In the queue at the Paramount Theater, Alexander Dorogokupetz carried a small bag containing three eggs. A colossal image of Frank Sinatra loomed over the entrance, with hundreds of women and girls below, in their sweaters and skirts, socks and bow ties. The eggs were the biggest and freshest eggs that Dorogokupetz could find. He planned to throw them at Sinatra.
There was a lot that irritated Dorogokupetz about Sinatra and his fans. In particular, the bow ties frustrated him, those famous bow ties they were famous for wearing. Why, he thought, did people say he looked like Sinatra if he wore one, and not that Sinatra looked like him? He had a collection of two hundred bow ties at home, and had got his first when he was seven years old. Bow ties were his thing, not Sinatra’s.
Dorogokupetz waited four hours in the queue. His feet began to hurt. Around him, there was singing and laughing and chatting. It was calmer than a couple of days before, when there had been “riots”, the papers said, spilling along Broadway and into Times Square – “the Columbus Day Riots” of 12th October 1944. The press coverage annoyed Dorogokupetz. “I was getting madder and madder,” he told the New York Daily News.
When he finally got inside, Dorogokupetz got a good seat, twenty rows from the stage, and kept the bag of eggs safe by his side. The screaming now made it feel like the building would collapse.
He knew what to expect. He had seen Sinatra here at the Paramount two years before, on New Year’s Eve 1942, the night before his sixteenth birthday. He had to queue for five hours then. He had only got into the theatre about midnight. The seats were up in the balcony, far from the stage. He could see Sinatra, small, in a bow tie, “lean and lank like me,” Dorogokupetz remembered. This just made the frustration worse.
This time, with his eggs, Dorogokupetz was surrounded. He remembered it in present tense. “I happen to be in the midst of a swooning section,” he told the Daily News. “One on my right, one on my left, four behind me. And every single one of them wear a bow tie. I have an argument with the girls behind me. I said Frank Sinatra can’t even stand up himself, he must wear corsets, his only exercise being to hold on to the mike. ‘How can you fall for a guy like that?’ I ask them. ‘He has a wife and two kids. He looks starved.’ Sinatra comes on. The girls start swooning, screaming. Some got in the aisles. I just sat there calmly. The girls are screaming. I don’t want to spoil their fun. So I wait. Finally, I get up, walk down the aisle about 10 rows. I just stand there for a second.”
That morning, before selecting the eggs, Dorogokupetz had picked out a dark blue double-breasted suit, wide fitting trousers and a white shirt. He left his collar open, with no bow tie.
Sinatra began singing I Don’t Know Why (I Just Do). This was what Dorogokupetz had wanted, a romantic song, the more romantic the better. He thought of himself as a singer too, having been in the choir at high school. Sometimes, he told people he was a better singer than Sinatra. As proof, he would sing a plaintive duet, done solo.
He threw the first egg gently, and missed. The second, more forceful, hit Sinatra between his eyes, as he was singing the first “you” of the song, his mouth open: “I don’t know why I love you…”
The third egg hit him on the chest of his gray suit, glancing his bow tie. For each egg, there was a gasp from the crowd. The “horde of female rug-cutters,” the papers said, “were confronted with the deliberate desecration of their bow-tie idol.” Someone shouted, “get the skunk who done it!”
The girls around Dorogokupetz attacked him. A fifteen-year old, who the press called either “Aileen Sandak” or “Aileen Sandakis”, was close by. She was one of the few bobby-soxers to be named in the papers at the time, at either the riots or the egging. (They got her name wrong though. She was Eileen Sandak, not “Aileen” or “Sandakis.”) “I grabbed him right after the third egg,” she said. “My friend hit him with her binoculars. I got in a couple with my handbag.” Unnamed others hit Dorogokupetz with umbrellas, and lunch bags, and coats.
Journalists adopted military terms to describe the egging, in the reports which appeared alongside stories from the war: police and ushers used a “flying wedge” formation to free Dorogokupetz from the “the several hundred adolescent females who foreswore swooning for fighting,” these “Sinatra partisans,” “the ranks of angry girlhood.” Dorogokupetz was “a mere male and utterly unable to cope with the beating he received at the hand of a house-full of enraged teenagers.” His lapel was ripped as he was bundled into a back office. A photographer took pictures of a girl in distress, led away by a friend wearing a cross around her neck.
Sinatra tried to talk above the noise, but no-one could hear him. Years later, speaking to his biographer, J.Randy Tarborelli, he remembered the odd feeling of the crowd, what he called “the great loneliness”. He left the stage, and someone switched on the theatre lights. The American flag was projected where Sinatra had stood, and the pit orchestra played the national anthem.
