We are all saddened by the unusually high number of celebrity deaths occurring in 2016. As I now ponder these, I am reminded that next month marks the 10th anniversary of Frankie Laine’s death.
I want to share some letters I received from Frankie Laine admirers in 1995, after I had published my first major written piece about my famous friend.
Excerpt from My Book Reaching for a Star, 2005:
I live in Iowa. After graduating from college in May 1995, I investigated job possibilities in the fields of television and radio news broadcasting. It soon became obvious that in order to work in either medium, one must start at the bottom. I refused to search further. I hadn’t survived the struggle through four years and two summers of college merely to enter the workforce earning minimum wage.
I accepted an offer to begin as a writer at the Marengo Publishing Corporation in Marengo, Iowa. Even though the salary was low to modest, at best, it was well above minimum wage. Besides, I was certain the position would eventually lead to a bigger career.
The corporation owned seven weekly newspapers and published a magazine for senior citizens. Even though my boss had assigned me with writing tasks for the largest newspaper in the corporation, I desperately wanted to write a human-interest feature. I surmised that my Frankie Laine story would appeal to many readers of the senior magazine. I pitched my idea to the editor of the magazine, Jane Bigbee. Happily, she consented. My writing journey yielded a lengthy narrative describing the first day I met Frankie. It was headlined “My special friend – Frankie Laine,” and the editor of the Involvement Magazine published it in the magazine’s August 1995 issue. At the end of the story, I provided contact information through the Marengo Publishing Corporation. I began with a sentence in which I invited Frankie Laine admirers to write to me.
The article garnered a few interesting letters. However, it wasn’t until I’d sent my publication to Helen Snow of the Frankie Laine Society of America (FLSOA) (of which I was a member) that things began happening.
Helen wrote and asked whether I’d allow members of the society to read it. Of course, I was elated! Helen loved the article.
I was one of the two members Helen described in the October 1995 FLSOA newsletter as having helped to promote Frankie’s career.
A brief description of my article also appeared in the publication. Additionally, the newsletter listed my name and address for those wanting to receive a copy. I charged one dollar to cover the cost of mailing. I received a dozen letters from individuals requesting a copy.
The same feelings of love and warmth I have for Frankie were also there in the letters I received in response to my article. A man from East Rockaway, New York, became a Frankie Laine fan at an early age:
I enjoyed your Frankie Laine article. I’m 56 years old and have been a fan since I was little. When I finally got the chance to meet him, his first remark was, “Did you like the show?” He signed his autograph: “Thanks, Frankie Laine.” I know that “thanks” describes him well. I thought I was a big fan and have a great collection of records, but you have me beat. I have four daughters. I also have a son who was named after him: “Frank Paul.”
It was delightful reading an endearing letter from a lady living in Walnut Creek, California. Her letter focused on Frankie’s humble nature:
Thank you for sending me your very nice article about Frankie Laine. It was extremely interesting to know how you met him and how cordial and warm an entertainer he is. I enjoyed reading about how your friendship grew. It again proves just how down-to-earth Frank really is. My association with Frank began after his wife, Nan, died. The announcer on the radio station I was listening to gave Frankie’s address for anyone who might like to send him a sympathy card. I was moved by Nan and Frank’s close relationship, and how Nan’s death affected Frank. It reminded me of my relationship with my husband. My husband and I had been so close, and he died suddenly of a heart attack while we were on vacation a few years ago. It nearly devastated me, so I sent Frank a sympathy card and a note because I knew how he felt. To my surprise, I heard back from him in a couple of days, and he asked me to keep in touch.
It both surprised and reassured me each time I noticed that the younger generation enjoyed Frankie’s singing. After all, the same was true with my own daughter. Several times, I’ve witnessed how the Laine allure captivated the younger set, and the woman from California reaffirmed it all at the end of her letter:
Even my daughter thought Frankie Laine was great. His music will never end. He was always one of my favorite singers.
