Frank Sinatra Violently Defended a Young Liza Minnelli After a Man Insulted Her Singing

To those who knew him, Frank Sinatra could be loving and loyal. To those who didn’t, the musician could show a very different, aggressive side. This part of him, and his sense of right and wrong, was on display in the early 1960s, after a young Liza Minnelli performed in Los Angeles. When a man took a dig at her singing, Sinatra sought a sort of lawless justice against him.

Liza Minnelli wears a dress and Frank Sinatra wears a tuxedo. Sammy Davis Jr. faces away from the camera.
Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr | Independent News and Media/Getty Images

Frank Sinatra had a reputation for a quick temper

According to those close to Sinatra, the singer had a short, explosive fuse, especially if he’d been drinking. While out to dinner, he was known to throw food and beverages if they weren’t to his liking. According to Quincy Jones, who produced some of Sinatra’s recordings, he “didn’t suffer fools gladly.”

“This man had no gray in him,” Jones told the Desert Sun. “He either loved you from the bottom of his heart – unconditionally – or he was capable of running over you in a Mack truck, backwards.”

His opening comic, Tom Dreesen, was one of the few people who could cool Sinatra’s temper once it flared.

“Drinkers either became Rocky Marciano, Rudolph Valentino, or Rip Van Winkle after a few,” he said. “Frank was Rocky Marciano. A couple of drinks and he got a little cantankerous sometimes. The staff used to like it when I’d be with him because I could always make him laugh.”

He defended Liza Minnelli when she was young

On an evening in the early 1960s, Sinatra and friends gathered at the Ambassador Hotel in LA to watch Judy Garland perform. At one point, Garland welcomed her daughter Liza Minnelli on stage to sing. After receiving high praise, she joined Sinatra’s table. Soon, a man approached to tell Minnelli she ought to practice before she got on stage again, nearly bringing her to tears.

“Keep an eye on that guy,” Sinatra told Jim Mahoney, his publicist, and Jack Entratter, the club’s entertainment director.

When the man got up to go to the bathroom, Sinatra, Mahoney, and Entratter followed. When the man came out, Sinatra punched him hard in the gut then left for another bar, leaving the man crumpled on the floor. Luckily, the man felt the impact of alcohol more than the punch and couldn’t remember what happened when security arrived.

Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ was first sung by Liza Minnelli

After this incident, Sinatra made “New York, New York” famous two years after Minnelli first sang it. The song was the theme for the Martin Scorcese directed musical drama of the same name. Though the film wasn’t particularly well-reviewed, audiences walked away with an appreciation for the tune.

Two years later, Sinatra began to perform the song and lifted it to new heights. Though Sinatra was born in New Jersey, the song became intrinsically linked with the city of New York. The songwriters appreciated this new popularity, even though Sinatra accidentally added the phrase “A, No. 1” to the song.

“Yeah, ‘A, No. 1.’ I never wrote that. I don’t even like it,” songwriter Fred Ebb told NPR. “But, you know, you’re grateful to him because he gave you this enormous hit.”

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