|Frank Sinatras Jr and Sr in 1969|
Phil was a car guy to the core. He was the fleet manager at Gunther-Langer Buick in Los Angeles in the early sixties, and he had a side job with the Buick Zone over on Wilshire Blvd., keeping track of the fleet of Buick company-owned cars that were in constant rotation. It was almost a full time job in itself, and it brought him in contact with lots of folks- Buick reps, the staff at the GM Training Center, and more than a few celebrities who were provided with cars as well.
Lots of famous names showed up in those logs. Jack Entratter of the Sands Hotel. Legendary customizer George Barris. And Old Blue Eyes himself, one Francis Albert Sinatra, appears frequently in the records. While the exact beginning of his relationship with Buick is unknown, it dates back to at least 1962 when he wrangled an appearance for the not-yet-introduced Riviera in his movie “Come Blow Your Horn.” Sinatra was provided with cars in both Los Angeles and New York, as well as station wagons for the period of time when he had the Cal-Neva ranch in Lake Tahoe.
And it was in 1969 when Phil was asked to deliver a Buick to 24-year old Francis Wayne Sinatra, the only son of the legendary vocalist and a performer himself. He is noted in the log as Sinatra Jr. And who would imagine that the car guy and the aspiring singer would go on to become lifelong friends. They both loved cars, and I wonder if Phil wasn’t like a surrogate uncle to Frank.
I didn’t come on to the scene until the 1990s myself, and by then they were longtime friends. Phil was working at a different Buick dealer but still managing the fleet. No longer the recipient of company cars, Frank Jr. purchased numerous Buicks through the Los Angeles Zone. He and Phil would have lunch together every day that Frank Jr. was in town. Phil would frequently attend Frank Jr’s concerts, and was not an infrequent guest of Jr’s for holidays. By this time, Phil’s wife Esther was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was in a convalescent home, so Phil’s life would have been pretty quiet without Frank Jr.
I was in Phil’s office the day of Frank Sinatra’s funeral in the spring of 1998 when Frank Jr. called Phil after having just left the service. Phil was dispatched to take guests to the airport- I saw it as a testimony to their closeness. I remember visiting Phil in his office that summer when he told me that he was going to Europe with Frank Jr. and the orchestra, and was told to bring a Tuxedo in case he got to meet the Queen. I hadn’t seen him look that excited in years.
But sadly it was not to be. Phil had surgery that summer, something supposed to be routine but instead he had a stroke on the table and passed away a few days later. Phil’s wife, Esther, was unaware that he had died. I have been told that Frank Jr. paid for her care until she died a few years later. While I don’t have confirmation of that, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. They were that kind of friends.