Before I continue with the final part of my story about my first meeting with Frankie Laine in 1985, I would like to note the late great Frankie Laine’s 103rd birthday on March 30.
It doesn’t seem possible that it has been just over nine years since I received the news during a sad phone call from Jimmy Marino of Team Frankie Laine in my office at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. At that time, Jimmy was Frankie’s manager. His words still echo: “Craig, our friend Frankie Laine passed away this morning.”
It was a truly wonderful experience for me to have been friends with Frankie. I will always treasure knowing him on a more personal level. I also relish the fact that by being within the Laine circle, I’ve been allowed to have friendly contacts with various celebrities throughout the years—not to mention having made several special life-long friends.
Frankie not only gave me the gift of his music, but he also gave me the gift of friendship.
(Continued from March blog)
The next morning, I was ready in a flash for my bus trip home. I gathered my luggage, and in a short while, I was walking to the bus depot. I made sure everything was in order for my trip home. I then called Frankie as he’d instructed.
“Did you sleep well?” Frankie inquired.
Since I’d been very tired, I truthfully answered, “Yes.”
“Are you all set to go?” Frankie asked.
I said I was and reaffirmed my hope that our paths would cross again someday.
“Don’t worry. They will,” he repeated his assurance from the previous night.
I thanked Frankie again for transforming my trip into a memory I wouldn’t forget. We then said good-bye.
When I hung up the phone, I pondered his quick conviction that our paths would cross again. I didn’t know it at the time, but he’d be correct.
The year after first meeting my singing iodol was not a good year for me.
It was springtime in 1986. My beloved mother, Helen, was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Doctors opined that he had just a few months to live.
I was playing drums seven nights each week in a popular band out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I really didn’t have time to do anything else but rehearse during the day and perform onstage at night.
I was in a daze knowing that my mom was soon going to die.
Two tangible positives in my life undoubtedly kept me strong. The most important of these was my daughter, Latisha, who was five years old at the time. The second positive was my understanding that I was a special friend of the great singer Frankie Laine!
By the time June rolled around, Mom was seemingly pretty stable and able to live comfortably. At times, it didn’t seem plausible that she was even sick, because she didn’t show it.
I was playing out of town for a week. During the early morning hours of June 14, 1986, I received a phone call that my youngest brother, Scott, had just been killed in an automobile accident.
I arrived at the home of my parents later that morning. I felt so bad. I was sad for my dad and especially sorrowful for my mom. She was not only slowly losing her own life, but she’d lost her youngest son, too.
Mom died in October of that miserable year.
Mom’s younger brother, my uncle, had arrived by plane from Arkansas for her funeral. My mom’s oldest sister, my aunt, volunteered her new car to take my uncle back to the airport in Des Moines for my uncle’s flight back home. It became my task to drive him there. It was a journey of about 100 miles.
It happened that Frankie Laine was touring at that time with his Frankie Laine and Kay Starr concert. The one bright spot in this entire nightmare was that Frankie would be in Des Moines and performing the evening of the same day I would be bringing my uncle back to Des Moines.
My plan was to drop my uncle off at the airport, then to stay and experience my first Frankie Laine concert.
After I said good-bye to my uncle at the airport, I drove downtown. I knew nothing at that time about Des Moines. I parked the car and decided to locate all the prestigious hotels in the immediate area surrounding the concert venue. My goal was to locate Frankie’s hotel and possibly be permitted to meet with him to chat.
I bought my ticket, moseyed into a hotel, and walked up to the desk.
“Is singer Frankie Laine staying here?” I asked.
After the desk person checked the guest register, the answer was, “Sorry, no.”
I strolled over to a pay telephone, looked up several hotel numbers, and began calling. I asked whether they had Frankie listed as a guest.
No one had him registered.
I kept calling. Finally, one hotel desk person rudely declared, “We don’t give out information regarding a celebrity staying with us!” Bingo! I knew I’d found the hotel I was seeking.
A brilliant scheme quickly came to mind. I’d call the hotel again and ask for Jimmy Namaro, Frankie’s conductor. Surely, he’d be staying at the same hotel as Frankie. Nobody at the hotel would recognize the name “Jimmy Namaro.”
Once again, I spoke with the discourteous hotel desk person.
“Would you connect me with Jimmy Namaro’s room, please?” I politely asked.
“One moment,” came the reply.
A man answered.
“Is this Jimmy Namaro?” I asked.
“Yes,” Jimmy responded.
“You possibly don’t remember me,” I began, “but I’m Craig Cronbaugh, the guy who visited Frankie in San Diego last year. You and I met at the St. Vincent de Paul Center.”
“Oh, sure,” Jimmy said. “Are you with the news media?”
I wanted to find out whether I could meet with Frankie before his show that evening. Jimmy confirmed my theory that Frankie, indeed, was staying at that particular hotel. Jimmy went on to add that Nan and
their poodle, Noir, were also traveling with Frankie.
“Would you do a big favor for me and ask Frankie whether I could chat with him briefly this afternoon?” I implored.
“Sure, I’ll relay your message,” Jimmy replied. “He walks his dog around four every afternoon; I’ll see whether he’ll meet with you in the lobby at that time.” I thanked Jimmy and hung up the receiver.
I found the hotel. Excited and nervous, I was waiting in the lobby at four o’clock. Shortly thereafter, I noticed Frankie walking down the hotel stairs with Noir on a leash. When he walked past me, I asked whether I could speak with him.
“I’ll be back shortly, but I have to walk the dog right now,” he bluntly replied. I watched as they disappeared through the door.
Frankie and Noir soon returned. Frankie strolled over to where I was standing. We shook hands. I asked him whether he remembered me. He nodded and said, “Sure, how are you?” I informed him that I planned to attend that evening’s show. He smiled at me. I broke the news to him that my mom had died just a few days earlier, and I revealed that she was just fifty years old. As a reply, he slowly and sadly shook his head.
“I played your recording of ‘There Must Be a Reason’ during her funeral as a tribute to her from my dad,” I conveyed.
“That song is appropriate,” he replied with a hushed voice.
Strangely, Frankie didn’t seem to me to be the same cheerful man I’d met almost a year earlier. I understood the pressures of traveling on the road and not being in your happy home, so I empathized. As always, he was polite. When Frankie saw me again, I guess I guilelessly expected him to act as if we were long-lost buddies. I was somewhat disappointed, but I felt happy nonetheless.
The concert was wonderful. Kay Starr took to the stage first. She’s an incredible singer. Frankie’s show was the finale. I reveled in watching him perform in person. I enjoyed hearing him sing several of his hits.
Once again, Frankie had brought me out of my gloom. I was happy, not sad—with one exception. A poignant couple of minutes occurred when, thinking of both Mom and Scott, I silently shed tears as Frankie sang the famous song he’d written with his late musical partner, Carl Fischer, “We’ll Be Together Again.”
(Another blog next month)