In the days following Frank Sinatra's death on May 14, 1998,
Peggy Lee issued a five-word statement: "I'm glad there was you."
The short statement perhaps mystified many members of the media
as they hurriedly compiled countless obituaries, tributes, and
analyses of Sinatra's life, art and career. The reference, as
most fans of either singer would recognize, is to the Jimmy Dorsey-Paul
Madeira song, "(In This World of Ordinary People) I'm Glad There
Is You." Originally written in 1941, Sinatra recorded it as a
Columbia single on November 9, 1947, under the direction of Axel
Stordahl; Peggy recorded the same song in the Decca studios, under
Gordon Jenkins' baton, on April 3, 1952.
Here are a few more of Peggy's reminiscences of Frank, published
in her 1989 autobiography, Miss Peggy Lee (Donald I. Fine,
In 1941 the bobby soxers were storming the Paramount Theater in
Times Square. I was there with Benny Goodman. Frank Sinatra was
the "extra added attraction," and he certainly was!
Just before I'd joined Benny's band, Frank had been with Tommy
Dorsey, and they'd had a big hit with the Pied Pipers called "This
Love of Mine." Day after day I'd gone to a particular neighborhood
juke joint in Chicago because this place had "This Love of Mine"
on its jukebox. I would dreamily sip my frosted Coke while endlessly
playing Frank's hit, using up all my nickels.
And now, in 1941, I was to sing at the Paramount Theater in New
York at the same time Frank Sinatra was appearing. We used to
lean out the windows of the dressing room to see the crowds of
swooners, like swarms of bees down there in the street, just waiting
for the sight of Frankie.
must have been unimaginably exciting for him; his days filled
with interviews and autographs and all the things that go with
the fireworks of sudden fame, to say nothing of all the performances
that could be crowded between newsreels. Everything that led up
to Frank's performance seemed not quite so important. Benny played
as great as ever, I sang my songs and got some attention, but
it was electric when Frank came out on stage.
One day I had the flu and became violently ill. I tried to make
every show, but finally I just couldn't. That's when Frank discovered
I was really having a bad time in my dressing room, and from that
time until I was well, he was my special nurse. First he brought
me blankets to stop the shivering. Then, when it was possible,
a little tea; later, a piece of toast. Meantime, he was out there
singing from six to eight shows a day in that huge theater with
the cheering crowds – "All or Nothing at All," "I'll Never Smile
Through the years there were many other kindnesses that Frank
showed me. I won't forget those, but I'll especially never forget
what he did for me in the middle of his first great triumph.
You see, he could have been too busy, but he wasn't.
In the ensuing years, Peggy appeared as a frequent guest star
on Frank's late-1940s radio shows; appeared with him in his television
debut on the Bob Hope-hosted Star-Spangled Revue on May
27, 1950; and made two guest appearances on Frank's 1957 ABC television
series, where they duetted memorably in one episode with the Gershwins'
"Our Love Is Here to Stay" – yet another of many, many songs they
each recorded separately over the course of their fifty-plus year
careers. They also appeared together, along with Louis Armstrong
and jazz pianists George Shearing, Joe Bushkin and Paul Smith,
on a 1959 Bing Crosby Oldsmobile Hour. In this viewer's
mind, the song-filled program ranks among the all-time high-points
in television variety show history.
Peggy's return to the Capitol label in 1957 following a five-year
sojourn at Decca, she collaborated with arranger Nelson Riddle
and producer and conductor Frank Sinatra on her
lush, all-ballad album, The Man I Love. As recently described
in The Independent, a London newspaper's obituary of Sinatra,
"he took infinite pains in his spiritual home, the recording studio;
his recording of "Day In, Day Out" required 31 takes before he
was satisfied. An even greater dedication went into Peggy Lee's
The Man I Love album. Sinatra produced it, conducted it,
chose the songs, hired Riddle to write the arrangements, and,
with his own hands, put menthol in Lee's eyes to make them look
suitably misty for the cover photograph."
The Lee-Sinatra friendship continued throughout their lives.
As many obituaries have pointed out, Sinatra was no fair-weather
friend. Peggy, in her autobiography, recounts her 1985 emergency
double bypass surgery in New Orleans:
Frank Sinatra called many, many times. Sometimes I was able to
speak to him, and when I did, he gave me strength and kept urging
me on to get well: "We've got to get you home, baby." We talked
about doing a benefit together for cancer research and St. John's
Hospital in Santa Barbara.
I've been down before, many times, even had the death-experience,
but never so far down as the Touro Infirmary in New Orleans. The
doctors all said, "You've been to hell and back," and I must admit
it was an extraordinary experience, needing every bit of the love
that poured into that hospital to pull me back over the edge.
Every prayer that was said, every card or letter that was written,
every telephone call or telegram or flower or thought, every bit
of dedication by the doctors, nurses and technicians, every last
soul – it all helped.
Then, finally, the day came to be released, and when I left Touro,
everyone lined up along the route my wheelchair would take me.
It was time to return to California and St. John's and my own
cardiologist, Dr. James McEachen and Dr. Paris.
Frank Sinatra called again and arranged for a private plane to
fly me, my nurse Wanda Grimes, my assistant Toni, and my daughter
Nicki back to the West Coast.
Flying home. Next stop Santa Monica and St. John's. ETA: on time.
Courtesy of my friend Frank Sinatra.
By the way, Frank and I did do the cancer benefit we had talked
about while I was in St. John's.