Billy Van Zandt, the younger (by seven years) half-brother of Steven Van Zandt, has also had a very successful and very varied career in show business. He’s a prolific playwright as well as an Emmy-nominated producer, director and actor with credits on a wide range of TV shows (“Newhart,” “Martin,” “Suddenly Susan”) and movies (“Jaws 2,” “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Taps”). He recently published a book, “Get in the Car, Jane!; Adventures in the TV Wasteland,” which is both a memoir and a guide to producing and writing sitcoms; “Jane” refers to his longtime writing and producing partner, Jane Milmore, who died earlier this year.
Van Zandt was recently interviewed by Mitch Slater on his “Financially Speaking” podcast — you can listen to the entire interview below — and among the stories he told was one about getting Frank Sinatra to make his final acting appearance, in 1993, on the Don Rickles/Richard Lewis sitcom, “Daddy Dearest” (Van Zandt and Milmore were co-executive producers). Sinatra was 77 at the time, and winding down his musical career, too: He sang for the last time in public in early 1995 and died in 1998, at the age of 82.
Here is Van Zandt’s story. Below that is the podcast, embedded. And below the podcast is the short “Daddy Dearest” clip. Be sure to watch until the end, for some priceless bonus footage.
“Don used to open for him a lot. One day … ’cause we wanted … as soon as we started the show, it was like, ‘Can we get Sinatra? Can we get Sinatra?’ And we never wanted to ask. But one day Don volunteered. And so he called Frank, and then he said to us, ‘Frank said he’ll do the show, but it’s only if he feels like it when he wakes up, on a day that he feels like it.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’ We wrote a little part for him. And we kept the set. It was a Vegas, or Atlantic City show, I think. So we had a casino set, set up. So we just left the set up. And every day, we had extras on call, and we had … no matter what else was going on, we knew when we got the phone call, that it was The Day.
“So we get a phone call in the morning: ‘He’s awake, and he feels like doing the show.’ ‘He feels like doing the show!’ And everybody’s freaking out. And then we get another phone call: ‘He’s eating breakfast.’ ‘He’s eating breakfast!’ And then suddenly: ‘He’s in the car.’ ‘He’s in the car!’ And he finally showed up. Whatever he wore that day was his costume, we didn’t care, and we had his lines on cue cards. And he walked onto the sound stage and just said, ‘What do I do?’ And Don said, ‘We’re just going to stick a camera on you, and just try not to drool all over yourself.’ But it was great, it was just great. And so that was Frank Sinatra’s last sitcom, was for us.”
For more on Van Zandt, visit vanzandtmilmore.com.
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