The Way He Wore his Hat

The Way He Wore his Hat

POSTED: May 17, 1998

The singer leans against a building, a gray snap-brim cocked high on his crown. A matching handkerchief is stuffed effortlessly in the breast pocket of his suit coat. The coat is black, of course, not brown. The tie is pulled loose and unashamedly lavender. The smoke from a Chesterfield curls toward a street lamp on a deserted corner. The singer’s eyes are downcast. Love’s gone, or at least gone wrong.

That pose, on the cover of Frank Sinatra’s first 12-inch album, In the Wee Small Hours, is more than 40 years old now. To this day, young men walk into Dietz’s hat store on South Street with photographs of the world-weary kid from Hoboken, N.J., hoping to duplicate The Look.

What Sinatra left with his death Thursday night was a legacy not only of song stylings, but of personal artistry.

He had a code of behavior with its own vocabulary – a tight, somewhat threatening world of pallies and Harveys, gassers and bunters. You were in or you were out. Most were out, but if you were in, you were golden.

Sinatra didn’t suffer tightwads or teetotalers. He duked the maitre d’ on the way out, not the way in, with a couple of big bills folded thrice into small squares. He called his Jack Daniel’s gasoline and was so single-handedly important to the distillery’s fortunes that it gave him an acre of sacred soil in Lynchburg, Tenn. He liked his Jack easy: three or four ice cubes, then two fingers of gas, finished with tap water. The flavors needed time to mix and chill. The glass was important, too. A squat old-fashioned glass pleased him. Nothing towering.

Two years ago, Esquire magazine senior writer Bill Zehme cataloged the elements of Sinatra style in a profile called “And Then There Was One.” Zehme didn’t want all the singer had learned about living to die with him.

“Men had gone soft and needed help, needed a Leader, needed Frank Sinatra,” Zehme wrote.“I wanted to ask him essential questions, the kind that could save a guy’s life. I wanted what might approximate Frank’s rules of order.” In December, Zehme expanded those rules into a full-length book, called The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’.

Sinatra’s rules were his own. The man who owned 60 toupees never had a plastic surgeon fix the scars he bore on the left side of his neck, the results of a crude forceps delivery. “People have suggested to me I ought to hide those scars, but no,” Sinatra once said. “They’re there, and that’s that. Why bother?”

He swore like a stevedore, once calling the women of the Australian press “buck-and-a-half hookers,” but decked a press agent for referring to Judy Garland as a “broad.” He went out of his way to make a lady comfortable. Once, Gay Talese wrote in his classic 1966 profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” a Life reporter named Jane Hoag, who had gone to school with the singer’s daughter Nancy, accidentally knocked over an alabaster bird during a party in the home of the first Mrs. Sinatra.

“Oh, that was one of mother’s favorite . . . ” Nancy began, and before she could finish the thought, her father glared at her and walked over to the remaining alabaster bird, knocking it off the table, too. He put his arm around the young woman, telling her, “That’s OK, kid.”

He loved some of the world’s most beautiful women, but he didn’t like them to smoke, yawn, wear too much perfume, dress too casually or show too much cleavage. Mia Farrow said he was a gentle hand-holder.

To the hated press in 1965, he said, “If I had as many love affairs as you have given me credit for, I would now be speaking to you from a jar at the Harvard Medical School.”

And how did he wear his hat? Many ways. He played the angles, the higher the brim, the more vulnerable the effect. “The hat was his crown, cocked askew, as defiant as he was,” Zehme wrote in last year’s book.

Sinatra had a snap-brim for all seasons, each made by Cavanaugh. A black or gray felt would do for cool breezes. Palmettos and straws with wide, pastel bands were right for the tropics. Nancy Sinatra told Zehme that her father wore them to hide his hairline, which began heading north when he was in his late 20s.

The way he put it on was a two-handed maneuver, curling the back brim up and tugging the front down, usually a couple of inches above his right brow. There’s a portrait on the back of Zehme’s book that shows the Sinatra of the ’50s walking away from the camera in a snap-brim and raincoat, down a graceless hallway. The hat is tilted rakishly, toward 4 o’clock. That would be 4 a.m., in the wee small hours, when he was often restless and demanding company.

A new doctor once asked him how much he drank. About 36 drinks a day, Sinatra figured, measuring out a fifth of Jack Daniel’s into rounds. The doctor wondered how he felt in the mornings.

