaps, having had a home and left it, this approximation is as close as he cares to come; although this does not seem precisely so because he speaks with such warmth about his family, keeps in close touch with his first wife, and insists that she make no decision without first consulting him.

He is always eager to place his furniture or other mementos of himself in her home or his daughter Nancy's, and he also is on amiable terms with Ava Gardner.

When he was in Italy making Von Ryan's Express, they spent some time together, being pursued wherever they went by the paparazzi.

It was reported then that the paparazzi had made Sinatra a collective offer of $16,000 if he would pose with Ava Gardner; Sinatra was said to have made a counter offer of $32,000 if he could break one paparazzi arm and leg.While Sinatra is often delighted that he can be in his home completely without people, enabling him to read and think without interruption, there are occasions when he finds himself alone at night, and not by choice.

He may have dialed a half-dozen women, and for one reason or another they are all unavailable.

So he will call his valet, George Jacobs."I'll be coming home for dinner tonight, George.""How many will there be?""Just myself," Sinatra will say.

"I want something light, I'm not very hungry."George Jacobs is a twice-divorced man of thirty-six who resembles Billy Eckstine.

He has traveled all over the world with Sinatra and is devoted to him.

Jacobs lives in a comfortable bachelor's apartment off Sunset Boulevard around the corner from Whiskey � Go Go, and he is known around town for the assortment of frisky California girls he has as friends -- a few of whom, he concedes, were possibly drawn to him initially because of his closeness to Frank Sinatra.When Sinatra arrives, Jacobs will serve him dinner in the dining room.

Then Sinatra will tell Jacobs that he is free to go home.

If Sinatra, on such evenings, should ask Jacobs to stay longer, or to play a few hands of poker, he would be happy to do so.

But Sinatra never does.THIS WAS HIS SECOND night in Las Vegas, and Frank Sinatra sat with friends in The Sands' dining room until nearly eight a.m.

He slept through much of the day, then flew back to Los Angeles, and on the following morning he was driving his little golf cart through the Paramount Pictures movie lot.

He was scheduled to complete two final scenes with the sultry blonde actress, Virna Lisi, in the film Assault on a Queen.

As he maneuvered the little vehicle up the road between the big studio buildings, he spotted Steve Rossi who, with his comedy partner Marty Allen, was making a film in an adjoining studio with Nancy Sinatra."Hey, Dag," he yelled to Rossi, "stop kissing Nancy.""It's part of the film, Frank," Rossi said, turning as he walked."In the garage?""It's my Dago blood, Frank.""Well, cool it," Sinatra said, winking, then cutting his golf cart around a corner and parking it outside a big drab building within which the scenes for Assault would be filmed."Where's the fat director?" Sinatra called out, striding into the studio that was crowded with dozens of technical assistants and actors all gathered around cameras.

The director, Jack Donohue, a large man who has worked with Sinatra through twenty-two years on one production or other, has had headaches with this film.

The script had been chopped, the actors seemed restless, and Sinatra had become bored.

But now there were only two scenes left -- a short one to be filmed in the pool, and a longer and passionate one featuring Sinatra and Virna Lisi to be shot on a simulated beach.The pool scene, which dramatizes a situation where Sinatra and his hijackers fail in their attempt to sack the Queen Mary, went quickly and well.

After Sinatra had been kept in the water shoulder-high for a few minutes, he said, "Let's move it, fellows -- it's cold in this water, and I've just gotten over one cold."So the camera crews moved in closer, Virna Lisi splashed next to Sinatra in the water, and Jack Donohue yelled to his assistants operating the fans, "Get the waves going," and another man gave the command, "Agitate!" and Sinatra broke out in song.

"Agitate in rhythm," then quieted down just before the cameras started to roll.Frank Sinatra was on the beach in the next situation, supposedly gazing up at the stars, and Virna Lisi was to approach him, toss one of her shoes near him to announce her presence, then sit near him and prepare for a passionate session.

Just before beginning, Miss Lisi made a practice toss of her shoe toward the prone figure of Sinatra sprawled on the beach.

As she tossed her shoe, Sinatra called out, "Hit me in my bird and I'm going home."Virna Lisi, who understands little English and certainly none of Sinatra's special vocabulary, looked confused, but everybody behind the camera laughed.

