“Finally Sinatra Could Not Contain Himself”

From the Harlan Ellison segment of the most famous magazine article of the last 50 years, Gay Talese’s 1965 Esquire piece,Frank Sinatra Has a Cold“:

“The younger men in the room, accustomed to seeing Sinatra at this club, treated him without deference, although they said nothing offensive. They were a cool young group, very California-cool and casual, and one of the coolest seemed to be a little guy, very quick of movement, who had a sharp profile, pale blue eyes, blondish hair, and squared eyeglasses. He wore a pair of brown corduroy slacks, a green shaggy-dog Shetland sweater, a tan suede jacket, and Game Warden boots, for which he had recently paid $60.

Frank Sinatra, leaning against the stool, sniffling a bit from his cold, could not take his eyes off the Game Warden boots. Once, after gazing at them for a few moments, he turned away; but now he was focused on them again. The owner of the boots, who was just standing in them watching the pool game, was named Harlan Ellison, a writer who had just completed work on a screenplay, The Oscar.

Finally Sinatra could not contain himself.

‘Hey,’ he yelled in his slightly harsh voice that still had a soft, sharp edge. ‘Those Italian boots?’

“No,” Ellison said.



‘Are they English boots?’

‘Look, I donno, man,’ Ellison shot back, frowning at Sinatra, then turning away again.

Now the poolroom was suddenly silent. Leo Durocher who had been poised behind his cue stick and was bent low just froze in that position for a second. Nobody moved. Then Sinatra moved away from the stool and walked with that slow, arrogant swagger of his toward Ellison, the hard tap of Sinatra’s shoes the only sound in the room. Then, looking down at Ellison with a slightly raised eyebrow and a tricky little smile, Sinatra asked: ‘You expecting a storm?’

Harlan Ellison moved a step to the side. ‘Look, is there any reason why you’re talking to me?’

‘I don’t like the way you’re dressed,’ Sinatra said.

‘Hate to shake you up,’ Ellison said, ‘but I dress to suit myself.’

Now there was some rumbling in the room, and somebody said, ‘Com’on, Harlan, let’s get out of here,’ and Leo Durocher made his pool shot and said, ‘Yeah, com’on.’

But Ellison stood his ground.

Sinatra said, ‘What do you do?’

‘I’m a plumber,’ Ellison said.

‘No, no, he’s not,” another young man quickly yelled from across the table. ‘He wrote The Oscar.’

‘Oh, yeah,’ Sinatra said, ‘well I’ve seen it, and it’s a piece of crap.’

‘That’s strange,’ Ellison said, ‘because they haven’t even released it yet.’

‘Well, I’ve seen it,’ Sinatra repeated, ‘and it’s a piece of crap.’

Now Brad Dexter, very anxious, very big opposite the small figure of Ellison, said, ‘Com’on, kid, I don’t want you in this room.’

‘Hey,” Sinatra interrupted Dexter, “can’t you see I’m talking to this guy?’

Dexter was confused. Then his whole attitude changed, and his voice went soft and he said to Ellison, almost with a plea, ‘Why do you persist in tormenting me?’

The whole scene was becoming ridiculous, and it seemed that Sinatra was only half-serious, perhaps just reacting out of sheer boredom or inner despair; at any rate, after a few more exchanges Harlan Ellison left the room. By this time the word had gotten out to those on the dance floor about the Sinatra-Ellison exchange, and somebody went to look for the manager of the club. But somebody else said that the manager had already heard about it — and had quickly gone out the door, hopped in his car and drove home. So the assistant manager went into the poolroom.

‘I don’t want anybody in here without coats and ties,’ Sinatra snapped.

The assistant manager nodded, and walked back to his office.”


The young, cool Ellison who irked Sinatra so much:

See also:

Tags: ,