I WAS A HOTEL DICK
...when he was at the Ambassador East,
anything might happen.
DON RICKLES with ANN JILLIAN
...He never called HER a hockey puck!
Sinatra & Friends, Rickles
and Some Stolen Jewelry
By ANDY MURCIA
During his days as a Chicao police detective, Andy Murcia
also moonlighted as security director for the Ambassador East hotel. This is his second column of memories of those days as a "hotel dick."
There were certain nights at the Ambassador East hotel in Chicago when the place seemed to be the hottest ticket in town. When Frank Sinatra was in the house it could not get any hotter if Mrs. OLearys cow had started another great Chicago fire.
When Sinatra was in the hotel, man, the joint was swinging, to say the least. He always stayed in the penthouse suite, #1705. He had the entire floor, consisting of several suites, complete with a large outdoor rooftop garden area. The square bathtub in this suite could hold a dozen or more bodies (and I suspect some nights it was close to capacity).
When Sinatra was in, their seemed to be an endless line of his Chicago Pals paying homage to the man himself. They lined up in the lobby like a bunch of nervous but well-dressed meatballs. You would think the Pope himself was staying in suite 1705!
The Goodfellas all came bearing gifts for Frank, ranging from a six-foot Italian hero sandwich to his favorite cole slaw, ribs, pasta, and pizza. Even the hotel catered to his every needfrom picking up and shining his finest leather boots, which I was told cost more than $5,000, to permitting Franks Pals total access to our hotel.
As you can imagine, some of Frank's Pals had criminal records and affiliations to the Chicago outfit. Let me put it another way: Some of these mugs were so well known to me that if they had come around the hotel when Frank was NOT staying there, me and my off duty Chicago detectives would have been on them like a mustard plaster. We would have made our presence overly known to these guys so they would have left the premises forthwith for greener pastures.
But this would have pissed off Sinatra, so we had to give them a wide berth. This never sat well with me. I always felt the hotel was vulnerable whenever Sinatra was in residence. But it was not my job to chase business away from the Ambassador East Hotel, so I just did the best I could, under the circumstances.
On one such Sinatra stay, we also had the great comic Don Rickles staying there, too. The excitement was doubled with both Frank and Don in the house as well as the other celebs who came to pay homage to them, among them baseball legend Leo Durocher, Vice President Spiro Agnew, and, of course, Pat Henry, the comic/actor who always opened Sinatras concert dates.
Everything was going greatthe Pump room was full to capacity, with all the high rollers slipping Arturo, the maitred, long money just to get in, in hopes Sinatra might come down to dine or drink there. The hotel disco, The Buttery, located on he other side of the lobby. was also packed with the disco crowd, all hip people dancing and partying.
On this particular night, Sinatra held a dinner party in the Pump room. Six detectives and I surrounded Sinatra and moved him from his suite to the elevator to the Pump room as if he was some kind of sterile specimen that couldn't be exposed to the regular air people breathe. The older, well-dressed North Shore babes all screamed Frankie! when they spotted us coming. I noticed Sinatra would not even wave back. But if they screamed out Mr. Sinatra," he smiled and waved, and on a few occasions even said, Hello Sweetheart!"
Once we got Frank to his long table, I noticed there was Spiro Agnew, Durocher, actress Sandy Dennis, singer Robert Goulet in attendance. to name just a few. They all stood and clapped for Frankie. It seemed like the entire North Shore mucky-mucks were in the Pump Room that night and they got to peek at this star-studded dinner party. There was so much peeking going on that Frank soon ordered that the black drape be drawn to cut off his part of the Pump Room from public view, but not before he waved some more and smiled to all the old dolls who were blowing him kisses.
Yeah, everything was going great, all right, until I got a call from Don Rickles' suite. He had just returned to his suite and discovered it had been burglarized.
I immediately went up to the Rickles' suite and observed there did not appear to be a forced entry. Whoever did the job had a key. The belongings were strewn all over the suite. All that was taken, though, was some sentimental jewelry belonging to Barbara Rickles, Dons wife, and some miscellaneous lesser-valued items. Don and Barbara were mostly concerned that her wedding ring was missing. It previously belonged to Dons mother and he gave it to his beloved Barbara when they wed. They were both sick about the loss. The other items didnt seem to matter to them compared to this wedding ring and its heartfelt value.
This was the first time I had met Don Rickles. but it would not be the last. Later he would play a major role in the career advancement of my wife, Ann Jillian. It was Rickles who first took Ann and I into Las Vegas where Ann opened Dons show with her own singing act. At that time, we got to hang out with Don quite a bit--and a sweeter man God never made. We attended dinner parties with Don both in Vegas and at his Malibu beach home. Don is a real mensch and to meet him off stage is to love him.
Meanwhile, back to the burglary. I started a report and went to the lobby where I bumped into Pat Henry. Pat and I were buddies. We were both born just blocks from each other in Brooklyn. I really liked the guy, even though he never could remember my surname and just called me "Andy, the hotel dick." I told Pat about the Rickles suite getting hit. Pat immediately picked up the house phone and called Don. Pat said to Rickles, in his best Brooklynese, Don, have a burglary? Don answered; No thank you, I just had one! You hockey puck! The two made each other chuckle for a few minutes, I guess thats how comics handle everything in lifeespecially after a couple of post-show cocktails.
Knowing how close Pat Henry was with Frank Sinatra and Jilly Rizzo (Frank's constant pal), I took a long shot and asked him for a favor. I explained that since I was director of security here at the hotel, it was NOT a feather in my cap to have a star like Rickles get hit here. I wanted Pat to ask Frank if he would put the word out to his pals that the burglar(s) who hit the Rickles suite should do the right thing and send the sentimental items back to Rickles.
I met Pat the next day and he said he spoke with Frank about this and he would see what he could do. Not long after that, Rickles received the items back via the mail. Case closed, no questions asked. As for me, the hotel dick, I was batting a thousand and I kept my gig.
I warned you there was always excitement in the air when Frank Sinatra was at the Ambassador East Hotel. Frank stayed there often and this was just what went on one occasion that this ex-hotel dick remembers so well.
©2009 by Andy Murcia. The Murcia caricature is ©2003 by Jim Hummel. The photo of Don Rickels with Ann Jillian is from the author's private collection. All rights reserved. This column first posted Jan. 12, 2009.
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