For most of the first decade of his amazing 60 year career, I was Paul Anka's publicist. So I read his new autobiography, MY WAY (St. Martin's Press) with special interest. It all began for me with a phone call in the late '50s from a Washington, D.C. drugstore owner-turned-talent manager named Irv Feld, who heard I had finished representing Sammy Davis, Jr. after several years. He asked if I would take on his new client, a young fifteen-year old singer/songwriter just down to N.Y. from Canada. The song he was pushing was "Diana" and I learned he was sleeping in the bathtub of an apartment in the President Hotel occupied by a fellow Canadian music group called The Rover Boys ("Graduation Day") who coincidentally were being managed by my best friend, Fred Amsel. For the first months of his New York visit, Paul camped out anywhere he could get a bed, although eventually the Anka family, father Andy, mother Camy, sister Mariam and brother Andy moved down from Ottawa to Tenafly, New Jersey....and many were the Sundays I went out there for a great Lebanese-Armenian dinner cooked by his wonderful mom. Paul signed with ABC Records (with arranger Don Costa) headed by a man named Sam Clark, who several years later hired me to be head of production for their Palomar/ABC Feature Films. When "Diana" came out it was an immediate hit....and Paul was off the races. Then came "Puppy Love," Put Your Had On My Shoulder," "You Are My Destiny," and "Lonely Boy." Paul had a feel for the heart of the young audience. "Diana" went to Number One record in the world a month after Paul's 16th birthday! Irv Feld later went on to buy the Ringling Bros. Circus, which his children run today. It's coming to the Staples Center in early July, so make note. Paul at the Copacabana in 1960. He was the youngest act ever to play there.
Here's a little-known fact about Paul's song, My Way, which became Frank Sinatra's signature anthem. Paul was in Mougin in the south of France on vacation when he heard a French tune called "Comme d'habitude" ("As Usual") sung by Claude Francois, a sad song by a narrator singing about his failing relationship. Paul sought out the composers, Giles Thabautt and Jacque Revaux, and made them an offer they couldn't refuse for all publishing rights and the ability to rewrite it.. One night in 1967 in Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra told Paul that he was thinking of retiring (the FBI was harassing him because of his Mafia connections), and wanted to record one more album before doing so...and he needed a lead song. He told Paul, "Hey, kid, you never wrote me that song you promised. Don't take too long." Paul went home to New York and remembered the French tune he had acquired, sat down on a stormy night and in a burst of creativity wrote the lyrics to "My Way." Paul writes in the book that he suddenly sensed himself becoming Frank and tuning into his sense of foreboding. That's how he got the first line, "And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain." "I thought of him leaving the stage, the lights go out, and I started typing like a madman, writing it just the way he talked: 'Ate it up, spit it out.' I'd never before written something so chauvinistic, narcissistic, in-your-face and grandiose, everything in that song was Sinatra. I finished it at 5 am, and I knew that Frank was just coming off stage in Las Vegas. I called him and said, I've got something interesting....I'm gonna bring it out." I then played the song for him and he said, "That's kooky, kid. We're going in." That meant he was ecstatic." Anka recorded a demo record and flew to La Vegas, giving it to Frank, who then recorded it and the rest is history. Paul writes that "Our relationship changed significantly after I wrote 'My Way' for him and it became a worldwide hit. We talked more and became closer. Beneath all the swagger, I discovered, Frank was insecure - particularly about how he measured up to socialites. Above all, he hated the fact that he was aging." (Don't we all?) Frank died at age 82 in May, 1998. Incidentally, the French singer of the original song never heard the new version; he died in a bathtub, electrocuted by a hairdryer. Paul's birthday gift for Frank in 1970 was an ape!
Paul's autobiography is brutally honest, candid beyond belief, and utterly fascinating. Some of the revelations are new to me, and some of them I knew and had filed away. For example, Paul claims that Frank Sinatra was so incensed by Kitty Kelly's 1986 unauthorized biography of him that he was half-seriously thjnking of putting out a hit on her. (She claimed that Frank's mom, Dolly, had run an illegal abortion service in Hoboken. Before her book was published, Sinatra filed a $2 million libel suit against her but it was quietly settled.) Paul and Annette Funicello during their brief love affair. She later married his agent, Jack Gilardi.
In his book, Paul describes how when he was a kid he had dreamed of hanging out with Sinatra and his "Rat Pack" and how his dream came true when he was 19. I was around at that time and was with Paul (and Irv Feld) at the Sands in Las Vegas when he first played there and became close to the guys, Frank, Sammy and Dean Martin. I had a long history with Sammy (since I represented him during his Broadway run in "Mr. Wonderful") and introduced them....and Paul goes on to write extensively about Sammy. There's a reference to Sammy telling Paul about his bi-sexual history, which I won't comment on. In his later years, Sammy was obsessed with pornography, Linda Lovelace and her "Deep Throat" crowd, and it well could be true. Frank was 25 years older than Paul, but took him under his wing in Las Vegas. Occasionally, Paul (and I) was invited to join the guys in the infamous steam room at the hotel. Suffice to say there was plenty of booze and broads in that hot spot. Sinatra had white robes made up for the gang....Sammy's was embroidered with "Smokey the Bear," Dean's was "Dago", and Paul's was "The Kid." Paul claims that he didn't indulge with the many giggling women who frequented the health club but does talk about Frank's habits and even makes reference to Senator John F. Kennedy's visits, also making reference to Bob Hope's daily activities there. I kind of resent Paul's telling tales about the lovely Angie Dickinson, whom I got to know when I dated her best friend, Dinah Shore. He says that Frank and Dean both claimed that Angie was the best bed-partner they had ever had. Angie Dickenson was an unofficial member of The Rat Pack in those days. (As was Shirley MacLaine.)
Paul goes into some description of how Frank's fourth (and last) wife, Barbara Marx, a former showgirl who had been married to Zeppo Marx, was disliked by his kids who called her a gold-digger. Paul describes Sinatra's loathing of Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis. I had experienced Sinatra's temper tantrums, especially when he was drinking Jack Daniels, throughout the late '50s at the Copacabana in New York....so I know how true these stories were. (One guy Sinatra didn't tamper with: Jules Podell, the burly manager of the New York club secretly owned by gangster Frank Costello, who could scare the hell out of us all with one tap of his gold ring on a table.) Paul with the lovely model, Anne de Zogheb, whom he married in 1963 at Orly Airport in Paris.
I last saw Paul a few months ago at the Hotel Bel-Air, when he came to the Princess Grace/Mont Blanc party with his young woman friend, Lisa Pemburton, whom he joined up with after a brief second marriage which produced a son. He said that he is still touring almost a hundrd dates a year. I made reference to the time many years ago (1963) when I handled the press for his Paris wedding to the lovely Lebanese model, Anne de Zogheb. by whom he had five lively daughters. We wistfully laughed, shook hands and went on our own merry ways. I guess that some memories, Paul, should remain buried.
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