The stories are that not many people were allowed into celebrity Frank Sinatra’s inner circle. And who would have guessed that one of those people who were part of that circle was from Connecticut, a celebrity, of sorts, in his own right. Tony Consiglio, one of the founders of the famed New Haven pizzeria, Sally’s, was also one of Sinatra’s best friends. For years, Consiglio traveled with the late, famed singer and actor, and the rest of the Hollywood elite that were part of Sinatra’s circle including Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis Jr. Peter Lawford, Ava Gardner and others. Consiglio died in 2008, but not before sharing his personal stories about Sinatra with Pulitzer-prize nominated author and Connecticut resident, Franz Douskey, tales that have been published in a new book called “Sinatra and Me, The Very Good Years.” Douskey, who calls the stories an inside look at Sinatra, has been on a book-signing blitz around the state, but took some time to Spill The Beans with Java.
Q: How did you get chosen to listen to Tony’s stories and compile them into a book?
A: I didn’t get chosen really, I used to hang around Sally’s, actually I was there last night. I knew about him and there were pictures all over the place of Tony with celebrities including Sinatra. I was there one afternoon, and Ruthie his niece said, “Duke (my nickname) come on and talk to my uncle on the phone.’ I got on the phone and talked to Tony and Ruthie says ‘you alright,’ Tony invites me over to talk over coffee and as we get to know each other, says ‘I have something to show you’ and brings out letters from Frank and tons of photos with Frank. We spent four hours going over the stuff and after a second or third meeting discussed maybe just an article about his friendship with Frank. I initially did a piece for Yankee Magazine on Tony and Frank called “The Man Who Knew Everyone.” Tony and I start paling around and we did a couple of other articles and he liked them and the book just evolved. Somewhere along the line I said ‘we have all this documentation for stories so why don’t we just keep going.’
Q: How long did it take to listen to all the stories and get the written?
A: We started in 2000 and went on for a period of eight years.
Q: What did it feel like to listen to all these first-hand stories about a crowd of people most of us only watched on a movie or television screen or read ab out in magazines?
A: It was very fascinating but what made it more so was the fact that these were documented stories. These were stories from someone who was actually there. Most of the books written about Sinatra were third and fourth person accounts. I loved Tony’s hardess and crispness as he told the stories. It was all so informal. I loved Tony. He was such a good human, a genuine human being.
Q: Were you a Sinatra fan?
A: I knew the music and was aware of Sinatra. I used to do a radio show at Quinnipiac University at WQIN so I was familiar and I did, in particular, like his arrangements.
Q: What stories really piqued your interest?
A: I loved the stories about Jilly Rizzo, a mobster who was a rough character and a close friend of Sinatra’s. He was Frank’s muscle man. Jilly had one artificial eye that never closed and Tony said he was afraid of him because he never knew for sure when he was asleep. There were so many funny stories.
Q: The book is clearly one of personal stories but yet, not over the top or sensational. Was it done purposefully?
A: One of the things was we wanted to write about Frank’s music and his life, why people admired him with a balance of the great times and the sad and tragic times. There were agents who wanted it to be more salacious. We ended up with an agent who let us write Tony’s stories
Q: Have Sinatra family members seen the book?
A: They saw it and the different revisions as we developed it. We kept them in the loop. His daughter Nancy said it was okay. The family has not said anything publicly and is not endorsing it. They decided as a family not to endorse any biography other than their own product. They aren’t suing us yet. The book is doing well. The first printing sold out in 10 days. And it really got a boost after the discussion on the Imus show this month.
A: Have you written other books about celebrities?
A: I have and they are lined up to be published. The next one is about Elvis Presley and the music of Memphis. It’s called “Elvis is Out There” and is scheduled to be published in 2013.
Q: What do you think Sinatra would think of the book?
A: He wouldn’t be happy because he didn’t like stuff whether it be his generosity or his relationships being public. But if anyone was going to tell the stories, he would be glad it was Tony. Tony was the clam he trusted.
Q: So why did he tell at all?
A: I think telling the stories made him feel good. It was definitely not a business venture. It was after Sinatra’s death. He could have written it to make it a money-maker by just writing about the mob and the girls Sinatra was with but he didn’t want to trash up the book. There were great moments and greats time and he has some really strong stories to tell.
Q: What is something people might be surprised to know about Sinatra?
A: There was a time when he was looking at buying a house in Old Saybrook but there were evidently problems with the neighbors who didn’t want someone like him as a neighbor because of his ties to the mob.
Q:What do you think Tony would say now that his stories are a book?
A: I think he would enjoy it. The day the book was published we had posters and wrote “To Tony” on them. I am so sorry he is not here because it would be so much fun doing the book signings and tour with him. He was beautiful.