The sun was coming up over the Hollywood Sign as we all trooped out of the Capitol Records building. Frank Sinatra, Ray Anthony–my husband at the time–and I along with orchestra leader and arranger Billy May, a gaggle of bleary-eyed musicians, Capitol A&R men, and engineers all spilled out onto Vine Street and wandered toward our cars.
It had been a long night in the recording studio for Frank Sinatra. The session had begun late the night before, because late nights were Frank’s preferred time to record, a holdover from his days as a saloon singer. Inside Capitol’s cavernous, bunker-like Studio B there had been an enormous buffet of Italian food from the Villa Capri and plenty of booze to loosen up the most stylish and recognizable vocal chords in the music business.
Frank kibutzed with the guests while the orchestra waited patiently, having been carefully rehearsed with the songs Sinatra would be recording that evening. Frank was casual with everyone, never betraying that the weight of this session–the time and money spent and the force of Capitol’s world-wide corporate presence–rode on his shoulders. He was the King and acted the part with grace, sipping a drink and smoking an ever-present cigarette.
When Frank was ready to record, the studio lights dimmed and he eased onto a bar stool in front of a big Telefunken microphone, flicked an ash off his smoke, took a last sip of his drink, and nodded to Billy May. Tape rolled and the orchestra played as only Billy’s could, while Frank, with almost no visible effort, sang music that would become legend.
The album Sinatra recorded that night, “Come Fly With Me,” would be one of his best sellers, spending many weeks atop the album charts.
Ray Anthony and I were invited to that evening session because Ray and Frank had recorded an album together at Capitol and they were still friends. That friendship would end years later after Ray and I were divorced. Frank was infamous as a consoler of newly divorced ladies and called me soon after Ray and I split. Ray was furious with him even though it was never in the cards for Frank and me. I dated him once or twice and was at his home a few times, but Sinatra’s charm, for me at least, was in the grooves of those vinyl discs. His unforced delivery, matchless phrasing, and rich vocalizing were the stuff that dreams are made of if you aspire to be a singer.
Ray had heard me sing when we were dating and told me that I should pursue a career as a recording artist, as well as my career as an actress. After we were married he helped me get a contract with Capitol, but it was too much for me to juggle movie roles, raising a child, and recording at the same time. I was making a movie every couple of months, and the schedule was brutal.
I recalled all this as I took my place in front of a Telefunken microphone in a recording studio fifty-some years later. It was ten o’clock on a cold December morning and there was no buffet or booze. My reason for being here was my lifelong penchant for re-inventing the concept of “Mamie Van Doren.” I am not known as a recording artist, after all. I am known as a sometimes off-beat hybrid of movie star, glamour girl, pinup icon, author, and sex goddess. Not a bad list for your resume, I think, but I am restless and there are other things I want to do.
I have sweaty palms and an appreciation for the talent of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald, all of whom I knew well and watched perform many times. Those giants could go into a recording studio and lay down tracks that would live as long as there are ears to hear them.
I didn’t aspire to immortality with this project, only a listenable, fun collection of songs. And yet another iteration of Mamie that might surprise a few people–even me.