When I was a teenager we had two ways to hear music; on our radio or we bought a 45 record for the single, or the LP, long play album.
I can remember hearing him on the radio, seeing him in a film with Annette Funicello and swooning with my girlfriends. He was one of the pop stars who fit into the category of Elvis, Fabian, Frankie Valle and the like. He had dark hair and a clean-cut yet sexy look about him. Col. Tom Parker, signed him on in 1952, and got him a television role (Teenage Idol in 1957) that Elvis had to turn down. The song, “Teenage Crush” became a hit from it, propelling him into stardom. But he had many hits over the next few years.
I know when he married Nancy (These Boots are Made for Walking) Sinatra in 1960 it broke more than a few teenagers’ hearts. Mine was one of them even though I was only twelve.
By 1965 Tommy had appeared in a movie with his father-in-law, Frank Sinatra and was divorcing his bride. I remember the scandal, in fact, his singing career was rumored to have been cut short by a vindictive Frank. Hardly surprising that Tommy had been “blackballed” from Vegas, having once headlined at the Sands.
One night in 1968, while living in Hawaii and working as a long distance operator, I was invited by a friend to go out for a drink to the Outrigger Hotel in Waikiki after work one night.
The Outrigger had a showroom featuring a well known local group known as SOS, which stood for the Society of Seven. Imagine my surprise to find that Tommy Sands was also a part of the show.
I remember being mesmerized, he was a young, handsome guy with a voice that instantly transported you to the romantic place in your heart and brain. Not only that, but he interacted with his audience, especially the young, pretty girls in the front row. We happened to be in the front row. Though now I know we were seated there for a reason. On reflection it is nice to have been young and not yet jaded enough to understand those things were planned.
It was on this night I discovered how quick my mind was, at least after a few drinks. Seriously, Tommy and I were bantering back and forth in-between the sets of songs. The audience loved it. In particular, I remember getting a big laugh when I said back to him, “I have an Oahu shaped navel”, in response to his bit about having birthmarks shaped like the Hawaiian Islands. I remember the rush as the spotlight hit me, and from this point on I became a fixture in the front row almost nightly. We sort of had an act, impromptu but we made the audience laugh every time.
I’m not exactly sure how many shows I attended before one night during the break in the show one of his crew came over and asked me, “ Would you Iike to go backstage and meet Tommy? He sent me to ask you.”
“Really? Sure, that would be great.” I couldn’t believe anyone as famous as this would want to meet me. Of course I was nervous as could be, not even the Tom Collins I had managed to drink would take care of the instantly appearing butterflies. It was one thing to joke from the stage’s edge, but quite another to be invited backstage.
I was escorted to his small dressing room. This may have been a common thing for him, to invite someone backstage, but it was not for me. I suppose I was, by this time, what one would call a groupie, though I had not heard that term used until much later in life.
I was ushered in where I saw Tommy sitting in front of the mirror smoothing his hair down. In his small, disappointing dressing room was a small vanity, just the kind you would imagine, the mirror ringed with small, round light bulbs. Some of the shirts he wore onstage were hanging inside of a small locker. There was also a cot. I supposed it was so he could rest ...I was still naive enough to think that.
He turned around and smiled, “Hello, I’m Tommy.”
I was grinning so wide, I think partially to keep the butterflies trapped inside, but the truth is I was truly a fan and thrilled to be alone in his presence. “Hi.”
He gestured for me to sit down, and I cautiously did so on the cot. He was in the only other chair. “I wanted to meet you, we have such fun with you every night.”
I’m sure I blushed.
“And your name is...”
“Oh I’m sorry. I’m Sheila.” I laughed nervously. I was sitting almost knee to knee with him.
“Nice meeting you... finally. You are a local I take it?” He flashed a smile.
“Oh yes, I work for the telephone company. I’m a long distance operator.”
We continued to make small talk for a few minutes more. He spoke of his friend, Elvis, and he pulled out a photo of he and Elvis. Thoughtfully he autographed it and gave it to me. I had never seen Elvis, even though he filmed the movie “Paradise Hawaiian Style” on the beach behind my house in 1966. I was stuck in the house vacuuming because my mother and father worked. Now I had a photo of the two of them together!
“Wow, thank you so much!” I gushed.
He shared with me how he had been trying to find a Mickey Mouse watch since he got to the islands, but didn’t have much time to look. I made a mental note of it, though I had no idea why he would want one.
After a few minutes a knock came on the door, “Mr. Sands, five minutes left.”
I stood up. “I better go.” I stammered.
“Oh Sheila wait.” He stood up and took one of my hands. “I really appreciate you coming every night to see me.” He pulled me towards him and I closed my eyes...I could feel a kiss coming. He tenderly kissed me, then we kissed again, this time more deeply. I felt my knees go weak. We pulled apart, and I was literally feeling faint. I gasped and steadied myself. We looked into each others eyes for a second and it was time for me to go.
“Bye Sheila. See you again soon.” Again that smile.
“Aloha Tommy.” I wobbled out of there floating on a cloud I would not come down from for a while.
Over the next few weeks I must have gone to every jewelry store I could find, looking for a Mickey Mouse watch. If there was one somewhere, I never found it or therefore an excuse to go back and see him. Somehow I felt it could only go downhill from the kiss, and this was how it was meant to be. It was the last time I would see him.
Here’s how Tommy looks now. Still handsome after all this time!