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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.’

—R.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Russell Brandom