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Giving the Business


If you’re committed to gentlemanly behavior, it can be difficult to properly tell someone off—no matter how richly they deserve it.

So we found this vintage Sinatra story particularly interesting as a master class in the virtues of quiet, drunken forcefulness. The story comes from Mario Puzo, who had displeased his Blue-Eyedness by using his life as a model for the Johnny Fontaine character in The Godfather. When a stumbling mutual acquaintance introduced them, Puzo got an earful of what can only be described as impeccable wrath.

If you’re looking for the lesson, here it is: don’t swear, use arcane slang, and throw in as many veiled threats as you can. Also, shouting in public places is encouraged.

Here's the account:

On the way out the millionaire started leading me toward a table. His right-hand man took me by the other hand...

‘I’d like you to meet my good friend, Mario Puzo,’ said the millionaire.

‘I don’t think so,’ Sinatra said...

I was trying to get past the right-hand man and get the hell out of there... The millionaire was actually in tears.

‘Frank, I’m sorry, God, Frank, I didn’t know, Frank, I’m sorry…’

I always run away from an argument and I have rarely in my life been disgusted by anything human beings do, but after that I said to Sinatra, ‘Listen, it wasn’t my idea.’ ...He said, and his voice was almost kind, ‘Who told you to put that in the book, your publisher?’

...Finally I said, ‘I mean about being introduced to you.’ Time has mercifully dimmed the humiliation of what followed. Sinatra started to shout abuse. I remember that, contrary to his reputation, he did not use foul language at all. The worst thing he called me was a pimp. I do remember him saying that if it wasn’t that I was so much older than he, he would beat the hell out of me. What hurt was that here he was, a northern Italian, threatening me, a southern Italian, with physical violence. This was roughly equivalent to Einstein pulling a knife on Al Capone. It just wasn’t done.

Sinatra kept up his abuse and I kept staring at him. He kept staring down at his plate. Yelling. He never looked up. Finally, I walked away and out of the restaurant.

My humiliation must have showed because he yelled after me, ‘Choke. Go ahead and choke.’