“I don’t know,” Sinatra responded. “I’m never up in the morning, and I’m not sure you’re the doctor for me.”

He and his pallies had their own way of talking – it might as well have been Chinese to the uninitiated, a Rat Pack observer told Zehme.

Sinatra once slowed down to translate a few phrases for columnist Art Buchwald. In addition to Jack Daniel’s, gas was a good situation, and a gasser was someone who got things moving. The opposite of a gasser was a bunter. A Harvey was the sort of square who would walk into a French restaurant and ask, `What’s ready?” He could be a Clyde, too – someone from Dullsville, soon to be exiled to Scramsville, on the outskirts of Endsville.

A happening affair was Mothery, leading to the pairing of couples at Ring-a-Ding-Ding time for, if fortunate, a Little Hey-Hey. A bird was, well, the essential equipment, male and female. After nearly drowning in Hawaii in 1964, Sinatra explained simply, “Oh, I just got a little water on my bird, that’s all.”

He was one rare bird himself.

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Differences, yet a bond in reserve

Differences, yet a bond in reserve

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By Daniel Rubin, Inquirer Columnist

POSTED: Jun 21, 2009 

It begins badly. 

“Some things never change,” Dad says, sliding into the passenger side and noticing the collection of newspapers blocking his feet. 

We’re still at the airport. We are about to spend the next three days in closer quarters than we’ve shared in decades. I’m not sure what possessed my father to want to drive 26 hours with me, sitting shotgun as I retrieve a son from college in Kalamazoo , Mich. 

But I am grateful for the company, I tell him. 

“I’m not going just to be company,” he says. “I’m going to be helpful. “

We are nothing alike. He’s the soul of practicality. I’m more of a romantic. He believes cars should be cleaned and detailed. I believe they need good speakers. 

He still has his original house key from 1949, and each time he shows it to me, he runs his fingers over its baby-soft edges. I’ve had more than a dozen addresses since I left home. 

The morning of the trip, Dad is up with the birds. “Don’t need an alarm,” he announces, his Boston brogue treating the word as alahm. He is deeply tanned and bald except for longish wicks of silver hair on the sides. His twinkling green eyes are shaded by a pair of wild black eyebrows that would have been the envy of Leonid Brezhnev. 

We share a cup of coffee, then take off, eager to beat the morning rush. I’ve brought a book on tape in case we run out of conversation: Roger Mudd interviewing historians. I thought Dad might like the part on World War II. But we get pretty far on our own stories. 

I tell him of the drive from Kosovo to Montenegro when Milosevic’s army was manning the roads and all I had for company were World Cafe tapes. I tell him of that time in the West Bank when a woman screaming in Arabic stopped a group of kids from tuning me up with a baseball bat – and how it turned out she was from Second and Girard. 

“You never told me what it was like,” he says. 

“Didn’t want you to worry,” I say. 

I haven’t heard much from him about growing up in Boston with a stubborn, immigrant father, and Dad digs down and shares all sorts of memories – how the hardware store began with a borrowed $300, how the cousin who’d come to work on Saturdays would sharpen push mowers while blasting opera. 

By lunchtime we’re out of the Big Woods and running low on licorice. It is Dad’s idea to seek out the DuBois Diner. He devours a local version of the beef sandwich stuffed with fries. As he grabs the check, he wonders whether we can stop here on our way back. 

I yield the wheel, and it is Dad’s luck to drive through two hours of pounding rain. At 83, he still has a steady hand, even if his eyes can’t make out the signs as quickly as they once could. I doze. Mom calls. I thank her for the loaner. 

I anchor the last leg, and Dad narrates the view – the immense flatness, the giant trucks and farms. We debate some of the great puzzlers: why those roadside salt sheds are conical, why barns are red, what the origin is of phrases like “Dutch uncle” and “on the fritz. “

When we finally arrive, Dad doesn’t seem to mind that his grandson Gordon is exhausted from finals and hasn’t done much packing. Or that he heads out for his last Ultimate Frisbee practice, which turns into his last dinner with the team. “I’m not saying anything,” Dad says to me, quietly. 

So I pack. The three flights of stairs to Gordon’s single are too taxing for Dad. He sits in the car, reading about the Civil War. When it’s time to load the Explorer, Dad demonstrates his spacial skills. In all the years of making deliveries for his hardware store, he crows, he never had to leave a package behind. He leaves me room to look out the rearview mirror. 

