By Eric Farrell Contributor | The Grunion
Umberto Autore has been part of the Long Beach fabric for many years, but few know of his origin — until now.
Author Mark A. Thompson has immortalized Autore’s remarkable coming-of-age story in a new biographical novel “Sinatra’s Tailor.”
Thompson, 70, said he sought to write about Autore’s early life growing up as an orphan in Italy during WWII after visiting Umberto’s Clothier on Bellflower Boulevard in 2012. Autore, who has run his business since 1960, teased him about having been raised by “nuns and Nazis.” That alone was enough to command Thompson’s attention.
“We decided that we would meet every Thursday night. He would invite my wife and I over and we would have dinner, and I would begin interviewing him and recording his story,” Thompson said.
Though the friendship was new, the two had originally met each other 40 years prior, as employees working at the Los Altos Shipping Center. Thompson, then a high schooler working as a sales clerk for a clothing store, would walk customers over to get their clothing tailored by a young Autore, at that point working at John’s Men’s Shop.
“He was just so funny,” Thompson said about reconnecting with Autore in 2012, “He was just how I remembered him from high school. He even said the same thing: ‘how are you, young man? How can I help you?’”
After routine Thursday dinners where Thompson recorded Autore’s early life, the friends eventually toured Italy together.
“We went and saw all the places I told him about,” Autore said. “including my hometown of Scauri.”
Autore showed Thompson the town of Gaeta, where Thompson put the orphanage that is the setting for “Sinatra’s Tailor.”
Thompson’s debut novel started off as a biography before morphing into a novel.
“I felt because a lot of the information could not possibly be verified, I had to make it into something a little more than just a biography. So it’s a novel, but much of what happened in the novel is what actually happened to him,” Thompson said.
Prior to “Sinatra’s Tailor,” Thompson forged a number of careers and avocations. He said he was a successful speech pathologist before a chance viewing of the movie “Trading Places” prompted a switch to stockbroking.
Beyond a knack for writing, he’s an accomplished cantor, a skill that eventually led him to perform across the country singing in a one-man play called “Galileo.”
“I thought it’d be really fun to become him and tour the country,” Thompson said. “So I played the banjo, played the guitar, and I learned to play the lute. Galileo learned to play the lute from his father, who was one of the creators of opera.”
His next writing credit came via a screenplay called “Spinoza’s Web,” about a Dutch philosopher who challenged the perspectives of those around him in the 17th Century.
“I’m interested in people who go against the grain,” Thompson said. "Galileo was one. Spinoza was certainly a polarizing figure in his time. He was really one of the first critics of the Bible. So he had to go through a lot. Umberto to me is just like that. He went against the grain. He’s his own person, and I admire that."
Thompson and Autore launched “Sinatra’s Tailor” with a book signing at — where else — Umberto’s Men’s Wear, 2141 Bellflower Blvd.
“Sinatra’s Tailor,” published by Aakenbaaken & Kent, is available locally at Barnes & Noble as well as online at amazon.com.