The machines that flank the gaming tables at the MGM Grand
casino in Las Vegas are an army of greedy, slightly insolent
robots, coughing up winners with a consumptive clunk. In the wee
hours of the morning, when the action on the slots has begun to
slow, a stranger in the night arrives to heat things up. He
ambles by the Directors Club, past the Studio Cafe and through
the gaggle of saints and sinners, acknowledging them with a curt
nod. The stranger wears an exquisitely cut Italian suit, a hat
set at a jaunty angle and the thin, weary, seen-it-all
expression common to homicide detectives, White House
correspondents and the Chairman of the Board. Easing up to a
blackjack table, he slides a small Everest of chips across the
green baize and narrows his baby blues. The dealer snaps two
cards toward him--one up, one down. The one up is the ace of
hearts; the one down, the king of spades. "Ring-a-ding ding,"
sighs the stranger. "Ring-a-ding ding."
Faux Blue Eyes set the tone for the inaugural Frank Sinatra Las
Vegas Celebrity Classic, a faux golf tournament played recently
by faux notables in the faux entertainment capital of the world.
Conceived two years before Sinatra's May 14 death, the celeb-am
featured some of the smallest names in the industry: Susan
Anton, Jack Carter, David Cassidy, Mike Connors, Norm Crosby,
Vic Damone, Mac Davis, Tom Dreesen, Robert Goulet, Hal Linden,
Jerry Vale and other luminaries too faded to mention.
For a guy who hated to play golf, Sinatra had almost as many
eponymous tournaments as wives. The Frank Sinatra Invitational
kicked off 35 years ago in Palm Springs, but fizzed out faster
than his two-year marriage to Mia Farrow--the PGA decided that
the desert needed only one Tour stop and picked the more
wholesome Bob Hope to host it. Since 1988 the town has harbored
the Frank Sinatra Desert Classic, a small charity affair at
which Ol' Blue Eyes gave his final performance during tournament
week in '95.
The last major triangulation of Sinatra, golf and Vegas was in
1967. Angered at being denied credit at the Sands, Sinatra
steered a golf cart into a plate-glass window. A brawl ensued
with the casino's manager, who slugged the Voice in the chops,
knocking the caps off his two front teeth. Of course, the Vegas
of Sinatra's Rat Pack is long gone. The Pack's Xanadu, the
Sands, was demolished in '96 to make room for a megaresort. Sin
City is now the City of Entertainment, and the skin trade has
been supplanted by skins games.
Tuesday, 4 p.m. The MGM Grand. Wayne Newton's skin is a shade of
red that doesn't appear on any color chart. His cheeks look as
if they've been exposed to the same radioactive isotope that
spawned Godzilla. The Midnight Idol is here in all his nuclear
glory for a ribbon-cutting at a temporary Sinatra memorabilia
exhibit. "I never asked to cohost this tournament," he says
ominously. "The Sinatras told me to."
Spread throughout 10 glass display cases in a hotel ballroom,
the mementos offer a kaleidoscopic view of Sinatra's life. The
grand array is dazzling: photos, albums, magazine covers, 78s,
45s, medallions, busts, buttons, paperbacks, comic books, film
posters (including one in French for that Rat Pack classic Les 7
Voleurs de Chicago) and the program from Sinatra's Sept. 8,
1935, breakout performance with Major Bowes. There's plenty of
sheet music--The Coffee Song, Don't Cry, Joe ("Let Her Go, Let
Her Go, Let Her Go")--but not a single toupee, and no golf
clubs, trophies or scorecards. "I do have a golf ball with
FRANCIS ALBERT SINATRA engraved on it," says archivist Ric Ross.
"The fact is, Sinatra wasn't much of a golfer. He tried it on
and off for 35 years, but never perfected his game, and anything
he didn't do well, he didn't do. He gave it up for good in the
Thursday, 8 p.m. Poolside. Desert Inn. Back in the Stone Age of
celebrity, a celeb was anyone famous enough to have his 8-by-10
nailed to the wall of the Stage Deli. Today it's anyone whose
renown can be summed up in three words, or lasts 15 minutes.
Sinatra evolved from bow-tie boy to wounded torch singer to
scotch-fueled swinger to dissipated saloon singer. Most of the
famous who show up at the pairings party are of the 15-minute
"I performed on The Tonight Show 59 times," says Dreesen, maybe
59 times. "I was Sinatra's opening act for 13 years and a
pallbearer at his funeral." And what makes a golf celeb? "A golf
celebrity," muses Dreesen, "is someone who has been celebrated."
Dreesen competes in 10 events a year on the Celebrity Players
Tour, an athlete-heavy alliance that requires a handicap of 10
or less--which is about 20 strokes fewer than the handicaps of
most in the Sinatra's field. "I'm the CPT's leading money winner
among stand-up comics," Dreesen boasts. He's also the CPT's only
stand-up comic, not counting the unintentionally hilarious Dan
"What's my handicap?" Dreesen repeats. "Being half-Irish and
half-Italian. There's a constant war going on inside me."
He says this while leaning against a buffet table festively
trimmed with potatoes: Idahos, russets, Mr. Potato Heads--some
wearing little plastic spectacles, others carrying little
plastic handbags. On the far end of this spuds-o-rama is Crosby,
the celebrated funnyman of Merv! fame.
