Classic Royko: Mr. Sinatra sends a letter

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Frank Sinatra croons to the World Music Theater crowd in Tinley Park in 1991. | Sun-Times Photo

Editor’s note: Mike Royko wrote this one for the Chicago Daily News on May 5, 1976.

A short man with a thick neck just walked in and handed me an envelope and said: “Dis is fum Mr. Sinatra.”

Sure enough, it was — a letter from Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, telling me off good for my column about how he has a 24-hour police guard outside his hotel suite while he’s in Chicago.

Here’s what he says:

“Let me start this note by saying, I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I believe if you knew me:

“First, you would find immediately that I do not have an army of flunkies.

“Secondly, neither myself, nor my secretary, nor my security man put in the request for police protection. It is something that’s far from necessary.

“It’s quite obvious that your source of information stinks, but that never surprises me about people who write in newspapers for a living. They rarely get their facts straight. If the police decided that they wanted to be generous with me, I appreciate it. If you have any beefs with the Chicago police force, why not take it out on them instead of me, or is that too big a job for you?

“And thirdly, who in the hell gives you the right to decide how disliked I am if you know nothing about me?

“The only honest thing I read in your piece is the fact that you admitted you are disliked, and by the way you write I can understand it. Quite frankly, I don’t understand why people don’t spit in your eye three or four times a day.

“Regarding my ‘tough reputation,’ you and no one else can prove that allegation. You and millions of other gullible Americans read that kind of crap written by the same female gossip columnists that you are so gallantly trying to protect: the garbage dealers I call hookers, and there’s no doubt that is exactly what they are, which makes you a pimp, because you are using people to make money, just as they are.

“Lastly, certainly not the least, if you are a gambling man:

“(a) You prove, without a doubt, that I have ever punched an elderly drunk or elderly anybody, you can pick up $100,000.

“(b) I will allow you to pull my ‘hairpiece.’ If it moves, I will give you another $100,000; if it does not, I punch you in the mouth.

“How about it?

“(signed) Frank Sinatra

“cc: The Honorable Richard J. Daley

“Police Supt. James Rochford

“Mr. Marshall Field, Publisher

“Mr. Charles Fegert, Vice President

“This material has been copyrighted and may not be reproduced unless used in its entirety and sets forth the following copyright notice: “Frank Sinatra, 1976.”

Before I respond, I have to admit that receiving a signed, hand-delivered, copyrighted letter from Frank Sinatra was a thrill. Even if he did call me a pimp.

Way back, when we were both young, Sinatra was one of my heroes because (a) he was really skinny, (b) he had a big Adam’s apple, (c) he had greasy hair, and (d) all the girls loved him. Me, too, except for (d).

For 30 years, I’ve considered him the master of pop singers. Why, in 1953, I played his great record “Birth of the Blues” so often that a Korean house boy learned every word. And he probably taught the song to his children. So if Sinatra has a fan club in the Korean village of Yong Dong Po, it’s because of me.

I mention this only to show how deeply it pained me to be critical of him. The pain may have been brought on by the French fries at lunch, but I prefer to think it was sentiment.

Anyway, here is my point-by-point response to his point-by-point response to my column:

* If you say you have no flunkies, I take your word and apologize. I even apologize to the flunky who delivered the letter.

* You say you didn’t ask for the police guard. I’ll buy that. But I didn’t say you asked. I quoted the police public relations man, who said you did. I now suspect that what actually happened is that some politician sent the cop over to impress you. This point could have been easily cleared up before I wrote the column, but every time we called your suite, your secretary got snippy and hung up.

* I didn’t say you were disliked; the police PR man said it to justify the guard. I like you, Frank, honest. When you wore big bow ties, I wore big bow ties. When you wore big lapels and baggy pants, I wore big lapels and baggy pants. When you dated Ava Gardner, I dated Ava Grobnik. We’re a lot alike.

* The reason people don’t spit in my eye three or four times a day is that I duck fast.

* After rereading your massive file of news clippings, I agree that you have never punched any “elderly drunks.” Most of the drunks you punched were younger.

* If you can prove, without a doubt, that I have ever been a pimp, I will give you $11.69 cash. You’re not the only high roller in town.

* I don’t want to pull your hair. People would think we’re a couple of weirdos.

* However, for the sake of a sporting proposition, I’ll do it. But only if I can make new terms for the bet.

If your hair doesn’t move you can punch me in the mouth. (I figure that fans who can’t buy tickets for your show will pay 50 cents to touch my swollen lip.)

But if it does move, never mind the 100 Gs — you give me one of your old bow ties and an original recording of “Birth of the Blues.” I still say it was your best song.

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