She threw the shoe toward him.

It twirled in the air, landed on his stomach."Well, that's about three inches too high," he announced.

She again was puzzled by the laughter behind the camera.Then Jack Donohue had them rehearse their lines, and Sinatra, still very charged from the Las Vegas trip, and anxious to get the cameras rolling, said, "Let's try one." Donohue, not certain that Sinatra and Lisi knew their lines well enough, nevertheless said okay, and an assistant with a clapboard called, "419, Take 1," and Virna Lisi approached with the shoe, tossed it at Frank lying on the beach.

It fell short of his thigh, and Sinatra's right eye raised almost imperceptibly, but the crew got the message, smiled."What do the stars tell you tonight?" Miss Lisi said, delivering her first line, and sitting next to Sinatra on the beach."The stars tell me tonight I'm an idiot," Sinatra said, "a gold-plated idiot to get mixed up in this thing....""Cut," Donohue said.

There were some microphone shadows on the sand, and Virna Lisi was not sitting in the proper place near Sinatra."419, Take 2," the clapboard man called.Miss Lisi again approached, threw the shoe at him, this time falling short -- Sinatra exhaling only slightly -- and she said, "What do the stars tell you tonight?""The stars tell me I'm an idiot, a gold-plated idiot to get mixed up in this thing...." Then, according to the script, Sinatra was to continue, " you know what we're getting into? The minute we step on the deck of the Queen Mary, we've just tattooed ourselves," but Sinatra, who often improvises on lines, recited them: " you know what we're getting into? The minute we step on the deck of that mother's-ass ship....""No, no," Donohue interrupted, shaking his head, "I don't think that's right."The cameras stopped, some people laughed, and Sinatra looked up from his position in the sand as if he had been unfairly interrupted."I don't see why that can't work..." he began, but Richard Conte, standing behind the camera, yelled, "It won't play in London."Donohue pushed his hand through his thinning grey hair and said, but not really in anger, "You know, that scene was pretty good until somebody blew the line....""Yeah," agreed the cameraman, Billy Daniels, his head popping out from around the camera, "it was a pretty good piece....""Watch your language," Sinatra cut in.

Then Sinatra, who has a genius for figuring out ways of not reshooting scenes, suggested a way in which the film could be used and the "mother" line could be recorded later.

This met with approval.

Then the cameras were rolling again, Virna Lisi was leaning toward Sinatra in the sand, and then he pulled her down close to him.

The camera now moved in for a close-up of their faces, ticking away for a few long seconds, but Sinatra and Lisi did not stop kissing, they just lay together in the sand wrapped in one another's arms, and then Virna Lisi's left leg just slightly began to rise a bit, and everybody in the studio now watched in silence, not saying anything until Donohue finally called out:"If you ever get through, let me know.

I'm running out of film."Then Miss Lisi got up, straightened out her white dress, brushed back her blonde hair and touched her lipstick, which was smeared.

Sinatra got up, a little smile on his lips, and headed for his dressing room.Passing an older man who stood near a camera, Sinatra asked, "How's your Bell & Howell?"The older man smiled."It's fine, Frank.""Good."In his dressing room Sinatra was met by an automobile designer who had the plans for Sinatra's new custom-built model to replace the $25,000 Ghia he has been driving for the last few years.

He also was awaited by his secretary, Tom Conroy, who had a bag full of fan mail, including a letter from New York's Mayor John Lindsay; and by Bill Miller, Sinatra's pianist, who would rehearse some of the songs that would be recorded later in the evening for Sinatra's newest album, Moonlight Sinatra.While Sinatra does not mind hamming it up a bit on a movie set, he is extremely serious about his recording sessions; as he explained to a British writer, Robin Douglas-Home: "Once you're on that record singing, it's you and you alone.

If it's bad and gets you criticized, it's you who's to blame -- no one else.

If it's good, it's also you.

With a film it's never like that; there are producers and scriptwriters, and hundreds of men in offices and the thing is taken right out of your hands.

With a record, you're it...."CONTINUEDSource: 1966 Gay Talese article in Esquire Magazine
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