Dad and I are ready to go by 6 the next morning. Gordon’s still asleep. He’d gone to bed only two hours before. I pace. I fiddle with my phone. When Gordon emerges from his dorm, he moves as if underwater. I can imagine how impatient my dad must be. But Dad’s being cool, so I take his lead and say nothing. 

As I pull onto Interstate 94, heading into the sun, Gordon is already deep in the well, hat on backward, face buried in a pillow. Dad and I look at each other and laugh. 

We’ll have another 13 hours together, so much to talk about. 

“Do you ever use cruise control? ” I ask, fine-tuning the mirror. 

“No,” he says. “I like to control things myself. “

“Exactly. “

No, we are nothing alike. 

NPR’s Edwards will soon sleep in

NPR’s Edwards will soon sleep in

POSTED: April 25, 2004

WASHINGTON — Bob Edwards, the unflappable morning host of National Public Radio, drops his head into his hands.

“I want to die,” he announces in that coffee-and-cigarettes baritone that makes other men sound like they’re wearing short pants.

June Lockhart – Lassie’s mom – is dropping by Morning Edition within the hour. She’s a day early.

Edwards’ producer, Barry Gordemer, has poked his head in the office to explain the scheduling snafu. The veteran actress, in town to celebrate a collection of lunchpails at the Smithsonian, will arrive the same time as the new Medicare chief. And on deck is a Fast Company magazine reporter, to talk about the latest rage in airport convenience: fast-food kiosks.

“I’m not ready for her,” Edwards says.

“What do you want to do?” his producer asks, and Edwards searches through his stack of clippings until he says in a tone familiar to 13 million listeners:

“The daughter of actors Gene and Kathleen Lockhart, June Lockhart made her own acting debut at age 8 . . .”

One week from now, these sorts of worries will no longer weigh on Bob Edwards. He’ll graduate from the lobster shift, the 6 p.m. bedtimes and 1 a.m. alarms. No longer will he slip around his Arlington, Va., house, eat, grab a second cup of coffee, and drink it while driving to NPR, where his steady delivery has made it easier for people to greet the day for almost 25 years.

His reassignment at age 56 to senior correspondent, announced last month with such phrases as “natural evolution” and “changing needs of our listeners,” prompted the fiercest torrent of letters in NPR’s 34-year history.

Listeners complained about the timing, a half-year before Edwards’ silver anniversary. They complained about the thinking, likening it to the “New Coke” debacle.

They took it personally.

“At 6 a.m. I like Bob Edwards in my kitchen – I am comfortable with him,” says Bonnie Graham, 70, an administrator at Temple University’s dental school and one of 22,127 people to sign a petition on Savebobedwards.com. “He can see me in my ratty old bathrobe and my bed hair.”

“I feel like a family member has been wrenched from me,” says another signer, Hannah Gardner, a West Chester lawyer. “We need Bob Edwards to be the calming voice – the considered voice rather than that hysterical voice.”

*

“There was no good time to do this,” says Jay Kernis, NPR’s senior vice president of programming, in a corner office where he and Ken Stern, the network’s executive vice president, perform a postmortem on their public-relations disaster.

When they talk of NPR’s future, they talk of increasing news coverage, providing more context at a time when broadcasters are cutting back on world affairs. NPR, with a $200 million gift from the late Joan B. Kroc, has the ability to fill the void.

While Morning Edition (heard locally on WHYY-FM, 90.9) runs live for two hours each weekday, it repeats with updates until noon. Kernis envisions alternating voices – Rene Montagne and Steve Inskeep have been named interim hosts – and Kernis wants one on each coast, to reflect the sound of the country, not just the Beltway. He favors questioners who have been reporters, he says, so “when they are interviewing a Middle East expert, they themselves have worked in the region.”

Edwards, whom Kernis takes pains not to criticize, keeps close to the studio, leaving for fund-raising trips but feeling that listeners expect and deserve the host to be there when they wake up.

For the last six months, NPR execs had talked of a change. “Too many people knew,” Kernis says, adding that it would not have been fair to Edwards for word to have leaked.

Plus, Edwards was about to go on a several-week leave to promote his latest book, Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism.

“I’m going to give you a different answer,” Stern says. “If we were to do it again, we’d have done it differently.” By not waiting until the anniversary, he said, NPR executives looked as if “we didn’t care about Bob.”

