[Photo:Robert Altman and Tony Bennett]

Robert with Tony Bennett - 1985

It was January in San Francisco and I was on assignment to cover all events which surrounded "The Game..."

It became a year of epiphany. San Francisco not only hosted The Superbowl but wound up winning the whole shebang as well. On the eve before the game of destiny I found myself mingling with the movers and shakers at a very private gathering in Mayor Dianne Feinstein's back office. The grand public spectacle had occurred outside these privy halls where Tony Bennett had just sung atop the great marble staircase in the City Hall Rotunda. Rousing speeches, meretricious cymbal wielding marching bands and other joyous hullabaloo followed.

This was the night before the Superbowl and there was a plethora of parties all over the city. Mr. Bennett, enjoying himself immensely, had apparently run out of soirees. I had met Tony several months ago at a bash in my friend Lee Gruhn's home and we became friends. So now with his 'dance card free' he turns to 'Mr. Nightlife.' "So where's the action tonight?" Now I must admit I was flattered that the great Tony Bennett should turn to little me for his social agenda or as my ego phrases it..."Hey, he's asking me out!"

Well, it just so happened that I had been invited to the numero uno glamour party later that evening, the official NFL Dinner hosted by none other than Bob Hope. (Interestingly it was Bob Hope who gave a very young Anthony Bennedetto the stage name Tony Bennett.) This benefit shin dig was the jewel in the crown, the brightest among all Superbowl celebrations. Held atop Nob Hill in one of our swankiest hotels, The Fairmont, entry to this affair was $1,000 per guest, no small matter. But I looked at Tony and said "C'mon with me." At the same time I couldn't shake this newborn worry..."Hmmmm...$1,000 a plate...how am I gonna get this guy in? But hey, this is Tony Bennett, Mr. 'I Left my Heart' himself...who's not gonna let this guy in?"

Now the last time we had partied together Mr. B had invited my cohort Mark Milan and myself to Vic Damone's opening at the Venetian Room (told you I was Mr. Nightlife.) We happened to have a chauffeured limo to get around that night, this luxury being supplied by my employers at San Francisco Magazine. But I had no such dressing on this night of nights...and I felt kind of guilty. Can you imagine that? I'm feeling guilty because I have no limo? But the "Rags to Riches" guy did have liveried wheels so we were on our way in style once again.

Once inside the Fairmont we ran into my friend Donna Ewald and her then special squeeze, Herb Caen, my favorite SF Chronicle columnist. We chatted warmly and the bon mots flew. I kidded that Tony actually did a Fred Astaire tap dance down the City Hall steps belting the Jeanette MacDonald version of "San Francisco" in falsetto. Tony had to duck out for a moment to call his old friend Cyril Magnin. Herb and Donna disappear toward the party. And I'm left thinking..."How am I going to get this guy in?"

So Tony returns and we walk towards the big bash. We see lots of well oiled backslappers having a good old time. But first there was this little matter of getting past the hostess who was busy perusing the guest list. So there I am uneasily doing small talk with Mr. B as we begin to edge over to that "line of entry." Somehow between our 'edging' and a guest swooping over to pay respects...we quietly make it over the "line" and the hostess says... nothing. Great. Of course she says nothing...it's Tony Bennett for Chrisakes

I draw a slow, deep breath of relief. (I'm certain Tony does too) and I begin to relax and look forward to a great evening. I secure two goblets of ruby red (I figure he's Italian...right?) He happily accepts the libation and continues to chat it up with the ever growing circle that by now has formed around him. But I begin to sense something's wrong. I look for the actual entrance to the Grand Ballroom, beyond this cocktail foyer where the four figured fete was about to occur and see... nothing. And I can't find Herb or Donna and now I'm getting worried all over again. Somehow I educe from a fellow reveler that this was another private party thrown by the Anheuser-Busch people who were now only too happy to host one Tony Bennett. Jeeze, we're back to square one! I glide back over to Tony, who by now is holding court to an even wider swirl, and I whisper "Guess what pooky, we're at the wrong party." The man does not lose a beat but he does look at me with an Italian version of oy vey as we dispense warm arrivedercis and take off.

Ok...as you can see the story's almost over. Eventually we stumble upon the true NFL affair whose entrance was defended by a no nonsense Nazi who also happened to be 'drop dead' stunning. She asks for our invitations, I hand mine over and nonchalantly add..."Oh, and this is Tony Bennett." Right she says, but where's his ticket. Tony, wisely, says nothing. Tony takes a half step back. So I redeliver my petition bumping it one-half decimal proclaiming "No, no...You don't understand...this is TONY BENNETT... T O N Y B E N N E T T !"

"I can see that." counters Ms. Law Enforcement "But where is his T I C K E T ?" Here's my worst nightmare coming true. You know, the one that I've had in the back of my head for the last two hours. Tony looks at me, I look at him, a vacant pall descends. All of a sudden there is a loud burst coming towards us from the party. Several, shall we say "wise guys" envelop us. "Tony! Gumbah! Ay...where ya been?" With one deft motion they shake his hand and pull him in. So the martinet gets relieved of any responsibility; Tony's little mishap is thankfully straightened out; the 'boys' are thrilled to have a 'celebrated one' amongst themselves and I...I proceeded to have myself one hellava evening.

Please note that all of these photographs are Copyright © 2002 Robert Altman, All Rights Reserved. They are made available for your personal enjoyment only. Any other use without the express, prior written consent of Robert Altman is strictly prohibited.

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