They played it again, and then again, and the noise began to subside.
In the back office, Dorogokupetz joked with journalists that “I don’t know why I did it, but I did.”
He became famous, at least for a while.
Dorogokupetz’s stories were told, and retold.
Inevitably, he was interviewed for the newspapers. He said that he had been a “Sinatra hater”, that he disliked Sinatra’s bow tie and the behaviour of his fans, “this monotony of two years of consecutive swooning”. Throwing the eggs, he said, “made me feel good.” There were staged photographs of Dorogokupetz in a bow tie, posing with an egg, and women around him, in mock admiration, mock swooning.
The letters followed soon. A “Disgusted Sinatra Fan” wrote to the Daily News, asking “who the heck did that guy who threw eggs at Frank Sinatra think he was?” “This Dorogokupetz,” the letter said, was lucky that Sinatra didn’t press charges, “long live Sinatra!” Another letter, signed “War Nerves” argued that Dorogokupetz “should be awarded a medal for bravery, and a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers next season. He had the right idea but he should have tossed the eggs at the screaming chicks instead of at Sinatra. Honest, men, it isn’t Sinatra’s voice that you really dislike; it’s those horrible, ghoulish squealers in his audience.” A letter from a military “Post Commander” warned against the “propaganda” of the “good Italian”, of Italian-Americans generally, “now that victory is in sight.” An editorial in Collier’s magazine suggested that “our hearts, being masculine, tell us that Alexander Ivanovich Dorogokupetz, 18, is a hero and a young man who already has deserved well of the Republic.” The day after Dorogokupetz threw the eggs, a group of sailors in Navy uniforms were pictured throwing tomatoes at the huge image of Sinatra hanging outside the Paramount.
Many commentators saw the Dorogokopetz story as a continuation of the stories from Columbus Day, more teenage rioting. Estimates varied about the scale of the “riots”: twenty or thirty thousand fans, the papers said, maybe ninety percent female. Some ripped a police officer’s tunic, or smashed a ticket window. Some wore polka-dot bow ties. Some bought pillowcases with Sinatra’s face on, hugging them as they waited for the show. Some fainted, from anticipation, or excitement, or exhaustion, standing for hours in the cold. Some hid their faces from the cameras, not wanting to be spotted by their teachers or employers. The flash gave others dark outlines and haloes. Few were named, or even quoted. Although the stories of the girls and women spread even more widely than those about Dorogokupetz, none received the same kind of individual attention.
According to a United Press columnist, writing about the female fans, this was “the only chance they have to feel important, to be noticed, even if it is anonymously and in mob instead of individual scenes.” The New York Daily Mirror called them “shouting neurotic extremists who make a cult of the boy.” Psychiatrists blamed “mammary hyperesthesia,” a “maternal urge to feed the hungry,” or “mass frustrated love.” Sheila McKeon, who wrote for the “women’s department” of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, observed that “somebody with a gray beard always has to call it mass hysteria or something.”
As with the Columbus Day Riots, the newspapers played a suspiciously significant part in the Dorogokupetz story, particularly the Daily News. Their report on the egging was longer and more detailed than most, and seems to have been the basis for other press reports. It was accompanied by a picture taken by one of their photographers, on hand to capture Dorogokuptez as he was escorted away. The day after that report, they published a long article written by Dorogokupetz, “as told to Kermit Jaediker”, a journalist who also wrote mystery novels and comic books. Daily News “copy girls” posed with Dorogokupetz as he pretended to throw eggs. A Daily News photographer happened to be there in the early hours of the morning to capture the sailors throwing the tomatoes, which was billed in the Daily News as the “sequel” to the egging. The “as told to” interview and the photographs were republished in dozens of other newspapers. Some, including Dorogokupetz’s own family, began to believe the whole thing had been an elaborate press stunt.
The egging fed the criticism that Sinatra had received since being declared 4F, unfit for military service. Dorogokupetz, skinny like Sinatra, was 4F too. Sinatra’s press agent tried to downplay the incident. He suggested it hadn’t been eggs, but something more masculine, less premeditated, a wet napkin perhaps. Apparently, Sinatra’s light gray suit hadn’t needed dry cleaning. “He wasn’t splashed,” the agent told the papers. “As for his eyes being swollen – anyone can see his eyes are as bright and pretty as ever.”
