Frank Sinatra verses Jerry Zarowitz
The Cal Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe was a beautiful resort hideaway that was the vacation home and get away to many legendary notables of the screen, stage, politics, business world and the mob, including Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Sam Giancana and many more. The Cal Neva had several names and various operators since the inception in the 1930s. Then the tide changed in 1955 when a group headed by Bert “Wingy” Grober bought the resort. Grober’s successes included Wingy’s Inn in Philadelphia and the Park Avenue Steak House in Miami Beach. His supplier for liquor and steaks in Miami was Joe Kennedy, his lifelong friend and father of President John F. Kennedy. During John Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency, his father, Joe, spent a great deal of time at the Cal Neva Lodge, where he kept a low profile. Robert Kennedy and his wife, Ethel, Teddy Kennedy and Peter Lawford and his wife, Patricia Kennedy, also spent much time during the campaign at the Cal Neva Lodge. They also visited the North Shore Club frequently and made and received calls there.
Bert “Wingy” Grober, was also one of the bosses/owners of Caesars Palace, and was an interesting front man for the boys. Wingy had a handicap, born with one arm shorter and deformed, which resulted in the juvenile nickname acquired when he was a young boy in New Jersey. He bought a successful restaurant in Miami Beach, were all the high rollers and wise guys hung out. He got a big start by winning more than $250,000 at the dice table, on the streak of luck the legendary columnist Walter Winchell had, throwing 15 consecutive passes. Winchell frequently mentioned Wingy in his nationally syndicated column. Incidentally, it all happened in Miami Beach at Meyer Lansky’s Greenacres casino. There is some speculation that Lansky may have “helped” Wingy win the money so he could establish him as a legitimate front man. A Nevada casino operator ran afoul of the law and opened the door for Wingy to purchase the Cal-Neva Lodge Casino at Lake Tahoe. Frank Sinatra worked at Wingy’s for a paltry $10,000 a week.
Sinatra publicly bought the Cal Neva resort in 1960 through his company, Park Lake Enterprises. Initially, he owned 25 percent of the property with Hank Sanicola and Paul “Skinny” D’Amato who each held 13 percent. Other smaller shareholders included Dean Martin. Chicago mobster Sam Giancana was said to be a silent partner in the business; D’Amato acted as Giancana’s man. Sinatra gradually expanded his ownership of the Casino; by 1962 he owned more than 50 percent share, with Sanicola holding 33 percent and Sanford Waterman owning the remaining shares. Waterman was connected to other unidentified and unconfirmed associates, but one for sure was Jerry Zarowitz. Waterman was a high lama at the Sands Hotel after leaving the Cal Neva. (The photograph depicts Nevada Senator Howard Cannon, Sandy Waterman, Congressman Allan Bible and Nevada Governor Grant Sawyer.) Sanford (Sandy) Waterman was the real boss at the Sands for unnamed persons.
Jerry Zarowitz was convicted of trying to fix a football game between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants in 1946 and also operated a gambling joint in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Zarowitz, who participated in a Little Appalachian meeting in Palm Springs, Calif., and worked briefly for Clifford and Stuart Perlman after they purchased Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas ‘strip’, became the target of intensive questioning by members of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Zarowitz was, at one time, indicted by the federal government after agents raided locked boxes at Caesars Palace and confiscated over 1.5 million in cash.
‘When I bought the hotel he was running it, apparently with the knowledge of the Nevada gaming people,’ said Perlman. ‘He (Zarowitz) applied for a gambling license and then withdrew the application when advised he would not be licensed. He was then asked to leave Caesars Palace.’
The Nevada Gaming Control Board questioned Perlman as to why he hired Sandy Waterman as casino manager to succeed Zarowitz. Waterman ultimately also ran into trouble with federal investigators.
Perlman told the board he needed a man who understood casino operations at Caesars Palace because he and his brother were novices. He said Waterman was hired at the recommendation of the former owners, to whom Perlman owed $30 million at the time. Both Zarowitz and Waterman left Caesars Palace in the early 1970s.
