By John M. Viola, NIAF president and chief operating officer
To many of us Frank Sinatra will always be remembered as the “Chairman of the Board”, but did you know the sobriquet is more than just a creative nickname?
Not only was Mr. Sinatra Chairman of Reprise Records, a company he started after leaving his famous Capitol Records contract, but he was also Chairman of the American-Italian Anti-Defamation League, an organization created in 1967 to fight discrimination of Americans of Italian descent.
And their efforts got off to a good start when they persuaded executives at the ABC television network to stop using Italian-sounding names for thugs on their highly rated show The Untouchables. Producers Americanized the names of several “gangster” characters, and the American-Italian Anti-Defamation League moved on to its next effort, a star-studded fundraiser at Madison Square Garden.
On October 19, 1967, with Sinatra serving as Chairman, a standing-room crowd of over 20,000 Italian Americans packed the arena to see Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jerry Vale, Connie Francis, and many others who had come out to raise money for the new organization.
The League quickly signed up tens of thousands of members across America, but perhaps their success came too quickly!
Sinatra and other leaders were sued by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. The suit was based on the idea that the Italian Americans had appropriated the Anti-Defamation League’s name in a way which would likely cause confusion between the two groups by members of the general public.
The Italian group at first tried to operate under a new name, but eventually dissolved to settle the pending lawsuit. Sinatra continued to support Italian American causes, and when NIAF was founded in 1975, Ole Blue Eyes became a great supporter, even accepting the NIAF Humanitarian award at the 1985 Anniversary Gala.
Don’t miss out on NIAF’s 39th Anniversary Gala Weekend Oct. 24-26, 2014, at the Washington Hilton. Get your tickets now here.