Stories appeared, presumably placed by the press agent to toughen up Sinatra’s image, suggesting that Sinatra hoped Dorogokupetz would join him in the gym “for a workout”. Sinatra was “not amused,” his press agent said, but had decided that “the pummeling of indignant teenagers” was enough. Other stories hinted that Sinatra’s fee for appearing at the Paramount had doubled since Columbus Day. The stories kept Dorogokupetz’s name in the press.
Some newspapers, including the Daily News, printed Dorogokupetz’s address, his parent’s apartment in Harlem. He received hundreds of abusive letters, some from bobby-soxers, some from grown men. He was forced to lie low, to avoid the mob.
There were jokes in the papers about his name: “Alexander Ivanovich Dorogokupetz,” they said, “probably wanted to make a big name for himself”; “it’s too bad that such a famous name in history is going to be so hard to remember.” Sometimes the papers got his name wrong: “Edward”, “Dorogokeepetz” or “Dorogokleepets” or “Deregokleepetz.”
A week after the egging, he wrote to Sinatra, in apology. Eventually, the stories and letters stopped. Dorogokupetz faded from public view.
By the time Gay Talese wrote Frank Sinatra Has A Cold, his famous 1966 Esquire profile of Sinatra, Dorogokupetz seemed to have disappeared. Talese presented Sinatra as more than simply himself: “an immigrant’s wildest dream of America”, “the embodiment of the fully emancipated male, perhaps the only one in America, the man who can do anything he wants, anything.” Italians such as Sinatra, Talese wrote, were “fine soloists, but not so good in a choir.”
Throughout the story, Talese used a variety of unnamed women to colour his portrait: “two attractive but fading blondes”; “a fat lady who said she remembered Sinatra when he used to throw the Jersey Observer into her front porch.” In what Talese describes as a “rather strange and ritualistic scene”, one of these unnamed women speaks about “that awful boy” Alexander Dorogokupetz. Talese asked about his whereabouts.
“Whatever became of Alexander Dorogokupetz?”
“The lady didn’t know.”
This apparent disappearance has lingered. If you Google “Alexander Dorogokupetz” now, you get the old staged photos with the eggs and a few contemporary news stories. You get brief mentions in various Sinatra biographies, and the Talese profile, sometimes in translation. After that, nothing, just the ghostly feedback of automated sites that quote others, ceaselessly and unwatched, “whatever became of Alexander Dorogokupetz?” repeatedly.
There are no obituaries, no death records, no relatives, no descendants. Stranger still, even on the 1940 census, four years before the egging, there are no Dorogokupetzs recorded in New York. There were no Alexander Dorogokupetzs in the whole country.
Whatever did become of Alexander Dorogokupetz?
And why, more importantly, does his story matter?
It certainly matters in pop historical terms. For Jon Savage in The Guardian in 2011, the “Columbus Day Riots” were number one in the “50 key events in the history of pop music.” It was, he said, the moment that Sinatra became “the first modern pop star,” which “reaffirmed the collective power of young women, and how they have always been central to pop.” So few bobby-soxers were spoken to by journalists at the time that Dorogokupetz’s recollections are about as close as it gets to a detailed first person account of those Paramount shows. Even now, Dorogokupetz’s story is used by Sinatra biographers to flesh out the story of the bobby-soxers.
More than that, so much is still familiar about that old reporting. Then as now, the press dismiss music that is popular with girls and young women as a way to dismiss girls and young women themselves. The screaming, swooning mob of unnamed teenage girls has become one of the defining images in pop music. Anytime a pop act becomes successful, the cliché is deployed, often now justified by a historical comparison to Sinatra, or Elvis, or The Beatles. Journalists still write about the “hysteria” or “mania” of female fans. Dispatches are still filed from concert queues.
At first, Dorogokupetz was used as a personification of this distaste with female fans. While the newspapers were full of stories of men in Europe and Asia and Africa killing and being killed, here was Sinatra, “unfit,” attacked in Manhattan by a skinny teenager throwing eggs, with the screaming coming from girls and young women. Dorogokupetz became a way to keep ridiculing the bobby-soxers and Sinatra, even after the Columbus Day Riots.
By the Sixties, for Gay Talese, Dorogokupetz stood for all who had doubted Frank, all those who got it so wrong, who had seen him as a flash in the pan, just a pop star, just a singer. Dorogokupetz provided nostalgic context, an earlier, more innocent counterpoint to the brooding, powerful, sometimes violent image of Sinatra in Talese’s story. Dorogokupetz’s disappearance reinforced the permanence of the Sinatra myth.