It was very touching to read the stories of people who love Frankie and his music. It’s interesting to discover which song has led a fan to a love affair with Frankie’s music and style. One person from Madison, Wisconsin, was partial to Frankie’s cowboy songs:
I just finished reading your amazing story about your adventure with Frankie Laine. It was exciting to read it. Like you, I fell in love with Frankie’s music at a very early age. I lived for Rawhide. Every Friday, I was in front of the TV, cranking up the volume whenever he sang. It drove my folks crazy. I never outgrew that habit. I still turn up his music and listen. I got my first LP by him when I was 11. Of course, it was Hell Bent for Leather.
It seemed that almost everyone who had written to me asking for a copy of my article had met Frankie or had seen him perform in person at some point. The person from Wisconsin stated it very well:
Words can’t describe the thrill of meeting such a great man. He is so warm and friendly. I had my photo taken with him and got an autographed LP! It was two days after my 21st birthday. I’ll never forget it. I’m 43 now, and I still get goose bumps when I think of that beautiful moment my dream came true.
I basked in a warm glow as I read letters filled with love for Frankie. Each person had put pen to paper and described his or her love for the great entertainer. A woman from Memphis, Tennessee, summed it up in a special way:
Thanks so much for the copy of your Laine article. Of course, I enjoyed it immensely. It’s just another example of what a truly special person he is. I’ll bet you can’t imagine such an experience happening with most celebrities.
My friendship with Frankie began late in his career. It wasn’t until I’d begun to collect videotapes of Frankie’s early performances that I realized what a huge star he’d been while recording for both Mercury and Columbia. Frankie’s star had shone as brightly as Sinatra’s star. He’d been as appealing as Como. He sang as well as Nat King Cole. He’d been as much in demand as any of his show business peers.
Frankie’s vast and powerful fame blew me away. However, it wasn’t so much his fame that entranced me as it was the civility of the man. I reveled in knowing that a superstar like Frankie was my friend.
I discovered the powerful impact Frankie seemed to have had on the younger generation during his heyday, in a letter penned by a lady from Philadelphia:
It’s good to share with another admirer how I feel about the man who shared his wonderful talent with us all those years. I’m almost 61 years old, Craig, and I went crazy (as young teenagers do) over Frankie from the very first time I heard “That’s My Desire.” My parents had given me a record player when I had graduated from eighth grade (1948), and I proceeded to drive them crazy with “Mule Train,” “The Cry of the Wild Goose,” “You’re All I Want for Christmas,” etc. There are so many. I liked everything that he’d recorded. Now that I’m a 61-year-old “teenager,” I continue to listen. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t listen to something by Frankie.
I credit myself with possessing a keen judge of character. My initial firsthand experience with Frankie Laine as a person is special to me. He’s a very emotional being. He couldn’t sing and perform the way he has without expressively relating his songs to his life on a daily basis. My thoughts were mirrored in the closing lines of the Philadelphia lady’s letter:
Besides liking (I should say “loving”) his music, I greatly admire the man. I feel certain that he is deeply spiritual, compassionate, and caring—a regular guy and very decent human being. To me, this makes his music more special and personal. He seems grateful for his good fortune.
I was beginning to understand the reasons why many others shared my admiration for Frankie. A woman from Queens, New York, echoed those feelings in her letter:
I fell in love with Frankie Laine after the first note. I loved his voice, his interpretations, his emotion, and even his breathing. His ability to make me cry, want, believe in dreams, and believe in man plus woman—there hasn’t been anyone else who could do that for me!
A man from Cedar Rapids summed up his feelings succinctly:
I enjoyed your in-depth article about Frankie Laine, one of my favorite singers from the time when melody meant something!
The Cedar Rapids man delivered magazines for the United States Postal Service. When he’d received the bundled issues of the Involvement Magazine, featuring my Frankie Laine article, he’d noticed Frankie’s picture on the cover.
One member of the FLSOA hailed from Copenhagen, Denmark. He sent his request for my article early in October of 1995. He then mailed a note with a Christmas card in December:
Thank you very much for the copy of the Involvement Magazine with your story about Frankie. I have enjoyed reading it, and it will stay with my collection of Frankie’s material. I’d listened to Frankie’s music in the ’50s over the radio (AFN), and after a long spell, I found out he was still very active. And he was singing better than ever. I hope one day to catch a live performance.