Having placed a large brass clock on my lap, I called time before Frank's team guessed his charade—the government health warning on a pack of cigarettes.
"Three minutes are up," I cried gleefully. "You didn't get it!"
They began to howl their protests, but the look on Frank's face as he rose to his feet silenced them all. "Who made you timekeeper anyway?" he barked, his eyes like blue laser beams.
"Why, you did!" I replied.
Frank snatched the clock from my lap and gripped it tightly in his hands. For a moment I thought he might hit me with it. Refusing to be intimidated, I stared him out until he turned and hurled the clock against the door, shattering it into a hundred pieces.
Springs, coils, and shards of glass fl ew across the room. The clock face lay upturned on the fl oor, its hands forever fi xed at a few minutes after 4:00 a.m.
It was Pat Henry who broke the ensuing hush. The comic who opened Frank's shows said, "I know what that charade is, Francis."
"What?" Frank spun round and scowled.
"It was 'As Time Goes By.' "
When Frank's face cracked into a broad grin, so did the rest of ours, none more gratefully than mine. The moment of danger had passed.
What I saw that night was a glimpse of the complex inner character of the man known as the Entertainer of the Century.
This was someone who had a God-given talent, The Voice. He'd clawed his way up from a tough childhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, with an even tougher mother, Dolly, who'd alternately smacked him and pressed him to her bosom.
He'd fought on the streets. He'd experienced the highs, lows, and then highs again of a performer's life. He'd had his heart broken. By the time he turned his attentions to me, he was a fi fty-fi ve-year-old living legend who'd grown accustomed to getting his own way.
He had money, power,and friends, all of which helped occupy his restless mind. The one thing he didn't have, though, was love.