As time passed, Dorogokupetz began to be seen as a prototype of a more modern fan. In the eighties, the US Department of Justice formed an advisory panel on “celebrity stalkers”. Gavin de Becker, one of the panel, said that after Dorogokupetz threw his eggs, “the nature of fandom changed forever.” “Saddled with the least American of names, he had tried to make one for himself in the most American way,” he wrote later, “and but for his choice of a weapon, he would probably be as famous today as Frank Sinatra.”
More generously, perhaps it is Dorokupetz’s teenage desire for uniqueness that matters, or that feels familiar. We might recognise it from our younger days, when we made a point of telling people what we hated, when we wore our hair and our trousers in ways that we hoped would signal our difference. We were, we thought, the opposite of others.
Normally, fans are described en masse, anthropologically but not individually interesting: so much screaming but no single identifiable scream. Fans are seen in movements, not as people. Dorogokupetz seems to have reacted against that. He is one of the few named fans, as opposed to musicians or industry insiders, to appear in a story like this, a real person in the myth. Of course, the press encouraged him, in a way they didn’t for most. He wanted to single himself out, and they let him.
Perhaps this – the pop history, the familiar stories of screaming fans, the more modern fandom - is what became of Alexander Dorogokupetz?
Alexander Dorogokupetz didn’t really disappear, of course. It’s just that he wasn’t actually “Alexander Dorogokupetz”.
Although Dorogokupetz was his family’s given name, they had dropped it at least by the time of the 1940 census. The family more often called themselves “Dorogoff”, thinking it was easier to pronounce, they said, for”“Americans”. They were especially conscious of this perceived language barrier; Alexander’s parents were born in Russia, and Alexander and his brothers spoke Russian until they went to school.
It isn’t clear why Dorogoff used “Dorogokupetz” when speaking to the press after the egging. Perhaps he was proud of his Russian heritage and took the opportunity to emphasise it while the world was watching. Perhaps the wartime journalists wanted to draw attention to the apparent foreignness of Sinatra’s fans, as they had when they chose to name Eileen Sandak, the fifteen year old who had hit Dorogokupetz with her handbag, whose parents were also from Russia. The journalists, or Dorogoff himself, may have felt the importance of Sinatra’s own name, the name of his immigrant parents, the name which would grace dozens of eponymous albums, the name he refused to change. Sinatra’s name was important.
After the press attention subsided, Dorogoff got on with his life, no more defined by the confidence and confusion he had at eighteen than anyone else. In 1952, he married Jeanne Jasek. The couple had four children, Diane, John, Gregory and Peter, and moved to Jackson Heights, Queens. In the seventies, Jeanne left Alexander, and they divorced. Alexander moved out of the city.
For years, Dorogoff carried on singing. His baritone appeared on record in 1974, as part of the Cappella Russian Male Chorus, a choir of New York and New Jersey men of Russian heritage, based at St John The Baptist Russian Orthodox Church, Passaic. In time, he became the choir’s president. They sang in cathedrals and nursing homes, at fundraisers and requiems. In the local papers, they were pictured standing proudly in their silken uniforms. “There is a demand for good music,” Dorogoff explained, in one of those local news stories, “music that manages to get directly to people despite the fact they don’t understand the language.” “People can feel our music,” he told the Hackensack Record. “We’re not going to cave in to an Americanization of our music.”
Sometime in the mid-seventies, Dorogoff met Marina Krasikova, and fell in love. In some ways, Marina Krasikova is what really became of Alexander Dorogokupetz. She was a formidable figure, with a formidable story to tell. Occasionally, she was asked to tell it to the local papers.
Her aristocratic family, she said, had fled Russia after the Revolution, moving to Japan, where she was born in 1936. At the start of World War II, the family moved to Shanghai, where her father was in the Russian Orthodox cathedral choir. Watching the choir, she “learned that music is one of the most sacred of fields and that it can either uplift or destroy,” she told the White Plains Journal News. When she was eighteen, her parents separated. She left Shanghai, with her mother and sister, and went to Russia. They were transported from the border to a collection of huts outside a prison camp in Siberia.
Eventually, Krasikova made it to Tashkent, in modern Uzbekistan, where she studied choral music, and formed her own two hundred person choir. “Choruses are as complicated an instrument as any symphony orchestra,” she noted. She conducted at state funerals, and appeared on television, and won awards. She married, had a son, and divorced. In 1974, she moved to New York, where she began writing about classical music for Russian language newspapers. Its tempting to imagine her hearing Dorogoff on record then, hearing his voice before she ever saw him.
In 1976, Krasikova met members of the Cappella choir, who were looking for a conductor after the two previous conductors died in quick succession. “We talked, but I knew there was going to be a lot of opposition to a woman conducting the male chorus,” she told the Hackensack Record. “The other members of the chorus just didn’t take the idea seriously.” It took two years for her to be accepted by the group.
