A New Friend Recalls a Laine Friendship (Part One)

Out of the Blue

Since I began my Frankie Laine associations in the mid-1980s, I have been amazed by the times that situations have arisen that are joyously serendipitous. Frankie’s fame has always been astounding. For me, knowing Frankie Laine on a personal level has been nothing short of magical. From time-to-time, this enchantment seems to stimulate unexpected and wonderful experiences.

Recently one morning, just after the holidays, I arrived at my office at the Iowa State Capitol, sat down at my desk, and noticed that I had a message flashing on my phone. This was not unusual, as I get a lot of voice messages when I am away from my office desk. This message, however, was different. It concerned my Frankie Laine association. To my surprise, Jim Lehrer, a retired attorney from California, had discovered the Team Frankie Laine website. By conducting a little research, Jim was able to contact me. He, too, had been a friend of Frankie Laine! He asked me to contact him if I wanted to chat about the famed singer.

About a week later, I called Jim. I was delighted to learn that his mother, Sammy, had been a very close friend of Nan Grey, years before Nan and Frankie were married. After the Laine wedding in 1950, both of Jim’s parents remained friends with the famous couple, including Nan’s daughters (whom Frankie adopted), Pam and Jan.

As a child, Jim was an inevitable part of several Laine get togethers over the years. I was amazed! Jim recounted some glorious recollections!

During our phone conversation, I realized that perhaps my Laine blog readers would enjoy reading first-hand accounts of associations with the younger Frankie Laine. I had initially met Frankie Laine when he was 72 years old. My recollections of Frankie begin from that age. I surmised that it would be wonderful for readers to gain firsthand insight into the life of a younger Laine. With this in mind, I asked Jim whether he would be willing to write about his and his family’s Laine connections as a series. I was thrilled when he agreed. I will feature Jim’s material in my next few blogs. I am happy to present the first part of Jim’s remembrances here:

By Jim Lehrer

I remember spending time with Frank, Nan, Pam, and Jan many times at the Laine home on Calle Vista Drive in Beverly Hills. This would have been between 1957 and around 1960—and later, after Frank and Nan moved to a beach house in Malibu Colony. These dates are approximate, based on my recollection rather than documented evidence. So, I recall being in their company between the ages of around five to 11 years. I may have had earlier contacts with them, but I would have been too young to remember.

In addition to visiting the Laines at their homes, they were often guests at our house near the Sunset Strip. We went to dinner with them at local restaurants, and sometimes we were their guests when Frank performed nearby. I remember going to one of his concerts in Fresno, and to a performance of “Go Paint Your Wagon” at a theatre in Southern California.

Nan and my Mom, Sammy, were fast friends and frequently went out to lunch or shopping in Beverly Hills. My Mom would drive me to their house on Calle Vista, where Frank would “baby sit” me. He was very nice and let me have the run of the very large house, including his home office/studio.

The Calle Vista house was perched on a low hill, and it was designed along traditional New England lines, two stories, with a front lawn and porch facing south, overlooking a residential part of Beverly Hills. On the north side of the house was a large swimming pool, with flagstone-paved areas for chaise lounges. A driveway on the east side of the house led to a port-cochère at the front door. After passing through the entry, a large dining room was on the right. It had either custom wallpaper or wall painting with a scene of an elegant outdoor rustic scene with green foliage. I think the room could very comfortably seat 10 to 16 diners.

The kitchen was accessed through doors on the east side of the dining room. The kitchen was big; I would guess that it was designed for use by one or two cooks, along with one or two servers. I don’t recall being there for any formal dinners, although I do recall a butler and a cook/housekeeper were often on duty. I used to plead with them (sometimes successfully) to let me ride the dumbwaiter between floors.

Opposite the dining room was a grand staircase. This was where the Laines placed their Christmas tree. Perhaps 10-12 feet high, it was always flocked in white and impressively decorated.

Passing the staircase, one passed into the large living room, with a southerly view across the porch and beyond.

Past the living room, one reached the game room: a very masculine room built around a full-size pool table with a green felt. Antique wood scoring chips were suspended on a wire frame over the table. Racks of cues and individual seats were mounted along the north wall. I remember what a thrill being occasionally allowed to “play” pool, although I was not tall enough to do so effectively. My parents and the Laines were close friends with a couple—Charlie and Ellen Kornhandler, who were often in our company. Charlie tried to teach me a little about pool, but I recall being more interested in moving the scoring chips along their wires, to Charlie’s annoyance.

A hallway led off the game room to the north. The right (east) side of the hall was glass, looking onto the swimming pool and back yard. A guest bathroom was on the left side. I particularly remember that room’s custom wallpaper, which Nan designed with a collage of Frank’s programs, playbills, and record covers.

At the north end of the hall, one reached Frank’s office/studio. I recall it was furnished with a large desk, built-in shelves holding records, music and books, a piano, a hi-fi, and a tape recorder. Both here and in the game room were some of Frank’s many awards. I was especially drawn to the golden microphone awards. I imagined they were real! [I developed an interest in radio at a very early age and later became a licensed amateur radio operator.]

Upstairs were the master bedroom and baths, several guest bedrooms and baths (then occupied by Pam and Jan), a sewing room with built-in cabinets, drawers and shelves for fabrics and notions and with large mirrors, and a full-length custom form with Nan’s measurements. Also upstairs was a salon with a shampooing basin and swivel/tilt stylist’s chair.

These were the features of the Calle Vista house I remember most vividly. – Jim Lehrer

 

 

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About the Author:

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Craig Cronbaugh, Director of the Legislative Information Office with the Legislative Services Agency at the Iowa State Capitol. As famed singer Frankie Laine’s special friend and a collector of Laine’s recordings and career memorabilia, Craig has written articles; has written, produced, directed, and hosted a distinctive radio program; and has appeared on Iowa statewide television regarding his Frankie Laine avocation. Craig has been highlighted briefly and has been given a research screen credit in the 2003 internationally distributed documentary Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer. Craig’s book, a memoir, Reaching for a Star, featuring his friendship with Laine, was published in 2005.