More of what? Well, it’s a long story. Taking a look back at my old New York days, I was 19, barely out of high school, 1500 miles from home, had played a lot of places for my age, on the road for a time, played in Canada twice, and all the big hotels in New York with different bands. My vocal and drama coaches had drilled it into me to live and breathe the lyrics of a song when singing. And I did. It was 1951 and I had the best steady playing and highest paid band job in New York with the Alan Holmes band in the Hotel Astor Broadway Lounge.
1951 – Looking north on Broadway is the Astor on the left. Look close at the marquee and you’ll see “Sheraton Astor Hotel – Alan Holmes & orch.” That’s us!
1951 – Looking south on Broadway is the Astor on the right. The Broadway Lounge was there on the right where you see the second floor circular windows.
On New Years Eve we could get a great view out on the crowds from the center window over the marquee, and see the ball drop. In the summers we were the so-called relief band with the big bands like Sammy Kaye and Freddy Martin up in the Astor Roof Ballroom.
I would put so much feeling into a song that some nights, Martin’s boy singer, Merv Griffin, showed a bit of jealousy of my singing. But then I showed a little jealousy when the Hollywood starlets like Polly Bergen and others came to swoon over Merv. On the east side of the ballroom was a beautiful view of the Broadway lights in Times Square, and looking down west from the ballroom was usually a most beautiful view of a row of big passenger ships, docked on the Hudson River. I had never flown in a plane, nor been on a ship, and since those beautiful ships were such a sight to see, I always dreamed of going on one. Maybe someday I might play with a band on a cruise, I thought. Well, I finally did, but many years later, and it turned out to be a highlight in my career.
It was now the ’60s and I had some exciting times, great job at Columbia Records, singing and playing with some great New York bands, singing demos for some great writers, and singing on some great paying commercials. One of the bandleaders I freelanced and played and sang club dates with, Paul Jean, also booked cruises. So, one night I told him about the Astor view of all the ships, and how my biggest dream was to go on one of them. I asked him what would be the possibility of this happening? It just so happened that he was taking a small band on the Queen Mary in three weeks. Would I be interested? Damn straight, I’d get some time off from Columbia. You don’t make much money, but there is free room and board and a chance to see some far off places in the Caribbean.
I didn’t know at the time, and it wasn’t made public, but once on board, word soon got out that the cast and crew including Frank Sinatra starring, were aboard the ship for the filming of the 1966 movie, Assault On A Queen. We had a good band and I did my share of singing the hits and standards. I was singing one of my best songs, More, in the ship’s elegant main lounge one night, and it happened to be a song that Sinatra had recorded on an album a couple or more years prior. I didn’t know it but he was sitting in the back of the lounge and when I had finished, he rose to his feet and applauded. I was dumbstruck. The greatest of singers, Frank Sinatra was standing and applauding for Don Meehan? Wow! Was that something to write home about or what? I went over and thanked him, met briefly and heard him tell me to keep up the good work. What a frigging thrill! I thanked him, shook his hand and I never saw him again. He had been my idol since high school days, and there he was cheering me on. This event did wonders for my confidence over the years. If Sinatra liked what he heard, then I must have had something to offer, I felt. In addition, that song with its meaningful words, became my favorite to this day as you’ll see later in this post.
Arriving back from the Nassau port as the shuttle neared the ship, we had passed right by a barge with the end doors open and down, and set up with movie cameras about a hundred yards away from the ship, obviously preparing to film our departure in an hour or so. I figured that our sailing that night would probably be a major scene in the movie, so I decided I would be in the movie. I went to my cabin and grabbed the bedspread and went to the position under the first lifeboat on the starboard side. I’d be that tiny speck up there under the lifeboat waving the bedspread. When we began to sail, I unfurled the spread and began to wave it high and wide to the cameras.
What would you think if you saw the movie and some idiot was waving a bedspread under that first lifeboat
When I saw the movie, they obviously edited it to where the ship was well on the way and to a point where no waving bedspread could be seen. I probably disrupted an expensive one take only scene. And I asked myself through the years, “Why would you pull such a dumb stunt like that?” No answers have emerged, except my usual craziness, and to say, “Yes, I was there.” But the memories of Frank Sinatra applauding me that night would be etched in my mind forever, and Hail to the Queen!
Four years later, unbeknownst to me, that undear first wife had been secretly planning a divorce, and while I was in LA recording the Barbara Streisand movie, On a Clear Day, she had cleaned me out of everything, the savings and checking accounts, safe box, and stocks and bonds that I had lovingly put in both names. Dumb ass I was and in total shock, since I had no clue it was coming. Being totally broke, I was never ever so pissed off in my life as when she handed me a card with her lawyer’s name on it. A bloody divorce ensued that left me with at least my CBS job, a few club dates and a struggle to stay alive.
I met up playing with old friend and bandleader Paul Jean again at that time and I asked him if he might have a cruise that I could go on and get me away from the shit for a few days. The answer was yes, and the timing was perfect. He would be leading a trio on a ten day cruise job on the great ship, the France, and would love to have me there. And I would love it even More.
The beautiful ship, The France
It was a great getaway. As the greatest luck would have it, the second day out I met Fran, from Philly, and we wound up spending all the time we could together. I would sing some of her favorite songs in the lounge, one of which also happened to be my favorite, More, and of course, I would sing it a couple times every night. The more I sang it, the more I felt the true meaning of the words. We really got to know each other during those few days, as well as our togetherness on as many days as possible after the cruise, and falling in love. About nine months later we said our vows to spend the rest of our lives together, and Fran became the true woman in my life, my hero, my queen, my strength, and my everything. The words of that song, More, could not have had truer meaning then or now.
Two years later we were forced to go for custody of my children, since their mother was hauled in for neglect. There was a huge custody battle, but with Fran at my side, we finally got custody, and learned the ex had paid judges with my hard earned money she took. Imagine the fears, worries and anxiety of a young woman, barely 28 years old, suddenly forced into and having to become the mother of my four neglected kids. But neither I nor my children would have survived without the “More than the greatest love” of Fran, there by my side all the way.
And once more, a Tribute and Thanks to Paul Jean, for bringing Fran and me together. On July 16, 2013, Fran and I will celebrate our forty-first anniversary. And every word of that song, More, rings loud and true now as it did then. We’ve lived through the good and the bad as the song goes: “waking, sleeping, laughing, weeping.” And as a side note, I can still see Frank Sinatra standing there, applauding and cheering me on after singing those same words. Maybe he was somehow seeing into the future and my growing love for my loving wife, Fran, who is “More than the greatest love the world has known – No one else could love you MORE.”
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY SWEETHEART!!!! July 16, 2013 And may we have many many MORE!