By Yvonne Vávra
Even with a mask on, you can tell Frank Smith is smiling by looking at his eyes. It’s a bittersweet smile these days, because Frank — or Frankie the Doorman as he is known in the neighborhood — is making a big change.
He’s retiring on September 29th after 26 years at the front desk of 88 Central Park West on the corner of 69th Street.
Sit and talk with Frankie awhile and he’ll tell you some great New York stories in a style that’s as authentic as the content — hands rotating in circles to every word, an accent so unapologetically New Yawk it almost makes you fuhgeddabout the words.
On one recent shift, he came back from eating his daily baloney sandwich in the boiler room in his crisp white shirt and gold-buttoned suit to reminisce.
Black-outs, blizzards, births, deaths, fires and weddings, and ultimately a pandemic: Frankie was in the middle of it and ready to do his part. “I love helping people and always look to do more than just what’s expected of me. If you’re not willing to be proactive and try to be a problem solver, then this is the wrong business for you.”
However, working in the grand beige-brick apartment building overlooking Central Park also had its perks, as it made Frankie a doorman to the stars. He’s not revealing any secrets, as it is common knowledge that notable residents include Sting, Paul Simon, Robert De Niro, and Lorne Michaels: “He gave me 25 years of Saturday Night Live after parties,” says Frankie. “After my shift, I’d go up there, or I’d take the day off, go to the show, and then to the after-party. They would give me six tickets to take my mom and other family members. So one day, the driver asks me: ‘How did you get six tickets? I’ve been driving the guy for 38 years and only got two!’ I’ll tell you why, cause nothing ever happens when I’m at the door, that’s why.”
Frankie even wrote SNL history: “Back in 2008, when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, Mr. Michaels was coming off the elevator, and I said ‘What a gift! Tina Fey is a dead ringer for Sarah Palin,” he recounts. “I’m even in her book ‘Bossy Pants’ on page three, and she talked about me on The Howard Stern Show.”
And then there was this time when Sting told Robert De Niro that Frankie does comedy at the Stand Up NY club on 78th Street and De Niro invited him to audition for his movie “The Comedian”: “I got the part as a cab driver. But, you know, when it was time to shoot the scene, it turned out I couldn’t drive, so they had someone else do it.” He did get the credit in the closing titles, though.
“I can tell you one thing: It’s hard to find better people than De Niro, Sting, Lorne Michaels, and Paul Simon. These guys came together and helped me when I was at my lowest point. Without them, I might be living on a bench over in Central Park now. They are very close to my heart, and I’ll be forever in their debt.” Frankie’s phone is full of pictures of celebrities hugging him. “There is not one person I can think of who I wanted to meet that I haven’t met. But the best one of all of them is Mila. Without her, I’d be dead right now.” A notorious bachelor for most of his life, Frankie tied the knot at 60 years old and married Mila, who has been working as a nurse for 33 years. “She’s a phenomenal woman, really turned my life around. I was 313 pounds when we met, but she straightened me out and helped me through a hip and knee replacement, a prostate operation, and a stomach reduction. She actually saved my life five times and slept next to me on a chair in the hospital for many nights. How do I deserve this girl? Now I’m 205 pounds, and people don’t even recognize me: ‘What happened to the fat guy?’ they ask.”
Frankie is stoked, as he says, to do his last evening shift on Tuesday. More than a quarter of a century he has dedicated to the tenants of 88 Central Park West so professionally that he even won the “Doorman of the Year” award last year. “I always came in early, always left late, and never turned down any overtime. Now I’m tired and looking forward to spending time with Mila in my house on Morris Park Avenue in the Bronx.” It’s the same house Frankie grew up and has been living in his whole life. One might doubt, however, his retirement is actually going to be quiet and restful, as his eyes light up talking about his plans to getting back into stand-up comedy, Open Mic Nights, DJ-ing, and doing his bits with Joe Causi on WCBS-FM.
“I’m gonna miss the Upper West Side and all the great shops and restaurants a lot. Over these 26 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the neighborhood and it breaks my heart to see all the businesses suffering from the pandemic. I’ll definitely be back with my family for the beautiful Halloween celebration on 69th Street if it’ll be possible to do it this year. So many nice things have happened for me in this neighborhood — who the hell would have thought a guy from the Bronx with dyslexia and 300 pounds to carry would experience that awesome of a life!?”