Friday, Aug. 2, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
Anthony Franchini hasn't been looking forward to his 98th birthday today.
Recovering from a broken hip and other health problems, the former longtime symphony musician has his sights set on a much more impressive milestone.
"Ninety-eight? I'm looking forward to 100!" said Franchini (pronounced Fran-KEE-nee), a veteran of World Wars I and II and a 19-year Las Vegas resident who has been featured in numerous SUN stories, most recently, Nov. 1, 1994.
"I'm looking ahead to many things, especially to not having to use this (a walker) anymore."
Franchini, who has enjoyed excellent health throughout his life, underwent partial hip replacement surgery two months ago after falling while walking in his North Las Vegas apartment.
Despite his advanced years, Franchini, who still has a Nevada driver's license and drove his 20-year-old station wagon until the day he fell, went from a wheelchair to a walker after a few weeks of physical therapy.
At his birthday party tonight at the Horseshoe hotel, the one-time fiddler for the late Hank Williams -- he was known as Tony Zachary back then -- plans to play his mandolin with members of his old Las Vegas trio and other bands.
"When he first came here (two months ago) he could not get out of his chair, now Anthony gets up by himself and gets around -- it's amazing," said Peter Polanco, caregiver at the the Good Samaritan Retirement Home, where Franchini moved after surgery.
As in many events in Franchini's storied life, he found a silver lining even in breaking his hip. During physical therapy sessions, Franchini, three times divorced, met a woman who was an ex-Big Band singer. He recently had lunch with her and plans to see her occasionally.
"He definitely still has an eye for the ladies," said Johnny Fullenwider, a nutritionist who has helped nurse Franchini back to health. Franchini's weight had fallen from 140 to 117 pounds. He is back to 120 and is gaining strength.
Franchini credits his longevity to a strict diet that includes plenty of fish and fresh vegetables, two to three quarts of goat's milk a week and teaspoonfuls of brewer's yeast and bee pollen before meals.
"His recovery from the accident has been tremendous," said Fullenwider, a business associate of the Las Vegas Health and Medical Research Foundation, Inc. He befriended Franchini before the accident and took him to the hospital after the fall.
"His speech is a little slurred. But, he's as ornery as ever and his mind is working great."
Franchini, who once stubbornly vowed to never go into a rest home or retirement center, has adjusted to that limitation on his independence.
"They treat me well and the food here is good," said Franchini, who in 1983 became an associate member of the American Association of Nutrition and Dietary Consultants and has since counseled hundreds on how to eat properly.
"At the moment, I see this (living in a senior group care home) as being a necessity. Sometimes you need to accept help when you are helpless."
Born Antonio Giuseppe Franchini on Aug. 2, 1898, in Naples, Italy, the son of a fishmonger came to Boston with his family in 1903, several months before the Wright Brothers made the first propellor-airplane flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C.
An eighth-grade dropout, Franchini earned a degree in biochemistry in 1957 and was a public school music teacher for several years.
Under the pen name Mel Ball, Franchini wrote more than 150 published songs. Many of them were Hawaiian tunes which helped bring that genre of music from the confines of the South Sea Island shores to the world.
The symphonies for which Franchini performed were in Reno; Houston; El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Ariz., and Phoenix.
From 1949-51, he backed up country-western legend Williams on such classic recordings as "Your Cheatin' Heart." Franchini performed with Mantovani's orchestra in the late 1950s.
He also played in orchestras at numerous Reno and Las Vegas resorts, where he backed up such greats as Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, Sammy Davis Jr., and others.