Sunday, June 10, 2007

There is a surefire way...

...to become a celebrity within your (very very stereotypical) Italian-American family.

And that way is being a personal friend of the Sinatra family.

Yesterday, I went to a family party, and my Great Uncle Louie, who is about 85, greeted me with, "So, are you still in touch with Sinatra?"

Being in touch with Sinatra...any Sinatra...is a big deal for a family who is full of Anthonys, Vinnys and Louies.

I was raised on Frank Sinatra. In the background of all our family movies, you can clearly hear his voice…The Voice. I loved him…loved his voice, his style, his personality, the era he represented…a time of innocence and romance, when a song was just about a guy telling a girl that he loved her. I had always said I was born fifty years too late. In fact, this was probably part of the reason that I didn’t date much in high school…I was looking for a certain sweet and romantic quality that died along with black and white movies!

I have always been a fan of writing letters. At thirteen, I wrote a letter to Frank’s youngest daughter, Tina, telling her how much I enjoyed the television movie she produced about her father’s life.

I guess she probably wasn’t getting too many letters from little girls who were fans of her father’s (which really doesn’t surprise me, most little girls aren’t so odd) because a correspondence was born. I sent her a paper I wrote about her father for my ninth grade English class, and confided in her when my own father was diagnosed with cancer.

After Frank’s death, I mailed Tina a sympathy card, telling her how I felt like a member of my family had died and how sad I was that I would never get to meet her dad, even though I felt like he had been a great-uncle of mine my whole life! She wrote back, saying, “I’m sorry you never met him, but hearing about you brought a big smile to his face.” Few things have ever touched me as much as knowing that Frank Sinatra knew who I was and that I had made him smile!

Thanks to Tina, I got to be a presenter at Hofstra University’s Frank Sinatra conference in November 1998. The night before, a representative from Access Hollywood called my house and told me they were interested in doing a story about me. Me? Why? What did I do except grow up in a home that loved Frank Sinatra (didn’t make me very different from the majority of Italian-American families I knew!) and written some letters to his daughter?

That night, I presented at the conference. Tina was in the audience, and it was my first time meeting her. My mom and dad both cried, as did a few very very old men in the front row. I guess Frank Sinatra just has the effect on people.

When the Access Hollywood story aired, I was billed as the Teen Who Touched Frank Sinatra’s Heart. (On the show the night before, they coming attraction referred to me as That Little Girl Who Loved Ol’ Blue Eyes. They must have thought I was under 7 and were probably very disappointed when a high school junior showed up.) I was mentioned in the same breath as Sting and Brad Pitt. It was weird…but after 16 years of living my life, I was quite used to being weird.

Unable to be modest about it (at all), I brought the recording to school on Monday. We watched it in every class, and my classmates clapped and asked me questions about it each time. My sister called me to tell me that she and her dormmates watched and cried over my segment, as did the rest of my family. My uncle told me that his kids rewound the story and watched it over and over. I was thoroughly enjoying my fifteen minutes of fame.

(Sidenote…years later, I managed to fit “Presenter at Frank Sinatra Conference 1998” on my resume….I had to word it that way…”The Teen Who Touched Frank Sinatra’s Heart” wouldn’t have really fit…If Frank Sinatra can’t get you a job…who can, really? I eventually would learn that even Ol’ Blue Eyes wasn’t that powerful.)

I am still in touch with Tina. I have often heard that as “tough” a personality as Frank Sinatra was said to have, once he was your friend, you had a friend for life. He obviously passed that sense of friendship and loyalty to his daughter.

My father died of cancer only four months after my Frank Sinatra experience. Three days before he died, a priest and old family friend came over to our home to give my dad his last rites. As sick as he was, my father was able to tell Father Rod the story of me and Frank Sinatra. That had made him so proud of me and he loved telling people about it. It would be the last time he would really talk. Shortly after, he became so ill he couldn’t speak, and then he was gone.

I’m pretty sure that Frank Sinatra and my dad have since met.

Diana Rissetto

2 comments:

Curlygirl715 said...

Such a beautiful story. I'm actually crying. I'm such a sap.

tmdavenport78 said...

Beautiful story.