Okay, not many people were allowed inside Frank Sinatra’s inner circle. But Tony Consiglio–of Sally’s Apizza fame–was a boyhood friend of Sinatra’s who remained his friend and confidant for over sixty years. One reason Sinatra valued Tony’s friendship is that he could be trusted: Sinatra nicknamed him “the Clam” because Tony never spoke to reporters or biographers about the singer. From the early days when Sinatra was trying to establish himself as a singer to the mid-1960s, Tony worked with Sinatra and was there to share in the highs and lows of Sinatra’s life and career. Tony was with Sinatra during his “bobby-soxer” megastar days in the 1940s, and he remained loyal to Sinatra during the lean years of the early 1950s, when “the Voice” was struggling with a crumbling singing and acting career as well as his tumultuous marriage to Ava Gardner. Tony also had a front row seat to Sinatra’s comeback in the 1950s, starting with his Academy Award winning role in From Here to Eternity and a string of now-classic hit recordings. Tony’s friendship with Sinatra allowed him to rub elbows with the Hollywood elite, including Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Kim Novak, Ava Gardner, and many others. It also brought him close to the political world of the early 1960s, when Sinatra campaigned for John F. Kennedy and then helped plan the Kennedy inauguration. Tony was even at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts, when the election results came in. Sinatra and Me will shed new light on the real Frank Sinatra from the man who knew him better than anyone.
And who better to tell Tony Consiglio’s story than Franz Douskey, who has been published in over 200 publications including The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The Nation? Douskey’s fourth book, West of Midnight, reached number 24 on the Amazon Best-Seller list in 2011 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
SINATRA AND ME: THE VERY GOOD YEARS is the result of eight years of interviews and travels with Tony Consiglio who traveled and lived with Frank Sinatra from 1942 until Frank’s first retirement. The book is Tony’s memoirs of the Sinatra years, as well as never before published photos and letters.
To hear Franz Douskey talk about how he convinced Tony “The Clam” Consiglio to open up about Frank Sinatra, listen to this podcast. http://www.tantor.com/share/FranzDouskey_interview_final.mp3
And come to see Franz Douskey and hear a reading from the book at 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 13 at the Gateway Community College Library, New Haven, second floor.
Welcome to Books New Haven, Franz. Tell us about your book.
The focus of the book is Tony Consiglio, who co-founded Sally’s Apizza in 1938 with his mother and his brother Salvatore, then traveled with Sinatra, worked with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, worked on JFK’s campaign for president in 1960, and the Inaugural Ball in January 1961, and was a regular visitor at the White House. On occasion he brought Judith Exner, who was having simultaneous affairs with JFK and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. Tony was friends with with Pierre Salinger, Lou Gehrig, Muhammad Ali, Regis Philbin , Emeril LaGasse, Frank Sinatra’s mother, father, first wife and their three children, Nancy, Jr., Frank, Jr., and Tina. Every story in the book is a first-hand account by a man who seemed to be everywhere and had the photos to support the stories.
What is your writing process?
I don’t have a writing process because I don’t do one kind of writing. Early on I did travel writing to support my desire to travel. Another aspect was a series of interviews with sports figures, such as Willie Pep, Bud Harrelson, Smoky Joe Wood, etc. Also published lots of short stories and some poetry. When I’m working I’m in a place away from home where only a few people know where to find me. That is essential.
Was the research for the book difficult?
The research was time consuming and entailed much travel, many phone calls and plenty of dead ends. What I couldn’t verify didn’t go into the book.
What was the best part of writing this book? What did you enjoy the most?
The best part of working on the book was spending lots of time with Tony. We visited Frank, Jr., Nancy Jr., we lectured at colleges, visited Emeril numerous times, and even wrote segments for Emeril Live! on the Food Network. Tony was brilliant, and so much damned fun. We had a great time together. Two New Haven bums on the road together.
Did you come across any surprises in researching this book?
There were numerous surprises along the way, too many to mention. Our early agents wanted us to put in large sections about Frank and the mob, Frank and Marilyn; you know, the usual stuff. Tony wanted to tell the stories behind the music, behind the night life and the crazy stunts that Dean, Frank, Jimmy Van Heusen, Jack E Leonard and other pals would play on each other. Also, there were stories Tony didn’t want in the book. He had promised Frank that there were some stories that he would take to the grave, and he did.
How did you first know you were a writer?
I still have my doubts. I don’t think of myself as a writer. I’m just a guy who has had some very amazing experiences, so I have a lot to draw on instead of my imagination.
What have you been working on since the book came out?
Since the book has been published, I’ve been traveling, doing a lot of interviews. One day there was a “virtual radio tour” and I did 24 interviews starting at 7:23 a.m. and ending at 7:45 that night. Most of the interviews were live, and some were taped. Oddly, for a person who likes to be alone, I like doing the interviews and the book signings. The three that stand out are the Book Party at Sally’s Restaurant that was jammed. Ruthie, Bobby and Ricky went all out. They were amazing. Tony’s widow, Mary and their two sons, Anthony and Christopher were there and that was very important. But no Tony. I really regret that Tony didn’t make it long enough to see the book published.
Another fine event was at R J Julia, let’s say the best bookstore in the USA. We took the tour bus because we had a few friends aboard and it’s a great way to eat and relax while traveling to readings. I thought there might be ten or twelve people at R J Julia but there were a lot of people, chairs set up in the aisles, and after I told a few stories from the book, people lined up and it took a long time to get all the books signed. Was my hand tired? Never. I enjoyed meeting people and listening to their stories about Frank Sinatra and music, in general. The third best stop was to Imus In The Morning. Very surprising. I’m an unknown. But I got a call and several emails from the producer. Then Bernard send a great email telling me not to worry and be myself. Well, I am usually myself, and I had a great time with Imus, Rob Bartlett and Tony Powell. I had to be there very early. I hate hassles. The thought of finding a parking space at Union Station, then the train being on time, then wrangling over a cab contained too many “ifs.” Just one thing going wrong could screw up the interview. So, I called my favorite limo service and that was it. Andrew came to the house in the dark, my wife Sarah and Tantor Vice President John Molish got in, no worries and we got there on time. Beautiful. There is no doubt about it, I may not be getting richer in my old age, but I’m certainly cutting down on things that can go wrong.
There are four books done and in line for publishing. Tantor has rights of first refusal. One book deals with Memphis, Tennessee, its music and musical icons, some of whom I knew and a few I still know. There’s a huge book on the history of one year: 1968. As mentioned those books are done, but I tend to never be finished with a book until it’s in print. And there is one very intriguing project just being put together.