Happy Birthday, Frank.
Tomorrow, December 12, 2015, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth in Hoboken, N.J. of singer/actor Francis Albert Sinatra.
The occasion has already been noted by the publication of books on Sinatra’s life and career, one of which — James Kaplan’s Sinatra: The Chairman — clocks in at nearly 1,000 pages. In short, there is little that those interested in the singer/actor’s life and career is unknown and, for the most part, already celebrated.
In our view, Sinatra was a sublime, classic vocalist — whose work sounds better and better as the years roll by — and a pretty decent actor. There’s no question his legacy is based on his stature as America’s premier popular singer of the 20th century. In that realm he was an artist.
Author Kaplan recently remarked that the most surprising thing he discovered about Sinatra over years of research about his professional and private lives was how very hard he worked on his singing: no matter how big a movie star he became, motion pictures would never give Frank the kind of concentrated, almost fanatical control that he exerted over his music.
Celebrate with us via the following Sinatra tidbits gleaned from the many blogs we’ve written about him:
— Esther Williams in her memoirs reported that Sinatra almost became a musical comedy star in 1944’s Step Lively with Gloria DeHaven, which wasn’t a big success; but then he did Anchor’s Away a year later with Gene Kelly, and his film career really took off. Williams assured Sinatra that he was too big a talent to allow MGM’s reservations about his off-screen partying to worry him. They didn’t, but Sinatra was eventually fired by the studio.
— Sinatra really did enjoy the company of both “rat pack” members Dean Martin and Sammy Davis although he later cooled a bit on the former when his drinking got in the way of performing. Both Martin and Davis along with Frank put in solid performances in 1960’s Ocean’s Eleven. (Better than the George Clooney remake.)
— His height: According to author Kaplan, Naked, Frank Sinatra stood five feet seven and a half inches tall. This was his full adult stature….In his later years he wore lifts in his shoes that got him up to five nine or so.
— His masculine credential: Author Kaplan also reports that Sinatra’s valet, George Jacobs, revealed in his memoir that the thing was so big, Mr. S had to have special underwear made to keep it in check. The medical condition, adds Kaplan, is termed Macrophallus.
— Eli Wallach almost aced out Sinatra for his career-saving role of Pvt Angelo Maggio in 1953’s From Here To Eternity. The studio was high on Wallach but director Fred Zinnemann was bowled over by Sinatra’s screen test for the role. It was no contest after that. (Frank won a best supporting actor Oscar for his interpretation of the part.)
— Sinatra was, to put it mildly, unsure of his dancing abilities. But working with Gene Kelly, his Anchor’s Away costar, gave him pretty decent skills. Sinatra could actually keep up with Kelly more or less, no small feat.
— Ava Gardner was the second of Sinatra’s four wives (from November 1951 through July of 1957). She and he couldn’t live with each other and found it difficult to live without each other. “Angel” was Sinatra’s nickname for her her. Despite the tempestuousness of their union, they remained close friends for as long they both lived. Mia Farrow (for two years beginning in 1966) is wife #3, followed by Barbara Marx (from 1976 to Sinatra’s death in 1998 at age 82).
— Mob ties: We certainly know that for years, Sinatra had many underworld connections. One of his pals, for example, was Chicago-based gangster Sam Giancana, who shared a mistress (Judith Campbell Exner) with President John F. Kennedy.
— Frank’s first wife was Nancy Barbato, an olive-skinned, brunette daughter of a Jersey City plasterer. According to author Arnold Shaw’s 1968 book — Sinatra: Twentieth-Century Romantic — the singer said that In Nancy, he had found beauty, warmth and understanding. Being with her was my only escape from what seemed a grim world. Sinatra’s marriage to Nancy lasted from 1939 until 1951, and produced three children: Frank Jr., and daughters Nancy and Tina, who, reports Kaplan, were surprised to discover that in the spring of 1976 — 25 years after their parents’ divorce — when he turned 60 and was in between marriages #3 and #4, their father conducted an extended laision with their mother.