Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2021

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Sinatra spent anxiously hopeful moments in Las Vegas

At least twice in Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra waited for planes to arrive at McCarran International Airport for events that would have profound influences on his life.

In the summer of 1966, Sinatra waited nervously at the airport as a chartered flight from Los Angeles brought his third wife-to-be, actress Mia Farrow, from Los Angeles. It did not arrive until an hour before the scheduled services.

In the winter of 1977, Sinatra, his stomach churning with uncertainty, went on stage opening night at Caesars Palace hotel-casino knowing that a two-engine Learjet carrying his mother, Natalie "Dolly" Sinatra was late. That flight never arrived.

While the marriage to Farrow was short-lived, it was nevertheless a joyous occasion in Sinatra's long association with Las Vegas.

The other event, however, was a grave moment, which reduced the quintessential man's man to tears. The body of his 82-year-old mother was pulled from the wreckage after a crash in the snow-covered San Gorgonio Mountains, along with three others, including two Las Vegas pilots.

Frank Sinatra's death on Thursday, also at age 82, may have ended his earthly relationship with Las Vegas. But as long as there is a neon-lit Strip and Glitter Gulch, the memory of Ol' Blue Eyes unquestionably will live on.

In the song, "That's Life," Sinatra sang of being "up and down and over and out. But I know one thing. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race."

Much could be said of that and his relationship with Las Vegas:

* He had not only long engagements at places like the Sands hotel-casino and Caesars Palace, but also shorter -- and arguably less memorable -- associations with places like the Riviera and Bally's hotel-casinos.

* He lost and regained gaming licenses here under scrutiny of purported mob associations.

* He was rumored to have been in the process of buying nearly every major resort in town, but never did make that big score.

It was on a 110-degree day 32 years ago when Sinatra, Farrow and then-Sand's boss Jack Entratter climbed into a limousine at the airport, as security guards held back hundreds of fans trying to capture a glimpse of the couple.

At the Sands, things weren't much better as hundreds of guests, many dressed in bathing suits, crowded the entrance to get snapshots of the couple, who were whisked to the Presidential Suite for the private wedding.

Both before and after the ceremony, in conversations with a Sun reporter and others, Sinatra nervously said over and over, "This is a big day," repeatedly licked his lips and continually rubbed his hands together.

Farrow, 21, wore a simple silk beige brocade jacket, a knee-length skirt with matching shoes and a $100,000 diamond engagement ring.

Farrow's hair was short-cropped. In 1965, a year after she started dating Sinatra, the young star of "Peyton Place" made worldwide headlines by chopping off her waist-length locks.

Sinatra, then 50, wore a plain blue suit with a white carnation in his lapel. The couple did not exchange wedding bands.

Red Skelton, performing at the time in the Copa Room, attended the ceremony. Sinatra's buddy, Dean Martin, and Farrow's mother, actress Maureen O'Sullivan, did not.

After the reception, the couple boarded a Learjet to New York then flew to London for their honeymoon.

Similar to Nancy Barbato and actress Ava Gardner before her, Farrow soon became an ex-Mrs. Sinatra. In November 1967, noting that they had not spent much time together during their marriage, the couple separated.

Sinatra married his fourth and final wife, Barbara Marx, the former wife of comedian Zeppo Marx of the Marx brothers, in July 1976. In her younger days, she was a Las Vegas showgirl and a Los Angeles model.

On Jan. 6, 1977, Sinatra went on stage at Caesars, hoping everything would be all right with his mother. Three days later, rescue teams located her body among the wreckage.

The plane had taken off in adverse weather conditions from Palm Springs, Calif., Municipal Airport and went off the radar screen three minutes later.

Paul Anka, Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr. filled in for the rest of Sinatra's scheduled weeklong Las Vegas performances.

On Nov. 2, 1977, Sinatra was joined by former President Gerald Ford and a star-studded audience at "A Tribute to Dolly -- A Great Lady: Natalie Sinatra" at the Stardust hotel-casino.

The $500-a-plate dinner raised more than $750,000 for one of Dolly Sinatra's favorite charities, the Villa Scalabrini Retirement Center in Los Angeles. Among those participating in the tribute were Martin, Don Rickles and Carroll O'Connor.

While Sinatra made his mark as the leader of the Rat Pack at the Sands and as a performer/executive at Caesars Palace, he also had shorter runs at other local places that added to his bond with the local entertainment community.

When he was performing at the Golden Nugget hotel-casino, Sinatra made commercials with the resort's chairman, Steve Wynn. In one, he asked the gaming mogul for fresh towels.

In 1989, Sinatra struck a major blow for Musicians Local 369 when he opted not to open at Bally's in late November, four months into a bitter labor dispute. Subsequently, the resort canceled Sinatra's December dates.

Sinatra appeared at the Riviera and the Desert Inn hotel-casino in the early '90s. A 77th birthday performance -- 7s are lucky in Las Vegas -- was held at the DI in December 1992.

However, perhaps more interesting than where he performed was the constant flow of speculative newspaper columns and stories which said Sinatra was going to purchase various local hotels.

Among them was the Aladdin hotel-casino in 1990. The deal, confirmed by many, never materialized. For about 15 years prior to that, similar stories involving Sinatra's supposed intent to purchase many other resorts appeared in local newspapers.

The rumors started with Sinatra receiving a gaming license in 1981 after he convinced state gaming officials that rumors about his ties to the mob were exaggerated.

At the time, Sinatra told the gaming officials he was considering investing in several local properties. The purchase rumors flew freely over the next decade.

In the end, Sinatra never bought a major Las Vegas gaming resort, though early on he did own a small interest in the Sands.

But as a premier performer, Sinatra "owned" this desert entertainment capital and his footprints are forever embedded in its dusty soil.

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