PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Barbara Sinatra was memorialized Tuesday at a crowded funeral in Palm Desert, where celebrities and local friends alike remembered her generosity and charisma.
Sinatra's casket, piled high with white and peach roses, entered Sacred Heart Catholic Church shortly after 2 p.m. PT. Matching roses formed a cross and a heart on either side of the altar.
Sinatra gained prominence as "Lady Blue Eyes," singer Frank Sinatra's wife, and then developed her own legacy helping victims of child abuse. She died July 25 at her Rancho Mirage home at 90 years old.
She was married to Frank Sinatra for almost 22 years — longer than any of his previous marriages. And Sinatra used her husband's fund-raising clout to build the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center to help abused children at Eisenhower Medical Center.
Many celebrities who attended the funeral met at golf tournaments and galas to raise money for the Children's Center. They visited in the lobby of the church before the funeral began, renewing old relationships and, perhaps, realizing they might never meet again — because there will be no more Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational golf tournaments and galas.
Actor and former professional baseball player Michael Dante stood beside former NFL quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who led the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl in 1980. They reminisced about how many tournaments they'd won.
"The best thing about this," said Dante, nodding to Ferragamo, "is getting to see guys like this and getting to be around them again. There were so many great guys at that tournament."Dante said of all the participants in the Sinatra tournament and galas, "It became family. We all had a commonality. We knew what she (Barbara) was for and what had taken place at the center. Most of us had visited the center. It was a work of love."
Tom Dreesen, the comic who used to open for Frank Sinatra and hosted all of the Sinatra galas, reminisced in the church lobby with Tony Manzoni, the College of the Desert golf coach who helped run 22 of the Sinatra golf tournaments.
They used to hang out with Frank Sinatra at Chaplin's, a supper club just up the street from Frank and Barbara's house on Frank Sinatra Drive, owned by Sydney Chaplin, son of silent film legend Charlie Chaplin. Dennis Michaels, the music director for Grammy Award winner Keely Smith, was the house pianist.
They shared a laugh about an incident at Chaplin's they had retold many times. But they shared it one more time for a reporter:
They were hanging out at Chaplin's when a woman walked in and approached Sinatra, apparently oblivious to who he was.
"Does this place have a jukebox?," the woman asked. Sinatra looked around. "I don't know," he said, "but, if you'd like, I'll sing for you." The woman looked at him quizzically and said, "Who would listen to you?"
Apocryphal? Maybe. But it's good enough for Dreesen to use in his comedy act.
Dreesen and Robert Wagner led the procession as pallbearers, joined by singers Michael Feinstein, and Steve Lawrence, philanthropist Vince Kickerillo and TV producer George Schlatter.
Legendary actor Dick Van Dyke opened the first reading with a joke: "A reading from the Book of Wisdom, without my glasses."
Dreesen gave the second reading. He said he wished Barbara could have lived 10 more years.
Father Howard A. Lincoln, who presided over the ceremony, said he met Sinatra several years ago, and "it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life."
At a birthday party, someone told him a woman wanted to meet him, and he walked over to introduce himself.
“I kneeled down and I said, ‘Hi, my name is Howard Lincoln.’ She said, ‘Father, nice to meet you. My name is Barbara Sinatra,’” Lincoln said. “And I felt about this high. I felt like an idiot.”
During the last few months of her life, Lincoln visited Sinatra about once a week.
“Barbara in her life never felt it was enough just to do well. I think she wanted to do good," Lincoln said. "She wanted to do a great deal of good. She knew this life was her once-in-history opportunity, and she wanted her life to matter.”
In a eulogy, Wagner shared that he met Sinatra before she was married to either Frank Sinatra or Zeppo Marx, back when she was performing as a Las Vegas showgirl.
“She was performing, the band was playing, the curtain was (closed ) and out came this beautiful long leg in time with the music,” he said. “The curtain opened and there was Barbara. Fantastic. Just gorgeous. I went backstage to meet her and she was great. She was so nice to me. We became friends. I wished that we had become more than friends, but that was not to be.”
Sinatra's granddaughter, Carina Blakeley Marx, said her grandmother remained proud of her roots in Missouri until the end of her life.
"She truly changed the world," Marx said. "She truly cared about everybody here."
Nancy Sinatra, Frank's daughter from a previous marriage, sent roses to the service. She and sister Tina Sinatra had a difficult relationship with their stepmother and were not expected to attend the funeral service, which was open to the public.
As of late Thursday morning, Nancy Sinatra and Tina Sinatra were not on the invitation list to a private reception at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage for close friends and family members, said John Thoresen, director of the Children’s Center.
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