Waterman had an altercation with Frank Sinatra in the Baccarat Pit at Caesars Palace, with Waterman getting arrested after pulling a gun on Sinatra. In a local Las Vegas newspaper an eyewitness to the event made this statement:
Longtime Las Vegan Fred Soskin read the mention in Monday’s column of Frank Sinatra’s altercation at Caesars Palace in 1970 and called to offer some finer details.
“I was a baccarat dealer at Caesars at the time,” said Soskin, a local real estate agent. “I was five feet away.
“When Sinatra came into the baccarat pit, he had to declare whether he was playing his own money or whether he was shilling, sitting down and playing with the house money to draw other players. Whenever he sat down, within five minutes all four tables would be filled with players.
“This was between shows. He got lucky and won $50,000. When he got up to leave, he put the $50,000 in his pocket and was walking away. Larry Snow, who was the boss of the baccarat at the time, said, `Hold on a minute, Mr. Sinatra. When you came in you said you were shilling.’
“In these days, you had to be very careful because he was a walking time bomb.
“He claimed he was using his own money. He used some profanities. In the meantime they called Sandy Waterman, who was the main mob front guy who was running Caesars. He walked in the pit and pulled a gun out of his shoulder holster and put a gun to Sinatra’s head and used some profanity in asking for the money back.
“Sinatra turned as white as you can imagine. He reached in his pockets and pulled out the fifty thousand, all wrapped up in rubber bands, handed it over and walked out of the pit area.”
ED NOTE: There are other versions of what actually occurred however. One version alleges that Sinatra lost his money and wanted more credit. The Baccarat floor man on duty called his boss, Waterman, and said “Frank wants more money.” Sinatra’s longtime buddy-comedian Corbett Monica heard the floor man say “Frank” and retorted, “What do you mean Frank? He is Mr. Sinatra to you!.” This steamed up Frank and Waterman came into the pit and an argument started. It is reported that an exchange of unpleasant words between the two, followed by Sinatra grabbing Waterman by the throat. Waterman reacted by pulling a gun on him.
There was no love loss between the Waterman and Sinatra, and for that matter Zarowitz did not like Sinatra either. Waterman and partners blamed Sinatra for all the unnecessary “heat” brought on by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. These problems were basically ignited when Sinatra hosted Chicago Outfit member, Sam Giancana. The Cal Neva owners were forced to sell a property that was a good money maker and ran under the radar until the Giancana incident.
In Anthony Summers & Robbyn Swan’s book, Sinatra: The Life, they report about an incident. “The retirement (meaning Sinatra’s retirement) announcement, moreover, came a few months after another violent confrontation between Frank and a casino official, this time at Caesars Palace. The mob had failed to back him up.”
Here is what actually happened and told to me by a source which I have known for 35 years plus. This man was also small owner in Caesars Palace. Jerry Zarowitz really liked my friend. He told me this story as an eyewitness to the incident.
“One early evening Zarowitz came by the casino and said come on, we are going up to Sinatra’s room. He doesn’t want to go on. The showroom is full and they just had dinner. Our customers won’t like this. Let’s go see what the problem is. We went to his suite and Zarowitz told Sinatra that the showroom is full and the customers just finished dinner and were waiting for him to perform. He asked Sinatra why he wasn’t going on. Sinatra replied, “Because I don’t feel like it!”
Zarowitz got red and lost his temper. He looked at me and said, “Open the sliding glass door.” Frank’s longtime friend, Jilly Rizzo jumped up and Zarowitz, yelled at him, “Sit down or you’re dead!”
Zarowitz pointed his finger at Frank and said, “You’re going on and you’re going to do two encores or I am going to throw you off the balcony!” Sinatra got up and went down stairs and did the show. We waited in the other side of the wings and saw him do the encores. I was as nervous as hell as a witness to this incident. This story has never been told anywhere.
My associate also wanted it known that little was known to the public about Jerry Zarowitz. He was a kind, thoughtful, and standup individual who would always be on the side of the “little guy” or average working man. He would spend as much or more time talking with a bus boy as he would a hotel president. He really cared about what people had to say. If he liked you, there is nothing he wouldn’t do for you.