So what's your handicap, Norm? "My hearing. I can't hear."
Crosby says Sinatra never cared about golf. "He'd miss a shot
and laugh," says the Master of Malaprops. "If he was too tired
or too hot or felt like a drink, he'd say, 'Let's quit.' Didn't
matter if he was having the best game of his life. That was
pretty much his philosophy of life."
On the other hand, Carter, the celebrated funnyman of Viva Las
Vegas fame, doesn't believe Sinatra ever played golf. "Frank was
never even on a course," he insists. By the way, Jack, what's
your handicap? "I'm Jewish and I've got hemorrhoids."
Friday, 11 a.m. Stallion Mountain Country Club. Noncelebs pay
$3,500 for the privilege of schmoozing with celebs in the
two-day Classic, which is spread over two of Stallion Mountain's
three courses. The proceeds benefit the Barbara Sinatra
Children's Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and Opportunity
Village, of Las Vegas, which provides training to the mentally
A man who identifies himself only as Harry is one of four
noncelebs teamed in a scramble with Carter. "I used to run a
brothel," says Harry, the uncelebrated funnyman, "but I've
cleaned up my act. Now I'm a male prostitute."
Carter lines up a 10-foot putt and taps his ball toward the
hole. It starts left and shimmies right, missing the cup by two
feet. "I sliced it," he quips. "Anyone here ever slice a putt?"
Carter reaches into his pocket, takes out another ball and drops
it onto the green. "This is what you do when you slice a putt,"
he cackles, slapping the ball holeward. It slices roughward.
"Now that's what I call slicing a putt!" Nobody laughs.
Has Carter been a load of laughs? "Not yet," says Harry. "But
we're still holding out hope."
Friday, 2 p.m. Stallion Mountain. Though the Classic is free to
the public, the fairways are anything but mobbed. At this event,
the two autograph hounds at the 14th green on the West Course
constitute a gallery. One hound--a middle-aged woman--thrusts a
yellowing publicity still at Cassidy. "I was so in love with you
when I was eight," she tells the celebrated singer of Partridge
As a three-cart procession approaches the tee, a volunteer
yells, "He's a bad mutha."
"Shut your mouth," snaps the celeb in the lead cart. He's none
other than Richard Roundtree, the celebrated action hero of
Shaft fame. "I go along with this theme song stuff," he says,
"as long as the fans aren't laughing at me."
Saturday, 1 p.m. Stallion Mountain. A booth near the 18th tee on
the North Course features an Elvis impersonator, a different
Elvis from the one who stalked celebrated supermodel Carol Alt
on the West Course. "We took care of the Bad Elvis," says a
security guard. "We got in his face, and he left the building."
The showgirls who have been posing with golfers as they come
through 13 West have their own hazard to contend with:
celebrated serial tweaker Robert Goulet. "He kept pinching our
butts," claims showgirl number 1.
"I mean, what were we supposed to do," says showgirl number 2.
"Slap Robert Goulet?"
Saturday, 2 p.m. Stallion Mountain. Pppppttttt.... Whenever one
of the noncelebs in Leslie Nielsen's fivesome tees off or putts
or blasts out of the sand, the sound of protracted flatulence
issues from Nielsen's hip pocket. "I've got a bad case of gas,"
deadpans the celebrated funnyman of Naked Gun fame. "Must have
been the barbecue sauce I had in the tent on the last hole."
Pppppttttt.... "Golf teaches you patience and insensitivity."
Pppppttttt.... "You have to learn to be insensitive."
Pppppttttt.... "It's an art." Pppppttttt.
Saturday, 7 p.m. MGM Grand. It's not without a certain irony
that the Sinatra tribute culminates in a black-tie gala at the
MGM Grand. Sinatra was fired by MGM in 1950 after making a crack
about the mistress of studio head Louis B. Mayer. The only
remaining link between MGM and Sinatra is the Studio Cafe's
movie-themed menu. You can order an $18.95 Anchors Aweigh
(surf-and-turf kabob) with a $7.95 High Society (turkey-breast
club sandwich) on the side. Dessert options include the On the
Town cheesecake ($3.25). Add another buck if you like cherry
Alas, for those who feel like Chinese, the cafe doesn't offer
The Manchurian Candidate.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK SHOW TIME Five days of celeb-am activities, including two rounds of golf, began with a Vegas-style welcome at tournament headquarters. [Showgirls]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK MY WAY Sinatra wasn't much of a golfer, so he would've fit in with a high-handicap crowd that included (clockwise, from below) Carter, Goulet and (next to Elvis) Vale. [Jack Carter; Robert Goulet]
COLOR PHOTO: JAN SONNENMAIR [See caption above--Jerry Vale, Elvis impersonator and showgirls]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK PARTY LINE Newton (above) was the voice of the Voice's event, during which organizers put out their best spuds and Nielsen (right) put on his best duds. [Wayne Newton performing; variety of potatoes displayed with Mr. Potato Head dolls]
COLOR PHOTO: JAN SONNENMAIR [See caption above--Leslie Nielsen and woman]