Krasikova expected a lot as a conductor, and saw the importance of the work. “It is a very old tradition, very old,” she said. “We try to perform a song the way it might have been performed the first time.” Frequently, people would join the choir, but leave when they couldn’t commit to the rehearsals that she required of them. “The tradition is very demanding and rewarding,” she said. She knew that people had to balance their jobs, their real lives, with the choir: these dentists and carpenters, research chemists and businessmen, men who had fought in the war. She respected those who stayed with the choir, those who kept singing. She had to balance her own life too, conducting, teaching music, and running a Russian restaurant, where she became known for her pastries. “The Capella choir has stayed together so long only because of their religious faith and their goal to preserve the liturgical music of the Russian Orthodox Church,” she said.
Two years after Krasikova became conductor, she and Dorogoff founded the Classic Chorale, a mixed choir to run alongside the still all-male Cappella. It was based at a different Russian Orthodox church, in Spring Valley. A nurse joined, and a gas attendant, a landscaper and a real estate agent. Krasikova thought they were all “singers of quality”.
By the early eighties, Krasikova and Dorogoff had married, and Marina took Alexander’s name. She needed him there, in the church basement on Tuesday nights with the men, and Wednesday nights with the mixed choir, rehearsing: great old choral music which swelled and rose, the joyful liturgical music of their forefathers, sad funeral music about mercy and memory. They would talk of the thousand year tradition of singing, over ginger beer and iced vodka, of how choral music was too often forgotten in the United States, of how they had to preserve it, of Russia after Stalin, of how the choir treated women.
In 1988, the couple moved to Spring Valley, closer to the church where the mixed choir was based. In 1990, Alexander finally changed his own name, completing the necessary documents to become “Dorogoff” officially. The Dorogoffs got a place in Florida, with a palm tree on the lawn and a fireplace inside. A while later, they got a condo, set back from the highway.
In 2008, Alexander suffered a stroke. According to a Huffington Post article written by Peter Dorogoff, Alexander’s son, the stroke left Alexander unable to care for himself. “In rare moments of clarity when visiting him,” Peter wrote, “I see through his eyes and into the soul that is still there.”
Marina was devoted. She cared for him until she died, unexpectedly, later that year. She was 71. “They were a good match and I’ll leave it at that,” Peter wrote. Alexander became “a prisoner in his own body with a diminishing mind that functions only when prompted by asking him about memories of the past.”
The Dorogoff family still occasionally talk about Alexander and Sinatra, and the eggs. Wasn’t he paid to do it, they say, and didn’t he have to lay low from the mob, and isn’t that him, mentioned in passing in the Sinatra biography? Online, others retell their memories of seeing Sinatra at the Paramount, in ways they never had the chance to at the time. Leonora Telesca, aged ninety-five, talks about Sinatra asking her to send him a photograph of herself, and how she still swoons over him. Ali Grannis, aged eight six, remembers getting a train into the city, from Connecticut. “ I was all of 12 years old — screamed my head off,” she says. Dorothy Carozza talks about skipping school to see him, with her sisters, Bettie and Babe. Edward Plunkett reminisces about being nine years old, and punching his big sister each time she shouted “I love you Frank,” and how she punched him right back. “Whatever became of Alexander Dorogokupetz?” people ask now, when they read old magazine profiles.
After his stroke, Alexander survived longer than anyone expected. He was “stubborn, true to form,” Peter wrote. He died in 2013, and was buried next to Marina, in the Russian Orthodox cemetery in Spring Valley.
Alexander and Marina’s graves are marked by a shared Russian cross, like many around them. Although many of these other crosses are carved with names in Cyrillic, their cross is carved with “Dorogoff.” Underneath, there is another carving, this time in Cyrillic: “вечная память!”, “eternal memory!” the title of a hymn that the Cappella choir often sung at funeral services. In most versions of the hymn, a deep, lonely voice is joined by the rest of the choir, rising as one, singing “eternal memory” repeatedly, impossible to pick out one single voice.
Beneath the carving, Marina’s grave has the dates of her birth and death. Alexander’s grave has his date of birth, followed by a dash. A space was left, to be completed later. It never was. It was almost as if he had never died.
At some point, someone left a small red lamp by the graves, and a few small flowers. Someome tied tinsel in a bow.
Lead image: An evening crowd gathers in front of the Paramount Theatre where Frank Sinatra is performing in New York’s Times Square, during World War II. Dozens of extra police are on duty to keep the crowd moving
10 Oct 1944
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