Edwards, host of radio’s most popular morning show, a Peabody, Polk and duPont-Columbia award winner, says he is still trying to grasp what happened, although he is getting used to it. He thinks the top brass tired of hearing him talk.

“I think people have to make changes to put their stamp on programs. You’ve got your old founding pioneers, and [the bosses] figure people have heard them long enough, and it’s time to hear new people.”

Amid an overwhelming wave of support – 35,000 listeners have written in – some dissenting voices have risen. Barbara Noble, a former New York Times columnist who has taught journalism at Columbia University, describes Edwards as a soothing voice but a dismal interviewer.

“You listen to him, and he doesn’t respond to anything,” she says. “I want him to follow up and ask a real question and he doesn’t do it. It’s like he’s phoning it in.”

Jack Mitchell, who in 1974 picked Edwards to cohost All Things Considered, NPR’s afternoon show, liked having Edwards, “a very laid-back, solid guy,” play off the edgier Susan Stamberg. Mitchell, now a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin, was stumped in 1979 when Edwards was drafted to host the new morning show solo.

“But it worked out, and he became something of an institution,” Mitchell says. “You don’t mess with an institution lightly.”

His desk is clear, his bookshelves nearly empty. Edwards hasn’t had the heart to weed out the filing cabinet of letters listeners sent to Red Barber, when the longtime sportscaster fell sick in 1992 and went into the hospital for the last time.

The dozen years of Friday morning phone calls to Barber remain Edwards’ favorite Morning Edition moments, two Southern boys shooting the breeze on the front porch.

Edwards, a Louisvillian in a denim workshirt and jeans, has been at work since 2 a.m., when he fired up the computer and scanned the news wires, culling headlines for the top-of-the-hour bits that set up the day: who is testifying, who is traveling. He writes them on a yellow legal pad in one-word headlines. Then he types them up with two fingers. He still uses a Royal electric.

Then comes dessert: finding the quirky, bottom-of-the hour bits – stories like the one about the bank robber who wrote his demand note on his own deposit slip. “I probably put entirely too much time into that,” Edwards says.

He’s done with this by 4. Fueled by Starbucks French Roast and Benson & Hedges menthols, he records interviews with reporters or overseas newsmakers (by this time, it’s noon in Baghdad) and the canned parts of his program.

By 5 a.m., the show starts, and Edwards folds his 6-foot-4 frame into a studio chair, where, with headphones and reading glasses on, he intones: “This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I’m Bob Edwards.”

When he is not talking, Edwards works crossword puzzles – the Washington Post, the New York Times, and USA Today. That way he can still listen, which he does as his interview with the writer Ernest Gaines runs. Edwards leans back in his chair, hands folded behind his neck.

Off-mike, Gaines had asked him how he was doing with his change. So did IRS Commissioner Mark Everson.

Edwards concedes he cannot hear enough of that.

“I needed that, to tell you the truth. That’s why I am feeling better now. You think you are immune to hurts, and then you get it – you really get it – and it feels bad, really bad.”

On March 23, announcer Carl Kasell stepped into Edwards’ office for their customary early-morning chat. Edwards lowered his voice and asked his old friend not to say anything until the 7:30 a.m. staff meeting, when it would be official: Edwards was out as of April 30.

He brought his wife, Sharon, to the meeting, and said how there are a few stages in NPR life: host, then senior correspondent, then “person of concern” – the sort one has to call building security about.

There were some tears and testimonials, some drinking, and then a mass migration to accompany Edwards for a ceremonial cigarette break outdoors.

As senior correspondent, he will get to choose stories that interest him, and then go out and report them. He will get to share more time with his wife of nearly 25 years, a former NPR staffer. “Big break for her, huh?” he says.

As host of Morning Edition, he was invited to great debuts and parties. “The irony now is that I probably won’t be invited to these things but I am able to [go].”

And slowly his body clock will revert to its natural setting. “I like to stay up late. Left to my own devices, I’d go to bed at 1 a.m. One in the morning is the time to go to bed, not to wake up.”

And he says this last thing completely deadpan.

“I am not a morning person.”

Contact staff writer Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5958 or dan.rubin@phillynews.com.

Bob Edwards will speak at WHYY at 6 p.m. May 20. A $100 pledge to the station gets you two tickets to the session plus a copy of Edwards’ new book. Information: 215-351-1200 or http://www.whyy.org.