During the time I was taking filmmaking courses from the sound and cinematography department heads at CBS Cinema Center (Elliot Bliss and Peter Gibbons respectively), hanging out on the sets of Mission: Impossible, Medical Center, The Road West and others, I had the idea that it would be good to get some experience on the other side of the camera. Doing some acting might give me a perspective on directing that I would not otherwise get. I mentioned this to my stepmother. She told her friend, who told her husband--a vice president at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas--who passed this information along to--Frank Sinatra (!!).
Without knowing that any of this was happening, I get a phone call one afternoon from someone who introduces himself as George Raft. His voice was very distinctive and recognizable as that of the actor famous for his gangster roles in the movies. There was no question of this being a prank call. To my surprise, he suggested I make an appointment with a friend of his who was somebody important at the Screen Actors Guild located on Sunset Boulevard. The man would be expecting my call. I thanked Mr. Raft and, without knowing what was afoot, I made the call. The gentleman set an appointment with me to come to his office, but I still did not know the purpose of the visit.
On the day, I arrived at the S.A.G. offices and was greeted by George Raft's friend who took me on a tour of the building. It was an office like any other and I was perplexed at why I was being shown a room full of typists and administrators but I kept a respectful silence. He then led me to his office where, it seemed, we would get down to the business of my visit.
The problem with obtaining a Screen Actors Guild card is that it is a chicken-and-egg situation. First you get a job and then they give you the card--except they won't give you the job without the card. See what I mean? Although I was aware of this, I was expecting to have this fully explained to me by George Raft's friend and to be sent on my way with kind regards and sincere apologies. This is not what happened. Something else entirely transpired.
He asked my name, address, date of birth--everything an employer might ask of an applicant with one interesting addition: What name do you want to use because your name is already taken and S.A.G. doesn't allow duplicates. At the end of our meeting, I left the building with a S.A.G. card.
When I returned home, I called George Raft to offer him my thanks for his extraordinary gesture. "Just do good, kid" was what he said with that gangster voice of his.
Many years later, after the passing of Frank Sinatra, I read an article about him that shed a light on what he had done for me. It seems that Sinatra made a habit of doing things for people--things they could not do for themselves. He did this anonymously and without fanfare. It was his custom to delegate these 'favors' to his immediate circle of friends. In my case, I suppose George Raft was next in the rotation. Many of the favors that were written about were of far greater consequence than getting a teenager his guild card and, no doubt, had dramatic effects on the recipients' lives.
It was only after Sinatra was gone that those who knew him were able to speak of his generosity. It helped me to understand what had happened though I don't imagine that I'll ever know why it happened. I am a great fan of Frank Sinatra--for his music as well as for his acts of kindness.
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